Saturday, May 24, 2008

Puddle Jumping, Dog Seeking, Phone Calls from the Past, Other Random Noise

I've got no themes to work with today. No driving obsessions or small moments that seem to encapsulate life, the universe, and everything. Instead I offer this potluck of daily living.

It rained today so Lucy and I went out in our raincoats and rubber boots and jumped in mud puddles. Lucy did most of the jumping. She was pretty darn happy to be jumping in mud puddles. And who wouldn't be? All that splashing.

Lucy, Mitch, Josie and I went to our local dog rescue place today to look at dogs. I didn't see any clear winners at first but it was pretty chaotic and I was too worried about making sure Lucy didn't stick any of her limbs into the cages to really look at the dogs. I went back later by myself and met this extremely cute, friendly little Chihuahua mix. I filled out an adoption application on him but so did three other people so we'll see. I'm going to take Lucy back to meet him tomorrow. It is scary trying to pick a dog for the whole family. Especially with the little people. As I have said, I am fully committed to the whole dog thing and think having a family dog will be great. But finding the right dog is a huge responsibility. Especially since Mitch isn't that psyched on the dog idea anyway. I am trying to invoke all of my animal instincts, book learning, patience, and general dog jujitsu to make a good decision. We have plenty of time on our quest for the perfect dog so if it doesn't work out with the Chihuahua, I'll keep looking.

One of my friends from my evergreen days, Lisa Serrano, called during the week. I finally got to talk to her this weekend. It was great to hear how she was doing and give each other the sixty second rundown on our lives. Lisa is a dog-owning, house-owning, civic-minded, quirky, funny, union certified electrician in Portland. I hope to go visit her someday.

My friend Matt had a link on his website to this amazing poet named Taylor Mali. I am posting a link to one of his bad-ass poems here.

Other than that, not much is going on around here. We had rain, now sun, and I am trying to rest up in anticipation of the BIOBLITZ at work next weekend. More later.

ciao, or is that Chihuahua?

Monday, May 19, 2008

More About Dogs - Seeking the Perfect Family Dog

I am all about shelter dogs. I like adult dogs whose quirks are all out on the table. I lived with an adolescent dog once and it sucked. Puppies are cute but they have too much energy, too sharp of teeth, and any problems they develop are all your fault. I like to have the scape goat of the previous owner to blame all of my dog's faults on. I also tend to have quirky dogs and I am more of the work around kind of owner than the impose my discipline type of owner. That said, I also take all of my dogs to dog obedience and get at least a few of the details ironed out (sit, down, off, momentary stays, etc.). I also know myself and take care to pick dogs who are not out to dominate people from the get-go.

So when I started obsessing about getting another dog about six months ago, I started looking at shelter dogs on line. But now that I have two kids, I am looking for a very particular kind of dog. I am looking for a dog like the one I had growing up, tolerant, not disturbed by lots of noise and chaos, tolerant of molesting by small children, and generally happy go lucky. Because I feel like I need to be more conservative in our new dog's character, I think I will adopt our next dog from a rescue organization who has dogs in foster homes. This way they know more about the dog and can more carefully evaluate whether the dog will be good with kids. I spend a lot of time looking at lab mixes on

I don't know when we will get another dog. Mitch and I are currently in negotiations. But when we do, I want to do everything I can to make sure that we have a dog that we will be happy with and that will be happy with us.

By the way, if you want to see some amazing photos and stories of a domesticated non-domestic dog (one that I will NOT be getting as a family dog), check out this cool blog that my friend Tiffany told me about

More About Dogs - Ten Reasons to Have a Dog

I am trying to exorcise some of my dog energy. I may also be trying to convince myself that I am not insane for wanting to get another dog while I live in nine hundred square foot house with two cats, an eight month old baby, a three year old toddler, and a husband who isn't super enthusiastic about adding to our furry contingent right now. Or maybe I am trying to convince Mitch that getting another dog is a good idea. Anyway, here are some of my reasons for having a dog.

