Image

Trails, Trials and Tribulations

Hello! You survived the pandemic and all you got was this lousy blog post! But you also survived the pandemic! Your first? It was for me and I was spooked. Happier after the vaccine, happier still after I laid in a supply of good masks and home tests, but still amazingly adept at talking myself into symptoms. Couldn’t for the life of me swab up a viral load sufficient to earn a second line on the test puck, but I suppose that is a win. Happy to be here. I am happy you are here too. Is there anything better than company?

A good friend organized a trail ride this last Saturday. Nearly the same one I wrote about in 2021. Bike on car, park at Kinderhook, ride trails/quiet roads to Hudson, eat a breakfast burrito and pedal back.

Last time I had a fairly miserable time, though. Same route, same bicycle and some of the same people but I was a very different person.

A year ago I was very spooked by the virus. The pace of the ride was such that the time I was away from home exceeded my capacity to be away from home.

This time I had found some of my pre-pandemic chill. Not all of it mind you, but enough to have a wonderful time.

Here’s hoping I can heal more and enjoy many more adventures.

Big news here. I retired from the practice of law effective September 1, 2022. Absolutely delighted. You may or may not know that I did not enjoy being a lawyer. I was grateful for the work, the camaraderie and the money, but I had a bad case of imposter syndrome. I have pictures of me in the lobby of my first law firm with a big new wave flop and a Meat Puppets t-shirt. I was a boy skater in a grown up world and I didn’t shake that feeling for a day of my 30 year career. So when I disassembled my home office and turned it into a library, I exhaled a 30 year breath that I never wanted to inhale. Joys.

Thirty days into retirement I received a summons for grand jury duty. I knew it was coming because I had asked for a postponement a year prior. Twelve Wednesdays ending at the end of this year. Some cases are easy to hear but others are shaking me up pretty badly. Harsh world.

I also signed up for a stage three trial for a Lyme vaccine. I’ve been scared of Lyme the 17 years I’ve lived in upstate New York. I still am able to get out in nature, but there is always background static in my mind. I’ve had so many friends get it. Most have an easy time clearing it with antibiotics, but at least one has suffered through a long term battle. Did you know there was a Lyme vaccine available from 1998 to 2002, but demand was insufficient and it was discontinued. It remained available for humans in Europe and for dogs here, but now Pfizer is trying to get approval for an antigen based vaccine targeting surface protein A that will cover a number of the bacteria that ticks share with us. I was pretty spooked about the trial, but my neighbor is a super-scientist at Wadsworth Laboratories and she looked at the documentation and said the vaccine is well researched and tolerated and that I should feel good going ahead with it.

Sunday was my first appointment. There’d be seven appoints and four shots over two and a half years. The first visit would take three hours. I showed up on time and was immediately concerned. No facility at the address. Just a small welcome tent, an RV for staff and a half dozen vans for participants on a gravel parking lot in a warehouse district. I walked in the tent and a trial participant said “she’ll be right back.” I waited five minutes and stepped outside. I was then greeted with the news that I’d have a three hour wait. Huh. I said I’d leave and reschedule, but when I got home I wrote that I am withdrawing from the trial. My guess is Pfizer contracts with this group to conduct the trial and pays the contractor a set fee. The contractor then works hard to lower costs to increase profitability. That, together with the lack of timeliness was enough to push me over the edge. I wanted to do it. To be a hero like the people who participated in trials for Covid vaccines. But sometimes no is the right answer, it was my answer and I’m sticking to it. If the vaccine is approved, I will be first in line to get it. Huge thanks then to the people who stick with the trial.

That’s about it. Hopefully more pedaling, some time in the woods, a few local road trips, lots of cooking and even more eating in my future. I’ll write about it as time permits. Thank you for being there to read it. Be well.

The Five Million Dollar Man

I looked it up. It was the Six Million Dollar Man, but what if the feds didn’t have the last million in the budget to rebuild him? They did their best with five, but the cut corners sometimes show. With $5M’s under the hood, he still vanquishes evil, but not every time. He listens from a great distance but not all the words are clear. The mix-up has the team arresting the wrong man. He spots two evildoers on a ridge, aims a rocket at the one on the right and hits it (but what he hit turns out to be a ghost created by double vision and the bad guy gets away). And so on. A sometimes super-hero. This is a show that would speak to me at my current stage of life.

I am deep into my 50s and probably on the decreshendo side of the slope, but I can still get things done. I don’t think I will ever swim across a lake, but years of practice has me cooking some very satisfying meals. I won’t likely hike the Long Trail, but I’ve walked with Violet five miles a day, almost every day, for the last four years. I still don’t work on cars, but I am pretty good at fixing things without combustion engines. I am getting softer in ways both undesirable and desireable. I struggle to do even one pull-up (and I haven’t tried for at least two years), but feeling vulnerable has made me slightly kinder and more patient. And I would gladly trade my last pull-up for even more kindness and patience.

