Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Functionally Groomed

When we were showing her, Zsa Zsa's coat always required a great deal of fussing.

"There is no such thing as the perfect dog" is the AKC mantra and, to be sure, just about every breed requires a certain amount of grooming before entering the show ring. Like every other dog, Zsa Zsa had her "issues." She was on the small size (she prefers the term "petite"), though well within the standard -- and her coat at time could be iffy.

This is nothing strange -- bitches blow their coats when they're in heat. So she was always either in the process of blowing her coat or in the process of getting her coat back. Somewhere in there was a window for me to show her, an undertaking neither of us enjoyed at the time (though it did once garner us a "pity placement" -- a story for another time).

These days, Zsa Zsa's job is much different. She is the ambassador at work. She is the first staff member volunteers meet when they come to the farm and, as far as I know, no one who knows the official Australian Shepherd standard has ever deigned to pull a weed or pluck an onion on our premises. No one really cares about the quality of her coat or whether her paws look high and tight or if her black areas have a red cast to it.

Bascially, Zsa Zsa needs to not stink and her tail area (Australian Shepherd are not supposed have tails) is clean.

Fluffed and combed -- okay. But, above all else -- Zsa Zsa must not stink. Her coat can be too limp or too silky -- doesn't matter.

So she is primped and bathed on a regular basis to prevent stinkage and I keep her trimmed pretty closely so that the area of concern is not...a concern.

Recently, though, it occurred to me that I was spending a lot of time pulling out thick undercoat. In fact, I was spending more time than ever pulling out thick undercoat. Plus I was having to trim her britches -- that's the back of her rear and her hind legs, an area that used to suffer the worse affects of her lady-cycle. In the old days, once I'd pulled out dead undercoat, there wasn't a whole lot left to work with.

These days, however, I have to thin it out and cut it short and generally weed-whack Zsa Zsa's britches. I've never had to do this before.

Where? Where? Where was this wonderful, thick coat when I was trying to show her?

When I was learning from Mamma K to show-groom an Australian Shepherd, she taught me to put a "smiley face" where their tail would be. Well, there's no show, but I still like to see Zsa Zsa's butt smile.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Get Thee to a Nunnery

There is just no other way to put it. I've lived in this house for three years and I have yet to see a male hummingbird. I live in Shenandoah County's only hummingbird convent.

Around here we only get Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, so it's quite easy to tell males from females. If they have a red throat, they're males. If not, they're females.

I haven't seen a male hummingbird since The House That Shall No Longer Be Named. They are rather dapper fellows and their female counterparts just don't have the bling they do.

Nor do the females dive bomb each other -- at least not around here. The good sisters simple file in for their evening meal, sup quietly, then murmur their way through vespers.

I suppose I could have missed the males. It's quite obvious that my days of sitting at my computer writing and looking out at my bird feeder are long gone. I hadn't seen a new bird show up at the feeder in over a year. But three years?

Our regulars come and go, but every now and then we get a migrating bird that we've never seen before -- Grosbeaks, Waxwings, Tree Sparrows. When I was at my computer all day, I was there to capture it.

These days I'm around to see the morning inundation of finches and the evening visits of the woodpeckers. The Sisters of Perpetual Humming come and go all day.

We have had one new visitor this year that decided to stay. It all started with a sound. I kept thinking someone had dumped a kitten on us and it had crawled into the bushes.

Hence, the name "Catbird."

To be honest, he's a rather unremarkable fellow, but for one thing.

He looks like he's wearing a toupee*.

*I apologize for the horrible photo. Don't ask me what happened to my telephoto lens -- I'll just burst into tears...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Extreme Curmudgeonly Complaining

What is it that we all can't just enjoy a nice little perk without going overboard and screwing it up for everybody? Why, why, why must we indulge in being the "-est" in every activity required to live: best, hottest, biggest, fastest...

Whenever you see the word "extreme" before an activity, it won't be long before said activity will be outlawed, regulated, or we'll all be forced to wear silly gear in order to perform it -- because just riding a bike isn't enough for some people; they have to flip is and twirl it and jump over stuff with it and now to ride a bike you look like you're entering a jousting match against the Black Knight.

