Looking back: A birthday for the dogs

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Friday was my son’s birthday. I miss him so much but am looking forward to his visit when we are all vaccinated. Hopefully, he and his girlfriend will be here in a few weeks. I’m so proud of the caring and sensitive person he is and how he’s enjoying his career.

I can’t help but get sentimental and nostalgic for when he was a young boy. He called me “sweetheart” because he thought it was my name. When we went to “Mommy and Me” at the Palm Springs Pavilion, there was a “good-bye” song at the end of each session. When his name was called, he’d toddle to the teacher and plant a kiss on her cheek. He was so sweet. Still is.

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In honor of his birthday, I’m reposting a story I wrote when he invited 50 kids to his 2nd grade party. Originally published in the Los Angeles Times Kids’ Reading Room, it’s about Angus our yellow lab of 15 years, who shared my son’s birthday.

A Birthday for the Dogs

“MOM, I’m inviting 50 kids to my party.”

“What, Robert?” Mom said. “That’s too many. Do you know 50 kids?”

I sat in the back seat while Mom drove home after school. My eighth birthday was in two weeks. 

“There’s my class, plus Cub Scouts, and playgroup.”

“I can’t afford to take 50 kids skating or bowling. And I don’t want 50 kids in my house. What about the city pool? It’s heated, open year-round, and it’s only 50¢ a kid,” Mom said.

“A swim party, that’s cool!” I said.

“I’ll say yes to the party, but no to presents. Fifty presents is too much for one eight-year-old. It’s decadent.”

“What’s decadent?” I asked. Mom used words I didn’t know.

“Self-indulgent, corrupt.”

I sat silently and thought I’d be sad with no presents. Then I remembered Angus. Mom got him for me as an early birthday present. We were on a waiting list for two years with Guide Dogs of the Desert. He was being trained as a companion dog for people who couldn’t see. We got him because he had poor hips and couldn’t be a working dog. Angus was big, yellow, and I loved him. We shared the same birthday.

“I have a great idea!”

“What?” Mom asked, glancing at me in her rearview mirror.

“I’ll ask for money for Guide Dogs of the Desert.”

“Ah?” Mom made a weird swalloing noise.

“It’s Angus’s birthday, too.”

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In the rearview mirror I watched Mom dab at the corner of her eyes with a tissue, and nod her head in agreement.

Two weeks later, I had a great birthday. Fifty kids came with bathing suits, towels and money. Instead of opening presents after cake, we counted dollars they had stuffed into a large jar decorated with photos of Angus. 

Together, we raised more than $1,600 for Guide Dogs. Mom called me a “philanthropist” – whatever that is.

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Happy birthday, son! We miss you, Angus!

What she thought about our new home

It was a relief. My daughter spent a few days with us in our new home. She likes it. She likes the area where we live — even though it’s not California. It’s in Arizona.

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Waffles, my daughter’s pug.

Her first job out of school was in Arizona and she has terrible memories. She took the job because the company flew her to Scottsdale from Utah. They put her up in a hotel, they took her out to dinner. She was swept off her feet. It was in her father’s field of investments So, it all seemed perfect to her. But it was far from it. It turns out taking a job to get your parent’s approval may not work out.

She lived in a house we purchased in a quiet family neighborhood. Not at all the best spot for a 22 year old — unless complete isolation and living next to boomers is your thing. Then her house got broken into and ransacked. The only good thing about that is they didn’t steal her pug. They locked him in the garage. Eventually she quit her job, got another one plus nannied in the early mornings for a single mom. She got hired for dream job in the Bay Area and moved up there. That worked out fine until COVID hit.

Fast forward to December 2020 and we moved to Arizona and she told us she would never come visit. She doesn’t have good memories of her one year here. I kept telling her although our address says Scottsdale, it really isn’t. I told we were out in the “sticks” as my hometown was called growing up. We’re far enough out of the metropolitan area to have a whole different feel.

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Our queen bee Olive.

She was surprised how far out of town we live. And she loves the nature. We watched a dozen javelina cross the street including babies at sunset. She enjoyed the bunnies and quails romping through our yard. She loves our house. She’s planning on another trip soon to visit.

The only snafu was Waffles. Olive was sleeping under our bed and Waffles decided to charge her at 4 a.m. We heard the kerfuffle and Waff flew out from under the bed. Olive stayed put.

The next day our daughter wiped a booger from Waffles’ snout. It turned out to be a claw embedded through his skin. There was no more trouble from Waffles and Olive after that.

Ancient saguaro cactus with a dozen arms
The nature trails across the street. I wonder how old this saguaro is?
saguaro growth chart

It’s a special Wednesday

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This is Waffles snuggling my daughter.

Today is Wednesday. I’ve been waiting patiently for today to arrive for several weeks. My daughter is coming to visit. She is driving from the Bay Area and should be here within the hour. This is the first time anyone from our family will see our new home. We moved in December.

When we announced to our kids that we were selling our home, they were furious. They were so angry with us that we’d consider selling the only home they ever knew. All the memories of their lifetimes were wrapped up in our 1930’s old Spanish home. Birthday parties, sleepovers, hanging out with friends between swim practices. Christmas, Easter egg hunts, spaghetti feeds for the team. Playdates at the neighborhood park. They were born in the hospital a few blocks away.

old spanish style house
Our home of 28 years.

