Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Requires No Batteries

This is the 16th entry in the story of Ellie Mae, a mid-sized female rescue dog, who came to us from the Inland Mendocino County Humane Society. I apologize in advance for my clumsy attempt at poetry. Just because it’s fun to do something, does not mean you should be given poetic license to do so. 

Three score and seven days ago, 
A little dog named Ellie Mae,
Came to us as a rescue pup-
It was a banner day.

Medium-sized with floppy ears,
"Smile? It's what I get paid the big bucks for..."
She has a dazzling smile, 
I’ll tell you now-no reservations
She’ll go the extra mile.

We had a bulldog-brave and true, 
He’s gone, so how to cope?
Our hearts were cracked, our minds went numb
We sat around and moped.

Until a dear friend’s name popped up,
From Mendo’s Inland Shelter,
Finding homes for animals
Whose lives are helter-skelter.

I messaged her and said, “What’s what,”
She listened to me closely.
“Something’s missing in my soul-
I guess that’s it, mostly.”

“I understand,” she said-
I’m certain that she did.
She asked me questions, three or four,
Maybe five, maybe more.

Female, mid-sized, short or long-haired,
We weren’t worried-we weren’t scared.
Just hook us up with a dog to love,
And we’d show her how much we cared.

We did not rush, we did not hurry
Some things are well worth waiting for.
So when our Ellie Mae’s name popped up,
We felt it to the core.

She was born and reared in Covelo,
No fence could hold her in,
And even though a chain would work
To me that is a sin.

She was used to running in the hills
There are so many critters.
Thinking of that mountain lion, though,
Gives us a case of jitters.

It took three time-consuming weeks, 
of me two steps behind her.
She’d escape, I’d hear her barking,
But I could never find her.

Until she decided on her own,
That she was done exploring.
Lucky for me, I might explain,
‘Cause it did no good imploring.

That’s all done-I’m smart enough,
To fix a fence, thank heaven,
Even if it took three weeks,
It could have taken seven.

The next item on our ongoing list, 
Is a taunting cat being chased,
By Miss Ellie Mae, our little angel.
At quite a frantic pace…
"I resemble that remark!" Mr. Crips

But just in case, you tend to feel, 
Mr. Crips is being abused,
I can only assure you, laughingly,
It’s Ellie Mae who’s being misused.

The cats are savvy, tough and bold,
Evoking little pity
Especially not from a small hound dog
Who likes to tease a kitty.

And yes our Ellie Mae is vocal,
When friends come to the door,
If you go out and come back in,
She’ll probably bark some more.

It’s a small price to pay for a security alarm,
Requires no batteries, and does no one harm.
And if it bugs you that much, it needn't for long,
Not when you're handed a medicinal bong. 

I’ve come to the end 
Of my poetic endeavor,
“We can all be grateful,”
They then said together.

Since you made it this far
From way up above,
Ellie Mae wants to tell you, 
The answer is love.

No words

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Same Page

So I live in the country, right? In a palatial mansion, of course? Hardwood floors, and tiled bathrooms? Washer/dryer, dishwasher, microwave, convection oven, surround-sound, refrigerator/freezer, all in place? Pristinely coifed interior, wainscoted and polished? We’re all on the same page here?
The house is entirely weather-sealed, critter-proofed, and bug-free? The roof is intact, the siding is woodf#*@er-resistant and there is no way Ellie Mae, our rescue dog, could ever get under the house? Finally, when are the questions going to cease and desist?

In the order presented, I will address each, attempting to be as succinct as possible. I do live in the country, if being five miles up a dirt road, off the grid, and sixteen miles from the metropolis of Laytonville constitutes being countrified.

I built my home with help from two brothers and a couple of neighbors, back in the early 80’s. Working by myself I added on a dining room downstairs, and a sewing studio upstairs in 2010, the year the Giants seized the first of their three world series rings they have earned this decade.

The largest downstairs portion of the house is covered with CDX plywood, stained a dark color, with the just-mentioned dining room and studio being sheathed with foot-square linoleum tile. The bathrooms have linoleum on the floors and in place of tile, I have the ever-popular sheet-rock, though it is textured. The reason it’s textured is because it’s impossible to do smooth-drywall, unless you’re Davy Therens.

I created two archways into the “new dining room,” but have yet to repaint the inside of the living room, from which we access the dining room, leaving the alluring white of sheet-rock mud. And oh yeah, it’s textured.

We have a washer! Unfortunately, or otherwise, we do not have a dryer, dishwasher (except for me), microwave, convection oven, surround-sound or a freezer. Yes, we have a massive refrigerator which freezes the things we don’t want frozen in the top half, but does not get cold enough to keep dairy products from going bad in the lower half. 

The only wainscoting here, is Wayne’s coat hanging on the coat rack. He forgot it.

The house is weather-sealed, except around some of the windows and doors. It’s been on the list for 35 years, so I can probably delay another day or two. And it goes without saying that the house is critter-proof and bug free, except for:

Scorpions: Twice I have found scorpions. Creepy.

Black widows: I found one in the kitchen, right there in plain view and put her in a have-a-heart cage. I named her Molly and she hung in there for two years. True story, as is every word in this narrative. Ask any of my three sons.

