We finished watching the third 4-1/2 hour piece of “The Lord of the Rings,” extended version last night. Given the weather, I pointed out that we could be trying to climb Caradhras, but Sauron was totally against it and we never made it.

For a variety of reasons — aching muscles maybe? — Garry didn’t find it nearly as hilarious as I did, but the man who shovels is allowed to get grumpy about it. Still, we were definitely atop Caradhras and the snow was not going to quit anytime soon.

There was no noise at all until we heard that wonderful sound, the sound for which I yearn all through the storms of the last two weeks: a plow clearing our driveway. There was an awful lot of snow out there, but the dogs, who go into a medium-level frenzy when trucks are in our drive, gave us a lot of energy. Gibbs is particularly noisy about two things: any kind of diesel-powered vehicle and my son, Owen, of whom he is insanely fond.

Duke and Bonnie in snow

Duke barks hysterically whenever the neighbors emerge from their house. He seems to believe they are about to intrude on our space. Also, they have dogs. Very big dogs. Really, huge dogs. English Mastiff and a boxer. They are really quiet, peaceful creatures who bother no one — except The Duke who gets extremely feisty in the face of Other Dogs Nearby. And they aren’t that near. It’s at least 300 feet from here. More, maybe. We have what is considered a really tiny plot of 2.43 acres of land. Next door, they have maybe 27 acres? Possibly more?

It doesn’t look real. I’m not even sure what bush that is. Rhododendron maybe?

A lot of people around here have a huge amount of land, but the majority of it is wild, thorny, rocky, and generally uninviting to walkers. No trails, either. So mostly, no one on two legs goes in there. No one goes there in the summer because you will be consumed by mosquitoes.

Many other creatures live there, though. Deer, raccoon, fishers, skunk, coyote, bobcats, squirrels, rabbits, bats, eagles and other raptors. Red-tailed hawks and owls. I almost never see them, but I hear woodpeckers constantly.

Foxes, chipmunks. Many fewer chipmunks since the arrival of the bobcat who is very fond of fresh chipmunk. Rats, mice, and some of the biggest spiders to make landfall since Shelob didn’t kill Frodo.

I yearn for New Zealand. If the world should bestow many dollars (or any other currency — I’m not picky) on us, that is the single vacation I would take. Fly to the west coast. Take a ship down the Pacific Ocean and land in some famed harbor. I know that’s the long way, but a cruise to New Zealand and a cruise back sounds like heaven to me.

We might never leave Hobbiton. Well, I suppose we’d have to. There are dogs and family and friends back here … but these days, not living in the U.S. doesn’t seem like such an awful idea. I’ve lived abroad before and I liked it, so it’s not that crazy, for me anyway.

Bonnie and Duke like snow. Gibbs was serious about the sofa.

If New Zealand is impossible, how about San Diego? Great weather. Beautiful beaches. One 5-hour flight and voilà. No more snow. Ever. Or we could go back to Israel. I’ve got a passport. As a citizen, I have — in theory — another home. But that may be my other country. It isn’t Garry’s and while he has nothing against a Jewish country — he’s put up with me for long enough — it might be more change than he is entirely ready for.

So in answer to two questions of the day — where would I rather be and what about noise? I’d like my dogs to shut up, but please, bring the snow plow. Then, send me to New Zealand.


A cautionary tale for lovers of stuffed, furry toys
– and dawgz!

 Story by Garry Armstrong

Photography by Marilyn Armstrong

No one wants to talk about that dreadful, dark day in history. It was a day of senseless violence — as opposed to those many other more sensible violent periods. The massacre was perpetrated on an innocent, unsuspecting civilian population. The blemish on our national reverence for furry creatures with embedded squeakers can never be erased.

Squirrel was the first -- but hardly the last -- casualty.
Squirrel was the first — but hardly the last — casualty.

We treasure stories about children playing with teddy bears. We sing lullabies about cuddly, soft animals who live in the sense memories of our innocent kid years.

