Dollar Cove

If We Had Voted Instead of Revolted, I Would Have Voted “Remain”

The Fourth of July means many different things to me. It’s my great-nephew Louis’s birthday (happy birthday, Louis). It was my maternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary, and also the anniversary of my aunt and uncle.

50th Anniversary group

My grandparents’ 50th Anniversary. What a group! I am the tallest of the three children in front of my grandma.

While I was growing up, this double anniversary (and on Independence Day!) always meant a big party with as many family members as possible, a picnic lunch that stretched on into dinner time, and the backyard fireworks that were usual in the 60s and 70s, including many that are now banned. I can’t argue with that decision since one of my most vivid Fourth of July memories is of my father nailing “pinwheels” to the trees, lighting them, and running away to the assumed safety of the patio, where we watched them whirl and throw out fiery colors in all directions until one leapt off the tree and rolled, still spitting colorful fire, directly up onto the patio. I can still see my family wildly scattering in all directions. That was probably forty years ago and I still laugh when I remember it.


My mother, the gleeful Firestarter

As a pet professional, the Fourth of July is a cause for dread. More pets flee in terror from their yards and homes on that day than on any other in the year. So I spend July 2nd and 3rd posting warnings on my Facebook business page, reminding pet owners to put clear identification on their pets, listing ways to help terrified dogs and cats, and urging people to keep their animals indoors and safe.

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Collars with i.d. on is Step One.

One odd thing about the Fourth of July when my family and I lived in Seattle is that it was the last day of drizzly, drippy spring. Always. I swear to you, without exception and without fail it rained on the Fourth of July (continuing a rainy season that had actually begun in October). I remember this vividly because I had young children and we lived in an unincorporated area where we could set off our own fireworks, something they looked forward to every year. We never allowed ourselves to get rained out, but we certainly got rained on every single year while trying to keep sparklers lit, sending little fire-shooting cannons rolling toward hapless green toy soldiers (war is hell), and blinking back raindrops while looking up at the rocket’s red glare. The next day – July 5 – would dawn rainless, and the high temperature would read 20 degrees above the previous day’s; the first day of our summer. Don’t ask me why this happened, or whether climate change has ruined this pattern. But my kids and neighbors will bear me out — it always rained on the Fourth of July in Seattle.

Fourth of July 2006 1


But one aspect of Independence Day that does not speak to me is the “Independence” part. Because, to be honest, our separation from Britain has not been a great thing for me, personally. Yes, 240 years ago the colonists might have had perfectly good reasons for wanting to revolt, and that’s all fine and good. But can we really look at Britain today and say, oh yes, we are so lucky to be no part of that? Well, possibly after the fantastically crazy week the UK has just had politically, we might; not that we aren’t having our own political insanity this year (a serving of grain from the Pyramids, anyone?). But overall, is America really lots more generally fantastic than Britain is?

Thatched cottage at Penberth Cove

I mean, honestly.

How many of you wish you were at least somewhat British? Raise your hands. Of course you do! Who wouldn’t want a sexy accent, tea and chocolate biscuits every afternoon, seriously good soccer, and Stonehenge? Not everyone wants the Royal Family, even in Britain, but I certainly do. I couldn’t care less if the Queen has no power in governing the UK; she is an awesome presence and apparently immortal. The young Royals coming up are photogenic and charming. Why should they also need to be functional? Watching the doings of the Royals in the tabloids, which range from lovely to embarrassing, leaves Britain free to produce gloriously talented, well-spoken, and dignified actors (Judy Dench, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson…need I go on?). Since we have no Royals to gawk at, we are reduced to ogling our gossip-rag-worthy actors who are often better known for their off-screen peccadillos than for their great performances, not to mention talentless “celebrities” such as “the Kardashians” and their accessories (Caitlyn Jenner, Kanye West, et al). I’m telling you, none of those people would be famous if we had a Royal family. Brits: it’s worth paying the Royals well just to avoid that fate.

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Eating a Cornish pasty can be challenging.

