Tuesday, August 30, 2016


         Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has something to say these days, or so it seems. Oh, I suppose a few folks manage to keep their opinions to themselves, but from what I’ve noticed, that is rare. We are bombarded by the views of experts or would-be authorities in the print media, on television, and even in the odd movie now and then. At times it is hard to muddle through all the dialogue and discussions that often are fraught with half-truths, concocted verbiage, ambiguous jargon, or absolute lies that either have been calculated carefully or are fabricated on the spot. Isn’t it a bit frightening to recognize that lying has become the norm? Duplicity, plagiarism, perjury, exaggeration, insincerity, and deceit are muddied streaks on a putrid pallet that more than a few people cannot seem to set down.
            It’s a fact: an individual’s own personal point of view may be shored up, shaken up, or completely deflated simply by absorbing the words of someone who may or may not be in the know. It has become somewhat of a conundrum sorting through all the noise. And isn’t it the truth that he who shouts the loudest believes he is the “rightest”? “If I can talk over him, I win,” or “If she can’t get a word in, she loses.” We see it all the time. Even program moderators have difficulty silencing the shouters and calming the waters at times.
We can find opinions elsewhere, however. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become dumping grounds for the average Joe to tell it like it is. Quotations, statistics, ratings, propaganda, gossip, “news”, untruths, and opinions fill our newsfeeds. They range from thoughtful to absolutely absurd. They extend from complimentary to cruel. How long does one wait, pondering perhaps, before selecting “share” or “post”? I would imagine that every single social media participant has rolled his or her eyes, or said WTH (or worse) in reaction to what we see as we scroll along.
 In recent months, it has become obvious to me, more than ever, that our opinions and our need to express them are as varied as we are. Some voices cannot be silenced, it is clear, and though we may not always agree with what others are spouting, their right of free expression seems intact. In contrast, however, listening, reflecting, contemplating, and being silent have a place too. It is something to consider. Think about it. Can value be gained in practicing the art of saying nothing?

Friday, August 26, 2016

It’s National Dog Day
            Here’s to all the dogs I’ve loved.
Alex with Comet during the holidays.

Today is National Dog Day and I’ve been thinking about all the dogs I’ve had in my life. I decided to write a blog about them. I’m quite sure most people are not the least bit interested in all the pooches I’ve loved, but if anyone is the least bit curious, here it goes!
The first dog our family owned was named Cinder -- a little, black Cocker Spaniel. I don’t remember much about Cinder, but I have a photo of myself, chubby and curly-haired, cuddling the little pup; we’re sitting together on the front porch of my childhood home in Kentucky.
The second dog I remember was Star. Star was a purebred, black German shepherd who wandered the neighborhood, ate spaghetti, and was hit by a taxicab. She didn’t die in the accident, fortunately, but her shoulder was injured badly. When she recovered she chased taxicabs and police cars. That’s it. I suppose the light or fixture on top of the vehicle triggered a reaction. Those cars clearly were the enemy! (By the way, I don’t think leash laws existed back then.)
Star wasn’t really my dog. My parents bought her from a country farmer for my bother, Jay, but I loved her just as much as he did. Maybe more. I could hold her up by her front paws and she would “dance” with me. We were the same height. Sweet Star was very patient with me. She died of kidney failure when she was about thirteen after my parents moved from Elizabethtown to Louisville. By that time my brother and I had moved away, he to Lexington and the University of Kentucky; I was in California, plugging away at the College of Marin. When my mother called with news of Star’s death, I cried and cried. It broke my heart.
My next dog was Seurat, a purebred Dalmatian who was gifted to us by a friend. We were thrilled for the simple reason that our son, Alex, already had dreams of being a firefighter. What better dog for our little boy to have? I also thought we gave Seurat a brilliant name. We named her after the French pointillist painter who was noted for painting with impeccably placed dots. Seurat was a very hyper dog, unfortunately, but we loved her anyway. When Alex was small, Seurat would chase him around the yard, stick her mussel between his little legs and trip him. It was a great game and both of them loved it. Seurat lived to be around thirteen too and was loved by both Alex and his brother, Justin for many years. When we had to have Seurat put down, Alex, Justin, and I cried for days.
Our next dog was Comet, the dog Alex loved more than any other. We found Comet at the Marin Humane Society. She was a pit bull, ridgeback mix and truly was a gem. She lived to be seventeen and a half. Though Comet had very powerful pit jaws, she was the sweetest dog ever. She did have her moments when she exercised her strength though. The most daunting example of her power was when she took down a full-grown raccoon on our back deck. She sported the scars on her nose to prove it for the rest of her life.
Also notable was Comet’s love for Alex. When Alex was a grown man, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. After a second craniotomy, when we were not sure Alex would survive the night, we put Comet on his bed. Alex was in horrible pain, and after hours spent at the emergency room was home again. He could hardly raise his head, but he recognized Comet’s presence before falling asleep. “Comet,” he mumbled. The next day he was much better. We like to credit the unconditional love of the dog for his rapid improvement.
In Comet’s later years she was incontinent, skinny, and weak. I cleaned up many messes, but could not have her put down for Alex’s sake. Finally on the day she could not stand, I knew it was time. I called my son, who lived in Sacramento and told him to come home. The morning before we took her to the vet, Alex carried Comet in his arms in the field below our house for the last time. We then went together to the vet. She died peacefully with her snout in Alex’s hands while I was clutching her foot. I will never forget that moment. Alex and I could hardly see our way out of the vet’s office that afternoon.
Rich & Judi with Quazar & Bummer.

