Monday, 3 December 2007

Christmas is a'coming. . .

There's dancing tonight! Salsa, to be exact.

I tell you, retirement is hard! There just isn't time enough in the day to get everything done.

First thing you do when you retire is join more groups, because now you have time to pursue your interests and learn about stuff. In my case, Yahoo Groups, killing two birds with one stone: While pursuing my interests, I get to play with the computer. Even more. So now I spend more time reading all the posts in all my Yahoo groups and answering them. If you're good about it, participate, and are faithful, the next thing you know you're a group moderator. I'm a group moderator.

I belong to one group about feeding your dogs. (Raw meat and bones, in general, but we're liberal.) The group also discusses things like dog well-being, health and behaviour. So the next thing you know, I'm all excited about training my dog.

Now I have to fit dog-training into my schedule.

We tend to get personal on the lists I belong to, so they're pretty high traffic. We chat. One consequence of this is that, being a firm believer in exercise, whether I do it or not, I have become a running coach -- well, more like a cheerleader. But that makes me feel guilty about not running, myself, so I have had to start running, again. Starting seriously after 15 years of "It's December; can I get in shape before ski season?" while doing B&B with evening meals is hard. So I got a new running book to help me. Which I have to read, one chapter at a time, before each running session, and practice the exercises.

Besides that, a real person (not someone on my groups) whom, in the beginning of my retirement I had time to visit occasionally, showed me the book she bought on strength training. I looked at the pictures of osteoporotic bones and quickly ordered the book and weights. Professional weights. Now I do strength training.

Someone else, whom I have to time visit occasionally, suckered me into to going with her to an introductory class for salsa. Hmm, my back feels better. I sign up.

Somewhere, dog training got lost in the shuffle, so we have just instituted a new system. Van-Ly and I go out before I run, but after I am in my running clothes, and practice. We take Nala with us, since Nala is afraid we're going walkies without her.

And, of course, there is walkies. On running days, we squeeze walkies in between runs. What I mean is that I run, usually toward the village, with or without Van-Ly. Nick drives to the village with a dog or two. We meet on the place. We walk the dogs. Nick runs back to the house and I drive the dogs. Notice that I have got my husband running, again, too. He doesn't have to read the books, though. He can run.

We usually manage this just before lunch, but that is supposed to be our coffee-at-the-bar time, which is getting harder to squeeze in. Coffee-at-the-bar is important because otherwise you don't know what's going on in the village. Or where you can get a new gearbox cheap. Or who can fix your broken refrigerator shelf. Or sign up for Irish night.

On non-running days, we do dog-walking after lunch. This doesn't count as exercise. Nala's pace barely counts as breathing.

I also have to make time to read the training book, one chapter at a time, do the exercises and review before each training session. This would be less time-consuming if I didn't have a mind like a sieve.

Oh, yes, Nala's baths. She has allergies and needs bathing every week. It started as twice a week, but we are, fortunately, down to once a week.

I've got it all scheduled, though. My Google Calendar shows Running in red, every other day, Weights in green on the alternate days, and Salsa on Tuesday evenings. It works out that one week calls for four days of running and three of strength training plus Salsa. The following week has four days of weights and three of running plus Salsa. In the weeks with four days of running, one of the running days falls on Tuesday (Salsa), so I skip running. If strength training falls on Tuesday, I do it. If we have to go somewhere during the day and I don't get to exercise, that's all right for one day of the week. It becomes my rest day. I try to make it a weights days because the book says two days a week is O.K. Oh, yes, we do dog training even if we're not running because we still have walkies.

Do you have all that?

Thank Google for Google calendars. And you wonder why I don't blog more.

By the way, our "dance" recital is this Saturday at the village Christmas market. We follow the children.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

R.I.P. Postal

Some Sundays are better than others.

I never even got around to describing how the latest kittens came to be with us and, already, I'm writing an obit.

Sometime in September we were walking the dogs in the village when two little girls came along with a box. You just knew it held kittens and so it did, four of them. One was a short-haired grey tiger, one short-haired and solid black, one a medium-long calico and one a long-haired marmalade (ginger). When I asked how old they were, the little owner said 2 months. I said, "How about three weeks and they're too young to be taken from their mother." She didn't deny the three weeks, but insisted the mother, just a kitten herself, had rejected them.

Life with nature in the French countryside is . . . educational. Animal birth control consists of drowning the newborns. Knowing what was in store for these, we took three of them. The other child took the fourth.

Nick wasn't thrilled, but I made a deal with him: He wouldn't complain about the animals I bring home and I wouldn't complain about his complaining. As my previous post shows, he gets over it.

We brought them home, bought bottles and formula and started feeding them. There is a trick to feeding three kittens with one bottle. Loudest kitten gets to suck for half a minute or so. The bottle is then passed to No. 2 Noise. Both assuaged for the moment, you feed the third and start the rotation, again. Amazing to remember that I could hold all three in one hand.

They thrived, they began to eat their raw meat, and after 3 or 4 weeks, they rejected the milk.

I waited for them to tell me their names. After a couple of misunderstandings on my part, the tiger was Mr. Pibbs (or Pibbles, named after a group of Pit Bulls), the ginger tom Postal (because he was as sickly cute as a postal card), and Miosa, after a friend. (She forgave me.)

Eventually, I let them go outside for limited periods. They still got locked up if we left the house and at night. Still, Mr. Pibbs developped an unhealthy interest in cars, so when some cat-lovers came to look at our house, we sent him away with them. Mio and Postal didn't seem to notice.

Maybe I sent the wrong kitten away. Today, just as Nick and I were opening the gates to go running, Postal got hit by a car. He convulsed and died on the way to the vet, but I doubt the vet could have saved him. We came home and Nick dug a grave in the field and I put Postal in it.

I've never wanted to touch one of my dead pets before, but somehow I wanted to today. It felt more like a proper goodbye.

Then we went for the run we'd been going to have before the accident. Running soothes the mind and spirit, at least enough so I could write this.

No, the car didn't stop.

R.I.P. my big, beautiful, huggable boy.

Sunday, 21 October 2007


I have a cold and a sore throat; woke up late and grumpy.
My tea was cold. I went downstairs to get some more.
Watched from the kitchen window, waiting for the tea.

Nick came into view with the washing.
Van-Ly arrived, wagging her tail, nuzzling him.
He gave her a massage/scratch around the neck.

Mr. Pibbs and Postal wrestled in the rock garden.
Mr. Pibbs left off wrestling and went to Nick.
Nick scratched both, one hand for each.

Nala arrived, plopped down two meters away, wagging her tail.
Nick went over and gave her a scratch.

Van-Ly followed. Me, too! Me, too!
One-handed scratch for each.

Miosa jumped into the laundry basket to play.
Nick removed her from the clean laundry.

Van-Ly chased Mr. Pibbs.

Postal played in the rock garden.

The sun is shining.
All's right with the world.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Funny Review Day

One of my home pages is Arts & Letters Daily. where a couple of guys troll magazines and newspapers around the world to find new books, articles of note, essays and opinion pieces. I have always been a sucker for essays. And reviews. The site, itself, is a literary gem; the lead-ins to the links are miniature works of art.