Everyone who knows me well knows that I have always pined for the life I’ve visited often but have never been able to live full-time in Britain. I don’t want pizza, I want chicken-and-veg pie. I don’t want to go to a bar where strangers drink in solitude and watch big sports screens, I want a “local” pub, at least one or two hundred years old, where I can have a pint of cider, join the pub quiz team, and play pool or darts with other “regulars”. I want to hear, see, and breathe the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the cliffs outside my small but charming cottage. I want “Springwatch” and “Country File” on TV, not reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” and creepy adshow things like “Got A Turkey Neck?” I want to listen every day to that one radio station that plays the eeriest variety of songs drawn from all eras of my own life (what is that station, and who is feeding them my musical history?). I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of the vast and bleak Midwest (apologies to Cahokia, you are the one exception); I want most of my island home to be a day trip away, with historical wonders worth a visit in every direction.

Sheep stroll past the Pipers, two standing stones

Sheep stroll past the Pipers, two standing stones on the moor

But Britain doesn’t let just anyone come and live there. Even foreign spouses of Brits only have a 60% chance of being given the key to the country. I am an ex-spouse, and an ex-colonist too old to be of practical interest to the UK. If we had only voted Remain in 1776, as Canada and Australia did in their turns, I would be able to pack my bags and try my dream on for size. As it is …

You bet I’ll find a way. Stay tuned. And Happy 4th of July, you goofy patriots, you. Be grateful that you live in the country you love. Someday I will, too.

Dollar Cove

Where my heart is.

A New Way to Look At Old Chores

Life is full of repetition. The activities we repeat day after day or week after week we call “chores,” and we generally look forward to them with all the joy of a child who really wants to spend the day at Disneyland but gets to sit at his desk at school instead. Chores tend to be put off as long as possible, performed begrudgingly, even foisted off on others when possible. Single people don’t get that opportunity, so we focus on putting chores off and feeling crabby about doing them.

Recently, a friend suggested a new way to look at chores that I have really come to like. He said, think of doing chores as being kind to your future self. Consider that you are doing something now to save your future self the trouble of doing it later.

I understood this immediately because I have always cleaned my house before traveling out of town. I do that because I love walking into a clean, neat house when I come home tired from travel. I also dispose of any food that would go bad while I’m away, to prevent stinky refrigerator syndrome. And I make sure that I have enough non-perishable items in the kitchen to feed myself at least one meal in case I come home hungry. I never thought of these pre-trip preparations as being kind to my future self, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

I’ve discovered that there are lots of ways to be kind to my future self every day. Soaking pots and pans as soon as I remove the food from them means I won’t have hard scrubbing to do later. Loading the dishwasher and doing a quick wipe-down of the counters every night means I walk into a clean, welcoming kitchen every morning.

Sorting the mail by the recycling bin means I won’t have piles of paper to sort through later. Returning voice mail messages as soon as I receive them is hard for a person with telephobia, but I know my future self will be grateful not to have a backlog of calls that need to be returned, and with increasing urgency as time goes by.

If your future self would enjoy climbing into a well-made bed with smooth sheets at night instead of spending a few irritated minutes straightening out the rumpled ball of covers that was there in the morning, take the two necessary minutes to make the bed after you get up. Think how pleased and grateful your future self will be!

When you are a single person, there is no one else in your household to surprise you with a clean kitchen, paid bills, trash taken out, or a drawer organized. There’s also no one to complain about the piles of unsorted mail, the sink full of dirty dishes, or the dusty furniture. It’s easy to put chores off until they absolutely must be done. And by that time they are so unpleasant and take so long that your suspicion that these are things to avoid as long as possible is confirmed … and so the cycle continues.

I have made two discoveries about chores since I started looking at them in the new be kind to your future self way. One is what a very short time most chores take when they haven’t been allowed to build up — generally under five minutes, often far less than that. The other is a small but significant attitude change. If I am focused on the happy self who will be walking into the clean kitchen in the morning, I don’t feel so grumbly about doing the cleaning the night before.

