New Latitude, Episode 3: Mouse in a Boat

If you follow “New Latitude,” my ongoing saga about moving, you were left with a cliffhanger last week. Would my mortgage application be approved? Well, the short answer is: Yes! It was!

But the long answer is: Yes … but I want to wait until I can get the COVID-19 vaccine before driving cross-country (or flying, if that’s what I decide to do) … which might be March or even later … so I don’t know yet when I can move … and I can’t even start packing yet!

I feel a little like a very small mouse in a fragile paper boat, about to set out on a wild journey without a compass, a paddle, or a companion (other than a slice of cheese). Actually, I don’t feel that way entirely, but the picture was so cute I decided to build my entire blog post around it! And in case you missed it the first time, here it is again!

Artist: Victoria Borodinova via Pixabay

In order to deal with the stormy seas of moving, I’ve discovered a few ways to stay afloat:

– music

– cooking

– TV-watching

– daily walks, and

– writing.

If you happen to be moving, remember to take a step back from all the planning and immerse yourself in something relaxing instead.

As far as writing goes, I’ve recently discovered a new Facebook group, “The Isolation Journals.” If you’re interested in writing prompts, or just want some interesting topics to ponder, you may want to join the group. It’s described as “an artist-led journaling community founded by Suleika Jaouad.” (Ms. Jaouad is a writer associated with musician Jon Batiste. I only know of her because I Googled Jon Batiste one night after watching him on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. That’s another way I maintain my sanity. Watching The Late Show, that is. Not Googling. Although that helps, too.)

I dipped my toe in The Isolation Journals a bit late (not until prompt #123, actually). Here’s that prompt:

How can your presence enhance the growth of your community?

I hastily scribbled a response and posted it to the group. I’ve already received two likes. Hey, maybe Jon Batiste will read my post!

Do you keep a journal? Have you moved or are you moving? I’d love to hear about your journey.

Happy winter solstice, everyone! And be sure to follow my blog so you won’t miss the next exciting episode of “New Latitude”!

New Latitude, Episode 2: Do’s and Don’ts

Previously, on New Latitude:

After having moved from upstate New York to Tucson, Arizona seventeen years ago in search of a decent climate and better job, I’d come to a realization. I’d had my fill of blue skies. I was sick of sunsets that bathed the mountains in rosy hues each night. I hated wearing sandals in January. Authentic tacos were the worst. And all those darned hummingbirds! I longed for upstate New York, where the winters are brutal, the summers are humid and mosquito-filled, and there’s only one hummingbird – the ruby-throated – to identify, if it ever shows up at all.

Ruby-throated hummingbird. Image by Susan Killian @ Pixabay

No wait … none of that’s true, except for the first sentence. Rewind!

What I really meant to say was this: I’ve loved living in Tucson, but the pandemic had called a sudden halt to my regular flights back home to New York State to see my family. Who knew when I could travel there again? Call me loco, but I decided to relocate – to Rochester, where I’d be within a day’s drive of my entire immediate family. Sure, winters would be less than wonderful, but I could at least gaze upon my family’s frozen faces in person, instead of on a computer screen. Besides, the lease on my apartment was coming up for renewal. It was time for a new direction, so I took my first baby step: “Zillow-surfing.” 

And now for Episode 2: Do’s and Don’ts (of buying a house)

Zillow-surfing brought me up close and personal with hundreds of houses, without ever having to set foot in them. I got to see the good, the bad, the ugly, and in some cases, the dirty laundry. Through Zillow-surfing, I made some major decisions, like:

rent vs. buy

1 bath vs. 2

¼ acre vs. 10 acres and a barn

fenced yard backing up to private woods vs. unrestricted view of the auto body shop next door.

Image by Harald Dona @ Pixabay.

Once I’d narrowed my choices down, I started to get excited. But the more excited I became, the more impulsively I acted. I guess I got carried away and ignored common sense.

