Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dog Camp

While we were in Hawaii, we left Cherry and Captain at a dog kennel in Snohomish called Roscoe's Ranch. It is almost exactly thirty minutes of driving from my house in the heart of the city to this country kennel. I have now visited there four times, between touring and pick up and drop off, and I observed a high level of professionalism on each visit.
The property is completely fenced and gated, and no visitors (clients or boarders) are left unescorted at any time. The main barn is quiet and does not smell like pee. The guests all look interested in visitors, but after a brief outburst generally settle into the quiet, relaxed state of a well-adjusted dog.

On my first visit, I actually took a tour with my dogs.  I could see from their reactions that they were excited and curious, but not frantic or anxious. While I was out of town, I received regular updates in the form of Picasa photo albums with pictures of all the guests enjoying supervised play time in the yard. I knew Captain was having fun because in most pictures he was a red blur. I knew Cherry was relaxed because there were shots of her rolling in the grass on two different occasions.The dogs' food intake was monitored, and my written instructions were followed, including medication. They even keep track of the dogs' poop.
Once you are a registered customer, Roscoe's Ranch has an easy-to-use on-line reservation system.
I am almost reluctant to post a public review of them, because they are so good, I'm worried they'll be full the next time I want to use them!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bad Neighbors

I am a bad neighbor. Before we left for Hawaii I realized should have cut the grass.  Seattle has two seasons: Wet and Dry. The Season Dry in Seattle is three months long, and if you time it properly you can get away with mowing your grass only once a month or so. By mid-September it will be thoroughly yellow and dormant.   October will be punctuated by the raking of wet leaves which will continue until mid-November. Until mid-March you should be able to get away without cutting your grass, but once April is in full swing, there will be a new crop of dandelions and moss to deal with.
We got back Wednesday, and Thursday I cut the grass in the rain. My husband asked me why I did not check the weather forecast before starting, but he does not cut the grass and so does not understand that waiting for a nice day means waiting until July. He helps with yard work if he comes home while I am still doing it and I have not yet finished. He is much better at yard work than I am, having infinitely more patience for proper sweeping and thorough raking.  He also does not succumb to fits of giving up like I do.
People walk around in this neighborhood, and sometimes I have to talk to people while I am doing yard work. Usually, I pretend that I cannot hear them saying hello.  Sometimes they can tell I can hear them. Also, sometimes people will say things like, "Nice job," which I believe I am supposed to be gracious about.  If I cannot muster a real "Thank you," I give them the bright-eyed, pissed-off grin for which both my older brother and I are famous.  Once, a yard crew made the mistake of telling me that they're hiring.
Thursday, I found that while we were gone, the neighbors' dogs have been pooing in our front yard. Evidence includes small assaults from the white dog to the north and epic bombings from the enormous St. Galumphin three doors to the south. In both cases, the dogs are walked by teenagers who carry neither a bag nor a leash. The white dog to the north belongs to a family with a single dad  so I cut him plenty of slack. The St. Galumphin is the first dog the neighbors to the south have ever owned, and somehow they still do not know that when you have a 700 pound dog, it makes poos of a note-worthy size. Or maybe they do know.
