Gandalf the Brave

Gandalf was the bravest dog I knew.

Once in my old house I heard a noise outside, probably deer or foxes or some other animal, and I opened the front door to peek. Gandalf charged past me and leapt off the porch into the darkness. There was no hesitation on his part and I stood there, stunned. I have a forever picture in my mind of his furry back end in mid-air, launching into the night.

He disappeared into the darkness and didn’t return.

“Gandalf…..?” No answer.

I closed the door and went back inside.

Fifteen minutes later I heard him on the porch and opened the door. He bustled past me into the house, all business and quite proud of himself. Thinking of the grin on his face still makes me smile.

He. Was. Fearless.

Three months ago, the clicking of Gandalf’s toenails as he paced woke me up in the middle of the night. I let him out into the dark yard and he stared at the back fence where I could hear the neighbor’s broken sprinkler head hissing. He made a loop around the yard, came in and we went back to sleep.

The following day started off normally but by lunchtime his pacing had resumed. Pippin stuck close to home and we all raked leaves in the bright autumn sun. I noticed Gandalf looking at our yard like he was trying to understand where he was. The first niggles of worry sprouted as the day wound down.

Bedtime arrived and as was my habit, I was reading in bed before I dozed off. The mattress bounced and I put my book down to see this: Gandalf had joined Pippin and me. The last time he had slept on the bed was the night I moved into my own apartment. The worry niggles that had sprouted earlier burst into bloom.

Damn.

All of us on the bed

We dozed off and all night I could feel Gandalf restless in his sleep. Occasionally he woke and paced on the bed, stepping on Pippin and waking me up, too. Then he would jump down, only to jump back up several minutes later. Doze, pace, down, up, repeat.

At 4 am I abandoned trying to sleep, got up and made a pot of coffee.

We settled in the living room; me on the carpet in front of the couch and Pippin curled up on the cushion at my shoulder. Gandalf sat beside me and I scratched his ears (his favorite spot) in between his bouts of pacing.

The knowledge that today was the day I would do the last best thing for my friend seeped into my brain and heart and leaked back out in a flood of tears. I cried until dawn.

Our vet’s office opened and we got an appointment at 11. I called the kids to tell them what had happened and William sent good thoughts from the east coast. Sarah changed her plans for the day, saying “I’m not leaving you alone to put your dog down” and Rebecca hopped the bus to my house.

Gandalf and I went for our last walk alone as Pippin had retreated to his cat perch, for once declining to accompany us. Some illogical part of my brain (or maybe it was my hoping heart) thought that being outside in the sun might restore Gandalf to himself.

He went to the end of the flexi-leash and stayed there as we headed to the open space, and he paced and searched for something familiar in this place where he knew every tree, bush and blade of grass. I had been dreading the arrival of the 11 o’clock appointment but now it couldn’t come soon enough. He was so clearly uncomfortable; his body was no longer his friend.

The Universe heard my prayer and when we arrived home, the girls were there waiting for us. Amidst tears and goodbyes we helped Gandalf into the car for the longest-shortest trip ever.

I love our vet. The clinic was ready for us and a sedative allowed Gandalf to finally stop pacing. The girls and I cried our love and thankfulness for him being in our lives, and his great soul was set free.

Rebecca, Sarah and I returned to our homes. I am not quite sure what I did for the remainder of the day. Pippin’s solution was to sleep. He had known Gandalf his entire life and they were great buds.

Gandalf and Pippin napping together

My sleep was marginal at best the first night without my pup. Listless and sad and tired I got up the next morning and sat on the couch with my coffee. Pippin was still in a coma in his cat perch. The house was so quiet.

Without much enthusiasm I flipped open my iPad to look at Words With Friends and the board burbled to life.

I put my coffee cup down and stared, dumbfounded, at the word that had been played for me during the night:

Words with Friends play spelling out "Be Brave"

Tears streamed down my face, and I looked up from the iPad to Gandalf’s photo beaming down at me from the china closet.

Gandalf the Brave

 

Yes, Gandalf.

Until we meet again, I will be brave.

How could I be otherwise with your paw prints on my heart?

An Unexpected Owl

We were getting ready to leave work one night and heard the unexpected sound of raindrops pelting the windows. We lined up at the glass, watching the weather blow in.