If you, too, are considering buying a home, here’s some unsolicited advice:

  1. DON’T rule out renting an apartment before buying a house you’ve seen only on the internet. Photoshop can give houses an instant makeover that’s even more amazing than the ones you’ve seen on Fixer Upper.
  2. DON’T cancel your Disney Channel and Hulu Plus subscriptions in the hopes these sacrifices will enable you to afford a house above your means. You’ll soon come to regret your decision, especially if you haven’t seen enough of “Cuomo Prime Time” or “Hamilton” yet.
  3. DON’T fool yourself into believing you’re a skilled negotiator. You’ll just be disappointed in yourself.
  4. DON’T buy a house in a “hot market” city, especially if it happens to be during a “seller’s market.”
  5. DON’T waive an engineering inspection.
  6. DON’T commit to making up the difference between the purchase price and the bank appraisal.
  7. DON’T mail a sizable deposit to the seller without confirming you’ve written the check on the correct bank account — the one with sufficient funds — and not the other one, the one with only $33 in it.
  8. DON’T buy a house in the winter and plan on leaving the house vacant until spring. Pipes in vacant homes have been known to freeze and burst.
  9. DON’T buy a house during a pandemic without knowing when a vaccine will be available. You’ll want protection while driving cross-country, and I’m not talking about a bodyguard (although that would be nice).
  10. DON’T buy an 8-foot couch and two recliners immediately before deciding to move.

By the way, I’m guilty of all of the above.

Image by Gerd Altmann @ Pixabay.

Oh, and DON’T hire a moving van without shopping around. Luckily, I HAVE been shopping around, and the estimates differ wildly — as in a low of $2,800, and a high of — don’t laugh — $14,000. That’s not a typo! “Two Men and a Truck” wanted to charge $12,000 to $14,000 to move a two-bedroom apartment. That must be some classy moving truck they have. And speaking of trucks, did they think I just fell off a turnip truck?

Yeah, those are pumpkins, not turnips. Good eye!
Image by Sweethearts82 @ Pixabay.

On the plus side, interest rates are low right now, so I took the plunge. I bid on a house, and my offer was accepted. And don’t worry, I think I got a sweet deal, an engineer looked at the house before I bid on it, the bank waived their appraisal, the check eventually cleared, and I’m hoping the vaccine will become available soon … for everyone’s sake.

Yes, moving is going to be a pain, and yet I feel good about my decision. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and DO some of the DON’Ts.

Tune in again next time for the next exciting episode of New Latitude, in which I’ll reveal the outcome of my mortgage application! (It’s still a mystery to me.)

(I’ve Got a) New Latitude

… or at least I’ll have one come spring, if all goes well with my move from Tucson, Arizona to Rochester, New York.

And, à la Patti LaBelle, I’ve got a new attitude as well. (Be sure to click the link and hear Patti belt it out on New Attitude, written in 1984 for the film Beverly Hills Cop.)

What’s more, just like The Jeffersons (an American tv series from 1975-85), I’m movin’ on up … from the 32nd to the 43rd parallel, to be precise. (The link will take you to Ja’net DuBois and a 35-member gospel choir singing the show’s theme song.)

Yes, I’m moving 2,000 miles in the midst of a global pandemic. Hopefully, I’ll have my vaccine by the time I leave, and so will most of the rest of the world. Fingers crossed.

To keep you informed about my journey’s progress, I’ll be blogging about it, just as I did a year and a half ago when I took a three-day train trip in the opposite direction (and lived to tell the tale) in my blog series, “TRAIN TRACKER.” I’m calling this new series, “NEW LATITUDE.”

And now, for Episode 1, which I envision being narrated by Meryl Streep:

When the pandemic hit, I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to work from home, and then I retired, which I’d been planning on doing anyway. I started Zooming with friends. My classes and clubs continued on the web. I ordered groceries online and I did curbside pickup. I made masks, baked, practiced guitar, and polished my book manuscript. Hell, the grocery store even delivered wine. What more could I ask for? Well, I’ll tell you what more I could ask for: the opportunity to see my family, in person.

You see, as Paul Simon sings in The Boxer, I’d “left my home and my family” 17 years earlier for a better job and a warmer climate. And by family, I mean two grown daughters, my mother, four siblings, and my entire extended family. And then, 5 years ago, a grandson came along, and then another. Can you blame me for wanting to move back?