10. Dogs eat cat puke. When your cats puke as much as mine do, this becomes a real benefit.
9. Dogs eat pretty much everything, including spaghetti, applesauce, bread, veggie burger, and french fries which are just a few of the food items that I removed from our kitchen floor yesterday thanks to the past actions of Lucy and Josie.
8. Exercise. Yes, I am weak willed. But when I had to get up and walk Cleo, I often went for a run. If I had to get up and go walking anyway, why not go running?
7. It makes me feel better to pet a dog. And sometimes I need to feel better.
6. Nothing beats a good tail wagging to show you the silver lining in a situation.
5. Dogs help me get an attitude adjustment. How can you be in a bad mood when they are so clearly happy to be alive?
4. Growing up with a dog teaches kids that other beings are important too.
3. I really like picking up extremely smelly shit and I don't get enough of that now that Lucy is 99% potty-trained.
2. Dogs keep the cats on their game.
1. Although I often fail them, being a dog's person helps me remember to try to be the person that I want to be.

A Short History of My Dogs

I am a dog person. I live with two cats and I was the driving force behind getting them as pets ten years ago. And don't get me wrong, they can be very entertaining, and even slightly comforting at times. But for genuine happy to see you, let's go out and smell the flowers, let's romp and enjoy the world, your pain is my pain, mutual admiration society, nothing beats a dog.

I have been trying to think objectively recently about why I want another dog. Actually saying that I want another dog is an understatement of cosmic proportions. I spend at least an hour per week looking at dogs on I think about dogs a lot. When I have a few spare minutes at home, I am more likely to look at or read excerpts from How to Adopt the Perfect Dog than pretty much any other activity. If I wasn't married to someone who is not super excited to have another needy being in our lives, I would already have a dog, right here on the couch next to me.

The part about having a husband who isn't too keen on getting another dog right now is the part that is driving me to think seriously about why I want another dog. That and the fact that I have two small children and I know several small children who have been bitten by dogs. I haven't come up with any answers about why I want another dog but I thought I would write a little bit about dogs here since they are so much on my mind recently.

Somehow, for me, family just doesn't feel complete without a dog. I grew up with an awesome black lab named Suey (we got her as a two year old named Sue which we changed to Suey like chop suey). She was the most tolerant dog ever. I used to lay with my head on her stomach for hours. She often slept on my bed, along with our three cats. She liked to lay in our front yard and watch the day go by. She was also a great swimmer and once jumped off the end of the dock and swam out to our sailboat so that she wouldn't get left behind. She was such a mellow, calm, loving presence in the Brigham house. My brother and I used to try to see which of us she loved best by putting her between us and then calling her desperately with treats. She used to just lay there and look at us like we were crazy. Suey was my big black rock of unconditional love as a kid.

Suey died of cancer when I was eleven. We went abroad when I was twelve and it took me a year after we got back to convince my mom to let us get another dog. We adopted Miya, a one year old sheltie border collie cross from the local animal shelter. She was a bundle of energy. We used to go jogging together, hike along the railroad tracks, and having chewing sessions together (Miya would eat rawhide and I would eat jawbreakers). She had this wonderful curly tail and upright ears, soft fur, and she was super smart. She liked to herd people and had a lot of personal dignity. People who aren't dog people will think I am insane for describing her that way but dog people know what I am talking about. I wrote poems about her, did my dissertation field work with her, and converted a lot of non-dog people to dog people by having them hang out with her. She died of old age at 16.

I made it about 6 months after Miya died before I couldn't stand it any longer and went to the animal shelter and adopted Cleo, our crazy Egyptian Pharoah Hound-German Shepard Mix. Cleo was the best and deserves an entire essay to herself. She was quirky, soulful, loved me the best, and could run faster than a speeding train. She got mast cell cancer and despite chemo and surgery, died at the very young age of nine. I miss her still. She did several interviews for my print version of Boomvang. I will dig them up soon and post them here so you can read them. She was a great family dog and was one of Lucy's favorite beings, ever.

All this to say, that despite a house full of chaos, two small kids, two cats, mess, mess, and more mess, my life just doesn't feel right without a dog. I miss the tail wagging, the crazy enthusiasms, the particularly dog-centric chaos. I miss the good dog therapy petting, the forced dog walking, the tail thumping. I know getting a dog will make life harder in many ways. Who needs one more needy animal in a house full of needy animals? I don't know why, but the answer is me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Missing Mom, Being a Mom

Mothers Day is always a bit of a drag (to quote Cookie Monster, Mothers Day makes me feel "slightly lachrymose"). My mom died a couple of weeks after Mothers Day seven years ago and ever since, Mothers Day reminds me that my mom is no longer living. The only upside to Mothers Day is that I do take some small comfort in the fact that the Mothers Day before my mom died I actually did remember to send her some gifts in the mail and a note telling her how much I loved and appreciated her. So while I did not get to be at the hospital when she unexpectedly and quite suddenly died, at least she knew that I loved her.

