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.


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?

Wholam Clinical Trial update

I am learning more every day, the newest lesson being “how wi-fi works at 30,000 feet”…….I was flying to Virginia to visit William, Kate and my dad and had this post almost done. I thought it would be so cool to publish from cruising altitude and hit a key; all my words instantly flew off into the sky. I am still not sure what happened but now the “save draft” button is my very best friend. I was initially bereft but found that publishing this post later rather than sooner has allowed me to add links to local food producers in Virginia and some fun photos; in between tropical storm Andrea’s downpours William, Kate and I shopped at farmer’s markets, picked up their CSA at Five Points Community Farm and visited the farm cat while buying the week’s share of eggs and milk at Full Quiver Farm. So just for you…..a second ago I held my breath and pushed “publish”. Whew. We’re still here. Enjoy!

Here we are, five months into Paleo-ish and finally spring; we did have frost last night which confirms that here, the naming of seasons is like “the pirate code”…..mostly guidelines. Now it is gorgeous, green, the trees are blooming and I love it.

Anyway, I had to have a physical for my health insurance and the dreaded lipids were to be measured. I had not planned on having them drawn for another month but it was time to pony up and see what was up, or down, as the case may be.

I have struggled with a rising cholesterol for about 6 years. Both my parents have been on meds for elevated lipids for years and while we do not have the genetic high cholesterol problem I wondered if it was just going to be the way it was for me, too. My doc at the time wanted me to go on meds and I didn’t. I modified my diet even further: (low fat everything, extra veggies; olive oil), began supplementing with Red Yeast Rice (a naturally occurring statin) and Co-Q10, continued my exercise routine and plugged along. I achieved an acceptable ratio and my triglycerides were OK so my doc and I called a truce and life went on.

Full Quiver Farm

Full Quiver Farm


Farm cat

Farm cat


Full Quiver Farm

Full Quiver Farm

Here are my lipid panel numbers. And remember, Paleo-ish is what is working for us; you will have to find what works for you. 

A few years ago while following conventional dietary guidelines:

  • Total cholesterol 242 (125-200)
  • HDL 76 (>40)
  • LDL 117 (<100)
  • Triglycerides 85 (<150)
  • ratio  3.2 (<5)

After five months of Paleo-ish

  • Total cholesterol 227 (<200)
  • HDL >100 (>50)
  • LDL Too low to measure on their device (<100)
  • Triglycerides <45 (<150)
  • ratio <2  (<4.0)

    Five Points Community Farm Market

    Five Points Community Farm Market

I have lost a couple of pounds and a couple of inches. While I still have the perpetual pants-shopping problem of the waist being too big when the rear fits, I now struggle with this issue one-half to one size smaller. I swear I can see muscles in my upper arms and some nights after work I have the energy to go for long Gandalf walks or short non-Gandalf runs. Most mornings I wake up a bit before the alarm goes off and I no longer take the supplements.

Rebecca is wearing pants she hasn’t worn for four or five years and rarely naps during the day. She has the motivation to take herself out running a few days a week and recently ran a ten minute mile with one of her staff members! Her sibs agree she is clearer mentally and I am positive that this clarity contributed to her keeping her cool when she was taken two months ago.

I love the recipes and the simplified shopping of Paleo-ish. I have signed up for local produce through a CSA program and I am going to investigate the Nourishmat for my home garden. I am going to buy a food dryer in anticipation of preserving this wonderful bounty for Rebecca and myself; we have a freezer and will get to savor the summer when the snow flies again. I will close my eyes and remember this trip and the growing goodness. I hope you can do the same!

See the Nourishmat? Five Points Farm Market

Check it out in your area!

Buy Fresh Buy Local Check it out in your area!



I’m told the Eskimos have something like thirty-seven words for snow, and in the last eighteen months of walking with Gandalf I have come to realize that likewise there should be many more words for darkness. In our culture we only quantify not-light as “dark” or “dusk” but it is my theory that dark is actually more complex and therefore requires a more expansive vocabulary.

This is what I am talking about:

Semi-Dark (not quite light).

Kind of Dark (you could still see a white cat).

Almost Dark (in between dark and dusk).

Very Dark (can barely see a white cat).

Really Dark (white cat invisible).

Star-Dark (when the sky is so full of stars you are sure you could read by them but really you still need your flashlight. See above photo).

Snow-Dark (this is one of my favorite times to be outside….snow on the ground, low, thick clouds and porch and street lights reflect a hundred-fold off all the white. This creates a softly bright, slightly golden glow, by which you could read).

Freakin’ Dark and Holy-Cats-I-Can’t-See-My-Hands-Dark. (self-explanatory). These are quite similar and having two separate descriptors may be purely academic.

Gandalf is not fazed by any of this. I think his nose and ears shed their own “light” and he skips out the door with the same abandon regardless of the visibility. One night when it was Really Dark I heard an animal noise outside and when I let him out he charged through the doorway, did a Superman leap off the porch and his furry little behind disappeared from view. He trotted back a few minutes later with a satisfied look on his face and the rest of the night was quiet.

Since I lack Gandalf’s visual and auditory acuity I am quite happy to have my headlamp to light my way; I do not care for what I term “the Braille method” of getting around when I can’t see. This involves “reading” the terrain with my feet and way back in the heavy-flashlight-only olden days this was the technique that served me well until one night I misjudged a shadow and fell into a hole. For a long while after that I quit running at night but took it up again once headlamps became lighter and more affordable. And of course now, I have Gandalf the Fearless to share my jaunts.