Spiders: It's not that there are countless spiders, it's that their webs make the interior of our home resemble a Halloween attraction-all year long.

Bats. Especially in the early years, we awoke to bats in our bedroom on a regular basis. Thank God that He invented brooms.

Wind-scorpion: This arachnid freaked me out because it was emphatically NOT a run-of-the-mill scorpion.

A gopher snake slithered in, most likely beneath the homemade back door, and coexisted in the lower living room for an undetermined period of time. I tried to convince Gluten-Free Mama that this was a win-win proposition, because the snake would help reduce the rodent population.
They don't eat much...

Mice. Think of them as Attila the Hun and his hundreds of henchmen, with whiskers and long tails. Destructive, toxic, depressing, deplorable and disgusting. Hurrah for Toby the cat! In their defense they were here first.

Ants: For the first twenty years they were the scourge of our kitchen, those insidious little sugar ants. They even managed to make themselves at home in the refrigerator. Then fifteen or so years ago, they disappeared, never to be seen again. Must be the anteater I had installed…

Flies: Incessant, annoying and impossible to beat back, no matter how dashing and daring I am with a fly swatter. And I am a swash-buckling mofo.

Yellow-jackets/wasps: They come in the same way the flies do, but there is also a variety that emerges from behind the tongue-n-groove pine siding, somehow, some way. There is no feeling quite like rolling over on one in the middle of the night, and feeling that exhilarating sting, in places you never ever want to get stung.

Lizards, skinks, Jerusalem crickets (potato bugs or finger-bite bugs), dragonflies, a Brazilian different types of moths, are among the other visitors.
No slugs, either!

On the other hand I have never seen a cockroach and we do not have snails, unless they hitchhike in on a plant from off the mountain. Nor have we had any wild boars, bears or mountain lions inside the house. Key to a happy existence, is the ability to keep a positive attitude. 

After years of struggling with parts of the kitchen and lower bathroom roofs leaking, we installed metal roofing this summer. Now all I have to do is remodel said bathroom, the adjoining laundry room and the kitchen, because of the resulting water damage.

The woodfu%#ers are continuing to destroy the exterior of the south-facing wall of our home, though we did Hardy-board the west wall, which was in considerably worse shape. And Ellie Mae was getting under the house before I finally managed to figure out how that was happening. 

Cute Ellie cannot resist the taunting, provided by Crips the cat. 

So there you have it, my palace I call home. I am told we were back-to-the-landers, but if you ask me, it’s more like the land came back to bite us in the backside. 

Can someone please stop that pecking on the wall?
One of my favorite photos of all time...

Saturday, January 27, 2018


Two weeks have crawled past since social media was blown up with the horrifying news, that our community had suffered the loss of a brilliantly shining star. Though matters took a couple of days to clarify, we found out that our brother, our son, our friend, Shane, had taken his own life.

Inconceivably devastating, we mourn the passing of an individual whose sole mission in life, was seemingly to blaze a trail of camaraderie and spirit. Having observed Shane from a distance for the first two years of his middle school career, I got an up-close and personal look during his eighth grade year. You can get a pretty good idea of what someone is like, if you spend four periods of class time a day (200 minutes), for an entire school year with that person.

By way of introduction, I can remember seeing Shane sitting on the Group W bench outside of Mrs. Wade’s classroom, as a sixth grader. He was not the only individual that used to get assigned this special seat, so there is little to be drawn from his presence there, but let’s just say that by the time he hit eighth grade, there was no longer any need for Group W bench consideration.

Spending his days amidst sixth, seventh and a total of eight, eighth graders, in the multi-graded program that Paul and I operated, Shane asserted himself as a class leader. Not only did his conduct reflect his maturity, he distinguished himself in the classroom.

He did this from day one onward, because the center of that year’s curriculum was the performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” and it was to be presented before Christmas. The character Shane portrayed was Sir Toby Belch, described by Wikipedia as “one of Shakespeare’s finest characters…a force for vitality, noise and good cheer, as his name suggests.”

We started the first week in September, working during 7th period elective, and were ready for action, ready for danger, by the appointed time. Asserting himself in his role, the more he worked to portray a rambunctious, drunk partier in play practice, the more Shane affixed himself as an academic force.

The culture of our middle school was such, that the play was taken seriously on all fronts, from the actors to those who created the backdrops, to the lighting, to the musical score, to the back-stage direction, et al. 

Middle school participants knew that the elementary classes, from 2nd or 3rd grade onward, would be swarming into our classroom-turned-theater-in-the-round, to view their older siblings in the performance. They knew that there would be three evening performance for families and community, and so there was a fierce desire to get it right.

Students worked together better at this kind of classroom endeavor, than almost any other, simply because they were given poetic license to choreograph their own performances. Should one person struggle, the entire cast would offer support; they knew they were only as good as their weakest performer.

Working opposite Ella, who performed as Andrew Aguecheek, Shane embraced his role, channeling his personality through the character of Sir Toby. He was nothing short of dazzling, one of a cast of inspired students who gave their audiences much to chortle about.

When we went to Yosemite that year, sixth, seventh and eighth graders, Shane’s dad accompanied us, one of a legion of adult volunteers. We required a ratio of one adult to five students, to help assure that no parent was overwhelmed by serving as a group leader. Again, Paul and I relied on Shane to hold his own when it came to leadership, in a land far away. He did not disappoint.

