The limp

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It started in July with a limp.

Well, a limp is nothing new to Malcolm and I.  Between Amore and a Dolce and all their combined surgeries, a limp is nothing.  When it comes to the girls, a limp can be caused by a multitude of things.  A bad landing when jumping out of the SUV.  An embedded cacti spine.  Arthritis.

It was a slight limp, no biggie.  Dolce still loved her walks, was still jumping up on the couch and scrambling off the bed.  Dolce still ran after Amore and ran in for dinner.  Her eyes still bright and full of life, it was nothing to be concerned over.  It was just a little noticeable.  Really, it was nothing.

It was a persistent limp.  Like a lingering cough, it just wouldn’t go away.  A vet visit determined it was macro-degerative joint disease or in common language, arthritis.  Not an unexpected diagnosis.  Dolce was a month shy of nine years and in Berner years, this is old.  After shoulder and leg surgeries in her puppy days, arthritis seemed not only plausible but a reasonable conclusion.  Nine years of over compensating on her driver’s side had created complications down the road.  Pain meds were prescribed, exercise was ordered, weight loss recommended.  All geared to help with her arthritis.  We were all over it.

But the limp didn’t go away and by the end of August the limp had worsened.  To the point where Dolce wasn’t putting any weight on her left paw.  Her load-bearing front leg was hitched up and held up, she refused to use it.  Her walks were shortened, her running subdued and awkward.  Dolce was hopping, not walking.  She was panting, not breathing normal.  Her eyes dull, not shiny. She was in pain.  Terrible pain.  Worried, Malcolm and I made an appointment for a Canine Physical Therapist.  A rehab specialist for dogs.  We knew how important it was for Dolce to use her leg, and it was obvious the arthritis had advanced.

One look at Dolce’s front paw and we were told to head straight to our vet.  Something wasn’t right.  Our worry turned into panic.  Another set of x-rays showed the bone configuration had changed.  It was time for a biopsy.

Biopsies are never fun. For neither the patient nor the parent.  Dolce needed to spend  time in the vet hospital, Malcolm and I needed to wait for the results.  We had an unknown. Arthritis is much easier to understand and comprehend.  Humans have arthritis.  Berners have bad hips, e.g., Hip Dysplasia. We could deal with arthritis – but this new unknown threw us off kilter.  We were unprepared.  The “what if’s” and “if so’s”  and “how do we’s” swirled in our heads.  Our discussions were geared around quality of life, and costs, and the unacceptable that neither one of us were willing to say out loud, but it stood out there like the ugly pink elephant in the room.  The only one not affected was Amore.  She was soaking up the attention, having us all to herself.  With one less child in the house, Amore was loving the extra love.  No sharing us, the couch and bed just for her.

It was the end of September when Malcolm called me at work.  I remember it was mid-afternoon and I had worked through lunch.  “Hon, you need to come over to Dr. Gruda’s.”  No hello.  Tersely spoken.  “Let me finish up what I’m working on and I’ll meet you over there.”  “No, honey, now!  I’m already there.”  Click.  Dr. Gruda has been the girls’ vet since he removed their dew claws at two days old.  He has been through every surgery, every sickness, every shot Dolce and Amore has had.  I headed his way.

Our waiting was over.  The biopsy confirmed Dolce had a cancerous tumor entwined between the bones of her left front paw.  On the driver’s side.  Our sweet, sweet Dolce had cancer.  The dreaded big “C”.  Our worse fears confirmed. We were devastated.  “Has it spread?”  “What does Dr. Gruda say?”  “What are our options?”

“Honey, we either amputate in the morning and start chemo ASAP, or Dr. Gruda needs to put her down this afternoon. We have to make a decision.  Now.”  There was no question in my heart as to what we should do, but there were so many more concerns to discuss.  Monetary issues being one of them. Surgery and chemo wasn’t going to be cheap.  Less than college but a whole lot more than braces would cost if we had kids. Does anyone want to put a price on a life? When does it become too much? Chemo treatments might only extend her life by 18 months or so. Was it worth the expense? Dolce had just turned nine.  With a life expectancy of 7 to 10 years, we were in her bonus years as it were.  What if her hips go out.  Or her other paw?  What if the cancer had spread? What if? What if? What if?  I was a wreck.  Malcolm was my rock.

With a deep breath and a choking gulp, I told Malcolm I wanted to amputate.  I wasn’t ready to let Dolce go.  I just couldn’t do it. My sweet, sweet baby was still good everywhere else.  She still had heart.  She still had three mostly good legs. We walked inside the vet’s office and signed the release.  I am thankful Malcolm felt the same.  Surgery was scheduled for early the next morning.

And just like that Dolce is now a three-legged canine.  Her limp turned into gimp.  Although in pain from the surgery, Dolce’s breathing evened out, her eyes went back to bright.  Dolce no longer suffered with pain.  My little trooper was a bit unsteady, wrapped in bandages and gauzes, and wobbling on three legs, but was able to come home a week later.

It’s been ten weeks since surgery.  We are on the last leg of chemo treatments and slowly building up Dolce’s stamina.  She is gaining her confidence back, growing stronger, and learning a new kind of balance. Her walks are longer and just this Thanksgiving weekend, she ran past us while out on the trail. A first.  She struggles with stairs with over two steps, and with positioning her back legs.  She still needs assistance getting up on the bed but can jump on the couch like an old pro.

All in all, she’s a healthy canine and is accepting of the circumstance.  We tease her and call her Peggy, Gimpy  and Tripod.  She jokes back with a push between our legs.

Its a new life.  For all of us. But we have our baby.

 

it’s mine!

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From day one, the tag line for this blog has been, “if it falls on the floor, it’s mine!” You guys have no idea how apropos this statement has come to mean.

Two words.  Two syllables. But full of meaning and emotion  –  “It’s mine!”

Those two words have taken on a life of its own.  Those two syllables have created a monster.  “It’s mine” has morphed into blurred lines and non-existent boundaries.  “It’s mine” has bestowed entitlement to a dog.  A big dog with a mine of it’s own.  Strong willed and defiant, this dog has decided “it’s mine!” is her M.O.

I’m not talking a few dropped cheese crumbs on the floor tiles, however that’s part of the problem. It’s a proven fact, all edible scraps that fall onto the floor is in canine territory and belongs to our dog mops.  And, I’m not just talking about bones to chew on or Kongs to gnaw.  I recognize those are in the possession of our girls, purchased for their enjoyment.  It’s theirs.

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Nope, I’m talking about the true doggy definition of “it’s mine.”  I’m talking Amore. You see, she believes everything is hers.  It goes something like this…..

ME:  Amore!  That’s my shoe!

AMORE:  No, it’s mine!

ME:  No, Amore, it’s my shoe.

AMORE:  But, I like it, therefore it’s mine.

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my shoe

ME:  All shoes are mine, Amore.

AMORE:  Well, it’s in my mouth, so it’s mine.

ME:  It doesn’t work like that Amore.  That’s my shoe.

AMORE:  But, I just had it a little while ago, so that makes it mine.

ME:  Amore, let go of my shoe.

AMORE:  It looks like mine, so it must it’s mine.

ME:  Bad girl!  Drop!

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grrrrrr…..

AMORE:  I saw it first, it’s mine.

AMORE:  Do not even think of it, it’s mine!

ME:  It was in the closet, it’s not yours.

AMORE:  If I chew it, then all the pieces are mine!

ME:  You don’t get my shoe! Or its pieces!

AMORE:  Well, if you put it down, it’s mine!

AMORE:  AND, if I tire of it, it’s still mine!

ME:  No and NO!

AMORE:  And, if I don’t even want it, it’s mine!

AMORE:  Besides, it’s practically edible, so it’s mine! AH!

ME:  AMORE!  Let me repeat myself, All SHOES ARE MINE!

AMORE:  Not if I can take it, then it’s mine!

ME:  No Shoes or no dinner!

AMORE:  Hee, hee, hee.  If I want it back, it’s mine!

AMORE:  Ok, FINE!  (pout)

AMORE:  Mom?

AMORE:  Mom?

AMORE:  Where’s Dolce’s Kong?

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Mine!

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grand marshal

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Amore and Dolce have always been our ‘go-everywhere’ dogs.  Where we go, they go.  To the store, into town, over to friends, the girls tag-along.  And, it never fails, where they go, they attract attention.  I mean, come on, two big Berners?  Sittin’ side-by-side?  Tails a-waggin?  Loopy grins on their faces?  A day doesn’t go by without Malcolm or I receiving some type of comment on the girls.

Take them to the store and immediately Dolce and Amore jump into the front seats as we exit the vehicle. Other store patrons chuckle over seeing our two dogs, respectfully sitting upright in the driver’s and passenger’s seats.  dolce-in-drivers-seat

“Beautiful dogs,” “Love your dogs,” “What kind of dogs are these,” “Can I pet them?” are words heard regularly, as we load our groceries into the car.