Anyway, I thought I'd pass along one of the links I read recently. It's just the sort of thing that brightens my life, now that Dorothy Parker is no longer with us. Actually, Dorothy Parker has not been with us since I was a child, but I miss her all the same. It was Parker who, in a 1934 review of "The Lake" (uh, before I was born), wrote of Katherine Hepburn that "she delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B." (If you are not American, this is not as funny as if you are American, because "A to B" doesn't rhyme with "A to Zed." )

Today's book item from Arts & Letters Daily is right up there with Miss Parker. It reads thus: In her first assault on Hollywood, Joan Collins slept with so many men she was known as the British Open... more»

Clicking on the link will take you to The Daily Telegraph in the U.K., where you can read the full review.

Following the book review, you might care to head to the Music Review section for their take on Il Divo, "not a boyband."

Well, it amused me.

Monday, 17 September 2007

The Fitness Test

Continuing in the spirit of letting nothing go to waste, here is an article I wrote back in (mumble, mumble) for our jogging club newsletter.

* * * * *

I don't read self-improvement articles any more. After the first flush of enthusiasm, one can never live up to the expectations of the author and why be despised by strangers when you have friends? At any rate, my eye was caught by The Sunday Times ABC Bodyplan, an eight-week program designed to make you slim, fit and energetic.

It was the energetic part I liked. I remember a fellow Burnham Jogger saying that he, too, is always tired. "Either I'm running or I'm tired," said Jeff. Well, I'd reached the point where I was running and tired.

Another thing in its favour, the Bodyplan didn't require you to go on a diet. To me, not dieting is the whole point of jogging. The plan required that you jog (or walk or swim or cycle or keep-fit) and I was already doing that, so, I thought, what a snap this will be. I'll just go on doing what I'm doing, although in a more disciplined fashion, and in eight weeks, I'll have energy. But the real carrot was: The Fitness Test.

So I volunteered, fully expecting, however, to be rejected as too fit for the purposes of the study. After all, I eat sensibly and I've been jogging for nigh on three and a half years. But, who knows? Maybe they needed a control group.

Eventually my acceptance letter and instructions came back along with a brief medical history to complete and a phone number to ring so that I could make an appointment for a preliminary heart and lung check. Nobody said anything about my previous jogging experience. To save the embarrassment of being thrown out of the hospital with all the other volunteers jeering, I thought I'd better ring and make sure they understood. Jackie took my call.

"I already jog," I said, "is that going to be all right"? "That's fine," said Jackie, "just keep it up until you work up to the levels we recommend." I don't think you understand," said I, "I already jog about twice the number of miles per week you finish with." "Oh," she said, "I'll ask the doctor."

"The doctor says it's all right," said Jackie. "When would like your first appointment"?

The first trip to the hospital was brief and allowed me to get a look at my fellow testees. There were a couple of fat people, but most of the participants appeared lean and fit. The ever-informative technicians told me that most people had the same idea as I: this was a means not to get fit, but to get a fitness test. In fact, the response to the program had been so great that the government had provided funds for extra testing equipment, which had allowed the hospital to set up the fitness clinic.

I filled out another short questionnaire ("When you exercise, what gets the most tired: muscles/lungs"? Answer: "Both."), and provided a urine specimen. A doctor examined my heart and lungs and opined that I'd probably make it through the program. I made an appointment to return for my first fitness test and promised not to start the plan until after the test.

On my second visit, I changed into shorts and T-shirt and reported to the technicians. First I was measured (5' 4¾") and weighed (none of your business). Then I had to blow into a tube – hard. In my entire life, I have never managed to blow hard enough into tubes to satisfy the medical personnel, so off to a slightly depressing start.

Next I was measured -- they pinched my upper arm in a metal instrument to measure the fat – and photographed. The photograph resulted in a contour map, a marginally obscene black and white composition that looked as if someone had been finger-painting circles over my naked body. The technician said it was a shame I wasn't fatter. The fatter you are, the more bizarre the result and the more contrast you can hope to see at the end of the program. Provided, of course, that you are not as fat at the end of the program as you were in the beginning.

Then we get down to it: the bicycle. In a curtained cubicle I stripped to the waist and electrodes were attached to most inches of my upper body. Then I put my bra back on so the technicians had a place to tether all the wires. (I wonder what they do when testing the men?) I removed my earrings and a clamp was attached to my earlobe (to measure my pulse I later discovered) and the breathing tube stuck in my mouth again. At length I was given the signal to start pedalling.

Har! I'm from Chicago – flatland. I've spent my life on a bicycle. I pedal. It's pretty easy, but my jaws get tired clamping the breathing tube tightly between my teeth. After a couple of minutes, the resistance on the pedals is increased. Still not bad; after all, I am fit. My jaws ache, though. Resistance increases, again. Have to start to work a little now. More resistance. Take hands off handlebars and hold breathing tube so my jaws don't have to do so much work. More resistance. Starting to sweat. More. Thinking about quitting now, but I'm a Burnham Jogger. "Quit" is not in our vocabulary. Boy, do my jaws ache! More resistance. Huff! Puff! We keep up this sado-masochistic cycling until, finally, I raise my arm: the signal to stop. Been at it a long time, though. I feel fairly pleased with myself.

The technicians unwire me and let me get dressed while they fiddle with the computer. They tell me that, after I've been on the Bodyplan for the full eight weeks, I will return for another assessment. The results from all the volunteers will be collated, and the doctor will give me a report on my condition and progress. Meanwhile, "Want to know how you did"? one asks. What am here for? Of course I do. "You did about average," she says.

Average? What does that mean: average? "Well, she explains, “take 100 people off the street and, for your height, weight and age, you're average." Average? Average!? I've been jogging for three and a half years and I've worked myself all the way up to average? What I have to show for three and a half years of pounding the roads in fair weather and foul (mostly foul; this is England) is a dirty picture? In black and white?

The suicidal depression lifted in two or three days. I've resigned myself to a life of average. But it still hurts. I never really forget. And I'm not likely to as long as my friend, Bob, keeps referring to me as Ms. Average.

* * * * *

Post script: We were on vacation a few years later and Hong Kong had been waiting for me. We took the normal tourist photographs and a special one for Bob.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

This book made me feel so good. Obama always makes me feel good. He is positive and optimistic without being unrealistic. He can explain the great divide in American politics and how it came to be, and make you understand that it's not just meanness of spirit that has brought us to this pass. He talks about values without making you feel that there are quote marks around the word. He discusses the constitution with love and intelligence as might be expected from a professor of constitutional law. He talks of race and religion without making you feel threatened by either. There are chapters on Family, Politics, The World. He identifies problems without malice and lays out ideas for solving them; ideas that are down to earth, practicable and appeal to the common sense of most Americans.

Vote for who you want, but read this book. You can feel good, too.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Colonel Blimp and the Burnham Jogger

We are about to embark upon a string a non sequiturs. Fear not. It will all come together in the end.

Item. You may not know Colonel Blimp, the eternally annoyed, jingoistic creation of the cartoonist David Low. But do check the link, so you know what the Colonel looks like. There is also a marvelous old Powell/Pressburger film about him. Highly recommended: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Item. Do you know that your local newspaper is always desperate for stories? Desperate! They'll print anything. Call them up and tell them your dog ate scrambled eggs for breakfast. They'll print it. They aren't disposed to wait for Man Bites Dog. Dog Bites Egg is just fine. Fill that space!

In fact, I didn't telephone, but Maidenhead is a small town and the Maidenhead Advertiser found out about me. An American in England. (Yawn.) A woman. (Oh, yeah?) And a manager. (Got me. That was unusual in England in the early 80s.) The Advertiser sent a reporter to my office/house to interview me. She started with my age. Newspapers always have to know how old you are. They have this in common with race directors.

