Sunday, January 13, 2019

Meet Layla

We are three again.

Meet Layla, a good-looking girl who just melted our hearts with her big brown eyes when we stumbled across her on

We had talked about waiting until spring for a new dog, but I made the big mistake of checking the local shelters’ websites. As my longtime friend Cindy said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

We first saw her photo on a Sunday night. She has Nick’s eyes. And she looked smart. Australian Shepherd was listed as her dominant breed; I’m partial to herding dogs. When I showed her photo to Mason, I was really just sharing a photo of a really good-looking dog. I didn’t expect his response.

“Let’s go get her.”

The shelter required a 4-page online application. As we filled it out that night, you would have thought we were applying to get into Harvard. Of course she would sleep inside, on her own bed. Of course we would train her. Kennel? Never!! We argued over how to best word all of our answers so they would know we were devoted dog people. 

The application submitted, we were now stuck in a waiting game. The shelter said it took 1-2 days to review an application. But Monday was New Year’s Eve, so the shelter was closed until noon Wednesday. For two days, we stared at her photos. I was convinced someone must have adopted her over the previous weekend. She was young, adorable and one of the few non-pit bulls available at the local shelters.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up and turned on the phone to stare at her photo again. But this time, it read “ADOPTED” under her photo. Heartbreak!! Mason moped all morning. I told him I’d call the shelter when it opened at noon just to see if they got our application and see if we might be “cleared” to adopt in the future.

The shelter worker put me on hold. She was confused, because she thought "our" dog was still available. What??? Yup, apparently someone had been approved to adopt her, but never showed up. Loser! SHE WAS STILL AVAILABLE!


Mason was in the middle of bottling beer, and you know how important beer is in this household. It didn’t matter. We bolted out of the house and down the mountain to the shelter in record time. Thirty minutes more, and we had a dog!

She came into Chattanooga’s main shelter as a stray, so we know nothing about her history. They named her Layla, and adopted her out, but the family who took her quickly realized they didn’t have enough time for her, so back to the shelter she went. Then for some reason, she got moved over to this other, smaller, shelter and renamed Lucile.

Alas, she’s now back to Layla and she’s all ours, for almost two weeks now. She’s very smart, with good food motivation, so she has taken quickly to training and building trust/loyalty. But she also has a strong predator instinct, which adds challenges when you live, without fencing, among all sorts of wild animals, from squirrels to deer to bobcats.

She seems a bit more like a dog's dog than sweet, timid Nick. In one week, she's destroyed several toys that Nick had for a decade. Still, she seems new to toys, but we're thinking a Frisbee may be in our future.

As for Australian Shepherd, we’re doubtful. Australian Cattle Dog more likely. She’s got beefy legs and thick short hair. Eventually we will splurge on a DNA test for her. But, of course, it really doesn’t matter. She already has our hearts.

She’s just over a year old, so we have lots of good years ahead of us.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Our Itty Bitty Bunkhouse

We had to make a temporary pathway out of plastic.
It's muddy out there. (Until I get all those new plants in!)
We also have to build a small bridge along the path.

We’re all bunkhouse, all the time! Unless it’s too wet, or too cold, or the bank account is empty that week — all three of which occur frequently. 

Of course, we usually don’t get started until after 11 a.m., because we’re “retired” and really enjoy our morning ritual of lapping up the (awful) news and a hearty breakfast. 

And of course, we have to stop working by 5:30 p.m., because it’s dark.

Still, we’ve made major progress. The walls are all up. The windows are all framed. Some were even framed twice, because we built them wrong the first time. (Hey, it’s been a while since Mason played carpenter, and I’m just the fetch-and-hold helper on this job.) It all worked out in the end, because when we rebuilt them, I changed my mind on exactly how many and how big I wanted them. Luckily these change orders only cost me some verbal harassment from the job boss.

Reframing windows: These are two huge windows that will look out over our woods.
A wood stove will sit in between them in the corner.
The next few days, if this rain ever stops, will be our greatest challenge: raising the roof. The cabin will have an open cathedral roof, which sounds complicated but it’s a really small cabin, so it should be manageable. Mason already has a Rube Goldberg-like plan that I’m certain is fully baked.

