What’s in a Name?

Posted by & filed under The Puppy Diaries.

Cute collie pup

When we were looking for dog names for Koda, I was looking for names that had a nice meaning. Koda – a variation of Dakota – means friend. I think Kelly may have suggested that name because it was the name of a character (I think a bear) in a show / movie the kids watched. Our dog Pepper was named by the kids because one of the 101 Dalmatians was named that. So there is a trend there.

Columbus was named by us for his propensity to explore. That should have been a clue. We named one of his litter mates Mister because he was really well-behaved. But I didn’t choose him. I fell for the explorer.

Andy’s family always named their pets after whoever was on the cover of Time magazine when they got their dog. Fiesal after King Feisal, Lady after Lady Diana, etc. We named our first kitty that way. He was Cosby, because Bill Cosby was on the cover.

So we’ve been thinking about names. We looked at Time magazine and their covers have branched out from just people. Andy was glancing through a bunch of them online and his eyes settled on Trevor Noah. Trevor seemed nice. That was in the running.

Then I was trying to think of something related to us and, specifically, Andy. Andy likes Budweiser beer. And the puppy’s nickname could be Buddy. We both liked that, too. When we told the kids, Alex pointed out that Andy likes Corona beer, too. I told Alex there was NO WAY we were naming our puppy Corona. It might have been cute, had it not now been attached to a pandemic.

Then I looked at a bunch more English names (since the pup is an English Shepherd). I liked Shep. Andy didn’t. We both sort-of liked Lancelot (or Lance) for short. Maybe that will be a future name. Maybe Trevor will be too. Tonight I said to Andy, “I like those other names, but Buddy sounds so warm and loving.” Sort-of like a big hug. So, unless we are given one of the few girl puppies (and it didn’t sound like we would be), Buddy it is. And now we can start calling our new puppy something besides “our new puppy.”

Not original. Columbus was probably the most original name we gave one of our pets. But we could use a friend right now after losing all our pets. And, like Columbus lived up to his name, I fully expect Buddy to live up to his.

I also like that this name ties together the meaning of Koda’s name and I used to call Columbus “buddy” once in a while. “Buddy” honors their legacy.

A House without a Dog is not a Home

Posted by & filed under The Puppy Diaries.

Yes, this post title is a little over-the-top. But for someone who has had pets their whole life and who just lost 3 pets this Spring/Summer, our house is missing a je-ne-sais-quoi energy. And that’s not really true. I do know the energy it is missing. It is missing the unconditional-love-of-a-dog energy.

I didn’t write a blog post about losing Max, our 17-year-old kitty. Maybe I’ll get to it someday, but his death was the icing on the cake of numbness we’ve been eating. And I’ve never liked frosting, anyway. Max was a sweet kitty and we’ve heard from a lot of people who knew him that he was a great cat. He really was. I memorialized him on Facebook, but never did get over here to do the same.

When we lost the dogs, Andy said we would wait a year before deciding on getting another one. One night I was on the phone with my brother and mentioned that timeline and Andy overheard me. That night, as we lay in bed, he told me that he wasn’t sure he wanted to wait a year. He said that he missed the dogs, missed being greeted in the driveway when he came home from work, missed having them by his side as he worked in the yard.

That was all this woman needed to hear. I went online and started looking at rescues. I found a 1 1/2 year old English Shepherd through New England Border Collie rescue, sent in an application, was approved to contact the foster. I was really hoping we could give Tanner a home, but then he chipped a tooth and things got put on hold and when I reached out again I didn’t hear back. So I decided it was time to move on.

The thing about rescue organizations is that they are very particular. Most of them don’t consider an electric fence acceptable. Despite the fact that we sit back from the road, train the dogs to the fence, have about an acre of yard and woods fenced in, are very responsible dog owners, have a vet tech in the family, work from home (me). Nope. Not enough. It’s okay, they are their dogs to place and they get to set the rules. But I like to make my own decisions of what’s best for my dogs once they are in my home and environment and adapt those rules to their personalities and propensities.

The other thing, though, is that a lot of the dogs have issues that wouldn’t have worked for our family – don’t like other dogs (had one of those and he was a stay-at-home dog and nobody else could bring their dog over), don’t like kids, don’t like cats. We are older and have no other pets now, but we spend lots of time with our kids and there are grandkids and grandpuppies and grandkitties. Still, I looked at A LOT of rescues. But none of them resonated with me or seemed like a good fit for our life right now besides Tanner.

It’s Pepper’s fault. Pepper was my first sheep dog. And, as I say all the time, she was practically perfect in every way. Except for a couple of things. She got into porcupines multiple times. And she rolled in dung and other smelly things. Especially just after a bath. I called it her perfume. But she came when I called, learned road sense, was great off-leash, and wanted to please. And I’m convinced she understood EVERY SINGLE WORD I said. Plus, if you looked into her eyes you could see her soul. And it was the sweetest of souls. I saw that in Tanner-the-rescues eyes. But I didn’t see it in any of the others.’