Over the last three years, I have bumped into Shane at several public events, most memorably at Reggae on the River, a couple of years ago, when Stephen Marley performed. It was after 3 in the morning, we were up the hillside behind the beer garden, and we were reflecting on the just-completed set by Stephen.

Feeling emotionally drained, I separated myself from my immediate circle, intending to begin the fifteen-minute walk down Rasta Road to our campsite. As I did so, I heard a voice say simply, “Mark,” from a dozen feet away, and looked over to see Shane standing there. I hit stage right, sauntered up to him, and received a bear hug for my effort. 

When you feel you know someone well, there is sometimes no need for a lot of words. We stood there for a minute, soaking in the good feelings that the music had provided, and then parted ways, the connection reestablished, the glow strong, warm and fuzzy.

I am not a judgmental person, and if I were, I would suspend judgment now. I saw posts that expressed angst at Shane’s final decision, even anger at a decision that they perceived as wrong. I can’t go there, and I wouldn’t if I could.

We must recognize that instead of blinking out, the star that is Shane is still very much alive, and will be as long as there are those who remember and cherish his memory. I do not have the words to make the pain go away, so I am choosing words instead, that at least help me cope.

When you feel you know someone well, there is sometimes no need for a lot of words.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


Never in the history of dogdom, has there been a more rewarding homework assignment, than the one issued forth from last Saturday’s hour-long session. After watching two of the advanced canine students perform for the rest of us, down in the studio in Willits, demonstrating extraordinary skills in the field of simply staying on command, I went home with a fierce desire to similarly endow Ellie Mae with this skill set.

The concept not being a new one, Ellie and I have been working on-and-off on it since Day One, most notably with the chickens. The result has been that all of our chickens are still present and accounted for. The teaching format is not quite the same as the one suggested during class, but the ultimate success of not losing any chickens cannot be denied.

Listening to Jackson Brown’s “Stay [Just a Little Bit Longer]” in my mind, I have worked with Ellie Mae each morning this week. Stashed away for the moment is the flat leash I use to walk her every day; in its place is the thirty-foot-long training leash.

Wishing to revisit the commands of “place,” “sit,” “look,” and “stay,” I planted Ellie Mae’s little orange rug in the center of the living room. I then walked her on the leash to the spot, asked her to first sit and then look, pointing two fingers at my two eyes. I then commanded her to stay. 

The idea is to get her situated, and then slowly back away eighteen or twenty feet, while maintaining eye contact and bidding her to remain on the mat. I am shooting for sixty seconds as a starting point, figuring that after a full minute, Ellie Mae will relax and be prepared to stay for however long I need her to. I repeat several times.

I never forget the hand signal. In asking Ellie Mae to stay, I simultaneously extend my right arm/hand in the classic stop sign, my hand held out palm forward, to discourage her from wanting to bolt. It is this hand signal that I use to reinforce my command, as I am slowly retreating from her side. I strive to keep my voice in command form, so as not to suggest that there is an element of play involved.

School is of uppermost importance to both Ellie Mae and me. She is not only intelligent, she is quick to learn.

While having her two students put the two trained dogs through their paces, our instructor Nancy upped the ante by deliberately walking near the two student canines, providing a distraction to see how they would hold up. Both did famously.

Therefore, when Ellie Mae and I are working, Gluten-Free Mama provides the same service for Ellie Mae, strolling past her spot to create a little diversion. To my complete shock, she has been able to withstand the temptation to bolt off of her mat. 
An astute pupil

Ellie Mae is proving to be an astute pupil.

It goes without saying that dog treats are a part of the equation, more so for some dogs than for others. It all depends on what motivates your dog. Ellie Mae certainly likes the treats, make no mistake, but ultimately, that is not what motivates this little jewel of a rescue dog: She simply wants to please.

Still, there is something to be said for a well-timed duck treat, especially after a particularly successful occurrence. Nancy emphasized the need to make the praise commensurate with the level of success. To overly praise you dog for sitting, makes little sense, just as brushing aside the ability to stay for a full minute-with distractions-makes no sense. 

A job well done should be acknowledged accordingly. Praise and a dog treat are in order, just as rewarding a dog treat for noncompliance should be avoided. Telling your dog to sit, only to have her jump up at you, and then rewarding her with a treat on top of it all, sends the wrong message. If all she has to do is show up to get a nugget, where is the motivation to mind?
I took this photo as I wrote this piece. She sleeps
with the most amazing smile on her face.
In summary the dog obedience classes in Willits have been wildly successful. Though I am familiar with a fair amount of what is being presented, it’s the follow-through and commitment to be prepared for the next session, that is most critical. 

A mutually beneficial arrangement for all parties, if ever there were one, the ability to proceed through life with a well-behaved young dog, ranks as one of life’s most rewarding opportunities. 

No gold stars necessary-just a pat on the head, and maybe a dog treat. For Ellie Mae, not me. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ollie Mac

I’m not even a grandfather yet, and already I am faced with a challenge: What do I want little Ollie Mac to call me? If the question had never arisen, I might have assumed that Grandpa would be the operative moniker, but all of the sudden I am rethinking matters.

