More Terrible News

My children have always known the Bacon Provider’s mother as Nagymama–literally, Big Mama– which is Hungarian for Grandma. She always lived far away, in the remote land of Floridaba, which is how my husband’s family says it in Hungarian. On birthdays and Easter and Mikulás Nap, Nagymama sent gifts and enormous chocolate bars and fancy dress up clothes, always with handwritten notes in her Old World cursive. She treated my niece like one of her own grandchildren, and sent gifts for her as well; they maintained a regular correspondence: after my niece dutifully sent thank you notes, Nagymama would write back, and the exchange continued past the polite replies.

Once when Nagymama visited, and they were young enough for picture books, my children piled into her lap, demanding that she read them an entire stack. When the came to an old, yellowed, falling-apart copy of the Scholastic book Rabbit and Skunk and the Scary Rock, she read on. Nagymama’s accent, with slow careful diction and rolling all the R’s made this simple story of friends dealing with their feelings about a scary rock, an absolute laugh riot. When she finished, my kids asked for it again. and, of course, she never said no.

On a visit to Florida more recently, my eldest son found himself sitting next to Nagymama during a meal and had the opportunity to ask her about her life in Hungary before, during, and after the Second World War, and he had the presence of mind to record some of the conversation on his mobile phone. Again, she spoke slowly, with carefully pronounced words, a few, “Well, you know…,” about her mother trying to find enough food for her and her siblings, and about being so cold they picked up discarded paper from the street to line their shoes.

As my mother in law, I accept that I may not be good enough for her favorite son. Who ever could be? She always had a lot of praise for my skills as a mother. This I always have taken as a true compliment. Nagymama magnificently stubborn: if you gave her reason to have a bad opinion of you, she would no longer speak your name. Nagymama famous for her almost infinite capacity for saying yes to children: yes, I will read the silly book again; yes, you can have my pen; yes, we can light the fancy candles; yes, tell me about your dream.

There were years when we were in graduate school when a note in our mail from her on the fancy stationery would probably have cash–several bills, and not twenties. She had not had an easy life, and she understood how lovely it was not to have to have the cheapest things.

For many years, she spoke of wanting a dog, but she hesitated to get one. She felt it would be too hard to outlive a beloved pet. Eventually, she got for herself a pumi, a small, quirky, Hungarian shepherd, with a curly coat like a poodle. The dog was very devoted to her. To forestall the grief of ever losing her, she got another. It was this dog, the second pumi, who was there for the decline.

Sometime in the past few years, she began to re-read her many books, and they were suddenly beautiful and completely new to her. She was delighted. To family it was an ominous sign.

More recently, she began to be diminished by the ravages of dementia, yet absent other serious heath issues. The lucky little dog followed her everywhere, and got breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, late lunch, tea, and dinner, and any other meal she could imagine. The dog grew dangerously stout. Then, Nagymama started to forget the dog. The dog at her heels became a trip hazard, and a new home had to be found for her. Just one of the many, small emergencies in her decline. My husband’s youngest sister took complete responsibility for her care, an enormous, difficult, heartbreaking, time-consuming job.

When we saw Nagymama in July, on a lark, she seemed frail but not doomed. She was bedridden after a fall. But she smiled. Surely we would be able to see her in a few months. and next year.

But, no.

Last Saturday, we were out walking the dogs, waiting for Eggi’s labor to start, heading around the corner from our house. My husband had the easy-to-walk Captain and I had the other two dogs.

As we walked and talked, my husband seemed distracted, but he has been working on an app, and has a lot on his plate work-wise, and he’d heard from his sister that his mother was near the end, so he had a lot on his mind. A group of cyclists came down the hill towards us, and from my side of the road I could see there were quite a few of them, so I said bring Captain over here– to my side of the road–and I guess he was lost in thought and didn’t hear me, and the lead cyclist had to shout, and Captain had to be yanked, and nothing happened, but it was a close call.

As we headed into the woods, we spoke of the close call, and I thought about how hard it is to focus on any one thing in these pandemic times. It was Saturday. I had been counting the days until Eggi’s whelp date. How was this weekend going to play out? I wasn’t paying attention when my husband stopped and took his phone out of his pocket to answer it. So I was many steps ahead when I realized he wasn’t with me. Turning, I knew by his words, his posture, his face, that it was his sister calling. That it was the news. That it was not unexpected, and not welcome. That it was the news that Nagymama had died.

She’d gone peacefully, at home, in the care of devoted daughter and the hospice nurse. The sister who had always taken care of her mother, who had refused all babysitters as a child, who had returned to her home town after medical school and training, who led a life not altogether separate from her mother’s, she saw the thing through, and now her mother was gone. A nightmare.

We finished the dog walk. The dogs were good. I tried to convince Eggi to spend that night in her whelping box. I slept on the floor next to the whelping box, and of course she preferred sleeping next to me.

Today in August

I woke up today and until my friend H told me otherwise, I announced and promoted the idea that today is Friday

(in case you were wondering how it’s going).

It is, in fact, Thursday. But August? You sucked almost entirely.

A Twitter friend mistook the skulls on the 23rd for pandas, and so in an effort to improve August, there were, briefly, pandas.

