Bruno and Baxter: The Boys

My new dog, Mazie, gave birth on Tuesday. Rescued from a hoarder with 91 other dogs, there was no telling who the father was or what they might look like. The only good news was that all the other dogs had been small, like her, so at least there wouldn’t be a crazy combination of breeds.

The first three puppies were born quite quickly. One after the other. A little space after the first, which was good considering that birth was rough (see Doggie Doula), but then the next two popped out easily. All three in about 25 minutes. All five in under an hour.

For the sake of this story (because everything is ultimately a story), I’m going to say the first three were girls. I know the first one was because I spent a lot of time saving her and held her up close. The next two came as I was still attending to Blessing (instinctively named in the moment when she finally caught her breath and started mewing) so I didn’t have time to check their gender. (Plus, the umbilical cords are distracting, let’s be honest!) Momma was still cleaning up these “twins” and attending to Blessing when the fourth started coming. After all my time with the first, I didn’t want to intervene. Just let Momma do her thing.

The fourth was different. Bigger. No wonder it took him a little longer to emerge. All chocolate brown, with a small patch of white on his chest. From the very beginning I could tell he was a bruiser. He scrambled to Momma’s teat with gusto. The others, mind you, were still acclimating to being born. Too stunned to be hungry. But this brown one went for Momma’s teat immediately. Impulsively I called him Bruno. Later I waivered. Maybe the association was unfair. Was naming the biggest and most assertive of the bunch such a masculine—even macho—name too sexist? But you know, it feels right. And Bruno is actually an old German word meaning brown. In the English folk tradition, it’s bruin meaning brown bear. So yes, it’s appropriate.

Baxter came next. The last of the litter. Also a boy. Also big. It’s fun to see them together. He has the markings of his sisters. I like that. Baxter is a Scottish-English name meaning “baker.” I like that too. I like to think he might turn out like Rolly, the always hungry plump pup in 101 Dalmations. 😊

The two brothers hang out a lot together. Pretty cute.

Yes, the entire brood has B names. Why not? I come from a family of J’s. 😉

Photos of the sister “twins” to come soon.

Doggie Doula

I took Mazie home knowing she was pregnant. In fact, I knew before I met her. The idea was to check each other out and if we were a match, I’d wait for her. I think. I mean, maybe. One date and a three month wait? I’m not sure I’m that kind of romantic. But her eyes were compelling. So I drove south, breaking my Covid19 quarantine to see if I might be her human and she might be my new companion.

She appeared so traumatized. Her eyes were big and sad and wide and her tiny body shook violently when they brought her to me. So when the vet assumed I would take her, when after being corrected she suggested I could take her, when I waivered and she told me the arranged foster mom worked 8 hours a day, when she called the rescue foundation and told them she felt good about me and she had convinced them I should take her, and when, by this time, Mazie has stopped quivering and her body softened in my arms, well, yes, I said yes. Without any preparation, without any supplies, without even a leash, I carried her to my car and took her home. Pregnant belly and all.

I’ve never had puppies before. I’ve never given birth. I had zero experience to draw on. So I read a bunch of websites. I talked to a bunch of friends. I watched a bunch of videos. I did my research. I made my list. I worried about things like hemostats and lubricant, thermometer, teat bottles, and dental floss. When her due date approached, I had a pot of water on the stove for warming the towels stacked in a bucket next to the whelping pool. I had my blue latex gloves. I paid careful attention to all her behaviors and everything she ate.

Still, over and over again, I was told not to worry. Momma knows what to do. Even if she’s never done it before (and I had a hunch that she had), her instinct will kick in. Don’t worry, everyone said. She does all the work. Sit back and watch. I shouldn’t have to do a thing.

Except that I did. Right from the start. The first pup to emerge couldn’t get out. Feet first, then body, but her head was stuck. Momma cleaned her up, licked off the sac, but the head was still stuck. I knew from the videos to pull. But still the head wouldn’t come. I pulled again. Still the head remained inside her mom. Frantic, I found my phone and called the woman at the rescue foundation. Pull harder, she said. I did.

Pup #1 emerged with the membrane covering her face and not breathing. Momma cleaned her off and still no sound. Her mouth opened and nothing came out. Her paws were purple not pink.

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but she looks like a preemie and she doesn’t look good. You’re probably going to lose this one.”

Momma licked, doing all that she could, but already a second pup was emerging. Momma needed to attend to that one while I did what I could with the first. Stick my pinky in her mouth and check for obstruction. Turn her over and pat her back. Rub her belly. Breath into her mouth and nose. Again, the rescue foundation told me, “It’s not your fault. You’re doing a great job. But 5 puppies is a lot for such a small dog. You’re probably going to lose this one.”

No! No! No! No! No! My heart was screaming! Not the first one out!! Not the one I almost missed because I finally took a break from my vigilant watching and ran an errand. Not that one. Please God, no.

Truth be told, I struggled to stay calm. I almost burst into tears but that was a luxury and there was no time. I needed to focus. I didn’t have enough hands. Still on FaceTime but I couldn’t hold the phone. I was watching Momma with the second born, cleaning her up, eating her sac, and preparing for the third. (They came out fast, y’all!) Meanwhile, I needed something to warm the first. Not willing to move, to leave Momma’s side, I was panicked. I placed her on my chest, between my breasts against my skin, patting her back with my finger and every 30 seconds or so bringing her back up and breathing into her mouth and nose. I had no idea if I was doing it correctly. How do you give mouth to mouth to something so small?