I am now afraid of diseases and have altered my diet in hopes of staving off or lessening the effects of the preventable ones. Twenty-one years a vegan and counting. It is fun, easy, delicious and it feels so much better hugging Violet without critters in my colon. I now only drink one measured alcoholic drink every-other-day. I could easily give up the every-other-day treat if I formed the desire. Once you don’t let yourself drink enough to get buzzed, the point is mostly lost. Have you tried NA beers from Athletic Brewing? So many delicious varieties and most are under 100 calories a can. I still eat chips at lunch every single day. There is no food I love more.

I am getting to an age where parents are struggling a bit, struggling a lot, or even dead. I like to point out that we are next in line for that process. One generation away. Wakes a person up!

I still pay close attention to all the things the younger generations are teaching us and try to keep up. I know I am letting some of them down. I can see it in their eyes when I say something that I hope is still on the edge of acceptable (but for all I know it was totally offensive). I don’t let it bother me too much, though. Time marches on and they too will one day get to sit with that discomfort.

I ordered a big bottle of liquid wrench that I will pour down the stuck seat tube of my 1985 Cannondale mountain bike. The one with the 26″ front wheel and 24″ rear. I think it was Blue Lug that showed me the possibility of tightening a quill stem in the cut off seat post and using long handlebars to twist the stuck seat post out. So far it just slips, but maybe after a long chemical bath. Fingers crossed. It is such a swell bike.

I have manna baked tofu in the oven for lunch (and the timer just sounded). One of those dishes that I loved when I ate it every time at a veggie restaurant in Omaha (when there was no such thing as a vegan restaurant in Omaha). I can’t even remember the name of the joint, but they were kind enough to share the recipe with me. And I just noticed their receipe calls it Mana Baked Tofu. Not Manna. Two different things. Not that interesting. Feel free to look it up, though. Do you have a food from long ago that no one likes but you or your family or old friends? Isn’t that funny? How nostalgia influences taste?

I hope you are well.

Love from your budget constrained Steve Austin,

Randy

The other side

It was the first time I thought I could die here, now. I wasn’t wrong, I suppose I could have died, but I I’m still here. From the beginning.

A friend posted a couple of stories on Instagram about a ride on the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail. The trail follows the former path of an electric trolley that worked so well it had to end (as do all good things).

Historically, the Albany-Hudson Electric Trolley operated along the proposed trail corridor. The trolley was an interurban third rail system that operated along 35 miles from the City of Albany to the City of Hudson from 1899 to 1929. The trolley was powered by electricity supplied by the Stuyvesant Falls hydro-electric power plant. The 12,000 volt output of the dam was converted to 600 volts at three substations located in the City of Hudson, North Chatham, and East Greenbush.

The trolley line transported millions of passengers over its three decades of service. In the late 1920’s, railroads saw a decline in ridership due to the growing popularity of personal automobile travel. This, coupled with the beginning of the Great Depression, led to the closure of the trolley line in 1929.

https://ahettrail.org

The ride, starting in Valatie, New York (pronounced, I think, Valacia), was to follow the trail to Hudson and return. Fifteen miles each way. I haven’t pedaled much further than four miles at a time in the last couple of years and we’ve quarantined pretty strictly so my only thought on seeing the invitations was “how nice of him to organize this” and “they’ll have so much fun.” Even though it was the perfect ride, just when I needed it most, I was sure I wasn’t going.

Saturday morning at 8:40 am. I had finished the NYT Spelling Bee (not queen bee, never once queen bee, but genius, which is good enough for me), I looked at the time and thought I should do the ride. Map said I needed 25 minutes to drive there. That left 25 minutes to pump up some tires, throw together a rudimentary tool roll, grab two Clif bars and a bottle of water, put the bike on the car and go. Lacey said go, she’d take care of Violet, so off I went. Unplanned adventures the best.

I arrived at 9:28 and was the second car in the lot. My friend wasn’t there, but he can be counted on to arrive 15-30 minutes late (which I consider a superpower–it would be easier for me to lift a locomotive than to arrive after a stated time). As the minutes passed, more people showed up. Since the lot was designated for use in connection with the trail, I wondered whether folks were there for the organized ride or just showing up on their own, until I noticed the bicycles. Rivendells, an Ahearne, an All-City, a Bridgestone, a Vigo, a clunked Bontrager, most with big front packs or trunk bags from the fashionable makers. These were people in a particular bicycling clique. They were here for the ride. I was sort of in the clique for a time, but I haven’t kept up with it. I was on a Rivendell, but I lacked what I consider to be the hallmark–a fancy waxed cotton front bag. Easy to remedy. Just follow the maker or designer on IG, they announce a drop, you pop onto the site within the first few minutes and grab one of a dozen or so offered for sale. Twice I have almost bought one, but I have resisted for no other reason than I rail against certain specific kinds of conformity. I had a red and white vinyl seat bag from the 50’s that held only a small tool roll and two food bars. I love being my own person but I sort of wished I had the cool bag.