No amount of panda faces was going to make me feel better about losing my cat, though.

Two other, major things happened to us in August. More detailed stories to come in the next weeks.

WhelpMas Eve

I was counting on Schwartz to be here this coming weekend, and was sure he’d have made himself annoying or useful. Annoying and useful. Or maybe just annoying. 

I still see him in the front hall out of the corner of my eye. I would say that he left this life with unfinished business, but the dogs were my deal, not his, and he couldn’t have given a fart about Eggi having puppies; he never imagined it. He would have liked them, though, I think, in his superior way, and might have made a good tutor, which is what I had in mind.

And anyway, why am I saying “puppies?”

I am getting ahead of myself. 

I am using the WhelpWise service, which was recommended by the reproductive vet. They send a uterine monitor and a doppler and you start using them at least 10 days before the whelp date. You upload the data from the uterine monitor and they call back, providing real feedback on contractions. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will be there to tell us if labor is progressing, or if it isn’t, and we can check the puppy’s heart rate as we go.

It took me a few days to be ready to open the box, though. Its presence a box on the doorstep felt like a scold: “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into,” it announced. “No going back now.”

We borrowed a whelping box and let the huge box sit in the garage for a couple days while we summoned the energy to set it up. All the coats and shoes (and shoes and boots and boots) had to go somewhere else. And the box needed cleaning. And we had to think about exactly where we wanted to put it. Fellow and the Wizard (who was visiting for the weekend) watched us work, interested. Was it for them? 

Fellow gave it a try. He liked it. What was it for? He didn’t know.

Eggi needed to be lured into the box with treats. I texted my dog trainer. Did we need to feed her in there to get her used to it? I was told not to worry. She’ll use it when the time comes. The Wizard waited about a day to try it out for himself. It was to his satisfaction. 

Suddenly it was definitely time to open the box from WhelpWise, and even read the manual and also watch the instructional video. Then I watched the pertinent bits of the video again.

I tried the doppler myself, and thought ok, I guess I found a puppy, maybe? but it wasn’t until I got the Bacon Provider to watch the video and try it for himself that I felt aha! yes! there it is.

And then, because the Bacon Provider was pretty good at it, we thought we found a second puppy next to the first, and for the rest of that night and most of the following day we were so happy with the news that there were going to be two. Two felt perfect. Not enough to be able to put a puppy into the hands of everyone we know who says they want one, but, still. Two. We were pleased.

Pleased until the appointment the next day with my vet for an X-ray.

Pleased until the vet tech brought Eggi back to the car and said she did great. Pleased until they said, puppy looks good, but there is only one.

So I was back to worrying about one puppy. Puppies need littermates, to get in their way, to play with, to negotiate for resources, to practice being dogs with. Puppies themselves signal to the mother when labor should start. Sometimes singleton puppies don’t signal enough, or get too big and are too hard to deliver. The advice rolled in. “Schedule a c-section,” I was told by too may people. People who know I’m in the care of a top reproductive vet. Out of concern. Out of an abundance of caution.

Now that we are within 5 or 6 days of whelping, we are doing uterine monitoring twice a day, for an hour each session. The best readings come from a bitch who is lying down, so even though there is a harness you can use to strap it on, our routine is to have Eggi lie down on the dog bed. I hold her head and she goes to sleep. And there we stay for 60 minutes.

I am not so good at sitting still for an hour, so I try to prepare, with the KenKens handy, and a pencil. Or some ink and a brush to do the Today is

Captain will go to sleep nearby, and slip into dreams where he twitches all over and softly woofs. Fellow wants to be involved, wants to have a turn, never wants to miss out. 

We had to pretend to ultrasound him. 

Fellow has no experience with puppies, either, although I guess he was one, but anyway maybe he can pick up Schwartz’s unfinished business, being annoying and useful.

Goodbye to All That Cat

I don’t know where to begin so I am going to try to just start anywhere. I am terribly sad to say that Schwartz died unexpectedly Sunday; so there you have it.

It was absolutely unexpected. He had been perfectly healthy his entire life and I was counting on him to help me with Eggi’s whelping at the end of the month. I don’t even know how to write this. I tell so many Schwartz stories how can this be the last? I take so many pictures of him, in this post I am only posting the most recent, from the beginning of May onward. Take? Took. Sigh. Took.

I want to say Schwartz is a particular cat, which is to say Schwartz was a particular cat. But this is ridiculous. He was a cat, and all cats are particular. I am still convincing myself that he is no longer here. He was here a minute ago. The doors to our closets are still carefully closed, to keep him from going in and peeing on our exercise clothes (dirty or clean). Just now, I shut the backdoor when I went out with the dogs, because I didn’t want to let the cat out. The abstract cat, I guess. Last night we left the door to our bathroom ajar, in case he wanted in or out. I did pilates virtually, and left the door open for him. He never misses a session. Misses? Missed.

I continue to see him out of the corner of my eye, in the kitchen, on the stairs, in my husband’s office, on the pile of finished projects in the sewing room; there he is, the Void, lurking just beyond what you’re looking at. I almost fed him this morning. You want me to call him? He’s around here somewhere.