The reporter brought a photographer. But a woman sitting at her desk in a linen suit is bor-or-ring. Would I mind changing into my running clothes and we'll go to the tow path and photograph you there?

What the hell. I change clothes and we go down to the Thames and I sit on a rock. The photographer photographs. I sit elsewhere. The photographer photographs. We go for an action shot. The photographer photographs. I pose in front of the houses of the rich and famous. The photographer photographs.

You're waiting for the photograph, aren't you? Sorry. I don't know where the newspaper article is. But after it appeared in the paper, the reporter telephoned me to ask if I would like a few of the photographs that didn't appear. There were some wonderful ones," she said. "Much better than the one we printed, but we couldn't use them. Still, I thought you might like see."

And she was right. I went to collect the pictures. It was worth taking up running. Here I am: Burnham Jogger with Colonel Blimp.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

The Time and Space of Uncle Albert by Russell Stannard

Physics was never my best subject. Just before the critical point where I was going to flunk, I switched from a social sciences major to humanities. Humanities majors could get by with only biology.

Living in the mountains as we do, we do not receive radio. Until we discovered audiobooks, car rides were soundless and long Currently, we are listening to Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe. (Sometimes my husband gets to choose the book.) I like and understand the simple bits: Life. Nick likes and understands Universe. Isaacson's book is so well written, though, I almost get parts of the science, particularly if I stop and let Nick re-explain them to me half a dozen times. So, I thought I'd take another crack at The Time and Space of Uncle Albert. Which I flunked the first time.

Uncle Albert, who may or may not live in New Jersey, has a niece, Gedanken. Gedanken, who may or may not be around 11 or 12, has to do a science project for school. The projects her classmates have chosen strike her as really boring: dinosaurs, volcanoes. . .you know, the usual. Her teacher's suggestion, Energy in the Home -- "double-glazing, electric toothbrushes and that sort of thing," strikes her as even more mind-numbing.

Gedanken and Uncle Albert are discussing her problem one evening, sitting and watching the stars, when Uncle Albert recollects the wonder he felt as boy on discovering how far away the stars are: so far their light takes years and years to get here, even though light travels at 300,000 kilometres a second. That's 186,000 miles a second. Or, to put it another way: five times round the Earth in the time it takes to say "rice pudding."

Lately Uncle Albert's interest in light has been rekindled. Maybe Gedanken could help him with his research and write about it for her project. So begin Gedanken's adventures. Travelling in a space ship that appears in a thought bubble above Uncle Albert's head, and with the help of Dick, the computer, Gedanken discovers slow-motion time, squashed-up time, heavy energy and how to live forever.

And I almost did, too. (So that I don't spoil the fun, so you might want to look up gedanken experiment in a big dictionary.) By the way, this is a kid's book.

The year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

After 40 years of marriage and work along side the writer, John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion became a widow over dinner. Their daughter, whom they'd just come from visiting, lay in a coma in the hospital.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion struggles to comprehend what has happened to her. The dulled rhythms of the writing (if the world "dull" can ever be used in connection with Didion's prose) manage to express the flatness of her existence. The repetitive thoughts and phrases echo a mind before it is able to move on.

If the book lacks spirituality, as some have said, it is because, for Didion, there was nothing spiritual in the loss of her husband and the illness of her daughter. It was a black hole of devastation and the grinding effort that living became.

Didion turns to books to make sense of her condition. She searches for words that will lend comfort and fill the hole in her being; to make the hurt go away; to make it better. Nothing helps, except, perhaps, Emily Post, the mistress of etiquette from another generation. In the rituals of proper behaviour and concrete instructions for caring for the bereaved, Didion finds tradition something to lean on. There was always a reason for good manners, correct behaviour, the formalities of life and death.

And, in the end, there is hope. Not because there is redemption in suffering, but because she survived.

We all survive.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

No spoilers!

J. K. Rowling is the best thing that has happened to children's literature since Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Louisa May Alcott and Frank Baum. And she has finished up the Harry Potter series in fine form. After beginning to lose her way as her books got longer-- No. 6 was veering toward the leaden -- No. 7 is as good as it gets. We meet many of our old friends, the adventure rattles right along, and all is revealed in the end.

Thank you, Ms. Rowling.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Becoming a Burnham Jogger

You'll be happy to know that I'm recovering from the groin injury. I can walk now. Four more days on anti-inflammatories and then, if I'm not perfect, it's X-ray time. Pray for perfect, so I can run, again.

No one, even in jest, would refer to me as athletic. Once I hit puberty, I went from skinny, active kid to endomorphic sloth before you could say, "hormones." Like Lance Armstrong, my lung capacity is beyond the machine's ability to measure. Unlike Armstrong I fell off the wrong end of the scale.

Oh, I tried. In high school, I took up gymnastics and learned faster than anyone in the group -- until week three, when I hit the wall. (A running expression.) I joined the Synchronised Swimming Club where Amazonian effort kept me afloat or underwater, as the need arose. But you still have to be able to breathe to succeed. So, I settled for looking good in outrageous swim suits and lazed into my twenties and thirties.

As an adult, I would occasionally summon up the optimisim to try again. I have spent more money on gym memberships than anyone in my salary bracket. Two weeks of calisthenics or Nautilaus machines and I would feel the irresistible Call of the Couch. With beer.

My colleagues took up running. They came to work, wittering on about their three-mile gallop along the lake at six in the morning and how great! they felt. I'd slump further behind my desk and and dial the phone for a relaxing chat with a client who'd blown up his computer in the night.

Sometimes I would exercise at home. Canadian Royal Air Force Exercises: Conquer the world and your body in 10 minutes! Somehow, it always took longer. Yoga in 28 days! Bo-r-r-r-ing. Kenneth Cooper's Aerobics. Isn't this where I came in? Running? No, thanks.

Now and again. regretting my lack of get up and go. I'd read another book. Cooper's wife wrote one just for women. She recounted how Ken had taken his own pulse (39) and then hers (78), and then explained to her that, since her heart was beating twice as fast as his, it would wear out in half the time. She wouldn't live to see their baby grow up. I'd have divorced him, but she took up running. Pushing the baby buggy. They deserve each other, I thought.

Aged 39 1/2, I moved to England. Well, it's funny when you hit 40. One day you're sylph-like in a bikini and the next you're buying women's magazines exhorting you to Look Good on the Beach This Summer and Lose a Stone Overnight on the Chocolate Diet.

The day I returned home from boarding school at 13, my mother had invoked her mantra -- "I weighed 104 pounds soaking wet when I got married" -- and put me on a diet. I was 2 inches taller than she at 13, but I bought the line and had been on one diet or another ever since. Now I just couldn't do it any more.

Ruminating over dinner one evening, I began to consider the problem. Can't diet; hate exercise; no time; wanna eat; hate exercise. Sometimes, life is just one Monday after another. (Garfield, my hero.) "So here's the deal," I said to myself. "If you run, you can eat. Any day you don't run, you don't eat." I may not be able to give up eating, but I'm very good with bargains. I am the person who gave up drinking for 5 years. I am the person who gave up smoking. Three times.

The next day, I was browsing in my normal habitat -- the library -- when I saw a notice on the bulletin board. Learn to Run! Join Us on Monday Evenings at the Maidenhead Athletic Club! Beginners welcome! Telephone Angela! I telephoned Angela.