On occasion, we spy people discretely pulling out their phones to snap a quick pic of our prom queens in their limo. They always say it for someone else.  Yeah, right.

Amore and Dolce soak up the attention.  They paw and preen, even do the leaning thing against stranger’s legs as they are ooh’ed and ahh’ed over on our walks.   In an instant, they are the Grand Marshals of the parade.  All important.  All expectant of the praise. Passing out doggy smiles and paw waves like they were throwing penny candy to the spectators.

A few weekends ago, Malcolm and I took the girls up the mountain to hike around in the Aspens. It was a truly beautiful day.  The leaves had already initiated their pageantry of yellows, oranges, and reds as we headed up the trail.  The sky was crystal blue.  The air crisp with the scent of pine boughs and cones.  Amore and Dolce were in canine heaven. New scents and a new trail were theirs for the taking.  Along with more adoration from strangers.

I doubt we had gone more than twenty yards up the trail, when we were stopped by a group of tourists asking about the girls.  “What kind of dogs are they?”  “Can we take a picture with them?” We paused for the Kodak moment.

Another thirty yards and we were hailed by a family with young children.  “Can I pet the doggie?” a brave little lass asked in a small voice.  With nods of permission, she stepped forward to give Dolce a small caress on her head.  Dolce, sweetheart that she is, laid down at the sneaker-clad feet of the little girl, rolling over for a belly rub. Giggles erupted from the child as Amore licked her face.  Little ones are a favorite with our girls.

The next mile was broken up with no less than eleven groups of hikers all asking about our dogs, slowing down our parade up the hill.

In betwimg_0127een, Malcolm and I tried for our own photo-op of our dogs.  I had visions of the perfect Christmas Card.  The girls had visions of more dog worshiping.  Of them.  By others. Cuz they don’t get enough love at home.  NOT!

Every time we stopped for a selfie, people would stop to pet Amore and Dolce. Every time we would strike up the band to move on up the trail, strangers pumped us with questions about the breed of Amore and Dolce.  Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade through New York moved faster than we were getting hiking up the trail.

When we heard there was a small creek up ahead and around a bend, we made that our destination.  The girls would be able to wade in to cool off.  Malc and I would be able to scout for suitable location for our holiday photo shoot.

With the creek in sight, I found a good-sized boulder to pramore-creekop against, the girls found the shallow water, and Malcolm found a fellow hiker to take a few pictures.

Click.  Click.

“Come in closer.” Click.

“No, closer.”  Click.

“You’re too far away.”  Click. Click.

That’s the great thing about digital pictures.  You can delete all the crappy ones and it hasn’t cost you a thing.  Outmalc-amore-creek of 50 or so pictures, we actually had quite a few that were decent.  A couple were card worthy, a few were blog worthy.

The best ones were with our Grand Marshals.  Amore and Dolce were the hit of the parade.

 

 
dolce

malcolm-and-me

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what dog hears

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We all know dogs have selective hearing.

When Amore was in her teenage years, she was a handful.  Headstrong, willful, she refused to “sit”, “stay” or “come” when we called to her.  Totally blew us off.  Even with the promise of a treat, she would ignore us when we issued commands.  Oh, she heard us alright.   We would see her ears twitch, her head would cock to the side, her little brain thinking and then she would give us her tail.  The canine equivalent to flipping us the bird.

Malcolm would put on his serious voice, deepening the word as he gave the command.  “Come” he would say in his stern sargent’s voice.

“Come!” he repeated, sharpening the directive.

“Amore! COME!!” he said for the third time.

Amore gave him the look and went back to what she was doing. There was no “three-time’s-a-charm” ol’ college try.  And, after the third repeat, dogs really don’t tune in anymore.  All they hear is yada, yada, yada, etc., etc., etc., and so on and so on and so on.

After talking to a dog trainer, we realized Amore just didn’t like the word “come”.  Why?  It started with a “C”.  Poor baby, it hurt her ears. It seems a lot of dogs comprehend “H” and “W” word commands easier.  Who knew?

Word commands such as HERE, HEEL, HUPP (H + up), and WAIT,  are more pleasing to their ears.  All one-syllable words.  Words like HOLD,  HUGG, WHERE, WALK, and  WHAT (to be said when furiously barking) became synonymous with the old standards of, come, sit, follow, up, stay, stand, no, load up, fetch and find.

Malcolm and I liked the new commands, not only were they one-syllable, but they were mostly four-letter words.  Always a good feeling to spew those.  In the past, there was nothing like a four-letter word to get the point across.

G.A.W.D    D.A.M.N   it   D.A.W.G.   C.O.M.E.!  Screamed in frustration.

or, my favorite,

F # & K  –   N.O.T.T.  my  N.U.T.T.s, said in pain as Amore jumped, paws first, on Malcolm as he was spawled on the couch.

We switched our command to “HERE” (minus the gawd damn) and lo and behold, Amore obeyed. Came wanting her treat, but she came none the less.  We now say “WAIT” to Amore before allowed to sit on the sofa, with all body parts preserved.  HUPP is for the girls to load up into the car for a WALK, and HUGG will get you a cuddle and dog licks as their paws wrap around our waist.

And Malcolm and I, we have a running joke about what Amore and Dolce actually hear……..

what a dog hears

 

 

 

May

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It always amazes me how fast time flies.

As a family with only dogs and one fat cat, Malcolm and I find that most days merge into weeks into months into years as life speeds by.  Those days tend to be a blur of memories, mostly good ones, mostly happy ones, but mixed in with the fond remembrances are the harsh realities of life.

Earlier this week Malcolm and celebrated our anniversary.  As we reminisced our married life, memories of our early days brought forth giggles and laughs over old jokes, old adventures, and old ‘remember when’s. It also brought saddened smiles of other anniversaries.  Our ‘borrowed’ kid, Sam, and our first child, Tiamo.  One was our nephew, the other our beloved Bernese Mountain Dog.  Both were ‘firsts’ in our lives.

May is the month we honor Moms, congratulate Grads, and celebrate Anniversaries.  And May is the month we remember those who have left our lives but not our hearts……


 

Malcolm and I don’t have children – we have dogs.  Use to be three, now two huge, wonderfully sweet, spoiled brats.  Both of us were in our forties when we meet and married, well beyond the age to consider kids. But still young enough to fall into the pet trap.

Like most parents with real kids, Tiamo, our first Bernese Mountain Dog, was easy to raise and didn’t give us any trouble.  Much. We spent hours training her, socializing her, correcting her, loving her.

Santa Fe is a dog friendly town, permitting canines on leash most everywhere and we took her everywhere that allowed dogs.  She was part of our family, we were part of her pack. There was never a time she wasn’t with either Malcolm or I.

Tiamo would sit at our feet, under the table, while we sat outside eating lunch at the local cafes and bistros. She loved to watch the other patrons, always hoping there might be other dogs around.  She was so well-behaved, little nippers would climb all over her and she loved the attention.  She loved people and other animals, especially Thugs.

But most of all, she LOVED Sam.

Sam was our nephew and was loved like a son.  In so many ways, he was the kid we never had.

Sam at sunset - AZ

One freezing cold January day, Sam arrived in Santa Fe. He arrived shirtless, in shorts and wearing flip-flops. He planned to stay for a short weekend visit. He was passing through New Mexico on his way to life.

I had never “truly” met this nephew of Malcolm’s. He attended our wedding, but like most brides on the wedding day, I didn’t remember much. As for Malcolm, it had been years since he had any true contact with him. Short emails and such, but no one-on-one, face-to-face conversations. In truth, neither one of us knew Sam very well, and me not at all. Neither one of us knew what to expect. I have no doubt Sam felt the same way.

Sam was 23 years, not even a quarter of a century old, and traveling through his life. While both Malcolm and I were fast approaching the half-dollar mark and getting ready to slide down the other side.  Sam was just starting on his expedition, his life’s trek. We were winding down from ours. We were poles apart on where we all were in our lives, in age, in experiences, and in goals. Somehow we managed to find common ground and meet in the middle.

My plan was to cook up a storm, for in my experience, food solved all dilemmas. Sam was in his early twenties, an age when all males ate a lot, extra servings and seconds, so double batches were required.   I went to work in the kitchen.

Malcolm’s plan was to show Sam around town, drive up through the mountains, expose Sam to the wonders of Santa Fe. Malcolm gassed up the SUV.