Schwartz noisily announced meal times and liked in recent months to have a little parade for breakfast and dinner and had been asking for his food to be put down here or there rather than in the one spot by his big big water dish as he had in years past. Having three dogs meant Schwartz always had to have his dinner and breakfast when they were locked in their kennels having theirs. He was always a good eater, though anything he left in his bowl the dogs would find immediately upon release from their kennels, the hungriest dog title going to either Captain or Eggi (Fellow is more a food stealer of opportunity than a premeditated taker of cat kibble).

So if Schwartz was eating less it would have been hard to detect in the hubbub of dogs cleaning up whatever he left on his plate.

I had noticed in the last few weeks or so that he was starting to lose weight, and maybe not getting around quite as well; but he was, after all, 16. 

Among his particular feelings, Schwartz despised being put in a crate, going for car rides, and especially being taken to the vet, so we were a bit behind on ordinary wellness checks and vaccinations. (There are at least four other stories about Schwartz going to the vet: here, here, here, and here). He was an indoor cat, though, and seemed to be not especially at risk of contracting something.

He loved sitting at the human dinner table and having his share of roast chicken, lamb, eggs, pork chops, steak, bacon, pepperoni or sushi. He liked to be brushed until he didn’t. He consented to being picked up and carried, but would rather not. I recall that in Seattle he was a lap-sitter, but somewhere along the way he stopped asking, preferring to curl up near a person working on a computer. He was very good over the years at being well. And was never sick, not with anything, ever. He had an entanglement with a sculpture which almost killed him and pulled out a nail panicking over being in a crate, but that was the extent of his medical history. And the nail grew back after about five years.

He liked to try to run outside whenever we stood on the front porch to watch a thunderstorm. He loved sprawling on my sewing table. He liked to bite the dogs on their shoulders and hocks. He liked sleeping on the dog beds when they left one empty, and sometimes peed on a dog bed because he was a cat. He liked cat nip. And sun puddles. He posed for pictures, including Christmas shots with the dogs under the tree, and helped me write a children’s story. He liked drinking water from the far side of a large ceramic bowl. He slept next to the Bacon Provider, and took up half the bed when my husband was on business trips.

He seemed eternal.

Like the void itself.

Like the one character, Úrsula Iguarán, in One Hundred Years of Solitude that you forget about and then when she’s still there again and she’s like really, really old but you’re like, oh, yeah, her she never died, did she? Our oldest housepet.

Last week, I realized Schwartz missed a day of pooping. I cleaned his litter boxes daily (yes, two, side by side, because cats have very particular needs and that was what worked for him) and there hadn’t been a poop in a bit. This wasn’t he first time we missed a poop, because, of course, on occasion when he couldn’t be bothered to go IN the litterbox he would go BY the litterbox, and the dogs, having a keen taste for cat food also have a keen taste for cat excrement.  But anyway, not pooping. And when I thought about it, maybe asking for breakfast and not digging into it. So, I got him a vet appointment, but seeing how it was going to be some ground to cover (him not having been seen by a vet in so long), I thought I would wait for a good time slot with my vet.

As you know, I’ve seen a lot of vets lately.

There was nothing until Thursday (today), which I felt would be fine. I was offered something sooner with another vet and I did not take it. While I was scheduling I made an appointment for Captain to have a checkup; he’s turning 14 this month, and has a quiet, persistent cough that has resisted all our attempts to treat it so far. A worrisome thing, but not as worrisome as the cat.

Saturday, Schwartz did not even go through the motions of asking for breakfast and then not eating it. It occurred to me then that it may not have been a picky cat thing of wanting something different and that he was sick. He napped the whole day. I checked on him. He seemed relaxed and peaceful, and not uncomfortable. Sunday morning I found him in an odd corner of the laundry room, and he complained at my harshly. He was in real pain. I realized my error and got ready to rush him to the emergency room.

I stuffed Schwartz into a kennel without any protest, another sign that he was in distress. 

At the emergency vet hospital they did an ultrasound, found some masses in his abdomen. The ER vet suggested he was pale and needed a blood transfusion and hospitalization. She estimated the cost for me around $4,000-$5,000. I thought about what he would want, what was reasonable, and what was realistic. I asked if they could stabilize him and let him come home. The ER vet countered with wanting to do bloodwork and a chest x-ray; I thought that sounded like a good plan. Maybe then he could come home.

I went home to wait for the vet’s call, and the call came quickly. All Schwartz’s blood values were critical; he was headed for septic shock. The ER vet again suggested he could have a transfusion and be hospitalized, and have a diagnostic ultrasound Monday morning.

I said it sounded like it was time to let him go. I asked them to wait so we could come and say goodbye. I woke my youngest child, who wasn’t up yet, and so did not even know the cat was sick.

The receptionist looked as stricken as we felt, and showed us to a room. My youngest (who is 24) had never been to the vet before, and I blabbed at him about how in veterinary medicine you get estimates, alone with a diagnosis and care plan. I thought about other times I’d been at this vet hospital. I’d been lectured by a young vet in this very room about ear infections in dogs when I’d been dealing with them for a decade and knew as much as he did. 

