Saturday, July 19, 2008


I have fond memories of the TV series Get Smart back in the sixties, so it’s no surprise that I also enjoyed the current movie by the same name. I remember trying to cleverly pepper my stories with phrases like “Sorry about that!” and “Would you believe?” and I remember my dad doing the same thing. It makes me laugh just to hear someone talk that way again.

Get Smart came to us for the first time at about the same time as a new discount store in Crystal called Target. It was owned by the top retailer in our area, Dayton’s, and no one else in the world knew anything about it. Would you believe that the name Dayton’s was once on storefronts all over the Twin Cities and that the name Target was on only one? Would you believe that some forty years later a former stripper named Diablo Cody would choose that same Crystal Target as a place to pen her Academy Award winning screenplay, Juno?

Back in the day, Target was simply our neighborhood bargain basement store. My friends and I jokingly called it “Tar-ZHAY,” as if it were an exclusive French boutique. We all shopped there, but none of us admitted that anything we wore actually came from there because we considered ourselves far too sophisticated for Target couture.

For me, “Sorry about that!” “Would you believe?” and “Tar-ZHAY” are words and phrases that I once used as often as kids today use “Whatever.” or “Ya think?”. Another favorite of mine at the time was “co-inky-dink.” Like most young teenagers, I was fascinated with the supernatural. My friends and I brought out ouija boards at slumber parties. We “oohed” and “aahed” over songs about kids with mysterious and tragic deaths such as” Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri Las and “Strange Things Happen” by Dickey Lee. We scared the daylights out of our freshmen “little sisters” when we drove them to a graveyard and abandoned them there as part of a prank. Sorry about that!

Co-inky-dink was our word for anything that we considered coincidental. It was not limited to situations where two or more events happened to occur at the same time, but was used more broadly to infer that supernatural powers must have been involved for something to take place because we believed that whatever happened must have been more than just a chance occurrence. It was also assumed that there was some mystical reason for this co-inky-dink to occur and that made for a lot of “oohing” and “aahing” and fun speculation on our part. I still think it’s a fun word and I had a chance to use it myself this week.

I don’t know how many Golden Retrievers are in the Helping Paws breeding program, but I just learned the names of two of them: Maisie and Summer. Maisie is the name of our last Golden Retriever and Somer is the name of my daughter who is eagerly awaiting a puppy. That is a bit of a co-inky-dink.

Maisie and Summer are not popular pet names. Would you believe there are only two Maisies and five Summers at our veterinary clinic? (There are also 2 Maiseys, 1 Maise, 8 Maisys, 2 Maizys, 3 Mazys and 1 Somer.) Meanwhile, there are 431 dogs and cats that answer to the name Sam, including those named Sammy, Sampson, Samantha, Sammie, Sammi, Samuel, Samson, Samwise, Samsyn, Samual and Sammy Porkchop. There are 312 dogs and cats called Buddy. There are 334 dogs and cats called Max, including those named Maxi, Maximus, Maxine, Maxwell, Maximillion, Maxx and (Would you believe?) Maxwell Smart.

It is possible that the mother of the Helping Paws litter this fall and the mother of our puppy will be a Golden Retriever named, not Sam or Buddy or Max, but Summer or Maisie. That would be quite a co-inky-dink!

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Looks like I’ve put the cart before the horse, counted my chickens before they hatched and forgotten that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. There are six new Helping Paws families waiting for five Labrador Retriever puppies. We are the sixth on the list because our application was the last to be processed. We will not be getting a puppy this time around.

I was wrong about the c-section, too. There were nine puppies in the litter, as expected. However, the first two were born out of their sacs and did not survive. After the eighth puppy also had problems, Sheba’s owner took her to the vet to deliver the ninth, but neither the eighth or ninth puppies made it.

Many people are disappointed about this sad turn of events, but Somer is crestfallen. She does not want to hear another word about a puppy until one is placed in her arms.

We are hoping that will happen in November. There is a Golden Retriever in the Helping Paws breeding pool being bred this week. If she gets pregnant, we will be first on the list for one of her puppies this fall. I am not excited about the wait, but I am excited about the possibility of a Golden.

Spanish speakers have a word that means both waiting and hoping, esperanza. Americans don’t really have such a word, probably because our culture puts such a high premium on instant gratification. We do have some sayings that fit, though: “Good things come to those who wait.” “Anything worth having is worth waiting for.”