The 8-foot window view from the built-in couch/daybed,
assuming we build it as planned.
All of this has proved good therapy, filling our minds and hours that used to be dedicated to Nick. Every time we’re in town and see a cute dog, we get sentimental for everything that a good dog provides. 

But for now, our minds are on that bunkhouse roof. Gotta get her dried in.

Rejected Xmas Photo 1
Rejected Xmas Photo 2

Monday, October 8, 2018

Nick, 2004-2018

Nick The Dog. He was loved.
Five days ago we said goodbye to Nick, our dog and best friend for almost 13 years. 

He was maybe 2 when we rescued him. We drove more than 2 hours from Minneapolis to a shelter in Amery, Wis., in pursuit of a dog with border collie in him. I had shared a life with a border collie mutt years before and was won over by their intelligence. But when we met Nick, he was extremely timid, so much so that I didn't want him. He seemed joyless. He didn't play. He was shelter-shocked.

That afternoon, we left him behind at the shelter. Driving back to the Twin Cities, Mason and I argued. He wanted this dog, originally named Sailor. It seemed fitting, since sailing had figured prominently in our former life. After 10 minutes of arguing, Mason turned the truck around, and Sailor came home with us. He soon became Nick, named after my father, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years before.

Soon after we adopted Nick, I got to talk with the man who had surrendered him. He'd rescued Sailor/Nick from a bad situation. Someone had been keeping him in a baby playpen where he couldn't stand upright, and was trying to sell him off as a pure-bred border collie.

Nick was clearly scarred from those times. He was skittish and very slow to meet new people and dogs. He barked at all children and tried to herd them. He barked at and nipped mailmen; he ran from blimps. 

Eventually, we taught him to play, though never as much as a typical border collie. But Nick was absolutely devoted to us. Mason may have been his favorite (table scraps, treats and more table scraps), but I know he loved us both. And we loved him.

In Minnesota, we'd walk to a nearby park every day,
 and Nick loved to swing with Mason.
For the past year or more, Nick declined with dementia, failing hips and eventually kidney disease. First, he couldn't get on the couch any more, then, we had to block him from climbing our treacherous spiral staircase. One too many times, he had fallen down them in the middle of the night. 

We struggled with the decision over when to let him go. It should be a struggle, right? We both support assisted suicide, but it shouldn’t be too easy.

Five days ago, a very friendly horse veterinarian came to our house, unphased by 2.5 miles of rough dirt road. Nick had been napping in his bed on the living room floor. We showered him with treats and kisses, and watched him die. It was hard, but also a relief.

For five days now, we have struggled to adjust. It will take more time. He’s buried across the road in what we call "The Meadow,” where we feed the deer. Mason built one hell of a coffin for him. We buried him with his bed, favorite toy and the U.S. Postal Service card that warned of a "dangerous dog" at our address in Minnesota. We can see him from our bedroom, and from the kitchen window. 

Thank you, Nick, for making our lives so much richer. We will miss you forever.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Still Kicking

Too old to stand, but not to eat!

Look at him go, folks! He may be thick with dementia and thin with kidney disease, but Nick’s appetite has yet to fail. So yes, he’s still hanging in there. 

Sorry for the long lapse of time since the last post. Every day begins with the thought, “Will this be his last day?” so it’s kinda been a long summer. He particularly likes to take a turn for the worse on Fridays, when he knows it’ll be harder to get the vet to drive up the mountain.

Twice he’s gone missing. One time, in the dark of night, after searching for him for a good 45 minutes, we found him close to a half-mile down the road, past the cabin behind us. He had walked past the end of the road and into the woods, down an embankment, and his hips collapsed and he couldn’t get up. Luckily he yelped a few times and Mason heard him. We’re incredibly lucky we found him before a coyote did. (We'd heard them yapping about 30 minutes earlier.) Since then, he doesn’t get too much unsupervised time outdoors.