Here is an opportunity to forever etch into family lore, a catchy title, which is better than a sketchy title, or so I am told. I could be Bebop or Bumpy; I might become Opapa or even Stud Pa. Uberdaddy, Gampy, Big Dawg, Chief, Umpa, Jaja or just simply Pow, are all in the running.

When I look over multiple lists of suggestions, it gradually dawns on me that there are no boundaries here. Pick a name-any name-and you are good to go. Maybe I should try and work from a different angle, and base my name on those activities to which I plan to try and introduce Ollie Mac.
Take reading books, for instance. Maybe I should be ShakesPaw, or GrandBlog, since I plan on reading books aloud, at every opportunity down the road. Or how about BusterDad, since baseball will also be a part of the pitcher, er, sorry, picture?

BusterDad! It has a nice ring-or three-to it.

I know, I know. I’m 65, I have a bad shoulder, a bad knee and a bad toe. How am I going to play baseball with Ollie Mac? I’ll tell you how: I can sit in a chair and play catch. This will accomplish two things: It will allow Ollie Mac to practice catching the ball, but even more importantly, it will teach him accuracy in throwing. I say that because if the ball goes past me, he will have to play run and ketchup, because I am not going to move.

If I do move, it will only be to the kitchen, to cook up a storm. Maybe I should call myself ChefDaddy or ChiliMac. Think of it. Ollie Mac and ChiliMac together-what a team!
Stand by, 2018...

Let’s not forget farming; every kid in the universe thrills to growing radishes. Maybe I could be VedgeFather, or BrocPapa. Let me roll BrocPapa around my tongue for a moment or two. There is no stopping me now. CauliBop, SquashDaddy, CukePaw and RutaPop! I’m just getting started now.

It’s a good thing I found out about this opportunity with a couple of months still to go. This is going to take some serious thought, especially with spring training opening up only three weeks from now. Spring training! Shazam! Not sure but I may have it.

How does GrandPapi sound?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Project Paradise: The Bell Springs Experience

I came away from this weekend’s mini-gathering up here on Bell Springs Road, with not only some pleasant memories, but the fourth and final manuscript that my mother Pauline wrote in the autumn of her life. My sister Laura had a box of various individual manuscripts, but advised me that we would need to be thinking about having additional copies made from the original type-written document.

“Project Paradise: The Bell Springs Experience” is a 106-page narrative of my parents’ move from The San Gabriel Valley in SoCal, to Northern Mendocino County, in the summer of 1977. It covers not only the events leading up to the great escape, but the early years as well, detailing the trials and tribulations of the pioneer members of our community here on the mountain.

I had a copy at one point, obviously lent it to someone, and never got it back. I have Mama’s first three manuscripts, describing first her childhood, then the period during WWII and how it impacted her family, and finally, the story of Fellowship Street, the home of my upbringing.

She has a lively "voice" and her personality shines through her words vividly. I find it’s just like sitting across from her and chatting, as I did a thousand times over the last sixteen years she lived here on the mountain, after Robert had passed. 

Writing both from memory and from correspondence she kept from the period, Mama details how she and Papa forged a new life, with much support from family, friends and neighbors. As I reread her words, I zeroed in on one passage, because though it is relayed in the most broad of terms, the event in question had much more happening behind the scenes.
Click on this photo to enlarge the passage.

“The next morning we headed up the road (which we had learned was called Bell Springs Road) to our Paradise, where Mark had agreed to meet us on this day.”

It was mid-August, 1976, and the folks, along with youngest family members Laura and Kevin, had traveled from SoCal up the coastline, and arrived near where Branscomb Road intersects with Highway 1. They stayed a couple of days, and when they woke up on the day they were heading up to Bell Springs, they encountered morning drizzle. The party pulled up stakes and headed up to the property.

To their astonishment it was raining inland as well, in a rare August downpour. Pulling onto the land and taking a quick look-see, revealed heaps of downed, dead manzanita wood, which would provide excellent heat-if they could start a fire in the rain.

With the help of a “vast quantity of Coleman fuel,” the task was accomplished, because that is what Nancy, my first wife, and I found when we pulled into the site, around nine o’clock that night, just as it was getting dark.

The funny thing is, however, that we did not approach our Paradise from the south, coming up the five miles from The 101, but rather, from the north. Stop me if you have heard this story before, but the VW bus I was driving, had spun a rod bearing right up there near Hayfork, in the same neck of the woods as Mount Shasta.

Desperate to avoid the nightmare of having Old Paint towed all the way back to San Jose, I found that if I kept my speed under 20 miles per hour or so, I could limp along with the engine clattering like a lawnmower clipping gravel.

It was ugly but after googling a map of Northern California, we were good to go, following dirt roads down the center of California.
The author of Mark's Work, in 1976

Googling in 1976 meant taking our outdated roadmap out of the glovebox, and noting that a gray line existed from Mount Shasta down the center of California, merging with our very own Bell Springs Road at some vague intersection in the middle of nowhere.

Five different times during the approximate fifty-mile journey, we stopped travelers and asked for directions. All five times we were redirected back to a spot where we had guessed at a fork in the road-and guessed wrong. At least we were consistent.