So, I looked up the English Shepherd breed, which I had never heard of before. And it sounded like the perfect fit for us and for where we live. Ever since the dogs died, the wildlife has had a free-for-all around here. Tunnels under the lawn, scat in the driveway and on the front walk, blackberry bushes destroyed. This place needs a farm dog! English shepherds are an all-around farm dog – guarding, herding, varmint control, lover of their family, affectionate. I dunno, sounds practically perfect in every way.

That was enough for me. I started looking for a breeder of these remarkable dogs. And I found one in New Jersey and they were expecting a litter at the end of September. So I turned in an application. And learned they were actually expecting two litters, one unplanned. And as I spoke with one of the breeders (they are a couple), everything just sounded terrific. The way they place the dogs, the way they like to keep in touch with their pups, the fact that his wife is a vet tech and recommends the same feed as my vet tech daughter. All of it. He ended the conversation saying we sounded like a wonderful home for one of their puppies.

They also have a Facebook group, which I joined. And everybody posts pictures of their pups and every person, to a fault, says their dog is the best dog they’ve ever had.

The wait has seemed like FOREVER! And I was afraid to get too excited until I knew for sure I was on the list and not the waiting list. That my application didn’t get lost. Or whatever million other thoughts were swirling around in my head. (I really do need the calming presence a dog brings!) Until I knew for sure everything was all good with our application I wasn’t sleeping well. And now the pups are born and my deposit is in, and I’m allowing myself to get excited. Except it’s still a long way out! But I’m spending it looking at dog paraphernalia (we have a lot, but will need a few things), looking at training classes and reading books, and pondering dog names. Yesterday I just washed our long 15-foot lead that was dirty from being used as a tie-out, took inventory of smaller collars, and put some items in my cart on Amazon (haven’t bought them yet because I *think* we are getting a boy because most of the puppies are boys, but I’m not 100% sure).

Just today, I went into the basement to get something from the extra freezer and stopped by the shadow boxes of our pets. I spoke with them, as I do often, and got weepy, as I do often. I miss them so much, and even though Koda and Max lived long lives and it’s not realistic to expect them to still be here, I still wish they were. And Columbus. We wouldn’t even be getting a puppy if he hadn’t left us early. This puppy will fill the dog-shaped void in our home and hearts, but it will never replace him and all the wonderful dogs we’ve had that have led up to this moment. But I do know two things. 1: This puppy will be another wonderful dog that blesses our lives. And 2: The time until we get to pick up our puppy is going to feel like an eternity!

A new chapter of The Puppy Diaries is soon to begin….

The puppy pictures I’ve seen are in the private Facebook group. But this is the breeder we are getting our puppy from, so you can picture our next doggie. Just as I am!

She’s Free Now

Posted by & filed under my life.

My 14-year-old, wonderful farm dog Koda went to be with Columbus this morning. Kelly and I were both with her when she left this world. We got Koda when Kelly was 16, so Koda was one of her childhood dogs. And even this morning, when Kelly showed up, Koda got all excited to see her, despite her condition. Koda always loved it when Kelly came home.

I’ve been expecting this day but it doesn’t make it one bit easier. I’ve been watching Koda carefully ever since Columbus died in April and Koda’s world changed. He was her alpha, he kept her steady and calm. She lost that anchor and became our shadow. Her body was failing – eyesight, hearing, back legs – and it was hard to know if her behaviors were related to pain or anxiety, or both. It’s been a long couple of months trying to make the right decisions for her. Yesterday I finally knew it was time. I am so emotionally exhausted (poor Tracey can tell you the number of times I called her looking for advice) and the relief I feel of finally making a decision (with the help of my family) is overwhelmed by this heavy sadness of not having her here. But I keep trying to picture her running free, as she did in her prime, chasing a tennis ball, frolicking with Columbus and Blackie, and getting swatted by Gracie. I even picture Pepper greeting her. We got her after we Pepper died, but we got her because of Pepper, who was practically perfect in every way.

I do so love my sheepdogs. And both of them lived a long life, bringing us oh-so-many blessings.

Before Kelly got here this morning, I spent some time reminiscing with Koda, petting her, and going back in time to some fun memories. Which is where I am now headed in this post.

Koda was a firecracker. One of the first words I taught her was “jump,” because she would jump over my outstretched legs when I was sitting on the floor. I would tap the ground on the other side and say “jump!” and she would go back and forth like that for a while.

We took Koda to puppy school. I don’t remember where it was, someplace in Sterling, I think. I remember a session where we were walking with our dogs and Koda wasn’t having any of it. The trainer finally said, exasperatingly, after telling me to do this, do that, “here, give her to me.” And then I watched as the trainer struggled with Koda, just as I had. I have to tell you, I was pretty amused. It’s not like Koda was my first dog rodeo. I pretty much knew what to do. But I like taking puppies for some dog training. It helps create an initial bond and is a great refresher when you haven’t had a puppy for a while.

One day I told puppy Koda “NO!” and she barked back at me. I was startled and the next thing I knew, Blackie had positioned himself between us. Later on in life (I used to joke that if we ever ran into a bear on a hike Koda would most likely bark at it, agitate it, and then run and hide behind me), Koda would do the same when Stella and Columbus both came barreling towards me at full speed. I was convinced I was going down, and fear rose in my chest. Koda came running from the side and veered them away from me, like the good sheepdog that she was. (I never made that bear joke again.)