That was what I was thinking when I read about what is being called "extreme couponing."

For decades there have been stories of couponing women who could pull off a free basket of groceries with their coupons. I'll admit, I love me a good coupon. Nothing tickles me more than to layer a double coupon onto a BOGO -- such little glitches are God's way of patting you on the back and saying, "Thanks for fighting the good fight. Here. Have a stick of Suave deodorant on Me." And I say, "Thank you, God" and be on my way. I smell better, the store gets its money, Suave gets its money and no one gets hurt.

Usually I found most coupons were for things I didn't use -- junk food, prepared foods, specialty foods, brand-name cleaning products (white vinegar, baking soda, Lysol in a gallon jug and Clorox -- all you need). From what I understand, there are coupons out there for staples like sugar or flour. I haven't come across them but, then, one of the other requirements I have for dealing with coupons is that it shouldn't take me more than a half hour to prepare to go grocery shopping -- I'm fulfilling a basic household chore, not composing my life's work.

Unfortunately, the "extremists" may ruin it for the rest of us. Stores have already begun limiting the amount of coupons a customer can use with one order. This will lead to a single customer breaking their order up into several smaller orders, complicating things further until stores will have no choice but to eliminate coupons altogether.

Stores have to wait for the coupon money they deduct from your total bill -- their vendor is in no hurry to get them their cash back (not to mention the value of the float). Sisiggy cashing in her $1 Suave coupon is one thing -- even if 15 Sisiggys cash in 15 coupons. However, multiply by 15 these women claiming to get a $300 grocery order for free and you've got a serious cash flow problem.

Believe me, nothing appeals to my "threat of nuclear holocaust" obsession more than a basement pantry lined with canned goods (okay...I admit...mine are lined with goods I canned myself -- and a spare pair of glasses). But I keep myself in check -- I recognize how easily this can become one of those compulsions inspiring yet another cable reality show ("In the Bunker: Extreme Nuclear Holocaust Hoarders"). I don't even approach my mother's dried bean hoarding (my father used to say the beans would work on two levels -- we'd survive...plus no one would want to be around us to take our stuff).

The thing is, the amounts of the same product you end up with when "extreme couponing" can only be justified through a window of a major national, political and social disaster -- all at once. No one knows more than me the comfort in such an inventory -- my first memory of being in a church was during the Cuban Missile Crisis; but even I recognize such an expectation of doom is just bad karma all around.

So, like walking Zsas around Lowes and letting the wind blow through my hair as I ride my bike without a helmet, the kismet of a free tube of mascara for trying out the store brand eye cream is probably a thing of the past.

Let's hope no one decides to be an "Extreme Library Patron."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dog Days of Summer

This weekend went to the dogs.

So goes this time of year when our kennel club puts on its own two-day event -- two back-to-back dog shows.

When we're in the thick of it, everything seems so imperative. The day after, though, I always wonder what we were all so tense about. Really, it's kind of fun.

For a small club that puts on a relatively small show, we do get to see a lot of different breeds, though mostly thanks to club member Frank, who seems to specialize in knowing what rare breeds the AKC will ultimately sanction and usually has a champion ready to go.

This is Frank's Xoloitzcuintli (or, Mexican Hairless). I did see the first litter of these and I had my doubts -- the puppies resembled internal organs.

Jane is one of the founding members of our club, not to mention a role model for the sport of purebred dog conformation. People show dogs for all kinds of reasons and sometimes -- a lot of times -- those reasons clash. The thing about Jane is that she never lets all the controversy and drama get in the way of the pure joy of the sport. She never gossips or takes sides and always had the attitude of "this too shall pass."

She's put Championships on more dogs than I'll ever own and the last one was when she was over 80 -- I know, she doesn't look it! Jane reminds me always of the best part of the sport is building a relationship with the dogs and with each other and it's supposed to be fun.