Ferocious wind drove the rain in around the door seals while the lightning strobe-lighted the parking lot. Waves of rain swept across the asphalt as the wind whipped tree branches wildly and a large plastic grocery bag blew out of the sky.

Wait…what? A plastic grocery bag?

The lightning was straight out of a Hollywood horror movie and we could see the grocery bag was actually an owl, spit out by the storm. It fluffed its feathers and hopped over to the parked cars to get its bearings.

The wind lessened and one by one we made a dash for our vehicles while watching for the owl. I scooted out the door and ran for my car in a commando-crouch, scanning for it under the cars.

Nothing.

Good. It must have gone over to the shrubs.

I made a beeline for the driver’s door and nearly stepped on it as I came around the back of the car.

The owl jumped up, flapping its wings.

I jumped up, squealing like a girl.

My co-workers, safe in their cars, laughed at us both.

The owl and I recovered our dignity and parted ways; me into my car and the owl over to the bushes. As I drove away I couldn’t help but wonder why this barn owl was out in such disagreeable weather.

It reminded me of something the Weasley’s Great Grey owl Errol might do, losing its way delivering a post.

And we were the lucky Muggles who got to see it.

barn owl by Aaron Campbell

photo credit Aaron Campbell

 

 

 

 

The Best Gift

Lately I seem to be surrounded by a fair number of people who have found happy romantic relationships the second, third, even fourth time around. Everywhere I look people are showing wedding photos, talking about just-the-two-of-us vacations and date nights, while I hang out with the two furry loves of my life, Gandalf and Pippin.

My phone is filled with photos of Pippin doing cat yoga and the three of us going for walks.

advanced cat yoga

 

Gandalf, Pippin and me on a walk

cat yoga

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not that I am bored or unhappy or want to start dating again, mind you. I didn’t like dating the first time around and am even less enthusiastic about it now. I have been almost asked out twice in the last couple of years and I basically hyperventilated and fled on each occasion.

Let’s just say I have trust issues.

So maybe it was also because Spring was in the air that I found myself in a Princess Bride state of mind, wondering: Is there really Twoo Wuv? Is there truly someone for everyone? And if so, how many frogs does one have to kiss, for Pete’s sake??

Whatever the reason, I was feeling a teensy bit sorry for myself and my moodiness increased as the day wore on. Night came and as nothing looks good when I’m tired we turned in: Pippin to his apartment on the patio, Gandalf to the cool tile floor and me to bed.

Ten hours later, it seems that all I needed was a good sleep. The cloud of pity from the day before had dissipated as I slept and I made plans for the day over coffee. Gandalf and I headed out for our morning walk and stepping through the front door I nearly threw a hip out attempting to avoid the tiny inert body on my door mat.

Dead mouse, courtesy of Pippin.

I stuck the landing (scored a 9.5), collected my chapstick and keys which had gone flying and stood there in the sun, overcome with wonder. Not at the mouse, but by what it represented.

Love.

Not just from Pippin, who was weaving around my legs and meowing with pride, or from Gandalf, waiting patiently.

But from...everywhere and everything.

I was not only loved, I was beloved, and I belonged in this house, this time, this life.

I was home, I was good, I was…keeping Gandalf and Pippin waiting.

Am I overly sentimental?

Possibly.

Am I one of the luckiest people in the world?

Absofreakinglutely.

 

Gandalf and Pippin snoozing together

Dreaming of Paris

I needed something short to post in order to test drive adjustments I made to the blog and I didn’t want it to be a boring “test post”.
Pippin obliged me by doing…..this. I have no idea what was going through his little cat brain. When my friend posted photos of Cathedral gargoyles I knew he was channeling Paris.                                              
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IMG_1453Mon petit chat! 

 

Gargoyle photos courtesy of Brent Marrott

 

Mom-guilt happens

Someone once said “You do the best you can raising your kids but you never really know how they’re going to turn out until they’re about twenty-seven and by then it’s too late anyway”. I was a young woman when I heard this and thought it was funny; I tried to ignore the feeling lurking in the background that it was probably quite true, and sallied forth to create a family. Ah, youthful optimism…..

Thirty eight years later I could be the model for that saying. Three of my offspring are people I like to hang out with, and do whenever I can. The fourth is…….well……let’s just say she’s twenty-seven and let it go at that.

Any way, two furry kids now share my house and I have discovered the mom-guilt response is still very much intact. I fret over spending enough time with Gandalf and Pippin (indeed, I just am returning from a break to scratch both sets of ears), making sure they have walkers for days when I am at work and of course vet visits.