When I was a kid, we lived in a suburban sub-division with a triangular traffic island directly across from our house.  People used to let their dogs poo there, and my dad and brother liked to play catch from the island to our yard. I once heard my father tell a neighbor that if he let his dog poo there again he would "come and shit in your yard."  I think he would have done it, too.
I can take a bit of dried poo, I guess, in comparison to the much more horrifying situation with our immediate neighbor to the north. While we have lived in our house since 1994, she has lived in hers since the early 1970s. A widow who lives alone, this neighbor is someone I actively avoid running into outside. A good neighbor would know her comings and goings, and check on her from time to time, rather than wondering silently why her house was dark for a few months this winter.
Our houses, built starting in 1909, are about 12 feet apart, and three stories high. This is typical of Capitol Hill. Homeowners get to choose between being able to see into each others' homes year-round, keeping their curtains closed, or planting something tall and skinny that can grow with virtually no sunlight.  It turns out that a Washington native species, the vine maple, is perfectly suited to this job. Multi-trunked and skinny, these understory forest dwellers do just fine in the narrow, dark alleys formed by tall, closely-set houses. We have four on one side of the house and four on the other.
My neighbor believes that these trees are an invasive species.
Every time I see her, her voice rises higher and higher as she explains that the roots are taking over and killing all her grass, that the trees are not trees at all, they are vines, sending runners. They are bringing insects into her home, leaves into her gutters, and she really needs me to remove them.
I have tried to explain that they are trees, not vines, and that we like them, and that we will happily cut back any limbs that are too close to her house. I am willing to help pay for the leaves to be cleaned out of her gutters. Once a year I have a tree guy who trims our monstrous laurel hedge and removes any offending vine maple limbs, and every year he, too, has to have this same the same conversation with her.
The neighbor's adult son supervises the care of her yard. He has two young boys, who were taught to push the gas-powered lawn mower just as soon as they were tall enough to reach the handle. I cannot bear to watch, only able to block out the vision of the bleeding, footless child from my brain by pretending I do not know what is going on. The neighbor's son also regularly prunes her enormous and beautiful hydrangeas to a mere cluster of sticks, and they manage to rally every August. Once a year, he will treat her lawn with a moss-killing compound, which turns her yard a startling shade of black for a number of weeks. While we were in Hawaii, the new spring crop of broadleaf weeds (like dandelions) emerged. I have a cool tool that you use to pull them out without bending over. The neighbor's son seems to have sprayed their weeds with weed killer, for they have turned a strange purplish gray.
If you walk three houses down, slightly down hill to the end of the block, there is a storm drain. You can see the faint outline of a salmon painted on the pavement, with the words "Dump no Waste Drains to Lake." All the moss-killer and Round-Up washes here, where it travels through the ravine near my house, and does indeed end up in Portage Bay. I guess some of it also sticks to the paws of the dogs to the north and south of us who poop regularly in her yard. I do not ever let my dogs out in front of the house anymore, but that is another story.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pearl Harbor