We should have seen it coming
We should have seen it coming

But, now there’s a darker, more murky chapter. It’s about our Scotties, Bonnie and Gibbs. A bloody chapter about the ambush at Furry Toys Pass!!

There’s no forgetting the innocence of the furry victims. Mr. Rabbit, the Hedge Hog brothers. Cousin Squirrel, and Yellow Beaky Kid. They lived their lives in quiet solitude, in a hidden valley that promised safety from marauding Scotties.

Bonnie has broken through! Security breached! Alarms sounding!
Bonnie has broken through! Security breached! Alarms sounding!

Security was heightened as new members joined the furry family.  But the Scotties had a mole who leaked information to them about what should have been The Safe House. Danger was near. No one fully appreciated the depth of the Wrath of the Scotties.

With fang and claw, Gibbs is first to attack!
With fang and claw, Gibbs is first to attack!

Deception was a key part to Bonnie and Gibbs game plan. They appeared quiet and serene, maybe nothing but biscuits on their mind. We were lulled into a false sense of security. The Furry Kids were left alone and vulnerable in the pass that led to a box canyon and the badlands.

it's a trap, a trick, a feint!
it’s a trap, a trick, a feint!

In a flash, Bonnie and Gibbs made their move!! We couldn’t believe what happened. Mr. Squirrel!! The Hedge Hogs, The Soggy Doggy and Yellow Beaky Kid — all snatched in cruel jaws before we could move to save them. We couldn’t keep up with Bonnie and Gibbs as they swooped in for their prey.

Back up troops were too far away. Bonnie and Gibbs had taken over Furry Toys Pass!!

We’re now waiting for a dispatch from Reuters to see if  Bonnie and Gibbs will consider a diplomatic trade-off for the lives of their furry hostages. The Scotties are adamant in their demands. They want a huge payoff. BIG biscuits, none of those wimpy, small brittle things that melt in their paws.

Garry tried negotiations, but the Scottish Terrorists remain obdurate!
Garry tried negotiations, but the Scottish Terrorists remain obdurate!

We’re not sure if we can save the furry kids from prison time. Too many treaties have been broken, too many treats consumed. Too many casualties with holes in their furry bodies, squeakers mashed to groans. Too much hours spent stitching and mending. Too many colors of thread needed — and too many needles.

The Old Man was right about those Scotties. They are bad.

Bad to the Bone!!

A final note: With the addition of Duke the Dogge, crazed killer from east of Uxbridge, all that remains are carcasses. Yesterday, new carcasses arrived as well as three new squeaky balls and a dozen low-bounce tennis balls. The bodies of the soon to be demolished are hanging on the door of the microwave. Their days are coming.


I wrote a blog a while back about how I’ve grown to hate repetitive, routine household chores, like doing the laundry and washing the dishes. But things have changed. The Trump presidency has altered my perspective on a lot of things.

Trump and his team have caused political whiplash and existential chaos, which, in turn, has increased my appreciation for the small things in life. Things like the belief in facts, the existence of truth and the joys of a shared reality, at least with my husband. Also, a renewed love of predictability, consistency and reliability – in people and in the world.

So my boring daily slog is suddenly comforting. It makes me feel secure. My husband’s predictable routines now seem appealing and safe, almost sexy. Chores are no longer frustrating necessities. Sorting socks is now a calming Zen exercise. Fitting dishes into the slots in the dishwasher gives me a sense of success and accomplishment. These are the things in life I can count on. I am not helpless in my own home.

My chores also take me away, for a short time, from the onslaught of breaking news from Washington, DC. They give me moments of quiet before the next storm. I deeply appreciate them for the very repetitiveness that had turned me against them before. Boredom is now my friend. I see it as calmness and peace without the negative connotations I used to attribute to it. It’s the antidote to my PTSD – Perpetual Trump Shitstorm Distress!