We were pretty much a once-a-year vet visit family; shots and a physical and we were back on the street. Neither Pippin or Gandalf were that excited about these yearly trips but they were only mildly stressful. Then Gandalf developed terrible breath (he could wake me up in the morning by standing by my bed and breathing on me) and I vacillated about taking him in for a teeth cleaning. He was eating, drinking, peeing, pooping, playing so maybe it was nothing? Did I want to make him anxious by leaving him at the vet? What about the anesthesia risk in an older dog? The voices in my head debated endlessly and I could not make a decision. When a friend of mine mentioned that her very spunky elder dog (a cute little bugger named Jack who has a fang) was going to have his teeth cleaned and she told me she had also wrestled with the decision to have it done; I realized that I, too, needed to just do it. Jack came through with flying colors, minus a few teeth (but still has his signature fang) and greatly improved breath. He even got a post on FaceBook out of the deal. OK. Must do this.

The appointed day arrived and we saddled up and went to the vet. I then went on a hike with Sarah, two of her friends and everyone’s dogs. You can see where the guilt is starting to set in, right? I tried not to think of Gandalf and the cornucopia of smells he was missing. The dogs wove back and forth braiding their leashes together and I felt fairly naked without one at the end of my arm; as there were more dogs than humans, I compensated by rotating being in charge of different dogs. Next time I will have to bring Gandalf. 

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I returned home to an empty house. Pippin was out mousing somewhere and there was no smiling Norwegian Elkhound face to greet me. Oh, Gandalf…..One of the greatest pleasures of my life is being welcomed home; this is how my house would be without a dog. I sucked it up and looked at my watch….the vet should be calling in another hour or so.

I kept busy and the enormity of my life as a dog-mom sank in again. Gandalf has been my constant companion for the last three years and I must confess, the fact that he loves me unconditionally is an experience for which I am eternally grateful. “Help me to be the person my dog thinks I am”. At long last the phone rang and I zipped off to bring him home.

He wandered around the house and yard the rest of the evening and only had one minor yakking episode. The vet report said he was an excellent patient (of course!) and had three severely infected teeth, which were removed. Oh, jeez, I should have done this sooner….not just infected….severely infected. Strong work, Claire.

post op

The next morning I heard panting next to my bed; Gandalf ready to go out….and…..no awful smell. My happiness at seeing him perky again was quickly followed by renewed angst about having been such a ninny and waiting as long as I did. Gawd, it must have been awful for him having those teeth in there….OK. Stop it. You are being a drama queen.

Twice-a-day antibiotics wrapped in peanut butter became a new treat and Gandalf still looked at me with adoring eyes, confident I would do the right thing for him. He had faith in me; time to put on my big girl panties and live up to it.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks.

It’s been bloody hot the last few days and I decided Gandalf would be more comfortable without as much fur. A trip to the self dog wash/blow dry emporium followed by clippering……

clippering

then furminating (Pippin supervised the procedure)

 

….and I have a happy dog!

Good dog-mom! Sit. Stay.

Gandalf the Great

Yes, Gandalf, I’ll stay right here.

 

Spry

Odd little word, “spry”, and I don’t care for it. I know it is supposed to be a good thing, but it sounds so…I don’t know….patronizing.

spry
adjective
1. (esp. of an old person) active; lively.

It was also the brand name of a Crisco-like product my Grandma used; would it make one’s baked goods remain spunky and delicious even when they got old? Makes you wonder about marketing think tanks, doesn’t it?

Snowdog!First night snuggles

I bring this up because Gandalf has just turned ten, which we all know is seventy in human years. He bounds through the snow and anticipates every outing with the same good nature and energy he had when he was much younger. In actuality, I think he is in better shape than he was a few years back; we don’t go for walks; we do dog-trots with pauses for him to sniff and investigate and do dog things….I know I am getting a work out.

 

When I first moved out and Gandalf was my only companion it dawned on me that I didn’t know how long Norwegian Elkhounds lived and I googled frantically; surely I couldn’t lose him now, too?!

 

Whew…..average lifespan ten to twelve years; we were golden.

 

Happy Birthday to the Best Dog Ever!

Time has flown and here we are; everything else is icing on the birthday cake……perhaps the main ingredient is spry.