Yesterday we went to Pearl Harbor. Since I was there last, it has undergone a substantial seven million dollar remodel adding two buildings with exhibits, a gated entry-way, and a place to check your bags.
The first time I went to Pearl Harbor, we were traveling with our two older boys, who were still in elementary school. After an informational film, visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial are shepherded onto a boat for the ride out into the middle of the harbor. To younger children, the serious tone of the movie helps to try to set the tone that this is a solemn place, but the boat ride and the lining up and moving along feels more like Disneyland than anything else.
On our first visit, there really was something creepy and solemn about the place, and my kids were quiet and thoughtful the whole day. Our big take-away then was that it was spooky and intense.  I felt like my kids and I had a better idea of how the attack on Pearl Harbor finally pushed the United States into the Second World War, ending any desire there may have been to stay out of the conflict.  December 7, 1941 felt like the day the United States had to grow up.
Since  the remodel, the entire site is much more like a theme park than before, and the mood of the many Australian families with us was not disrespectful, but it was not altogether serious. Headsets are sold in several locations, and many visitors walk around like zombies, all in a cluster, all lingering in the same spots to listen to the same descriptions that take the same amount of time. There are now two snack bars, and one serves hotdogs. There are two gift shops, as well.

It was much less crowded for us this time, I think because of the addition of two more rooms of exhibits.  There is a lot more to look at, and somehow, less to think about.
Long lists of names of the American dead appear on plaques overlooking the harbor. Each name represents a life ended by war, a family that suffered a real personal tragedy. My older son pointed out that if the names of the Japanese who died there were displayed, it was not in a spot easily found by a visitor. My younger son thought it was boring.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Today is April 13, 2011. My mother died seven years ago today, from a primary brain tumor. She died at home, where she had been cared for by my step-father. I am in Hawaii, on vacation with my husband and two of our boys.
Things related to my mother's illness and death make me grumpy, so I spent a couple of hours alone today at a spa getting my nails done. My mother had beautiful nails and strong, useful hands. Once, a jeweler told her she had the "hands for large diamonds." I don't know if I have the hands for large diamonds, but I don't think that I have the temperament for them anyway. It's been a long time since I had my nails done, and I chose an intense purplish pink nail polish.
We brought my mother with us to Hawaii once, to Maui, about ten years ago. She took a lot of pictures, and spent what seemed like way too much time actually walking into the kind of shops I barely window-shop.
Lately I have been reading a lot of books about dogs, and while I was at the salon today I finished the excellent "Merle's Door," by Ted Kerasote. I have read four dog books in a row now, and like the other books I have read about dogs, this book is very sad at the end when the dog dies. Merle reminds me a lot of our dog Pluto, strong-willed, enthusiastic, and smart. Merle died at home, in the care of his owner.
Next, I plan to read "Homer's Odyssey," by Gwen Cooper. This book is about a cat that I know from Twitter, and he is still alive.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Wheatie Story

I wish I could coin a word in the English language to express the humiliation I feel when my pets or children do something especially embarrassing or infuriating.  Wheatie was a sweet and silly dog, friendly with other dogs and almost all people.  He had a problem with people who walked with an unusual gait, and a rather tart dislike for those who spoke English with an accent.  He barked wildly at anyone fitting either category, whether they were outside and across the street or in the front hall of the house.  I have never been convinced that our dogs' prejudices are based in any true experience, and I also have had little luck employing training to change their unfounded opinions.  We always knew Wheatie was not going to do anything except bark, but it is still painful to remember how embarrassing it was.
Wheatie did love the kids. One late April day we drove out to central Washington for a hike, and our oldest son led the way with his friend. They were probably no more than 6 or 7 years old. Wheatie ran ahead to be with them, and then back to the adults, over and over.
Suddenly, he stopped in front of the kids, barking at something on the trail, putting himself between the pair and the something on the trail.
We probably tried half-heartedly to call him back, knowing that once he went off on a barking-at spree, there was nothing to do but drag him away.  He was not budging. The kids came running back.
"It's a snake!" they screamed.
Indeed it was. In fact, it was a sleepy rattlesnake, and a big fat one, basking in one of the first warm sunny days of spring.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Absolutely True and Completely Unexpected Message

The following letter was cut and pasted in its entirety from an email in my junk folder.


I am drenched with tears while writing this short message to you. It was heartbreaking news to me few days ago when my doctor notified me on complications on my health condition which he officially made known to me. He further stressed that the complication I had in my human mechanism as a result of a secondary liver cancer which have destroyed all the organs in my body system. According to him, he said that this complication will lead to my imminent death since no medication can alleviate the high system of deformation I am encountering at this time in my system.
In the view of the above, I am in quest to find a trustworthy and upright individual whom I will entrust the sum of $3.2 million USD and this has led me to you. The said fund was acquired by me as an inheritance from my adopted father who died as a result of political crisis which erupted among his most political associate and business clique.
I will make available to you all information and officially authorize document which will endorse your claim as the beneficiary to the fund in question in the finance house where the fund was lodged by my adopted father. I have mapped out the modalities on how the fund will be apportioned. 35% of the principal amount of the money will be dished out to you while 65% will be allotted to any charitable or orphanage home of your preference.
My motive to dispense the funds to a charity and orphanage home is that I grew up as an orphan and do not have any heirs hitherto.
Upon your acceptance to this proposal kindly get back to me through this email:

Best Regards

Mrs. Farida Jordan

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How I learned to Ski

I was very young when I first learned to ski, probably only 5 or 6. I was largely governed by fear as a child, and have specific memories of being afraid of my parents, sports, strangers, crows, skeletons, other children, and being made fun of by other children. I was certainly afraid of going fast, and did not learn to ride a bicycle until I visited my cousin (who was a year younger and riding without training wheels) and was humiliated into learning to ride one.