He sleeps most the day, then paces the house at night. The kitchen floor is too slick for his wobbly hips, so we’ve put up a couple strips of blue painter’s tape, keeping him out. We sleep with pillows over our heads to drown out the click, click, click of his nails on the wood floor.

Oh dear, this is all more than you want to hear. But I must confess that it’s been a bit all-consuming.

Other news? The biggest update comes from Mason, who has begun digging and setting piers for the bunkhouse. Next week we order lumber from the lumber yard, so that’s incredibly exciting.

"Mortgage Lifter" tomatoes were prolific.
I’m back working at the garden nursery on weekends until November, designing yards and dragging hoses around. I do that at home, too. That bean arch Mason built me? Big success. Several of the tomato plants were 8-feet-tall. The potatoes are all ready to be pulled from the ground all winter. The pesto is in the freezer, ready for winter, too. I still have to cure the sweet potatoes and roast the peanuts.

We’re definitely ready for the cooler fall temps. 

We are never ready for winter. (Well, all the firewood has been laid in since Spring, so we've got that going for us.) 
Beans hanging from the bean arch.
The bean arch.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Savoring Each Day

A labor of love.
Let me start by saying that Nick the Dog is still with us. We’re trying to savor each day, looking for a slight tail wag or a smile. But we also are preparing for the inevitable. 

We picked a gravesite in what we call “The Meadow,” a small nook of cleared land across the road where we feed the deer. We can see it well from the kitchen window and from the loft. We took turns digging over several days and it’s now ready, not that we are.

Mason built a casket. Normally we're cremation people, but we have so much land here. And Nick loves it here. We’ll bury him with his bed, his collar and his favorite toy — not that he has ever been overly playful. But he has been a real sweetie, a great dog, a great friend.

Who knows, maybe he’ll be with us for longer than we think. And if he is, each of those days will be better for it.

A rare flower spared from rabbits and deer.


Monday, July 2, 2018

Midsummer News

We ordered a fan off the Inter-Webs on Thursday afternoon
 and Mason had it installed by Friday night. Amazing.
What's Mason doing now? Installing a ceiling fan on the porch! On those 90-degree, 90-percent-humidity days with not a breeze to be found, you'll find us right where we usually are, except now we'll be a bit more comfortable. We like it so much, we might add one on the other side of the porch where we eat lunch on nice days.

Garlic heads hanging to dry from the porch rafters.
Meanwhile, the garlic has been harvested and the first tomatoes and cucumbers are coming. And I vow to not eat slimy supermarket cilantro or parsley ever again (or until next winter). JalapeƱos have already been harvested, but the jury is still out on the edamame and peanuts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Dog Day Afternoons

Shorter walks and longer stints in front of the fan these days... 
Summer arrived brutally, with temps and humidity soaring right up to the brink of insanity even before June 21st rolled around. Nick doesn't like it at all, and we're dealing with it the best we can. After breakfast, we sweat for two hours doing chores, eat lunch, then rest for a bit. Sometimes it's a nap, sometimes it's just an hour (or 90 minutes) trying to catch up with the stack of New Yorkers building on the coffee table. Then we hit it again until it's beer o'clock, which rings about 7 p.m.

Mason rebuilt the front porch stairs (photo to come) and the well house foundation. The well house is also getting a new paver floor and new insulation, all inspired by The Snake Incident.

All my spare time has been spent pulling weeds, which has been made easier by a ridiculous amount of rain.
A mulched path? Or a pond? Criminy!
I've also been busy in the veggie garden, finally getting the potatoes in the ground and, new this year, in towers. I'm trying to grow a few things vertically, to make room for more varieties (edamame, peanuts and sweet potatoes are new this year). Today Mason helped me build an arch that will soon support 1,500-Year-Old Cave Beans. It's a pole bean that was discovered in New Mexico in a clay pot sealed with resin of some sort. Carbon-dating determined the beans found inside were incredibly old (1,500 years old to be more or less exact).  I love cooking dried beans in fall and winter, thus the arch.

He has his own chores to do, but helps me with my crazy ideas, too.