And this is Carole (and me), who breeds Irish Wolfhounds and could actually run the show entirely by herself, but allows the rest of us to do things too -- just to keep our spirits up. If I had a quarter of her energy, I'd take on another full time job.

We saw lots of beautiful Australian Shepherds and lot of deceptively adorable Parson Russell Terrorists Terriers (thanks, Carole!).

Goodness knows, I'm not a fan of the toy breeds. But I have to say, Pomeranians just make you laugh. They have this perpetual smile and they run around like little wind-up toys. And when there is a bunch of them together, you can't help but snicker a little.

A very exhausting two days, but also very satisfying. What's not to love?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler...*

Yahoo! recently asked its readers to submit their stories of being unemployed. For some reason, they were "surprised" at the number of responses they received -- hundreds of thousands -- and at the rawness of the responses.

There is no mistaking -- it's an employers' market out there and, if you have a job, hang on tight and don't give your employer any reason to even think about replacing you. This seems like common sense to me.

Then tell me, please, why, when I go into a department store, grocery or restaurant, I am waited on by some half-witted bachagaloop who acts like he's doing me a favor pausing his texting long enough to wait on me? Why am I reading current novels that have glaring grammatical, spelling and typo errors rampant throughout the book? Why was my order wrong in three out of three visits I made to a fast food place since the first of the year? Why did I read a piece about Lady Gaga being bashed for a routine where she dresses as a mermaid and rolls on stage in a wheelchair, yet there was no reference to the fact that this stunt was a staple in Bette Midler's show twenty years ago -- and no one was offended?

And, while I'm asking, how do I get a job where the bar is set so low?

Just so you know this is not just the ranting of a curmudgeonly 54-year-old, consider this: a friend of mine daily relates his frustration with his fellow workers who continually fail to show up for their shift, come in late for their shifts, are the recipients of not one, but several, customer complaints, show up for work high, leave in the middle of a shift and continually defy governmental regulations protecting the public health.

Then, there is the story of a friend's son who was "rewarded" for doing what he should have been doing anyway. But "just doing his job" was so rare to this particular supervisor, that he felt it warranted a reward. Before you heap accolades on the supervisor, though: the "reward" was a bag of pot.

You would think, with the job market such as it is, only the best workers would be employed. But, it seems, even management is lazy.

It did occur to me, though, these entitled-worker behaviors are the precise traits of the upper corporate management that caused this economic bust in the first place -- laziness, deceit, smug security of position, and an overall lack of integrity.

And that is the ranting of a curmudgeonly 54-year-old who, incidentally, knows the difference between "there," "their," and "they're" and that, in a sentence, the tense of the subject and predicate should agree, even if a there is a prepositional phrase after the subject.

*Office Space -- as if you didn't know.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wait for it...

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath was another classic movie that I deliberately put off watching.

This is one of those movies that is difficult to watch, but necessary... and enlightening. The ultimate movie of this genre is Schindler's List -- definitely not "entertaining," in the traditional sense, but required viewing as far as I'm concerned.

Along those lines, I rather felt I'd "done my duty" by reading The Grapes of Wrath as a book. The book is unrelenting. Capitalism untempered with compassion is an ugly, nauseating travesty. That conditions for migrant workers were actually worse than Steinbeck described, is unimaginable.

So I approached my first viewing of the film version of The Grapes of Wrath as a sort of homework assignment for someone professing to be a movie buff. But, fear not. The movie gets the same point across (though it isn't quite the "call to arms" inspired by the book) and still manages to convey the strength of character that is its ultimate hope.

If you have not read the book (and you should) or seen the film, all you need to know for my "Wait For It..." moment is that the story deals with the Joad family, who has lost the home where they've lived for generations and must now take to the road to find work.

The most famous scene belongs to Henry Fonda (Tom Joad) and occurs toward the end of the film ("Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. . .").

However, hands down, the most poignant moment in the movie is silent and features the careworn Ma Joad (played by Jane Darwell), Tom's mother, a woman who has been buffeted by life and it shows in her face and her clothing and every move she makes. She is the last person to leave the house that is slated to be leveled by the mortgage company and now is going through a box of memorabilia, burning whatever cannot be taken along on the one vehicle the entire family must use to cross the country to find work.