Sam’s plan was to document life through his travels, videoing his journey, recording his thoughts. He had graduated from college and his young artist’s soul was begging to be set free and loose in the wilds. His jump off was Santa Fe. He had tricked out his truck and camper into a cozy living area. He jimmy-rigged a camera mount on his bicycle to record his wanderings, pulled some money from his savings and had a full tank of gas and ideas. Ready. Set. Go.

He never left Santa Fe. One week later, after living in his truck at the Wal-Mart parking lot, Sam moved into our household, taking over the guest bedroom.

I had someone new to spoil, while  Malcolm had someone new with which to impart wisdom and advice.   Not having kids, we loved the fact he came diaper free and with manners.  He was trained.  We bonded quickly and the three of us became a family. We loved Sam – Sam loved us. Sam was special. Unique. We “adopted” him without any hesitation.

When Malcolm was turning fifty, I surprised him with a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy.  Born on Thanksgiving Day, Tiamo joined our new family when she was eleven weeks old. We all instantly fell in love with her, especially Sam. Although, I think he originally saw her as a chick magnet with four legs and fur.  I mean, seriously, what female under 80 and not blind, would not fall in love with a Bernese puppy! For that matter, Sam was a hottie. What female under 30 and/or blind would not fall for a tall handsome Texan.

Sam took part in Tiamo’s training.  He assisted in walking her, grooming her and teaching her to sit, along with other commands. Sam would volunteer to bring Tiamo to the vet when she needed her booster shots. He took care of Tiamo when we went away for travel and trips. Sam was Tiamo’s third caregiver. The two of them were inseparable.

When Sam later moved into town, I think he missed Tiamo more than he missed us.  I know Tiamo missed him something fierce.  She would go absolutely bonkers when Sam came to visit and wouldn’t leave his side.  Malcolm and I were ignored. For Tiamo, Sam was it.

Tiamo would have this goofy grin on her face when Sam showed up.  Her eyes would light up and she would prance around, showing off for Sam.  Sam always brought her a treat.  Something special just for her.  It got so every time Sam came, she would immediately reach for his pant’s pocket, nosing her muzzle, sniffing for her treat.   Sam never failed to disappoint her.

Tiamo was the happiest when the three of us were together.  Sam, Malcolm and I. Plus Tiamo. She would grab her toy of the week, gnawing on it while laying at our feet, listening to our voices as we caught up on our lives.  Her family together, Tiamo was happy and content.

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Tiamo

Sam loved the outdoors.  Even on the coldest of days, he and Malcolm would sit outside, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon, enjoying a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, discussing life.  They would pull up two old wooden rocking chairs to the edge of the portal, facing west, and observe the sky’s colors as they faded from brilliant blue to fiery orange to pitch black.  Tiamo at their feet.  They would still be talking as the stars turned on their lights, twinkling from above.  Tiamo was content to be with her “boys”.

Some nights, Malcolm and Sam would light a small fire in the clay Chiminea for warmth.  Other times, they would gently rock their chairs to the cadence of their conversation, low murmurs that would tease Tiamo into a soft sleep at their feet. During the summer months, Sam and Malcolm would take Tiamo for midnight walks after it had cooled down from the day’s heat.  Tiamo happily trotting along besides the two of them. Plainly said, Tiamo LOVED Sam.

When Sam was 27, he passed away. The first year, after Sam’s death, was the hardest.  Malcolm and I had to re-adjust our family back down to two with a dog. Along with Tiamo, we had to re-adjust to never seeing Sam again.  We all mourned.  We all missed Sam.  Like barbed wire twisted around our hearts, we felt every razor-sharp prong squeezing into our grief and sorrow.  Our hearts were bleeding, bruised and beat up. Tiamo’s was as well.

The following spring after Sam’s death, I started a memorial garden.  West of our covered portal, in full view of the day’s end, I planted flowery shrubs, bushes and flowers in every color to remind us of the sun winking good night.  Fiery reds and oranges, brilliant blue hues, twinkling whites and luminous purples. Cheerful yellows and soft pinks. Bright colors to reflect life’s wonder. Colorful shades of nature reminiscent of watching the sun disappear behind the Sandias as all of us conversed. A salute to our loved ones. A nod to Sam. We missed our Sam, but are so thankful he joined our life for what little time we had with him.

We have since laid flagstone, moved the clay Chiminea pot to the middle of the stonework and added more wooden rocking chairs. Birdhouses and yard art are scattered around to commemorate the joy of life.  Sam’s life. Bright colors surround the garden, flowers edging the stone’s perimeter. Pinon, pine trees and junipers providing the shade and adding a wind break.  It has become a happy place. It is a continual work in progress.

Tiamo was half way through her sixth year when Malcolm and I had to put her down.  Cancer.  Heart-wrenching.  Sad.  Deep. It was early May and we had two weeks to prepare for the finality of losing her.  We had been through the grief of losing Sam. Now we were going to go through the heartache and anguish of losing another beloved child.

There was no question that we would bury Tiamo at home in our Memorial Garden. A place where Tiamo would sit at Sam’s feet as Malcolm and Sam watched the sun set. Malcolm had chosen an area in the garden where Tiamo loved to lay while Sam and Malcolm chatted, solving the world’s problems.  Under a big juniper tree, he started to dig her burial plot.

As Malcolm prepared Tiamo’s final resting spot, Tiamo laid by the deepening hole and watched, silently giving us her acceptance of what was to come.   She was ready.  We were not.

We didn’t want to let her go. Memories of her as a puppy, remembrances of Sam “borrowing” Tiamo to assist him in picking up long haired co-eds, recollections of Tiamo sitting at our feet while on the portal, flooded our hearts. Our beautiful Tiamo was in pain. No more walks on the green belt, no more belly rubs at night, no more trips in the car. We knew it wouldn’t be long.

Our veterinarian had told us we would know when to bring her in. “When it’s time to stop the suffering, you’ll know,” she said, her eyes filled with sympathy.

Malcolm and I felt like we were playing at being God, making the decision about when to end Tiamo’s life, when to “bring her in.” “When it was time” turned into “then it was time” way too soon. With tears in our eyes and a heavy, burdened heart, we put Tiamo down. Again, Malcolm and I deeply grieved.

When we bring pets into our lives, we come to the understanding that, most likely we will outlive them by many years. Most likely there will be many other pets in between. We had already put Thugs down, our aging cat of nearly twenty-two years. Malcolm and I accepted that. Hate it, but know it, and know this is life.  This is the harsh reality we all go through.  Damn it hurts.

We buried Tiamo in her favorite spot, shaded by junipers and surrounded by color, facing west to watch the sun set.  She is deeply missed.

I would like to believe Sam and Tiamo are high in the sky, in their happy place together.  Tiamo has her “Sam” to play with, sniffing out an endless supply of treats from his pockets, prancing around in a field of soft green clover.  Sam has Tiamo, keeping him company while he enjoys the fresh air and outdoors.

We miss our kids.

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selfies

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In the wake of social media and networking apps came selfies.  A high angle shot held steady by a selfie stick or an arm stretched to the high heavens, selfies are designed to appear casual and natural.  No airbrushing, no photo-shopping, and more importantly, at no cost.  Selfies exaggerate the size of ones eyes and minimize any double chin you may be working on.  The appeal of selfies came about from how cheap and easy they are to create and share.  Almost instantly.  The best part is the control they give the self-photographers over how they look.

It’s safe to say Kim Kardashian is officially People magazine’s queen of selfies.  She has legitimately earned the crown by taking Twitter, Instagram, and other just-click-here media outlets very seriously.  She even has her own set of selfie rules she adheres to. Not a day goes by without some comment, tweet or article rambling on about Kim’s latest picture post.  Well, move over Kim, there is a new bitch in town.

It didn’t take long for selfies to cross-over into the canine world.  Doggie self-portraits are popping up all over the internet in dog blogs and pet sites.  Pup pics, pooch Polaroids and puppy photos are filling up Instagram and Twitter accounts.  Pinterest is over-flowing with dog selfies.  Do a quick google search on mutt mugs and thousands of images of Fido selfies can be found.

The selfie trend took hold right around the time the girls were born and Amore jumped on the Instagram craze like a house on fire.  At three weeks, Amore took her first selfie.  A shy peek-a-boo portrait with big puppy eyes and paws. DSC00596

Next came her pensive selfie.  Two months old and she already knew her good side.

AmoreAs Amore aged, her posturing adapted to her personality.  Her selfies emphasized her crazy, the photos defining her complex individuality.

Amore peeking from the front sure that something better is happening in the backThe selfies continued.

DSC00331 And continued.   Amore went selfie happy.  No photo went unposted.

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She had only one rule.  She had to be front row and center in the picture.  She didn’t share film or credits.

wiggling

Snow only brought out more opportunity for snapshots.

Photo 9 - Amore

To our dismay, our cute little Amore had turned into a selfie slut.