Porter
Elliot

For every year I’ve lived in Tucson, I’ve wondered if I made the right decision in moving out here. Don’t misunderstand: I love Tucson. It’s dry, sunny, friendly, has great food, hiking, and bicycling, beautiful desert scenery, great sunsets – I could go on and on. But living 2,000 miles from family meant flying back and forth at least once a year to keep in touch. I’d done that without too much concern for 17 years, but for the last 3 of those years, I’d been seriously considering moving back. I have lovely friends here in Arizona, but I was beginning to feel my family slipping away. (If you follow me, you may recall reading about this dilemma in my post, “Was I Loco to Relocate?“)

Luckily, I’ve had my dog, Maya, to comfort me during the pandemic while I thought this through. You remember Maya, don’t you, from “Pandemic Paws” and “Battle of Wits“? If you do, you can rest assured that she’s doing much better these days — no longer the stressed-out anxiety-ridden dog I’d adopted in June. But if anyone needed therapy, it was me.

Months of living through the pandemic forced me to face facts. It was now or never. I wasn’t getting any younger, and if I didn’t make a move soon, I might never get the chance again. So, one day, I logged onto the real estate site, Zillow, and started surfing. I later learned that I wasn’t the only one doing that. The New York Times recently reported that Zillow-surfing has become something of a national pastime.

Surfing in the morning, surfing in the evening, surfing at suppertime. Would my search for a new home on Zillow end in success?

Would I ever find happiness?

Find out the answer to that and other burning questions in the next exciting episode of NEW LATITUDE!

New Video (Please Share)

November 3rd is fast approaching. On that evening, we may (or may not) know the results of the U.S. Presidential election. I’m hoping it’s a decisive landslide for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and that we Americans will not have to endure weeks of legal wrangling over who actually won.

More than anything, I hope we will never again have to endure the abuse of a donald j. trump Presidency. That’s right. I’m calling it abuse, and if you don’t agree with me, I’m sorry. You can always choose to unfollow this blog.

I don’t have to spell out what I’m talking about. You’ve seen his mocking, derisive speeches, you’ve read his Tweets. You’ve heard him joking about sexual assault, and you’ve been subject to his lies and denials, a.k.a. “gaslighting.”

You’ve heard him refer to bigots as “good people,” and to Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals, and rapists. You’ve cringed when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

You’ve watched while he intentionally exposed his staff to COVID-19. You’ve noticed as he’s ignored the more than 200,000 American deaths due to the pandemic, downplayed its severity (meaning more vulnerable people will contract it), and used racial slurs to describe it.

You’ve even heard him call himself “the chosen one.” If I sound angry, it’s because I am.

In recent days, I’ve tried to keep a semblance of a sense of humor by matching up song lyrics with current events. For example, on my Facebook page, I’ve referred to “Creep” by Radiohead and to “Paper Moon” by Harold Arlen. But my sense of humor is beginning to wear thin. In fact, I think I can see through it.

That’s why I feel it’s time to ask you, my dear 200-plus followers, to help me.

Please comment below, so we can commiserate together! We need each other more than ever in this strange new world, while we manage to get through the next 27 days without losing our minds.

And also, if you would be so kind, please give a listen to the new (and, I hope improved) version of my original song/video, 2020 (2.0). You may remember my post about it in 2018, but don’t bother listening to that one. I’ve since changed some of the lyrics, added strings and glockenspiel, and re-recorded the audio. The rap in the middle is now accompanied by written-out lyrics. You can sing and rap along with me!

I’d be extremely honored if you’d like it and share it with your friends. The purpose is to get a message out reminding and encouraging people in the U.S. to VOTE (like their lives depend on it, as Michelle Obama recently said).

The song is also fun to dance to.

Here’s the link again: 2020 (2.0)

Thank you.

Battle of Wits

Help! I’m engaged in a battle of wits with my six-year-old rescue dog – and so far, she’s winning!

(It’s not actually a battle. I’m taking it slow and hoping we both come out winners. But meanwhile, I’d love to share what’s been happening. Maybe you’ll have some advice.)

If you’ve already read my post, Pandemic Paws,  then you know that my dog, Maya, was rescued from a home (now condemned) where she was one of 40 dogs. Yes, you read that right. It was on the news, along with a video showing the dogs being carried out in crates and being groomed at the shelter. Underneath all that matted hair was a collection of very sweet critters. The caregivers there said it could take Maya anywhere from three months to a year to adjust to her new life with me.

Well, it’s been three months and there’s been a lot of progress to celebrate. She’s healthy, eats well, cuddles with me on the couch every night, loves her walks, and is quickly learning to ride in a car without panicking. She even tolerated going to the dog groomer the other day!