A tech brought Schwartz in, bundled in blankets, with an IV port in a hidden leg. We put him on the table and loved on him a while, and then I told the stricken receptionist that we were ready. The vet come soon enough armed with a handful of syringes which she laid on the table. She explained what each contained. That it would be painless. She asked if we had any questions. 

In life, Schwartz was demanding and sometimes loud and uncompromising. He died with his eyes open, after suffering with secret cancer for weeks or months, and hidden it.

We are all smarting from the loss of him. I had tweeted that I was at the ER vet and that the news was bad and have been so overwhelmed with the kind, sad replies that I haven’t been able to bring myself to post the news anyplace else.

I keep seeing him here in the house. His litterboxes are still set up. I have several bags of his favorite food in the pantry because I didn’t want to run out in the pandemic supply chain interruptions. Every place he liked to sleep in the house (the top bunk in the guest room bunkbed upstairs, the windowsill in my bedroom, my grandmother’s green chair in the living room) still has the matted layer of cat hair. Eggi and Fellow still look for his food dishes, but Captain seems to know it’s not worth the trouble. He alone remembers that there can be pets here one day and gone the next. 

Today in July

Opening nonsense paragraph: now with fewer words.

Followed by second paragraph, now with more jokes. Ok, maybe no jokes. No jokes at all.

Third paragraph, nothing funny. Ok, wait. July 13th’s cat is really ugly. I made it ugly, and liked it that way. Ugly, and dangerous. It’s a mood. Ugly cats are funny.

Old novels have a lot of women doing needlework in them. They never lose needles in the bed of the Air BnB, and, man, I looked and looked and never found it. I am getting faster at the needlework, and somewhat better, but sorry, whoever finds that lost needle, in their unsuspecting foot, or worse.

This would be a good point to have some words about buildings, pets, or food. I’m sorry. Yes, we each know that one someone who won’t get vaccinated, and, no, there is not this one thing you can say to them to get them to change their mind.

Gee whiz, July was long

Looks like over 150 skulls this month (unless I counted wrong). And three cats.

Disbelief

I just couldn’t do it yesterday. I might have. I had a couple of train rides, into the city, and then back again. But I was sleepy, and bored, did the KenKens in the paper and the crossword on my phone. So, once again, Thursday, I didn’t get it done.

The pandemic rages on.

The CDC is trying to offer some new advice about mask wearing, having lost so much credibility back in March of 2019 when they said we didn’t need masks. At the time, the Bacon Provider didn’t believe it, he said it was obviously airborne, and he bought a box of N-95s; we still have a few left. Later, some said the guidance was because the previous administration wasn’t prepared to tackle a public health emergency, and there weren’t enough masks to go around. More recently, the CDC issued guidance that vaccinated people could go without masks. Now they are changing their recommendation, but it isn’t clear. When I drove south earlier this month, I saw people clearly happy to go without a mask, because they’d never worn one, and never intended to.

My doctor’s office still requires you to wear a mask. So does the local pharmacy. But sure, Republican congressmen, do a lot of anti-mask stunts, to pander to your base. Make it political. Ok. It’s good for you, and no one else.

Captain, who thinks thunder is going to get him, beds can be made more comfortable by digging, and someday, he will catch the shiny.

I cleared my schedule Thursday to go to the dentist. I picked a train the night before, reset the login for the app you can use to buy tickets. Before I left, I made a haircut appointment for Saturday (the first since November of 2019), and called the vet I hadn’t heard from who was supposed to call me about that ultrasound. It was his day off. I repeated my request to send a report to my vet.

We no longer have annual passes for the parking lot, so I had to pay at the kiosk. The kiosk was just confusing enough that I managed to buy two, one-day parking passes, good for that day, and that day only. As a family with a bunch of little kids approached, I offered them a free parking pass. They were all wearing masks–even the baby in the stroller–and rushed past me without so much as a “No, thank you.” Like I shouldn’t be taking to them.

Once on the platform, I checked the screen for the 11:24 southbound train. It was not listed. I asked a woman sitting on the bench nearby. She said with amused puzzlement that, well, it was listed there just a minute ago. The next train wasn’t for an hour, which would not be in time for the dentist appointment. I would wait on the platform. Either it was coming, or it wasn’t.

An announcement: the 11:21 northbound train will be arriving at 11:31.

No word on the 11:24 southbound, and still no one else seemed alarmed.

When the train arrived, all thoughts gone of it ever not arriving.

Once on board, I had to figure out a seat for myself facing the right way. Half the seats on a MetroNorth train face one way, and the other half face the opposite way. That there are people in this world who can sit and ride a train backwards is almost incomprehensible to me.

Traffic into the city is reported to be back to pre-pandemic levels, but the trains run half-empty. Instead of ads in the train cars, there are posters reminding riders that we are required to wear a mask, we should try to stay six feet apart, and we should wash our hands. At White Plains, a trio of aging bros gets on and stands the whole way into the city. They talk about travel, and snow, and one of them keeps pulling down his mask when he wants to make a point. He pulls it back up when he listens.