My father’s ingenious idea was to take me out on the bunny hill with the movie camera. Back in the 60s, having a Super-8 movie film camera meant you could make soundless three-minute movies of birthday parties, boys throwing footballs and family members waving at the camera. If other families made different movies, I’ve never seen them. Later, after sending off the film for developing, the family could set up the movie projector and screen, bring some straight-backed chairs from the dining room into the living room, and gather all the folks for a movie. Silent home movies have the added advantage of allowing everyone to shout out whatever they want, and best of all, can be shown backwards after being shown forwards. Many a shot in our family’s movies was set up just to be extra funny when shown backwards.

So out on that beginner slope at Breckenridge, my dad shot film all afternoon, while I snow-plowed and linked my turns, hamming it up for posterity. Of course, only the first 10 seconds of my skiing were preserved on film, but I was only a small child and failed to realize how short those movies were. Nevermind. I learned to ski, and I liked it, and I didn’t cry the whole afternoon, probably.

Bates Motel

One of the pleasures of visiting a student at Bard College in New York is the opportunity to stay in a nearby bed and breakfast. While Bard is not located within any town, it surrounded by small towns with bed and breakfasts we’ve enjoyed like the Red Hook Country Inn, and The Inn at Hudson. This time, I called a new one, and finding it full, I made the mistake of asking for a recommendation and trusting the advice of the man on the phone.

He suggested the Gaslight Inn, in Red Hook. It is on Route 9, on the west side of the road, across from a gas station. The motel rooms closely resemble those of the Bates Motel, featured in the Hitchcock thriller “Psycho.” We arrived quite late, and found a note on the motel office door saying to use the intercom. “Hello?” said a quavery older woman’s voice.

I said my name.

“Did you call before?”


“Oh, is your name Molly?”


“Oh. How long are you staying?”

“Three nights.”

It went on like this, repeating all the details of our initial phone conversation. We were told room #7 was for us. The key was in the lock. The room was small, and smelled faintly of something; the fixtures were old and flimsy. The door did not even have a dead bolt on it.

After I stopped making comparisons to the Bates Motel, I realized the Gaslight Inn reminded me of the case Kveragas v. Scottish Inns, which we covered in Business Law. Armed intruders kicked in the flimsy hotel door of the room Mr. and Mrs. Kveragas were staying in, injured both, and made off with $3000 in cash and jewelry. If I understand the case correctly, as a guest I should be able to rely on the fact that a reasonably prudent motel operator would employ adequate protective measures for my safety. In the event that the persons responsible for the facility did not meet this standard of care, they are negligent. Of course, when the lady in the house comes and stabs us with a kitchen knife, she’ll have a key, since she’s the owner.

The day we checked out, the office was dark, and I had to ring the bell again. “Hello?” said the voice.

I said my name, adding, “We’re checking out.”

“Oh, did you tell me that before?”


“How much did I tell you the room would be?”

I had to leave a check with the housekeeper, Rosa, who had just arrived with a drink tray and coffees for her co-workers. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Best and Worst Phone, Ever