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when push comes to pull

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Bernese Mountain Dogs are an old breed.  Amore and Dolce’s long ago ancestors were once used as all-purpose farm dogs. Originating from Switzerland long before the time they were recognized as a purebred dog, Berners were used as watchdogs for guarding property and to drive dairy cattle long distances from the farm to up to the alpine pastures.  And, they were considered great draft dogs.  One of their most essential historical tasks was to transport fresh milk, cheese and other farm fresh produce for small farmers pulling carts and small wagons containing the wares to market. berner-cart 2

Bernese Mountain Dogs were bred to haul small drays.  Like a cowdog’s first instinct is to herd, nipping at the heels of cattle, Berner’s have a predisposition to want to push and pull.  Their deep barreled chest and strong upper body strength gives them a solid muscle pack to push against a harness.  berner cart 1

When Tiamo was a youngster, she started to push her way between our legs, usually from behind. Similar to her forebears, she would thrust her shoulders against Malcolm or my lower limbs, her head slightly down, her front paws digging into the ground for traction.  If you were ready for the intrusion, Tiamo would continue to press through, gaining a neck rub and an ear scratch as she emerged on the other side.  If you weren’t on the ready, tragic tumbling could befall.

We first thought this was some sort of game with her.  Her canine way of getting some extra lovin!  We came to realize Tiamo was doing what she was bred to do – to push against a harness, to pull her freight.  Our legs were her harness.  We toyed with the idea of cart training her.  We had grand thoughts of her hauling our groceries, or maybe even us, to and from the store.  We nixed that thought pretty damn quick.  The cost of equipment and training gave that idea an abrupt death.  Add the image of another large thing to store and gather dust in the garage and Malcolm and I dropped the cart notion like a hot potato.berner cart 3

To her dying day, Tiamo loved to push between our legs to petting victory on the other side.  She always won.

Her heritage lying deep in her heart, Dolce has the same innate desire to push.  In the last couple of years, Dolce has started the same game of pushing between our legs from behind and coming up the victor with scratchin’ and rubbin’ as she pokes her head through. Dolce considers it her duty, when she can make Malcolm or myself move forward ten feet or more.  It’s her role even if  she gets us to travel less.  No matter, she still gets her reward of lovin’ for a job well done.

Berners are a breed that has served for generations as helpmates and faithful canine companions.  They are considered working dogs and need chores to feel useful to their owners, to have a purpose, to feel important. For Dolce, the labor is in the pushing, the challenge is in moving one of us forward, and the reward is some well deserved lovin! blog signature 2-25-14

jealousy

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Over the years, Malcolm and I have watched jealousy fits spike between Amore and Dolce.  One has a bone, the other doesn’t.  Dolce is riding shotgun in the car, Amore wants to be.  Amore is on the bed, Dolce covets her spot.  Paws hold down the toy, growls are disposed, fights ensue, each dog is sent to their timeout corner.  Detention is given to the misbehaving mutts.  Treats taken away.

We have watched Dolce tense and snarl when Amore comes to close to her bone.  We watch as Dolce tucks her bone under her paw, her head lowering just above.  A deep rumble emits from her throat in warning.  Amore antagonizing Dolce over the treat.  Dolce fighting back.amore and bone

We have seen Amore literally pushing Dolce off the front seat as they establish who will be riding shotgun.  Dolce scrunched against the car door as Amore thrusts her 100 lb. frame into the seat. Neither giving so much as an inch of chair up in ownership of the front, both fighting for supremacy over who gets to ride shotgun.

Riding shotgun!

Riding shotgun!

We chuckle over Amore keeping Dolce off the bed, refusing to allow her up on her reign of the soft mattress.  It usually takes Malcolm holding on to Amore so Dolce can jump up and grab a corner of the bed.

It’s a whole different story when the jealousy is between Malcolm and myself.  Oh yeah, we each sing a different tune then.

In the beginning, way back when we first had Tiamo, I wasn’t working.  I was an equal caregiver, getting up to feed our early riser, walking Tiamo around the loop to tire her for the day.  Malcolm had the evening shift. He would take her on another trek around the loop, and worked on Tiamo’s training. I gave her belly rubs and messages. Malcolm gave her rides in the car. Tiamo’s love was pretty much evenly dispersed between the two of us.

And then I got a job.

I still tended to the morning mutt chores, feeding the girls as I prepared for work.  I would give each dog some belly scratches just as I left to drive into town, leaving Malcolm with the girls for the hours I was gone.  Upon my return home, I had three eager dogs waiting for me to enter though the garage door.  Malcolm was like the proverbial housewife that hands over the baby when dad walks through the door.  He had the dogs all day, it was my turn to have ’em.

Slowly, as my days at work turned into years, I watched a pattern emerge.

I saw the girls getting more excited to see Malcolm than me.  I watched them scramble to head out to the garage as they heard the garage door pulling up, chomping at the bit to reach Malcolm before the other.  I only receive wagging tails once I am inside the house.  If we happen to stop at the store, I watch how vigilant both girls are, waiting for Malcolm to return.  Their eyes never leaving the front entrance of where he disappeared.  When I take them up to the grocery, I find them fast asleep in the back as I unload the cart.  I notice how Amore and Dolce look to Malcolm for guidance on our walks, running to him for treats, listening to him give commands.

I have to admit, there is a big, fat, ugly green-eyed monster sitting on my left and my right shoulder.  I am a little envious of this lop-sided affection.  Okay, I’m a lot envious.  Alright, alright, I’m flat-out jealous of how the dogs go to him first, how they go bonkers to sit by him, how they hang with him in the den at night rather than with me.  My pouts of “they love you more” are volleyed with “but I have  them all day” comments from Malcolm.  Obviously, my internal ploy to minimize their devotion to Malcolm isn’t working.

I’ve concluded Amore and Dolce might “favor” Malcolm just a little more…. but I love them more!  Ten times more! So there!

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Wicked Pricklers

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“Gawd Damn! Son-ov-ah-beeeeach!” I heard from the other room. Malcolm was swearing up a storm. I peeked around the kitchen corner and watched him hobble to the couch on one foot.  Poor guy had stepped on a broken-off cactus spine, it’s embedded head sticking out of his bare footed heel. Another screech of cussing occurred as he pulled out the offending sticker.  Surgery is sometimes worse than the injury. The spines don’t pull out easily and one needs a pair of needle nose pliers and a steady hand.  Ouch! I cringed, having stepped on a few of them myself. It hurts like a muther, with the agony lasting for a good hour. As usual, one of the girls had carried in the aggressive prong and Malcolm was the unlucky sole that found it.

If it’s not a cactus spine, it’s a goat-head or a cocklebur, or puncture vines, or sand burrs. When you live in the high desert, there are a number abusive pricklers that attach themselves to any and every passersby. Amore and Dolce seem to be hosts to all of them.  Their long hair attracting it’s share of stickers.  We take precautions with their fur.  We trim their coat, their under belly and forelegs.  At the start of summer, their beautiful leg feathers are clipped short, their paws sheared.  We shave their tummy’s, cut back on their tail fringe and prune their sides.  Anything to keep the stickers to a minimum. For both the dogs and for us. As we have painfully experienced, if it hitches a ride on the girl’s fur and makes it inside the house, it stands to reason, at some point, those prickly lit’le bastards will latch on to one of us…….

As I’ve mentioned in the past, we like to walk the girls at the Galisteo Basin Preserve, an open space trail network with over 18 miles of bike and hike trails.  What use to be ranch land, the GBP still has remnants of its past with tall windmills, falling down sheep herder shacks, and man-made dams for watering the livestock and wildlife.  If we happened to have had a good monsoon season, the odds are good the dam will be full of water.  Back in September, we hiked the Cottonwood trail and found the dam full.  Amore and Dolce made straight for the water, playing in the shallow lake. Mud and muck be damned, our girls were partying in the cool pool of rain run-off.

Belly high play

Belly high play

So yesterday we thought we would check to see if the dam still had some water.  The past few weeks we have had some measurable rain and I figured there should still be some water available for the girls to soak their paws.

“Let’s take em’ to the dam” I suggested.  The hike to the pond is only a mile or so up the trail with just a slight incline.  Malc agreed.  We noticed the grass was taller but much drier than when we had hiked this route in September.  With the coming of winter, the green turf had already turned to golden tan and brown.  But yesterday was one of those perfect fall days that had a cloudless, brilliant blue sky. It was warm enough for wearing just a T-Shirt and shorts with the slight breeze a modest whisper.  If there was water in the dam, it would be the last pool party of the year.  I couldn’t wait to check.