Speaking of sheep, I took Koda to a dog show when she was a puppy, where they had agility and sheep herding competitions. Not for her to compete, just to watch. I remember watching all the owners yelling at their dogs during the sheep herding and remarked to a gentleman sitting beside me, “well that doesn’t look like much fun.” He said, “your puppy will be happy just going for walks with you in the woods.” And that’s what we did!

Tracey volunteered at Heifer Project, up the road, and at one point talked us into getting two goats. One – who was a real escape artist – died and we got a sheep instead of another goat. I put Koda into their pen to see what she’d do and she was afraid of that goat. Sheepdog fail. I guess it’s good we stuck with hiking. She did like our rabbit Murphy, though.

I wound up taking Koda to agility partway through her life and she LOVED it. We had to stop when she got a growth on her foot and never did go back. I was working full time and it was never going to be a thing for us, like our hikes, but I’m glad she got to at least try it.

We also played a little game called “Go find it!” where I would make her stay in a room, then hide a toy in another room, then come back to her and exclaim, “GO FIND IT!” and she would run around sniffing and looking in corners until she found her toy.

Koda was very smart, and would often decide her way was better than my way. And it sometimes took me a while to figure out why she was doing things, but I usually did, eventually, and then I would wonder what took me so long. Outsmarted by my doggie. Here are some examples:

Every time an owner yelled at their dog in our hiking group, Koda would run at that dog. Likewise, every time I would reprimand Max (our cat), she would do the same. I finally figured out that she was trying to “help” make them do what we wanted them to do. Her sheepdog instincts kicking in. Meanwhile, I had to stop hiking with the group because she was a royal pest to their dogs!

Many evenings, when I called Koda to come in for the night, she would run off barking. It took me years (really, years!) to realize that she was doing the last rounds of the property, making sure everything was okay and telling all the wild animals to stay away. I think the times she didn’t run off when I called her in she had already done her bark around.

I have a gazillion memories of this puppy of mine – being up on Blueberry Hill and Koda focused on a spot in the woods and barking and I thought maybe there was a bear and we skedaddled. Another time we were deep in the woods behind our house and I heard a bunch of coyote yapping. I figured we were getting near a den and turned around, grabbing a big stick just in case, for some kind of protection – Koda wouldn’t be a match against a group of coyotes! But Koda promptly thought I was trying to play and I got really mad at her and I think I eventually had to abandon the stick to get us away from there and headed home.

Koda’s bark was definitely worse than her bite, and this was one of the reasons I thought she’d hide behind me if a bear came. One time our neighbor’s dog came into the yard, chased Koda around the whole house and I positioned myself at the door to call her in as she got back to the front yard. She zoomed right in but she had been so scared she released her anal glands.

Sorry, you probably weren’t expecting that. Neither was I.

Another time, when Columbus was a puppy in the litter of Stella’s puppies, the pups were closed in the barn (their daytime sleeping spot) and it was time for me to bring them into their pen in the garage for the evening. I was the only one here. And all of a sudden Koda began this distressed barking I had never heard come out of her before. I kept calling her to come in, and she eventually did, but I figured there was a wild animal out there and I was afraid to try bringing the puppies back all by myself. They were safe in the barn. So I called Andy and he was almost home and I waited for him and we did it together. The next day we found out a bear had gotten into our neighbor’s beehives, which are right on the other side of the stone wall between our properties.

Herding instincts are great until they involve cars. Koda was the reason we got an electric fence after a friend told me she had run out in front of his truck in the winter when the road was slippery. We sit back from the road and I hadn’t even known she was going that far from the house. So glad he told me and nobody (including her) got hurt.

When we got the fence, they taught us to walk her out the same spot every time when taking her for a walk, pulling her close in a heel, and she’d learn she’d be okay if she was next to us but shouldn’t try crossing by herself. So, that dang dog extrapolated and would sometimes run next to the car as we drove over that spot. And one time she did that and then decided to stop a truck to help us pull out of the end of the road, like a furry crossing guard. Lucky for us the driver was paying attention and stopped in time.

Koda wasn’t like Pepper, who listened to me. Koda would run off for awhile when unleashed. So I would only let her loose on the mountain if there weren’t other cars parked at the trailhead, then leash her on the way back. I started that after I got yelled at by a fellow hiker. I didn’t blame him, but she wasn’t listening to me. One of my favorite hiking stories was when I was trying to call her back and all of a sudden a brown blur crossed the path in front of me and sped off. I just got “dang dog” out of my mouth when a second brown blur crossed the path and headed in the same direction. Koda was chasing a deer.

Another time I was in High Meadow on Wachusett, sitting on the bench, and all of a sudden I see Koda making wide circles and crouching. She was doing herding maneuvers! I frantically looked for what she was trying to herd and it was a porcupine! OH NO!!! Luckily, I got in between the two of them and put her back on the leash before any damage was done.

I can’t end this without talking about Koda’s tennis ball. It was her sheep. A constant companion and she would drop it in front of you for you to throw it. if you didn’t throw it she would pick it up and move it closer to you. If you still didn’t throw it, she would drop it right in front of you. It made it very hard to garden. By the third drop, it was on top of the garden spade. And she wouldn’t tire of it. So you basically had to ignore it after a while.

