R&R WITH OLD FRIENDS – Garry Armstrong

It was our time for a bit of R & R in the lush Connecticut woods, far from the madding crowd. It’s another world where we can recharge our life force and mental batteries.

Home

Our hosts are the kindly friends for whom we are grateful. We’ve known Tom for more than 50 years dating back to our days in college when we and our world was young. We’ve known Ellin – it seems forever – or since she married Tommy and immediately improved the quality of life for all of us.

Our mini-vacation included time at the marina where everyone seems utterly relaxed — except when they are rehabbing their boats for another summer on the water. The much-maligned weather put on a good face for us.

Ellin
Tom

Sunshine and summer-like temperatures were abundant. It was warm but not uncomfortable. The breeze from the water made it almost perfect as we relaxed for an afternoon of doing absolutely nothing.

Marilyn and the camera
Garry at pier’s end

Tom apologized for not taking the boat out because the water was a bit too choppy for his taste. No worries, we repeatedly told him as we soaked up the afternoon sun, chatting about stuff that brought giggles and contentment. Really. NO worries!

I enjoyed looking at the names of the boats in the marina and wondering about the folks who owned them. I’ve never wanted to own a boat but have fantasies, thanks to Bogie in “Key Largo” and other movies which romanticize the boating life.

Ellin socializing on the pier

I’ve always thought I’d name my boat “The Busted Flush” after fictional detective Travis McGee who chased bad guys in his trusty little houseboat which also provided room for romantic interludes with his miscellaneous yet somehow dubious love interests. Hey, just a passing fancy.

Tom has schooled me in the difficulties of keeping “Serenity” in running condition. I’m good being a guest.

There’s so much to see just relaxing with Tommy and Ellin in the Marina. The setting is soothing. You can drift off mentally without a worry. No obsessing about what’s happening in our politically-challenged world. That stuff is blocked out for a few precious hours. I could actually feel my heartbeat slowing. Just what the doctor ordered.

Tom and Ellin on the boat

Back at “La Casa Bonita” of Tom and Ellin, it’s more of the easy life — at least for us, the guests. The conversation ramps up during the evening “News Hour.” Imagine sitting between two guys who’ve logged 80 years in network and top market TV News.  The old, war stories fill the air spiced with profanities that befit we who ducked idiot management suits from the “Tricky Dick Era” to today’s “Follies of Donzo.”

We can name drop with the best of them. Hell,  Tom and I have probably sent myriad suits seeking psychiatric care because we refused to tolerate their idiocy.

Tom is the master of his impressive entertainment room. He’s introduced Marilyn and me to shows and movies we never knew existed.

Tom, the telly, and Remy
One thing that impressed me — I looked and looked around the walls and notices no awards reflecting Tommy’s long and accomplished career at the highest level of TV News. I know he’s been in the cross-hairs of some of the biggest news stories over half a century. No collection of hardware — unlike me.  Tom doesn’t need any stinkin’ bodges.
Lexi

Marilyn and I were very reluctant to leave Tommy and Ellin and the comfy good feeling they bestowed on us, but our dogs were calling us homeward.

We have an invite to return with Tommy taking us for a trip aboard “Serenity” when the seas are smoother. I’m already dreaming about it.

THE DAWN BREAK IN – Marilyn Armstrong

You think you are safe. secure. In your warm an cozy bed for the night. When you left to go to bed, the dogs were snoring — a good sign. I slide quickly into sleep and don’t wake up until my shoulder falls out of the socket.

I go to the bathroom, find the lidocaine pain patches, remember (this time) to tie my hair back so I don’t glue my hair to my shoulder — which isn’t good for either my hair or my shoulder.

I brush my teeth on the theory that the brush is here, my teeth are here, so why not? I’m 9-months overdue for my six-month checkup, so brushing is a good idea any time of the day or night.

Back at the bed, I rearrange the pillows, raise the bed a bit up top, lower it on the bottom, realize I have to sleep on my back and crawl in so I have my right arm lying on the pillow. Some readjustments are required to get the angle right. I’m just hoping the lidocaine patch kicks in.