Every morning, I make myself a drink with hot water and half a squeezed lemon. It takes feels-like-forever-probably-30-seconds to pick all the seeds out of the lemon half before I squeeze it into my cup. This is a task I do not enjoy, but it keeps me from having to pick every seed out of the hot water. This morning, I was getting ready to put the extra lemon half away for tomorrow when it suddenly occurred to me to remove the seeds from that half, too. Thirty more seconds and I put a seedless lemon half into the refrigerator. Such a small thing, such a small investment of time, to guarantee my future self a smile tomorrow morning.

We all know it’s fun to be kind to others. We need to remember it also feels pleasant and rewarding to be kind to oneself.

Tribal Thoughts

Archeologists have discovered how ancient Mesoamericans treated the bodies of the dead. A recently published abstract from “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” states:

“The research pair looked at bones from the site dating back to 500–900 C.E. and discovered the remains of those who had died or were killed were treated very differently depending on whether they were from their own people or were those of enemies. Bones found inside the compound, they noted, showed signs of being treated with respect, whereas those outside were not only abused, but showed evidence of cannibalism.”

No surprise here, right? Except maybe the cannibalism. But of course it makes perfect sense to us that the bodies of members of one’s own tribe would be treated with reverence, while bodies of enemies – well, anything goes.

Recently I was driving behind a man who could not make up his mind where he wanted to go. Time and time again he slowed, paused, started to switch lanes then changed his mind and switched back. In my usual, mild version of road rage, I thought “what an idiot; what a terrible driver.” Then it occurred to me: what if I suddenly found out that this confused driver was one of my sons, or my father? My feelings of annoyance would vanish instantly and be replaced by a barrage of excuses for the behavior: he’s so young, he’s so old, people need to be more patient with confused drivers, etc., etc.  Now, why was this? Two completely different feelings about the exact same behavior, based on who did it?

But I’m sure my reaction doesn’t surprise anyone, either. We all do it. Because we are the same as those ancient Mesoamericans. It makes all the difference in the world to us if someone is a member of our own tribe or not. In cases like the driving example, tribal affiliation can easily override reason. It shouldn’t make any difference; the driving was equally bad and annoying no matter who was doing it. But it does make a difference.

When a character in the television show “Outlander,” which takes place in Scotland in the mid-1700’s, is distressed by the insular views and behavior of villagers, another character points out that those villagers have never travelled farther than a day away from their village in their lives. Those villagers form a very unified tribe, similar virtually to the last person in their outlooks, beliefs, and superstitions. In 21st century America, things are not so simple. Very few of us these days have one unified tribe. We might have a family tribe, and a tribe of friends (what Bridget Jones calls her “urban family” in the movie “Bridget Jones’s Diary”). Or more than one tribe of friends, within each of which we act somewhat differently. We might have a religious/belief tribe, and a political tribe. Any group you identify with and feel solidarity with is one of your tribes. In my world of animal training, we have the “positive reinforcement training” tribe, the “balanced training” tribe, the “force-based training” tribe, and more. Notice that our names for other tribes often reflect our own tribal affiliation: I doubt that trainers who use shock collars and choke chains call themselves “force-based trainers,” but from my own position in the “positive reinforcement tribe,” that is how they appear.

The issue that interests me is why it is so difficult to change people’s minds when there is solid research or overwhelming factual support for something other than what they believe. And here is my answer, from the article “Beyond Belief” in New Scientist magazine:

“Our social nature means that we adopt beliefs as badges of cultural identity. This is often seen with hot-potato issues, where belonging to the right tribe can be more important than being on the right side of the evidence.”

Light bulb moment: Where belonging to the right tribe can be more important than being on the right side of the evidence.

No wonder we see, again and again, members of Congress voting straight down party lines. To vote otherwise would be to step outside the tribe, and even worse, to affiliate with the opposing tribe. While presenting more and more evidence for, say, climate change will eventually sway a few dissenters, there is a reason why it will take a true catastrophe to convince the rest: there will be no global change until the evidence is so threatening that it is no longer a matter of defecting from your tribe to the other, but of the two tribes coming together against a common enemy.