Jorts

Because it took us so many days to get home from Eggi’s breeding, it was easy to put it out of our minds. Eggi seemed to be back to herself, certainly. We had a dog show to think about. I had written instructions from my repro vet to seek an ultrasound from a known, reliable veterinary radiologist, and to schedule it for 28 days post-LH surge. I called the office of a different repro vet, who is not as far from Bedhead Hills, thinking he would be a good backup to have in place in case of emergency. He came highly recommended from two of my trusted dog friends.

I made the appointment several weeks in advance, knowing as I did that the practice was very busy. All the vets are very busy now. The day of the appointment I had not slept well the night before, percolating with anxiety dreams. Eggi was hungry, but she was not looking very pregnant to me.

We left for the appointment at the front of the wave of bad rush hour traffic. Pushing along, we hit a slow spot, as cars weaved around some large pieces of tire tread, and I did not see the dead baby bear resting peacefully in the middle of the highway until I was almost on top of it. It looked like it was sleeping on I-84.

Schwartz thinks he is the main character in every story.

We showed up on time for our visit and because of pandemic restrictions there were signs in the parking lot saying to call to check in and stay in your car. So we did. A smiling vet tech who seemed about 14 came out with a clipboard. She pronounced the dog’s name, “Ugly?” and had the procedure wrong,  asked for a credit card and took my dog away. I sat in the hot car trying to steady myself for disappointing news.

When the vet tech returned, she told me the vet would call me, but congratulations, she’s pregnant. “Only one puppy, though,” she added. “Possibly two.”

I texted my husband, and hit the road. Having not met the vet, seen a picture, or been reassured, yes, really, I didn’t believe it. I waited a few days for the promised call, and it never came.

How am I supposed to believe a vet I haven’t met? Who hasn’t called? How do I protect myself from what might be disappointing news, especially now that I’ve had my hopes raised?

Eggi, who believes in cuddles, sometimes thinks the floor is lava, worries about strangers.

The dentist says my teeth look ok. She asks what’s new, and I tell her stories of my dogs, of picking a stud, of doing a breeding in a hotel room, of sitting in hot cars in the parking lots of various vets. She tells me she wants me to write a book. I say I will have to change all the names, to pretend it’s fiction.

I catch the 2:10 back to Bedhead Hills.

When I get back to my car, I discover that someone (or something) has taken a big shit in the narrow space between it and the next car. It seems fresh, or at least the big shiny green flies on it think it is.

Fellow believes that he is missing out on something

Today, my repro vet’s assistant calls to tell me that they received an emailed report about Eggi’s ultrasound, a blank PDF page with no masthead, and two sentence fragments: one stating that they confirmed finding one puppy and another indicating I should get a follow-up x-ray. It was so completely non-standard the assistant wondered if it was even real.

Titled Deed

So, like, back in June when I didn’t know when Eggi was coming into season or anything, I figured that if we were waiting to see if she was pregnant in July, we might enjoy the distraction of a dog show. The thing is, I’ve been doing obedience classes with Eggi once a week since she finished puppy kindergarten, so we were as ready as we were going to ever be. When the entries opened for the Vermont Scenic Circuit, I entered her in the first level of obedience, beginner novice. 

Also who can pass up an excuse to go to Vermont? Not me.

Obedience used to be a popular event to compete in, but there are a lot of different things to do with your dog now (like Rally, Agility, Nose Work, Barn Hunt,  and Dock Diving, just to name a few). 

The dog shows in Tunbridge, Vermont are held in mid-July, and a popular event for the professional handlers, who all camp on the show grounds in their RVs.

There aren’t any hotels nearby, so I went with a dog-friendly Air BnB that was about 25 miles away. 

The drive to Vermont was uneventful, and I would like to nominate the rest stop on I-91 just as you cross into Vermont as the Prettiest Rest Stop on the East Coast.

It was not quite dark when I arrived, and thought I’d eat at a promising restaurant recommended by the Air BnB owner, but my timing was poor and I pulled up just in time to see the last spot appropriate for a large vehicle taken by a car with a bunch of kayaks on a trailer. So I went back to the Air BnB and ate sandwiches and went to bed early.

Thursday we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and hit the road. I knew there was no mobile coverage between where we were staying and the dog show, so I had to pick my route and stick with it. The fairgrounds in Tunbridge don’t really seem to have an address; I used the town as my destination and was counting on the dog show judging program for more details; it said that RVs needed to follow the signs due to a low overpass. The navigon offered three routes, and I gave little thought to which I picked, other than it was supposed to be the fastest.

As soon as we turned onto Route 113, I regretted it. There was construction for the next 15 miles, with flaggers, many large construction vehicles, and long stretches of road where they are repaving and have taken the surface down to corrugated pavement or dirt. 

We stopped many times.  I wasn’t in a hurry . We made it eventually.

Once at the dog show, I could see the big breed show tent and row upon row of RVs, but I had no idea where my handler was parked. There is a Parking Authority Person who decides where you park if you’re in an RV, and I guessed she’d know where my handler was, but she was nowhere to be seen. So I drove past her station hoping I’d get lucky on my own. After discovering several dead ends, I threaded my back and waited for the Parking Authority Person. She knew just where my handler was, and as it turned out there was enough room for me to park the White Whale and even stay out of everyone’s way.