The pictures above are of the Golden Retriever puppies born last spring. Are they cute or are they cute? As much as we wanted one of them, it was not meant to be and they have all been placed with other Helping Paws foster families. We now know that the same thing will happen with the labs that arrived last week. Our puppy just hasn’t been born yet. We’re waiting and hoping. Esperanza.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Lots of people are asking if we’ve gotten our puppy. No, we haven’t, and we haven’t been able to contact the Helping Paws directors either, because they are on vacation. This is the only information we have from the Helping Paws website.

“On July 1, Sheba, one of our breeding dogs, gave birth to five Labrador Retriever puppies—two females and three males. These puppies will be placed with their foster families around September 1 to start their service dog training.”

We don’t know why only five puppies were born. The ultrasound or X-ray taken while Sheba was pregnant indicated nine pups. While either test could easily have been off by a puppy, it is highly unlikely that either test would have been off by four. The last we heard, Sheba, who was pregnant with her first litter, seemed agitated and appeared to be engaging in nesting behavior a few days after her June 26 due date.

It is my guess that the first puppy got stuck, a Caesarian section was performed, and only five pups survived the procedure. Of course, I am only speculating. We have been looking several times daily to our email and the website for more information on what happened, all to no avail.

We hope that all five puppies are healthy and that one of them will be placed with us. We have been told that the directors of the program will evaluate the temperament of each puppy at about seven weeks and place each one with the family that seems to be the best fit. I have joked that we will get the sickly runt because we have the experience of already raising four dogs; our primary trainer, my husband, is a veterinarian; and we have offered to cover all the vet bills for our puppy. Somer replies to my attempt at humor with a dagger stare and a sharp reminder that “no ‘sickly runts’ are going to be used for this program.” She is serious about this; there is no room for joking.

We have also noticed that six families have been contacted about fostering a puppy from this litter. If only five families are needed, we could be the one eliminated. Also on the list is a family from our Mother-Daughter book club, who applied to the program before we did. Their family and ours had no idea that the other was interested until after our applications were being processed. Now we are really hoping to do this together.

Waiting for this puppy has actually been a lot like waiting for a baby in that pregnant and adoptive parents rarely get exactly what they want, precisely when they want it either. Somer’s friend, Katherine, claims to be the exception, arguing that she is the child of her parent’s dreams and she is. However, her parents were hoping for a baby in early summer and had to wait until August. And let’s face it, sometime in her life even “perfect” Katherine will probably do a thing or two that disappoints her parents. That’s just the way it is.

How have I had to compromise? I wanted a Golden Retriever. As it turns out, the Golden in the breeding program didn’t get pregnant this spring so I won’t be getting one of her puppies, but I might be getting a Labrador Retriever. I wanted the puppy at the beginning of the summer, when Somer was on vacation. That didn’t happen because the spring puppies were all placed before we our application papers were processed, but I might get a puppy at the end of the summer when Somer goes back to school. I wanted to foster the dog for two years, while Somer was still at home. If we do get a dog, it will probably stay with us for 2 ½ years, being placed with a disabled person after Somer leaves for college. When I found out that my friend was also interested in fostering a puppy, I was excited to share the experience with her. I now know that it is possible that only one of us will be getting a dog. It is possible that we won’t be getting a dog at all.

So, I might have put the cart before the horse here, but I don’t really think so. I’m an optimist at heart and I believe that one of those five puppies will be coming to live with us in a few more weeks. And like most expectant mothers, I’ll have made a few compromises along the way and be absolutely thrilled with what I get.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


On a good day, and there have been many lately, I eat my lunch out on my deck before I go to work. A cardinal always joins me in the overhanging ash tree, singing

“what CHEER. what CHEER. Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet.
what CHEER. what CHEER. Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet.”

I call him “Lounge Lizard” because he’s all decked out in his finest orange feathers and he reminds me of the guys in their rust-colored polyester leisure suits who used to hang around the piano bars in my single days. They sang “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or “For the Good Times” or whatever it took to get a date. This cardinal is just as persistent, but he only knows one song and he doesn’t appear to have any takers.

I sit overlooking my swimming pool, which is cool, calm, and refreshing, even when I’m not swimming in it. I am surrounded by beautiful flowers: fuchsias (attracting the occasional hummingbird), begonias, marigolds, roses, lilies, spirea, daisies, geraniums, impatiens, dianthus, petunias, clematis, coreopsis and hydrangeas. Even my peony bush is hanging on to her last showy blossom for the Fourth of July.