This is also why tribal outliers, regardless of their character or behavior, are viewed with such suspicion by the vast majority of the population: single adults (no family tribe); atheists (no religious tribe); independents (no political tribe). The societal pressure against being without a tribe is tremendous. The tribeless often end up forming or joining groups, clubs, or organizations composed of similar outliers to themselves, thereby becoming tribal again. The internet has made it much easier for outliers to connect with each other. Anyone can set up a Facebook page and enjoy the satisfaction of posting articles that are guaranteed to be ‘liked’ by likeminded FB friends.

Those of us who are actually inclined to listen to all new information and attempt to assess its value for ourselves, rather than through the tribal glass, are doomed to cynicism and frustration, because that is not how most of the world works. It’s helpful, as always, for us to understand, even if we can’t bring ourselves to be tribal enough to truly be comfortable and happy in a tribal society.

80 Years of True Love

Literature is full of great love stories.  Everlasting love has never been so easy to come by as it is in novels and plays. Just close the book at the end of Pride and Prejudice, and Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy go on to live happily ever after. In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick despise each other, then are tricked into falling in love; after discovering the truth, oh well, why not stay in love? Even when the course of love runs less smoothly, there is hope. Heathcliff and Cathy are parted in life but reunite to spend eternity together on the moors. Rhett Butler might not give a damn, but as Scarlett points out, tomorrow is another day…

Great love stories in real life are few and far between. That is because we never get to close the book. There is no fade-out after the wedding scene. Life carries on, messy and complicated, and few couples, no matter how blissfully they were in love on Day One, make it blissfully through to the finale.

But it does sometimes happen. For those who love a romance, I give you my parents, Ed and Ila Tenny.

My parents had their first date when they were thirteen years old. That is eighty years ago — they are 93 now. They dated throughout most of the rest of their junior high and high school years. They occasionally went with other dates, but according to my mother, she would see my father walking down the hall at school, he would bat his long eyelashes at her, and that would be all she wrote.

Teenaged Ed and Ila

They married when Mother was 18 and Dad was 19.

Ed and Ila wedding picture

It wasn’t long after that when World War II began, and Dad became a soldier. The two of them, plus my brother, spent some time in Nevada while my dad was training, and then he was shipped to England. He was gone a long time. They wrote to each other every day. One snowy night after the war was over, there was a knock on the door. Mother opened it, and there was Dad, home safely. As many times as I’ve heard that story, it makes me tear up every time she tells it.

Dad in uniform with mom and Ed

They had three children and then, twelve years later, me. Then and afterward, they had many good times and many hard and sad times. What they never lost was their feelings of love and romance for each other. Dad never left for work without finding Mom and giving her a kiss; when he got home in the evenings, he would find her and kiss her again. I remember one day when he was leaving for work and she ran out of the kitchen to kiss him good-bye at the top of the stairs. He swooped her down into a ‘Gone with the Wind’ romantic kiss; in the process he banged her head against the barometer on the wall and broke it. Sometimes a price must be paid for True Romance.

They didn’t, and don’t, appear to have much in common. Mom is a Night Owl, Dad is a Lark. Mom is emotional, Dad is stoical. Mom loves to socialize, Dad doesn’t. Mom loves her iPad, Dad won’t use a computer. But the smaller things, the more important things, are often things they share. They both enjoy word games, reading, gardening, feeding the birds and watching wildlife. We went on some wonderful adventurous trips when I was a child. They share household chores. They watch Jeopardy and funny movies and Royals baseball on television together. They both love music. They laugh together a lot. They argue from time to time, but they always respect each other.

Mom and Dad at the World of CokeMom shows Dad iPad2

Last year, Mom and Dad were honored as the couple who has been married longest in the state of Missouri.

Mom and Dad anniversary certificate presentation 2014

That was very nice for them, and they enjoyed it. But to me, the grand and glorious thing they should be honored for is not just the fact that they have been married for 74 years. It’s that they have lived a Real Romance all that time, and still do.