Sleep baby sleep …

I drift off to sleep when suddenly … IT’S DUKE, BONNIE, AND GIBBS. They have pushed in the door  All three of them have broken into the bedroom and Duke (the only one with long legs) has leapt onto the bed and is joyously bounding around, licking Garry’s face.

He’s so happy to see us. It’s a reunion! I mean, we’ve been gone for hours and light is peaking over the horizon.

“Get up, get up, the day has begun.” Translation: “BARK, BARK, BARK … BARK, BARK, BARK … ”

Don’t think Bonnie and  Gibbs aren’t being helpful. They can’t jump on the bed, but they can bark and Bonnie enjoys barking. It’s her hobby. Her metier, so to speak.

In motion

Garry garbles “WHAT THE F##$!” which only gets the Duke even more excited.

“Well,” I comment, “This is a new one.” Until this moment, I was sure the doors would hold. Garry grumbles, using language that would make a sailor blush but which doesn’t bother the dogs at all. He shoos the dogs out of the bedroom and takes them to the kitchen where he does the thing that helps. He feeds them.

Diet? You’re kidding, right?

He stumbles back to bed just as I have finally found a position on the pillow that doesn’t hurt nearly as much and probably the lidocaine patch is beginning to do its job. Garry is instantly back in dreamland, his soft snoring witness to it. He can’t hear a thing because all his hearing machinery is stashed for the night.

I can hear. He has silence. I have barking dogs.

“Bark, bark, bark.” That’s Bonnie. I know who it is because they have different voices.

Bonnie has the deepest bark. She’s a solid bass. Small, with considerable power. Gibbs is more of a deep tenor or maybe a light baritone. But The Duke is a high soprano. When he barks, glasses break. Your brain begins a rhythmic vibrato inside your skull.

She stops barking. I listen for a while. When I don’t hear her, I figure (hope, really) that she has decided it’s nap time.  I drift back to sleep.

“BARK, BARK, BARK.”

Gibbs and the Duke

That’s got to be Gibbs. He isn’t the deepest barker, but he is definitely the loudest. He also has a little howl he adds at the end of his barking. It’s sort of his verbal signature.

The Duke, inspired by this, adds a few trilling barks of his own.

Then they are quiet. Again. I don’t trust them, but I am so tired. I fall asleep.

BARK BARK BARK BARK HOWL BARK BARK BARK and the sound of paws and the loud clicking of doggy toenails on the fake wood floor in the hall.

I wake. I listen. I wonder if there’s any point in taking something to help me sleep. Because even if I take something, I can still hear the dogs. I throw an evil glance at Garry who can’t hear anything. He is happy in his silent place.

Finally, I get up, give them another biscuit and explain, in my most dulcet tones, that if they begin to bark again, I will get up and kill them. They grin with joy and dance around me in a circle. Okay, one more treat.

They are so glad I’m up.

I wonder if there’s any point in trying to sleep. My back hurts. My arm is throbbing — and I’m exhausted. I used to be able to stay up late and sleep quickly, but I’m too old for long days with short nights.

I need to get a full night’s sleep.

I go back to bed and drift restlessly for some hours. Eventually, they recommence their barking. Now it’s full daylight. We are SUPPOSED TO BE AWAKE. It’s our job. I wake Garry because he doesn’t get to sleep in while I suffer.

We got up, this time for the day.

After they get their next treat (how many? I have lost count and they don’t count), they sigh with pleasure and go soundly to sleep on the sofa.

Their work is done.

HOUDINI DOG – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom’s brother, Todd, came for a visit with his dog, Houla, a Catahoula Leopard Dog. She’s only fourteen months old so she’s still a puppy, with puppy energy and a puppy’s desire to play constantly with my two, older dogs.