I'll do the short version. It was a 400-meter track and I couldn't get 'round a quarter of it. But Angela was nice and her husband, Malcolm, was nice and the other people were nice, and no one laughed. They just ran and walked with me. And I ran and walked, ran and walked, ran and walked for the next two hours. I couldn't walk for the following five days, but the next week I was back, again.

After several weeks, Angela and Malcolm suggested I come to the Burnham Joggers with them. It was so neat! First you did the Social Mile -- the entire club together. You got to meet people you'd never have seen if you'd had to catch them first. And I could do it! The whole mile. I had been practicing for, lo!, these many weeks. After the Social Mile, we split into groups of like abilities and ran distances accordingly. Then we showered and repaired to the pub. Was this a good group or what?

In another month I could run two miles. (And drink more beer.) Another month and I could run six. Six months later, one of the guys took me out when my regular group wasn't there and said we'd do a new route. "We'll try an 8," he lied. When we got back to the club house, everyone congratulated me. I had completed my first 10-mile run and hadn't known it. When you run the way I do, after a certain level of misery it's all the same. All runs longer than 5 1/2 miles take forever and will probably kill you. Having made this discovery, I have always known I could do a marathon.*

A club keeps you going. There is your particular group waiting for mutual encouragement each Tuesday and Thursday. And, frequently, Sunday. And special occasions. And Boxing Day. And New Year's Day. (You cannot be serious! But they are.) You can't let them down. There are the better runners who encourage you and force you to stretch yourself. And the race organisers who force you to race (or, in my case, "race") and not be embarrassed about your time. (They have no qualms about any embarrassment you suffer by seeing your age posted on the bulletin board.) And there's the pub. And the parties. And the weddings. Where do you think I met Nick? Forget that night class stuff. Athletics is it!

But I also am happy to run alone. Running alone in the quiet -- no earphones for me -- sets your mind free: to watch the scenery with more than your usual attention; to appreciate; to think; to solve problems; to rid your mind and body of the day's stresses; to diss young men in their cars and feed your growing superiority complex.

There is this wonderful thing called a "runner's high." Running shoots endorphins from your brain into your bloodstream (or maybe the other way around). Endorphins put you on top of the world. Or so they tell me. On a good day, I get, maybe, a runner's medium. I once bought a book just for the title: The Man With No Endorphins.

So now I've been running, off and on, for 27 years. There have been lay-offs, but I have never, ever, considered, giving it up permanently. Even though, every day that I contemplate putting on my shorts and shoes, I hate it. It's hard; I'd rather read; the weather is lousy; I'd rather nap; I'd rather a lot things.

The trick is: Don't Think! Turn off your brain, change your shoes and GO! Because the days that I don't run, I feel guilty. If I see a jogger on the road, I know what he's thinking when he looks at me. "Hey, there! You can't do this." Well, yes, I can. And I know that I will feel better for it.

Medium is good enough.

Oh. And the original problem? Once I hit 20 miles a week, I could eat anything. And do.

*But I haven't. I limit myself to halves, 10Ks and the like. I am much too well bred to inconvenience the race marshalls by keeping them there two hours past quitting time.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Fair-weather Skier Part I

As I lie in bed with a groin injury that prevents me from walking for a time, my friends and enemies question my good sense. Over the past 20 years, I have ruptured one ACL and torn the other, the meniscus in my right knee is rattling around unpleasantly, and I have a bad back as a direct result of the first ACL injury. O.K., as a direct result of my own stupidity and stubborness -- while recovering from the first ACL injury. And yet, as soon as this injury heals, I will be out running, again, and when winter comes, skiing. At my age, shouldn't I know better?

Here's my theory. There are two ways I can be crippled: I can continue to run and ski, and chance becoming physically unable to do either. Or I can stop now, crippled by fear of what may happen. The end result is the same: no running or skiing. Why not wait for the real thing?

Why I run is, maybe, for another post. But I ski because, much to my astonishment, I love it. I, who, despite the misleading impression I may be giving, am not athletic; I, who hate the cold; I, who am miserable getting up early; I, who detest standing in queues; I, who, above all, am chicken; love to ski.

All through my teens and early 20's in Chicago, I resisted skiing. When I lived in New England, I resisted skiing. When I moved back to Chicago, I resisted skiing. Then I got this new boyfriend? And he skied? Well, you know how that is. Chicken, here, didn't want to say she was afraid for fear he'd dump her.

So, one morning in Atlanta, we get up at 5:00 a.m. -- hey! I stay up until 5:00 a.m.; I don't get up at that hour -- and we get in the car to drive to North Carolina. That's right, I learned to ski in North Carolina. Looked at one way, mud has advantages. It helps you to stop. The disadvantage is that it makes you stop kind of fast.

So we're in the car and I'm sulking because I'm scared, both of skiing and of being found hopeless, but I'm sulking discreetly because I don't want to be caught sulking, either. It was a long ride to the ski area, sulking, and there wasn't enough coffee in the world to make it better.

First stop, equipment. Boots. Here's the thing: I have square feet. Literally. 4 x 4. As a child, my mother used to come home in tears after trying all day to buy me shoes. I would be in tears when my father was ordered to take me out and he bought me brown oxfords. All the other little girls had pretty little patent leather shoes with straps across the top. The maid would be in tears because she had to dress me in those brown oxfords. Even if a pretty little patent leather shoe wide enough for my feet had existed, the strap would never have reached across my instep. The arch of my foot was so high, I only made two unconnected halves of a footprint. As I got older, my father became worn out and suggested that I buy boys's shoes. Or why didn't I just wear the boxes? Salesmen cringe when I walk into a shoe shop. My friends will never go shopping with me after the first time. (The first time they don't believe me.) I moved back to the country just so that I wouldn't have to buy shoes ever again.

Anyway, boots. To get them wide enough, they had to be too long. This is not the ideal fitting for control on the slopes.

Next, skis. These days, when modern technology has made skis so easy to turn that you just step onto them, let slip and enjoy the ride, the correct length is somewhere between the height of your mouth and the height of your nose from the floor. When I started skiing, shortly after the wooden models were retired to the museums, you determined your correct ski length by raising your hand straight up in the air and measuring to your fingertips. As the skis were so much longer and so much harder to manoeuvre, this ensured that you stayed in class for the rest of your life, trying to learn to use them. Ski schools have to stay in business, too.

So here I am: booted, after a fashion, and standing on these planks, with sticks in my hands. I couldn't move. Not from fear, although that played a part; I just couldn't figure out how to move my feet, which were now almost two meters long. And heavy. And didn't bend. My boyfriend took one elbow, the guy from the ski shop took the other, together they raised me off the ground, carried me to the ski school, and plopped me down. Boyfriend says he'll be back for lunch and leaves me to it.

I am the only adult in a class of children -- a dozen 4-year-olds and two kids who turn out to be an 11- and 12-year-old sister and brother. Now I am not only terrified, I'm embarrassed.

The instructor separates us into two groups. I'm with the big kids. As the three of us wait for the instructor to sort out the babies, the 12-year-old (boy, of course) looks up at me with a malevolent eye, and demands,

"Is this going to take long?" Like it's my fault we're here.

"Why?" I answer. "You in a hurry?" (You little creep.)

"My father says," he says, "I can't go up there," pointing at the equivalent of Mont Blanc, "until I have a lesson." ('Course it's your fault. Grown-ups are all in league.)

"Shut up, kid." No, I didn't say that. But I thought it.