I look forward to training my dogs. Sit! Stay! Come! Good girl! Repeat. No lump in my stomach, no sense of dread. No alternative facts or alternate reality. Just me and my dogs agreeing that ‘sit’ means ‘put your butt on the floor’ and ‘stay’ means ‘don’t move until I tell you to.’ Boring, but very reassuring and gratifying.

I appreciate my friends more, at least the ones who share my version of facts and reality. They help me stay grounded. And if I continue to focus on the small things in life that give me pleasure and comfort, I just might make it through the Trump years.


WE LET THEM LIE AND CATCH THOSE ZZZZs. We wouldn’t want them too exhausted to beg for cookies or race around tearing up the joint, would we?

Rest, sweet Duke
Blizzard in January!
Sleeping swan with head under his wing

Sleeping dogs are a favorite subject. They are quiet and I can focus the camera! Yes, focus. And no one tries to stick his or her big wet nose up the lens.

Arizona desert – Photo: Garry Armstrong
Yellow stone Arizona desert – Photo: Garry Armstrong


My Everest: Thirty Years of San Diego
Hiking (With Dogs!)

Kindle and Paperback
August 29, 2017
Author: Martha Kennedy

I don’t like reviewing books written by friends.

What if I don’t like it? Will they hate me if I can’t give them a great review? Authors take book reviews personally. We aren’t supposed to, but our books are personal. I can’t think of anything in my world more personal to me than the (one) book I wrote. Apparently, no matter how many books you write, you will continue to feel that way about all of them. They are your babies, your little love children.

My everest martha kennedyI wasn’t too worried about this one, though. I’ve read other books by Martha and I liked them. I’ve always liked Martha’s writing (if you don’t read her blog, you should), especially when she is writing about her dogs. When this when came out, I dashed over to Amazon and immediately bought a copy. Then I got bogged down with other stuff and didn’t start to read it until a few days ago.

This is a wonderful book. It’s so very good, I hardly know where to begin raving about it.

back cover my everest martha kennedyThis isn’t just a book. It isn’t about hiking (despite its title) in the San Diego hills with your dogs. This is a book about finding what is real and what matters. It’s about discovering the world is God and you are part of it. It’s about recognizing all living things having an equal right to be on this planet. It’s about learning how tiny we are while expanding to be part of the hugeness of life.

“My Everest” is a beautiful book. It is profound and thoughtful. I found myself putting it down to leave myself time to think about it and what it meant to me. I don’t do that. Really. I don’t. I just read. This was different.

Truffle and Molly in the Medicine Wheel

“My Everest” is not one of those silly books about searching for yourself, either. Martha has found what I also found — that we are where we should be and we are in the right place. Our job is to enjoy it. Fully. See it, feel it, absorb it, love it. Be part of the all-in-all. Fly with the buzzards and the hawks. Get warmth from the earth with the rattlesnakes. Watch eternity roll by with the rocks.

This is not self-revelatory narcissism. It reaches out and says “I love you” to everyone and everything. It’s not offering you rules to follow so you can walk the same path. There is no path. “My Everest” is about joy and sanctuary , the world that Martha Kennedy and her many dogs found in the Chaparral in San Diego.

Taking the world hiking.

Those hills and mountains were her place. The suggestion is implicit that any place can be your place. You don’t have to go to those specific hills or mountains. The important thing is that there is a place — your place — that brings you that full measure of contentment.

I don’t think I can explain it any better except to say I loved the dogs and the mountains. I love the people she met on the way. The young people she brought with her to hike the hills. In good weather and bad.

I loved how she loved her dogs, yet understood that when they passed, that was how it had to be. Because we live, we pass — humans , dogs and all that lives.

The Models – Two magnificent huskies

This is not the kind of book I would have normally sought to read, but I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to read it. In many way, for me, “My Everest” is a prayer and a hope for a world gone wrong. I don’t find a lot of hope — or any kind of prayers — in 2018’s world.