We rounded the last bend to the dam and Amore took off.  She was headed for the water and sprinted towards the cool reservoir.  We were right behind her.  The lake was down to a mud patch and a little surface water but enough for Dolce and Amore to get dirty. Enough for some muddy play time.  Malcolm and I stopped to watch Amore race to the mire.  Abruptly, she turned, hastily running back to us.

“What’s wrong with Amore?” I turned to Malcolm and asked.

“Oh, shit!”

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nasty little suckers

I looked down at Amore. She was covered in stickers. Infested with them.  Her collar, sides, belly, underarms, legs, tail and paws had hundreds of nasty burrs tangled within her fur.  Amore had run straight through a large patch of wicked pricklers.  The dry burrs clung to her coat, knotting in her hair.  Every time she moved, the sharp barbed stickers dug in deeper beneath her beautiful black coat.  With resolve, I pulled out the Leatherman from my pack.  Malcolm and I started the long tedious process of removing the thorns.  We stopped counting after eighty and still had more to go. Our gloveless fingers were numb from the penetrating prickly points. There would be no water play today.  We hiked back down the trail.  We knew there were more burrs buried on her body, but needed scissors to cut out the rest.  We headed home.

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one of hundreds

Amore had had enough of Malcolm and I picking at her fur. She was done with us yanking and pulling her hair as we extracted the stickers from her body.  It took the two of us over an hour on the trail to pick out the worst of the bunch.  We still had more to go.  I sat in the back of the SUV to soothe and placate her on the ride home.

Once home, I grabbed the scissors and began cutting out the remaining burrs. By the end of Amore’s impromptu hair cut, I had a good sized pile of stickers, stacked on the floor, ready for me to throw away…..

“Gawd Damn! Son-ov-ah-beeeeach!” I heard from the other room an hour or two later.

Oops!  Must’ve missed one on the floor.

 

 

 

 

the fisherman

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DSC00453

tilting at the windmill

The Galisteo Basin Preserve was once a large cattle ranch.   It is miles of cow trails, rutted dirt roads and nature.  Old cowboy camps and lean tos dot the countryside with broken-down foundation remains and falling-down corrals.  A dry river bed runs through the ranch, it’s eroded banks reaching as high as twenty-to-thirty feet above the sandy river floor in some places.  I know of three windmills with water troughs at their base, their blades creaking against the wind as the pump struggles to pull up water for the trough.  All combined, it is a rustic reminder of its western heritage and the old frontier.

Just a few miles from our home, the GBP is now a hiker’s mecca.  It’s a horse and rider’s trail workout and mountain biker’s nirvana.  It’s where we take the girls for their daily walks.

Our first few experiences at the Preserve were riddled with adventure.  As Amore scouted for lizards, Tiamo trotted along sniffing every low hanging branch there was.  Dolce stayed at our heels.  New trails brought new scents and the girls would scatter about to investigate the foreign territory.  Once or twice we will catch sight of a coyote, several times we have crossed paths with snakes.  We’ve seen evidence of antelope and deer and have heard of sightings of mountain lions.  The easy access to water makes the area ideal for wildlife.  And koi.

The dogs had a habit of drinking the trough water at the tail end of our hikes.  Though we packed water with us to keep the girls hydrated throughout our walks, they like the cold, fresh from the well, water.  We make a point to stop at the troughs before loading up into the car, allowing the girls one last sip.

It was on a cold, drizzly January day, the wind kicking up due to an incoming storm, when we were trying to get a quick walk in before being hit with the impending deluge.  As we finished our hike and neared the water trough, Tiamo ran ahead to get her fill.  At the edge of the trough she stilled, looking intently into the darkened mossy water.  We saw she was tracking something but had no idea what.  Her quick eyes had spotted movement and she was on it. Waiting just a few seconds, she moved her head in a little circle and before we knew it, leaped over the rim into the water trough.  Icy cold water splashed heavily over the sides.   Large water droplets landing on both Malcolm and I.  Cold, freezing ucky water  soaking our sweatshirts.  The wake of her splash landing on our boots.

“What the hell?” Malcolm shouted.  With a death grip, I grabbed on to the collars of Amore and Dolce, the only foot-loose canines left on dry land.  I wasn’t about to let Amore and Dolce follow into the trough along with mama.  Malcolm scrambled to get to Tiamo.  Once in the trough, Tiamo didn’t want to get out.  She had more fish to fry.  Literally.  Namely the koi hiding deep in the bottom moss of the water tank.  Tiamo had gone fishing.

As I held on to the girls, Malcolm struggled to haul Tiamo out of the water.  Jumping in was much easier than climbing out.  The rim was nothing more than a sharp torch-cut metal edge, hurtful for Tiamo to balance her paws on to jump out.  The weight of the water, the slippery moss-covered bottom hindered her escape from the cold water.  She was stuck.  She was completely soaked, now trembling from the frigid water.   The koi forgotten, she wanted out.

There was no two ways about it.  Malcolm was going to have to lift her out.  He was going to have to reach in the finger-numbing icy water to pull Tiamo out.  Cussing like a sailor, Malc stripped off his jacket and sweatshirt, pulled off his gloves and plunged his arms into the water, encircling Tiamo’s belly to heft her out of the water.  100 pounds of basically full on dead weight – this was not going to be an easy feat.  As she was clearing the water Tiamo panicked.  Back legs kicking, front paws scratching Malcolm’s bare torso, Tiamo twisted and turned for freedom.  Malcolm and Tiamo landed on dry land but both were soaking wet.  And freezing.  And stinky from the stagnant waters.  Malcolm was covered in stinky mossy uck.  Tiamo just stunk.

Needless to say, I drove home, Malcolm sat in the back with the dogs.

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Dolce scouting for goldfish

 

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You choose!

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Help!

I’m sending out an S.O.S. to all of you.

I need your help!  Help me choose the best photo from the final round of photo edits.  How do you choose the absolute best Kodak moment? How do you pick just one photo out of literally hundreds of images when they all have special meaning?  Especially when each impression, each picture is so expressive.   Here’s where you get to help.

After sorting through over 800 plus photos of the girls, I was able to narrow down the first round of cuts to over 60 pictures.  The second round of edits was much harder.  I scrutinized the pics over and over.  I agonized over similar images, clicking back and forth and back and forth before finally making the selection.  I would click for a larger view, toggle back to the other photo, resort the order, review the pictures again, place the images side by side and then chanted, “enny, meanny, minny moe”.  The final click deleted the next 45 or so of puppy pics.

Leaving the last round of selecting the best photo to you.

The past five months between work, travel and life, I started writing another book.  I know, I know, am I crazy or what?  But crazy or not, I’m at the “designing the cover” stage and need your assistance.  Scroll down and view the final round of possible cover pictures.  Imagine each photo on the cover of a dog tale story and place your vote!  Leave a comment, offer your reasons, or suggest something different.  Let me know your thoughts.

To help you, here is a brief description of my soon-to-be published book.

Meet Tiamo, Amore and Dolce; three, 100 pound, beautiful Bernese Mountain Dogs, whose adorable, funny antics will bring chuckles and smiles and sometimes a few tears as you read their tales.  True stories, hilarious escapades, and entertaining dog adventures, all chronicling their heartwarming, and many times, humorous capers…. along with their playful frolics that often land our fearless canines in the dog house. Touching and tender, amusing and comical, these moving narratives and snippets of their lives impart bow-wow wisdom and show the loyalty and love between man’s best friend and their care-tenders.

Photo 1 - Amore and Dolce

Photo 1 – Amore and Dolce

Photo 2 - Amore

Photo 2 – Amore

Photo 3 - Amore

Photo 3 – Amore

Photo 4 - Amore

Photo 4 – Amore

Photo 5 - the three musketeers

Photo 5 – the three musketeers

Photo 6 - Amore and Dolce

Photo 6 – Amore and Dolce

Photo 7 - Amore and Dolce

Photo 7 – Amore and Dolce

Photo 8 - Dolce

Photo 8 – Dolce

Photo 9 - Amore

Photo 9 – Amore

Photo 10 - Amore and Dolce

Photo 10 – Amore and Dolce

Photo 11 - Amore

Photo 11 – Amore

Photo 12 - Amore

Photo 12 – Amore

Photo 13 - Amore

Photo 13 – Amore

Please vote for your favorite photo

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betcha can’t…

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Betcha can’t eat just one

A few years ago, Lay’s Potato Chips threw down the gauntlet in a new advertising campaign:  “Bet you can’t eat just one!”  It was a clever slogan–and had a clever commercial to match.  But I think the line resonated so much because it’s true.  It’s quite difficult to eat just one potato chip.  You tear open the bag and, before you know it, you’ve somehow eaten the whole bag.  Even when you didn’t think you were all that hungry.