I wound up having to get one of those throwing sticks because she would anticipate where I was going to throw the ball and would run way beyond my throwing reach. We loved to toss it deep in the woods where she had to hunt for it for a while. That bought you some time to do what you were outdoors to do. In the summertime, we would fill a kiddy pool for her and after a few tosses, she would plunk into the water to cool off. She loved that kiddy pool in the summer.

Koda lived the beginning of her life with Blackie, who was here when she came as a puppy. After he died, Tracey’s dog had puppies here. People asked me if I was going to keep a puppy. “Heck, no, I answered, Koda is like having two dogs.” But as you all probably know, I did keep a puppy, and after a rough start with Koda asserting her alpha-ness, Columbus eventually set her straight. Nope, Koda, you aren’t the boss. I am. And it worked out really well because he was a calm alpha and she was an anxious wanna–be alpha. It calmed her down, knowing he was in charge. It wound up being a beautiful thing. (I wrote all about their early years together in The Puppy Diariies.) And a few months ago she lost that. I’m glad for her that she may be running around with him again. And I’m glad to think that she might be chasing tennis balls again. We had to stop that a couple of years back as arthritis was setting in. But today I gave her a new tennis ball. To take with her. 

I asked Kelly what she thought the afterlife was like. We talked about it for a bit and then she said, “maybe a Koda puppy was born today.”

Now wouldn’t that be special? Someone is going to be a very lucky dog owner.

The Birthday Gift

Posted by & filed under herbaculture, my life.

My 60th birthday is in June. My husband surprised me at Christmas with a trip to Ireland and Scotland. That won’t be happening now. I was also going to do a mother/daughter getaway with my youngest, who is turning 30 this year. Our birthdays are 4 days apart by calendar, 30 days apart by years.

I could be sad about missing these trips (I’ll be happy if we get to do our annual family beach vacation in August), but then I started thinking about it. What better gift than if the world changed for the better as a result of this pandemic? All of the things I want….

Using the tenants of permaculture as the basis of our societies. Earth Care. People Care. Fair Share. Polycultures. Multiple function. The Problem is the Solution. And there are more.

Earth Care. People Care. Fair Share. It’s all about balance. Taking only what we need. Caring for the earth and caring for each other. Planting gardens. Growing food organically. Helping those in need.

Polycultures – nature doesn’t grow in monocultures. Different species of plants and animals co-habitate. Different “cultures” live with each other, making each other better than each would be individually. This should apply to human cultures, too! And our food system. No poisons needed to fight back nature. No fighting as we learned to love each other rather than fear those who are different than us.

Multiple function and the problem is the solution. This is difficult to put into words, I think a story works best. Our chickens had a pen that was too sunny in the afternoon. I tried putting a tarp over part of the top but it was a huge pen, and the wind was always an issue. Also, I had wanted to plant grapes but we didn’t have a structure to put them on.

Voila! Both those “problems” had the same solution. Put wooden crossbars across the top of the pen and plant grapes around the edges. Grapes grow up, provide shade for the chickens and food for us (and any grapes that dropped also were food for the chickens).

Lastly, as an herbalist, I would love to see allopathic medicine more entwined with alternative medicine. Functional medicine comes close. But the key is preventative medicine, and plants shine the best here. Plants grown organically, the permaculture way in our food system, and the wild herbs that choose to grow among us.

So that’s what I want for this 60th birthday. And as much as I was looking forward to that trip to Ireland and Scotland, I would like this gift oh so much better. A gift for the world, not just me.

Photo by Sam Chang on Unsplash

The Last Chapter

Posted by & filed under my life, The Puppy Diaries.

It’s been a long time since I wrote a puppies diary post, which began as an outlet for my experiences raising Columbus. Six years have passed, in fact. Koda is lame and mostly deaf and seems to have a harder time seeing in the dark. She’s going to be 14 next month, and I’ve been preparing my heart for the inevitable, watching her closely to make sure she doesn’t seem in pain. Because I won’t keep her here once she isn’t living a good life.

What I never expected was for Columbus to leave us first. He died last night. I hadn’t prepared my heart for that, and it has been smashed into a million pieces. Andy’s, too. Columbus really wound up being Andy’s dog. The kind of dog that you can snuggle with and pet until the cows come home. Evenings found Columbus at Andy’s feet, looking for snuggles (and food). Just the other day Andy said, “watch this, it takes 3 seconds for him to open his eyes when I stop.” Andy was petting him, and Columbus had his head in Andy’s lap, eyes closed, look of complete bliss on his face. Then Andy stopped, his hand hovering over Columbus’ head, and we counted, “1, 2, 3” (I’m not sure we made to three). And Columbus’ eyes popped open. Andy’s hand returned to his head and Columbus’ face returned to its bliss.

Not to say that Columbus wasn’t my dog, too, or anybody’s dog, really. You were human, he adored you. I was the one that took him walking and hiking with me all these years. And to training classes. And brushed him. And shared in the feeding duties. And took him to the vet. And petted him here and there (but not everywhere).