The third puppy was emerging before the first made a noise. Now Momma was back involved with the first as the little one began to squeal. Checked her paws. The purple was fading. More squealing. “It looks like you saved her” said the rescue foundation. Meanwhile, she warned me, there could be development problems. She might need a bottle, she might not take a teat. She might be slow. There was a chance she still might not make it.

But she did.

Everyone, meet Blessing. Puppy #1. My first little miracle.

Within an hour of being born, after all five pups had arrived, Blessing was at her momma’s teat sucking like a champ. And her paws were bright pink.

Yes, she’s slightly smaller than the rest. But not by much. She’s tough. She’s experienced. She’s a survivor. And, like her momma and me, she’s gonna be just fine.

Three born and the fourth one emerging

more photos with the rest of the litter to come!

Me and Mazie (Dog as a Reflection of Oneself)

Mazie is not the cutest dog I’ve ever seen. I mean, she’s adorable, absolutely. But not the cutest. Her proportions aren’t quite right. Obviously, she’s not a show dog. She’s a mutt. She has a long neck and a long nose (like me) and small ears. And beautiful big black eyes with prominent brows that she sometimes furrows, making her look pensive or sad. Other times, she curls her mouth. A kind of Mona Lisa secret and quirky smile.

When I stopped by the rescue foundation last week, there was an insanely cute 5-month old puppy scampering about. OMG! I was smitten. She was perfect! I dropped to my knees and wanted to scoop her up. But only for a moment. I definitely admired her. I was happy just seeing her exist. But she wasn’t my Mazie. Cute as that dog was, she wasn’t the dog for me. I still want my Mazie.

Research shows that people do tend to choose dogs that, at some level, resemble themselves. We’ve all seen this. Dogs and their humans who look hysterically similar. But did you know that researchers also  discovered that the front view of cars tend to resemble their owner? And the cars even resembled the owner’s dogs when they were purebreds. Bet you never expected that!

Ultimately though, I think it’s more about matching personalities. You know those dogs that love to run? The ones that have endless energy and can be seen next to their humans on the trail, seemingly never getting tired? Yeah, that’s not my dog. That’s not me.

The first dog I adopted on my own was Dixie. Dixie was rescued in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She was only ten months old when the storm hit. Thrown out into the big scary world, separated from her family, forced to survive on her own. And she was exactly what I was looking for. A mid-sized dog, about 45 pounds, a husky-chow-lab mix, white with caramel tipped ears and a tail that curled. She was social and playful with other dogs but had zero interest in sharing her home with another furry friend. She could entertain herself for hours. Sit on a snow bank and toss her toy in the air or sit under the tree and watch the world. Perfectly content. We were living in Idaho then. In the Wood River Valley. Famous for skiing and hiking and mountain biking, fishing and hunting. Anything you can do outside, people do it. And they do it with their dogs. That’s why folks live there. Except me. I lived there because it was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was enough for me to walk in nature and hike just a bit. Nothing too taxing. Dixie was happy with that too.

The real give-away that she was my dog, however, was at bedtime. Dixie liked sleeping in the front room, on the floor by the couch. This was when I was so happy to be sleeping alone again that I even bought a full-sized bed, downgrading from a queen, because I had no intention of anyone sleeping next to me. And when someone did, I wasn’t inclined to cuddle. Dixie was the same. In the morning, she would come when I called and allow me to say hello and scratch behind her ears. And then she’d leave. Not sentimental one bit. I loved that about her. And I was devastated when she died suddenly.

I always say it took two dogs to replace Dixie: Athena and Leo. Athena is a heeler-boxer mix. A sleek redhead with a white chest and white paws and a crooked tail. Leo is a crème-colored lap-sized mutt. Looked like a miniature Golden Retriever until he got groomed. And always looks like a puppy, no matter how many years go by. As a Pisces, I like to think they represent two aspects of my personality, swimming in different directions yet intimately connected and balanced.

Athena is the homebody, preferring to stay in her crate while Leo explores. Leo is Hermes, always on the move, always into mischief. He’s the charmer. Athena is the protector. Leo is curious. Athena is cautious. Leo is quick to take off, quick to wander. Never worried. Countless adventures and a lot of close calls, but it always works out, he never comes to harm. Athena is reticent. She’s interested, but not enough to take risks. She stays close and never wanders. She’s loyal. And fierce if she needs to be. They’re both over 12 years old now and still live in Idaho with their dad. Leaving them was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But they’re happy there. Taking them with me when I moved would have been selfish. Instead, I visit. I get regular photo updates. And I grieve. I miss them terribly.

I swore my next dog would be non-allergenic. And portable. Small enough to carry on a plane. Maybe a toy poodle. Smart and cute, with curly hair. But choosing a pup is a bit of a misnomer and a mystery. There’s some magic at play when a dog comes into your life. And I’m not sure how much we actually “choose.”

