Monday, January 31, 2011

Remembering Aunt Jean

Over many years, I have driven passed St. Germaine Church, biked passed it, even once attended a fair in the parking lot. Finally, I stepped inside St. Germaine Church. The reason: to attend a mass in memory of Jean Volkmann. Lots of familiar faces there, most older than I remember them. But then, maybe we are all older than we remember.

Had I been asked to speak, I would have remarked that Aunt Jean was only five feet tall but I refrained from spelling salutations to her: Ant Jean. She preferred AJ.

Aunt Jean was a person who delighted in information and was eager to share what she knew. She usually had an opinion, and was not shy about sharing that either. As I was growing up, we saw each other quite often. Our families got together for Christmas, camping, meals. I had just the one Aunt and her three children were my only cousins. They lived all of a mile away; a five minute bike ride away.

When I was a senior in high school my parents left me and my brother Mark home while they took a vacation commemorating their 25th wedding anniversary. Taking advantage of this chance to be truant without being a truant, I called the school saying I was an official type parental authority and it was OK with me that Lynn didn't go to school that day. My folks had given the school Aunt Jean's number for emergency contact. The school called her and she called me.

"Did you really think you'd get away with it?" AJ asked. I could practically see her rolling her eyes through the phone. "Next time just ask me to call in for you, for crying out loud."

When Aunt Jean and Uncle Paul retired they moved Up North. We didn't see much of each other for years but she never forgot my birthday. When AJ got a hold of my email address, I was regaled with assorted information, jokes, pictures of cute animals and Patriotism. As a kid, I wasn't aware of AJ's political leanings. Via email I learned how much she loved our Country and how well she understood the importance of Freedom.

A few years ago, AJ had a heart attack. I called her at the hospital. I'm not terribly talented at small talk. Even in her weakened state, Aunt Jean took control of the conversation. "So, how many dogs do you have now?" She asked. Not -how's business or have you seen any good movies lately. Aunt Jean cut to the important stuff.

Aunt Jean was a Master Gardener before it became the common achievement of hardcore hobbyists. And she liked her cars. Indeed, you were chastised if you leaned on the paint job- most especially a rust colored Mustang. But the paint color wasn't called rust. It was called something much cooler like Crimson Sunset or Burnt Reality. And she loved Uncle Paul. She said so, often. "I dig Paul."

Yes, Aunt Jean and I agreed on some important things- dogs most decidedly. Dogs are a critical component of life. Oh sure, most people are nice and a handful of them are particularly wonderful but dogs are the most important creatures to grace our existence. For instance, Mayo and Tassie.

My cousin Cory found Mayo in the street. In the classic-he followed me home can we keep him- tradition Mayo joined their family. Mayo was an easy going blond medium sized mutt. He was a stray of unknown history and lineage. He was also one of the nicest dogs there ever was.

Tassie was AJ's favorite. Years after Tassie died, Aunt Jean said she still missed her with that extra heavy ache of separation we save for our most beloved. Tassie was an Australian Cattle Dog. Aunt Jean claimed that unlike most dogs, Cattle Dog saliva was not sticky. When Tassie licked you it was completely free of unpleasant texture. I never really believed that was true but I believe that where AJ and Tassie are now, it is true.

Rest in Peace, AJ.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Brice's Bites

Brice is a real estate appraiser. To do his job, he must enter a property and move about inside the home. What with all the foreclosures, Brice has been busy.

A few months ago, Brice complained of being bitten by a Toy Poodle. Only yesterday, he said he was bitten by an "English sheep dog". Brice is a good guy but I'm not convinced that he'd recognize an Old English Sheepdog if one walked up and bit him. Oh, wait.

Breed aside, Brice asked my advice on how he can avoid being bitten in the future. Here's what probably won't work:

1. Tell them you are afraid of dogs. Both times Brice was bitten, the owners told him the dog was "harmless" and the mad barking was nothing to worry about. People who are that rude to someone who made an appointment with them to enter their home, isn't likely to soften into kindness if they think you're scared. They already have the advantage: a dog with teeth. Don't give them more ammunition. And we must acknowledge the very real possibility that there is some hostility present. Let's face it, if your home is being foreclosed upon, Brice is the symbol. And if you don't believe a dog can sense hostility in their owner and who it is aimed at- you are living in a dream world.

2. Tell them a pack of dogs that looks exactly like theirs attacked your village. You were the only survivor. They'll say, no no this is a white Poodle. Only the apricot Poodles are vicious.

3. Appeal to good manners/gosh, I can't hear you while your dog barks in my face. Sorry, anybody who lets their dog abuse a guest, even a not terribly welcome guest like a plumber or an appraiser, is deaf to the notion of being polite.

4. Employ Baby Talk at the dog. Brice admits to trying this. It got him bit by the quasi Sheepdog. While it is true that some dogs respond to baby talk, most dogs with good sense are repulsed by it.

5. Don't look the dog in the eye. This is a good habit for most encounters with a dog you don't know. It suggests that you are not out to challenge the dog. However, if you are there in the dog's territory and you avoid looking at him while still moving boldly about- well- that got Brice bitten. Unless you follow up by dropping to the floor with your belly vulnerable like a submissive puppy, the whole eye contact thing may be moot in this instance.