Andy and I both went to the animal hospital last night. I’m really glad about that based on how it turned out because we were both able to be with him as he left this world, on to his next puppy diary adventure.

It was a typical evening. We never knew anything was wrong. I was out on the porch listening to a webinar and had come inside to watch a Netflix show with Andy before bedtime (which is early these days). As I came off the porch Koda was all excited. I asked her what was up and if she had to go outside but she went towards the living room. “Wow, you’re all excited Koda!” The living room was the way it was every night. Andy in his chair, Columbus sleeping on the floor near him. I sat down, we watched the show. Afterward, Andy got up and went to the other room. Koda was looking towards me but her ears were flattened backward. I thought she was listening for Andy but it was a weird look for her. So I got up and let her out for what we call “last outs.” I told Andy, “I just let Koda out, you can let your snoring dog out,” joking around. By the time I got Koda back in and came back into the living room Andy said, “something’s wrong.” Columbus wouldn’t get up. And he wouldn’t be enticed by a treat. He’s had times before that he’s resisted leaving the living room and heading to bed, so it took us a while to realize for sure that it wasn’t just that. At that point we FaceTimed Tracey, who assessed him remotely and told us we should take him to the emergency room.

With all this COVID-19 stuff going on, we had to drop him off and wait in the car for the doctor to call us. At one point I picked up my phone and saw it had entered “do not disturb” mode for the evening (we were past my bedtime!). Oh no! So I called the hospital and they put the doctor on the phone and she said she was just about to call us, that Columbus had something called pericardial effusion (fluid around the heart) and the rest is kind of a blur. She was talking, but during her explanation, Andy and I silently agreed that this was it. We weren’t going to go down a road with no happy ending. Columbus had lived a good life, he’d had a good day, he hadn’t suffered much before we realized something was wrong, and we weren’t going to put him through all kinds of medical stuff for something that wasn’t going to resolve. I thought we wouldn’t be able to be there with him as they euthanized him and asked if they could bring him out to us so we could say our last goodbyes, but we learned that they had an outbuilding where they were doing euthanasias to allow families to be there. What a gift. What a true gift. We petted him and told him what a good dog he was and how much we loved him as he gave up his life in this world and began his journey in the next.

It just was so sudden. It’s thrown us for a loop. Andy even remarked that Columbus was playing like a puppy this weekend while he was out stacking wood, zooming around the yard and jumping on Koda and tearing up the lawn. He was also eating pieces of wood, and that’s what we thought we were heading into – a digestive situation. I figured an x-ray, potential surgery. As we came home into the garage with an empty dog collar and Koda to face, I asked Andy, “wasn’t this morning the morning he sniped my tissue?” “Yes,” Andy replied. It seemed like ages ago. (Sniping tissues was a favorite thing for him to do. He would stealthily sneak over trying to get the tissue without us seeing him.)

I think Koda knows. I mean, in hindsight she knew and tried to tell us. I showed her his collar, told her he was gone. She sniffed my hands, which had just been stroking Columbus 20 minutes earlier. I hope she’ll be okay. Columbus was so good for her. He calmed her. He calmed us all. I keep walking around the corner expecting to see him. It’ll take a while.

Before I sat down to write this post I made a lot of phone calls to family, and texted with friends, and then read all my puppy diary entries, from the beginning (which doesn’t really flow all that well in WordPress). They made me laugh, mostly, which was great. But sadness came, too. Sadness that our dog (who never really quite made it all the way out of his naughtiness) had really grown into a great dog and now he was gone. He was so full of love. We’re going to miss all that love. We dubbed him the “aggressive lover” because he never gave up wanting to jump on people’s cars so he could see who the wonderful human was who had just entered into his world. And he jumped on people, too, including me this last time I came home from a week-long trip. Because of this he never made it as an official therapy dog, although he did earn his Canine Good Citizen certification, the first step towards that. Even so, he had plenty of therapy moments with people in real life. And I always joked that maybe when he was 11 or 12 years old he’d settle down.

He only made it to 8 1/2. Way too young to leave us. Rest in peace, dearest Columbus, you joyful, lovable, rapscallion dog.

Addendum: after we got back into the house last night, I realized I hadn’t put the cooler out for a food delivery we are expecting today. So I walked down to the farm stand with it and as I walked back towards the house I looked to the sky. It was the evening of the full moon, which had been bright in a clear sky at the animal hospital. But now there was a carpet of fluffy clouds in the sky, with enough light from the moon to illuminate them. “The sky looks like I just brushed you, Columbus,” I said because it reminded me of the clouds of fur that came off of him every brushing session (which he adored except for when you came to his tail). And then I noticed a formation in the clouds that covered half of the sky. It looked like a dog’s paw, I kid you not. The “toes” were long like fingers stretching to the edges of the horizon, but they radiated from a section of cloud that had a round cloud in the center, like a dog’s pad. It was above me and as I approached the house it was above the house. I stood in awe and said goodbye again to Columbus, the very good dog.

Happiest of Holidays to All (2019 update)

Posted by & filed under my life.

Here is the (growing) Samoiloff family year in review. I hope 2019 treated you all well. Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2020! 

