Thursday, April 1, 2010

We All Need a Purpose

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."…
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Purpose in life is what it’s all about—even, especially, when it is hard. Purpose makes the hardest, longest days, the most unimaginable pain, not just bearable, but noble.

And a sense of purpose also makes the most trivial, mundane things we do, not only tolerable, but meaningful.

As Saint Therese, who is known as The Little Flower, taught, what is important to do is simply the ordinary things of life, but to do them with extraordinary love.

“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love at which we do them.” St. Therese

Whether your purpose is to write the Great American Novel or to rescue orphans in Haiti or simply to raise children who recycle and don’t burp at the dinner table, a sense of purpose helps us get through the tough stuff that might bury us otherwise.

While we may dream of lying on the beach, drinking Pina Coladas, snoozing and reading People Magazine, I doubt if that kind of life would make us deliriously happy for long.

What really makes our hearts sing, makes us happy to wake up in the morning is believing that what we do matters—that we have Purpose!

Which brings me to Dog.

Dog has a nice life by anyone’s standards. Plenty to eat, warm beds (I think he has about four or five in different rooms of the house), lots of love, and free health care! Now that he is over his puppy stage, he is most content to lie on the ottoman in my office...

keeping me company while I read or write or try to read the Sunday NY Times...

In our old house, Dog could lounge to his heart’s content. He had a huge yard to wander around in, and wander he did, but he never stayed out much longer than to “do his business.” In spite of the great big, lovely playground with an abundance of plants and smells, he was never that into it. Like us lying on that beautiful, lazy beach—always available and easy, comfortable and warm, but not very challenging.

Then everything changed. We moved. Our new yard is way smaller. The back yard is maybe ¼ the size of our old yard and half of that is taken up by a pool. But there is so much more excitement—and Purpose.

The difference? Squirrels!

Our new yard is like the Official Reserve for the Preservation of Squirrels. All manner of squirrels! Gray squirrels, brown squirrels and a funny-looking black squirrel that appears to be a cross between a proper squirrel and a rat. It’s squirrel Nirvana—as if we were dropped into some alternate Universe where the squirrels ruled and the humans were just there to observe and tend to the acorn-producing trees.

Dog has decided that his magnificent purpose, his main goal in life is to protect his family from squirrels. This is no small task, with the multiple doors and windows in our house, lending themselves to frequent, random, spontaneous squirrel sightings.

Like Columbo on a stake-out, Dog will be lying on his bed, pretending to sleep. But he’s not as clueless as he looks. Dog always has at least a half an eye open.

No mater how exhausted or comfortable he is (and one day he was diving into a big bowl of cheese-embellished dogfood!) if he sees a squirrel, everything else falls away.

He bursts out the door with a bestial cry and a gallop, chases the offending rodent up to a tree or fence and then secures the perimeter, walking all around the pool and fence lines until he is absolutely sure that the coast is clear.

Dog never actually catches a squirrel. Never even comes close. I don’t know that he expects to. As Steve Jobs says, “The journey is the reward.” The sense of purpose is enough.

Pursuit of squirrel is a mighty journey for Dog.

May we all know the joy of purpose. And have the courage to pursue the elusive beast with reckless abandon.

And know that in the big scheme of things, the pursuit of squirrel is much more important than the catching of it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Separated at Birth?

Brad Pitt...

Speedo (Dog's little brother)...

We are babysitting Speedo for the next week, sure to inspire more dog blogs...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Gratitude and the New Year

Perhaps inspired by our Christmas Eve dinner with our wonderful friends Don and Mary Jane (M.J. is the author of the amazing Attitudes of Gratitude, among many, many other fabulous books) my husband decided to write a list of all the things he was most grateful for over the past decade.

I was telling this to my 14-year-old daughter as we were driving in the car today.

"And guess what was number one on his list?" I said. "Dog!"

"Well," she deadpanned. "I hope you were at least number two."

Happy New Year and wishing you lots to be grateful for in 2010!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dog Would Make a Great Poker Player

I’ve never played poker much myself. But I understand the key to winning the game is mastering the ability to bluff.