Cabin Fever

Pippin’s cabin fever is conspicuous of late.  More wild-eyed thunderpaws from room to room, more spectacular leaps onto his cat tree, more bouncing into Gandalf. His miaows have become plaintive and he braids a path around my feet as I walk about the house; he is my make-up assistant in the morning and computer helper at night. Clearly, he has about had it with being house-bound this winter.

We are an eccentric little group and the scene that greeted me one evening after my shower was interesting but not out of the realm of what passes for normal in our house.

InnocenceTraditionally, this is how Pippin has notified me that the water dish is empty but I rarely let that happen any more and yes….that is water all over the floor; this was not a Momcat fail.

I watched him for several minutes; he was focused on the dish and had it levitated off the tile I would not have been surprised; he was that intense. But the dish didn’t move and I had a mess to clean up so I broke the spell to put things back in order. With a resolution to make sure the dish was never less than half empty (half full? I am an optimist by nature) we turned in for the night.

My confidence in Plan A (keeping it full) was rewarded for several days; apparently Pippin was just being picky. We had a spell of calm weather and he resumed his walks with Gandalf and me. Problem solved.

Until…..

Really, Pippin? You're kidding!Assuming an air of incredulity (how could this possibly have happened?) he wove miaowing around my feet to tell me he was just as astonished as I was. The water dish must be haunted….yes…..that was it; he had kept it from running amok and had averted a soggy catastrophe; I should be proud of him. He continued his tale as I mopped up, embroidering the story until I dubbed him Sir Pippin The Brave. He seemed pleased with that and wandered off to bed.

When I was working in the emergency department I frequently took care of women with abdominal pain and one of the triage questions for them was “Are you pregnant?”. More often than I would have liked the reply was “I hope not.” Hope is notoriously lousy birth control and this leads to Life lesson #2: “Hope is not a method”.

While I “hoped” Pippin wouldn’t tip the dish over again, the realist in me knew I had to do something; optimism is actually realism with a smile.

Therefore it was with renewed determination and pink duct tape I moved to Plan B.

Plan BThis was a few weeks ago and again I thought the problem had been solved. Did you catch the past tense there?

I think Pippin uses the time I am in the shower to get into noisy mischief; the other night I walked into the living room to the sound of scraping coming from the kitchen. Gandalf looked at me; “Mom….he’s doing it again.” I peeked around the doorway so see Pippin with his paw in the dish reservoir, carefully backing up while maneuvering the entire system out into the middle of the floor. He looked up, miaowed as if to say “My work here is done”, and strolled away to settle on the footstool.

I have no words for this. No water on the floor and he gets to do……this; I count it as successful interspecies negotiation.

I love that cat.

Winter Solstice 2013

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“Well. Here we are!”

This has become my traditional toast and since Gandalf and Pippin can’t hold a wine glass I hear an imaginary *clink* as we salute this night. Christmas lights are bright, my fireplace is toasty and this year Loreena McKennitt has joined my Winter Solstice music companions Jennifer Cutting and the Windham Hill Artists. The critters have dozed off next to me and life is good.

Solstice music

Solstice music

This morning Rebecca and I went to the city and ran a 5K in the falling snow with other batty people. It was a fundraiser so it was good for our hearts on many levels!

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Yes, those are fishnet stockings

The costumes made us laugh and my favorite was The Lamp from “A Christmas Story”. This was Rebecca’s first run since tweaking her knee at karate a few weeks ago and then re-injuring it when she had a seizure. All is well; meds are adjusted, physical therapy attended and as we trucked along she kept saying “It feels SO good to run again!”. We are often the caboose; it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. Upright and moving is what counts!

We delivered presents to Sarah, Jared and Michael and made it back before the roads iced up. I got Rebecca snuggled into her apartment and I arrived home tired and happy; a romp in the snow with Gandalf and then I was in for the night.

And what has become of the intentions set last Solstice?

I intend to publish my book this year. I would love to say that it is available on Amazon but, alas, this is not so; the sails have been adjusted more times than I care to remember and what has floated in on the tides of life is that I will write it differently. The exercise of writing this blog (and reading others’) has made me realize time and marination are still essential and even though I have come to this later in my life the process can’t be hurried.

2014: I intend to get this new book version down on paper. 

I intend to continue doing anonymous good turns; “pay it forward”. This is easy and fun. Part of me still thinks I am/need to be invisible. That is a long story not worth going into here, and anonymity suits me.