I rock forward and backward in my swivel chair under the umbrella with the matching blue-gray stripes, protected from the sun. I open my Star Tribune to the Variety Section and look to Family Circus, For Better of For Worse, Sally Forth, Baby Blues and Zits for a laugh. (Zits usually hits closest to home these days.) I then turn the page for a little relationship advice from Carolyn Hax, which is often caustic and doesn’t usually apply to me, but I enjoy it anyway. Before settling in with the daily Sudoku, I stir the cherries into my yogurt and take the Isaac Asimov Super Quiz.

I don’t know why I subject myself to the quiz, because I’m not particularly good at it. I usually can answer at least one of the questions and am spared the embarrassment of the scoring category “Who read the questions to you?” Still, learning that I “should hit the books harder” or that I’m “plenty smart, but no grind” is not exactly an ego builder. I guess I do the quiz because every once in a while I get all the questions right and earn the reward of “Congratulations, Doctor.” I suppose it’s the same reason some people play slot machines.

Yesterday was a Congratulations, Doctor/three cherries in a row kind of day. The category was “Starts and Ends in A.” I knew I had a shot at it because it was a word thing and I love words. Here it is:

Each answer is a word that starts and ends with the letter “A.” For example: An aerial. Answer: antenna. (Actually I think that’s one of the hardest ones.)

Freshman Level
1. A pleasant smell.
2. A level area where sports events take place.
3. Measurement of a surface.

Graduate Level
4. A list of matters to be discussed.
5. A loss of memory.
6. A large fleet of ships.

Ph.D. Level
7. A supposed invisible force surrounding a living creature.
8. Something added to a text.
9. A word used by conjurors when performing a magic trick.

Answers: Aroma, Arena, Area, Agenda, Amnesia, Armada, Aura, Addenda, Abracadabra.

I went through the questions lightning fast and my memory, which isn’t as good as it used to be, didn’t fail me. One of my favorite writers, Anna Quindlen, who is about my age, says that her “memory is now so bad that (she) can reread mystery novels and not recall whodunit.” I can relate. However, yesterday, my memory for “A” words was with me. I tried to share my excitement with the Lounge Lizard, but he was unfazed and never missed a tweet in his same sorry song.

“what CHEER. what CHEER. Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet.
what CHEER. what CHEER. Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet.”

Monday, June 30, 2008


We are becoming a foster family. I feel like an expectant mother (without the morning sickness). Ian is talking about cigars and decorating a cake to bring to work. Somer is calling all of her friends on their cell phones (and she is going crazy because none of them are picking up.)

We’ve been on eggshells all weekend waiting for our “baby” to arrive. We just got word that he or she will probably be born sometime tonight. The due date of June 26 (the same due date I had when I was pregnant with Erin) has passed; and this baby is taking its own sweet time, just as Erin did twenty-five years ago.

We are throwing around names like Mischa, Owen, Murdoch, Sawyer and Kenzie. There are new items on our “To Buy” list and new jobs on our “To Do” list.

I have surprised a few people by agreeing to this arrangement because our “baby” is not the kind of baby that usually interests me. Our “baby” is a Labrador puppy. This is what I get for living with people who love animals: Dog #5.

Actually, I’m caught up in the excitement, too. It’s not a long-term commitment because this dog will not really be ours. We will foster it for 2 ½ years and teach it what it needs to know to become a service dog. Our “baby” will be placed with a handicapped person at about the same time as Somer heads off to college.

Wish us well!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


At my last MAD (Mother and Daughter) Readers meeting, we discussed Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. It’s the first book in a series about a girl who falls in love with a vampire. It is not my genre AT ALL, but I did enjoy it and I am working my way through the second book. The series is immensely popular with teenage girls and their mothers, reportedly selling better than Harry Potter in some areas.

Some of the vampires in the book have special abilities, such as being able to see the future or to read the thoughts of others. I’m told the idea of super powers is common in fantasy stories, which I don’t know because I wouldn’t read fantasy stories at all if they weren’t so popular with my daughter’s friends and their moms. One of the questions that we explored in our discussion of Twilight was “What special ability do you have right now that could develop into a super power?”

My daughter, Somer, mentioned that she thought it would be cool to have the power to “shape-shift,” although she didn’t feel that she had any special abilities that would qualify her for that super power. She was quite sure, however, that my super power would be “mind control.” That got us all laughing, especially since we had just been discussing my extensive summer job list for Somer. I know I am a controlling person and I laughed as hard as everyone else about my potential for mind control.