At the same time we had Comet, we owned Quazar, his brother, Bummer (and he could be a bummer). We rescued these two from a friend who likely would have discarded them somewhere had we not taken them. They were boxer/Australian shepherd mixes that, though sweet, did not always get along with each other. We had quite a few skirmishes between those two. Both were good dogs, though, and both died of cancer, Bummer going first.
We had two other dogs at the same time we had Comet, Quazar, and Bummer. Yes, five all at once, plus five cats as well! Justin was given a beautiful purebred Alaskan huskie that “talked” endlessly, could jump six feet high, and shed more hair than any dog in the world, I’m sure. Justin named him Lupus, but we all called him Louie for short. He was beautiful and generally a good boy, except for one little issue. He hated cats and broke my heart when he killed the kitten Justin and Amy had given me for my birthday, in the kitchen. I’ll never forget that moment. Karma is a bitch, though. Louie developed diabetes later in life, was overweight, and blind. He had moved out of our house with Justin by then and died at probably around ten years of age.
And then there was Max. Max was Rick’s dog, a purebred, 110-pound black lab. Max was a great watchdog but was quite irritable when he grew older. The most memorable event that involved Max was his near mauling of Justin in the house. Justin, who was in his early twenties by then, was home alone. Bummer and Max got into a fight and, in trying to break the two up, Justin slipped to the ground. Max turned his attention from Bummer to Justin. He shredded Justin’s arms. Justin’s girlfriend (now wife), Amy, arrived just at that moment, thankfully, and was able to get Justin to the emergency room where he was treated for multiple wounds on both arms. Rick and I had just arrived in Tahoe when we received the phone call.
“You’d better get home. Justin is in bad shape.”
We hopped back into our car, drove home, to find Justin’s arms completely bandaged. I don’t know how many stitches he had but there were A LOT! Needless to say, I never had much affection for Max after that. He was quarantined for a week or so and then set free to live out his life. Max got sick one weekend and died on a Monday at the veterinary hospital. It was cancer (again) that took him. His passing was not pretty. He literally howled as he took his last breath while Rick and I stood helplessly by. It was horrible, and another moment I won’t forget.
So, the five dogs left us, one by one: Bummer, Max, Lupus, Comet, and finally, Quazar. We lived with only cats for a couple of years until we had an opportunity to get a German shepherd. My bilingual assistant at the time had visited family in Los Angeles over the holidays and came home with Ace, a male German shepherd.
“There are more,” she told me.
Rick and I decided it was time, so in just over a month, Hallie, our beautiful full bred German shepherd was delivered to our door, all the way from L.A. She was a sweet, shy bundle of fur. I was in love! After five dogs, one seemed perfect until Alex made a suggestion.
“Mom, my friend’s Brittney/Lab mix just had about thirteen puppies. The dad is a big, old, hunting lab. All the pups are blond or black except for one that is brown. It’s my favorite. Don’t you think you and Rick could take a second dog? It would be company for Hallie.”
Rudy & Hallie as pups.

How could we say no to Alex? In a week Alex brought home the little pup and we named him Rudy. Rudy had been living in a Tuff shed with all the other dogs and obviously had not been eating well. His tiny, little, emaciated body didn’t quite fit his large head. A trip to the vet informed us that he had worms and fleas but those problems were taken care of easily. In no time at all, Rudy was chubby and happy, sharing space with his new friend, Hallie. Rudy and Hallie were two weeks apart in age, with Rudy being the older. They were inseparable; that is until December of 2015, when at the young are of eight, Rudy died. In August we had noticed lumps on Rudy’s throat. He was diagnosed with lymphoma, and although we treated him with steroids and other meds, we had to let him go. On a Saturday morning in December, he looked at Rick with pleading eyes as if to say, “I’m sick, Dad. I’ve had enough.” We took him to the vet that day and sat with him until the end. We were so, so sad. And so was Hallie. She began moping and would not eat. She had lost her best friend too.
Hallie and Rudy - best friends.

I had the brilliant idea that we should get a companion for her, a puppy. We decided on another German shepherd, and with the help of a retired police officer friend found a breeder in Chico (which incidentally is where Rudy had been born) and drove there in January. There we picked up Jake. He was six weeks old and a bundle of fur and energy. He will be nine months old on this coming Sunday. Jake is a stunning dog – handsome, friendly, and sweet. He has become very attached to me, so much so that Rick has said we should rename him “Barney” as he is like a barnacle, never leaving my side.
I had hoped Hallie would come out of her funk when Jake arrived. She’s a female; he’s a male. I thought she might nurture a little puppy. Wrong. She definitely is not the nurturing type and Jake is relentless in trying to gain her attention. Needless to say, there have been a few hurt feelings between the two over the last few months, but finally, I believe we are over the hump. I actually think they enjoy each other’s company.
And that’s it. These are the dogs that have come and gone in my life. I really have loved them all and have been grateful that I have been able to provide a loving home for them. Each dog I’ve owned has had a unique personality and all have enriched my life. Happy National Dog Day!  
Judi with Jake and Hallie hiking above Lake Tahoe.

