Distress calls

My neighbors have finally come home for the evening after being gone all day. I can’t even see their house from my house, but you know how I can tell? Because their dog’s all-day-long monotonous, mournful barking pattern has switched over to frantic bursts of yowling yaps interspersed with whining and squealing. That means his people are on the other side of the glass patio doors, where he can see them and they can see him—and hear him, too, along with every other resident of this block—but there’s not one single thing he can do to get where he so badly wants to be: with his pack.

I can’t see this dog from my yard, only hear it, so I have no idea of its breed or age or sex or size or temperament (I’m just using “he” by default). I don’t know if he has food and water, or a dog house to shelter him from the weather, or a companion who doesn’t bark. What I do know is that he is trapped in a smallish yard surrounded by 6-foot fences on all sides, he is out there all day and all night every day and every night, and he is mighty unhappy about it.

This, to me, is nothing less than animal abuse. That dog is frantic, and his people are home. What the hell is the matter with them that they are willing not only to make their pet suffer like this, but also to force the whole neighborhood to listen?

I let my dogs out in the yard during the day and leave them out for a while if the weather is nice. If the weather is not nice, I stand at the door waiting for them to do their chores and return to the house. If I leave them out and they start to bark, I call them in. They spend their days in the house, either on the bed or on the couch. They spend the night in my bed (under the covers with their heads on the opposite pillow, no less). I can’t imagine leaving them outside alone in the cold and the rain and the dark. They’re not livestock. They’re not wild animals. They’re the most thoroughly domesticated pets you’ll ever find, and their place is as close to me as they can get.

I won’t tear your heart out with stories of dogs forced to fight for sport, dogs chained in back yards all their lives, dogs abandoned and left to die when their owners move away, dogs overbred in puppy mills, dogs thrown away like trash in the night, dogs dumped in shelters when they get too old or too sick or just stop being cute anymore. We’ve all heard the stories. Man’s inhumanity to man is exceeded only by his inhumanity to animals.

Instead, I give you this commercial from Pedigree that starts off sad but has a very happy ending. In my estimation, the single most important trait that distinguishes a bad dog from a good dog is the owner.

The distress calls from next door will go on without letup until the neighbors go to bed tonight. Then their poor dog will finally give up his quest for their attention until morning, when he will begin again.

It’s enough to make you cry. It makes me cry.




“She freaking made it”

Hooray and congratulations to endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, who today achieved her life-long dream and a place in the history books by becoming the first person ever to swim without a shark cage from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida. It took her 53 hours to cross 110 miles of open ocean against stinging jellyfish, strong currents, sun and wind, and her own 64-year-old body.

Diana Nyad's route from shore to shore, from her website.

Diana Nyad’s route from shore to shore, from her website.

What an achievement.

I wrote about Nyad’s last attempt at this crossing in 2012, which was her fourth try, and was convinced at that time that she was not going to make another run at it. After reading more about her and her life, though, including her first attempt in 1978, I guess I should have realized she would either do this thing or literally die trying. She is the very embodiment of the word “competitor.”

In fact, upon her arrival on the Florida beach, she looked pretty close to death. Clearly this crossing took everything she had.

I have three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dreams. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport but it’s a team.
~ Diana Nyad, 2 September 2013

At an age when most people are ready to retire, Nyad has zealously pressed on in pursuit of her dreams while at the same time always encouraging others to pursue theirs. She’s a shining example of determination, courage, commitment and perseverance against all odds.

She told the Los Angeles Times in 2011, “I don’t want to reach the end of my life and regret not having given my days everything in me to make them worthwhile.” One hopes she now can look back on her days and say yes, they were worthwhile.

But I wouldn’t count her out to go chasing some other record just as soon as she recovers from this one. ONWARD!

What is meant to be

I love this little boy-meets-girl story from The New York Times, with all its serendipity and romance. Girl decides to take a well-earned vacation, travels to St. Thomas on a whim, meets boy with boat there. Ultimately, they sail off into the sunset together.