The problem is that she still hides under my bed, or next to it, constantly, until about 8 p.m., and she resists any attempt to coax her out until she’s ready. There have been days when she’s stayed in my bedroom for 24 hours, only venturing out to eat, and not letting me take her outside.

I understand she might want a safe place to hang out, especially since she’s probably lived in a crate most of her life. And since I live in a small apartment (see model floor plan below to give you a rough idea), under the bed is the very best hiding place a dog could wish for. In her case, it’s the ONLY hiding place.

image05

So here’s what things have been like, and what I’m doing about it. Comments welcome!

Night 1: I made a bed for her on the floor in my bedroom. She would not lie down on it until I moved it right next to my bed. Then she promptly laid down and went to sleep. She woke me up noisily at 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. by giving herself a good shake. Both times, I put her leash on and took her outside. She was perfectly willing to do so.

Since then:

At 6:30 a.m. she wags her tail and stands by the bed until I pet her on the head.  If I start to get up to take her out, she immediately ducks under the bed and stays there, even if I call to her or offer her food or treats. (For treats, I’ve tried everything, including peanut butter, banana, cooked chicken, cooked beef, hot-dog type dog treats, cut up Milk Bones, and very tiny little dog treats. After trying a new treat once, she thereafter turns her head away or spits them out.)

I feed her when she wakes me up. She eventually comes out around 7 a.m., eats, and then returns under the bed again. She later emerges to sleep in her doggie bed, which she seems to like, but if I come into the bedroom she almost always wakes up and moves under the bed again.

Around 5 p.m., I feed her. She eats and goes back to the bedroom. Then around 7 p.m., she’ll come into the living room in stages: she slowly walks out, stretches, stares at me, and if I speak to her, she turns around and trots back under the bed again. After about the third repetition of this pattern, she’ll jump on the couch and sit next to me, or will go to the door wagging her tail, her way of asking to go out. I immediately take her out. She is 100% house-trained. When we return from our walk, which she seems to enjoy immensely, she hops onto the couch and spends the rest of the night there, until it’s time for bed.

Then she hides under the bed again for an hour, emerging after I’ve gone to sleep to sleep in her own little bed.

I don’t think it’s healthy for her to relieve herself only once a day. And if I try to get her out from under the bed or pick her up when she doesn’t want to be picked up, she very strongly resists. (She’s even nipped at me.)

Yesterday I decided that, since it’s been three months now, maybe it’s time to wean her away from her safe spot. So, last night, after our evening walk, I put a very light leash on her and allowed her to roam around the apartment wearing the leash, thinking that then I’d be able to take more control over her whereabouts, and take her out on a more regular schedule, maybe 2 or 3 times a day.

Having the leash on seemed to confuse her. She laid down next to the front door with it on, apparently thinking we were going outside again. Eventually, she gave up and joined me on the couch. When it was bedtime, she went under the bed, as usual, but this time I made sure the leash was extending away from the bed. My plan was that when she woke me at  6:30 a.m., I’d take hold of the leash and immediately take her outside.

But that smart little dog had read my mind. When I woke this morning and looked at the clock, it was 8 a.m. She had NOT woken me up at all. AND, her leash had been pulled all the way under the bed. What a strong message she was sending me!!

What I did next: After placing her food bowl in the bedroom, I just bided my time (about 2 hours) until she ventured out to eat breakfast. When she ducked back under the bed that time, she forgot to pull the leash in behind her. I had my chance!

Very slowly, I approached the bed and lay down on the floor next to it. I called to her very softly. I started to pet her under the bed, and she let me. I very gently pulled on the leash and she turned her face away. I continued to speak to her softly. Every time she looked at me I praised her. Over the course of the next half hour or so, I gently nudged her closer and closer to me, until I was able to very slowly slide her out and onto my lap. After more praise and petting, I stood up, and she immediately wanted to go outside. That done, she came back in willingly and is now sleeping at my feet (with her leash still on).

P.S. My bedroom door is closed to her. I’m hoping she’ll forget about her safe spot for a while. She seems to feel quite safe right now … but I’m not going to stress her out if I can help it. Each night, she’ll get to go back under the bed. During the day, hopefully, I can get her to become accustomed to being out in the “real world.” But for her, maybe the “real world” is a world of hiding and being cooped up in a small space.