Landon Carrying Wood

We’ll start with Landon. Here he is last winter helping Papa with the wood. He LOVES helping papa with the wood. Every time he comes to the house he says, “Papa, are we gonna chop some wood?” During the year he helped me pull up carrots from the garden. He did enjoy it, but Papa was at work. A few weeks later Alex and I were picking more carrots, called him over as he was helping Papa with the wood, and showed him a wonky carrot. “Want to help us pull more carrots, Landon?” “No, I’m workin’, ” he replied, and returned to Papa.

He also loves playing ping pong and asks to play that every time he comes.

Landon is now in Kindergarten and has shot up during the year. He’s a little boy now.

Leiana Head Shot

And then there is Leiana, our spunky granddaughter. We’ve been blessed with a few Leiana visits, where you can be sure I always take her to my favorite place – Roots, where she gets a smoothie, and a grilled cheese sandwich or a muffin, depending on what time we go. This year, Leiana became brave at the bounce house we go to midway between our house and Tracey and Roberto’s house, for kid exchange. The first time she wouldn’t even go on any of the inflatables, despite Tracey’s really great coaxing. The second time she got brave and now she’s unstoppable, even telling kids coming up behind her on the slides “Wait!!! My turn!” No one is ever going to tell this girl what to do. She’s her mom’s mini me in more than just looks.

She’s so much fun.

In June Andy and my mom competed in the Senior Games. Andy in track and field, my mother in pickle ball. And Will and I, their groupies, went along and we had a nice family trip in New Mexico, visiting Albuquerque (where the games took place), Taos, and Santa Fe. We went through Madrid, where Andy’s favorite movie, Wild Hogs, was filmed, we found ourselves driving through Los Alamos, site of the Manhattan Project (we did a little research about that on the spot, after we drove through security gates, were told the exact route to drive through and instructed not to take any photos. It felt like we were in a movie.).

This was the first trip us old folks used Air BnB, and it worked out really well for us! Andy and I both liked Taos the best. Andy said it felt like a Southwestern Vermont to him. It definitely was the smallest and most rural. Color us country folk. I was happy to get in a couple of short hikes and I also found out that there was an Earth Ship Community near by which we all went to visit. I had learned about them in my permaculture class (years ago) and it was so great to see them in person. (Earth Ships are ecological houses built into the soil).

Earth Ship

The biggest event of the year was Alex and Caroline’s wedding. We are so happy to officially welcome Caroline into the family. She and Alex are such a great couple. And very into family. Caroline’s brothers (Charlie & Nick) and sister-in-law (Zoey), Alex’s sisters (Tracey and Kelly) and brother-in-laws (Roberto and Greg), and their closest friends (Rachel, Sam, Sean, and Kevin) were all in the wedding party. Landon and Leiana were part of it, too. It was a real family affair, and Roberto officiated!

And if a wedding wasn’t enough joy for the year, another blessing beyond words is that Kelly & Greg moved to Massachusetts (from New Jersey) and settled in Medfield. It is so wonderful having them close by. I don’t have a great picture of them in front of their new home, so I am posting this one of them coming to Webster Lake, where my parents had their cabin. My mom sold it this year, a bittersweet ending to some fun family times.

PS Kelly and Greg ALSO got a new puppy. Her name is Ruby. She’s a cockapoo and about as cute (and smart) as they come.

This year turned out to really be full of fun and very busy – a trip to Atlanta for my niece Hailey’s wedding, a trip to North Captiva Island where our friends have a really nice house named “Beauty and the Beach,” lots and lots of prep work getting ready for wedding festivities (some at our house), including converting our porch into a sunroom – which we are enjoying very much post-wedding – painting most of the rooms downstairs (lots and lots of painting), buying some porch furniture and a canopy, re-fencing the garden (thanks a lot, Columbus, we think we finally have it dog-proofed), Caroline’s graduation from her master’s program, and lots of stuff I’m not listing. It was a very busy and good year. 

Oh, and we re-homed our chickens (and ducks and goose) this year. I miss them, but I don’t miss the work that goes along with them. I’ve got a farm girl’s heart in a city girl’s body, and I’m not getting any younger. Lugging big buckets of water all winter was hard on my body this past year.

I dream of a better world

Posted by & filed under my life.

I wrote this earlier this year. I’d like to return to writing more, because it is my happy place. So posting this dream that happened back in March….

I woke up from a bad dream last night with tears welling up in my eyes to overflowing.

I know the source of his dream was for at least two reasons:

  1. I am constantly fumbling around in my too-large purse. Things get lost in the abyss of it.
  2. I am seeing toxic criticism of people who are trying to be expansive and inclusive but judged because they didn’t say things the right way. “You don’t know what it’s like to be us so you have no rights to say what you said.” The latest was someone asking, “are you an ally?” One thinks one is, until one opens their mouths and is told they aren’t.

I was in a parking lot, fumbling in my purse for my keys. Mind you, I usually do this before I get to a parking lot to avoid this vulnerability. But, hey, this was a dream.