Enough of that maudlin vein. I only mention it so that you know that I'm not a big fan of Mothers Day. I'm also known for a generally grouchy attitude towards any and all holidays that can be thought of as Hallmark-type holidays (Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Valentines Day, Bosses Day, Secretaries Day, etc.).

This year is my third Mothers Day as an actual mother, and only my first Mothers Day as a mother of two girls. For whatever reason, I found myself thinking more about what it means to me to be a mother at this point in my life as a mom. I used to be annoyed by people who defined themselves as mothers (I know, I am a total sh*t, what can I say - I am a cold hearted snake). I got in an argument once with Mitch about whether I would ever define myself as a mom. I guess I feel like I have been myself for 35 years, why would I suddenly become a different person after having a baby? Of course, the reality is somewhat more complicated.

I love being a mom. It is the hardest thing ever but also the most fun. I can't believe how many times a day either Lucy or Josie does something totally charming that cracks me up. There are also a fair number of moments when Lucy makes me absolutely INSANE. So what is this mother thing all about for me? I can't bore everyone with a long rambling essay so instead I'll try another list.

List #32.6 Some Things About Being A Mom

14. Babies do actually come out of your vagina. As horrifying as this seems, it also pretty much sucks in reality.
13. Something about your own babies little alien appearance really does make a person want to cut off their own limbs for their offspring if necessary.
12. I frequently find myself staring at Lucy and thinking, "What ARE you going to be like at 30?"
11. There is something grounding about being confronted with your own best and worst quirks in an entirely new configuration on a regular basis.
10. After cuddling with Josie and thinking about how she is our last baby, I now have a better understanding of perhaps one reason why people have lots of kids.
9. By the end of the day, I am so tired I can barely spell my own name, let alone think about going jogging or doing yoga.
8. One of the bummers about being a mom is that it takes up a LOT of time. While I enjoy the time I spend with the girls immensely, between working full-time and hanging out with the girls, there's not much time left over for reading books, writing novels, or much else. Yes, I am whining. Poor me. Not enough time for me.
7. I often find myself looking at the girls and thinking, "I will be dead and you will still be alive." This is pretty much the only context in which I don't feel like vomiting when I think about my own death (yes, I would still rather live forever, but barring that, I definitely want my kids to outlive me).
6. They are so freaking cute. I am biased, but other people think so too. So they make pretty good accessories. Although even their cuteness probably doesn't overcome my own unwashed, no hairstyle, unfashionable self.
5. Being with the girls, and thinking about being a mom, is a new and meaningful connection to my own mom. I think about all the cool stuff she did and what a great example she was to us in so many ways. I also think about the ways that I don't want to be like her (too much yelling!).
4. It is hard not to swear. I must work harder to eliminate shit and crap from my vocabulary. Lucy said she had to bring all her crap with her the other day. I wonder where she got that...
3. It is amazing to be able to make someone else feel so much better, to be so comforting to another person. Even Mitch doesn't like me in that way.
2. Do you think it is possible that nothing bad could ever happen to the girls? That would really be for the best. It is going to kill me when people are mean to them or they get physically or mentally injured...
1. Ch-ch-changes. They are changing all the time. And as a result, I am changing all the time. With them I feel like life really is a river and we are all moving, moving, moving and who knows what will be around the next bend? Cheezy and cliched perhaps, but true.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

YOU are the best fisherman that I have ever seen

Listening to NPR on the way to work this morning I heard a story that made me cry. They were talking about how sometimes new uses are found for old drugs and the example the story focused on was how a blood pressure medication has recently been found to help treat a rare genetic disease called marfan syndrome. This genetic disorder makes you tall and skinny with really long limbs and not much muscle mass or fat. They think Abraham Lincoln might have had this disease.

In the story they interviewed this mom whose son has this disease. One of the terrible symptoms of this disease is that you can get an enlarged aorta and need to have a heart transplant. So this mom's son was only three years old and his aorta was rapidly getting bigger. And the parents were just devastated and were worried that he would have to have a heart transplant (see the tears welling up in my eyes). Then this researcher doctor dude found a possible cause for the aorta problem from this disorder having to do with an overproduction of some protein (hey, if you want the freaking details listen to the damn story yourself. I'm trying to get to my point here!). So this doctor dude typed this protein into google and found that a common blood pressure medication can limit the production of this protein. So he gave this mom's son this blood pressure medication and his aorta stopped growing, yay!!!