In the box she finds a pair of earrings and it triggers a memory of lively music. She holds the earrings up to her ears and looks at her reflection in a beat-up old mirror. And you watch her face falls as the mirror brings her back to the present and the old woman life has made her.

My heart breaks every time -- every. time. -- I see that scene.

I identify with Ma Joad, for obvious reasons. I'm with her from that agonizing gaze that was her farewell to her old life, to her inspiring final statement:
Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people.

My Biggest Fan

I don't think I've ever had a being so smitten with me as my dog Hokie.

Keep in mind, I have four other dogs. Oh, and a husband.

The two Parson Russell Terriers -- well...they're terriers; totally mercenary. They're my best buds...until someone with a better offer comes around.

Then there is Topper (aka, "Toppergetdown"), who is like the Woody Allen of the dog world; neurotic and self-centered, you just know he's got this inner-dialogue going on: "Oh, jeese. There's that cat again drinking out of my water bowl. Yeah, fine, cat. Go ahead and leak your drool in my water. I'd say something, but she'd go and tell that other cat and they I'd have them both laughing at me..."

And, of course, there is Zsa Zsa, my constant companion who accompanies me everywhere. Zsa Zsa is welcome in houses where people don't even like dogs. She is the dog most petted by non-dog people. Zsa Zsa is perfect -- and, just when you think you've caught her being imperfect, it turns out that she was two steps ahead of you and her imperfection was deliberate, needed and, therefore, another example of her perfection.

In short, Zsa Zsa is better than me and she knows it. I am HER pet.

And, as for the husband...I think we both passed "smitten" a good 20 years ago. "Smitten" requires a certain blindness to faults -- something you can't keep up for that long a time.

But Hokie...

Good ol' Hokie...the baby of the bunch; the first-born of Zsa Zsa's last litter...the one we almost lost. The one everyone told us was merely "pet quality," but who blossomed after his first year (it's heart-breaking that we can't afford to show him).

Perhaps his devotion to me stems from the fact that, being one of the two least troublesome of that litter, he got the least amount of my attention. He goes where he's supposed to go when he is supposed to go there. He does what he's supposed to do when he's supposed to do it. So it's easy to take Hokie for granted.

Plus, he loves the outdoors. We've tried to get him to stay inside, but he's usually too hot (that panting) or too bored (that staring). He likes lording over the backyard, terrorizing birds and letting our landlord/neighbor know he's On The Job.

However, if I step foot outside, he's right there, ready to pounce.

In fact, the pouncing is a problem we're working on. I know how to deal with "jumping up." I couldn't understand why all the standard training methods didn't work on what he was doing, until I broke precisely what he was doing, which was a combination of happy leap and trying to get close. The usual "turning your back" method was useless -- back or front he was close and that was his goal.

He's gotten better, though it took some real creative training to break him of the habit -- and he still falls off the wagon.

Now he confines his interaction with me to sitting in worshipful attendance, fidgeting back and forth on his haunches. Granted, this is partly because, in order to break him of the pouncing (along with deliberately spending more time with him), I would sit at his eye level and call him to me, so there was no need for him to pounce. He will sit there for a long time like that and, when he finally does lie down into something like relaxation, I have merely to move a limb and he's up, fidgeting, anticipating.

More unnerving, is Hokie's stalker morning behavior. Both my bedroom and the bathroom window look out onto our back patio where we have a large, round outdoor table. In the morning, as I get ready, I flit back and forth between bathroom and bedroom. When I glance out the windows as I pass, I can see Hokie, sitting on the table, staring at either window and fidgeting with excitement if I make eye contact.

I suppose I should be flattered. I mean, all the dogs are usually happy to see me when I come home. But Hokie -- Hokie makes me feel like a rock star.

Hokie makes me feel like there could possible be something like Jeanne-mania

Thursday, July 07, 2011

I kinda like the way she, like the way she, DIPS...