There was no way to communicate because the ‘rents had been camping and we had been traveling, with no destinations that could have been pre-planned. How primitive it all sounds, with no cell phones and no internet, and yet we got along. Who’d a guessed?

So indeed, when we climbed out of Old Paint after ten hours of off-roading, the bonfire and camp-food were welcome. No one seemed to mind the rain. It was to be almost another year before my parents made the final move up to the mountain, but this early scene remains indelibly stamped on the etch-a-sketch of my razor-sharp mind.

Thanks for the memories, Mama.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

To Love and Be Loved...

Your left! Your left! Your left, right, left!
Your left! Your left! Your left, right, left!

OK, obedience class for [fairly] new rescue dog, Ellie Mae, was not quite the “bootcamp” experience I might make it out to be, but there were enough commands being issued and followed, to make one think that push-ups couldn’t be that far off, if compliance were not forthcoming.

Luckily-or otherwise-Ellie Mae was up to the task, as she was not only able to ignore the other eight dogs who were in the building, she went through her paces as though she had seen this movie before. I say “otherwise” because luck really had no part in the process.

I mentioned in the last piece that the first thing our instructor Nancy told us, is that our dogs take their cues from our behavior: If our voices are calm and reassuring, then those characteristics are conveyed to our pets. Additionally, if we “asked” our dogs to sit, while we absorbed Nancy’s words, we were able to further calm them by giving them a little scratchy/scratchy behind the ears.

Behind the ears, down her back, and a belly rub for good measure before heading back up to the ears. Anyone who has ever owned a dog, knows that the ears are the chariots-to-the-soul of any pooch who ever lived. 

I know endorphins come into play, not only for the dog but for the person doing the ear-nuzzling. The soothing effect has a boomerang quality to it: By providing the dog pleasure, the giver accomplishes the same thing for himself. It’s a circular process.

Besides, tick patrol requires that I run my hands over Ellie Mae continuously, anyway, when we are in cruise mode. I have only plucked two off of her so far, and that is a good thing. With the mild weather we have been having, and with the explorative nature of Ellie Mae, she has been covering a lot of ground.

Fortunately, Ellie has [apparently] ceased her escape attempts, it having been three weeks now since she has vamoosed from Stalag 13 in this manner.

Like most good instructors, Nancy did not remain in any one place for too long, checking in with this terrier here, or that miniature over there, not to mention Ellie Mae several times. There were nothing but “thumbs up” all around.

For those of you still perched on the edges of your seats, wondering when I am going to unveil the mystery of how Nancy “trains” our dogs in just four easy-peasy, one-hour-long sessions, I have a first time offer for you.

There is this golden bridge for sale and I can let you have it cheap.

What Nancy did for us last Saturday morning, at her studio in Willits, was provide an appropriate setting, outline some key principles that apply to dog/designated human relationships, and review six specific commands. There are more and we will get to them, but for starters we worked with the following: sit, stand, stay, place, look and heel. Also mentioned were down, come, wait, off and leave it.

As with any school, all the instructor can do is point the pupils and-in this case-their handlers, in the right direction, but the rest is up to the participants. Our homework was to work with our respective pets, in everyday situations, on each of the commands we had covered on Saturday.

Providing a setting with other dogs was a component that I especially valued, simply because I want to be able to take Ellie Mae with us in public, and not have to worry about questionable behavior. I do not worry about her being aggressive; it’s more about her being too forward in her enthusiasm.

Nancy had suggested we get there early and that helped immensely. By the time Ellie found herself in the same arena with eight other dogs, she had had twenty minutes to get accustomed to the idea. Of course, she has had much interaction with both Margie and Emma, so that has been a positive too.

And as far as Ellie Mae and I are concerned, as syrupy as it reads, like Annabel Lee, Ellie Mae wants nothing more than to love and be loved-by me. So as Nancy was covering some basics, I was pawing Ellie Mae’s ears, no pun intended.
She was hyper as we came into the facility; she was nervous as the class began; she began to relax as we reviewed familiar commands (and earned dog treats); finally, she was so chill by the final stretch, that she actually stretched herself out on her designated mat, and crashed.

I was so proud I wanted to go racing out into the center of the ring, and point out that fact to everyone there, but I settled for a Kodak moment, instead.

What’s a Kodak moment? It’s an indication that I am still living in the 20th century…

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

One Taquito, Two Taquitos

Man cannot live on roasted vegetables and skinless, boneless organic chicken breasts, alone. There’s just something a little too magical about the sound of hot oil sizzling and popping, to be able to withstand the mystique indefinitely.

Tossing caution to the wind, recently, I peeled and sliced a half-dozen good-sized potatoes, got out my special seven-quart popcorn pan, put a quart of canola oil in to heat up, and pulled off a highly successful double batch of piping hot French fries.
Scorching hot homemade fries with homemade smoked-paprika-flavored catsup. Bring on  the playoffs.

If I may be candid here, it does not require a great deal of culinary competence to be able to dump the raw fries into the hot oil, put the lid on and return to the living room to continue watching the playoff game, while drinking beer. Fifteen minutes later the fries need to be taken out and placed on paper towels over a drying rack, with salt being liberally applied.