 

 

The Curious Case of Life Imitating Art

The muse must have been looking over my shoulder yesterday because, unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a case of life imitating art. Or was art imitating life?

I’d spent most of the day walking my dog, talking with friends online, and reading Anna Quindlen’s novel, “Still Life with Breadcrumbs,” the story of a photographer whose career is in decline.

In late afternoon, I decided to take my car out for a spin, since the last time I’d started it up, it had been sluggish. I feared the battery was about to reach its moment of planned obsolescence. (That would be about par for 2020.) But I hoped that if I drove around for an hour or so, maybe I could revive it.

On a whim, I grabbed my camera before heading out (something I haven’t done in a while, since it’s been too hot during the day for photography). “You never know,” I thought, imagining for just a second a chance encounter with a dust devil, or maybe a space alien. The car sputtered to a reluctant start. Before it could die on me, I put it in gear and headed north.

My destination was Oracle, about half an hour up the road – an unincorporated town whose most famous resident to date has been Buffalo Bill Cody. En route, it occurred to me to plug in an audiobook that was in my phone.

Unfortunately, I’m not too good with modern audio systems in cars (or in phones, for that matter). In fact, I was surprised I’d managed to get the book copied into my phone at all. So as not to cause an accident, I turned off the main highway, Oracle Road, and onto Biosphere Road (which, inconsequentially, leads to Biosphere 2) in order to park, thumb through my owner’s manual, and figure out how to tell my car to read a book to me.

After a few hundred feet, I came to a turnaround. It looked like an ideal place for rattlesnakes and tarantulas to hang out, but I wasn’t planning to get out of the car and join their party, even if they were wearing masks. Heavy, dark storm clouds were gathering in the distance, and a few were above my head. I was anxious to queue up my book and get back on the road.

The clouds had other ideas. They suddenly moved out of the sun’s way, and a shaft of light landed on something smooth, tall, and bright along the trail: a scarred and dusty shrine in the middle of the desert.

It seemed to be a case of life imitating art. You see (spoiler alert), on page 37 in Still Life With Breadcrumbs, that book I’d been reading earlier that day, the protagonist goes for a hike in the woods and comes upon a shrine – a white wooden cross with a glittering child’s volleyball trophy lying on the ground next to it. She takes some photos.

I felt like life was trying to tell me something, so I shut off the engine, grabbed my camera, and got out of the car. Scoping out the ground for snakes or spiders, I cautiously approached the little memorial and took a few photos. As soon as I’d finished and gotten back in my car, I realized I might have made a mistake.

It was 107 degrees out, and there I was in the middle of the Arizona desert with a car whose battery was on its last legs. I wondered how long it would be before AAA could find me. I turned the key in the ignition. The engine choked for a few seconds, and then, reluctantly, it caught.

I sighed, turned the car around, and glanced back at the shrine, but by then the sun had ducked behind the clouds again; the scene was now in shadow. I’d gotten there just at the right moment.

All I could think of on the drive home was the phrase, “life imitates art.” So today I looked that up and learned a thing or two. The idea has been around since at least the time of Plato, who believed art was a poor imitation of life, and for that reason could be dangerous. Aristotle, on the other hand, welcomed art’s imitation of life. And Oscar Wilde’s take was that life imitates art more often than art imitates life. Even Dostoevsky got into the debate, describing it as more of a codependent relationship, where art imitates life, which then imitates art, causing life to owe its very existence to art.

As for me, I was totally flabbergasted by the way my life (finding the shrine) seemed to be imitating art (the book I’m reading). Or maybe art (the book) was imitating life (its pathos) which in turn was imitating art (the shrine). It’s something I thought was worth pondering, especially when I realized one more thread:

In “Still Life With Breadcrumbs,” the protagonist doesn’t notice a certain, possibly significant, detail on the cross until she gets home and enlarges the photo. That same thing happened to me – I didn’t notice the coins at the base of the statue until I got home. Can you spot them?

Shrine 5

I’ve searched online for other photos of this shrine but couldn’t find any, so I don’t know who it’s for. I wish I did. In any case, I think I’ll return soon and add some coins to their collection.

 

 

I’m November Dreamin’

To borrow a phrase from the late great Congressman John R. Lewis, I hope to get into “good trouble” for this post.