Mazie’s eyes looked back at me on Petfinder and, well… it’s almost cliché… She needed me as much as I needed her. Yes, she is small. But she’s not hypoallergenic. Of course, I think she’s smart, but she’s not revealing much these days. She’s still recovering from her rescue. From being one of so many. She’s still finding her voice. Learning to trust. Disinclined to socialize. But I have a feeling that will change with time. She doesn’t mind her harness, but she hates the leash. (I can relate.) It took over three weeks of sitting on the porch, sniffing the air, and taking in the view before she ventured down the stairs for a brisk walk. Just like me in Covid19 quarantine. Now she’ll walk daily, but she’s not inclined to go far. She prefers to sit and observe. To roll her back in the grass. To pant in the sun. She growls but doesn’t really bark. She’s a hybrid of sorts: a mixture of my last two furbabies. The size of Leo and the face of Athena. But more than that, more symbolically, I think the different aspects of myself are finally coming together.

Mazie is pregnant. I knew that when I got her, but you couldn’t really tell. Now her belly is big and you can see the puppies moving. Any day now, any hour, she’s about to give birth. She’s creating something new. There’s a metaphor there for me too. Magic is afoot. New life beginning. At the moment, still mostly in hiding. But it’s coming. So we’re preparing, as best as we can, and we’re napping. Napping a lot. Birthing is hard work. Whatever comes will be demanding. Exhausting. And exhilarating.

Me and Mazie. Reflections of each other. Just like every fur-friend I’ve ever had. Together on this journey called life.

Home Infestation

Bugs. We all have issues with bugs. As in, I’ve never met a person who encountered bugs in their home and thought COOL!! The few who do think this are scientists. Or kids that will become scientists. If there’s anyone else out there who is not a scientist and greets bugs—particularly in their home—as a delightful encounter, well, I’m not too keen on meeting them. And I definitely don’t want to sit next to them at dinner.

Hey, if you live outside, like in a tent in the woods, you have to expect some amount of bugs. This of course, is the reason that some folks don’t like to camp. Years ago, when I backpacked in Venezuela and stayed in a small community along the Brazilian border, every abode was open to the elements. Most only had three walls. Others, three and a half. No windows with glass, just open or non-existent walls. Yes, they had intentionally built their homes that way. And yes, I got bit on the butt by a spider while going to the bathroom one day. But overall, I adapted. Because I had to. It was the norm.

Those of us in the Western World who live in houses and apartments expect bugs to stay outside. It’s part of the idea that our homes are safe and secure. Spiders? Nope, not welcome. Even if they do eat flies. Rollie pollies? Weird. Like where do they actually come from? Silverfish? Gross. Ants? A nuisance. An awful nuisance. And cockroaches – sorry, I can’t even go there. And, at least we can see these things. We can vacuum them up. We can catch them and escort them back outside. Or we can squash them. Depends on your personality and temperament. Or your religion.

Someone in my family had to deal with bedbugs a few years back. OMG!! That would have traumatized me for life. I was traumatized just hearing about them. Eradicating them was exhausting, expensive, and intense. And lice? Yes, that too is perhaps the worse thing ever. Luckily, I’ve never experienced it. So I’m sure I shouldn’t be complaining.

But fleas. Are you kidding me? FLEAS??!!??!!!

Last week my vet told me that my new dog has fleas. She also determined that she has 5 puppies that will be born in a few days. So the need to eradicate them was urgent. The vet gave her a treatment and told me no problem. Really. She actually said that. No problem. They’d be gone in a day.

Not quite.

Within hours, those little buggers were everywhere. Crawling on her belly, jumping on the couch. Crawling and jumping, crawling and jumping.

Bowls of dish soap and endless scraping with a flea comb. Everything laundered in hot water. Linens, pillows, beds, toys. Anything that could be washed in a machine, was. Other things were taken to an outside laundromat. I vacuumed floors and vacuumed furniture. More laundry. More vacuuming. Wiping down everything in sudsy water to suffocate and kill them. (Remember, she’s having puppies – I can’t use toxins that might hurt her or the pups!) Lawn treatments in the front and back yards. More laundry. Baths together, both of us fully soaked, drenched in dish soap, and sudsed up. Yesterday I even spent hours on my butt scrubbing my hard wood floors – ALL my floors! I was drenched in sweat, soaked in soapy water, scrubbing floors and furniture. Followed by more laundry in hot water. And a very cold shower.

My house is CLEAN!! One full week of cleaning kind of clean. A full container of laundry detergent clean. And I’m exhausted.

Are the fleas gone? Goodness, I hope so! And, I guess, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, her whelping area is prepared. And Mazie seems much more comfortable.

Puppies are coming!

Summertime

I LOVE Summer. It’s my favorite season. I’ve always preferred to be miserably hot than even slightly cold. Cold makes me irritable. Heat just makes me lazy. I can live with lazy. Especially in the summer.

My love of summer goes back to Michigan when I was a kid. Long days filled with sunshine. Long nights filled with mosquitoes. Finding ants inside peonies. Chasing fireflies in the evening. Picking raspberries. Eating blue gills fresh from the lake and fried in butter. Spitting watermelon seeds as the juice ran down my chin. Sticky fingers. Sticky skin. Peeling legs off plastic furniture. Humidity. The frequent banging of the screen door. And one thing you just don’t hear anymore: the rattle of big square fans.

I don’t particularly like air conditioning. Of course, I am extremelygrateful for it. I mean, I’m not a sadist. Summers have gotten hotter and A/C is a life-saver. Only, I find it’s often set too low and too cold in most places. And there are so many days when really all you need is a breeze through open windows. If not days, at least nights. A breeze. And a fan.