To win this game of stakes, you must be able to look your opponent in the eye, and, whatever your hand is, make them think you are wiling to risk it all for the ultimate payoff.

Such it is with Dog and Food.

No secret that Dog is a little on the hefty side these days. I prefer to think of him as “big-boned,” and since I walk him two miles a day, he is very fit and we all know that muscle weighs more than fat, right?

Remember, back in the day, when there were three sizes of pants for boys—Slim, Regular, and Husky? Dog is definitely a size “husky.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

So the problem is that with four of us humans in the house, in one day, we might have as many as a dozen separate meals or snacks, and Dog is front and center at every single one, begging for a bite. I have made it a rule not to feed him from the table, but others in the family

are not as strong-willed.

Back when he was a puppy, he would only eat his dog food when we mixed in “a little something extra”—like egg yolk, chicken or cheese. Can we say, “bad habit?”

I know that some (most) dog-owners give their pets (unadorned) food a couple of times a day. They wait for them to eat or not. Then, after some reasonable amount of time, they take the food away, figuring if the dog is not hungry then, he’ll be hungry for the next meal. I think that is what “The Dog Whisperer” would recommend.

But, I just don’t have the heart. I think one of the worst feelings in the world is to be hungry. And, maybe I have a weird metabolism, but I can be fine one minute and famished the next. Luckily, I don’t have to have lunch at noon, when someone else thinks I should, but I can eat whenever I want. And I’d like Dog to have the same freedom.

Within reason.

Because I can conceivably control myself—except possibly when sour cream cheddar potato chips or onion rings are involved. But we all know that if you put a pile of infinite Filet Mignon in front of Dog, he would literally eat himself to death.

So, my new plan is to feed dog three times a day—when I eat. At breakfast, he gets kibble and a couple of shreds of cheese, At dinner, he may get carrots and a bit of chicken mixed with the dry dog food, But at lunch, it's kibble a la carte. No sauces, veggies or protein embellishments. That way, if he is truly hungry, he can eat. But if he is looking only to satisfy his epicurean delights, instead of his animal hunger, desire vs. need, he can wait for dinner. Like I can always eat carrots and celery instead of a cheeseburger.

But Dog is no fool. He knows exactly how to play his cards.

When I pour the dry food into his bowl, he looks at it. Then looks at me.

Then he glances up at the nice pan-roasted turkey and Swiss cheese on whole wheat bread that is my lunch. Then he sits ever so nicely at my feet and doesn’t beg or whine. He just looks at me with those hopeful eyes. “Won’t you please spare a bit for a poor ol’ dog?”

I am resolute. And without (much) guilt. He has food in his bowl. If he’s hungry, he can eat.

(A side note: My mother completely spoiled our family dog, Goofus. She would make him bacon and “Steak-ums” and scramble eggs and fry ground beef especially for him. He rarely got walked, but, oh, how he was fed! This was before we had ever heard the word, “cholesterol,” but I’m sure Goofus’ was through the roof. No matter, Goofus lived 14 years. My mother still laments feeding him all those bad things and fears that she inadvertently shortened his life. And I say, “If you had to choose to live 14 years with bacon or 15 years without, which would you choose?” And I think the answer is pretty obvious.)

So, Dog looks up at me longingly, pitifully, as if he is at my mercy with a pair of deuces when he knows there is a big pot to be won if he plays his cards right.

But I'm the better player. I don't flinch.

When he realizes that it is “game over,” that I have called his bluff, he retreats to his bowl of kibble and eats his spoils.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ode to Maria

Here I am on a Friday night, sitting in my mostly unpacked, uber-chaotic office, laboriously composing an e-mail to our real estate agent, outlining sales strategies for two competing, ridiculously insulting, bottom-fishing offers. Hey, Everybody loves a bargain--except when you are the one doing the selling.

On another note, Dog got groomed today. I am so crazy that I drove him one hour (ok, I missed an exit and that took a little extra time, but still) to see the one and only groomer that he loves/tolerates/will not bite.