So today, I get to see my daughter. It took several months for our kids to get over their sadness. They were never coming to Arizona to see us, they told us. But now we get the first visit.

It’s been a tough year for a lot of us. The shut down for two weeks to flatten the curve turned into a long year with people suffering from lost jobs, lost wages, isolation, depression and anxiety. My daughter lost her job due to COVID around 10 or 11 months ago. We told her she’d be fine with the enhanced unemployment. But the state of California couldn’t get that right. She was one of approximately 1.13 million people who are in unemployment limbo.

She got a few checks and then they stopped. They owe her thousands of dollars from summer through today. Nobody answers the phone. She calls and calls. When she was lucky to get through after weeks of calling, the person on the other end of the line said they couldn’t see anything wrong with her file. Finally, after writing to her Assemblywoman and Congressmen, she got through a second time. She was told she was going to receive all her back unemployment. She was thrilled. A week later she was told she’s back on hold and they were investigating her account for fraud. She was crushed. And she continues on in limbo.

Here’s an excerpt of an article that explains the ongoing problems with California unemployment:

With an added emphasis on fraud, the EDD spent the remainder of December locating unemployment benefit cases that were ‘potentially fraudulent’, eventually find around 3.5 million cases that fit that description by late December. Two million of the cases were immediately disqualified, such as those sent to inmates and some registered to deceased people, leaving 1.4 million to be suspended in January while the EDD takes a closer look at them.

The suspension of the accounts led over a million unemployed Californians to learn of the situation in the last week. Many found out from communication with the EDD, being told that “Your claim is suspended because it may be tied to fraudulent activity.” Others received notices in the mail reading “You have been receiving unemployment benefits, but we have temporarily suspended your claim because it may be tied to fraudulent activity. You will receive further instruction from EDD on how to verify your identity beginning Jan. 6, 2021.”

While initially silent, the furor of unemployment beneficiaries, who rely on the money to tide them over during the pandemic while they find another job or wait until their business reopens, led the EDD to make a statement during the weekend, days before the full number of beneficiaries in limbo was known.

“As part of ongoing efforts to fight fraud, EDD has suspended payment on claims considered high risk and is informing those affected that their identity will need to be verified starting this week before payments can resume,” tweeted the EDD. “More details on the EDD website in the days ahead.”

What a nightmare! It’s hard enough to lose your job. But then California can’t do what it’s promised to do to help. It’s been hard for her to stay positive. She’s been locked down in a tiny apartment for months on end and is suffering from depression. The Bay Area has some of the strictest restrictions of the state. Good news is on the way with vaccines. We’ve all had shots. Now that businesses are beginning to open she has found a job and starts next week. She decided to make the trip to see us before her life gets back to normal. I’m so thankful I get to see her!

selfie in front of the Public Market sign downtown Seattle
This was two years ago in Seattle on a mother-daughter trip.

And then this happened….

Harris hawk on jojoba Harris hawks on our jojoba bush.

After writing about my neighbor’s dog, I didn’t know that this would happen next…

I was taking a break, sitting in a zero-gravity lounge in the sun, reading a book about creativity called “Vein of Gold.” I placed two bird feeders in our back yard a few weeks ago. I enjoyed watching the quail and pigeons who came into the yard, ignoring me as I sat still with my book.

Hawk on wall Harris hawk on a neighbor’s wall.

Then I heard a crash. Another crash. I saw the giant brown wings of a Harris hawk. It looked like it was smashing into the screen door of our casita. Crash! It hit it again. I jumped up, yelled and waved my arms, hoping to scare away the hawk away who had a quail in his claws.

I quickly walked down to the casita door and quietly peeked inside. I wasn’t sure if the hawk had broken through the screen door. I was shocked when I discovered this:

Broken window due to hark The window after the hawk repeatedly flew into it.

It wasn’t the screen door but a window he smashed into. I think the hawk thought our casita was the perfect place to hide out in to devour the quail. I’ve decided not to refill the bird feeders. I don’t want my yard as a hunting ground for hawks, bobcats and coyotes to stalk our fattened quails.

Not only do I worry about the neighbor’s dog, but also large birds of prey shattering windows.

 

My latest fears…

With all the wildlife around our new home, you’d think I’d be afraid of the huge coyotes, the bobcat slinking under the window, or the javelinas staring at me through the gate. But no, I’m afraid of a neighbor’s dog.

coyote on wall

A coyote has been hanging out on our wall.

I’m not sure if it’s an irrational fear or not. You should see the dog! I’ve been walking along the road outside our development for my morning walks. One side is backyards of houses and the other side a nature’s preserve. The views across the street are breathtaking.

The dog sits in his backyard and barks at me as I walk by. He’s a big, ugly dog with a nasty growl and bark.

I was okay with it, thinking there’s no way this devil-looking dog can get outside his fence. But then one day I faced the dog being walked on a leash by the owner and their young teen son walking a huge pit bull — who looked friendly compared to the beast. The devil dog lunged at the end of its leash, growling. The woman holding the leash pulled on it precariously. I crossed the street from the sidewalk to the open nature’s preserve.