My home in Tulsa is filled with many windows. Only problem is that until yesterday, they had all been painted shut. Endless coats of white seeping into the cracks and onto the glass. Years of warping wood. So, while I get plenty of light, I get no fresh air.

Yesterday a handyman fixed that. He pried open six of my twelve windows. And then came the rain.

Falling rain heard through open windows is a treat. And a soft breeze always seems to come with summer rains.

For the first time in years, I went to sleep last night with my windows open and a ceiling fan twirling above me. Just one thin sheet over my body. Just like I did as a kid. Slightly sticky in the warm evening air. And I slept well. Really well. With my little, warm-bellied, softly snoring dog snuggled against me.

This morning I woke to birds chirping and reached for my phone. The morning song of birds has long been my favorite alarm. Only, I hadn’t set my alarm. The birds weren’t coming from my phone. My windows were open. The birds were outside.

I laughed. Such a delight. I missed this. Summertime. Open windows and fans. And birds announcing morning. It truly is the simple things that make life so good.

Duomo di Nicosia

The Cathedral in Nicosia, Sicily, built in the 14th Century, is dedicated to St. Nicholas of Bari, which is said to be how the town got it’s name. Yes, this is the same St. Nick associated with gift-giving, but he is also the patron saint of sailors and merchants, which would make sense if he was actually from Sicily. But he’s not. He was born and died in Myra (Turkey). So this is the same St. Nicholas of Myra of Lycia. (Hope that’s not too confusing.) About 800 years after his death, Italian thieves stole some of his remains and brought them to Bari. And eventually some of those bones made their way to Nicosia, where they are on display under his portrait. But I digress. Knowing this history, it’s not surprising that Nicolas is the patron saint of thieves. But why prostitutes and students also call him their own, I haven’t quite figured out.

Like everywhere I visited after Covid19 lockdown was lifted and restrictions eased, I didn’t see much of the town. I wasn’t comfortable mingling with people on the street. But I did see the cathedral. I love visiting churches. Particularly when they are not full. The art, the history, the stillness. Containers built specifically for communication with the Divine. The entire building is a portal to something beyond ourselves. An axis-mundi where the sacred and the profane intersect; the center of the world, the center of all creation. And during the pandemic, they were particularly quiet. Exceptionally safe. As they are meant to be. A refuge. A Sanctuary. So I parked my car, walked briskly through the streets, and arrived here, at Duomo di Nicosia.

My two favorite photos from inside. Doors. I always love doors.

First, I want to note that all churches are doing what they can to prevent the spread of Covid19. Hand sanitizer is always at the entrance. Signs are posted. Chairs are set at a distance, in most cases. In pews, small squares mark where you can sit safely at a distance from others. You can’t see it very clearly in this photo of pews (the tiny white square) so I’m including photo from the cathedral in Cefalu as an example that I see everywhere. (For context, these photos were taken on 16 June 2020.)

St. Nicholas, looking surprisingly modern. (Ok, it’s not a surprise. But keep in mind he lived during the 3rd Century Common Era – which is to say, 200 and some years after Jesus. In the early 6th century, he is listed as a participant in the Nicene Council, which took place in 325 CE, which would have made him quite old at the time.) Below his portrait are his bones. Holy relics.

In the square outside the cathedral, life was returning to *normal*. Men gather on the street to talk. I stopped at a cafe for coffee and to watch.

16 June 2020, one month after lockdown ended and restrictions began to loosen. I wonder what it looks like today.

Finding Home – With a Dog

There’s a lot being written about staying home these days. Discomfort. Anxiety. Isolation. Depression. The truth is, many of us struggled with “home” even before the pandemic. I don’t have the answers. But I can tell you how having a dog makes a huge difference. At least, for me.

In The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore explores our ability to be at home in the world through a present and connected consciousness of where we are. He writes,

We need to leave home, be away from home, find pieces of home in hotels and tents, and maybe move from house to house in quest of home. . . . Like turtles, we carry our homes with us as we move from place to place, all homes mobile, because home is ultimately located in a deep recess of the soul, a cornucopia that pours forth endless gifts. (p 84)

We are all ultimately looking for home. To feel at home. Home is a human need. Many of us wander for adult obligations, others for pleasure, still others because we have no choice. Always, we’re trying to find the place that fits, the place that is “home.”

Yet, even for those of us who are, seemingly, home, we fall asleep. We stop paying attention. We lose our connection.

I agree with Moore. Home does exist in “a deep recess of the soul.” Establishing itself there from our childhood. From our young experiences of being loved and belonging and having our most essential needs met. When we were free from worry. When we played. When the only thing we were aware of was the present.

Children have very little concept of time. Children play for hours, unaware of how tired they’ve become, only wanting to play more. To stay awake and not go to bed. To stay outside and not come in for dinner. To stay in the water and not dry off. Children live in the present. “Are we there yet?” is their constant refrain from the backseat of a car. “Is my birthday today?” the daily question when parents are planning for a party. We learn how to read clocks just to count the minutes in a classroom until recess or until the final bell rings and we’re free to go back outside.

Those places where we were truly present as children – ensconced in laughter and love and play, when we knew no fear and no worries, blissfully and fully in the moment – became imprinted in us and settled deep into our soul. These are imprints of our homes and our neighborhoods. The landscapes of our daily lives or those from special trips – vacations or camp. Of rituals and routines. They are even imprints of adults – our parents, grandparents, teachers – the people who cared for us and whose lives were bound to locations, to the places where we experienced joy and contentment, value and worth.