My three-year-old dog, Remy, played with Houla a lot and the two of them chased each other around the yard at top speed. What’s surprising is that my nine-year-old, Lexi, also played with Houla. This is great because it gave my otherwise couch potato dog some exercise. So the three dogs got along fine, unlike Houla’s younger days when we constantly had to intervene to break up overly aggressive or enthusiastic wrestling matches.

The problem is that Houla discovered a way to get out of our fenced in backyard. We have a tall, reinforced fence covering a large area around two sides of our house. Our dogs have not breached the perimeter for years. Remy found a hole in the fence when we first adopted her but has not found another way out since we plugged that hole. Apparently, she just wasn’t looking.

Houla six months ago

One day we realized that Houla was not in the room with us and we went looking for her. She wasn’t downstairs and she wasn’t upstairs so we went out to the backyard and called her. She instantly appeared, happily wagging her tail at us, from the outside of the fence. We brought her back inside and in short order, she was out again.

Houla outside, looking for trouble

We had to figure out how she was getting out so we all took turns watching her when she went out. After a very short time, she made a beeline to a spot in the fence and started digging and prodding the fence with her nose. Houla had found a small area of fencing that had a hole on the inside, which Houla made bigger. Then she managed to pull on the fence with her teeth and dislodge it from the ground so she could wiggle under it and out the other side.

Houla in a rare quiet moment

This was the beginning of a two-day battle of wits and wills between Tom and Houla. Tom started by putting logs up against the loose part of the fence, but Houla just pushed them aside and escaped under the fence again. Tom then put a large garbage can on the outside of the fence and rocks and more logs on the inside. No problem for Houla.

Tom’s early attempt to stop Houla from getting out

Tom was frustrated and kept piling more things on the trouble spot. Each time he was sure that he had come up with something that Houla couldn’t possibly get around. His confidence was adorable, but he was always wrong. He even used stakes to keep the fence attached to the ground – to no avail.

Another cute photo of Houla as a younger puppy

To add to the problem, when Houla got out, she found a large mud hole to splash in and kept reappearing wet and dirty at the outside of the fence. We had to hose her down and dry her off before I would let her back into the house.

Houla with Todd

Now things got serious – except that I kept laughing at Tom each time he’d get outsmarted by a dog. But we couldn’t all leave the house at the same time because while Houla was adept at getting out, she couldn’t get back in and we didn’t want her wandering out to the road or getting lost in the woods.

Finally, Tom pulled out all the stops. He put a heavy bucket of salt from the winter on the outside of the hole and blocked the inside with an even heavier metal ramp that we use to get the dogs on and off our boat. Success! Houla has gone outside and poked around her escape route but has not managed to get through again.

Tom finally managed to plug the hole in the fence

Crisis averted! Tom is vindicated! For now.

TIME OFF AND RETIREMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Time Off

Periodically, we go to retirement parties. Well, not so much now because most of our similar-age friends are already retired. For a long time, it was all retirement parties all the time. Except for the funerals, usually held for people who didn’t make it to retirement.

At some point during the party, someone — usually the wife of or the actual retiree — would say: “Now I (or we) will have plenty of time to visit and hang out.”

This causes the rest of us who are already retired, to laugh hysterically. I’m not sure how or why it works this way, but it always works this way. One day, you are working 40 or 50 hours a week. The next week, you are retired and vaguely worried about what you are going to do.

A month later, you are wondering how you found time to work because you barely have time to get anything done. The more retired you are, the busier you become. Bloggers blame blogging. Artists blame their art. Grandparents blame babysitting. People with money complain they seem to always be packing or unpacking, though I find it difficult to sympathize with those who simply can’t stop vacationing.

Please don’t complain how hard it is to manage your summer-house in the mountains and your extra house in New Mexico. Or at least only do it with friends who also have spare houses.

If you aren’t blogging or on a permanent vacation, you are probably writing, painting, teaching, volunteering, or discovering half the children you thought had moved out are now moving  back– with or without the rest of their family.

Dogs and cats multiply. Houses need repair pretty much all the time and as soon as you finish one task, another — like magic — appears.