We rolled out. I was second behind the organizer. We were on a sidewalk and a sign showed the trail going in two directions. We wanted to go south and he proceeded to travel what I was sure was north, so I popped off the curb, crossed the street and waited for everyone to follow me on the other side. No one did. I watched the group pedal away with the leader and I was left to recross the street and fall in at the back. No one even hollered to me. I had the new kid in the lunchroom feeling which I don’t as a 54-year old very often feel. Maybe if I didn’t have my weird bag.

Well, shucks. But it was fun pedaling slow at the back. I lowered my mask. I couldn’t get it tucked just right to stop my glasses from fogging. I looked at the new sites. Sometimes part of the group would stop to fiddle with this or that on their bike. I try to not offer advice unless asked, a maxim I had already failed to follow twice in the parking lot. I had pointed out an unseated tire bead and a chainring pin installed in the wrong location (so that it would keep the chain from dropping behind the crank arm). These violations of good order were on bikes owned by two other good friends who showed up, but still. Not how I want to reconnect with friends after a year apart. I hovered above myself saw myself offering unsolicited advice and thought “what a dick.” I will try harder.

The ride to Hudson was beautiful. Slow. Mostly on trail. When signs led us onto roads the traffic was light. I spoke with a couple of folks. One guy had a new puppy that was driving him nuts. I did my best to reassure him that while puppies are nuts, they aren’t so forever. I suggested he settle in for a year of nuts, though. He seemed both encouraged and discouraged, but sometimes that how truth lands. I also got to talk to the two friends I hadn’t seen much of during quarantine. A couple of short hangs on the lawn with masks. Nice but not the same. It was great to catch up.

The trip south to Hudson took some time. Longer than the 15 miles would suggest. My quarantine-inspired love of home alarm bells started going off. I tried to lobby my two friends to skip the trip into town and pedal back, but they wanted to continue. I relented. This ride was supposed to help me reacclimatize. We dropped down the hill to the river-front town. But I wasn’t excited for coffee. I haven’t had a coffee out in public for more than a year. Hudson is a busy place on a Saturday. Tourists flock there for fancy food, mid-century antiques and art. We were at one end of the main street. It looked fine. Not too busy, but I need home. I said a quick goodbye to the leader and the two friends and started the 15 mile pedal to my car alone.

I stopped in the woods to pee. Then I opened a Clif bar, a really old one it turns out, and got back on my bike to eat and pedal. It was a steep hill. I was winded. So much so that I dropped into my rocking chair ring and the easiest gear in the back and started cartoon pedaling and slowly inching up the hill. I’d take a bite. Chew. Choke. I couldn’t grab my water so I just tried to swallow it down. It wasn’t working. It hurt. Breathing was tough. I was getting scared. Obviously I could have stopped, caught my breath and drank, but I didn’t. Too stubborn. I wanted to keep making progress toward my car and home. So I spun and wheezed and choked, waiting to respirate a huge chunk of Clif into a lung. I wondered if, after a nice lunch in Hudson, the group would find me dead on the side of the trail. Then I was at the top of the hill and put the last third of the bar in my pocket and instead drink. And swallow. And shift to the middle ring. And thank heavens that I didn’t choke to death.

All that remained was to pedal back to the car. I’d been in the saddle long enough that my butt hurt. The wind was light but in my face. I was tired. All of the uphills on the way to Hudson morphed into uphills on the way to Valatie but all the downhills on the way to Hudson remained uphills on the way to Valatie. I was suffering. It was cold. I was tired, hungry and thirsty. Storm clouds were forming. A slog!

I was thinking about the tendon I tore a couple of years ago from walking. Probably overuse from walking so much everyday with Violet. Between five and ten miles a day, everyday, for three years. It popped when I jogged uphill a block form home. I couldn’t put any weight on it. I found a stick on a lawn to use like a crutch and hobbled home. I wrapped it and used crutches for a couple of days. Watched a couple of rehab exercise videos on Youtube and did the exercises and stretches faithfully until I was healed. I didn’t go to a doctor so its hard to be sure it won’t just pop again if I do too much. Like pedal seven times further than usual. So I pedaled evenly and watched the movie of the scenery replay in reverse until I finally saw my car. An hour back. Kind of like I expected, but tough. Maybe my days of easy 15 miles an hour are past (or maybe I just need to pedal more).

I rolled across the street from the parking lot to a bike store. Having not been in a bike store for so long I thought it would be fun. Mask up, glasses fogged and the place was kind of busy so I turned and left. The vintage trophy bikes displayed along the ceiling would wait to be appreciated another day. I went to get a bagel with hummus, toasted, and a seltzer from a drive through. Then I loaded the bike onto the roof of the car and drove home. Sometimes being alone is so easy and nice.

I feel good today. My leg is fine and my butt has healed. Happy to be back in my quarantine home with my quarantine pals and rituals. Three home cooked squares, walks with Violet, training with Violet, puzzles, books, tv. I love it so. How privileged to be able to work from home through this mess. My mind has been turning over the question of how to exit this mode of being. This bike ride with people, sometimes masked, sometimes not, was a good start. My men’s Scrabble group should help too. Then delayed doctor visits, family visits and a meal out of the house. It will come together. Slowly. I like to give myself as long to get out of a mess as it takes to get into it. Here, a year and a half of strange so I won’t expect to feel right for another year and a half. Maybe I’ll surprise myself.