Finally, the instructor gets back to us and takes us to the top (top! ha ha!) of the nursery slope. I have no memory of how he got me there, because I was still incapable of locomotion on my own. But there I was, at the top, looking down the vast expanse (ten meters?) of baby slope (baby flat?), being instructed to turn my toes in and go! I think he pushed me.

I went.

And I never wanted to stop.

It was unimaginable freedom and lightness. It must be what hangliders search for, or pilots or sky divers. I was flying. No, I was floating. I was floating and flying.

Then you spend the next 30 or 40 or 50 years trying to recapture that feeling.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

I Must Stop Watching CNN

For thirteen years, while living in London, I railed against the U.K. Off-line. To my English husband.

I have posted about things I find not to my liking in France. Fewer things than the U.K., admittedly.

I hesitate to write this, since many of my American friends and acquaintances feel that any criticism I level is the result of my acquired status of "expat snob." Still, a woman's got to do what a woman's got to do.

I hereby declare that my own country, the one whose passport I still carry, the one where I still vote, takes the cake. In the United States of America:
  • The national debt is at record levels
  • Homeland Security is a joke
  • Iraq is a tragedy
  • Health care is practically non-existent
  • The schools don't deserve the name
  • Lobbyists are running the country
  • New Orleans is in ruins
  • The environment doesn't bear thinking about
And what is the big story in the land of my birth? Here's what: Hillary Clinton's cleavage. (For my French and British readers, this is not a joke.) Hillary appeared in the Senate chamber in her usual severely tailored suit and what the French call a débardeur underneath. You know, one of those summery, not-up-to-the-neck, sleeveless or strappy tops. The kind we all wear. Sometimes without a suit jacket. The kind adorning my upper body as I write.

France, the country that I currently call home, has just elected a president who barely, rarely, lives with his wife. His opponent, who lost for political, not moral, reasons, has four children by the man she lived with for 30 years. They split up after the election -- they both want to be president -- but she's still a good candidate for next time. It is also worthy of note that here in the land of high fashion no one commented on her wardrobe -- at least not in the news pages. President Mitterand's funeral was attended by both his families, including children. It was the first time the wife and mistress had met. No one commented on their clothes, either.

Can we go back to that list? Can we grow up? Please?

Friday, 13 July 2007

Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog by Carina Beth MacDonald

(This mini-review was written for Rambo's Diary [see Links] and still appears there.)

If you're curious about a raw diet for your dog or confused by the all the conflicting advice and myriad "raw diets," this is the place to start.

Carina has distilled the literature into a concise and amusing guide to feeding your dog a fresh diet.

All the basics are here to get you started and keep you going. There is an excellent Resources section to further reading, suppliers and internet support. (Note that the Yahoo group, formerly known as BARF-Lite, is now RAW-Lite.)

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

I Wrote a Post

Good news. You remember Susie? Here she is with a cuddly rat.

Bad news. Been awhile, but I finally wrote a post today. Only it's not here. It's a response to Dolittler, a veterinarian for whom I have a lot of respect. You can read it here.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007


I rang the friends with the rats today to see if they wanted to come to dinner on Tuesday. The friends, not the rats.

They also have Susie, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who is "not fat; she's just got a lot of hair." (But that's not part of the story. You may forget it.) These are the friends who kept Van-Ly and Nala when we went to Zurich a couple of weeks ago.

Steven was breathless when he answered the phone. He was holding two rats and I could hear Pat yelling in the background. He hung up and called back. He was still breathless. Or breathing hard. In addition to coping with the rats, the washing machine broke down and they were gone all day yesterday from 9 to 9, getting it fixed. (This part is important; you may remember it.) Their daughter just went back to Ireland after a week's visit, their son is home because school has finished, and they're baby-sitting, again.

We have an acquaintance, whom I may have mentioned, who got an 8-week-old Westie a week or two ago? I gave her Carina's book, suggested that carrying the pup everywhere is not good for its character, and we haven't seen her since. Now, it seems, she's gone to a quilting workshop (I think she's running it) and left the 10-week-old? puppy with Pat and Steven. It's not housebroken. It cries when it's in its crate. Her crate. Rosie.

Who gets a puppy when they're going to be off travelling? "Don't yell at me!" says Steven. "I'm not yelling at you," I say. "I'm yelling at Joan -- through you."

So the puppy is running around doing its puppy thing, which is peeing and pooping.

It prefers tile, but doesn't mind if it's indoor tile or outdoor tile in front of the apartment Pat and Steven rent out. And Pat and Steven are going nuts. I can hear steam escaping from his ears, over the phone, and she's still yelling in the background. It's pretty easy to tell she's yelling about the puppy. Or at the puppy.

"So," I said. "Put it in its crate and leave it there. Take it out to pee and poop."

"We do that," said Steven. "Then she runs back in the house to pee and poop."

"No, no," I say. "You take her out of her crate, take her to where she is to pee and poop, stay there until she does, and then put her back in her crate."

Objection, your honour!

"No, Steven, really. This is how you train them."

"We can't leave her there all the time," says Steven.

"Well, no," I say. "When she's peed and pooped, you play with her for awhile, take her for a walk, and then put her back in her crate."

Walkies. The second day they took her for a walk, Rosie got a grass seed under her upper eyelid and had to taken to the vet. We're 26 kilometres from the nearest vet. Pat and Steven are 40 kilometres. But the seed was removed and they have moved on to the antibiotics and ointment routine.

"But she makes an incredible amount of noise if you put her in her crate."

Gone yesterday from 9 to 9 with a screaming, barking puppy in the car because she's too young to leave at home? The sound on the other end of the phone is probably nerves fraying.

"She'll get used to it," I say. "That's what it's for."

I offer to take her for a couple of days. Hey! Antibiotics and eyedrops R Us. He declines, sure that I want to get her here to torture her. So we postpone dinner until the dog is gone, the kid is settled and the apartment dwellers have departed -- next weekend. We say goodbye.

I hang up and start to wonder who that was on the phone just now with Steven. Was that the person who, 33 months ago, wanted to know what a crate was? You mean one of those awful things I see at dog shows? You keep your dogs in those things? And they let you have dogs?

The person who knew that Chows couldn't be trained? The person that didn't care? If she'd wanted a dog to do tricks, she'd have got a Collie?

Has my husband noticed that this is not the woman he married and lived with for 22 years until she joined RAW-Lite? Are you people going to take responsibility for this new woman?

Whose Chow heels?