“I’m afraid of your dog!” I called out.

“Oh, he’s fine,” she said.

I hoped she could hang onto that damn leash! I wish he was wearing a pinch collar or at least a choke chain.

Back at home I googled vicious dogs and looked for the breed. I found it. Presa Canario. Here’s the website where I found the picture.

photo of presa canario

I found this photo online. It looks like the neighbor’s dog.

This is what I learned from one of many websites I clicked on.

This breed is widely considered to make for a loyal pet and a first-rate guard dog when raised properly. But it also has a reputation as a fearsome fight dog with an aggressive streak when it is not well trained. Unfortunately, Presa Canario attacks are known to happen, and can prove deadly.

So, I don’t feel secure about this dog. I don’t know if he’s well trained or not. Whenever I go out walking and spot the woman with her dog, I turn the other way. I wonder why they need a pit bull and a presa? Isn’t that overkill? I’m sure they sleep well at night, though.

I find myself second guessing where to walk. I think I’m overacting and my walks aren’t as enjoyable. I may have to get back to the pool!

cat sitting next to flowers

Olive outside at our old home.

My other fear is that my kitty Olive will get outside and tangle with the wildlife. She went outside at our old home and loved her time outdoors. So far, she runs the opposite direction and hides whenever a door is opened.

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This little guy is more my speed than a presa. It’s Waffles the pug snuggling my daughter.

Do you think my fear of the neighbor’s dog is irrational or not? How would you react in my situation?

When we were told to “shelter in place”

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Waffles resigned to shelter in place.

Do you remember early 2020? We were caught up in the impeachment drama in January and February (deja vu). Our family traveled by plane to Colorado for one of our best friend’s daughter’s wedding. It was before COVID was much of a thing. We weren’t worried about flying the kids in from San Francisco to Denver, or renting an airbnb for all of us together.

But on the flight home to Palm Springs it was upsetting. The man in the seat directly behind us was groaning, moaning while coughing up phlegm and blowing his nose constantly. It was so unsettling. A month later, I’m sure nobody would have allowed this man on a flight!

family at friend's wedding

With the family at a wedding in CO. The bride was friends with both kids and her mom is one of my best friends.

Little did we know the groom’s father had COVID at the time. He was a doctor and most likely got it at work in the hospital. Thankfully, after a serious case he got better and we didn’t hear of anyone else at the wedding getting infected.

Turn the page from February to March and we were told to shelter in place. Here’s what I wrote about DAY ONE:

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Views from my neighborhood park.

I was pretty shaken up yesterday after the order to shelter in place, but I’m pleased to report that I’m doing better today. I got my full walk in around the park and neighborhood before the rain started. I got to see a favorite neighbor of mine and chat while standing six feet apart. He said, “We’ll get through this.”

I got assigned a couple magazine stories by an editor and I think that helped me the most. I have a tight deadline and had to get busy. That kept me from turning on the news, watching the diving DOW, and reading all the headlines on the web rather than writing.

Life is pretty much the same for me as it is most days. I walk and then work from home. It’s nice to know my daughter is in the guest room working from home, too, right down the hall. My son is in the Bay Area and he’s under the same orders to shelter in place. He’s calling everyday to let me know he’s okay. I really appreciate that.

We will get through this. We have so many uncertainties ahead of us. That’s what gets me anxious. I try work through all the possibilities of what COULD happen and it gets me scared. It’s much better to stay busy at home while we are “sheltering in place.”

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This cutie pie came home with my daughter. He and the cat are practicing social distancing.

What do you remember about the first day you were told to shelter in place? What were your thoughts and feelings?

Surprise visit for the pups

One thing I miss about Palm Springs is the park and pups. There are several groups of dog owners that meet and walk their dogs together and let them play. Three years ago, we had our daughter and Waffes the pug home for Christmas and the small dog group did this:

Mt. San Jacinto

The view from our park.

Our neighborhood park is an integral part of my life. I take at least one walk to and around the park every day, enjoying the gorgeous views of Mt. San Jacinto. I’ve walked countless miles around the park for years.

When the kids were young, I’d meet several other moms at the park and we’d sit on blankets on the grass while we watched our kids swing, climb and slide. The park is where we’d go when our kids would get some sort of flying gift like a simple glider, kite or a remote control plane or rocket. When the kids had friends over, they’d go to the park to play ultimate frisbee.

With my daughter at home for Christmas break with her 16-month-old pug Waffles, I’ve learned something new about our park. It’s a great place to meet other dog owners. In fact, we found a group who gather in the afternoons and let their little dogs play. Waffles, who is not at all shy, is trying to take over the group and loves chasing and being chased.

 

I’m not sure he’s all that welcome in this exclusive club, except by the two lady pugs, Mona and Sadie. The highlight yesterday was a surprise visit by Santa. Waffles, who thinks he’s a media star, thought all the pictures with Santa should include him. My daughter had to pull him out of other puppy pics more than once.

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Waffles with Santa at the park.

Where is your special outdoor place in your life?