But here is the real tear jerker part from my point of view. The mom went on to say how it was still going to be hard for her son to grow up with Marfan's syndrome. One of the effects of the disease is that you get tired more easily and you can't run as fast or be as physical (your limbs aren't as strong). So one day her son comes home from school and says, "Mom, do you think we could get some new sneakers so that I can run as fast as the other kids?" And the mom doesn't know what to say and spends the rest of the afternoon (after the son goes to the park) crying. But then the next day, the son gets in the car after school and says, "Mom, can we go get new sneakers. I want to run as fast as the other kids." And the mom says,

"Well Shane (or whatever his name was), you probably won't be able to run as fast as the other kids. Even with new sneakers. You're not as fast as other kids because of your Marfan's syndrome. But you know what? You are the best fisherman I have ever seen."

And her son goes, "Really?? Yeah, I guess I am."

And that's when I really cried. That was a true stroke of parenting genius.

Everyone's got their fishing. And whatever it is, I hope you all remember it.

So I say, to all my friends and relations,

"YOU are the best fishermen that I have ever seen."

It's the little things, or is it the little people?

Last night I had a wonderful little people, little things moment. Lucy and I have been getting along splendidly - really having a good old time together laughing and tickling and eating snacks. So last night I got home from work and I hung out with Lucy and I put her in her p.j.s. She put on her red striped p.j.s from Ava and then she decided that she wanted to go outside and look for ripe strawberries in our garden. So I helped her put on her put on two mismatched socks (we need to do laundry...) and her big pink leather hiking boots. Then she wanted to put on her shawl that her grandma made. so she put on her purple knitted shawl. and then we headed out the door.

i think you had to be there. but you should have seen this incredibly cute two year old, trucking down the driveway in her pajamas and pink boots, and happily searching among the strawberry plants as the sun went down. it was awesome.

p.s. she found two ripe strawberries and promptly ate them.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Criminals Better Than Firefighters at Identifying Plants

So today I spent the day on the Murphy Motorway with the inmates from Camp 13. The inmates from Camp 13 are women who are low risk criminals (don't ask me what this means - I have no idea, drugs maybe? A friend suggested it means they had one too many bad boyfriends). These low risk criminals live at a camp and do natural resources and fire work rather than being locked in a jail somewhere. We use these camp crews quite a bit in the Santa Monica Mountains. Although they only work for about 4 hours a day there are thirteen of them so they can get a lot done in those four hours. We refer to them as the Ladies.

I had never personally been in the field with the Ladies before. They mostly do work for our fire crew, removing plants in fuel modification zones or what have you. My friend Marti has been using them a lot to weed her post-burn native grass plots. Today I had the pleasure of training the Ladies how to backpack spray herbicide and how to identify three species of non-native invasive plants that we would like to kill.

We went out on the Murphy Motorway (a southern California thing - a motorway is an old road, now unpaved, that is maintained as a trail) to fix the poor thing after it was messed up by a bulldozer as part of fire fighting last year. Firefighters like to run roughshod over the landscape and they bulldozed the Murphy Motorway from a single lane dirt road into a 20 foot wide dirt superhighway while building a "contingency line" In other words, while screwing up a perfectly fine piece of habitat that the fire was never going to reach in the first place.

Anyway the Murphy Motorway has become a weed fiesta so we were out there with the Ladies showing them tocolote (Centaurea melitensis), Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), and bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) to spray. There were a lot of native plants regenerating that we didn't want them to kill. When the engine crew showed up with the water truck they implied that we were out of our minds in thinking that the Ladies could learn to spray the weeds and wouldn't just kill all the native plants.

Well, it turns out that the Ladies were psyched to learn the weeds and not kill the native plants. They were very careful and did a wonderful job spraying the weeds. The fire guys, on the other hand, showed absolutely no interest in learning the native plants from the weeds and insisted on calling everything "brush" - as they like to do. So it turns out that if you want to teach some people about native plants, you are better off with criminals than firefighters. I'm just kidding. This did really happen that way but I do know some firefighters who are interested in plants.