Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter storm, too much driveway

The winter storm plodded through these parts Tuesday and Wednesday. The first round dropped about three inches of very fine snow, or powdered ice. Shoveling that stuff was much like pushing sand. Very loose, very heavy and uncooperative.

We’ve got a 400 foot driveway. On of my wise-cracking co-workers calculated that this meant I had about ten tons of snow to clear. I told him to never tell me this sort of thing again.

Tuesday night, about the time I had cleared the day’s collection from the driveway, the snow turned fluffy and heavy, dropping another four or so inches by Wednesday morning.
I ached just looking at it. It had taken four hours to clear the first round, now it looked like I’d be starting all over again. This new stuff was wet and clumpy, which is better if you are pushing it aside rather than tossing it. The fine stuff fell back in on itself, like sand. This stuff reached out and clung to its brethren clearing a wider swath with each back wrenching shove.
A bitter irony, I had to take rare and precious vacation time to do this. I cold not justify charging for ‘working from home’ since I needed daylight primetime to shovel, and I’m not a clever enough liar to get away with being away from my laptop for an hour or so at a time and calling it ‘working’.
There are tips and tricks that make this task less excruciating.

1. Gravity is your friend. Our driveway climbs about thirty feet from our house to the road. Pushing snow uphill, even only a little at a time is. . . well its stupid. Start at the top.

2. Let mother nature help. Even on a bitter cold day, sunlight hitting black asphalt will melt ice and snow, as long as the sunlight can get to the asphalt. You don’t have to scrape all the way down. As long as there is as much asphalt exposed as not, the sun will be your friend as well.

3. Let you car thaw itself. While you’re out grunting and groaning, start the car, let it idle. Sure it ‘wastes’ gas (actually not, since you aren’t able to go anywhere you are only using gas that you would have used anyhow) and pollutes the ozone, or whatever, but that’s your grandkids’ problem. Maybe with more global warming there will be fewer snowfalls in the future.

4. Enlist the dogs’ help. Actually this does no good whatsoever. Dogs either love or hate snow, but none of them seem the least bit motivated to push it out of the way. They do like to change the color of it though.

5. Enlist the family’s eager and willing assistance, by force if necessary.

6. Work smart, not hard. A smart person can significantly reduce the urgency for shoveling ten tons of snow by parking at least one vehicle at the top of the driveway before the snowfall accumulates out of control. (Duh!)

7. Have common pain relievers on hand. Your choice. Feel free to combine them liberally, if they were unsafe they wouldn’t sell them over the counter would they?

After all.. It really is beautiful out here in the woods.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A suspicious 'boxer', cheesy potatoes and some carcass dwellers.

Email, Angel to me:
“I'm picking up a dog tonight. Will be back about 6:30.”
Those of you who know us would say “So what? Angel’s always picking up dogs, or delivering dogs.”
Ahhh, perhaps, but her simple, innocent email statement contains much more information. She said 6:30, which is around the time I’ve usually finished with dinner. She is actually telling me that she won’t be at home to make dinner.
Now before you get all twisted up in indignation please understand something about us that you don’t know. Angel cleans the house and cooks dinner. It hasn’t always been that way. For the first twelve or thirteen years of the many we’ve been together housework was very much a team effort (and the source of many, many tense conversations). It was only when we left Missouri in 2001 that this changed.
My new job in Maryland paid as much as both our jobs in Missouri. Also, since Angel’s job of many years was a tough and tedious factory job, it was not like she was giving up a smashing career. So we moved to Southern Maryland where there were no tough and tedious manufacturing jobs, and we were making the same amount of money as before, and because our son was entering middle school, we agreed that it would be great to try the stay at home thing for a while. Certain conditions were readily agreed upon. Simply put, I no longer had to cook dinner, etc. (Actually I like to cook, just not every day)
Feel ashamed of yourselves now for thinking I was some archaic, chauvinistic male swine-creature? Ha! It was a mutual agreement. She got to escape the commute, the drudgery, the grind; I got to escape most of the household responsibilities. It has worked out very, very well. Even with the housework Angel found the time and energy in Maryland to school up on dog training and volunteer thousands of hours at the shelter, and still manage to whip up a tasty meal for dinner most of the time. As I became more involved and fascinated with the dog rescue thing, I even told her just to let me know if she was going to be unavailable for dinner, and no problem, I’d take care of it myself. See I’m actually a pretty fair and nice guy.
But none of this has anything to do with the actual story I’m trying to tell.