Maria! Is that not a beautiful name?! Maria! Doesn't just saying "Maria" make you happy? Maria oozes Italian-style over-the-top, smothering love and kisses and the best meatballs made of real breadcrumbs and fresh herbs and a smiling, plump woman who would rather feed you than do anything else on earth, even shopping a sale at Bloomingdale's or getting a pedicure. Maria is the name of a giver, a goddess, a saint!

Ave Maria!

This is how awesome she is--Maria called me on my cell-phone today, mid-groom.

"Oh, %@#*," I thought, as my Meatloaf, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" ringtone blared, and I, like a bad daja vu nightmare, flashed back to all the other times I was emergency-called by various groomers:

"You have to come and pick up your dog. He is too anxious. We cannot continue the grooming," said in a very Slavic, no-nonsense accent by a groomer at the fanciest, most shi-shi dog salon in town. Lesson: You can't buy love.

and then, when I thought we had finally found the perfect grooming salon...

"Your dog has bit the groomer! We must have his rabies vaccination papers immediately! Otherwise your dog will have to be quarantined."

Quarantined? Dog, who had never been left alone more than five hours in his entire life? (and, in Dog's defense, whenever I told anyone this story, the people who knew his sweet, loving nature all responded in the same incredulous way, "What did the groomer DO to HIM?!" Thank Dog, for all our loyal friends.)

Which resulted in a frantic search for Dog's vaccination papers and a confusion about where he had his shots (at the regular vet or the Humane Society where he was "fixed"?) And, then, as soon as the Rabies issue was resolved, or perhaps, even a little bit before if I'm being totally honest, my thoughts were not with the poor maimed groomer, but with my own narcisstic self interests:

"NOW who will I get to groom the damned dog?"

And, later, upon hearing this story, my brother in Virginia, a big, tough man of few words, but lots of sweet affection for his own spoiled Shitzu,

recounted his own groomer horror stories and the words of wisdom that made me feel slightly less guilty,

"There are two kinds of groomers--the quick and the bandaged."

Then the sky opened up and the light shone from the heavens and we found Maria! Maria, who is obviously quick, and loves dogs (she has a bunch of litlte fluffy-type dogs--I can't remember how many) And the first time we saw her, she sat on the floor with Dog for fifteen minutes and talked to him in this soothing, hypnotic voice and and fed him little bits of beef jerky while he licked her face.

She picked Dog up (and he usually won't let anyone but me pick him up) and carried him into the grooming area. And he didn't let out the teeniest squeal or cry. Relief--Dog in good hands.

Still, when the call came in from Maria on my cellphone, I was understandably panicked. This was our last chance groomer. If Dog bit Maria, then where would we go, what would we do?

"Hi, Kathy."


"It's Maria. I just wanted to let you know that Sunny is a little matted and we will have to give him a closer cut than last time. Is that ok?"

Is that ok?! That is wonderful! Fabulous! Great news!

"Just do what you have to do."

Ode and Big Tip to Maria!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More on Spitzer

So when I posted the blog yesterday about Eliot Spitzer, I wasn't quite sure if I was onto something or if I was just being a crazy dog lady, as I am known to be.

I am happy to report that other media sources, big and small, had similar reactions. A couple of my favorites:

New York Magazine: It's funny how he makes it sound brave to walk a bichon.

Scottish Terrier and Dog News: Poor Jesse, what must have he thought all those times he was left at home alone, a casualty of his master's image control?

Here's the whole article if you are interested. (Personally, I stopped at the dog-walking anecdote.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Judgment and Eliot Spitzer

Dog and I try not to be judgmental—Really we do!

We like to believe that everyone is doing the best they can with their life circumstances and we always say a little prayer for those who hurt our feelings or who seem to be falling short of their highest potential.

But there are exceptions.

And today, when we read the cover story in Newsweek, we felt compelled to comment, OK, judge.

Eliot Spitzer, the moral crusading governor of New York who became famous and beloved for bringing white-collar criminals to justice, fell on his own hypocritical sword when it was discovered that he was a frequent customer of the high-priced prostitution service, “The Emperors Club.” Spitzer had it all—a beautiful, intelligent wife, two daughters, a position of power and a set-for-life trust fund to boot. Then he squandered everything for a few cheap thrills. (Actually, they were quite expensive, thousands of dollars per “thrill,” but that’s another blog.)