Nick wants to know.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Things About Chows

  • No one knows their history. The records were all burned when the mandarins were overthrown a couple of centuries ago.
  • Chows are born with 44 teeth, like bears. They lose 2 in adulthood to arrive at the normal 42 for dogs.
  • They have blue tongues -- blue mouths -- like a small black bear from Northern China. When God was making the stars, pieces of the night sky fell out and dropped on the tongue of the Chow.
  • They have straight hind legs, which makes it difficult for them to jump, but makes their cute Disney-behinds go switch, switch, switch when they walk.
  • One widespread theory of their origin is that there was a darwinian split in a superanimal, whose name I forget, and bears went one way and dogs the other. Chows fell down in the middle. They are considered the oldest breed in the world.
  • Easier to swallow, they orginated in, or migrated to, Siberia where they were isolated in an area between the mountains and the Sea of Japan. There, they evolved separately. (Think of Australia.)
  • Some people think that Chows are the forebear of the Spitz; some think they are descended from the Spitz, which seems illogical. Why would a Spitz, with the anatomy of a normal dog, throw off a descendant with a blue tongue, 44 teeth and a different intestine, but all the other descendants be normal?
  • They belonged, first, to the Mongolians. Not much argument on this one. They were war dogs and hunting dogs.
  • The Mongolians, being traders, brought them to China, where they were pets of the Mandarins, who also used them for hunting dogs.
  • After the fall of the Mandarins, they were farmed for food. I really didn't want to accept this one, but I've come 'round.
  • The farmers' only concerns were to cull the troublemakers and to keep the blue tongue, the blue tongue being a sign of "prime" meat. What brought me to acceptance of the farming theory is noticing that Chows do not interact with each other.
  • Item: They love other dogs, want to meet them and play with them, but totally ignore their own kind. Occasionally Van-Ly wants to play with Nala, which annoys Nala no end. More often, Nala will want to play with Van-Ly, who just ignores her. Sometimes we meet other Chows. They all ignore each other.
  • Item: We took Io Jima, our first Chow, to be bred. Mme. Gondrin said, "We'll all go in the living room and chat and let the dogs get to know each other. We went into the living room with the dogs and sat down. The dogs sauntered up to each other, totally without interest, did simultaneous U-turns, and went to opposite windows to see if anything interesting was happening outside. From this, I learned why you use artificial insemination with Chows.
  • Maybe they're really related to pandas.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Notes After Zurich

It's clean! It's pretty! It's expensive!

We booked the cheapest accommodation in town: one of those hotels with moulded plastic shower and toilet cabinets. Besides being almost affordable, it is conveniently located next to the conference centre where a techie event was being held. We were meeting John Buckman, one of the speakers.

We once stayed in a hotel of this chain at the same time as a bus load of Spanish kids travelling to a football match. I say “match,” so you know it's soccer. The kids must have locked their teachers away somewhere and were a nightmare of rowdiness, so our spirits took a hit when we passed the stadium two blocks away from our Zurich hotel and saw people pouring in for the Big Match. Fortunately, the match was local, and the Swiss don't do hooligan. (Zurich City won.)

We checked in and went out and wandered among abandoned factories covered with graffiti. We saw parasols in front of one building and passed another with bare wooden tables. We could see more activity on the main street under the gloom of the elevated highway leading to the centre, but it was past 8:30 and fatigue drove us back to the wooden tables.

The guidebook suggests that, if you are on a budget, it's best not to plan on staying too long in Zurich. The LaSalle turned out to be only €€ (what must €€€ be?), so for the price of another round of surgery for Nala or a down payment on a new friend for Van-Ly, we got a meal. But what a meal! I could hardly wait to be hungry, again. The staff were friendly, too. “What's inside?” I asked. “Come with me,” said our waiter, and led us inside to the clean, but not exactly remodelled factory floor, where there was more restaurant. This room was all fine linen, polished wood and crystal chandeliers – entirely encased in a glass cube. We have lucked into the “It” restaurant in Zurich. We are in the “Happening” district. And, yes, we did eat there, again.

Friday morning, we walked down to the tram stop for a little tourism. We had not yet changed our euro into Swiss francs (CHF) and didn't have enough change for the ticket machine. Anticipating the answer, we still thought we'd ask if we could get change for our 10 CHF note from the magazine kiosk. The woman spoke neither English nor French, but looked at the note, smiled and made change. This kind of courtesy should be in the guidebook.

As in Paris, where there is a Right Bank (chic and expensive) and a Left Bank (bohemian and less so), in Zurich there is a West side of the river (chic and expensive) and an East side (more casual and slightly less expensive). Both sides of the river are very clean, except for the occasional puddle of cigarette butts. It took awhile to figure out that they were the remains of the previous evening's pub gatherings where people congregate on the pavement/sidewalk outside the drinking establishments. Our guidebook was evidently wrong when it said that smoking in public places was forbidden.

Besides the remains of the evening, another thing we did not see was dog poop. In fact, we didn't see any dogs. I finally spotted 3 or 4 during the afternoon. And we regularly dined outside without benefit of bug. I can understand the lack of mosquitoes, but how do you outlaw flies?

The car horns were a surprise; I didn't think they'd be allowed. And the bicycles. The Zurichers have more bicycles per capita than Chicagoans. There are massive parking areas for them all over the place. One of the best things about Zurich – maybe The Best Thing – is that not everyone has a phone to an ear all the time. Few do. Not on the street and especially not in restaurants. Is this civilised or what?

We wandered in the hot sun and enjoyed the wandering. We came to a big, English-language bookshop and passed an hour browsing the two floors, touching, riffling, sniffing. It's been 14 years since I've been in an English bookshop. The cashier, when I paid for my two marked down books, did not look up at this news.

For lunch, we ate the hot dogs and potato salad in a € place in the centre. Soup arrived first. It looked like potato soup. It tasted like Cream of Wheat. Or maybe like grits. “What is it?” I asked? “I don't know the English word,” said our waitress, and enquired of the two women at the next table. They didn't know either. “It's called “gritz,” said the waitress. “Grits?” “Yes, gritz.” What can you say?

We walked down to the Opera house to check out the performances and prices. My standard opening in German-speaking Zurich was to start every interaction with “Vous parlez français?” followed, if the response was negative, by “You speak English?” Most everyone spoke everything. (I'm used to feeling inadequate.) At the opera house, as soon as I got the first question out – the one about French -- the woman shook her head, left the window, and asked the second ticket-seller to handle the transaction. Then second woman listened to my first three words and then said, “Why don't we speak English; you're obviously English.” “I live in France,” I said, inadequately. (We spoke English.) Tickets were significantly fewer €€ than dinner, but the performance would start while we were listening to John's speech, so we missed Manon Lescaut. No doubt it isn't the done thing to go to the opera in jeans, anyway.

John Buckman, who runs Magnatune (slogan: We Are Not Evil) and BookMooch (where I mooched a copy of Barbara Woodhouse's No Bad Dogs: The Woodhouse Way this weekend*) and his wife Jan, arrived. We were in Zurich so that John and Nick could discuss Intellectual Property Rights. (Don't ask or I write another post. This is a warning.) The four of us went to a pavement cafe and John and Jan ordered iced coffee. In Switerland, iced coffee turns out to a coffee/ice cream soda. Nick and I had coffee. This was before I discovered Sour Cream Ice Cream. I blew it. We mentioned that we'd seen our first Starbucks. Jan is addicted to the same Latte that keeps Carina, my idol and dog guru, going.

* Ooga Chukka warning. However, Barbara Woodhouse is THE reason British dogs are so well behaved.

We made the 8 ½ hour return trip on Sunday – including a short breakfast stop, a medium lunch stop, a coffee break and a brief attempt to try to help some Americans who had a problem with their car and, in his case, with his personality. Our friends and dog sitters, Pat and Steven, had a meal – and our dogs – ready for us.

Van-Ly and Nala had had had a fine weekend with lots of extra-long walks with their friend, Suzie, river-wallows, and attention, but they covered us in welcome-home kisses just the same. Then Van-Ly went back to watching the rats.
Nala stayed close. This was the first time we'd left her since 21 September 2005, and she may not have been sure she wasn't being abandoned, again. Last night she climbed the long flight of stairs to sleep in our bedroom for the very first time.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Second Hand Nala - Part 3

Before they left, Nala's former owners explained that she didn't like to go inside. She also didn't take food from your hand. She cringed when you tried to pet her. Which you didn't try too often because she smelled like a garbage dump.