2014: Keep it up. 

I intend to practice my music at least 3 days a week. This has refashioned itself the most of the three intentions; I am a percussionist but I think I might have a melody instrument in me somewhere. Mountain dulcimer? Violin? Work and life being what they are, some days I only have ten minutes to spend practicing; how was it that when I was a kid thirty minutes at the piano was so bloody never-ending? Oh, wait….it was because I had no talent for it and I would gladly have gnawed my fingers off if it would have gotten me out of lessons.

But music practice on my own terms is….exquisite! 

2014: Play music as often and long as possible.

If I did nothing more than attempt to fulfill these intentions I would be completely occupied. Weaving them into the everyday is part of the challenge and if I just had a Carson and a Mrs. Patmore I am reasonably sure I could take the world by storm!

The night has worn on and tomorrow is Fourth Advent; soon it will be Christmas. To my family, friends and followers I raise a glass of the finest red I could find on sale.

Well. Here we are!

 *clink*

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Night Eyes….I don’t have them.

Autumn equinox has passed and the night lingers in my mornings. I am loath to disrupt the coziness of my little hobbit-house with bright electric lights; even PippinTook stays out of the  blinds as our day begins. Orion has returned to usher us on our morning walks and this week I can barely see Pippin so that would mean it is Very Dark.

Pippin used to be an intermittent walking companion but since Tigger Linus moved to the city he has been glued to Gandalf and me and we all trundle out into the inky dawn. Gandalf now wears a dangly collar light; I was going to get plain white but multi-colored was on sale so we went big; the result is a kind of breakdancing disco firefly at the end of the leash. I would love to get a light for Pippin, too, but I am pretty sure he would not appreciate the visual and there would be bloodshed trying to get it onto him so he gets to go commando.

One morning last week I reluctantly emerged from my softly lit lodging for the walk before work and by the time we returned I noticed my gait was off. Having lived for years in worst-case-scenario I was pretty sure I was having a stroke and would be found in the street when it finally became light enough to see….nah…..it was just that my shoes were wearing out weirdly. I got the boys settled for the day, jumped in the car and drove to work. It wasn’t until I noticed the same odd step on my way in from the parking lot that I looked down:

 

 

IMG_0187 *sigh*

Maybe I am the one who needs the dangly light!

 

Star Wars in my back yard

With a trill and a blur he was behind me before I could look up from my coffee. Gandalf, Pippin and I were basking in the morning sun on the patio; the boys were having their first nap of the day and didn’t even twitch a whisker as our visitor whipped by. I turned and there he was, a male Broad-tailed hummingbird having a heyday in the hollyhocks. He visited most of my flowers, flew up to sit on a tree branch and glared at me, deploring the lack of a feeder in my yard. He sat patiently (as much as that word can be applied when speaking of hummers) in the tree until I put down my coffee and went off to dig the feeder out of the garage, then he sped off with a satisfied whir.

Within minutes of hanging it he was back and a few hours later there were three hummers zipping around like little TIE fighters from Star Wars. I never get tired of watching them and since my yard is small, I have a front row seat at this air show. Warp speed is the rule of the day and the “hover” is often accompanied by an energetic chippy chatter.100_1150

 

 

 

 

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I used the zoom on my camera to get this shot (along with a bazillion others). Several years ago however, I had a few hours to spend and used that time to become part of a post next to a hummingbird feeder. Within thirty minutes of standing very still the hummers decided I was no threat and returned. The aerial acrobatics and dogfights resumed with vigor, making up for lost time. Holy cats, they were fast! They flew perilously close to my head; I thought I was going to lose an eye more than once and had to lean my head on the post to keep from reflexively dodging. I don’t know if they ever crash and burn but the next time I do this I might wear safety glasses. Really.

Hummer portrait from that day and yes, I was that close. Look at those tiny little toes!Hummers 007

Fast forward to this morning; it has been weeks since I started this post. The summer has been the best in years and I have spent every minute possible outside reveling in the peace and deliciousness of it all. We have now had our first frost, the days have gotten shorter and the TIE fighters have sped off to warmer galaxies.

Gandalf is waiting patiently for me to go outside; Pippin less so (he has been in the blinds once already). My boys remind me that remembering summer is nice but today is the only day we have so hit the *publish* button already and let’s go for a walk!