Thursday was hot. Fellow’s entry got messed up and so when someone went to his ring to get his number there was no number for him. Annoying. As a result, Fellow did not show and had a very boring weekend.

Eggi and I walked to the obedience ring and watched for a while and got our number. I counted entries and tried to estimate when we would be going. We were the second to last entry in the very last class in the obedience ring, and the judge was methodical. We talked dogs with various people, hung out, walked around, and eventually had our turn. I stopped and talked to the guys setting up the beer garden. They offered me a beer; I said I would wait until after I competed. They took our picture. I promised I’d come back when we were done.

Finally, it was our turn. I was nervous, and Eggi was inquisitive and excited. Every time the judge asked if we were ready, which is the judge’s cue for letting an exhibitor know that they are now about to be judged for the next element, Eggi jumped to her feet. She was ready. Really ready.

So we did not start from sitting in heel position on the heeling pattern, but by the time we halted at the end of the pattern, she sat promptly and looked eagerly at me and I knew that she knew what we were there to do.

We muddled through, with about 15 points of deductions, but ended with a score good enough to qualify for one leg towards our beginner novice obedience title. Not too bad for our first time in the obedience ring at a show, ever.

Celebratory Beer

For dinner we stayed and had hamburgers and brats with the neighbors. I left the dog show and drove back the exact way that I had come, because in the excitement of the long day I had forgotten to look for another route. In reverse, with all the contstruction paused until the next morning, it wasn’t so bad, maybe just a little rumbly for the extra length of dirt road.

Friday, I got up, made myself a sandwich for lunch, and fed the dogs in the car. I forced the navigon to take me a different way. It was easy to pick since there was obviously construction on the other two routes.

Of course, a few short miles into this route revealed construction, and once again the pavement ended and I drove a number of miles on a dirt road. But, there was a covered bridge, and several cute, tiny towns.

At the show, they had saved me a parking spot, and I parked. We had another hot, humid day, with a similar schedule and a lot of waiting to go in the ring. The judge was more efficient, and very kind. I was a bit discombobulated by being cued by someone who wasn’t my normal trainer, so I had to have a couple of do-overs, but Eggi was spot on and this time we won the class. Two legs done in two days.

Saturday, the hot, humid  weather finally broke and we had drizzle, the threat of rain, or rain all day. Bliss! As I told the guy at the smoothie truck, while he made my $6 Mocha Madness, with whipped cream, our water cycle is part of the miracle that sustains life on our planet. He wanted to know what kind of a vehicle a water cycle is. Earth science is cool, kids; you won’t catch me being unhappy about the rain.

Fellow at this point was terribly bored and neglected having spent most of the last three days sitting in his box. I took him for a walk across the fairgrounds to check the progress of my ring, and came to a blocked off road with a piece of yellow caution tape strung across it. As I stepped over I told him to jump it. Now, Fellow knows ‘jump.’ We do agility. He loves to jump. But right at this moment he was not thinking agility, and decided to go under the tape, and I had committed to stepping over, so I fell in the mud in front of a couple hundred dog show spectators. If any of them saw me, I bet they laughed.

At the start of each of the different obedience levels, the judge had a walk-through for competitors (without dogs). Most people parked their cars at that end of the fairgrounds, so they left their dog in a nearby crate and got their instructions from the judge. I handed Eggi’s leash to a different handy stranger each day, and she was relaxed and calm about it. There were many so called pandemic puppies at the show, looking overwhelmed and out of sorts about the change in routine, and all the people, all the dogs, and all the noise. Of course, the pandemic puppies will be fine, in the end, with patience and persistence, but had they the chance to see and do more as puppies, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it now, and could move on to more interesting challenges.

Our third time in the show ring, Eggi was flawless. She heeled consistently, sat crisply, and came when called. I made a handler error, telling her to stay one more time than necessary or allowed, and had a four point deduction. We won that class and so have a new title.

The drive home I did not even stop for gas. 

Just One More Errand

Early in the evening between the first breeding and the second, I was sitting in the hotel restaurant eating half of a Kansas City strip steak that I intended to share with the dogs and I jokingly pointed out via text to the Bacon Provider that I could just drive down and see his mom in a quick trip of about 7 hours.

Shortly, we put together a real plan. He would fly down, I could meet him at the airport, and we could drive back together.

I was the big winner, because after driving 900 miles straight through by myself, a second driver made the drive sound easy. Ok, maybe not easy. Easier. So, Friday I did a little shopping (I had left Bedhead Hills without my toiletry bag), packed up my stuff and my sleepy bitch, and checked out. The Bacon Provider’s flight was expected at 9 p.m. in Tampa. 

The question of the trip down to Tampa was Where will We Pee, and the answer was Not Here.

I hit the same trio of delays: traffic, construction, and storms. The storms delayed the Bacon Provider’s flight as well, so in the end, he was an hour and a half late, and I pulled up in front of the airport just as he stepped outside.

From Tampa we hopped down to Sarasota, closer to his mom’s.   We stayed at the Westin, which is next to the Four Seasons, pretends to be almost as nice, and half the price. Currently, the Westin’s rooftop bar is a popular spot, and a sheriff was on the premises, riding the elevator,  both evenings we were there. As Eggi and I looked for something like grass for her to pee on, we witnessed a bar patron berating a parking valet (who barely looked old enough to drive, rattling about in his hotel polo shirt and khaki shorts) for not being willing or able to sell him drugs.