There is something about summer that triggers memories.

They say smells are the strongest impetus for random past moments to come crashing into the brain, but I say summer is right up there with chlorine pools and original-scented Pledge for dragging me back to a time when my knees were perpetually skinned from riding my bike in places a Huffy gear-less cycle had no business going.

Today Pandora had me tumbling down the rabbit hole of the past and I landed smack dab in the middle of an incident that, surprisingly, I’d forgotten about completely: The Day I Chased The Cars.

Before I relate this tiny incident (that, fortunately, my parents went to their graves never knowing a thing about), let me give you a little background.

I am, was, and always will be A Good Girl. I could talk a good game, just to keep up a modicum of what would these days be called “street cred;” but, basically, I was a wimp. It’s not that I was or am morally superior to everyone else – it’s that I was a coward. I was absolutely positive that: A.) I would go to hell if I did anything wrong ; and B.)my mother would somehow, someway, defy the laws of logic and find out no matter how carefully I covered my tracks – she had a reputation for divining.

I wanted very badly not to be A Good Girl – sometimes. The late 70s/early 80s was the era of The Bad Girl because the Bad Girls were reveling in being the first generation produced by the Women’s Movement. Bad Girls were the 80s; Good Girls were still stuck in the early 60s.

So I attached myself to Lisa.

Lisa was a Bad Girl. She was so bad, she told me, that she once chatted with her mother while having sex with a rich older man in the beachfront house next door to the Kennedy compound in Manasquan and her mother didn’t even know what was going on (she told me this story as we were passing the house next door to the Kennedy compound in Manasquan – did I mention is was a Very Gullible Good Girl?).

Lisa worked with me at a bank and was, in the end , fired for stealing $500 to buy a Chesterfield blazer with HUGE shoulder pads and Sergio Valente designer jeans (“Uh-oh, Ser-gee-oh-oh!”). There was no absolute proof she’d stolen anything, but such is the fate of one who is an undeniable Bad Girl – you’re never given the benefit of the doubt.

Lisa was head-over-heels for the music of The Cars. At least that’s what she told me – Lisa didn’t listen to music unless she was driving around. I suspect she was more interested in The Cars than their music, but I’m getting ahead of myself. That year – whatever year it was – The Cars were playing at The Spectrum in Philadelphia (a moment of silence for what was once The Spectrum in Philadelphia).

Since I was the one with a valid credit card, I obtained tickets to the concert because I liked The Cars (musically – I actually owned the album) and because Lisa talked me into it (yes, I know all the sirens are going off in your head. Give me a break -- I was 20, working full time, going to school full time and spending most of my “off” time taking my mother, aunts or grandmother to doctor appointments).

I drove – of course, because Lisa didn’t own a car.

And the concert was very good

Not enough for Lisa, though. After the performance, Lisa decided that we should find out where the band was exiting so that we could, perhaps, obtain an autograph – a practice I’ve always thought rather useless but, hey, apparently a worthy goal for a Bad Girl, so I was on board!

We drove around The Spectrum parking lot and eventually did find where the band was exiting and, well – there they were!

So I look at Lisa and she’s standing off to the side, staring and – undulating. There is just no other word for it – she was undulating and batting her eyes; but she was not asking for an autograph and now The Cars were getting into their limo, at which point Lisa drags me back to my own car (a Dodge Dart – oh, how I LOVED that car…) and screams, “FOLLOW THEM!”

And so began Jeanne’s Wild Ride or, as I like to think of it, “Jeanne’s One Bad Girl Moment.”

I sped. I tailgated. I cut people off. I ran not one, but three, red lights. I made a lefthand turn from the righthand lane of a four-lane street. I drove the wrong way on a one-way.

I screeched to a halt in front of the Fairmont Hotel just as The Cars were exiting the limo. Lisa jumped out, but I stayed put.

“Don’t you want an autograph or something?” Lisa asked, halfway across the street.

I shook my head, but she came back, grabbed an envelope out of my purse and took off to the crowd gathered in front of the hotel.