I was truly comfortable in Sicily during the Covid19 lockdown and found home there because I was present. I wasn’t longing for Tulsa or Picabo or any home of my past. Yet I was profoundly aware of home imprints from earlier times. Knowing what those imprints are – what imprints reside in me – makes finding home less haphazard, less of a chance encounter.

I was able to find those imprints in Sicily because I knew where to look. In the land and the landscape. In the buildings and houses. In the people that I met. And inside my own soul.

The only thing missing, I repeatedly said, was a dog. A canine companion. A fur baby that made me laugh, that demanded my attention, that needed me. Dogs, more than anything else, remind me of my inner child. Dogs reflect the playful part of me.

Dogs are very much like children. They have no concept of time. They exist in the present. Five minutes is the same as five hours. When you return, they greet you with exuberance, gratitude, and joy. When you play fetch, they can always keep on playing. You just rubbed their belly? Here, rub it again!

Home is the realm of the child. Where our inner child is activated. For me, in my daily life, I am best able to be present to my child when I’m present with a dog.

Four out of the five basic human needs – as defined by Maslow – are met in our homes as children. At least in the archetypal home – what home is supposed to be – what we all expect home to provide us. Shelter, safety, love and belonging, a sense of worth and value. It’s the role of the parent to provide these things to us when we are young. Whether or not we actually did receive these things from our parents – or from home – we will always long for them as adults. Only, when we grow older, we become responsible for providing these things. Not just to our own children (if we have them), but to ourselves.

We must actively attend to our child within. The child we thought we outgrew but who still resides deep inside us. In our soul. Our inner child holds the keys to home. Our inner child knows how to engage the “endless gifts” that connect us to place: wonder, laughter, play, and the use of all our senses. Suspending time. Being present.

Thomas Moore suggests that adult depression may arise not from childhood experiences—those painful memories that we tend to assume have harmed us irrevocably—but from our adult neglect of “the soul’s eternal childhood” (p 54). Please don’t misunderstand – this is not in any way to minimize adult depression. I, too, have suffered. And honestly, returning to the States as a single woman, in the midst of a pandemic, when emotions are high, and tensions are taut among everyone – I feared depression might be waiting for me. Not sitting on the couch, but maybe hanging out in the closet, or hiding in a drawer.

Adopting a dog was preventative medicine. Mazie keeps me present. To laughter. To play. To home as viewed from ten inches off the floor. To wonder and curiosity.

When we stay present and engage the gifts of a child – our inner child – we become intimate with our surroundings, wherever we are. When we recognize the needs of our soul’s child, when we nurture the child still within, we open ourselves to a visceral, authentic, sense-filled connection. Comfort. Joy. Awe. These become our companions.

Wherever I am, I find myself home when there’s a dog at my side.

Contact your local shelter. Dog, cat, ferret, rabbit… chances are there’s a furry friend out there that needs you just as much as you need them. Together, you can find home.

Why I Broke Quarantine

Less than 7 full days after I returned home from 4 months in Italy and 3 days of traveling through 5 airports and 4 cities, I broke my self-imposed 14-day quarantine. I left my house and entered two businesses. With a mask, of course, and trying to keep a 6-foot distance from others. I took a risk. A risk to myself and to others. And I didn’t do this lightly. To some, who don’t know me, my actions may appear impulsive. To others, it was a long-time coming.

I broke quarantine for Mazie. Or Carlee, as she was known at the time. But if I’m honest, I broke quarantine for me. For my emotional well-being. I wanted a companion. Could I live without one? Sure. I have. And could I again? Of course. Only, now, back in a country experiencing so much turmoil, I know my emotional health requires something more than sleep. More than prayer. More than solidarity and friends. It was time for a dog.

Pets are a relationship. Not possessions. They have personalities and needs. They require trust and bonding. They complicate our lives. And make them better. So much better.

Mazie was rescued from a hoarder. Two years old and only 11 pounds, she is a red & white Terrier mix. Now truth be told, I was hoping to find a non-allergenic dog. Cuz yes, I’m allergic. Not as bad as my allergy to cats (where I struggle to breathe), but years of taking allergy meds and cleaning up furballs made me committed to a different breed – something smaller that wouldn’t make my eyes sting. But as with all relationships, we miss out if we keep our search too narrow, if we insist on “perfect.” As Katherine Hepburn famously said, “You can’t pick who you fall in love with.” I wouldn’t say it was love at first site, but look at these eyes. This was her profile photo on Petfinder.

Still, I needed to meet her. To spend time with her. To see if we were a fit. So I was surprised when ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) called and said my application was approved. She was mine. I could adopt her that day. Like in 3 hours. Pick her up at the vet. But but but but but… I was in quarantine! And the only supplies I had were a water bowl and some dog treats. But I had beat out other applicants. I felt some pressure. Or was it destiny?

Ok, fine. I drove south to the vet and met this sweet, small, trembling, pup. And this was her response to me:

The vet convinced me to take her home. There’s a slightly longer story here, but, bottom line: I did. I carried her to my car (where I still have a dog hammock for the back seat), and took her to Petsmart, where she picked out her bed.

A cat bed that she seems pretty happy with.

She bonded to me pretty quickly.