In 1963, John Phillips woke his wife Michelle in the middle of the night to tell her about a song idea. Michelle wanted to go back to sleep, but John encouraged her to get up and help him write the song. She wrote the second verse, and two years later they’d record it with Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty. John, Michelle, Cass, and Denny were The Mamas and the Papas, and the song was California Dreamin’. It was a huge hit.

I’m old enough to remember when that song was new. And now, 55 years later, I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting John and Michelle’s iconic lyrics with a new message for 2020. I’ve even recorded it in Garage Band, added video with iMovie, and posted the song, I’m November Dreamin’, on YouTube.

You can experience the entire project (including three-part harmony, artwork that I found on Pixabay.com, and video of me rapping) here. Or just search YouTube for “I’m November Dreamin’. The title is unique, so far.

I’m no Mama Cass – I can’t sing as well as any of the Mamas OR the Papas – but I suppose I might qualify as The Grandma. I might, in fact, be the oldest rapper on YouTube.

I’m not here to toot my own horn. The whole purpose of the video (and this post) is to get Americans riled up enough to vote in November (for the alternative to “you know who”). So, if you like the video, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share it far and wide. And of course, I’d love to get your likes and comments here, and on YouTube.

Just in case you’d like to sing along with me, here are the lyrics to I’m November Dreamin’:

All the leaves are green
and the sky is blue                               
I’m hopin’ for a change,
somethin’ we can do.
I’ll be feelin’ better
when this administration’s through.                                    
I’m November dreamin’
‘bout electin’ someone new …    
 
I’m gonna vote by mail,
maybe you are too,
or you can go and stand in line
where they will welcome you.
Ya know it’s time to make a difference,
Defeat old you-know-who.
I’m November dreamin’
‘bout electin’ someone new!
 
Rap:
 
This isn’t a game, and what’s even stranger is
he’s deranged. Oh yeah, he’s dangerous.
He won’t take blame, he lies and he’s lazy.
Get him outta D.C. ... the guy is crazy!
Puts kids in cages, but then he’s liable
to brag about his brain while holdin’ a Bible!
He insulted McCain, but he’s always rootin’
for his pals like Stone and Vladimir Putin!
Don’t want more of the same? Then ya gotta be a chooser.
You all know his name, let’s make him a loser.
He appeals to his base … aww … they must be trippin’,
It was a tight race, and now he’s slippin'. But
NO! This is NOT the time to relax.
Let’s give it what we’ve got up to the max.
It’s our only shot! Don’t sit around and gloat.
We’ve gotta vote!
 
All the leaves are green
and the sky is blue.
We’ve got a racist in the White House,
doesn’t have a clue.
It’s really time for an eviction
at Pennsylvania Avenue.
I’m November dreamin’ 
‘bout electin’ someone new,
‘bout electin’ someone blue,
and I hope that you are too!
 

Again, thanks for comments and sharing!

Pandemic Paws

As you may know from my previous post (“My First Pandemic Birthday”), I recently adopted a dog, Maya. She’s a sweet little terrier mix. All was going smoothly until a week ago, when her behavior changed. I’m hoping you can provide some “pointers” (no pun intended) on how I can help her out of her funk.

But first, here’s Maya:

Note: As a school psychologist who’s worked with children with ADHD, PTSD, ODD, OCD, FAS, SLD, and a multitude of other acronyms, I’m finding that my little RD (rescue doggie) is the most challenging of all. But that’s probably just because I’ve never received training in “Getting a Dog Out From Under Your Bed,” or “Getting a Dog to Stop Running Away When You Make Eye Contact.”

I think it’s important to fill you in on Maya’s history, so here’s the scoop (again, no pun intended!):

April, 2020: As a recently-retired single person coping with life during the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it might be smart (and therapeutic) to adopt a dog. I could provide a loving home, and in return I’d gain a companion. I registered with an animal shelter and met a few dogs, but they were either too big, too aggressive, or already spoken for.

May, 2020: I saw a story on the local news, described as a “hoarding case.” The owner loved her animals but felt overwhelmed and called the shelter seeking help. It’s no wonder. There were 40 dogs and 3 cats. Their coats were all severely matted. (I saw a video of them being removed from the home and then groomed at the shelter. The house was later condemned.) The dogs were said to be sweet and well-behaved, but a little shy.