Cut de taters, stick ‘em in de oil, and drink beer. Oh, and add salt.

Switching gears, I decided to up the ante yesterday and go after the elusive taquito, usually to be found only within the confines of a certified Mexican food establishment. As a prerequisite for even thinking about having taquitos, is the need for fresh avocados, so that guacamole can be prepared. Check.

First things first. What’s a taquito (tock-ee-toe)? 

First, you take a corn tortilla, heat it up on a griddle so that it is easily bendable (30-45 seconds), and put a small amount of seasoned ground meat or shredded chicken inside. Next, you roll it up tightly and place it in sizzling hot oil so that the oil goes about halfway up the taquito- 


[Editor’s note: Er, avoid sticking your finger(s) in the [sizzling] hot oil.]

Because I have a complete lineup of cast iron frying pans, I used the monster dog to brown two pounds of organic hamburger. I meticulously followed the directions on the taco seasoning packets that I had bought at Geiger’s, so after draining the excess grease, I added the packets and a cup-and-a-half of water. I cooked it down until the water had been reduced.

I have 32 tortillas and a huge skillet of ground meat; I wonder, will I have extra hamburger left over or extra tortillas? Or is there another option?

I took the eight-inch skillet and heated oil up in that, and I used the six-incher to heat up the tortillas, so that they would be malleable. If the tortillas are not hot enough, they just break apart when you ask them to bend in unbendable ways. Once the hamburger was set to go, I removed it from the stove and put it on the counter. 

Gluten-Free Mama had cautioned me, saying, if I possibly could, I should allow for the just-cooked mixture to cool off.

Huh. I wonder what’s up with that… who has time to let it cool?

I was ready for action-I was ready for danger, except that I really wasn’t. Ready for danger, that is. GF Mama had advised me to just jump into it and establish a routine that worked for me. When I asked how many taquitos I should try to cook at a time, she said three was probably about right, but it was up to me.
I popped a tortilla in the small skillet and as soon as it was plenty hot, I scooped it out with my bare fingers, the way I always do. Hey, those of us who "work with" tortillas, don't need no stinkin' tongs. I slapped another corn tortilla into the little frypan, and put the heated tortilla on a clean plate next to the big skillet of ground meat.

I put a couple of heaping tablespoons of the mixture along one side of the tortilla, and spread it out with my fingers-

Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhh! Heck, darn, shoot, bull-ROAR! What did GF Mama say? “…if I possibly could, I should allow for the just-cooked mixture to cool off… “ Funny, now I remember.

I carried the taquito-in-waiting into the other room to consult with GF Mama, herself. She has been pumping these babies out for 35 years, so who am I to not take advantage of her savvy?

She looked at my arrangement, noted there could be just a smidgen more on the one end, but otherwise said it was nothing short of a great success. Back to the counter, where I rolled the mixture up and-

What the hell is smoking? Oh, the tortilla in the six-inch skillet

Dang. I can probably still use it, so all good. I went back to my ready-to-go taquito, and proceeded to plop it into the [sizzling]-


[Editor’s note: Er-“Oh, shut up about the !&% finger, already!”]

Hot oil and finger tips are not compatible, but it took me three-count them-three times before I remembered what GF Mama had said, “You’ll want to uses the tongs to hold the taquito together, so that it doesn’t just flop open.”

Huh. Tongs. Finger in sizzling oil. Tongs. Let me try something  here…

Voila! That Gluten-Free Mama thinks of everything. As soon as my little pea-brain figured out that God, in his infinite wisdom, had created tongs for exactly this situation, I was twirling those dudes around like pearl-handled six-shooters. 

I stopped it though, when the hamburger kept flying out through the air to an eagerly awaiting Ellie Mae.

At the end I had two mis-fires, just disasters from the word go, but otherwise I ended up with 29 stellar taquitos, with fresh guacamole. 

Wait a sec. 32-2=30. Why are there only 29?

Huh. And why is GF Mama licking her finger tips?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Stepford Dogs

You can brag about your high-achieving kid from now until forever, but I’m here to tell you that I have a little something/something to brag about myself. Ellie Mae, our new-to-us rescue dog, didn’t just rock her debut in Dog Obedience Class-101, she knocked it out of the stadium.

Plopped down amidst a sea of canine participants (nine, including herself), Ellie Mae not only kept it together, she was a star. Whereas both Gluten-Free Mama and I have concluded Ellie Mae is quite bright, we weren’t worried about aptitude, so much as attitude. 
Ellie Mae, sitting on her mat like a boss.
Simply put, would she be too hyper to be able to function amidst a pack of other dogs? Ellie not only kept it mellow, she followed my directions flawlessly, just as GF Mama and I had made sure we stuck to the directions given to us by Nancy, the instructor of the sixty-minute class.

We were told to forego Ellie’s breakfast, something I did not understand until it came to using the dog treats I had been instructed to bring along. A hungry dog is an eager pupil. Even at that, I was not sure how my girl would respond to having her breakfast withheld.

Ellie Mae was underweight when we adopted her, and got into her two meals a day like a meditation. She just got so amped up, it made me wonder how often she had to wait for her breakfast in the past. I began by feeding her the same amount of food as I do Large Marge, who is also female and weighs almost the same. 