We offered her the inside and a rug of her own. In she came. Suspicion confirmed: they'd never let her inside their house. Then they'd moved to an apartment and she couldn't climb the stairs. That one we believed. So she'd been living in their van. Full time.

First stop: the vet. Nala's heart seemed O.K. She could hear. Ran some tests and sent them to the university. When they came back, no sign of disease or illness. "How old do you think she is?" I asked. The vet looked at her teeth and estimated, "Between 5 and 10." Right. We don't know.

There were three obvious problems: Her eyes were pouring dirty, yellow mucous; she could barely walk and she stank to high heaven. For the first, we were referred to an eye specialist. For the second, we were advised to wait and see. For the third: "She'll probably have to be shaved," said the vet. "I know a good groomer." We'd never used the services of a groomer before, but, I thought, I am never going to get this dog clean on my own. She had black stuff caked into her fur like brick. Cement, I wondered?

We took her to the groomer, who agreed: "She'll have to be shaved." Two hours later, I returned to the groomer, sulking over having a bald Chow. But she wasn't bald. "When we put her in the tub," said the groomer, "it turned out to be caked mud and started melting. I've never seen a dog so dirty. The bathwater has never been so dirty. I had to change the water 3 times." Nala wasn't exactly beautiful, but at least she wasn't bald. When Io Jima had been shaved to operated on her displaced hip, it had taken nine months for the hair to grow back.

Actually, Nala wasn't too bad looking, except for her pathetically sparse tail. She was a rather nice red.

Next stop: the eye specialist. Nala had entropion, her lashes scratching her corneas, and dry eye: she didn't manufacture tears. She was so good with the specialist. She sat there, sad, while her eyes were washed and papers stuck in them and needles in the rest of her. I don't like thinking about the pain and discomfort she had endured during her 5 to 10 years. We returned home with several sorts of eye drops and an appointment to tack her eyelids.

After the surgery and regular eye drops, she was a new dog. Minus the pain in her eyes, she was happy. She could see. When we reached for her lead to go "walkies," she danced! And collapsed. But after two months of regular walkies, she could run. It seemed that she had been crippled through lack of exercise. My guess is she was only let out of the van to "do her needs," as the French say, and then shut up, again.

Two more months passed and she began wagging what passed for her tail when I came down in the morning. Then I could pat her head. It took a year for her to learn how to take food from my hand.

We're 18 months into our adoption now. Nala has had a second plastic surgery, more thorough, on her eyelids. She walks and she dances. She stumbles from mild dysplasia, but it doesn't seem to bother her. She takes treats from my hand, she's learned to be brushed, and her tail looks like a real Chow's. She is, and has been from the beginning, the most loving and loveable of dogs.

And she's gone from age 13 to age 9.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Second Hand Nala - Part 2

They were a mess.

(This is Nala . Below is Soko.)

Soko was only 3 and, though unkempt, appeared reasonably fit and healthy. Nala, whom the owners were trying to pass off as 7, was crippled, blind, she stank and was, obviously, at least 13. Never mind; we took them. Brigitte said she wouldn't ask for the rescue fee for Nala, since she was such an unattractive offering. But we paid, anyway, for the good works.

While the former owners -- parents and two grown children -- alternated between sobbing at saying good-bye and admiring Van-Ly's beauty and condition (Well, yeah! We took care of her), we lifted the dogs into the van and started for home. Promptly running into an accident on the autoroute that turned the 2 and 1/2 hour journey into 6 hours. The dogs were quite well behaved through it all. I was content.

We got home. Soko was not content. Nala was a zombie. Soko stood guard over her. They wouldn't eat. They wouldn't come into the house. It was September and warm; we left them. We'd go outside from time to time to chat and coo at them. Soko had a nip at me. O.K., he was nervous and unhappy. Finally, it was bed time and we left them for the night.

Nick gets up before I do. The next morning I was just about dressed when I heard him yelling for me. I started downstairs to confront my husband, white-faced and bleeding all over the floor. Soko had attacked without warning and got his hand, his leg and his arm. I whipped Nick into the car and we went to the doctor where Nick received enough stitches to be off work for the next three weeks.

(I should put a caveat here. Maybe there was a warning that Nick didn't recognise. At the time, maybe I wouldn't have either, but I'm told that Chows can do this.)

We came home and called Brigitte and Soko's and Nala's former owners. We've got a B&B, I told them; we can't take the chance he'll bite a customer. "He's never done anything like that before,"they said. (Of course not!) To their credit they came immediately that afternoon. As soon as Soko saw them, he jumped and pranced and then rolled over to have his tummy scratched. He was so happy. And so were they. They took him home and we kept Nala.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Second Hand Nala - Part 1

Someone asked if I wasn't nervous about having a rescue Chow. The short answer is, "No." In general, I think Chows are better tempered in France than I hear they are in the States. They had a surge of popularity here, too, in the eighties, but there must have been fewer irresponsible breeders, so most have good temperaments.

Used Chows are almost impossible to find in France. I put it down to French conservatism. Having paid a minimum of 1100€ for a dog, they're not about to dump it. But I scan the net constantly, hoping, and one day I found a Chow whose owner was going into the hospital, permanently, and the wife couldn't cope with "his" dog.

I telephoned. It turned out to be a rescue and the woman on the other end of the line said that, after all, a cousin was taking the dog. "Good," I thought, "Still in the family and the owner won't lose contact completely." Chows pine. While they appear indifferent, they become very attached to their owners. Io Jima's breeder had taken in a Chow whose owner had died and it was truly pathetic. It had lost most of it's fur and I tell you there is nothing more miserable looking than an almost-bald Chow. I preferred to lose the dog rather than see that happen.

Several months later, Brigitte, who runs the rescue, telephoned. She had two Chows. Would I be interested in one? Hey, I'd be interested in two! I read everything on the internet about rescuing dogs and how to meet them and what to do when you bring them home. Then we were off to Marseille to meet Soko and Nala.

(to be continued)

Friday, 6 April 2007

The Baby-Sitters

I put it down to our friends, Philip & Claudie, who went away for "three days" and left their hunter/retriever cross, Vicky, with us for a week. They share our doctor and are on very chatty terms with her. So are we, for that matter, so our doctor gets to hear all our dog stories and the Travails of Nala. All this chatting has evidently led our doctor to believe we are suckers because last week we got a telephone call from a strange Englishwoman who said that Dr. Martin suggested we might stand in for her dog sitter who suddenly became unavailable.

I suppose Dr. Martin is right: we are suckers. The EW and Rosie came to visit.

Rosie is not a prepossessing dog. She is a ten-year-old mess. She weighs in at 10.2 kilos (22 1/2 pounds) when I figure 16 to 18 would be more in tune with health and the state of her legs. She has also been shaved on her back and side to remove two old-age bumps. Her legs look funny. She is some kind of terrier, whose designation immediately slipped my mind, and I can't find her listed anywhere. Norfolk Terrier is as close as I can come, but I'm sure that's not what her owner said because, whatever she said, I remember that, just before the word "terrier" sounded, I was thinking, "Big dog; she'll jump the fence." But, no, she's little, she's old and she's arthritic, so how much trouble could she be? We agreed that everyone seemed to get along, so we made arrangements for Rosie stay for the week over Easter. (see comments: she's a Border Terrier. I knew that.)