When I first heard about the scandal, I was outraged for Spitzer’s wife, daughters, and constituents—how could he do this to the people he loved the most and pledged to serve?

But not as outraged as I was today when I read the following in Newsweek:

When he was a young politician with a tough-guy reputation, he preferred to walk only James (a Wheaten Terrier) and leave Jesse, the other family dog, at home. Jesse is a bichon frise, the kind of dog that blue-haired women leave their fortunes to. “I wouldn’t take her out in public,” Spitzer recently explained. “I thought James was the better image for me.”

And now it is all very clear. What more do we need to know except that Spitzer decided which dog to walk based solely upon how it reflected upon himself.

That Spitzer would leash up one dog, ready for his photo-opp, and leave the other dog at home, with sad eyes, whining, wondering why he wasn’t getting to go out. What a narcissistic, Machiavellian, reprehensible human being! And, even worse, the writer indulges Spitzer’s “rehabilitation story” by noting that he now walks both dogs together. Yay! Spitzer!

“It’s like OK, I have a bichon, a little white ball of fluff…I don’t care,” says Spitzer. “What do you have to lose?”

Well, for starters, any thread of empathy or benefit of the doubt that I might have given you. Any idea that you might be a genuinely good guy with some uncontrollable, bad, addictive behaviors.

Now I know that you are just an ass.

And while we’re on our judgmental high horse, let’s just say, that if Spitzer’s wife knew about his sociopathic dog-walking behavior and she married him anyway or even stayed married to him, then she should have been well aware of what she was getting herself into.

That said, Dog and I are back to praying for them all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fluffy and Me

What is it with me and random new fabulous friends?

First, Judy, and now Don!

A few days ago, we had an afternoon of glorious weather after much rain and cold. My daughter had a scrimmage softball game and so I decided to head out with my son and Dog to enjoy the sunshine.

I dropped Savannah off, parked the car, put Dog on his leash and we ventured out into the wonderful Pleasanton Sports Park. The Sports Park is the very essence of Pleasanton and is a great symbol of why people are so nuts about this city.

This is one HUMUNGOUS (2.15 miles walking trail around the complex!) area dedicated to sports--with families in mind. Beyond the I-don't-know-how-many-but-lots-and-lots of sports fields, there are three playgrounds, public bathrooms (that aren't too gross), snack bars selling M&Ms for 50 cents and mediocre caffé lattes for $1.50 (and really, that does tell you a little about Pleasanton, that we would even attempt to sell designer coffees out of the snack shack at little league games!)

But that’s just the infrastructure.

The really, amazingly cool thing is that everywhere you look you see men and women who work long, hard days in sales or hi-tech or some such thing, and then spend hours and hours of their spare time, leaving work early, sacrificing their weekends….to play ball.

There is not much glory or reward as society would typically define it for a little league coach. No riches to speak of, except for maybe a gift card to The Cheesecake Factory at the end of the season. And the most recognition they get is the moment at the end-of-the-season party in which the coaches are inevitably pushed into the pool.

So what are they thinking?!

After ten-plus seasons of spring ball between both kids, with absolutely amazing, generous coaches, I know that the coaches do it for the love of the game and the love of their kids and the joy of seeing other people’s kids work hard to reach their potential.

My mother, a traditional Southern gal and a wise and insightful observer of human nature, after going to a few games and meeting the coaches, who were so cooperative in playing my kids in special positions so Grandma could see them in action said to me, "Those men coaches are so patient!"

But, as usual, I digress. Back to Dogs...

On this particular splendid day, Dog quickly discovered a darling black Cocker Spaniel about his same size, at the end of a lease held by a robust, friendly-looking man.

The dogs quickly connected and the humans did, too.

The human was Don. His dog was “Fluffy,” although her pedigreed name (and I noticed he threw that in pretty much right away—didn’t want me to think this was just any old mutt, although, as Seinfield would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”) was "Caylee Rose."