How did I get to be this way? I think it is common for oldest children, especially girls, to be bossy. I think it is also common for some children with an alcoholic parent to strive for control because their lives with that parent are unpredictable. In my case, it may also be genetic. I am told that, as a four-year old, when I was asked to pick up my toys in the front yard, I sat on the front steps and told my neighborhood friends and sisters which toys they could pick up for me. My dad responded by saying, “Some people are roofers and some people are foremen. It looks like we’ve got a foreman.”

I found my abilities as a controlling person to be quite beneficial as a teacher and as a parent of young children. The children in my classroom and home had clearly-defined expectations, well-planned activities and predictable routines. When I am feeling defensive about this aspect of my personality; I defend it, arguing that I am not bossy and controlling, but rather assertive.

However, no matter what name I give it, I do not find my controlling personality to be at all helpful in parenting my adult children; who are now trying to find their own way and eager to distance themselves from my way of doing things. I struggle with this because I still want to be involved in their lives and most of the time I am not. I didn’t expect to find this stage of parenting to be the most difficult for me.

In Mistaken Identity, the book that I just read with my adult group (I hesitate to call it my “Adult Book Club” because that suggests a type of literature which we have not yet explored), the issue of control takes on an entirely different light. This is the tragic account of two young women who were mistaken for each other after an accident in their college van. One family mistakenly buries the other’s daughter, thinking she is their own. The other family cares for the first family’s daughter for five weeks, thinking she belongs to them. Some readers find this book overly religious, but I find the depth of faith of the parents and the sisters in both of these families to be truly inspiring.

The most poignant moment in Mistaken Identity occurs for me when Newell Cerak, the father of the daughter who survives, tells Don Van Ryn, the father of the daughter who dies, that he feels guilty because his family has had the happy ending. Don Van Ryn responds that his family has had a happy ending, too, but that they just haven’t gotten there yet. I had to read and re-read his statement, unable to fathom this father’s composure in such hellacious circumstances. Don Van Ryn has no doubt that his family will have their happy ending when they are all together again in heaven. I do not know when I have read anything that touched me more.

No one in Mistaken Identity has any super powers. This is not a fantasy story. No one in the book is destined for mind control. The parents and sisters of Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak are ordinary people sustained by the grace of God. They know that God is in control and they are not, and they are happy with that. I also know that God is in control and I am not, but I have a little more trouble keeping my assertiveness in check.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


The Odyssey is an epic poem, probably written by Homer, which describes the adventures of Odysseus on his ten-year journey home after the Trojan War. The Coen Brothers’ movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, is a retelling of The Odyssey, set in the American south in the 1930’s. Another version of the epic is being played out by twenty-somethings in America today.

In an article in the New York Times last fall, David Brooks wrote about a current life phase that follows childhood and adolescence, a period of roughly ten years, which precedes adulthood. This phase, which he calls “odyssey,” is the transition between student life and adult life. It is the time when adult children move in and out of everything: home, relationships, careers and school. It is a time when parents become increasingly anxious because their adult children can’t seem to decide what they want to do with their lives and get on with it. Brooks says,

“There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.”

Using Brooks’ figures, fifty years ago some seventy percent of thirty-year-olds had moved away from home, become financially independent, gotten married and started a family. Ten years ago fewer than forty percent of thirty-year olds had done the same things.

There was an odyssey phase in my own life, but the only name we had for it at the time was “early mid-life crisis.” I left a terrific teaching job in my mid-twenties to take advantage of an opportunity in broadcasting. I gave up regular hours with great vacations at a job I knew how to do well for overnight shifts and a decrease in pay at a job for which I wasn’t trained. I’m sure my parents were very anxious.

It wasn’t easy for me either. I loved teaching, but I didn’t love my life. I didn’t want to be stuck in the same position ten or twenty years down the line. I wanted to try something new. When the rare opportunity for a paying gig as a performer fell right into my lap, I ran with it.

Brooks acknowledges that this is not an easy thing to do, “The odyssey years are not about slacking off. There are intense competitive pressures as a result of the vast numbers of people chasing relatively few opportunities.”

My journey into the world of radio and television lasted about six years. It was filled with the notable experiences and hardships that characterize an odyssey. I believe I am a better person for having taken the trip. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is always easy for me to watch my children as they struggle in their own odyssey years. I remember well that it is not an easy time.