Dad and Mom, August 7 2011

I visited Mom and Dad for Mom’s 92nd birthday last year. At one point I walked into the kitchen and they were kissing. Dad smiled at me over Mom’s shoulder and said, as if sharing a confidence, “She’s my best girl.”

Mom and Dad photo shoot 2012

Real Life Romance. True Love.

Be Dixie

I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” and its sequel, not because I was unhappy but to see if they contained any nuggets of wisdom about how to enhance my happiness. There were quite a few, but one has had a particular impact on me. Rubin put together her personal Twelve Commandments, and the first “and most important” is Be Gretchen.

What does this mean? It means accept, even embrace, everything that makes you who you are, the good, the bad, and the inexplicable. Examine how you live your life, and take note of how much of that time you are being true to who you really are.

Kay Laurence, one of the dog trainers I most admire, talks about “foundation behaviors.” She says that we cannot train strong behaviors in our dogs until we understand which behavior is the foundation for what we wish to train, and ensure that the foundation behavior is strong first. For example, the foundation behavior for ‘walk politely on leash’ is ‘stand quietly by my side.’ If the dog cannot do that, how can you expect to teach him to walk at your side and maintain position as yours changes?

I think that “Be Gretchen,” or in my case, “Be Dixie” is a foundation behavior. If I don’t understand and accept who I really am, how can I make changes in my life that will be of benefit to me? If I imagine myself to be something I’m not, through wishful thinking or through fear, any changes I make are built on a bad foundation, and are very unlikely to be successful.

Some things are easier to accept about oneself than others. I have been a ‘dog trainer’ for many years, but when I break down the aspects of ‘dog training’ what I find is that I don’t actually enjoy training dogs. I do enjoy educating dog owners. This is an important distinction to know when planning my professional future.  I would be much happier writing educational materials, articles, even books about living with dogs than I would be if I tried to set up a dog training business.

I am working on making more time to do the things that I feel are truly “Dixie,” because that is when I am thoroughly happy.

The other side of that coin: “…to be Gretchen means to let go of all the things that I am not — to acknowledge what I don’t encompass.” And it’s important to accept that it’s okay, those things just aren’t a part of who I am. I will never be a person with fashion flair; I am happiest, Dixiest, in jeans or shorts and a comfortable T-shirt. I will never be a coordinated swimmer, a math whiz, mechanically able. I would like to be all of those things, but striving to achieve them would be like swimming against the current. Letting them go frees me to focus on what comes naturally to me, what brings me joy.

Are you being You?

Meet the Kitten

Chantilly kitten with mom

I’ve been interested in the Chantilly cat breed for quite a few years, and unexpectedly got the chance to get a Chantilly kitten just before Valentine’s Day. I certainly hadn’t expected to get another kitten with Elsa still only six months old. However, kittens of this rare breed aren’t available often (there is only one breeder in North America). And there did seem to be an advantage to having two young cats to entertain each other and give the adults Abys some peace. So I thought, why not?

I flew to Chicago and met the kitten’s flight from Toronto, bringing him back with me under my seat. He was completely quiet, but definitely not frightened. He came right to the front of the carrier and reached through to say hello with a pat. He is polydactyl, so although he was a tiny ball of fluff weighing less than 2 pounds, he sported adorably big feet, like snowshoes with thumbs.

I set up a gradual introduction arrangement between the new fellow and the adult Abyssinians, similar to what had worked so well when I introduced them to Elsa. I took the risk, though, that at six months of age, Elsa would be curious and adapt to him quickly. And after a very few “remember I’m your elder and worthy of respect” growls, she did. They wrestle and play by the hour. He follows her everywhere, though he is also very bold and explores on his own as well.

Elsa and new kitten

This kitten has never shown a moment’s fear. The first night he arrived, after leaving his family and making two flights at age nine weeks, he settled into his big cat cage, ate, drank, used the litter box, and found a perch he liked on top of a padded shelf. When Falcon came in to check him out and sniffed him through the cage, the kitten, who was snoozing upside down, casually reached out and patted Falcon’s nose through the bars.