And then he quickly told me that the child who he bought the dog for, a friend’s granddaughter, was named Kalista Rose. “It was destiny that these two would be together!”

I immediately fell in love with Don and his destiny dog.

What was really cool was that Don gave all the impression of being a manly, man—a big tough guy, (and I later found out he fought in the Korean War) but he was a total cupcake about the dog. I mean, really, who names their dog “Fluffy?”

And Don was as devoted to his dog as I have ever seen.

“I’m afraid Fluffy has a few extra pounds on her,” he said almost apologetically. Fluffy had so much fluffy fur, I couldn’t tell, but she looked ok to me.

“I don’t want a dog to go hungry,” he said. “If she’s hungry, I feed her!”

“Oh, I agree! Sunny has an extra pound or two (or five, I thought), but really, what are a dog’s pleasures? Eating and going for walks? What the heck?!”

“Fluffy gets lots of walks,” Don said with pride.

“But I treat Fluffy like a child,” he said. “If I’m eating a steak and a child wants to eat, I’m not going to give him peanut butter and jelly! I’ll give him what I’m eating. Fluffy likes a little beef tenderloin.”

And, again, I agree. If I’m eating steak and Dog smells it, he will totally get a couple of bites. His pleasure. Then he’s on to his kibble if he’s hungry. My compromise.

I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Don and Fluffy this softball season. We'll probably have many more conversations about life and dogs. Just one of the many joys that Dog has brought to my life.

Monday, March 9, 2009

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Like Judy

This doesn’t have much to do with Dog or dogs in general, but I just had to write this.

One of the wonderful things about getting away, out of your comfort zone is meeting and talking to people who you would not normally encounter in your day-to-day life.

As I was walking along the California Coast in Half Moon Bay, an elderly gentleman with a cane stopped me and said,

“Do you know that’s Maverick Beach?! That’s where they have the big surfing competitions. Big waves. People come from all around the world to surf there. Not so big waves today, but you can see a little breaking waves.”

Then a sprightly elderly lady in a purple knit cap piped up,

“Oh, Bill! Are you giving your history lessons again?!”

And I quickly said, “Yes! And it’s wonderful!” Hoping that Bill would not be embarrassed.

He sauntered off quickly, mumbling, and I was left alone with the woman I would come to know as Judy.

Judy and I were walking in the same direction and so we walked and talked together—both grateful for the spontaneous company.

I learned that Judy had moved to Half Moon Bay in 1992 after her husband retired from Lockheed. “He always wanted to live by the ocean,” she said. “But he died two years later.”

Judy was the type of person who you really couldn’t tell how old she was—I’m guessing she’s in her 80’s by the timing of her husband’s retirement. But, your idea of an 80-something-year-old would be blown away by the reality of Judy.

Although Judy sensed that I normally walked at a brisker pace, and she told me that I was welcome to walk ahead if I wanted to go faster, Judy was moving along at a pretty good clip. And I enjoyed her, so we stuck together.

I learned many things—a slight dusting of local and personal cornucopia…

Judy had two children, although one had died and the other one lived in Wisconsin and was not in good health.

Judy didn’t like the restaurant at the Ritz—preferring, instead, Sam’s Chowder House--where we had an excellent, fun dinner with live music on Saturday night—Thanks, Judy!

And the big revelation was that there was a casual golf restaurant across the street from the Ritz where I had a wonderful breakfast the next day for less than half the price that I had paid the previous morning! (Believe it or not, the Ritz charges $8 for a bagel! At Mullins a bagel and cream cheese is a veritable bargain at $3!)

I also learned about Poppy and Pepper,

The horses that were rescued from the racetrack by a local. Those are two lucky horses. Here’s their view:

And I learned about the satellite at the end of the coast. “They complained when they put it up and then when they wanted to take it down, they complained.”

People don’t like change.

Judy shared her ritual with me. She took me to the edge of the cliffs where she says she always goes and looks out to the ocean. Four points. Beautiful views. I said a brief silent prayer, but I didn’t feel intimate enough with Judy to ask if she did the same, or even if she believed in God, although I wish I had.