When Vicky arrived for her week, Nick promptly took to his bed with whatever was going around at the time, and I got stuck trying to handle three big, active dogs. This time, it was I who got sick. Poetic justice -- but only for two days. As Rosie didn't seem all that thrilled to be here, if whining is any indication, I took her and her rug upstairs and let her stay with me. Today, when I got up, I told her she didn't have to leave the bedroom, but I was taking her rug.

After half an hour I went upstairs where she was hovering, waiting for me to return. "Come, Rosie," I called, as you do. Rosie wasn't coming. I tried several times -- authoritatively, wheedling, chirping -- and finally picked her up, carried her down the stairs and, with great difficulty, pushed her outside. (She always wants to be on the other side of whichever door is closed, so I have decided she can scratch the outside door.)

Later we piled into the car to go to the village and go walkies. Rosie, I learned, does not heel, so I let her off the lead. Nick had already told me that she's pretty nimble. Rosie kept trying to recross the river. Rosie kept running into people's gardens. Rosie went into one of our neighbour's fields (just as he arrived) and wouldn't come back. Rosie never even looked at me all the time I was screaming myself hoarse.

Eventually, the penny dropped. We shook the keys behind her back. We clapped loudly behind her back. We shouted at her behind her back. Our two, who normally couldn't care less, kept turning around from their advance position to see what was all the fuss was about.

What it is is Rosie is deaf. We have to assume Rosie's owner doesn't know this or she'd have mentioned it. But, really, she's no trouble.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Nala's Bad Month

I told you my foot hurt! First I got two -- not one, but two -- abscesses on my paw. Probably from from a thorn or a splinter. I didn't like the treatment and I certainly felt silly wearing Margot's sock. (We have the same size feet.)

Then the Mistral started to blow. I hate the Mistral! Doggles are stupid!

And now Harry! Why won't he leave me in peace? Do I look like I like cats?

And now look! Another eye operation: a lid lift. Carina says I look like I've been Photoshopped. Very funny, Carina!

This is the end!

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Everybody's Talkin'

I, like most dog and cat owners (in my case, with a complete lack of surprise), have been reading the news about the recalls of many of the top -- and supermarket -- brands of pet food, in the wake of dying cats and dogs. The deaths have been going on for some time now, but only when the word started to leak out, did Big Animal Food put out announcements. They didn't even have the decency to warn the vets, but that didn't surprise me, either.

What I can't understand is this: Why does it takes episode after episode of this sort of thing for vets to even notice, let alone question their beliefs about the feeding of animals? I feed raw, although my vet does not know this and probably wouldn't approve, if she did. However, it was a passing comment of hers, when Io Jima was dying of cancer, that sent me looking for something outside the commercial dog food world. To her credit, my vet does believe in cooked diets, so she know there is something better out there than the products that the majority of people are feeding their pets.

I expect resistance from my friends and acquaintances.

"Why are you feeding Fluffy that awful Hills?"
"Well, he likes it." (Hey, I like Big Macs, but I don't live on them.)

"It's too complicated to feed a dog on my own." (But your children are easy; they don't have any particular nutritional requirements, right?)

(There might be something in this last one, judging from the way I see people feeding their children. But, I digress. . .)

"But the pet food companies have all that experience and do all that research." (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He's got good advertising elves, too, and we always believe what we see on television.)

There must be thousands upon thousands of us feeding cooked and raw diets to our animals, slowly convincing our vets, by our animals improved health and appearance, that we know something. ("Well, yes, I can see that Muffy's hair has grown back, her allergies have cleared up and her weight stabilised, but I really think you should be feeding Science Diet. . ..") The biggest names leading the raw food movement are vets, but the veterinary profession don't want to listen to anything except the publicity and "research" from Big Dog & Cat Food.

Why is this?

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Reno's Story

You know how proud I am of my Heeling Chow. One of the reasons I have a Heeling Chow, when all my Chow-owning life I've been told they can't be trained, is because of some wonderful people on a Yahoo group I belong to. These people are professional trainers, but they let me join their group and have helped and encouraged me in my isolation in rural France.

One of these people is taking a break from earning her livelihood as a trainer while she cares for her mother who has cancer. Eleanor moved back in and took her dogs with her.

Now the town says she is violating a dog ordinance and they want her to get rid of her dogs. People spoke at a town meeting against granting a variance for Eleanor, praising her control of her incredibly well-behaved dogs. You read that right. Eleanor is a first-class, responsible dog owner with Canine Good Citizens and Therapy Dogs, but they still voted against. . .what?

I'm not sure anyone reads my blog, but if anyone is here, please read Reno's Story and try to help. Especially if you have a dog because it's getting worse out there.

P.S. Fact check: I have been told that, like me, Eleanor is not a professional trainer, but has been accepted on the trainer's list. Everything else stands.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

And along came Van-Ly. . .

. . .who has passed the Town Test. We went to market last week and she heeled. I cannot believe my good fortune. First, I had the world's only swimming Chow; now I have one of the few -- if not only -- heeling Chows. So where did she come from?

When Io Jima died, it was like what they say about a good marriage. I loved her and she was irreplaceable, but I couldn't live without the relationship. Within days, I was searching for another Chow. But not black, I decided. I wanted to be comparing the two as little as possible.

We found Mme. Idé, who had a new litter. Mme. Idé had just started her own kennel, but her parents have been breeding Chows for over 30 years. When she mentioned the father of her bitch, I recognised the Champion from her parents's kennel. We had seen another litter first, but the woman wanted a deposit, sight unseen. Unrefundable. "Is that how it works?" I asked Mme. Idé over the telephone. "Certainly not," she said, "We want to see you first. If you don't like the puppy, we give your deposit back. If you don't like us, we give your deposit back. If we don't like you, we give your deposit back. Ooooh, a test. We went to look.

She sent pictures. I didn't know that Chows are born mink coloured. "Will they stay that way," I asked. "No," said Mme. Idé. Oh, well. Picking a Chow is not like picking another puppy. It goes without saying that they all look alike, but the old chestnut about picking the one that's interested in you does not come into play here. Chows are not interested in you. It's not that they actively object to you; it's more that you're a fall-back when there isn't anything else of interest. Of course, most other things aren't of interest, either. (Hence, the problem with training them.) This is our kind of dog. We all have our own lives.

Well, we wanted a girl. We'd had a girl and Mme. Idé suggested we'd be happier with another one. That eliminated two of the four pups. Of the remaining two, one did seem a bit more adventurous than the other -- she didn't sleep during the entire viewing -- but we wanted one with as open a face as we could get. The judge who'd passed Io Jima for her confirmation had remarked with pleasure on her unwrinkled face, so we figured we'd go along with him. The adventurous puppy had what Mme. Idé referred to as a more "classical" face, so we chose the fourth one.

In France, all pedigreed animals have names starting with the letter decreed for the year. And Chows are generally given Chinese names. Io Jima, supposedly named after a small village or river in northern China that her breeder found on the map, was born in "I." (We've since concluded, since the breeder's memory was pretty sketchy, that she was probably named for the Chinese version of Iwo Jima.) Van-Ly didn't have a name, yet, and the breeder said we could name her, ourselves. Oh, joy! I came home and started poring over books and the internet, only to find that there is no V in Chinese. Sneaky, Mme. Idé, sneaky.

I tried Manchurian. Then I tried Thai. I can't remember what all I tried until -- my memory isn't what it was, you know -- it occurred to me that there must be a V in Vietnamese. So, Van-Ly is Vietnamese for a little morsel of cloud. Which is what she was.