And made herself at home on the couch and in my bed. (Which is a new thing – I’ve never let a dog sleep with me! But on the fourth night of her jumping up into the sheets, she broke me and I let her stay – lol)

Still, her imprints are deep. Being one of 100 dogs in a house (yes, seriously – just found that out today), undoubtedly caused some trauma. She wasn’t too fond of the yard at first. She needed to be carried out and carried back in. (Maybe she had never seen stairs? Now she comes more willingly, enticed by belly rubs and treats.) And she needed to be trained to “party” outside. Forget about walking – she won’t do it. (We’re working on it!)

On the fourth day, she started carrying around her toy. On the fifth day, she started tossing her squeaky in the air and playing fetch with me. Then her crate came. With a very excited introduction (from me, of course), she’s taken to it. Goes in there by herself regularly.

It’s been one week now that Mazie and I have been together. And yes, I’ve fallen in love. She’s found her forever home. And I feel pretty damn lucky.

As relationships go, I’m committed to her – however long our lives may be. Which is a good thing cuz Mazie has a big surprise coming. One that’s definitely going to require my time and her energy.

Damn good reason to break quarantine.

Palermo, Capital of Sicily

I only spent one evening in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, despite spending eleven weeks in Covid19 isolation, only thirty minutes away. Palermo has a population of 673,000 – which to some folks may feel small. Certainly small compared to Rome or Florence or Chicago. To me, it was a big city. More traffic and more people than I wanted to navigate. Yet, undoubtedly, a gorgeous city with a rich history. My Balestrate host (and now, friend), was kind enough to take me there for my last night in Sicily, just before I flew back to the mainland. I didn’t see a lot, but what I did see was lovely. And yes, I look forward to returning!

See the flowering bush behind us? They are everywhere – EVERYWHERE – in Sicily! I made Nino take this photo with me, specifically in front of these flowers. Love them!!

The Feast of Santa Rosalia, patron saint of Palermo, is a BIG deal. Planning the annual festival is apparently one of the most important duties of the mayor – and can make or break a political career! The celebrations begin on the evening of July 14 with a procession led by a vessel (a float? a chariot?) which carries the statue of St. Rosalia. This vessel is constructed new every year and remains on view for the remainder of the year. This was the chariot from 2019.

Rosalia died alone, as a hermit, in 1166 CE. In 1624, during an unprecedented plague in Palermo, she is said to have appeared to a hunter and told him to bring her bones to the city. When he did, and her bones were processed around the city three times, the plague ended. Today, as you might imagine, everyone is praying to St. Rosalia for another miracle in ending the spread of Covid19.

In Italy, police are allowed to stop vehicles randomly, for no reason at all. It’s a check. Do you have insurance? Is your car running properly? As an American, I was stunned and a little bit unnerved. But it does reduce the number of uninsured motorists!

We picked up Nino’s good friend, Fabio, and headed out to dinner. Along the water. Appetizers of mussels in tomato sauce, calamari (I didn’t partake), and a couscous that incorporates breadcrumbs – sooooo yummy!!! Nino’s favorite dish of pasta and clams. I went for the whole fish special. Can’t remember what Fabio ate. Great bottle of wine.

Then back into the center of town for a nightcap.

So wonderful walking at night, when the buildings are bathed in the glow of the lights.

The annual festival celebrating Saint Rosalia didn’t happen happen yesterday. Cancelled due to Covid19. And then the flash floods happened. Maybe she’s angry. ? More than ever, at least in 400 years, the people are praying for her help. Me included. 🙏🧡

Covid Testing and Quarantine – Part 1

Maybe I have Covid19. I spent four months in Italy when infection rates were the highest in the world. Most of that time I was in Sicily. In quarantine, like everyone else in Italy. Unable to leave my apartment except for necessities. And since Sicilians eat food fresh (unlike Americans who stock our freezers full of preservatives), that meant about every five days I needed to go shopping for more produce. With a legal form in hand, completed with my personal information and stating my reason for being outside. No restaurants were open. No take-out, no pizza. Not even gelato for nine weeks! (To my American friends, I really don’t think you can fathom how restrictive it was.)

I was alone. I wore a mask. I wore gloves. I washed everything that I brought into the apartment. I even sprayed down my shoes and washed my clothes and showered when I returned home. Those were scary days. The virus could be anywhere. It could be on anything.

When restrictions eased a bit, I ventured out, one toe at a time. Longer walks. The beach. The countryside. I rented a car. I rented a cabin and a cottage. Always alone. Always in a mask. Always avoiding crowds.

But then I went back to the mainland. I visited Florence. I mingled with crowds at the Uffizi and Academia Galleries. I was a tourist in Sienna, Orvieto, and Civita di Bagnoregio before taking 4 flights home through 5 airports over 3 days.

There’s a reasonable chance I might have Covid19.

My arrival back into the States was surprising. No temperature check. No questions about where I had been. No instructions – either verbal or written – to undergo a 14-day quarantine. Nothing. All of these things had happened in Germany and Canada. But not in the U.S.

After three days of resting and unpacking, I decided I should get tested. Seems like a responsible thing to do, considering my recent travel. And it should be easy, or so I thought. After all, our President claims test are available everywhere, to anyone who wants one.

Except that they’re not.