I hope you have weathered this well and reemerge with grace and dignity. I hope you didn’t get sick or lose loved ones. How can I thank the people that worked facing the public through all of this? Helping us get care, food and shelter. How did you do it? I am in awe. I hope I can repay you. I will work to repay you. Thank you.

Picture by @hoppedbirder (on IG).

Housing

I haven’t shared with you much about my work.  I am a lawyer who helps put together loans to build and rehabilitate rental housing.  Mostly affordable housing.  Based on a very rough “back of the envelope calculation,” my work has played a part in providing about 1,500 affordable apartments per year, or about 37,500 affordable apartments over my 25 year career.  I should actually count.  As you may have noticed, I really like counting things.  Some day.

I am proud of the results of my work, but there was much I didn’t know about the more granular positive impact I was having on individual lives.  Having just read Evicted–Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, I know more.  I recommend it to you.  You’ll get a look into the lives of a small group of landlords and tenants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and through their stories learn much about the impact of rising rents, nuisance property ordinances, severely underfunded housing voucher programs (2 out of 3 low income families receive zero federal housing assistance) and, most importantly, evictions.

There is much that needs fixing in our rental housing market, but two fixes proposed in the epilogue to Evicted would go a long way.  First, guarantee access to legal representation for those facing eviction.  In many housing courts, ninety percent of landlords show up with lawyers and ninety percent of tenants show up without lawyers (or don’t show up at all).  Federal laws require representation be made available for criminal actions, but not civil actions (like housing court actions).  Expanding access to lawyers isn’t a new idea.  Countries like France, Sweden, Azerbaijan, India and Zambia provide lawyers for all legal actions.  Why can’t we?  Second, fully fund the housing voucher program so that everyone in need of housing can get housing.  Price tag?  Roughly $60 billion.  Cost of the federal subsidies for homeownership in the form of the mortgage interest deduction and related subsidies?  Roughly $170 billion.  This $170 billion subsidy ends up mostly benefiting those with six figure incomes.  For a third of that price tag we could house everyone.  Housing should be a right.  What is wrong with us?  Read the book already!

Now back to my work.  The single most important tool to address the affordable housing crisis was put in place in 1986.   That year the tax code was revised to allow the issuance of tax exempt bonds (called private activity bonds) and the use of related tax credits to encourage the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing owned by private developers.  It has worked extremely well (the program now provides half of the country’s annual production of affordable rental housing–about 50,000 units per year), but even with this important stimulus the supply of affordable housing has not kept pace with our rapidly growing need.  Rather than expand the program, the current House tax proposal would eliminate the program altogether.  This small but devastating change isn’t being generally reported.  Now you know.  What to do?  I called my Representative yesterday and told him I wanted to preserve private activity bonds and tax credits related to affordable housing.  Will you do the same?

Take care, okay?

A Little Help

Violet started walking slowly with her head held low.  She wasn’t stalking.  She had thrown up this morning, so I was concerned she was about to again.  She didn’t, so I started checking paws.  Right front was clear.  Right rear had a quinoa sized glass shard in the pad.  I pulled that out and she walked normally.  When was she going to tell me?

The stoic dog.  Frida was one and it seems Violet may be as well.  While some dogs don’t hesitate to communicate discomfort, the stoic dog carries on as best they can without complaint.  It is tough to live with a stoic dog.  To compensate for their muted messages, I turn up my sensitivity.  As a result, I am often pretty sure my dog is a heartbeat away from death or serious illness.  I am thankful to have a partner to help with the decisions.  Lacey calms me down, or I calm her down.  Without each other, we might have Violet at the vet every other day.

Abrupt topic change now.  In an effort to avoid the black hole of social media, I picked up a digital subscription to the New York Times.  It has been great.  Here is a video I enjoyed watching today.

What do you think?

Here is another potential eye opener.  At my last bond conference, I attended a panel on the impact of implicit bias.  Implicit bias was a new to me term.  I would have more quickly grasped the concept if it were called subconscious bias.  Or if I had first read this.  To  prepare for the panel, we were asked to take one of several online tests to measure our implicit bias.  I took the test to measure implicit bias relating to disability.  At the end of the test, I was told I have a strong negative bias against the disabled.  Gulp.  Hard to hear that.  I don’t want to believe it.  Going back to the home page for the test, I see the following warning:

If you are unprepared to encounter interpretations that you might find objectionable, please do not proceed further.