Time off?

What’s that?

What happened to all the time you were going to have to visit friends and just hang out? The only thing which changes is you can finally get enough sleep. Among my husband and his sleep-deprived colleagues, sleep is the number one activity on their life chart. They are serious sleepers. This is apparently what happens when you’ve been sleep-deprived for 50 or 60 years. You can’t seem to catch up.

Many of us discover while we used to be casual about cleaning, we now seem to feel a more persistent need to keep the house clean. And doing that is harder than it was. I used to be able to do a pretty good clean-up of a 9-room house in about four hours, as long as Credence Clearwater Revival was playing in the background. Now, I can’t even reach half the things that need cleaning. I’ve grown much shorter during the past 10 years.

The one thing you can count on is that you will not have lots of leftover time. It’s like the magic closet which, no matter how much you remove from it, remains full.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Life is permanently full unless you are uninterested in anything. Most of us have always had hobbies and other activities we have wanted to spend more time doing but we were busy earning a living or raising kids. Now, as retirees, we slide into our “hobbies” with the same gusto we had professionally. Except we don’t get paid.

Oh well. You can’t have everything, right?

DOG TRAINING CLASSES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My daughter, Sarah, is involved with a dog rescue group in LA called Angel City Pit Bulls. A rescue group is different from a shelter in many ways. A shelter is often a city or local entity that keeps a, usually large, number of abandoned dogs in cages awaiting adoption. Many euthanize animals when they run out of space or if a dog seems “unadoptable” for a variety of reasons, including medical reasons.

Rescue groups pull dogs from shelters and put them in either foster homes or brick and mortar facilities with much nicer ‘rooms’ for the dogs. There are a manageable number of dogs and each dog gets more human attention and training than shelter dogs can get.

A rescue utilizes mostly volunteers to do their work, which includes taking dogs to vet appointments, supporting the foster families and helping them whenever needed, as well as socializing the rescue dogs as much as possible. Rescues pay for all the dogs’ shots and spaying and neutering, and all medical care that the dog may need before they are ready for adoption.

Rescues make an effort to get their dogs used to dealing with people and other dogs. They learn which dogs are good with kids and which may not be so good with cats.

This helps with the primary job of the rescue group – matching a dog to an appropriate family. Rescues are much more particular than shelters in vetting their potential adopters because they want to find a ‘good fit’ between the animal and its new home. They want to minimize the number of ‘returns’ as much as possible, although this does still happen.

Angel City started offering free dog training classes a few years ago and my daughter assists the trainer in these classes. Today they offer three different classes on six consecutive Saturday mornings.

I visited Sarah in LA for a week and I went with her to her Saturday classes. It was great fun watching the interactions between the owners, the trainers, and the dogs. The first class is open to the community but most of the students are recent Angel City adopters and their new dogs.

It’s a Movement Class, which works on leash skills for both the dogs and their masters. Walking on a leash without pulling or getting distracted by other people or dogs, is not as easy as it sounds. Dog and human have to work together and at first, this process involves lots of treats. The dog should eventually learn to walk by the owner’s side when the owner is walking, and stop and sit when the owner stops. That’s a goal I have never reached with my two current dogs.

The second class works on Owner Focus and attempts to establish a relationship where the dog looks to the human for direction – what should I or shouldn’t I be doing now? The trainer teaches basic commands, like sit and down and works with owners to keep their pets focused on them and not the other dogs or the environment. This again involves lots of treats.

The third class is just for current Angel City fosters and residents. Volunteers commit to taking one dog through the six-week class, which will help the dog get adopted because basic training and social skills are a big selling point for potential adoptive families.

Sarah with a new student

One dog in this class had a unique story – he had just been rescued off the street two weeks earlier by a wonderful family. This dog, who was one or two years old, was still decompressing from his life on the streets and needed a lot of patience and TLC. His new owner was great with him and was committed to giving him a good life in a loving home.