Though she didn’t quite “pull a Dozer” and plow through her food like Sherman marched through Georgia, she also did not match Margie’s (and Emma’s for that matter) dainty approach to eating. For the first week or so, Ellie was restless, always on the prowl, and it seemed she never settled down. 

After a week, I upped the amount of food I gave her at each meal, considerably. I had been mixing a recommended kibble with a splash-down of chicken broth (to help soften the kibble) and a portion of grain-free, organic canned food. All I did was increase the amount of each of these components. I also weighed Ellie Mae when we first got her: 42 pounds.

Immediately, she responded to the increased food by stopping the prowling, or at least most of it, and after a week, she had gained a pound. After a month those outlined ribs had disappeared and she had started to mellow out. She gained one pound per week during this stretch.

Nonetheless, the time has come for me to be frank, here, and reveal a small fragment of Ellie Mae’s inner dogness. You see, my girl shares one of those same characteristics that I possess: She has a manic side to her. Like Markie, my own version of mania-on-the-wide, Ellie Mae is fairly mellow about ninety percent of the time, but a little shaky the other ten percent.

I am tolerant of this characteristic to a fault, primarily because I know it takes six months to a year for a dog to fully adjust to a new environment, and we have only had Ellie Mae for a little over seven weeks. The growth she has made is so dramatic, that it’s inconceivable that she would not continue to settle into her new home without issue.
An uneasy truce exists...

Therefore, if a cat sashays past her, and I am not paying attention, Ellie Mae will go into her act. All that involves is the spinning-wheels syndrome, paws flailing uselessly on the wood floors, during which time any cat worth its salt, would be long gone. Ultimately, cats have so many more advantages over dogs, it’s ludicrously unfair.

The racket is obnoxious, it’s short-lived and it produces nothing but a ruckus, but it also does no harm. Never in the history of the game has a dog ever been able to compete on even footing with a cat, so we just let it play out. Each time I have an admittedly one-sided dialogue with Ellie Mae about the inappropriateness of chasing cats, and she agrees I am correct. 

As I mentioned, there has been growth in all areas of Ellie’s life, and her relationship with our three cats is no different. As long as there is progress, and Ellie Mae is learning, I am satisfied. That was the whole purpose of enrolling her in obedience classes.

I did not know how many other dogs would be at the Willits studio, but it didn’t matter: the more the merrier. A huge part of the class was the socialization process; Ellie needed to be able to function with other dogs in the immediate vicinity, and she needed to be able to do it silently.

Needless to say, most of the dogs had something to say, some more than others. Ellie Mae did not bark and she did not howl, but she did have a little song she sang a few times which sounded like a cross between a howl and a whine. It was not particularly loud and I doubt it was that noticeable.
This photo says it all, loudly. 
I had given much thought to the no-breakfast thing, and ultimately compromised by feeding her a small breakfast around 1:30 in the morning, more than eight hours before the class, but still not as long as the original sixteen-hour abstinence would have been. The plan worked to perfection.

At first the dog treats I provided (duck, grain-free and organic) held little interest, in the hubbub that existed before the class began. Nancy had told us to come early, and allow the dogs to get used to the environment, which we had done.

After she got acclimated, the dog treats were eagerly sought. Nancy got everyone situated, each dog on a mat or something brought from home, and she began to give us foundational principles for working with dogs. Though I was familiar with much of it, I found it quite valuable to have the information presented as a unit.

A basic premise presented to us, and one that I have always found to be most accurate, is that the dog takes its cue from your tone of voice. You can say to a dog, “You are a bad dog, and I’m taking you to the shelter,” but say it in a warm and loving tone of voice, and your dog will be none the wiser.
Yes, well I did appreciate a well-crafted meal...

When the bond is strong enough, your dog needs no dog treat to learn obedience: all she needs is your approval. Seeking that approval, she will try her best to follow directions. Nonetheless, as motivation goes, the tidbit serves the purpose of getting your dog to follow specific directions, so as to be able to associate a sound with an action, something I will elaborate on in my next post.

For today I will leave you with the thought that the class was everything I hoped it would be, and that I look forward to the second class next Saturday. And oh yeah, we have homework. 

I know, you thought Nancy had a magic wand she waved over the dogs, and they all became Stepford Dogs, willing to do anything at any time to please, but such is not the case. Nancy provided guidance for instilling a half-dozen specific commands, but the rest is up to us. By following through on the basic commands already presented, we prepare our dogs for the next steps.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Blue-Collar Dog

If a dog can be aloof, arrogant and cantankerous, and still “steal your heart away,” imagine what might happen if you adopted a three-year-old rescue dog, and she turned out to be sociable, blue-collar and agreeable. 

In the history of the universe, there could not be a case of two more opposite personalities than those of the recently departed Dozer the bulldog, and Ellie Mae, the mixed-breed rescue dog we adopted from the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County, only seven weeks ago.
Comfort zone

The things we tolerated from the Doze still amaze me, though I never gave it a thought while he was still with us. For example, he was fanatical about his ball; he toyed with it incessantly. Over the years there were many, because even though they were indestructible, they would get lost.

