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Live Things

I’m always surprised when people are horrified by my love of dead things. Whenever someone comes over and I give them the tour of our apartment, the icing on the cake is always the mummified mice at St. Peter’s Gate  displayed in our bedroom. When I look at those mice, I see beauty. Their perfect little forms, tiny paws curled to silken whiskers, tails twisted and springing in mid-air, they are exquisite. Tiny sculptures formed by Mother Nature Herself. Which is why, even though it happens over and over, I am always surprised when my guest’s inevitable reaction is, “Ew. That is really gross. Are you okay?”

This is where I would like to assure everyone that I am not, in fact, some sort of psychopath. Honestly. I’m not interested in blood and gore. Photos of animals ripped up by cars make me cry. Animal cruelty is intolerable. I’m interested in the process of how our bodies go back to the earth. I’m interested in mummies. I’m interested in bones. And I’m not just interested in dead things. I’m also interested live things.

The following is a whole slew of pictures I snapped one afternoon while watching the birds at our feeder. (It is also an example of why I need an SLR.*)


The blur in the background, between the lantern and the bird feeder, is Atticus in flight.




How many birds can you see in this picture?**


Are you guys tired of bird pictures yet? Good! Because there are only 18 more to go. Just kidding. (Or am I?)


Look at them! I want to scoop them up and smother them in kisses! There’s four! And they’re all alive!

The joy that stupid bird feeder brings me is totally worth the fact that every surface of our balcony is covered with bird poop. It’s totally worth it. Totally worth it.

(At least dead things don’t poop.)

*I finally decided, by the way. I’m going to buy an SLR, but I’m not going to take it to Bolivia. I know it would take insane pictures, but I do not want that sh*t around my neck while I’m hiking. Do. Not. Want. It. More on that later.

**there are four! (One of them is not real.)

Guilty As Charged

Valentine and Theo are, without a doubt, the center of the universe as far as Mike and I are concerned.   Our daily lives revolve around whether the dogs have pooped and whether or not they’ve had enough exercise.  We worry that they’re too cold or that they haven’t had enough to eat.  We delight in seeing their little faces whenever we walk in the front door and we love bringing home new treats for them.  Mike teases that the way I mother them is dangerous because there was a point when Theo gained too much weight and it was because, in my worry that he wasn’t eating enough, I overfed him until he gained an extra two pounds.  Two pounds might not sound like much, but two pounds on a Dachshund is like fifty pounds on a person.   I’d been over-feeding Valentine as well, but that bitch* could eat her weight in chocolate and not gain an ounce.   Theo, on the other hand, has a slow metabolism and because his back is so long, extra weight could put stress on his spine that could cause fractures and then he’d be paralyzed and if he survived it would surely cost us a million dollars in vet bills.  It’s a serious thing when Dachshunds get fat and so that is why my mothering is deadly.  And that was a long story for a short point:   The dogs are my practice babies.

Last night, after we’d put the dogs to bed in their crates, brushed our teeth, washed our faces, and curled up with an episode of Law & Order, a long, low howl reverberated from the living room.  It was followed by a sharp succession of ear-piercing ruffs.  This has been Theo’s bedtime routine for the last four nights. He waits until we are in bed with the lights off and then he starts in with a howl followed by barking.

“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”
“Why is he doing that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”
“What should we do?”
“Ignore it.”
“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”
“Is he trying to tell us something?”
“He’s trying to tell us he’d rather be sleeping in our bed, but that’s not how it works, so he’s going to have to get over it.”
“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”

The baby books say to let Baby cry for fifteen minutes and, if after fifteen minutes, Baby has not put himself back to sleep, Mother may go in and comfort him.  So that’s what we did.   We let him “Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!” and after about thirteen and a half minutes he stopped ruffing.  As soon as he was quiet I whispered:

“I seriously don’t know what we’re waiting for.”
“You can’t leave a baby in a crate when you go to work.”