Popcorn, potato chips, peanuts.  It’s pretty hard to stop at eating just one.  They’re hard to resist.  These salty little snacks are downright addicting.  Just try having only one peanut or just one chip.  It’s not gonna happen.  Thinking that you are just going to have one handful of popcorn, turns into two and three and four grabs into the popcorn bowl until there is nothing left but salt and kernels.  Peanuts – try tossing just one peanut in the air to catch in your mouth.  Within minutes you’ve thrown a dozen or so nuts up high, tilting your head back and opening your jaws wide to catch em’ on the down swing.

I give a half-ass attempt in not keeping any chips or peanuts in the house and let me tell ya’, it’s really hard to do.  Along with ice cream, I purposely don’t add snacks to my grocery list.  And yet, somehow, I find my shelves lined with microwave popcorn and Planter’s nuts.  Cheetos, Frito’s and Ruffles fill the cupboards and there is Chocolate Chip ice cream in the freezer.  I blame it on the weekends.  And Malcolm.

Weekends are for errands, exercise and extracurricular activities.  It’s when Malcolm and I run into town to do odd tasks we can’t get to during the week.  It’s when we are able to swim and/or work out at the club and it’s when we have friends over for a get-to-gether.  Inevitably, as we are heading home on the freeway after running around doing errands or from swimming, Malcolm will look over at me sitting in the passenger seat, and with an expectant look on his face.

“Know what I’m thinking?” he’ll ask.

“No, what?”  Of course, by now, I should know what he is up to.

“I’m thinking we should stop at the store and get some ice cream?” Malcolm looks at me with hope in his eyes.  He senses my hesitation.  Before I can voice any veto, he continues, “You can pick out what flavor you want,” adding incentive for me to give the okay to stop at the store.

“All right,” I cave, thinking I’ll swim extra laps the next day.  “But I want Chocolate Moose Swirl and you have to go in to buy it,” I tacked on my conditions for bringing the forbidden ice cream into the house.

Other times, we’ll stop at the grocery store to pick up something for dinner and walk out with a bag of chips.  Midnight snacks include popcorn with Tabasco sauce and butter and during the summers, we’ll sit outside under the portal, cracking open the roasted shells as we sip our beers, eating peanuts.  Yep, it’s hard to keep snacks out of our household.

So the other day when we were driving home from swimming and Malcolm looked over at me with that same expectant look, asking, “know what I’m thinking?” I knew he wanted to stop at the store.  It was almost noon and I didn’t have much on hand for sandwich makings’.  I geared up for the big ask but I already knew I was going to relent since I was craving some Crunchy Cheetos.  I put on my “not-gonna-budge” face.

“No, what?”  I braced myself.  Since it was lunch time, I just knew he wanted the full spread.  Popcorn, potato chips and peanuts.  The three “P’s”.

“I’m thinking we should have another puppy,” Malcolm glanced over at me, watching for my reaction.  Unfortunately, I had just swallowed a big gulp of water.  My mouthful of water sprayed all over the dashboard.

“A puppy?” I croaked, mopping up the spewed water with my shirt sleeve.

DSC00596“Another kid?” I questioned.  Malcolm and I were late bloomers.  We didn’t marry until we were both in our forties and children weren’t truly an option.  Our dogs were our kids.

“Are you serious?” I asked.  (No, I did not shriek, I politely asked).  I had thought once or twice about having another puppy, another Berner, but had been hesitant in bringing up the subject.  I figured it would be a few years yet before we were ready for another dog. Amore and Dolce were still going strong.  When we had Tiamo, along with the girls, raising three dogs was a huge commitment.  Vacations were out of the question.  Weekend trips were a big hassle.  Finding a puppy-sitter we could trust, the expense of it all, took a toll on the joy of being away from our girls. A puppy would only add another layer to our lives.IMG_6953

“Well, yeah,” Malcolm sheepishly replied.  “This time it would be different,” he swore.

“Different how?” I wondered.  We would still be back to three dogs.  Three huge dogs.

“For starters, this puppy wouldn’t be allowed on the bed!” Malc exclaimed.  “It’ll be trained, like we trained Tiamo, not like the girls!”  I chuckled over that statement.  Amore and Dolce mean well, but they do have excitement issues.  Tiamo was so well-mannered, so well-behaved, we just assumed Amore and Dolce would be as well.  Even with training, Amore and Dolce are hellions only a mother can love.

“What brought this on?” I queried.

“I just want another one,” Malcolm said.  I wondered if this is how married couples discuss having another child.

“Don’t you remember all the chewed up shoes, all the torn library books, all the middle-of-the-night-keep-me-company times?”  I poked at his memory.  “You sure you want another child?”  IMG_7010

“Well, yeah,” Malcolm repeated.  “It doesn’t last forever.  They grow out of it.”  Dolce and Amore’s “terrible twos” lasted four years.  In dog years that’s 28 long years.

“When were you thinking of bringing on this addition?”  In other words, how many years apart do you want the kids to be?  Amore and Dolce are working on their sixth birthday and unfortunately, Bernese Mountain Dogs have a short life expectancy.  The average life span for a Berner is seven to ten years.  Tiamo was with us less than seven years.  In Berner terms, the girls were getting up there.

“Well, not for another year or too,”  he answered.  I relaxed a little bit. “But you can’t just stop at one!”  Malcolm added.  My thoughts turned to the Lay’s potato chip “Betcha can’t eat just one!” Nope, you can’t just stop at one.  Even though the word “puppy” was added to the forbidden snack list, and is now part of the four “P’s”,  I know without a doubt, in another year or too, a puppy will be brought into our household.  Snuck into the house when my back is turned.

We exited the freeway at our turnoff, puppy conversation over.

ahhh, we didn't eat that much!

“Wanna stop and get some ice cream?” I heard from the driver’s side.

 

 

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Love’s special day

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Next week is Valentine’s Day, celebrated by couples around the world.  A busy day for florists and candy shops, a busy night for restaurants, bars and clubs.  A day ladies hope for flowers, a night young men hope to get lucky.  Malcolm and I still like to celebrate Cupid’s famous day, but with dogs, it is easier to stay in, then travel into town for an expensive meal.  We would rather commemorate our love with a special meal, cooked at home with our dogs at our feet.  A little wine, a warm fire, a delicious meal.  A stray dog hair.

Enjoy Love’s Special Day with your special one, dogs are optional!

HEART SHAPED FILET STEAKS with WINE SAUCE and CHEESE

Share your heart with your favorite person (or dog!)

  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 4 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 1 1/4 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup ruby Port wine
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 4  2″ thick beef tenderloin steaks, fat and silver lining removed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  • 2/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

Butterfly the filet steaks by slicing through the steaks horizontally but not slicing all the way through.  Open up the steaks and shape into a heart.  Season both sides with salt and pepper and set aside.  Do NOT leave unattended on the counter – known to disappear by four-legged thieves.

Butterfly the steak

Butterfly the steak

Shape into a heart

Shape into a heart

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and shallot slices, 1 cup beef broth, port wine and cranberries.  Bring to boil  until liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup.  About 8 minutes.  Set sauce aside.

Fire up your BBQ grill to medium-high heat.  Place the  steaks on the grill and cook to desired done-ness, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.  Transfer steaks to a platter and cover with foil.

Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet. Add rosemary, then the sauce and the remaing 1/2 cup of beef broth to the skillet.  Bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits.  Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon sauce of steaks and top each steak equally with the Gorgonzola crumbles.

Grilled to the perfect done-ness

Grilled to the perfect done-ness

It means “sweetheart”…

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February.  The month of love.  The month of romance.  The month every woman, of every age wants to feel special and loved and showered with purple hearts.  By a boyfriend, a husband, a lover, a friend, by a partner, by a sweetheart.  A special card, a dozen roses, a fancy dinner, perhaps some gourmet chocolates, even M & M’s.  Diamonds, jewelry, sexy lingerie, a stuffed bear.  All symbols of love and affection.  Hearts and flowers.  The colors red and pink and purple painted on the front cover of a card.  Love, hugs and passion. February 14th.  Valentines Day.  It’s more than just saying I love you.  More than just showing you care.  More than just arriving with a bouquet of daisies or a box of Russel Stover’s Chocolate. . . .

When Tiamo first came into our lives, we had a hard time coming up with a name for her.  we wanted something special, something indicative of her heritage (Switzerland) but also of our love for each other.  Malcolm and I spent our honeymoon in Italy, a country seeped in love and romance.  When we were in Bellagio, our hotel room looked out across Lake Como to the Swiss alps, miles away.  So we combined a little Swiss with a little Italian and came up with Tiamo.  One look at our new puppy, with her four snow-capped paws and her white-tipped tail, so reminisce of our view of the Alps, and we were in love.  Totally smittened.   She was a gift to Malcolm for his 50th birthday, but she didn’t arrive in Santa Fe until a few days before Valentine’s Day.  Tiamo translates to ‘I love you’ in Italian.  Each time we said her name, we were telling her we loved her.  Just as every time her tail wagged, or she nose-nudged us for a quick ear scratch, she was sending us love.  It was our own special Valentine’s Day gift, every day.