Frankly, I was in shock. I'd done so much Bad Girl stuff in the last two minutes, my entire system had shut down. I couldn’t believe where I was and how I’d gotten there.

Suddenly there was a man at the window, handing me a piece of paper. He looked in at me and said, “Are you some kind of idiot?”

If you were raised a Roman Catholic girl in the 60s, my answer will make perfect sense to you; otherwise, you will call me a complete and total wuss.

I lowered my head and, closing my eyes (okay, yeah, I was about to cry), I said, “I’m so very sorry.”

He threw the piece of paper at me. It turned out Lisa had grabbed my JC Penney bill. It was signed, “Rick Ocasek.”

“I hope this doesn’t mean I’m responsible for the balance,” he said, walking away.

I still think that was a rather lame joke, but he’s – like – Rick Ocasek, right?

So there you have it. My moment of Badness. My sons think this a rather sad attempt at rebellion and they (and their cousins) still work tirelessly to get me to drop the F-bomb.

I used to relate this story as a lesson to the boys about peer pressure. I mean, I liked The Cars, but certainly not enough to take the kind of risks I took to obtain a sample of someone’s handwriting. I only did it, I said, because I wanted Lisa to think I was a Bad Girl just like her.

There were other elements, though, that I ‘d always hesitated to point out to the Heirs when they were at their most impressionable. And, while I can’t advocate driving like a maniac through the streets of Philadelphia, I have to admit it was the first and only time I could ever call myself…well…brave.

Yeah. Brave.

After a lifetime of behaving myself and feeling guilty over the slightest infraction, I was brave. I was defying authority, defying propriety and, at times it seems, defying physics (there was certainly an angel on my shoulder that night who was kind enough to grant me this one moment of grace).*

I had plenty of time to gather my wits since Lisa, obviously, had had plans to be invited by a band member up to their hotel room – which, of course, never happened. There was a small crowd of fans at the hotel when we pulled up and she was one among many, in spite of her amazing undulation skills.

“What did he say to you?” Lisa asked excitedly when she finally returned to the car.

I didn’t want to tell her he’d called me an idiot and then cracked a lame joke. So I made up a story about how impressed Rick Ocasek was with my driving skills. Because Bad Girls lie.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. I think we stopped at Olga’s Diner in Marlton on the way home (which, I hear, closed a few years back…yeah…I know…). A week later Lisa was fired and I never saw her again. She never paid me for the tickets.

For years I carried the JC Penney bill with Rick Ocasek’s autograph around in my wallet. I’d take it out and remember my Bad Girl moment and the guts it took to get it.

Years later, though, I’d seen the deaths of my parents and of my own child; I’d navigated my way through foreclosure and bankruptcy; I’d worked through pain and illness. Following a rock star’s limo through the streets of Philadelphia paled in comparison.

I threw the autograph out.

I truly don’t regret it; it’s just ink on paper. With all due respect, Rick Ocasek does his job. I do mine. It’s all good.

But sometimes…sometimes like tonight when it’s still hot when the sun goes down and the oil and pavement have been cooking all day long and Pandora decides to it’s time to play My Best Friend’s Girl (“I kinda like the way, like the way, she dips…)…I think of that rush of adrenaline, of the humid air blowing the smell of pavement into the car window and how, for once in my life, I didn’t care about how I looked or what people thought or what I was going to or not going to eat – I just had to follow that limo.

I think it was literally the only time in my life I was in a state of pure being.

I felt immortal.

As one does at 20.

It could have ended very differently, I’ll grant. But it didn’t and I thank that angel everyday for that and for averting the myriad of other tragedies that could have befallen me when I was at my most stupid (a “short cut” to Penn Station after an evening Broadway show comes to mind…).

*I was also defying intelligence. Let me tell you what a smart person would have done: Rather than search an entire arena for where the band might depart and then wait for them to come out, a smart person – especially one who had spent a good decade rambling around the City of Brotherly Love – would remember there was only one luxury hotel in Center City Philadelphia and head there right after the concert ended.