When we turned around to go back, we happened upon the much superior, better view “Golfer’s Only” path at the Ritz. Judy confided that she would often look to see if there were golfers on the course, and if there weren’t, she would squeeze through the fence

and go on that path. Was I game?

You betcha! The idea of doing something outside of the lines with my new BFF—why not, what did we have to lose? Except the possibility that I would get stuck, wedged between the fences.

We made it and, almost immediately, a golf cart driven by a guy in a red jacket and a Ritz Carlton baseball cap was tailing us.

Judy didn’t wait for the admonishment. She greeted him before he could say a word:

“I’m a local and she’s visiting. We looked and there were no golfers and so we thought we would take the scenic route,” she said, and I am thinking that if you are in your 80’s and quick-witted, you can probably get away with a lot of stuff.

“I’m sorry,” I said, although I didn’t mean it. “Judy corrupted me!”

The “marshall” as Judy called him, smiled as he gave us a stern warning and advised us to walk fast because golfers were on their way. Wahoo! We got away with it!

As we came to the end of our walk, I remarked that Judy needed a little dog to keep her company in this dog-friendly community.

“Are you kidding?” she said. “Do you know how many times dogs need to stop and sniff?!”

Yes, Judy, I do. You're probably right. A dog would just slow you down.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Shhhh! PLEASE, whatever you do, DO NOT tell Dog that I just spent the weekend in doggie (and human) paradise. If he knew, I don’t think he could ever forgive me for leaving him behind.

If I had only known that Half Moon Bay was such a Mecca for dogs…

When my husband got invited to an Entrepreneur’s Conference at the fabulous Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay

AND spouses were invited AND the company was paying—how fast can we say “No Brainer?! Pack your suitcase!”

I was looking forward to a blissful, relaxing weekend—free of responsibilities—housework, kids and Dog (sorry, kids and Dog!) But, little did I know that I would encounter dogs everywhere I went!

Dogs on the beach, dogs on the hiking trails, dogs in the shops, dogs in the restaurants!

That is so perfect—Cameron’s Restaurant for Dogs!

Big Dogs

Little Dogs

Black and White Dogs

Do you like my hat?

Go Dog, Go!

I almost expected to see a Big Dog Party in a Tree in downtown!

Dogs dressed in biker jackets and frilly pink sweaters and Burberry coats.

I watched one crazy dog lady from a distance, but didn’t have my camera. Later, when I decided to blog about it, I Googled “Half Moon Bay Dogs” and guess what showed up as the fourth search result?:

Jeff kept asking me if I missed Dog (I don’t think he asked this about the kids, strangely enough, he knew the answer and I’m not telling what it was).

My response, “No, not at all.”

Until Sunday morning. When I saw a woman jogging with her fluffy white dog with the absolutely beautiful face who looked like he could have been Dog’s long-lost, much larger, third cousin, twice-removed:

And, as I walked alone, in perfect peace along that beautiful coast, I thought that maybe, just maybe, it might be even more perfect if Dog were there to share the experience.

And at that moment, I didn’t wish for anyone else. My husband was happily sleeping in late and he doesn’t like to hike anyway. My daughter hates to wake up early and forced physical exercise on a weekend is her idea of pure hell. My son is more apt to go for an early morning walk/hike, but then we have another being to try to keep happy in terms of path, length of walk, etc. and it is not always so relaxing.

Everyone in my life has their own agenda and desires and personalities and mostly I spend an extraordinary amount of time and effort trying to make peace and work it out so that everyone is happy.

And Dog, while demanding in his own way, is pretty much happy (thrilled!) to be with me with a few basic needs met—a morning walk, kibble with a little shredded cheese, a belly rub. And, although he may tug on the leash a little to try to exert his will, he is mostly satisfied to let me go where I want and he's happy to be my silent companion. Is it any wonder that I love him so much?

Happy Ending—Cameron and I are taking kids and dogs to Half Moon Bay for the day during Spring Break and we are totally having lunch at Cameron’s!