When we ended up with two of Tiamo’s puppies, we were back in the same boat.  We had a hard time finding names that “fit” our newest additions to the family.  To keep track of the litter, we identified them by the color of the collar they wore.  We had Butterfly, Pinkie, Cherry, Blackie, Burberry, Greenie, Apple and Little Butterfly.  We certainly weren’t going to continue calling our little girls, Little Butterfly and Pinkie.  New monikers were needed.  In keeping with our Swiss/Italian theme, we ended up naming the girls, Dolce and Amore.  Sweet and Love.

our little sweetheart!

Dolce, our little sweetheart!

Dolce is sweet; a more gentle, kind dog you’ll never find, she is our sweetheart. Evenings will find her curled up on my lap, snuggling against me.  You’ll see her tail thump every so often, her muzzle reach up to lick my chin on occasion.  Dog kisses.  Her eyes softened by our touch, a look of contentment crossing her face.  Dolce is our hugger, our snuggler, our little sweetheart.  She is our own special Valentine’s Day gift, every day.

Amore, our wild at heart gilr

Amore, our wild at heart girl

Amore is love; a wild, crazy, passionate dog full of heart.  She is the flip side of Dolce.  With bright shinning eyes, Amore screams passion, an all-out, from the heart, love.  Amore is our Dennis the Menace.  You can’t help but chuckle over her antics.  You can’t help but love her.  She is so full of life, every day with her is an adventure.  We wake up each morning wondering what kind of mischief will Amore get into today, what wild dog thing will she do.  She radiates with happiness and exudes joy, it literately pours off of her.  She is our own special Valentine’s Day gift, every day.

Tiamo, Dolce, and Amore has given us more love than we could ever have imagined.  Every day.  Not with flowers or chocolates or purple hearts.  Not just on Valentine’s Day.  They give us their hearts.  Completely.  Every day.

AMARETTO SAUCE

A perfect dipping sauce for fruits.  A perfect dessert for love.

  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 1 – 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs yolks
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp. amaretto
  • fresh fruit (kiwis, bananas, apples, rapes, pineapple, peaches, cantaloupes, strawberries, blackberries or honeydew melon)

Using the food processor, mix together the ricotta cheese and cream cheese until smooth.  Add in the sugar, egg yolks, heavy cream and amaretto.  Keep beating until smooth.

Pour into a 3-cup serving bowl.  Chill until ready to serve.  While the sauce is chilling, prepare fruit into bite size pieces.  Arrange on a platter and garnish with mint leave.  When ready to serve, add the accompaniment sauce.

1000 words

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Like most high desert living, it’s either feast or famine.  We either have an abundance of snow or a dribble of water.  Our last snow fall was just days after Thanksgiving.  Edging closer towards February, the only patches of white left to be found are in remote arroyos facing north or under dense juniper branches.  Dolce and Amore’s snowy playground has all but disappeared……

Amore and Dolce - perfect angels!

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pawing

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tuckered out

being famous is soooo exhausting!

Book signings, book tours, book readings.  Amore and Dolce would rather chew a book than attend a book fair.  They are tired of being paraded around, having to be on their best behavior, putting their white paw in it-doesn’t-wash-off ink to initial one of my cookbooks.  They are worn out from all the ‘meet n’ greets’ they have attended, from all the paw shaking, all the tail wagging.  They are fed up with pawing.  Put a fork in it, they are done!  Fini.  Through.  Over.

They are especially annoyed with the numerous showers they have suffered through in preparation for their appearances.  The strawberry scented shampoo (the store was out of un-scented), the loud fur dryers, the cute little red kerchief that I tie around their necks.  If they see me in my bathing suit, if they get a whiff of shampoo and see a huge pile of towels, if they get locked in the bathroom once again, I have no doubt they will revolt.  Stage a canine mutiny.  Quit the book-signing show.  Though there is nothing more precious than a fresh-from-their-bath dog, nothing more huggable than a clean one, but I think the girls have had enough.

Secretly, I know they enjoy the attention while pawing at the book signings, the extra love they receive from fellow dog lovers and cookbook lovers requesting a signed book.  They love showing off for us.  They are definitely not bashful when it comes to grabbing the spotlight.  I’ve seen Amore push Dolce aside when she wants center stage.  I’ve noticed the nose nudges from Dolce, reminding those petting her, while waiting in line, not to stop, there is plenty of light left in the day for them to continue rubbing her.

Nevertheless, they know the Holidays are here, and they know a signed cookbook is a much better gift than an unsigned one.  If it falls on the floor, it’s mine! cookbook makes for a perfect holiday present.  Personalized or left unsigned, Amore and Dolce will even dog-tag their favorite recipes for you!  Order yours today!

It's almost here!

Order your cookbook now – just in time for Christmas 

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For delicious recipes and tails of the dogs, purchase If it falls on the floor, it’s mine! cookbook at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615869823

snowflakes and mud

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A tired dog is a happy owner!  And nothing tires out our girls more than snow.  Play time in the snow is probably Dolce and Amore’s number one favorite doings.  In the life of a dog, there is nothing better than a full belly, a warm bed and a romp in the snow.

A week after our big snow dump, most of the snow has melted but there are still patches to be found, snow angels to be made and fun to be had!  On the lookout for fresh snow, Malcolm and I took the girls on a new trail at the Galisteo Basin Preserve this weekend.  We knew the snow was getting thin, but certainly didn’t anticipate the amount of mud we would encounter.  Snow melt brings slush, and then comes the mud.   And more mud.  And then more mud.  As we swished down the trail, accumulating thick mud on our boots, Dolce and Amore took off like the wind.  They smelled fun!  They got a whiff of excitement and ran ahead like a bunch of banshees, barking for the sheer joy of dawggy play time!

Dolce immediately sniffed out a sizable plot of snow and began her rattle, roll and shake.  Angel time!  Amore followed suit, building her own snow angel.  Then it was a race to the next patch of powder.  They ran through Juniper and Pinon, leaping over small gulleys and rain carved-out arroyos in search of more snow.  They found it – along with a lot of mud, returning with mud capped paws and more.

The mud and the muck is worth it.  The look on their faces, the expression in their eyes – there is nothing more joyful than watching them play and seeing unadulterated happiness shine back at you.

Amore and Dolce - perfect angels!

Amore and Dolce – perfect angels! (not)

the race is on

the race is on

muddy paws and all

muddy paws and all

twist and roll!

a twist and a roll in the last of the snow

happy dawg

happy dawg

grins and smiles

grins and smiles

SNOWFLAKE COOKIES – a favorite at Christmas!

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver white winters that melt into springs, these are a few of my favorite things!

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour (do not use self-rising)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 oz. chocolate chips – melted (and a few extra to nibble on)
  • Star shaped cookie cutter
  • powdered sugar

Mix sugar, butter, egg and vanilla well.  Mix together flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to the butter mixture.  Let chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Roll out the chilled cookie dough on a floured board and cut into star shapes.  Place on an un-greased baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes.  Remove from oven when lightly brown.  Completely cool.

Place some melted chocolate in the middle of a star cookie.  While chocolate is still warm place another star cookie on top with the star points alternating with the bottom cookies.  Add a small dab of chocolate on the top cookie and sprinkle powdered sugar lightly over the finished cookie.

Keep under lock and key – husbands and dogs are  known to swipe one (or two!)

Rules

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Coffee on Sunday mornings are a ritual.  That and the Sunday paper. It’s our lazy day of sleeping in, catching up on a few household chores, in general, not doing much.  That being said, we do have a few rules we follow:  Starting with the first rule of the day:  first one up starts the coffee.  Rule two:  Same one up takes the dogs up the driveway to retrieve the 5 lbs. worth of circulars and ads called the Sunday paper.  Since I’m the one usually turning on the coffee and getting the paper, for the next hour or two, the rules are forgotten……

Until Malcolm stumbles out of bed.

Obeying the Malcolm rule of “coffee before talkie”, I mumble a low murmured “Morn’in” and retreat back to what I was doing.  His reply greeting is equally low in tone, undistinguishable and usually interrupted by Dolce and Amore wanting their morning love. Dolce wiggling in between his legs for a back scratch, Amore jumping up for a hug.  Once satisfied, Malc is allowed to grab a mug of coffee, settle down on the couch with the paper, sports section first, and start his day.

Malcolm calls this the organization rule. Leave him alone so he can get organized.