I most fervently recommend you read this book.

It’s available on Kindle for the extravagant price of $3.00 and in paperback for the break-the-bank price of $7.00. I have it on Kindle and when my next Social Security check arrives, I will get the paperback, too.

I want to be sure it is in the bookcase with other books I love too much to leave in the cloud.


I have found that one topic most dog parents love to talk about is barking. More precisely, excessive and/or loud barking and howling. Apparently many people live with serial barkers, like we do.

So, here are my thoughts on why some dogs bark so much. First, their hearing is far more acute than ours. So we have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are actually hearing something when they suddenly jump up and start barking and howling hysterically. (We have one barker and one howler).

But why do some dogs feel the need to comment on every sound they hear while others don’t? Some dogs are specifically bred to be guard dogs and protectors. Their DNA literally programs them to alert us to any and all potential threats.

Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark.

How they define ‘threats’ is another question. It may just be anything outside the norm for the household. This means that the presence of other dogs, or even squirrels, in the immediate neighborhood could be seen as a potential threat. Cars pulling into my neighbor’s driveway always seems to present a clear and present danger to my dogs.

My husband used to joke that our dogs were actually protecting us from invading inter galactic space aliens. Then he realized that he might have stumbled upon the truth. There may really be space invaders (or ancient demons from the underworld, take your pick) who regularly attempt to take over the earth. These predators may emit sounds that only dogs can hear. So the late night attempts at world dominion are thwarted, every time, when the evil doers hear the warning barks of the canine earth protectors.

Invaders fear these protectors. They may be particularly sensitive to the sounds that dogs emit. They may even be rendered powerless when exposed to the frequencies of dogs’ courageous barks.

So when your dogs wake you at night barking frantically, don’t yell at them. Thank them and pull the covers up over your head.



A couple of days ago, Duke decided he had to leap a badly broken fence. Why? So he could examine the oil input for the house? More likely because he is an incorrigible jumper and when he sees a fence he thinks he can leap, he just does it.

The top of this particular fence are jagged old wires and the whole piece needs replacement. If it ever stops snowing or raining or icing or whatever it’s doing at the moment, we will replace it. It’s a very short piece of fence and it isn’t even a matter of cost — just finding a day or two when some form of precipitation isn’t falling from the sky.

Duke came into the house limping and bleeding. Not bleeding buckets, mind you, but he had taken a piece out of his right rear foot. I cleaned it, slathered it with antibiotic ointment and finally, after a straight out wrestling match with Garry and I and bandages, managed to wrap it up.

We were exhausted. He was pissed off. He was staring at us, clearly of the opinion that if we wanted to make him feel better, all we had to do was … well … DO IT. And all the bandaging and cleansing? What was THAT all about?

He was seriously angry and hopped around the house periodically glowering at us. Unless we had a biscuit. He decided we were okay as long as we had something edible in our paws.

By yesterday, while his foot was swollen, it wasn’t warm and showed no signs of infection and by yesterday evening, he jumped up on the sofa and tossed us a ball. He wants us to throw his ball? That was also when he decided to try leaping another fence on three legs. Clearly a very bewildered dog.

We hid his balls — all we could find, anyway. We opened every gate it was safe to open so he wouldn’t keep trying to fly. We overfed him on treats because even though all this is his own doing, he clearly doesn’t see it that way. We are easy marks for guilt. By this morning, the swelling in the foot was gone and I’m pretty sure he could walk on it. He will let me hold the foot  too, so the pain must also be gone.  Why can’t I get rid of the feeling he only limps when he sees we are watching? That couldn’t be true … could it?

Maybe we are the bewildered ones? Tomorrow, if he is still looking pathetic, we will go and spend a lot of money at the vet to discover there’s nothing more to be done than we have already done. Guilt is a killer … and Duke won’t like the vet, either, but that’s what pathetic gets you.