I have been going to Florida irregularly and/or regularly since I was in high school, and some of the nicer parts have been prettied up, so they no longer really look like Florida. The crummy, run-down bits are fewer and probably worse, but the jay-walking guy with no shoes and no belt, holding up his pants with one hand, hopping over some fire ants and disappearing into the bushes by the vacant bait and tackle shop isn’t as sorry a sight as the gently swaying guy in the elevator, cradling a big bag of take-out Red Lobster who smells so strongly of Kahlua you wonder if he’s been bathing in it. 

Despite the catastrophic collapse of a Miami condo, Florida is, at this moment, enjoying a frenzied real estate boom; they’re unmasked, unvaccinated, sunburned, and don’t wanna hear none of your nonsense about climate change, rising seas, ocean acidification, or worsening storms. They want all-cash deals, 20% over asking, and where’s that bartender I need another mojito. It’s ok, though, because it will all be under water by 2061.

It was good to see the Bacon Provider’s mother, anyway. She is dwindling, to be sure, and did not know me, but she said my husband’s name, and laughed some. It seems particularly unfair that someone whose life has been filled with trials, is, at the end, an enormous responsibility to her youngest daughter, who shares the job with a rotating team of carers. We can hope to see her again before the true end. The Bacon Provider hasn’t been able to visit since the pandemic began, and I guess this is another thing returning to normal, if visiting your ailing mother before she goes is ever normal.

For her part, Eggi was pleasant with the nurse, quiet indoors, and discovered lizards in the backyard, and so had a fine experience. To life, Eggi! To life!

We left the next morning hoping to outrun Tropical Storm Elsa, that was swirling into the Gulf of Mexico and preparing to make landfall on our heels.

The day we left Florida was, in fact, the Fourth of July, which is a holiday celebrated by Americans out of doors, with parades, sunburns, barbecues, and fireworks. Any excessive displays of the American flag these days should probably be met with suspicion, and this holiday doubles down with American public drunkenness.

We wanted to stay someplace interesting and break up the next leg before our stop in Virginia, and settled on Charleston, South Carolina, which wasn’t much out of the way. Charleston turns out to be difficult with dogs (there is essentially no grass anywhere in the old, interesting part of town where you might stay). But we had a nice long walk and eventually Eggi peed on a slim handful of weeds growing in an empty gravel church parking lot. 

At dinner a large we were told the hotel restaurant wouldn’t have a table for us at such late notice but in fact we were able to eat early and see a large group of partiers emerge from the elevator where they had been stuck for a good twenty minutes. When the shrieking was over, half left and the other half stayed to get real drunk. 

We soaked our feet and went to bed quite early and did not hear the fireworks at all.

In the morning we hit the road early Eggi even peed in the street like a proper urbanite. As the trip continued, Eggi became more expert with elevators, and could even use the “ding” and the light to predict which doors would open in a bank of elevators. Only once in a week did she try to defend the space from other people getting on.

We hit afternoon traffic coming into DC even though it was a holiday for most people. I guess it was everyone else coming back from the holiday weekend. And, so, another several hour stretch of bumper to bumper stop and go highway miles, and once again it fell during my driving shift. After so many days of this kind of driving, I had a cramp on my right leg. 

Living in Bedhead Hills, which is served by a commuter train to New York City, I can imagine a scenic and relaxing high-speed rail system, with stops in New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Tampa. It could even be based on green technology, and on the 4th of July we could toast to our Independence from fossil fuels.

An Errand

Ok, ok, but, like, ok, so, the first person who said anything about puppies was the vet, who, holding Eggi at her first exam, and having exclaimed the she was perfect (which she certainly was) went on to ask if we thought we would ever breed her. She was a baby at that point, and the thought had not crossed my mind, but we’d only had her for a few days at that point. Sure, I’d owned vizslas since the early nineties, and now found myself in possession of my first show dog, but it had always seemed to me that there are plenty of dogs in the world (uh, I guess, you know, there are probably more than enough people, too), and I’d never had a bitch I intended to keep intact indefinitely. Anyway, we went on to show Eggi in the conformation ring, and she finished her championship and her grand championship in a timely and orderly progression. As a matter of doing what one does when one is told to do so (whatever that is), we had her eyes checked and then her elbows and hips and thyroid and heart and at the end of all those tests you send the results to a foundation that gives your dog a number and then you have official approval to breed your dog.

Another vizsla person put it this way: the decision to breed a dog really comes down to whether the dog has something the gene pool needs. There are plenty of other considerations that go into the decision, of course, and I am very grateful to have other breeders and trainers in my life. I have plenty of questions, and I’d rather take in the opinions of people I know and trust over random shit I read on the internet. Even when those opinions differ.

Dogs come into season twice a year, and when you own an intact male that you don’t want to breed to, life gets complicated for a few weeks, keeping them separated. My dogs are related through Eggi’s grandmother, who is Fellow’s mother, and this would be a tight line breeding, which is something people do, to maintain the qualities of their line, but for me, the right approach seemed to be maybe breed Eggi to a stud dog out of the line, and if that was successful, maybe breed one of those puppies back to Fellow. But wait, suddenly the possibility of breeding one dog, one time, now also includes breeding another imaginary future bitch another time?