I am still waiting for the right name to come along for this fellow. I’ve changed “Allegra” to “Elsa” and “Ariana” to “Ivy” already this winter; this time I’ll try to make the right choice the first time!

Meanwhile, he is bringing a lot of fun into the house.

Chantilly kitten on the couchChantilly kitten amongst DVDsChantilly kitten Royal Dark

Seven Little-Known Facts About Me

A friend recently asked me to list “Seven Little-Known Facts” about myself on Facebook. He and I haven’t know each other very long, so I put together a list that I hoped would be interesting to him, but most of the content wasn’t really ‘little-known’ to many other friends and my family. I thought it would be fun to put together a second list and see if I could come up with seven more things that very few people who know me would be aware of. It wasn’t easy! But here it is.

1. My early writing projects often came to bad ends. I wrote and illustrated a series of stories about a lonely cloud in second grade that my teacher praised highly to me and to my parents. She must have sincerely liked them, because she kept them. Worse was the patriotic poem I wrote in sixth grade, to be entered in a national contest. My teachers loved it, passed it around, it was even read over the intercom to the student body. In all the excitement, my teachers forgot to submit it to the contest.

2. Although, as you can tell, I was a hopeless nerd in school, I was in great demand as a sleepover guest at slumber parties because I could hypnotize people. I stared into their eyes, exerted the force of my will upon them, and when their eyes glazed over, I could ask them to do pretty much anything and they would. I have no idea if everyone I thought I hypnotized was faking it or not. I do have to say that if they were, some of them had no shame whatsoever…

3. My passion for the stories of King Arthur and his noble knights went beyond reading every version of the story I could get my hands on. When the movie “Camelot” came out, I saw it 26 times at the theater. Even though I don’t think I have seen the movie since I was a teenager, I can still remember every word of every song. And here I am in my ninth grade school yearbook photo. The t-shirt reads “Arthur is King.” I defy anyone to out-nerd this.

junior high yearbook picCamelot_(film)_poster

4.  I have been a cat person as long as I’ve been a dog person. I used to enter our family cat, Tammy, in cat shows, in the “Household Pet” category. Particulars unknown, indeed.

MoKan cat club catalogTammy listing in MoKan cat show catalog

5.  My mother would not allow me to keep a pet snake, but I caught a garter snake and kept it in my closet for awhile when I was about twelve. I was faced with a dilemma when it came time to fly to St. Louis (from Kansas City, where we lived) to visit a friend. What to do with my secret snake? This being before the days of security scans, I put him in a paper bag and took him onboard with me. I sat in a row with two older ladies, and I still remember how they went absolutely still when the brown bag on my tray table suddenly tipped over of its own accord. The original “snakes on a plane.”

6.  Another nerdly activity of my young teen years was writing fan letters. I wrote to anyone I admired: actors, writers, and athletes. Some wrote back. I wrote to John Travolta after the first episode of “Welcome Back Kotter” aired. I later read that he only responded to the first 50 fans who wrote to him, because the mail came in such a flood after that. But my favorite response to one of my fan letters was this charming note from Paul LeMat, who played John Milner, the super-cool guy with the awesome car in “American Graffiti.”

John Travolta picPaul LeMat letter

7.  I have a love-hate relationship with water. Getting water in my face makes me feel panicky. I am a borderline adequate swimmer: ‘poor’ would probably be a more honest description. But I absolutely love swimming in the ocean, even if that mostly means floundering around happily. One of the most euphoric experiences of my life was swimming off the coast of Easter Island. My aquatically able friend, Mike, convinced me that one doesn’t need to swim well to snorkel, and introduced me to that activity off the coast of Belize. We actually went 43 miles offshore and snorkeled the Blue Hole, a stunning giant reef circle around a collapsed underwater cave system. I thought poor Mike was going to drown, laughing at my swimming, which basically approximated underwater dog paddling. But I had a wonderful time doing it.

Taking a swim in Crocodile Creek

Swimming in Crocodile Creek, Australia.