If [and when] the ball should roll under the (fill in the blank) bed, dressers, end tables, or any other of the inaccessible niches within the house, Dozer would just start barking. Until someone came to the rescue, the hubbub would continue, unabated.

To put it into perspective, the first twenty times I presented sweet Ellie Mae with a ball, she had no frame of reference. She sniffed it, nosed it a few inches along the floor, and then proceeded to ignore it. It was evident that ho one ever played ball with her. Tossing it and encouraging her to chase it produced no interest, whatsoever, until the day Large Marge was over.

All of the sudden it was game on because Margie gets it. In fact she will get it twenty times in a row-or until she is exhausted. Unlike Dozer, who would also chase and grab the ball in his quite formidable jaws, Margie will actually return the ball to your feet. Dozer? Never.

Ellie Mae is in the Margie mold, chasing and returning her toy, even if we are still perfecting the logistics. As I have written, Ellie Mae is a quick study.

Other things we put up with from the Doze included the bizarre noises he emitted 24/7, most notably during his twelve-hour nightly sleep. His snoring was loud enough to cause our metal roof to vibrate, two stories above. Ellie Mae is as silent as Toby the cat.

That may be because Toby has not yet achieved that level of comfort that allows him to start up his purring again, not with Ellie Mae on the bed, anyway.

Along those same lines of tolerance, there are those who maintained that the odor emanating forth from our gluten-intolerant bulldog’s farts, (all bulldogs are gluten-intolerant) habitually, was strong enough to revive the dead.  
Just walking in the rain...
I can’t say one way or the other; I honestly never detected anything amiss, but that may be a similar situation to that of living in the Valley. When we used to travel to visit Gluten-Free Mama’s parents, we had to drive through agricultural parts of California, where the smell of fertilizer in the air was overwhelming. 

When we asked locals how they ever managed to tolerate such a malodorous assault to the nostrils, they would stare at us blankly. “You just get used to it, I guess,” they said.

I guess I just got used to Dozer because I never noticed anything amiss in my olfactory factory. 

Dozer used to go bonkers every time someone came over, and Ellie Mae does the same. It’s a program we go along with because that’s what dogs get paid the big bucks for-to raise a ruckus when visitors arrive. It doesn’t matter if it’s been two weeks or two minutes since a dog has seen someone, if the person goes out the front door, and then returns, the barking will ensue.

If it bugs you, don’t get a dog and don’t visit me.

It’s a ten-second greeting, it’s noisy and obnoxious and everyone hates it. However, hollering at your “watchdog” [to me] says nothing more to the dog than, “You bark! I bark! We all bark! Great success!” so I don’t. Yell at the dog, that is, not bark. Well, in point of fact, I don’t bark either. Not usually, anyway.

Dozer could be the most aloof creature imaginable, eschewing the company of his owners with impunity, should he be in that frame of mind. His dog kisses were bestowed frugally, and then only if the stars were truly aligned.

Ellie Mae went through a short period there, where we had to curb her enthusiasm for bestowing kisses. I think we have reached a happy medium. She has gotten over her anxiety when I exit the building, but she still wants close proximity. I know now to bring her bed and place it just outside the bathroom every morning, while I take my shower, because that’s where she will be when I get out. Dozer?
Go on in-I'm not ready yet...

He had no knowledge of-nor interest in-my ablutions.

When it came to his daily morning walk, if it were raining, Dozer would refuse to step one foot out in it. Or, if he were desperate, only far enough to take care of business. No walking in the rain for Dozer. (Snow was entirely different-Dozer loved the snow.)

Ellie Mae does not notice the rain, nor did the temperature in the twenties last month affect her, like it did me. I had to put socks on under my sandals for that. The other thing is that Ellie Mae is smart enough to see the value of her rain coat, something that The Doze never tolerated for even a second.

What delights me continuously, though, is to see the personality emerge as Ellie Mae adjusts to her new home. The other morning I was working just as I am now, while Ellie Mae was sleeping beside me on her bed, just as she is now, when I removed my headphones for some reason, and heard her pawing at something on the kitchen floor.

Curious behavior for a dog, unless there is a ball involved, so I shined my headlamp in her direction to see what was causing her interest. I could detect nothing, but there she was, playing footsie-er, pawsie-with something that did not register in the headlamp’s spotlight.

Getting up carefully, aware always (almost) of the wires all about me, I sauntered over to get a closer look. In my wildest fantasy I saw her as valiantly battling a scorpion or a Jerusalem cricket (potato bug, finger-bite bug), but I had to settle for it being an ant.

It was a big ant, but that’s all it was. Still, how did she even locate it it in the dark? It’s not like ants bark. And why did she care about an ant? I found the whole incident comical and endearing. She did not hurt the ant-she just kept diverting it so that it went in a circle.

I've traveled in circles myself upon occasion.

Comical and endearing are far more appropriate descriptions of Ellie Mae, than stuck-up and salty, though only those who did not know Dozer would think of him as either. 

Ironically, when I find myself feeling guilty because Ellie Mae is less labor intensive than Dozer, I remind myself there are many forms of labor, and a labor of love must be included amongst them. When it comes to love, there can be no “less” involved because love is the greatest power.

I know I am getting old; I’ve misplaced my heart, again.
Snorring? Purring? To-may-toe? to-mah-toe?