Back to the email.
My reply:
“Picking up a dog? Honey, where's my dinner?”
Once again, don’t be sanctimonious. “Honey, where's my dinner?” Is actually a line from one of our favorite William H. Macy movies; “Pleasantville” It’s about this town…… forget it. If you want to know what it’s about go rent it for yourself. I really don’t think many of you have the attention span to stay with my actual story, which I haven’t even really started yet, AND suffer through the plotline of a well known theatrical release.
Her reply:
“Your dinner will be waiting for you. boxer mix female 8 months old. always been an outside dog. owner trying to get rid of dog. dog never been to vet or had any shots.”

First and finally, let’s get the dinner thing out of the way… This means she’s going to cook something and set it in the fridge. No big deal. It wasn’t necessary as I told you earlier, but this did settle the matter, meaning I wouldn’t have to use up my entire one-hour commute trying to figure out what to make for myself.
Now for the actual story.
Something about the wording in the email was curious. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it just seemed a little un-normal.
I had a few minutes between ultra-important super-critical work related taskings and decided to use a few seconds of ‘incidental and infrequent’ company internet time to ask the World Wide Web a personal question.
I went to Angel spends a lot of time answering help requests for people with dog behavior issues, as well as scolding irresponsible owners and breeders on this community based, classified ad site. People posting that they need to get rid of their dog because they didn’t know their apartment complex didn’t allow them, or because the fuzzy little fur ball magically turned into a German Sheppard, or it keeps chewing through the rope they tie it to the tree with, etc. Angel is quite the crusader about such things. I did a search in the list of postings for ‘boxer’, ‘female’ and ‘outdoor’. Sure enough the ad popped up: “Free to good home 8 month old female boxer, no shots, not fixed, kept outdoors, don’t want it any more, too much trouble, baby pictures attached. "

This really aroused my suspicion. CARE (the rescue bunch Angel works with) doesn’t usually jump on things like this. There are a LOT of dogs out there that need rescuing, generally emaciated, abandoned and stray. The group has never had a need to troll the classifieds for give-aways.
I replied: “I saw her baby pics on craigslist... Please feel free to beat the crap out of the owners for being irresponsible dunderheads, and for cropping her tail...”
She was indeed a cute thing. It was hard to see the ‘boxer’ in the blurry pictures though.
Angel’s reply did not address the boxer, she changed the subject:
“Karen (from the rescue group) called. She just picked up a litter of puppies living in a cow carcass. Bleh”
See that’s what CARE does. That’s the sort of rescuing they do… Which made me even more curious about Angel’s boxer quest. Why would they pick up a perfectly adoptable boxer when they’re busy taking on a litter of cow-carcass-dwellers?
My mind had somehow started thinking more about the cow-carcass puppies than the boxer. I replied:
“Okay, I think I'm done quivering for the time being... no, there it goes again... ewwww.....
I assume the puppies are well fed (gross!) Details please, where was this? How old was the carcass? How old are the pups? “

Her quick reply: “I don't have a lot of details yet.”
That was the last of our incidental and infrequent internet email exchange. I didn’t really give it much more thought. I had important, critical, and highly technical work-related things to tend to.
I arrived home having spent my entire commute not fretting over whether we had the necessary stuff to make a delightful sandwich, but on something much less stressful: Whether or not I could distort my face in peculiar, hilarious ways and still talk with that same clear, soft, pleasing voice that people love so much. (Answer: YES!)
In the refrigerator I found some recently pan-fried fish, (yummy!) and some mashed potatoes. This was actually the epiphanal event. This is what clued me in as to what was going on with the boxer pup.