All of a sudden I see three men approaching in a weird way. I look up as one continues towards me. He recognizes that I have recognized what is going on. I glance around one last time as he tells me not to scream or make a fuss, this doesn’t need to be bad. I notice a bus, and my gaze settles on a black man inside of it just sitting there, dispassionate, watching. I realize screaming, or running, won’t matter because there is no one around to save me. (I don’t see the other two men anymore but as they were approaching they fanned out, like coyotes surrounding their prey, so I know they have settled somewhere to block any escape.)

I try talking to this man. Telling him I know what it feels like to feel vulnerable all the time, as a woman, and that, yes, I’m white (because I felt, after seeing that man on the bus, that race was a part of this), but that I hate our human tribalism. I try to tell him I am an ally, without using those words. I try to talk about love, and that we are all loved, no matter what, even in the midst of a moment like this. I even tell him I don’t have anything of value, that I have about $2 in my purse, all the credit cards will be cancelled by my husband, and that my phone is old and not that great. I don’t know if this is about more than taking my purse, but I don’t think it is. The man does not look like he wants to hurt me. I believed his earlier words.

None of it matters, and I wake up. My sadness is not about the purse, although I do realize there was this strong feeling of “this is mine, you are taking a part of me,” which makes me want to work on rethinking this purse thing and what I carry. But the deeper sadness was that none of my words mattered, because I was associated with my color, even though I want the world not to be about that, and that I had absolutely no power in the situation as a woman without the physical strength to defend myself. My only defenses were words and intellect, which got me nowhere.

And maybe that was the point. To experience this shared helplessness.

I dream of a better world. Except for last night, it seems.

The Tree

Posted by & filed under Poetry.

Tree with large limb low to the ground.

She ran towards her old friend, tears streaming down her face. They were at it again and she just had to escape. Home was not a happy place for her. But the woods nearby were.

She ran to them, often. She was told to stay out of the forest, that teenagers hung out there, drinking. And, although she was an obedient girl, the calling of the trees were louder. She couldn’t resist entering their world and leaving hers behind.

One day just like this a few years ago, her parents in a horrible argument, she quietly stepped outside, closed the door behind her, and headed to the forest yet again. That day a path she had never noticed before beckoned to her. The sun lit it up like a lamp leading the way. Every twist and turn drew her deeper, the path continuing to entice her to what was around the next bend.

And then, like the surprise of a Christmas morning, she found herself at the edge of a field. Long, green grasses with their airy seed heads blew gently in the summer breeze. Wild flowers hummed as bumble bees gathered their pollen. Butterflies danced in the air above. The sound of birds and squirrel chatter and saw bugs filled the air. Fluffy cumulus clouds floated in a brilliant blue sky. What was this? Had she died and gone to heaven? And then she saw it. A grand old oak with a thick limb practically hugging the ground, longer than any limb she’d ever seen, and low enough to climb. She ran to it, jumped and locked her arms around its girth, and swung her leg up and over. She leaned against the trunk, and hugged her knees, as the tree cradled her like a baby in its mother’s arms. The cares of the world and her sadness melted away, and a loving calm entered her soul. She took a deep breath, taking it all in. This place was perfect.

She visited her friend the tree often. That grand old limb was her reading spot, the horse she’d never had but wished for with all her heart, a balance beam (she never fell), and, most of all, a place of daydreams. The bark was actually wearing down in places from her frequent visits, a sign of their time together, outward proof of their love. What would she be without this tree that had brought her such joy?

Things were changing outside of this little world of theirs, too. Enabled by the love she felt here, she was coming out of the protective shell she’d constructed around her, and life in the real world was getting better. She could even handle her parents’ arguing most of the time, blocking them out until their voices became a distant hum. But today was different. There were money issues, and they were fighting about selling the house and moving in with her mother’s sister the next town over.

They might as well have been fighting about moving across the country. She didn’t care about leaving the house. But this home of hers and her mother the tree, her father the sun, her brothers and sisters the animals – how could she leave them? She wasn’t old enough to drive and come back here. What was she going to do? She could hardly breathe. She swung herself up into her mother’s arms and the tears turned into sobs. Her cries filled the air and the air absorbed them. A gentle rain began to fall. And then she heard a calm, sweet voice. “Don’t cry, little one. We are with you always, wherever you go. We have always been watching over you. We led you here, and we will lead you to a new place. Look for us and you will find us. We love you and your heart. Your spirit is safe with us. Do not be afraid and do not be sad. Go forward and do great things. We believe in you, dear child.”

And then she noticed that the rain had stopped, along with her tears, and the sun shone more brightly than ever before.

Merry, happy, joyous greetings, 2018

Posted by & filed under my life.

This year has brought lots of introspection on how to remain steady while the world swirls around in chaos, along with the realization that if we don’t find that place of peace inside of us, we can get caught up in all sorts of drama, created either by others or ourselves.

Life on this planet, while we are privileged to be here, is a steady stream of learning opportunities. The most important, in my mind, is to recognize that and embrace change.

2018 has brought its fair amount of changes and one of the biggest is holiday changes. This year we travelled to NJ for Thanksgiving, where Kelly and Greg hosted. And Andy and I wound up at the kid’s table (by choice, our kids haven’t taken completely over yet!).

And Christmas, which has always been at our house since I declared at the beginning of our marriage that, as a kid, I travelled to both sides of the family every Christmas Day and I just wanted to stay home, was at Tracey and Roberto’s house this year.

We did have our traditional Samoiloff-family gathering pre-Christmas, minus a few of my kids and plus my mom and Will (that’s another change beginning last year).

All this is just change, and I am embracing it. At least all my kids are within driving distance!

As for work, my little Dandelion Forest business finished in the black these year. Not deep in the black but in the black nonetheless and I figured some things out. Thank you to all who supported me in this endeavor, especially Andy.

Andy, always steady, is doing great. Once again he qualified in The Senior Games, so we are headed to New Mexico next year as he competes in the long jump and 200. He also qualified for the high jump but his knee doesn’t hold up for more than a few jumps in that event, so I’m hoping he remembers that!

This fall we took a trip back to Hawaii – this time the big island, which I loved (the lava fascinated me) – to spread the ashes of a friend (his mom was from Hawaii) and his wife. We made a 2-week vacation of it, also visiting California and seeing San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, seeing redwoods, Nappa Valley, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where the grand Sequoias dwell. From there we went to Colorado to visit family (Cindy and Bill), which was full of fun. It was a great trip, and I crossed a few things off my bucket list!

We also visited friends in Wisconsin and I had a surprise birthday visit from my sister in June and we visited places from our childhood. Speaking of changes.

The “kids” are all doing great. Tracey is busy working towards her VTS (veterinary technician specialty) in anesthesia, Roberto is building up his client base at a new tennis facility closer to home, Alex and Caroline are busy with wedding plans and Caroline with a new job in the public school district of Dover/Sherbourn, Kelly and Greg are still working in NYC – Greg in finance, Kelly planning and overseeing running events including the NYC marathon.

As for the next generation, a.k.a. grandkids, it doesn’t get better than this. Landon is 4 1/2 already, a caring big brother and so much fun and little Leiana, at 21 months, is talkative, precocious, and determined to do anything Landon does. Their parents give them lots of learning opportunities and it shows. Start cooking, they pull a step stool up to help. And Landon is all over stacking wood with Papa and helping him with fires. You gotta embrace these years of kids wanting to help!

One of the hardest changes this year was losing our kitty Gracie to a cancer of the jaw, in March. She was 12. I still miss her.

The last change I wanted to mention is that I found my way back to church. Actually, to the same church we were at for 18 years in the center of Princeton. It began with a desire to pray for all that was going on in this world that was breaking my heart (not going to even mention things, I know so many of you who are right here with me and know) and meeting the new minister. I wanted to know if the church had any prayer vigils planned. There weren’t, but she invited me right in to help her (and others) plan a peace and unity service. And I stayed. Everyone has welcomed me back with open arms. It’s been an interesting faith journey that has helped me embrace what I truly believe.

Hope your year was full of good changes, that you’ve found your inner peace (or are at least seeking it), and that 2019 brings many blessings.

Peace and love and herbs!


Dazed and Confused

Posted by & filed under miscellaneous.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking tonight. I’m a thinker, it’s what I do.

And then I try to put things into words. This one’s a hard one, though, because it has many pieces. Here are the pieces that came at me tonight and spun me around into a realization.

I met one of the nicest people walking the planet this past year. Kind, generous, funny. And I was mentioning that to a couple other people who I don’t really know that well and they said, “yeah, but she’s weird.” I’m not sure if my annoyance showed on my face, but I did what I always do when taken aback. I lost my words. And I felt the annoyance flare up in my brain and move across my eyes. But they must not have seen it because they carried on as if they hadn’t just tried to diminish someone’s beauty. And a couple of weeks later, when I was talking to this person, enjoying her company and humor, one of those same people looked at me and rolled his eyes, as if we shared a secret, not realizing that my opinion was that he was the odd one out.

Tonight I was listening to some podcasts. One of them was Suzy Orman on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. And she was talking about women’s power and the power of money and how women pay attention to money for the household because that’s where the family is and that’s what is in their hearts. And then she started saying that women needed to pay attention to more than that because money is power and people are attracted to power and power then brings money and yadda, yadda, yadda. I tuned out and turned her off. And let that percolate for a bit.

Then I was listening to a couple of great Hay House talks on the Mind-Body connection. And one talking about the frontal lobe of your brain that tells you what you are “supposed” to be doing, while the rest of the mind and the heart and stomach are connected and contain the purpose of your soul, of your life. And that disease results in ignoring what they are trying to tell you and listening to the frontal lobe. And one of the talks asked the question, “if you could do anything you wanted, without worrying about any of the worries of this world, what would that be?”

And then, the percolation continued. And, as I was putting away some herbs that I had processed tonight, I was mulling everything over and said out loud, “I am powerful because I am connecting to my truth.” Even if I don’t quite know how to articulate my exact truth yet, I know that I am on the path to finally finding it. And the person I met this year is how I want to walk on this earth. Generous, loving, and kind. And to let other people know that they are generous, loving, and kind, too. And that generous, loving, and kind isn’t weird. It’s powerful. It just seems weird because we are walking around dazed and confused by this world that has taught us the opposite.

You are perfect. Follow your heart to your soul’s purpose.

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? ~ Mark 8:36

photo credit: h.koppdelaney Come Together via photopin (license)