Anyway, dogs go into season twice a year, somewhat but not entirely predictably, and if you are planning to breed to a stud dog that’s far away (or dead), you really need to track not just progesterone, but you need to look for the LH surge.

So the recommended veterinary reproduction specialist (who I chose after attempting to talk to two different ones, but one was so busy I was left on hold too long, and I got bored and hung up) gave me written instructions for bloodwork, every day for about a week. My usual vet could do it during the week, and I was counting on the local vet emergency hospital to fill in on the weekend. The emergency vet is actually the first vet I saw after we moved to New York, in the fall of 2011, when Captain scratched his eye. We have seen them over the years for various other memorable and forgettable things. I tried and failed to speak to someone there on Friday to try to arrange a visit Saturday that maybe worked with everyone’s schedule, rather than being a true emergency, but the first time I called about it the person on the phone said, yeah, sure let me check with someone and call you back, and never did, so when I checked back, I was told that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Anyway, the next day I called and spoke to new staff who could and would fit us in, but, in the end, after lecturing me about how we might have to wait if there was an actual emergency, they failed to follow the written instructions past step #4 and they charged me $300 and gave me an incorrectly handled vial of dog blood. Sunday, I saved myself the frustration of throwing more money at ineptitude. But by the time we did bloodwork on Monday, the LH surge was imminent, and I didn’t know until Tuesday, and then I was told to send all the blood via Fedex to the reproductive specialist who would see them first thing Wednesday morning. 

Wednesday I got up and did pilates with the cat and my phone rang as I got out of the shower. The message was, best days to breed were yesterday and today and I needed to get Eggi to the stud dog by the end of the day.

Of course, because if I’m gonna do this, I want the very best stud dog for Eggi that I can find, the one that is just as perfect as she is, but in his own way, maybe has something she doesn’t have so that the puppies might just be even more perfect than perfect, right? And since she’s a maiden bitch, don’t we want a live breeding? And, of course, there are so many good vizslas, but the stud dog I want is in Georgia.

So when the vet’s assistant on the phone said to do a breeding by the end of the day, I had to get to Georgia, with my dog, as fast as I could.

Oh, it felt a bit like Smoky and the Bandit. My bags were packed; the car had a full tank of gas. I had been anticipating the go signal. I just hoped that it would come Friday, when it was convenient.

Eggi and I hit the road, hoping to make it to Georgia in the middle of the night.

The Bacon Provider had Things Going On that he couldn’t miss, both Wednesday and Thursday, so I was really on my own.

I made a navigation error straight off the bat (never, ever take the George Washington Bridge if you can avoid it), so we spent the first two hours of our drive sitting in stop and go, New York traffic. Then we drove through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and made it to Georgia by the crack of dawn the next day. We stopped for gas and potty breaks, hit multiple hours long traffic slow downs, many construction projects, and a number of heavy rain storms. We checked into our hotel and slept for about 2 hours. 

The stud dog’s owner brought him by our hotel on the way to work. The dog knew just what he was there to do. Eggi was like, hey, ok, but, actually, no, maybe she could rip his face off.

Thanks to an experienced stud dog and stud dog owner, a breeding was accomplished, in the hotel room, with some help. Eggi napped all day and we did it again after dinner. When I checked out the next day, I left a very, very nice tip for housekeeping.

So is she pregnant? We won’t know until 28 days past the LH surge, when we can do an ultrasound. If she isn’t, we can try again in January. If she is, puppies are due 65 days after the LH surge, in the beginning of September.

Today in June

I don’t remember last June. I’m not sure about May 2020, or July. Or August. I think it rained a bunch. But that was last year. Did it rain this year?

Over most of the United States, we are ending the month in a crushing heat wave, but over a billion vaccine doses were administered worldwide this month alone, which makes me think that we can solve some of our problems when we throw our resources at them.

I have been going to bed earlier and earlier, and you know, you wake up with the cat at about 5:15 a.m. if you go to bed at 8 p.m.

I found a stash of unfinished paintings. I get the subversive thrill of defacing something. When my mother sold the house I grew up in, there was still “Mooseman Lives!” Written lightly in pencil on the wall by the basement light switch.

A moment of appreciation for the toad.

Toads are great. We have them in our yard in Bedhead Hills. I worry that the dogs will bother them. I worry that catastrophic global climate change will kill them all. I guess I worry about big and little things.

My father’s birthday is always right around Fathers Day, which meant we didn’t really celebrate either holiday when he was still alive. There was a justification about it being unfair to my mother, whose birthday is in mid-december, but how does that follow?

people make themselves dizzy trying to read these. you don’t have to read them. you could just see them.

collage letters and numbers day is messy with tiny shreds of paper trimming all over the counter and the floor and pages of scrap paper streaked with dried glue and great fun with scissors scissors scissors but I do so much standing it takes a few days for my back to recover. when did I get so old when

But these aren’t for you. They’re for me. You can see them. I put them here.

But they’re mine.