I’m very proud of my daughter for devoting her time and energy to such a good cause. Her example has stimulated me to try to get one of my dogs certified as a therapy dog. I did this with one of my other dogs, many years ago and it was a gratifying experience. The dog loved it and the seniors at the senior center I lit up when they said, “me and my dog.”

I can’t wait to do this again!

MYSTERY OF THE DUKE – Marilyn Armstrong

The Duke is one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever had. Not as smart as Tinker the Thinker. She was human in a dog suit. But maybe he is smarter in a different way.

Duke does what he pleases. He goes where he decides to go. He can jump all of our fences, break down doors and his desire to be our only dog has not diminished.

So the other day, Garry was outside, trying to get the hardened ice off the driveway and build a place to put the trash and recycling bins. He looked up into the window and there was the face of the Duke smiling down at him. From the window in my office.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

My office isn’t my office anymore. It has become the room where we put things that we use sometimes, but not all the time. The Christmas tree is in there all wrapped in plastic as are the two big wooden nutcrackers.

Red Finch atop Toad

The printer, router, and cable box, which the guy from Charter didn’t take with him. I think we need it anyway because it’s where we hook up the router. Which is how we send signals to the devices which use wi-fi. Computers, Kindles, iPads, and all that. Of course the two televisions. And an extra fold-up bed for a guest who might wander in from the cold.

The Duke was in that room. At the window. Smiling down at Garry.

Later that evening, in bed, Garry told me he’d seen the Duke peering out of the office window. I asked him if he’d closed the door to the office since Duke must have pushed the door open in to get to the window.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Garry said he hadn’t closed it because when he came in, the office door was closed. I said I hadn’t closed it either. In fact, had not been in that room at all that day.

So … who closed the door? The door has a standard round doorknob and opens inward, as do all the doors in the house. He could push it closed from in the room, but to close it? He would have to have pulled it closed from the hallway using the doorknob.

Doorknob

Doorknob? He doesn’t have hands. He has no thumbs.

So how did he close the door? Any explanation will do. I’ve known a few dogs who could close a gate, but never one who could close a door using a round doorknob.

Have you?

VICTIMS OR PERPETRATORS? TAKE YOUR BEST GUESS! – Garry Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Victims or Perps?

Marilyn and I follow lots of those TV procedural crime shows. We anticipate all the cliché lines.

“Stay in the car”

“He was turning his life around.”

“Everyone loved him.”

“No one was supposed to get hurt!”

Two dog

We usually figure out who the “vics” and “perps” are before the coppers and lawyers find the answer. Often before the credits finish rolling. Now, fiction has turned to cold, hard reality in our home. We are the victims. Not the mob, not the cabal, not even some local mokes looking for an easy score.

It’s an inside job and the perps are our DOGS!

If you look beyond the fence, you’ll see Gibbs and the Duke by the front steps

They’ll smile, offer constant affection and cheer us up when we aren’t feeling good. But it’s part of their sting.

Food is the motive. Their “jackets” are full of priors. Most are misdemeanors but now they’ve moved up the chain to a felony. Bonnie, our beloved Scottie, is the boss. She leads the furry gang in snatches, intimidation, assault (head butting), larceny and perjury.

We’ve tried to turn their lives around with extra Christmas goodies, more fun battles on the love seat and long chats to emphasize our affection.

Alas, but Bonnie and her accomplices are food-driven. Hunger stalks them, often immediately after a full meal. With leftovers thrown in.

Nothing we do can stop this furry reign of terror. We don’t want to profile Bonnie because she is black, and we are afraid of possible lawsuits. Perhaps the IA people can check out her background.

Bonnie, driven to revenge, is hell-bent on retribution because … we’ve put her on a diet. Bonnie is relentless in stealing Marilyn’s food. She stalks Marilyn and refuses to back down when confronted. The other dogs make sure Bonnie’s six is protected.

We’ve tried so hard to show them the path to a good life but their crimes are senseless.

Generosity… That was our first mistake.