6. Stop reeking of cat. Brice has a cat. He wonders if the dog is reacting violently to the aroma of said pussy. Doubtful. Most dogs are aware of the damage claws can do. But more importantly, even with his eyes closed, a dog can tell the difference between a cat and a man who smells like a cat.

So what is Brice to do?

The thing is, the people who tell guests that their barking dog is harmless often didn't bother to tell the dog that. Dog Trainers have a name for it: Socialization. Part of teaching your dog includes showing him when it is OK for a stranger to come into his space. Some dogs don't magically get the nuance without explanation. Then folks like Brice suffer.

My best advice for Brice in his quest to go unbitten is to tell the dog owner that it is company policy that all dogs be contained during the appraisal, for liability reasons.

Good luck, Brice.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Aw shucks

As a proud recipient of the Stylish Blogger Award, it is fitting that I say a few words. Well, write a few words. Blog a few words. OK, I'll get on with it.

Thank you Rena for this honor. It would seem that I am to follow a bunch of rules now. For these rules, see Unruly Comment: Blog Award.

Now that we've all read the rules, I will comply, somewhat.

Some facts about me:

1. I live with my husband THO (The Handsome One) and naturally, a slew of pets. Among them are dogs, of course, including Lois who appears with me in my profile picture. We were both younger then.

2. My favorite color is pink. Cotton candy pink to be precise.

3. I have written two unpublished novels.

4. I walk dogs for a living while shamelessly using my experiences as fodder for my current literary effort: A Dog Walker's Tale.

5. It is difficult for me to sit still for long due to an inclination toward puttering.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


In the days before radio and stereo and those I Pod things, people kept caged birds for their song. Maybe this is why Canaries aren't the popular pet they used to be. That seems sad. Talk about live music! Call me old fashioned. Call me a throw back. But don't call me late for...never mind.

I've had the privilege of living with a Canary. Jean-Pierre would burst into song frequently and spontaneously. His voice was soothing, melodic and darn wonderful to behold. Whenever he sang, it was a lot like when somebody you're fond of reaches out and touches your forearm. A small gesture that reminds you that everything is all right. A little Canary has that power.

Jean-Pierre passed away leaving our home without song. He is survived by four Zebra Finches. Zebra Finches have a different vibe than Canaries. The Zebras are more active, you might say, more flighty. They don't sing but sort of chirp and break into short riffs. Often these vocalizations are in response to sounds in the house. The beep that announces that the coffee is done causes a mild ruckus. Sneezing and nose blowing makes them chatter. What's interesting is, it doesn't seem to be a certain tone or pitch that sets them off. The oven timer rarely makes them cheep and it is close in sound to the coffee maker timer, at least to my non avian ears.

These birds share a house with dogs. Yes, barking makes the birds join in the alarm but only the biggest dog's bark. That deep big dog bark - a far cry from the high pitched coffee maker beep.

Finches are interactive speakers. I haven't figured out the pattern to the outbursts. Guess that's part of the fun. More fun than an i Pod.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Safety Hurts

I had a sinus headache. You know the ones that hit one side of your head in a focused way. Like behind one eye. The pain is so awful you think you might even throw up. So I took a pill. Or tried to. Safety packets. Thank you for keeping me safe from the rouge wacko that I have a one in a billion chance of encountering!

Meanwhile, I can't get the dang package open to relieve my headache. There comes a time when you are very willing to risk being poisoned by the random act of a sicko just on the off chance of getting relief from your pain. Please someone sell me pills not in an inaccessible safety packet!

The packets holding the sinus headache pills have instructions on them which are small and hard to read. My headache made it even harder to read. OK, fold the corner than grab a tiny piece of foil and pull. I couldn't grip it. I used tweezers. The foil tore. Crazed, I stabbed the foil with the tweezers. This pulverized one of the pills. And the safety packet was still more or less intact. Leaving me still pill less. My headache remained.

Another day another pain. The pill to ease arthritis pain is in a bottle with a child proof lid. Never mind that there are no children in my house. It ever so reassuring to know that any child passing by will be kept safe from my pills. To open the bottle you must push down while turning. My knuckles are what hurts and the reason I'm opening the stupid bottle. But I can't push and turn to open the confounded bottle without adding pain to the very knuckles that are seeking pain relief from the bottle.

Morning mouth is a common occurrence. You awaken and your mouth has an unpleasant stale taste. Swish a little mouthwash and freshness is achieved. But first you must get to the mouthwash. To do so, squeeze the plastic lid- just so, as you turn -just so. One morning after repeated attempts failed to result in an open bottle, I took the bottle into the garage. I plugged in the Sawz-all. I secured the bottle in a vice. Figuring the Sawz-all blade designed for cutting metal was up to the job, I lopped the top off the bottle just under the lid.

Yes, I know. Safety Breach Alert! If Lindsey Lohan should break out of rehab again and she should happen to wander in and around my home downing the baking vanilla, the cooking sherry, the peroxide, then finds the open bottle of mouthwash under the sink in the master bathroom, it will be all my fault.

Sorry about that.