I checked online. CVS offers free testing and there’s a CVS two blocks from me. Convenient. An appointment is required and an online screening. I answered honestly (or “positively” as our President would say), and I failed. I didn’t pass the screening. I’m not in a high-risk category and I don’t have any symptoms. At least, not the symptoms listed. But if you’ve been keeping up on your Covid reading, you know there are a LOT of symptoms. More than the obvious. Things that seems, well, basically normal if you’ve been traveling. Or living through a pandemic.

So again, maybe I have Covid. Maybe I don’t have symptoms. I decided to look for other options.

I called Access Urgent Care, a franchise with facilities all over this area, and which is listed as having free drive-up testing. It took a long time to get through and when I did, I was told they were out of tests. At all locations. NO tests. Zero. And no idea when they would be getting more.

According to the internet, the Wal-Mart down on 91st and Lewis had a drive-thru test site that was open. So I drove down there. It was closed.

Finally, I got ahold of my primary care provider. She told me testing is backed up everywhere in the area by at least 3 days. But she gave me numbers to call. Meanwhile, she told me to quarantine. I had been back in the States five days and this was the first time I was told to quarantine. “Is that a state or city requirement?” I asked. “No, but it’s our recommended protocol” she responded. Because she’s a healthcare provider. A physician’s assistant. Because she understands the danger better than our politicians do.

Anyway, I finally reached the Tulsa Department of Health. I have an appointment for Monday. I’m told results will take 3 – 5 days. Which would be Friday, fourteen days after I returned to Tulsa.

My phone rang at 8:25 this morning. “This is a call from the Canadian government. You have just completed 11 days of quarantine and have 3 more days to go. These next three days are just as important as the first 11. Please stay home. This is very important. The people of Canada, especially those on the front lines, appreciate your efforts to contain this virus. Thank you.” The message was also in French and I might have forgotten parts of it. But suffice to say, it was direct. It was polite. It was appreciative and encouraging. I’m not even in Canada but they are still checking up on me. Reminding me to do the right thing.

The truth is, I was committed to quarantining, even if our government wasn’t. I had a friend shop for me. I had no intention of leaving my home. Until I needed to get a test. And then… well… it’s hard to stay committed to something when everywhere around me appears to be life as normal. Carrying on as if there’s not a deadly pandemic that’s only getting worse. As if the numbers of infection and deaths are not going up every single day.

The truth is – and I’m embarrassed to say this – I broke quarantine. It was for a really good reason and I’ll tell you in the next installment. Yes, I wore a mask. I kept as much distance as I could. And the reason, I think, was really good. Almost a necessity. But then, that’s my opinion. My justification. When I tell you next time, you can be the judge.

But the other truth is, it freaked me out. Too many folks without masks. Even in the office where the signs clearly say masks are required. Even the doctor wasn’t wearing one.

But it wasn’t my doctor. It was Mazie’s.

Meanwhile, I’m back at home, waiting to take my test tomorrow. Meanwhile, I pray I don’t have Covid19. I really, really, hope I didn’t put anyone else’s health in jeopardy. If only our government felt the same way.

Coming Home

I arrived back in Tulsa tonight and I was home.

That may seem obvious, but the truth is, it was never a given. Never a certainty. After four months in Italy, of which fifteen weeks were in Sicily where I felt so much at home, where I was repeatedly concocting plans to stay, I had no idea how I would feel once I touched ground in Tulsa. And if I’m really honest, I expected the worst.

As the plane began its descent over northeastern Oklahoma, I watched through the window. Green, green, and more green. “Wow, that’s really pretty,” I thought.

Then I stepped outside the airport and the humidity hit me. Ah yes, humidity. I’ve missed you and didn’t even know it. I like the way you feel. Like an old sweater, soft and musty and warm. Humidity definitely feels like home to me.

A friend came to pick me up, masked up for protection, and her standard poodle, Jolene, at her side. Is there any better welcome home than this? Not for me. A friend and her dog. And the humidity.

Another friend, who lives down the street, watched my place in my absence. She checked my mail and occasionally took my car for a spin. Knowing I needed to be in quarantine upon return, she picked up some groceries. And then, she did something I didn’t expect.

She left the porch light on. Like a beacon in the night. Nothing says welcome home like the soft glow of light. My home was glad to see me. She was waiting for me.

Homes have personalities. They are extensions of ourselves. They hold a psychic energy. Everything is energy, our homes included.

I opened the door and was greeted with a warm stuffiness. Not stale. Just the stillness of a home that has been closed. Waiting. Holding its breath.

It was time to get reacquainted. She was clean, cleaner than I had left her, or so it seemed. Like she had primped for me. I gently placed my bags in one corner, not wanting to be disruptive. Not wanting to break the moment. A bit like a first date. Respectful, slow, taking in the details. Not moving too quickly. My kitchen felt bare, but my refrigerator was full (thanks to my neighbor). A table lamp was on in the bedroom, but I wasn’t ready to go there yet. So, what to do now?

I made a Moscow mule.

Friends from Nashville stayed at my place three times during my absence, each visit while looking for a house to purchase. They left my home spotless. They even left new kitchen towels, hanging at my sink. I took my drink outside to call them. To thank them. What they told me turned out to be so much more – and better – than just the towels and clean floors.