If I read that before, I blew it off.  What I do have to hide from myself, I (may have) thought. Something, perhaps, it turns out.  Something I am very surprised by and am decidedly “not cool with.”  At the conference, we responded to a poll using an app on our phones.  I wasn’t alone in being surprised by my results.  That helped some, but only some.  Still, I am glad I took the test.  Knowing that I may harbor an implicit bias will help me adjust my actions going forward.  Before I make a decision, I can stop and ask myself whether the decision could be influenced by an implicit bias.  That said, as much as I am glad I took the one test, and suggest you consider doing so as well, I didn’t take any of the other thirteen tests offered.  I am not sure I am yet “prepared to encounter interpretations that you might find objectionable.”  Someday.  Whew.  That was heavy.

Local?  My friend put together a great sounding show at the Low Beat.  Tonight at 8.  Lyft there, enjoy a drink and some music.  We’ll see if I practice what I preach.  Here’s hoping.

Happy Friday, you all.

Not Sharing is Caring

Not much here, truth be told.  Walking Violet mostly.  Since I’ve kept track, we’ve walked far enough to travel from here to Maxwell, Nebraska.  I’ll let you know when we make it to the Pacific ocean.  Should be May, 2018, if we maintain our current average of 6.5 miles a day.

I didn’t bike much this summer.  Pedaled once into the country to attend a friend’s party, but the rest has been once a week rolls to the grocery or garden.  I might be a little scared since the last time I was hit.  Not terribly scared, but it doesn’t take much to deter me from biking when I get plenty of exercise from walking Violet.  I’m down to my high school weight.  Pulled out some old Levis to be sure and, yup, they fit great.  Who would have thought?

I didn’t camp this summer but spent a ton of time looking at pictures of Japanese camping equipment on Instagram.  Really stunning set ups, I tell you.  The only thing I’ve seen for sale here are Yeti coolers.  Crazy expensive.  I’ll stick to window shopping and my aluminum clad Coleman.

The community garden is shaggier than ever yet it delivers food aplenty.  Today I retrieved kale, tomatoes, beans, tomatillos and peppers.  I didn’t plant the home garden because Violet uses it as a landing pad when running and jumping from the back door.  Just outside the fence bordering the garden is check point one–squirrels and rabbits are sometimes on the other side.

Violet is now reliably sweet as pie.  She’s met hundreds of non-squirrel/rabbit/cat beings and is always pleasant.  She’s been to hotels, vacation rentals, bars, restaurants, stores and homes and is nothing short of perfect.  She’s even earned her merit badges for being a polite passenger in a motor boat and a canoe!  Lacey took her running today (something we didn’t have much luck doing with our two previous pals).  I haven’t biked with her since forever.  We don’t need it to wear her out.  Walking is enough.

I switched law firms.  The old one came apart and I accepted an offer to join a new firm created by the gentleman who hired me at my previous firm.  I am again serving in an of counsel capacity.  Since I still work from home and log in using the same laptop, it feels pretty much the same.  New operating system, but I still have sufficient mental flexibility to quickly adapt.  Onward!

I had a colonoscopy!  It was my first medical procedure if you don’t count twice getting stitches and having some wisdom teeth pulled.  The colonoscopy prep was, how shall I say this, noteworthy,  but oh so much easier (and shorter!) than the trials of beings all over the globe facing natural disasters, random violence, institutional violence, war, illness, hatred, poverty and hunger.  Still I complained a little.  I slept through the twenty minute procedure.  Results of one tissue sample will arrive in a week.  Happy to have access to healthcare.  Time to open the club to all comers, don’t you think?  I also think they should give you a patch for getting a colonoscopy.  I asked.  They didn’t have any.  I hope they will consider it.  The warmed blanket was a nice touch, though.  Bravo.

I am cooking like crazy.  I don’t have time to catalog a tenth of the changes so I won’t try.  Suffice it to say I currently “have the hots” for chickpea flour and gochujang.

I made a friend from this here blog.  He buttonholed me at the grocery and said he enjoyed my positive vibe (or something to that effect).  He is a hell of a guy and his wife is a hell of a woman.  I’ll consider all the work I’ve put into these pages as repaid and then some.  Three cheers for friends!

Pictures are fun, right?  Here is one.IMG_7837.JPG

I am going to go process the fruit and veg I hauled home today.  Hope you are well!

Things that Make Me Happy

In no particular order.

Yesterday we walked with Violet to the Albany Pride Parade.  The Pride Parade always makes me happy.  If you know us, you know we were early.  We invested our time in a side trip to Berben and Wolff’s for a breakfast sandwich to share.  So good!  We’d had breakfast and it wasn’t lunch time, but since I’ve been walking Violet roughly ten miles a day, I don’t hew too closely to the three meals a day rule.  If I am near delicious vegan food, I have some.  Like Saturday.  Again Lacey, Violet and I walked to Lark street, where an art fair was happening.  Berben and Wolff made me a banh mi slider with a crispy, porky ball in the middle.  A special for the fair.  Man.  I’d order that every day for a between meal snack.  They’re getting really creative with their specials.  If you’ve worked through the menu, don’t hesitate to keep going for the off menu items.  B&W makes me so happy!

Back to the parade.  The pre-party is the best part.  The marching is joyous and fun, but walking around saying hi to everyone before that gets underway is when I get the most happy.  I still struggle with the facade of unfriendly that so may here present.  I continue to say hi to most people I pass and the response rate is low.  About one in five responds.  Wears a fellow down.  Attendees and participants in the Pride Parade, on the other hand, are almost all in a terrific mood.  Everyone says hello with bonus small talk thrown in.  Violet gets lots of love, too.  I should pass out the lens cleaning wipes I carry to those whose lenses Violet kisses.  She loves to give kisses and her kisses tend to travel the full length of the face, glasses included.  No one seems to mind.  

My friend’s kid marched with her school band and we watched with another kind of pride as she passed by with her alto sax.  The Hannaford’s grocery group was huge!  Looks like it is a very good place to work.  One marcher shouted just that as he passed.  That doesn’t happen often enough!  I also really liked a soccer league float that included a locker room complete with showers.  Good clean fun.

Violet continues to delight.  Still bumps in the road, but they are decreasing in frequency and intensity.  She’s rock solid reliably sweet when meeting people, kids and dogs, but she’s still hot for squirrels and even hotter for rabbits. Not much of an issue when walking, but when she spots them from inside the house she can get a little intense.  No harm comes of it, but it is the opposite of relaxing to be around.  We are still training sometimes and managing others.  

Beers in the driveway can be tough, though.  If I tie her out with us, she has a lot of territory to scan and it doesn’t take long for her to spot prey.  I need to try keeping her on a short leash.  It will be a bit of a hassle, but it may limit the number of sightings.  P.S. Violet isn’t a junior officer. I just found the sticker on the ground.  They need to be more careful with their badges, don’t you think?

The community garden is going well.  We have a real rabbit problem there, but I haven’t lost everything of any one variety, so I am not sweating it.  Thanks to the rabbits, I won’t have an over abundance anything this season.  People are erecting short fences around their gardens.  I’ve had luck placing two feet high wire surrounds around particular rows, so maybe their short fences will help.  I hope so.  Some have had gardens eaten to the ground more than once.  Not sure why I haven’t been similarly wiped out.  Maybe it is all the volunteer dill and tomatillo plants amongst which the seedlings I plant are hidden.  My garden is really wooly this year.  I am sure to garner a weed warning, but none are weeds.  Just a lot of volunteer fruits and herbs.  I hope the administrators can tell the difference.  

I saved the best for last.  Lacey makes me happiest of all.  She is working too many hours so I don’t see enough of her, but we do our best to soak up the love in the evenings and all weekend long.  She’s making an effort to keep her schedule in check, but it is hard to say no to requests for appointments from people who are hurting.  I hope her clients appreciate the sacrifices she makes for them and, as a result, the sacrifices I make for them!  Violet is good company, but I need my Lacey even more.  At least I have Lacey when I do.  So thankful for that.

I’m going to prepare for a call to close a deal.  It’s been a good year.  A few more deals and I will hit my average yearly revenues.  I wish I could take the rest of the year off, but I have to help with everything my client brings and he isn’t likely to take a sabbatical.  If the year ends up above average, we’ll save a bit more for the future.  It’s all good.

I’ll leave you with a short story that also made me smile.  Leaving the garden today, I spoke with a woman who helps a family from Afghanistan.  They live in a small apartment with mice and roaches, have signficant health problems and barely have enough to eat.  Still, they are the happiest people she knows.  When this woman’s 16 year old son gets on her nerves, she visits the refuge family for a dose of happy.  Why so happy?  No bullets.  No bombs.  That is enough for them.

What makes you happy?

A Month

A month has passed since I last wrote.  I’ve started to forget the challenges we faced as we integrated Violet into our family.  I look at her and wonder how I ever doubted we could be a family.  She is a really terrific dog.  A few minor quirks remain, but even if we never sorted them out, we’d be fine.  Happy.  Ecstatic.

Still walking like crazy.  I’ve been keeping records for 84 days during which time we’ve walked 529 miles.  That’s an average of 6.3 miles a day.  The prong collar is still magic.  She can be within a few feet of a squirrel and not freak out.  She’ll stare at it without pulling for as long as I’ll let her and then I can walk her away when I’m ready.  Maybe she’ll then pull a bit to try to get closer, but not always and if she does it is nothing remarkable.  I’m so happy.

I’ve started a few hearty plants at the community garden.  Unless it rains, I go there every day to water.  I’ve tried leaving Violet at the picnic table while I water but she barks and barks until I come back.  That is a quirk I will try to sort out.  I want to be able to walk her there to water, then play at the dog run in the same park.  But leaving her at home means I get to pedal to the garden, which is nice.

I feel pretty strong on the bike.  All this walking must have helped.  I tire a bit on longer pulls, but that’ll go away as I keep at it.  We’ll see how much I bike this summer.  In the same way the long walks leave Violet with little interest in being wild, they leave me with less need to get out and pedal.  A trip to the garden or the store may be enough.  Having walked outside for three to four hours, I am content to work, do chores, lawn care, cook, read books and watch TV.

I just started watching Raja, Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyaan on Netflix.  It is an Indian show covering Indian cuisine, region by region.  Subtitles and all.  Up until now, I only had a rough, and probably confused, understanding of the differences between the food of northern and southern India.  I am ready to learn.  The first episode covered Rajasthan.  Desert country, so families rely on khejri trees, the leaves of which feed goats milked by the families to get milk.  They also grow millet which tolerates the heat and needs little water.  It’s tough living but the people don’t just survive, they thrive thanks to the cuisines they’ve developed and adopted.  Inspiring.  Next up is Tamil Nadu.  I can’t wait!

I am reading Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel.  My friend teaches at St. Rose and was having her students read Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.  That book isn’t in our library system, but I Hotel was.  It covers the Asian American experience in San Francisco during the late 60s and early 70s.  A turbulent time in which Asian Americans were fighting for their civil rights.  A good review is here.  I am enjoying it very much, but I am a little bit distracted since I received Haruki Murakami’s latest short story collection, Men Without Women.  You may recall that I spent much of 2016 devouring everything he wrote and I am ready to dive back in, but I am 100 pages from finishing I Hotel.  Patience!

I’m still making food from all over the world.  Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian and US dishes top the charts, but I’ve added a few dishes from Russia and Egypt, too.  Having never had many of these foods prepared for me, I have no idea if I am hitting the mark or any mark, but the dishes delight me.  Isn’t that enough?  Might be because I love cooking and eating and have a huge sense of gratitude for the variety of wonderful ingredients I can get, but I may also be getting a little better with practice.  It’s slow going, but fun along the way.

Speaking of food, I’ve typed my way past eleven so I am going to cook something for lunch.  Take care of yourselves.  Have a walk and make some yummy food.  Cheers!

The Right Direction

We’ve been with Violet nearly ten weeks now.  Positive change is happening every day.  I can cry happy tears when I think about how far she was come.

Because she jumped our four foot fence, we’ve had a six foot fence installed.  We don’t know whether she can jump a six footer.  We briefly considered an eight foot fence, but the dog runs I’ve seen have six footers, so that is where we ended up.  We still take her out on a leash to make sure there are no critters inside the fence.  Once the coast is clear (anything there leaves straight away), she runs free while we play fetch and practice recalls and the like.

We also bought a Whistle 3.  It’s that little grey box on her collar–a GPS tracker.  It wasn’t expensive, but it requires a cellular plan (about $7 a month).  If Violet leaves home without us, I would open the app on my phone and track her in real time.

When it arrived, I went to the App Store to download the app.  I noticed a fair number of poor reviews.  Things like it was slow to alert people that their dog had left home or the app wasn’t refreshing fast enough when tracking a lost pet.  Disconcerting, but I ended up keeping the Whistle 3.  Even if it isn’t perfect, it gives me hope.  Violet has twice gone on walkabouts.  Even an imperfect tracking device might be the help I need if she goes  further next time.  And we sometimes open the app when we’re out.  Seems like it does a good job in that context.  We’ll see.

Since we’re hoping we never need to use the tracking device, the built in activity monitor gives us something to play with.  Something for the money, if you will.  Of course she is crushing the suggested one hour a day of activity.  We’re still walking an average of 5.5 miles a day, which typically includes 0.7 miles of running by my bike, as well as playing in the yard and trips to the dog run.  Generally about three hours of activity.  If anything, I need to ease up a bit and give her more time to sleep, but then the activity monitor tells me she is sleeping about 15 hours a day, which is about right for her age and size.  So it is all good.

Except for the walking.  Despite months of very careful work to help her stop pulling, Violet was too distracted to make fast enough progress.  Her prey drive has her moving fast while looking for prey and, once spotting it, trying very hard to get near it.  Even when squirrels weren’t in sight, the constant corrections, stopping, direction and speed changes were taking their toll on my body.  My whole left side–arm, hip and knee–were getting really sore.  Much more and I’d probably be injured and unable to walk her.  Couldn’t let that happen.

Then we remembered the prong collar.  Scary looking things, but we used one on our first dog, Speed.  She pulled like crazy and the prong collar fixed it in an instant.  So fast that I put her prong collar around my neck to see what we were doing to her.  Nothing too bad.  As I recall, sharp pulls resulted in uncomfortable pinching but not pain.  In fact, she seemed considerably more comfortable than when we were using a flat nylon collar (against which she pulled so hard she’d labor to breathe).

So I ordered a prong collar for Violet–a black stainless steel Herm Sprenger from Germany.  It is very well made, should last her lifetime, and I like that the tips are rounded rather than blunt.  We ordered a smaller link size (2.25 mm) on the advice of this fellow and are happy we did.  It works very well and doesn’t look as ominous as the collars with 3.00 or 3.25 mm links.

As was the case with Speed, Violet stopped pulling immediately.  Without any corrections.  It was just short of miraculous.  Granted, I had been working very hard with Violet to help her learn to walk by me and that pulling would result in stopping, so that when the prong collar was put on she already had a clear understanding of what was expected.  She always did, but with a martingale collar she would repeatedly opt to pull the entire walk.  Pull, stop.  Pull, stop.  Pull, change directions.  Repeat for two or three hours a day.  And that was before she saw a squirrel.   When she saw a squirrel, she’d put on a real show.  She’d pull and choke herself terribly.  With the prong collar, she now often will ignore squirrels altogether.  If the squirrel is too close, she’ll still pull for it, but with much less intensity and for much shorter time.  No choking at all.  No yelping in pain.  She seems comfortable, yet fairly quickly opts to stop the pulling and come back to my side.  Life changing for the both of us.

We got away with using a prong collar with Speed without training her first.  We were young and didn’t know much about training.  We used a retractable lead and the prong collar, so Speed never learned to walk by us.  She’d walk about six feet in front of us but we didn’t care.  She wasn’t scary to passersby.  Violet is more intimidating.  Even though she walks calmly and has little interest in people we pass, its clear that some people feel better when I keep her by my side and in control.

It occurred to me I should repeat the prong collar test.  I’ve told people about the test I did twenty three years ago, but I started to wonder if I’d still find the collar reasonable.  Here we go.

Pinches sharply, but no material pain.  And I’m pulling much harder than I do with Violet.   So, pass!  If you have a dog that pulls, and training with a training collar, martingale collar or training harness isn’t working, consider a prong collar.  Before you buy one and use it, watch some training videos.  The one I liked is linked above, but here it is again.  Watch both parts.  Fitting, placement and use are not obvious.  Learning is fun and your dog will thank you.  So thumbs up for prong collars.

That’s enough of that.  It just started raining.  Time for a nap.  That’s what I say, but Violet wants to play some.  So we’ll play some.

Bye!

Backing into It

Violet came with her name, but we’ve recently discovered Violet Oakley.  Ms. Oakley was an American muralist and stained glass artist.  Not as well know as Frida’s namesake artist, but we’ve got a match and we’ll stick with it.

Violet’s bike tow leash arrived!  It is very well made, easy to install and Violet took to it from the first try.

I wish I had a better video of her running on it, one that showed her in relation to the bike, but I shouldn’t be making videos while piloting a bike to which my beloved dog is attached, so I’ll let the one indiscretion below serve as a placeholder (until I affix the bike tow leash to our tandem so I can safely pilot while Lacey makes video aplenty from the stoker’s seat).

So far we’ve been sticking to a 0.7 mile loop in our neighborhood.  All small streets with almost no traffic.  Violet keeps an eye on the bike to know when to turn, slow and stop.  I was concerned about her spotting squirrels while underway but so far the activity has held her attention.   She’s looked at squirrels, but hasn’t made an effort to do anything more.  Knocking on wood before every ride and keeping my hands hovering over both brakes, mind you.

Except for uphill sections, I don’t pedal much.  Violet pulls us both along very easily and, with a little distance to spin up her motor, she runs fast.  Despite the short distance, she is very well exercised by the end.  Probably helps that we often tack the biking loop onto the end of a long walk.  Maybe someday we’ll put the bike on the car and head to a rail trail, or even for a spin through the woods at Thatcher, but we’re good for now.  If you have a dog who needs more exercise than you can share while walking, this tool may be just what you need.

Food?  Why sure!  Before Passover comes and steals our bread, I’ve been enjoying what I call toast bowls.  I didn’t grow up with bowls (the meal format, that is), and I’ve only in the last couple of years warmed up to them.  I’m fully on board now.  As much as I enjoy eating them, prep isn’t easy.  Making each of a starch, veg, protein and sauce takes a fair amount of time and yields a breathtaking pile of cookware to wash.  What to do?

Toast bowl to the rescue–using toast as the starch all but eliminates one of the four steps and the related cookware.  25% easier!  I love my rice cooker, but clean up is a little much.  Quinoa is easier, but I fret about the shortage I am causing for native eaters in Bolivia and Peru (until I read this, so maybe I can enjoy the quinoa I eat once a week?).   But toast!  A nice whole grain sour dough (another plug for my exclusive bread supplier) toasted up is always a comfort.  More comfort?  I have been brushing on melted butter before I chop the toast into bite sized pieces.  I’m still making Miyoko’s butter.  Last batch I used yogurt instead of milk and the resulting cultured taste is a real winner.

Recent toast bowl?  Buttered toast bites formed the foundation, which was topped with chopped Field Roast chorizo sausage and roasted Brussels sprouts, and then a yellow gravy (from Julie Hasson’s casserole cookbook) was generously ladled on top.  Gobs of gravy!  Many of the gravy recipes I enjoy are completely fat free but are still, thanks to salt, peppers and spices, delicious.  No reason, then, unless I develop high blood pressure, to go easy on gravy.  Just another perk of the plant eating lifestyle.  Toast bowls!  Hit one today!  Before Passover!  Wait!  Buttered then busted matzo!  Ca-ching!  This is just too easy.

So Friday then.  Do with it what you will, so long as no one gets hurt.