First the coffee – heavy cream, two heaping spoonfuls of dark brown sugar, a little cinnamon sprinkled on the top and nuked for 30 secs in the microwave.  Couch prep follows.  Pillows are arranged just so, the end table brought close enough for reach but far enough to avoid tail destruction of the coffee, and with an afghan thrown haphazardly over his lap, Malc is ready to scan the headlines above the fold.

Next up – the settling in rule. Let him get settled – then he’ll function.

Once Malcolm is settled, the dogs know they are allowed to snuggle with Malcolm.  First come, first served is the rule and it’s usually Amore.  She waits through all the preparation, through the pillow fluffing and the paper shuffling, through the blanket arrangement and table placement, waiting for her cue to join Malc on the couch.  She knows the rules, after the first sip of coffee she is cleared for lift off.  Amore springs up from her sitting position at the base of the couch, over Malcolm’s prone form, and lands between the back of the couch and Malcolm’s hip.  Twists, turns and paws poking his belly, Amore snuggles in, draped over Malc’s torso, head hanging by his side, eyes closed in bliss.  If Malcolm is lucky, Amore has waited long enough on the couch jump for him to set his mug down and out of the way on the end table, avoiding hot coffee being spilled down his front.  If he is luckier, Amore’s paws have landed on the couch cushion, missing his pride and joy, thus enabling Malcolm to walk and talk the rest of the day.  And if he is even luckier, Amore will stay put for another 50-60 minutes, allowing Malcolm to avoid all rules and commands issued by said wife.

Amore's snuggle-fest

Amore’s snuggle-fest

And now for the truth of all those other rules…..

With Amore’s 100 lb frame pinning Malcolm down, Malc is able to circumvent any and all requests.  “Honey, would you….?”,   “can’t, I have a dog on me!”,    “it’s your turn to….”   “can’t, I have a dog on me!”    “Malc – you need to…..”    “can’t, I have a dog on me!”

He thinks he is sooooo smart!  Well, I was the youngest of four, tricked and picked on by three older siblings and I learned by the best!  Listen up Malc – new rule – never try to out-trick a trickster.  By the third “can’t, I have a dog on me”, I just calmly walked over to the treat jar, being sure to rattle the ceramic lid a good bit.  The ears on both dogs perked up to full attention, their bodies tense and ready for action.  Dogs will do anything for a tasty tibbit.  A quick whistle had Amore and Dolce barreling through the living room, eager for their doggy treat.  Dolce arriving first.  Amore mere seconds later by default.

Another rule – never get between a dog and their treat.

Amore had to untangle herself from her snuggle-fest with Malcolm, front paws landing on his favored jewels, back legs gaining purchase on his belly, subsequently ripping the Op Ed section and his stomach to shreds before tipping over the end table.  It was the tip over that tossed the full of coffee mug off its perch, sprewing nuked hot coffee all over Malcolm, landing and breaking against the brick floor.  Personally, I never liked that mug anyway!

ARRRUUUGHHH!  Those that know Malcolm, know his language was a lot more colorful and descriptive.  That’ll teach him!

Last rule to remember – take note, the wife rules!

hogs and blogs

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Part II of the Beer n’ damn it’s hot Chili series.

To kick off the holiday spirit, which in my calendar, starts right around the corner from the  Día de Muertos, (come on, I live in New Mexico), Malcolm and I host a Loop Group Celebration.  We open our doors, invite the whole neighborhood and lock the dogs in their pen.  We catch up on the happenings of those that live close by and those we wave to in passing, but never see (there is a little bit of guilt-trip thinking… if they eat our food, they won’t complain about the dogs). Even house numbers bring a cold appetizer, odd numbers bring a hot hor d’oeuvre.  Malc and I supply the beverages and the main substance, usually a spiral sliced ham from the Honey Baked Ham joint down in Albuquerque.  I serve the ham with homemade cornbread biscuits (Malc is from Georgia) that  is devoured and destroyed by the night’s end, leaving a just a few ham scraps and a huge bone.  Not enough for leftovers, not enough to throw away.  And nothing for Dolce and Amore to snack on.

the perfect hog bone

the perfect hog bone

If it falls on the floor blog is a lot like our Loop Group party – everyone is invited and everyone brings something to the table.  Through “likes” and “comments”, “follows” and “views”,  we catch up on the happenings of those whom we enjoy reading.  The Wandering Gourmand is one blogger I make a point to read. I chuckle over his droll humor, his sarcastic absurdity.  I love how he can dig deep into some suds and produce a thumbs up or down on a beer.   TWG has become one of the ‘hood and If it falls on the floor’s resident beer expert.  While I pick a beer based on the cute label, TWG selects a fermented hop grounded in well-constructed depth and heart.

I had asked TWG to pair some beers with some of my cold weather chili/stews/soups.  Last week I think I sent him into a cardiac fit after he read the amount of jalapeno and chili powder in the recipe.  This week I’m hoping to lower his blood pressure…

 

Excerpt from The Wandering Gourmand  http://thewanderinggourmand.com/about/

Lately, I have become the beer pairing expert.  On a recent bachelor party in Charlestown, SC, I was tasked by almost each of the 12 partiers with picking out a beer to accompany their meal at Craftsman, a gastropub and tap house.  I’m not sure why.  (Maybe it’s the recent beard.  Beards and beer go hand-in-hand.)  Luckily, almost everyone ordered the Crunchy Dane so my job was easy.  It was only fitting then that Megs asked me to create beer pairings for a few recipes from her new cookbook.

I was stoked.  Not only do I enjoy her blog and the adorable (yes, even bearded beer experts can use that word) photos of her dogs, but I heartily support any blogger who can turn this hobby into a business.  I truly believe in the entrepreneurial spirit and love seeing the Internet allow ideas to generate household income be they products sold on blogs like Megs or artists selling their masterpieces on Etsy.

Please don’t be disappointed by the fact that the pairings are from the macro-craft breweries.  As much as I wanted to promote Natty Green’s Southern Pale (best pale known to beerkind), nobody outside of North Carolina could buy it.  Thus, you’ve heard of these beers and that’s the point.  They had to be accessible.

Mexican Ham Soup – More smoke.  I’m thinking something with bourbon– New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk.  The spice levels aren’t atomically high like the Beef Chili and Beer recipe.  A hearty, boozy beer would enhance the flavor of the smoked ham and chipotles.  In fact, the idea is so perfect that I think New Holland should brew a version with smoke chipotles added.  Just saying…   

–  The Wandering Gourmand

Huraches Ham Chili

Huraches Ham Chili

MEXICAN HAM SOUP  

I am my mother’s daughter after all…   I couldn’t bare the thought of tossing the bone, so I came up with Mexican Ham Soup, aka Huraches Ham Chili.  WOW!  Perfect for the cold weather, great for large crowds, the smoky essence adds some hidden depth to the chili and a touch of the outdoors to your dinner.

  • 2 cans pinto beans
  • 8 c chicken broth
  • 2 c chopped onions
  • 1½ c cubed smoked ham steak + a big smoked ham bone
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 bag frozen corn kernels
  • ½ c diced green chili (Hatch Chili if you have them)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 smoked chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced + 2 tbsp. sauceSour cream for garnish
    Cheddar cheese, grated

Combine beans, broth and the next 8 ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Partially cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 2 hours. Stir in the tomatoes and chipotle chili, simmer another 30 minutes.  Discard bay leaves and bone and ladle soup into bowls. Top with grated cheese and sour cream.

 

For more delicious recipes and tails of the dogs, purchase If it falls on the floor, it’s mine! cookbook at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615869823

Victoria’s Secret

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How do you break the news to your wanna-be-dog-model that she is not quite ready for the runway?  That those angel wings all the VS models wear at the fashion shows are going to other bitches? That jowls are not cheek bones, the dog paw crawl is not a cat walk and cleavage on a dog is so very unbecoming?

How do you enlighten your canine that dog shows are not fashion shows and she plays chase with Ralphie at the community dog park not Ralph Lauren.

How do you explain to your precious pet that sharing the cover of a cookbook is not the same as flying solo on the cover of Elle, Cosmo or Marie Claire  (however on that note, I highly disagree!)?  Try telling your beloved dog that while her body size is perfect for Purina, it’s not a size 2.  Nor is her deep-chested frame svelte enough, tall enough or waif-like enough to be a Ford Model (although it is perfect for counter-surfing and crumb-chasing).

But, boy is she cute!  You should see all the adorable pictures of her in her debut modeling portfolio called If it falls on the floor, it’s mine!  a newly released cookbook found on Amazon.

DSC00205P.S.  Dolce would love to sign your cookbook – with a little mud, a few drops of dog drool and a big paw print!

For more delicious recipes and tails of the dogs, purchase If it falls on the floor, it’s mine! cookbook at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615869823