June, 2020: The Humane Society called me. They had a dog from the “hoarding case” that they thought might be a good match for me. I made an appointment to see her.

July, 2020: When we first met, she was shaking like a leaf, but soon she jumped up on the couch next to me and extended her paw, pulling my hand toward her as if asking to be petted. She even licked my hand. From that moment, we were bonded. Or so it seemed.

The shelter said she was 6 years old and weighed 12 pounds. They’d spayed her, pulled some teeth, chipped her, and given her all her shots. They didn’t know her real name, so I renamed her “Maya,” which means “love,” “water,” “mother,” “courage,” or “illusion,” depending on which language you’re referencing. Besides, I’ve always liked Maya Angelou.

As soon as we got home, Maya jumped on the couch and seemed to be settling in. She started following me around and was very affectionate. She wanted to jump on my bed but she couldn’t quite reach it. I decided to see if she’d sleep on her own bed on the floor instead. I folded up a quilt and a blanket and put them down on the floor of my room. She didn’t want to sleep on it, but when I moved it right next to my bed, she immediately curled up on it and fell asleep.

That first night, she woke me up at 3:00 a.m. and I took her out. Then she woke me up at 5:30 a.m. and I took her out. After that, I decided to try getting her on my schedule. The next time she asked to go out in the middle of the night, I just said “no, lay down,” and she immediately did so! She was very well behaved and I guessed she’d been trained pretty well before her former owner had become overrun with other pets.

Then I made her a little “pen” in the bathroom area using a dog gate. I tried putting her in there whenever I had to leave the apartment for short trips to the store, but when I’d return, I’d hear her barking. I decided to switch her “pen” to my bedroom, but now I worry that she’ll chew electrical cords while I’m out, so I have to unplug everything each time I leave.

I took her for her first vet visit and she had a clean bill of health. For the first couple of weeks, things seemed to be just about perfect. Each time I sat on the couch, she’d come over and snuggle up next to me. She asked to go out about 3 times a day. Each time, she was obedient on her walk and even seemed to understand when I said “time to go home.” I did notice that she slept a lot during the day, though. She seemed to be nocturnal, getting a bit frisky at night and wanting to go out around 7 p.m. and again around 10 p.m. instead of during the daylight hours. I thought maybe it was due to the intense daytime temperatures we’re experiencing right now. And she was not the least bit interested in playing with toys. But other than those few idiosyncracies (which I attributed to her being a rescue dog), she seemed to be adjusting well to her new home.

About a week ago: Things suddenly changed. She started hiding under my bed and staying there all day, only coming out around 7 p.m. when she was ready to go outside, even though I’d offer her food at 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., shaking her bowl so she could hear the sound. When she does eat, she has an appetite, and her stools are normal; she does not seem sick. She has lots of energy at night. Things improved a bit for a day or two, but now she’s back to being very withdrawn. In fact, yesterday, she stayed under my bed, or on the floor next to it, for a full 24 hours! I wonder if she’s depressed, and maybe missing her former brothers and sisters.

Things I’ve tried: Closing the door to my bedroom so she can’t go in it (when I can get there before she does, which is rare) – that just makes her cry. Luring her out with treats (bananas, peanut butter, real chicken, hot-dog-like treats, Milk Bones) – it worked for a while until she got wise to my tricks. Now she just sniffs them  from afar, stares at me, and runs back under the bed. Gently pushing big objects under the bed to coax her out – she just moves over.

Last night: When she finally came out from hiding at 10 p.m., she let me put her leash on, went outside, did her business, and then was very affectionate when we came back in, cuddling up next to me on the couch as usual.

Today: But this morning, as soon as I made eye contact with her and reached down to pet her, she ducked under the bed and has been there all day again. I decided to try to gently encourage her to join me in the living room by moving her bed out there. I even made a trail of Milk Bone treats leading from my room to the living room, but she hasn’t even come out to snatch one. I don’t believe I should force her out of her “cave” until she’s learned to trust me more.

Does anyone have any experience with pets like Maya, and do you have any suggestions for me? Thanks in advance if you have any advice!

My First Pandemic Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday – the first one (and hopefully the last) that I’ll have spent during a worldwide pandemic. And to honor the occasion (and also, to stop myself from obsessively checking Facebook for Happy Birthday greetings), I wrote a poem about how my day was going.