Friday, August 19, 2016

         Or How I Write

            Write every day, I’ve been told. Write even when you don’t want to write. Just begin . . . one word at a time. I currently am working on my fourth novel. I’m not certain how it will end yet, or, indeed, how I’m going to get to the end. It will come though. At approximately 80,000 words, or just beyond, I’ll be finished.
“You don’t know how it will end?” I’ve been asked. “Don’t you have a plan, an outline?”
“No. No, I don’t.”
Writing for me is a curious process. Often (although not always) I begin with a title. For me, a title helps form a foundation. It sets my mind in motion and ideas begin to flutter in and out until one, or two, settles and I see a direction. That doesn’t mean I know specifically where I am going. You see, once I begin a novel, once I establish my main characters, something crazy happens. I lose control. As my characters take shape, as their personalities are fleshed out and evolve, they take over. Every person (and yes, they become real people to me) whom I create has an impact on where the story will go. Their personalities, motivations, ambitions, attitudes, and behaviors help build the story. My characters and I become a team, and we travel together, hell bent, on getting to the end.
A great deal of my writing is done pounding the keyboard of either my beloved Mac or the MacBook Pro I inherited from my son, Alex. I love to sit in the dining area in a cushy chair with my two German shepherds at my feet and strike the keys one after the other until, voila, I’ve written another one hundred, two hundred, one thousand words. Being in this space is ideal contentment for me.
Writing doesn’t always occur at a computer, though. I write while I’m cooking, while I’m walking my dogs, while I’m brushing my teeth, or while staring at a sunset. You see, once my characters have been developed, I think about them. What would Susan do in this instance? Would Chester act this way or that? And what is motivating Courtney to behave as she does? I wonder about my “team” and when I begin word processing again because I have thought about them, I am much clearer as to where the story will go.
During times when I’m not focused on my book, I write a blog, such as this one. This morning when I picked up the laptop and began to write, I false-started a few times before I decided to write about writing. I tried a blog about the absurdity of some words in our language, but that failed miserably. I attempted a poem, but that fell flat. (Poetry is difficult.) The fact is, however, that I love to write. Sometimes I want to make a point, so I write as though I were a columnist; other times I simply begin with one word – one word – or someone’s name and take off, ending with a creative piece, a product of my imagination.
So, I write. Every day I write. Composing can be so hard, so frustrating, actually infuriating when it doesn’t go well, but when it’s “clicking”, when the words flow as they have today with this blog, I am satisfied. It is then, for me, that the act of writing is a reward in itself.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

If You Don’t Think As I Do, You’re Dead Wrong
            Or How To Maneuver Through This Election Cycle

         Are you like me, pretty tired of it all? In less than six weeks some people in the United States will be able to cast their votes for various political figures and be done with it. Yes, that’s true. Several states and the District of Columbia allow voters to cast their ballots in September, as early as September 23rd, I have read. A good many people, though, will have to wait until November 8th to make their choices, unless, of course, you are like I am, and vote absentee. (It’s so much easier!) So, I will be voting in October, and I’ve already made up my mind. I’ve read a great deal, listened well, made a few donations, and in all good conscience am ready and eager to make what I know is the right choice.
            That being said, however, I am sure some folks out there in “voterland” would disagree with me. While that is their right, in my little, egocentric world, I see them as mistaken, and that is putting it mildly. It’s disappointing. I’ve listened to people rant, predict, and outright lie to try and make a point that is skewed, biased, or has no basis in reality. Seriously. Do you really believe that? I cringe.
            No doubt about it, our country is torn. And why is that? There are too many reasons to count, I suppose, but contributing to our malaise are poverty, racism, intolerance, bigotry, greed, intimidation, disrespect, recklessness, self-righteousness, wariness, and, yes, stupidity. This election cycle seems to have brought out the worst in us and that is disconcerting, to say the least. Do people really harbor that much hate? Is the quest for power more important than civility? How many of us have looked in the mirror and considered: “Who am I? Deep down, who am I? What truly are the morals and mores I embrace?”
I am fortunate. I have quite a few friends, some liberal and some conservative. It’s not always easy to digest what I read or hear others espouse, because at times I disagree at the deepest level. I must, however, step back and realize he or she has a right, just as I do, to have a say. One’s intelligence, education, socioeconomic position, morality, cultural background, and spiritual principles all play a part in what we believe. And with that at the foundation, this election, and those to follow may simply be toss-ups, although I hope not. I believe, and I’m right on this, that all of us should vote, but not impulsively or carelessly. We must put in some considerable thought before penciling in our ballots and take seriously the fact that our votes will set the stage for the future of our children and generations, hopefully, to come.