To love another person is to see the face of God.

My favorite boy-meets-girl story of all time, though, happened in my own family. My mother’s older brother got a job as a ranch hand one summer when he was still in his teens. It was on a big ranch, “out in the middle of nowhere,” my mother always said, and he worked mostly by himself. The place next door to this ranch boarded horses, and one of those horses belonged to a dark-eyed Italian girl who caught his eye across the fence, apparently, and fell hard for my uncle’s fresh-scrubbed good looks. They are still married, more than 50 years later, the proud parents of two handsome, dark-eyed boys who grew up to be wonderful men, and grandparents to a whole swarm of kids upon whom they dote.

Your task is not to seek love, but to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

I’ve always taken comfort from that story, and the hope it holds out that what’s meant to be will always find a way, no matter how far you try to run away from it or hide from it. If love is meant to find you, it will find you wherever you are.

“All it takes is some time and some destiny …”

Dieting for dummies

File under Ironies: The day I agreed to accompany my neighbor to her weekly Weight Watchers meeting, I got the urge to cook a HUGE batch of the Pioneer Woman’s Skillet Chicken Lasagna, which made enough to last me a week. Not exactly “diet” food, that. Also, of course, I had to make ice cream for the first time in two years. I still don’t know what came over me.

But today I am signed up for WW for the fourth or fifth time in my life. I’m an old hand at this dieting gig, and let me tell you, losing weight is easy. I’ve done it dozens of times. 😉

I guess I’m what is called a yo-yo dieter because I gain and lose the same number of pounds every couple of years. It’s a slow cycle, but a yo-yo cycle nonetheless. I have a certain range within which I’m comfortable: above a certain number, none of my clothes (which I own in a full range of sizes) fit and I don’t feel good. Below a certain number, same thing.


I’ve been heavy nearly all my life, and I have my reasons for that. Getting my weight down to what the actuarial tables consider “normal” would require either amputation or a very serious eating disorder, neither of which I’m willing to accept. My weight-loss goal right now is very modest: 5% of my current weight (that’s the first goal WW encourages). After that, they suggest going for 10%. Ultimately, I just want to weigh what my driver’s license says I weigh. When I originally applied for it at age 17, I lied about my weight by 10 lbs. and never bothered to update it. I’ve been trying to hit that number off and on ever since.

But as I said, losing weight is easy. It requires two things that most of us don’t have nearly enough of, however. No, not self-discipline or masochism. It requires mindfulness and accountability.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you’re eating, how much of it you’re eating, and—perhaps most importantly—how you feel while you’re eating it and afterwards.

I like to read the newspaper when I eat, which is a great distraction from whatever is on my plate and going down my throat. I have eaten many a mediocre or even kind of crummy meal because I just didn’t pay attention to it. Also, I was taught that it’s a sin to waste food, so if I cook it (or purchase it), by golly, I am going to finish it even if it doesn’t really taste good. This is not mindful or helpful to anyone, least of all me. A better policy is that of Anton Ego in the movie “Ratatouille”: “I don’t like food, I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.”

Also, when I have a big hungry, I want a big meal. I like to be full when I’m finished eating, so small meals and frequent snacking don’t work for me. But it takes a good deal of mindlessness to eat a really big meal because after the first few bites of any food, I simply stop tasting it. Next time you eat a bowl of ice cream, notice how all the flavors explode in your mouth on the first bite. On the second bite, a little less so, and so on until by the eighth or ninth bite, all you can taste is “cold” and “creamy.” Same with chips: after eating only a few, all you notice is “crunchy” and “salty.” When you pay close attention to every bite of food that goes in your mouth, a little (or a lot less) will satisfy you.