But first, I just have to show you some adorable monkeys.

corona-5032904_1920

Okay, now the poem:

My First Pandemic Birthday

It’s my first pandemic birthday
And it’s really no big deal
I’m thankful for the greetings
I’m feeling all the feels
Most people did remember
And if you forgot, that’s okay
But at least you didn’t send me
That cremation offer I got today.

Yes, I walked out to the mailbox
Expecting a card or two
Instead I got an election flyer
And junk mail out the wazoo.
But that offer for cremation
Was the icing on the cake
So I threw it in the garbage.
It was just too much to take.

When I returned from that errand,
I discovered I had a gift —
My new doggie who’d been hiding
Had left me something that I whiffed.
But she’s been the perfect canine
Well, up until today
I won’t hold one mistake against her
But I hope there aren’t more on the way.

Now it’s time to plan my evening.
I think I’ll make a special meal.
Cooking can be good therapy
For emotions I’m trying to heal.
I’m making my mother’s recipe
For Uncle Frank’s spaghetti sauce
And for dessert, I’ll eat a scone or two
Then we’ll see who’s boss.

Me or the corona virus?
Just which one will it be?
I think I can beat that bugger
Cuz I’ve got a mask or three.
And soon I will be Zooming
With some Tucson friends of mine —
I’m already getting ready.
I’ve opened a bottle of wine.

Photo credits: Chairs by ParentRap; Monkeys by Chiplanay (both on Pixabay).

 

 

Do You Have a Muse?

Do you have a muse? Someone or something that inspires you to create? I guess I do, because it seems that every time I decide to post a photograph, I end up writing. Take today, for example.

I sat here at my desk with the intention of posting a photo of a hummingbird, one I’d seen while out for a walk yesterday. I usually write a few words to go with my photos, so I wondered what I could say about this one.

Before I had a chance to start typing, though, I heard a voice (my muse?) telling me what to write.

“Write a poem,” the voice said.

“About what?” I asked.

“Well, what are you thinking about right now? What are you feeling?”

“Well, duh,” I said. “I’m thinking about the pandemic, what else is there to think about?”

“Okay, but are you sure you want to write about something so intense? Maybe just write a poem about a bird.”

“I have to write about what’s on my mind,” I countered. “Maybe I can work the little bird into the poem somehow.”

“Alright” the voice said, “it’s your blog. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

You see, I’d been lying on the sofa today, feeling a sense of unfocused inertia. I’ve been feeling that way on and off for the last couple of days. Have you been feeling that way, too?

For the past month, I’ve been busy doing things like working from home, writing, making masks, talking to friends, figuring out how to safely get food, and, of course, watching Netflix. I’m not a total nerd. But I’ve also been glued to the news, and that’s okay, because I want to know what’s going on. I think it’s important that we stay on top of things. But sometimes I try to do too much, and then it seems as if my brain just shuts down and all I can do is crossword puzzles. And that’s okay, too.

Anyway, I was feeling very foggy-brained and distracted by (a) my phone, (b) a crossword puzzle, (c) my Spanish flashcards, and (d) thoughts about the pandemic. (The correct answer is all of the above.) I had  just told myself to focus on only one thing at a time when I got up to get something (I forget what) and I found myself sitting here at the computer. I know, I probably need meds more wine.

And while I’d been on the couch, I kept thinking about something Billy Collins said recently in one of his live-from-home poetry talks. In speaking about social isolation, he said we’re  living under a “futureless condition,” not knowing how long this situation will last or what life will be like afterwards. He compared it to being in 4th grade, where the only future you can imagine is “5th grade.” I thought that was a great description of how I’ve been feeling. And again, it’s okay to feel that way. I guess another way to describe it is how Bob Dylan would have put it: “no direction home.”

Then I looked at my little bird photo through the “futureless condition” lens, and I could imagine how that bird must feel, clinging to a tiny branch, swaying in the breeze, not sure why he was there or where he would be heading to next. And I knew I wanted to try and put all of those thoughts and feelings and images into a poem.

I did write the poem, but I have no idea whether it’s “any good,” so I’m going to let it steep for a while before I publish it. Meanwhile, here’s my little muse, the light little bird that inspired all this heavy thinking today.

And before you go, if the spirit grabs you, don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know how you’re doing. Do you have a muse?

Black-chinned hummingbird watermarked