Not just any mashed potatoes, but cheesy mashed potatoes. Bright yellow, still a little warm. Angel had gone the extra mile and made one of my favorite and rarest of delicacies. It appears she added about a half package of shredded cheddar to the potatoes. Mmmmm. But why? Why go to that much trouble for a simple utilitarian weekday meal? Something was amiss. I pulled the food from the fridge and as the door closed I noticed the family whiteboard had a new announcement: “ Fish and Cheesy potatoes for your dinner!” That nailed it, she was now overtly trying to please me. Something other than the plate I was holding was fishy.
I didn’t complain, I didn’t call her. No, I warmed up the fish and taters and chowed down. Some new books had arrived in the mail so I immersed my brain into Jonathan Kellerman’s “Gone” the latest in a series I’d been plowing through. It’s about a psychologist that works frequently for the LAPD. . . never mind, read it for yourself.
I finished dinner (Yum!) and decided to clean up my dishes and build a fire. Myster (my pit bull) helped as he always does by searching for and lapping up crumbs around the dinner table. I saw the headlights coming down the driveway and ushered Myster into his crate with an edible bribe. Angel waited outside the door.
She didn’t come in immediately so I decided to go see what was taking so long. The door to her old, reliable SUV was open, and inside was a medium sized brown, short-haired dog.
“That doesn’t look like a boxer.” I said.
“No, it’s probably a boxer- pit mix, the lady didn’t know for sure, they just thought it was a cute puppy when they got it.”
A boxer is usually tall and leggy with a squarish head. This dog was stout, and it’s head was certainly not square, though something in the eyes did indeed say ‘boxer’. She looked a little like Blue, who we think is a boxer mix, or a ridgeback mix, or something. Her fur was nearly identical in color to Blue’s and she looked directly into my eyes. If I was suspicious before I was certain now.

Angel dragged the reluctant pup out of the SUV. “She’s never been in a car, never had to go up or down stairs.” Angel added unnecessarily. I recognized the signs of a dog that had probably never set foot in a house. Stairs and cars are not natural environments and obstacles for dogs, they have to learn about these things.
The pup plopped out and regained it’s feet. Angel drug it up the two steps into the house where it jumped up and started sniffing around. I pet her a little, looked into her face and immediately fell in love with her as I do all dogs (and women) that can look me directly in the eyes for
more than four seconds.
Angel then dragged her back outside with yet another plop, and took her to the fenced back yard whi
ch leads around to the basement door without having to go down stairs.
In a few minutes Bailey and Blue bounded up from the basement to greet me. George and his two foster buddies Casper (a greyhound mix) and fluffy Benny( we call him a miniature Newf) started scratching at the sliding door from outside.

Angel had apparently crated the new dog and released the rest of the hounds. She finally emerged from the stairwell.
We bantered about trivial things, I asked her about the cow-carcass dogs, she replied that Karen had taken pictures. “I’d love to get a copy” I told her.
“Why?” she answered.
“Because I told the change control ladies about them and they practically hurled just thinking about it, so I MUST show them pictures if for no other reason than to see them throw up. It’s the nature of the relationship between myself and the ladies. I mean if you’d ever heard some of the mind-mushing pathetic ‘relationship’ conversations they drag me into you’d want to see them all spew as well.”
“Sure, I’ll see what I can do.”
Later as we are relaxing, watching TV surrounded by several dogs chomping on nylon bones, I finally brought up the elephant in the living room. (this is a metaphor, there wasn’t actually an elephant in the room)
“So… no papers, eh?” I asked.
“What?” she answered sheepishly.
“Well, usually when you pick up a dog for CARE you have release papers and such, there weren’t any in the car and I didn’t see you packing any.” I was both accusatory and confident. This rattled her. She said nothing in reply.
“Karen doesn’t even know about this dog does she… that’s odd.”

She remained quiet, almost frightened, then whispered: “This one’s . . . different”
I paused, squinted:

“So this dog isn’t a rescue, it’s for us.”

I had nailed it, knocked it out of the park, I could tell by the startled look on her face.
She measured my face for a moment, trying to determine the level of my outrage. I showed none, I was blank, my face was corpse-like (by that I mean expressionless, not pale and icky) I gave her nothing.
I finally smiled. I thought she would cry, I could feel the air pressure in the room change with her relief.
“I don’t know yet.” she finally, though still timidly lied. “If it doesn’t work out we could probably put it up for adoption ourselves or talk Karen into it.”
“That isn’t the plan though, is it?” I rarely hold the dominant ground in our house, so I did not want to fritter this precious moment away.
“We’ll see how it works out” she concluded.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s fine, I trust your judgment.” I smiled again. “And thanks for the cheesy potatoes.”

The new dog, Deirdre, is doing just fine. She has a vet appointment scheduled, thoroughly enjoys people, and loves to run up and down the fenceline with George and the current fosters. She is indeed sweet and adorable, and as Angel pointed out has a very cute butt. She plans to train her up to be a 'demo-dog' to be used in her training business.