Accountability at home requires two things: measuring and tracking. When you weigh and measure your food portions, you know exactly what you’re getting. When you write down what you ate, you know exactly what you got. As every manager knows, you can’t control what you don’t track. A simple notepad to record your meals, and a small kitchen scale and set of measuring spoons and cups are all you really need. Read food labels carefully. Take the time to measure. Write it all down. ALL OF IT. Then you have measurable data to work with.

Accountability in the world means joining a group, a club, a meeting, or finding a buddy with whom you can share the journey and your results. That’s a large part of what makes WW so successful: the weekly meetings where members can go to be with people like themselves who are all working toward similar goals.

My mother is a WW lifetime member because she lost 100 pounds on the program at one time. She started going back in the ’70s (and took me along) when everyone was required to eat one serving of liver per week (ugh!) and all the desserts were sweetened with saccharin and flavored with extracts. Meals were counted in “exchanges,” and it was a rigid, difficult diet to follow.

That’s all changed now. There are no longer any required or forbidden foods on the program. Every food is assigned a “points” value based on its calorie/fat/fiber content, and members are allotted a certain number of points per day based on age, weight, height and gender. My points allotment right now is 32, which translates to roughly 1600 calories a day—hardly starvation rations. Other than staying within the day’s points count, there are no rules. I can eat anything I want to eat, even that lasagna and ice cream, as long as I record it honestly. That’s my kind of diet—I’m in control every step of the way.

So that’s the easy part. My sister reminds me to be careful because when I finally do decide to lose weight, it comes off so quickly that I get anxious about my body changing too fast and I tend to stall out before I reduce out of my (quite narrow) comfort zone. Then comes the hard part: maintaining.

Mindfulness and accountability are daily, even hourly, disciplines that can become exhausting. I can diet faithfully for a month or three, sure, but for years on end? Pah. Before I know it, I’m back to noshing on the ingredients while I’m cooking, grabbing a pastry with my coffee, and plowing obliviously through piles of food I don’t see, smell or taste because my mind is occupied elsewhere. It’s just easier to be numb, spaced out, and absent from one’s own life. We all know that. There are days you just want to get through and be done. Being mindful every minute of every meal requires focus, concentration and tremendous energy. And so the yo-yo swings.

I have paid in advance for a month’s membership in WW and I intend to reach my 5% goal in that time. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see. I know better by now than to make any promises.

Now that’s a knife

The money I saved on a new Cuisinart went toward a real chef’s knife, which finally arrived today. It is a Suisin High-Carbon Steel Gyutou 8.2-inch right-hand model by Korin, sharp as a razor. I performed a simple test with it, cutting a sheet of 20# bond paper, and it sliced cleanly through from top to bottom. You can imagine what it does with tomatoes!

I could hardly wait to put it through its paces in the kitchen this evening. As soon as it arrived hot (literally) off the UPS truck this afternoon, I rushed right out to the supermarket and stocked up on groceries to slice, dice, julienne, chop and fabricate.

new knife

Ready, set, chop! Look at that perfect blade, with the keen polished edge. Just lovely.

chopped veggies

It made short work of those veggies, let me tell you. I have a nice mirepoix here, ready for soup tomorrow, perhaps.

The real reason I got this knife, though, was to eliminate the sawing and swearing I always do when I fabricate (cut up) a chicken.

whole chicken

A real chef makes it look so easy to turn this …

cutup chicken

into this with just a few swift knife strokes.

My technique has not improved any despite watching this process many, many times on YouTube so it took me more than few strokes, but at least the knife was everything I hoped it would be!


The manufacturer warned me that moisture would discolor the blade, though, and it quickly did. This is a high-maintenance knife as knives go.

Of course, no job is done properly until you bleed on it, and I did manage to nick myself despite being very, very careful.


Happens to the best of us.

My new knife has been carefully washed, dried, oiled and put away in its box, ready for the next round of cooking, which I hope will be tomorrow night.

Bonus: Watch the clip from “Crocodile Dundee” with the classic line, “that’s a knife.”