They’re practice babies.  It sounds kind of awful, but it’s true.   I’ve never in my entire life loved something small and furry the way I love those little dogs.   Every day I am amazed that I have enough love in my body to love them but every day it’s there and it’s bigger.  I hear people say that about their kids all the time and I am sure that the way people love their kids is at the very least one hundred times more than the way I love my dogs.  Does that mean that when I have children I won’t have room to love my dogs anymore?  A staggering number of perfectly wonderful dogs and cats are given up every year because their owner has a new baby and just can’t deal with them anymore.  It must be very frustrating to have a new baby at home and have your dog suddenly start humping the coffee table, peeing on the sofa cushions and chewing bald spots into his fur.  At least I imagine that’s what’s going on when someone decides to get rid of the dog now that they have a baby.  Or maybe it’s just that now you have a baby and two other baby-like things that aren’t actually babies and your priorities change.  I have no idea.  But the whole thing makes me nervous.  What will they do when I have a baby?

Let’s take a little tour of my writing chair…


Well hello, Valentine!  So you’re the reason why I can’t sit back and get comfortable.  Aren’t you a little chair-hog?


And here’s Theo, curled up behind Valentine.  He’s an even bigger chair-hog than his sister.

My hope is that when we have children the dogs will come to see the babies as precious pack members that must be fussed over and adored and protected from danger.  Like the way Chip, my cousin’s five-year-old four-pound Chihuahua, came to see her new baby:


If we are that lucky, it is then my hope that our children will come to love the dogs as if they were treasured little old great-grandparents to be treated with gentle hands, quiet voices and adoring hearts.  After all, by the time our children are old enough to know Valentine and Theo, the dogs will most likely be just that:  Little old incontinent doglets with stinky breath, grumping and gurgling and leaving strings of slobber behind when they kiss you good morning.

*bitch [bi*ch] (noun):  female dog, wolf, fox or otter.

We Deserve An Award

Today is the thirty-second day of my moon cycle. I am grumpy. I’m wearing an entire pants-size larger than I wear the rest of the month because my body is that bloated. I worked all day, the longest day I’ve worked in weeks, and when I came home the only thing I could focus on was a small wad of Valentine’s hair sitting on the floor next to the lumber pile. Now, neither of those things is unusual. Valentine sheds like a m*ther f*cker. I could probably make a million dollars selling Chihuahua-mutt pillows if I thought people would buy them, she sheds that much. And the lumber pile is a collection of wood that Mike’s salvaged from the street, which he keeps in a neat stack in a corner of our living room so that it’s easily accessible when he has time to build something. And let me tell you, some beautiful hand-crafted furniture has come from that lumber pile. However, it being the thirty-second day of my moon cycle, I didn’t care that the lumber pile was right where it belongs or that Valentine had simply shed her usual daily pound of fur. My eyes crossed and I began to froth at the mouth.

That’s when Michael walked into the room holding a mop and a broom. “I’ll do the floors if you’ll vacuum.”
“Dinner’s in the oven and I’ve all ready cleaned out the litter box.”
“And I just finished putting away all the laundry.”
“You did the laundry?”
“I would definitely marry you if we weren’t all ready married.”

My dear, sweet, wonderful husband has made great use of a little tool I call the Moon Cycle Chart, and he is a safer man for it. He knows exactly when to expect mood swings and cravings and crazy. He knows exactly what day the stack of mail on the coffee table is going to make me cry. I created the chart to help me figure out when my hormones do what, but Mike’s paid attention and learned how to help me circumvent the worst symptoms of my moon time.

Not too long ago, the lumber pile and the dog hair would have ruined our night. It wouldn’t have mattered that dinner was ready or that the laundry was done because I’d pour every ounce of my energy into what was wrong instead of seeing what was right. It’s easy to do when you’re all ready tired and grumpy. But Mike’s learned how to anticipate my hormones and I’ve learned how to redirect my focus and we’re much happier for it. Instead of spending the night in cold, angry silence, we enjoyed a wonderful meal and then curled up with an episode of Law & Order while we rubbed each other’s feet.

A few months ago my dad sent me a list of Ten Habits of Happy Couples. He found it on the blog Usable Insight, written by Mark Goulston, M.D. Dr. Goulston is a clinical psychiatrist who honed his communication skills while working as an FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer. Now he teaches people how to get through to each other. He even has a book out. This is number five on that list:

Focus on what your partner does right rather than on what he or she does wrong. If you look for things your partner does wrong, you can always find something. If you look for what he or she does right, you can always find something. It all depends on what you want to look for. Happy couples accentuate the positive.