Last September, I expressed a vague desire to own an iPhone 4. I have owned a lot of different phones over the years, all of them chosen for me by someone who closely follows the latest in hardware, and I have usually been pretty happy. I have had issues with AT&T’s coverage, which has not improved for me since the mid-1990s when I got my first Nokia phone. I could take you on a tour of where I consistently drop calls (405 South and Federal Avenue E, for example), but that might be even more boring than I am willing to be on this blog.
Instead of an iPhone 4, I was given a Sony Ericsson Xperia.  Research had revealed this to be the newest and one of the best of the Android phones.  Reviewers liked its large screen and Sony design quality, and we were still clinging to the idea that we could have cool stuff not made by Apple. I turned the phone on in mid to late September. Probably the most complex and interesting thing I ever did with this phone was install the Amazon app and buy a book while I sat at a coffee shop. It took some pretty decent pictures, but I have to say that a high-end phone that does not take good pictures these days would be hard to find. I was able to read my Gmail account any time I wanted, but my other email never worked properly, requiring me to manually ask it to refresh two or three times before it would download mail, if it would download mail at all.
I put a few apps on it, like Facebook, which lacked a number of editing features that I find really important, like turning a picture or adding a caption. I patiently upgraded the software, thinking it could only get better. If “better” were “hotter,” then it could be called “better.”  I found that if I made even one phone call it needed recharging by 3 pm, which is the one time of day a busy mother needs her phone to just work.  Running out of battery might have been something I could work around if the phone worked well as a phone, but it was hard to answer, hard to dial, froze when I got a text and sometimes dropped calls because the operating system crashed.
Texting may not be your cup of tea, but it is how the busy mother tracks her offspring today. My family got tireder and tireder of SMS gibberish from me, and I don’t just mean auto-correct hilarity.  Texting with this phone requires a kind of patience that modern products no longer require. Opening an SMS conversation with someone I exchange texts with frequently caused the thing to go into a self-reflective meditative state often ending a program crash.  Laggy, buggy and frustrating: who has time for this?
Today, I bought an iPhone 4, with service from Verizon, and started the process of porting my number to it.  The Xperia will go into the pile of other discarded phones, where it will stand out for being the shiniest and most promising in addition to being the one used for the shortest amount of time.  I have a name for things like this, which look like they are going to be amazing, and then disappoint: rubber candy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools

We had a spring snowfall in New York last night, although today it is raining and the snow has already been washed away.  Snow in April feels a bit like a joke, which reminds me that today is April Fool’s Day, my father’s favorite holiday.

My dad loved nothing better than an April Fool’s Day joke. One year, one of the boys my dad coached in hockey called him up and had him convinced our 1972 royal blue Chevy van had won Car & Driver’s Car of the Year. In a put-on English accent, the boy instructed my dad to have his car “cleaned and disassembled” for an upcoming photo session.   

Dad’s favorite trick would be to call up one of his children and leave a voicemail sharing a bunch of news. It would be up to us to figure out what was true and what was a joke. Once, all of it was true, which was the most confusing thing of all. This is how we found out his second wife was pregnant. I am not kidding about this.

Other than the story of our motel, which I will save for another day, one of the big jokes of our trip has been our rental car. We have rented a 2010 Cadillac SRX 4, a “luxury crossover vehicle.” This chrome-embellished mini-behemoth is packed with innovative features, including a round LCD in the center of the dash which can display all sorts of info, from speed and miles travelled, to the air pressure of each individual tire, oil life and battery charge. It has a baffling parking brake button instead of an ordinary hand-brake stick or floor pedal.   The enormous maw of a hatchback is operated with the push of a button as well.  Due to huge rear pillars, the back windshield is but a porthole, but a back-up camera provides a view, however disconnected to the colors of reality. When the car is in reverse, it emits two different audible alarms when the undercarriage of the car is within three feet of anything.  With all the beeping, parking feels like committing several violations at once, and yet the system will not warn you if you are about to swipe the windows with the limbs  of shrubbery.

The SRX has a keyless key fob that you use to unlock the car, and then you drop it and lose it in the interior of the car since it is started not with the key (there is no key), but with the push of a button.  When you leave the lost keyless key fob in the car and try to get out, it will honk at you, adding to your embarrassment. Why would you be embarrassed by this car? Because it is one of the ugliest cars I have ever seen. For body styling, it seems to have taken its design cues from the Pontiac Aztek, which is certainly one of the ugliest cars ever made.