On walks when it is Freakin’ Dark I rely on him for what is outside my vision and hearing and there have been times when he stops, looks into the black and gives a low growl. It is at this point that I immediately change tack and our route takes the opposite direction. Adding to the list of Questions For God After I Die are “What is out there and how does Gandalf know?” With my feeble human senses I have to wait until daylight….and there it is….a fresh pile of moose poo. Gandalf rocks!

Sometimes I wonder if he is pulling a “Far Side” on me. Remember the Gary Larson cartoon with the two dogs plotting to look at the closet door and growl in unison, just to shake up the humans sitting comfortably on the couch? Nah….he wouldn’t……would he?

Not-light has its own beauty and the paradox and contrast it provides adds richness and depth to my life. Metaphorically and literally, I have been in much darkness in recent years and have learned new appreciation for the interconnectedness of these seemingly contrary concepts.

Sarah took this photo of Michael this winter; the perfect analogy: without darkness we could not appreciate the light.

Snow globe and Michael


Gandalf the Green

Gandalf the GreenThis is my dog Gandalf the Grey, and yes, he is covered in bullsh*t.  Real, fresh, soupy, green, straight-out-of-the-bull sh*t. I had seen him out rolling and cavorting in the field and thought “Ah, now, there’s a happy dog… nice”. I let him bounce around for a couple more minutes and then called him. He came on a dead run.

Oh lordy he was beyond ecstatic; grinning from ear to ear and tongue flapping in the breeze as he pounded home. “Mom! Mom! Look what I found! This is so cool!” He came nearer….I looked closer…..something was terribly wrong and I backed away from the green slime being flung off this fur as he spun around in his happydance. It was just then that I heard the bull bellow; so that was what all that rolling and frolicking in the field had been about. Happy dog my foot….he had found the mother lode of poo.

Keeping him at a safe distance (almost impossible; he wanted to share his good fortune with me), I started to laugh. He was all but completely covered and truly green; the photo just doesn’t do it justice. The really special part, though, was that he had managed to nearly fill one ear!

He pranced and radiated delight, I laughed until I could hardly stand up then I collected myself to get a dog bath ready. There was no way he was coming into the house; I would have to de-poo him on the driveway. He likes neither photo ops (hence the look on his face in the above shot) or baths (although he was reasonably cheerful while we created shamrock colored soapy bubbles) and once dried and inside, the magnitude of the twin indignities of photo and bath sank in and he sulked the rest of the night.

We made up over bacon (the maple kind?) the next morning.

What is it about poo that is so attractive to dogs? That is for sure going on the Questions For God After I Die list!


Gandalf the Grey (Ghost)

I am privileged to share my home with Pippintook, the cat and Gandalf the Grey, the Norwegian Elkhound. Gandalf is my boon companion; he is dignified yet playful, smart without being cocky, and gorgeous. He loves the snow (that must be the Norwegian part) and watching him roll and snuffle and luxuriate in it always makes me chuckle and Rebecca positively cracks up.

Gandalf the Grey (snow)

Gandalf and I have been close since his arrival many years ago and have bonded even more over the last year and a half. He has a knack for being that I came to appreciate soon after separating from my then-spouse. It was one of the first nights in my new apartment; I was grieving mightily and hanging on only by my toenails when I awoke to find him snuggled up beside me. I rested my hand on his soft fur and he laid there for a bit until I calmed down and went back to sleep. He was on his own bed as usual the next morning and has not slept on my bed before or since. Without a word he gave me immense comfort and I owe him big time for that one.

He is a hound and it is a wonder to watch him checking out all the smells when we are outside.  I guess all that sniffing and information gathering about who has been where doing what is comparable to me reading the paper or standing in line at the grocery store catching up on Brad and Angie. Not that they live in my neighborhood but you get the idea.

His nose is also his only fault. He can get so involved with tracking a fox or cat or whatever that he completely forgets himself along with everything else. When he is in “the zone” commands don’t register and I really think that he is not “not minding”, he is just oblivious. When my voice finally penetrates his consciousness he pops up happy and grinning as if to say “Wow! Did you smell THAT?”

The days I work we walk early. In the winter it is still deeply dark and very quiet and whatever light there is comes from the porch and street lights. With snow on the ground it is a bit surreal, and peaceful, too; the calm before the bustle of the day sets in and people are catching that last warm snooze before the alarm goes off in earnest. Gandalf usually waits for me on the front walk while I shut the door then I clip him into his extendable leash and off we go.

The other morning, however, I turned from the door and no Gandalf. Gone. Not a tinkle of dog tags or a “whuff” from him as he checked for scent under the snow. Nada.

I walked up the street in both directions doing the “whisper yell”. Anyone who has done that raise your hand… oxymoron for sure and I don’t think it actually works but what are you going to do if you can’t really holler? No sign of him. Great…..I’ve lost my dog…..

I wandered the area for another five minutes and was trying not to think of my morning dissolving into search and rescue mode when he materialized as a silhouette against the snow. Ears perky, tail wagging…..he had been on a field trip without a chaperone and had the smile to prove it. I never did figure out exactly where he went but I have a pretty good idea and he’s not going there again without me!

Note to self: longer walks would be good for both of us. Outside is a bonny place to be.

After the storm