I live in a simple, four-room duplex with a small and dated kitchen. No dishwasher and a sink that often backs up. A faucet that splashes. Drawers that stick from too many layers of paint. Windows that won’t open for the same reason. A kitchen floor that looks perpetually dirty. I have a nice tub, but the sink is old and pretty awful. The walls are painted grey, which I hate. (As in, I abhor, but the landlord won’t let me change.) But the hardwood floors are lovely. And the windows are plentiful. The bedroom is large and looks out into the backyard, fenced, just waiting for a dog. This place has character. After downsizing from a 3-bedroom home, this is really all I need these days. My furniture is old, mix-matched, and repurposed. So is my art. My rent is cheap and I park in a driveway, not a garage, but that’s better than on the street.

As I sat on my stoop (concrete stairs that are crumbling), with the ice in my glass melting, my Nashville friends told me about their stays. They loved being here, they said. Awesome accommodations, they insisted. They read my books. They used my printer. They cooked and used my pots and spices. Everyday, they were surprised by something new. A quote on a wall they had not seen before, another piece of art or photograph lumped in with so many others, some treasure perched on a shelf.

They told me how they’d sit on my front porch at night. How they would move the two non-matching chairs from the back to the front and watch the bunnies scampering in the grass. How they enjoyed the peacefulness of my street, the stillness of the evenings, the crickets, and an occasional car. Even talking with my neighbors. They loved being here, they said again. They really did.

And that love was the gift. The truly being here. Their appreciation for my quirky little no-fuss place. They liked her. They enjoyed hanging out with her. She felt comfortable. The companionship was easy. My house had become their friend.

Home is not just where we eat and sleep and shower. Home is where we live. Life happens in a home. A home needs life to sustain it. When our homes are really homes, they are alive. They have personalities. They reflect the relationships of the inhabitant(s). They thrive on life inside.

I arrived back in Tulsa tonight and I was home. Not because my things are here. Not because I have an address where I pay rent. I was home because my home was still alive. She had been cared for and appreciated. Fed, like a cat, in my absence. The food cooked and shared, the dreams dreamt in my bed, the music enjoyed – all strokes. She was still purring. Grateful for the attention.

Like any relationship, the more you give, the more you get back. This home, my Tulsa home, welcomed me, was as happy to see me as I was her, because she had been cared for. She was loved.

If my friends – from down the street and from Nashville – hadn’t attended to her in my absence, she would have felt differently upon my return. I would have felt differently. And She – my home – would have been different.

I miss Sicily. Absolutely. And I will go there again. Yet, right here and right now, undeniably, I am home.

This revelation of admiration seems significant. A declaration of love seems in order. I’ve decided to give her a name.

Everyone, meet Hermione.

The Bumpy Road Home, Part 2

Ok, Rome airport (FCO) was the worst. There were moments when I honestly considered chucking my plans and somehow getting back to Sicily. Anything to get out of that airport. But getting to Sicily probably meant I’d still have to fly, so… I toughed it out. And sometimes life throws the worst at you right up front and then calms down. The remaining flights and airports have not been bad. Though, I keep waiting for all hell to break lose at any moment.

Frankfurt was much more what I had in mind. Honestly, Germans are always so organized. Structured. I love this about them. For as much as my Italian friends told me I looked Italian, they also repeatedly told me to relax. I’m German. Relaxing does not come naturally to me. I’m a planner. I’m always on time. Yes, I’m laughing. It is both a point of pride and a curse.

So, flying through Frankfurt during Covid-19 wasn’t crazy at all. Nothing even remotely similar to Rome. Looked like all the terminals were open. (Unlike in Rome where they had shut down all terminals but one. This effectively means squeezing everyone into one terminal causing crowds and chaos.) Everyone was wearing masks and for the most part, due to less crowding, people maintained a reasonable amount of distance.

Luftansa also boarded all window seats first. Nicely done! Much appreciated. What I didn’t expect, however, was to have the seat next to me taken. I honestly had hoped due to Covid, for a trans-Atlantic flight, every other seat would be filled. Good news is that the flight was not filled, so my row companion moved up and we both had space.

Then Toronto. Canadians are VERY serious about Covid at the airport. Maybe because they’re so close to the U.S. Kinda like sitting next to Pigpen on the school bus – makes you just a bit fastidious about trying to stay clean. I was instructed three times after deplaning to quarantine for 14 days. And that’s before I even spoke to the immigration agent! Seriously, it was a good thing I changed my hotels plans and booked a room at the airport Sheraton. Every agent, guard, or whomever it was in a uniform that I passed, asked to see verification of where I was staying and when I was leaving.

Instead of going through customs once I reached the States, I was shuffled through US Dept of Homeland Security in Toronto before boarding my flight to Houston. The line wasn’t long, which was good, but there was only 1 agent and the interview was very thorough. She mentioned having my bag pulled (it was already checked) to ensure I wasn’t transporting produce or plants (I am not making this up), but either I was convincing (I mean, who makes up my story, right?) or the ticking of the clock finally got the better of her, and she let me go. I made it to my gate just on time.

So far Houston has not been bad. They’re even handing out free cloth face masks. Yet so much is closed. It’s a bit eerie.

I found the chapel and took a nap.

Soon I’ll board my flight for Tulsa. Tonight, after 4 months (17 weeks), I’ll sleep in my own bed. Still not ready to believe that until it actually happens. If 2020 has taught us anything, expect the unexpected. And be grateful for every gift.

I am definitely grateful. Very, very, grateful. And maybe more than just a bit tired. 😉

%d bloggers like this: