! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Dharma Diaries


It schnowed yesterday. There was white stuff on the ground in Pittsburgh the day I was born, but I was only three hours old and don’t remember it. Naturally, I was pretty suspicious of the mysterious forces at work and barked my adorable head off till HE let me out. HE’s the one who told me it was schnow. HE thinks HE knows everything- when I should eat, what I am allowed to play with, what time I should walk, for cryin’ out loud! The list goes on, but I won’t bore you the way HE does me. Suffice it to say that we’ll call it “schnow” just to get HIM off my adorable back.

I’ll be one year old in just a few short weeks and at this point, I have a pretty good handle on things. HE worked (completely ignoring me, as usual) way too long yesterday & I’ll admit...I was a little bored, so I shredded the mail and chewed the corner off a place mat because I could. HE was suitably impressed with my handiwork and spoke loudly at me for quite a while. “Job well done!” was all I could think, as I sashayed my adorable ass downstairs in search of adventure.

The clink of keys in the kitchen distracted me enough to drop my goof ball and fly (as if on gossamer wing) to the door, determined to not be banished to THE CRATE...
Surprisingly, I was told I could “tag along” (honestly, HE treats me like a baby!) and run some errands. Trust me, I know what errands are- a boney at the bank, a rawhide at the post office and maybe, just maybe, an open window in the truck, so that my adorable ears might flap in the (much cooler than Cuban) wind.

With aforementioned boney firmly planted in my adorable mouth, we headed home. I tried to steer but HE is always in my way. The French Bull dog next door was on patrol, so I made a quick pish and slinked inside before she could spot me. (Don’t get me started on the French!) For something completely different, HE proceeded to talk on the phone for hours, ignoring me, so I slipped downstairs again and heavily drooled on one (only one!) of HIS “favorite” slippers. When HE discovered me gnawing on it, I got lots of attention, so I’ll be sure to try that again soon.

All in all, a pretty average day. I sneaked outside when I overheard HIM talking with the Russians across the road about me being the only Havanese within 100 miles, and of course, they were waxing rhapsodic over my countless adorable charms, so I loped off into the woods. I suppose that I should explain that we live in the woods, so pretty much everywhere you look is, well...woods.

For some unknown reason, I have gathered (by HIS endless blabbering) that I am not supposed to explore said woods on my own. “Bite me!”, I said under my adorable puppy breath and took off like a bat (yep, I know what a bat is- had one in the kitchen) out of Hell, which is apparently a place I’ll be visiting at some point soon, according to HIM.

I picked up a schtick, dropped it, found a pine cone- dropped it- and stopped dead in my tracks. My adorable nose twitched, dripped a little and quivered uncontrollably. Suddenly, I remembered one of HIS many phone calls revolving around a bear that had been spotted the day before. ‘Course, I didn’t believe HIM ( he makes stuff up all the time!) and I didn’t see the stupid bear, (if I’m being totally honest, they freak me out a little) so I only had HIS word...until that glorious moment, finally alone for one damn second, adorable paws firmly rooted in bear shit. In the woods. Alone.

I scouted for eye witnesses and proceeded to roll. It was so fresh, that it was still moist (maybe from the “schnow”?) and I was able to get the shit really imbedded in my hair. (I’ve heard that other dogs have fur, whatever that is, but not the Havanese!). I rolled, dove & leaped about with an air of dignity rarely seen while cavorting in a steaming pile of shit. Torn from my reverie by the (kinda loud) sound of HIS voice booming in my general direction, I was startled and panicked for a brief, shining moment.

I considered my options (knowing that it was only a matter of time) and decided to hide the evidence in the best way possible, so I ate it. Well, you’d think I was spawned by Satan herself the way HE carried on. Was not (even slightly) amused by the amazing aroma that I had acquired (all by my adorable self, thank you). No praise, no proverbial pat on the back- in fact, HE shrieked (like a damn girl scout) grabbed me (kinda ruff) and literally chased me around the house, completely ignoring the Russians (so rude) screaming his bloody(not so adorable) head off until I acquiesced (dogs have vocabularies too, ya know), doing my doggone best to look sheepish (whatever that is) and avoid trouble.

Still smarting from the infamous “skunk incident” last July, I was in no mood. I raced around the house, leaving remnants of bear shit on the couch, the rug, (was only on the bed for a minute for cryin’ out loud) and apparently, the effluvia (look it up) was permeating the entire house, which I would think was a good thing, but apparently not so much.

Once HE got a hold of me again (and got some bear shit on his hands) it was over. HE screamed and ranted and raved, drawing a bath (aarrgh!) while holding me by the scruff of my adorable neck. I think the worst is over, but HE still seems to be a little pissed - muttering about the puppy breath being a “thing of the past”...who knows? I try to not pay attention to his constant drivel and just do my thing, knowing full well that I will be forgiven. Why does HE love me so? I’m Dharma, dammit- and freakin’ adorable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heart Month-No Laughing Matter?

Sadly, like millions of others- my family is no stranger to heart disease. Cardiac failure has played a role in several deaths close to home, including my father and grandparents on both sides.

My dad, and his before him, were both dead by the age of 54. Little wonder then, that I had some anxiety regarding my own health as I approached middle age. Granted, the advancements in health care, with an emphasis on awareness and prevention have been staggering since my father’s day, but still...

I smoked (just like them) and had little to no concern regarding my own well being, believing (like most young folks) that I was impervious to the dangers that felled other members of my family tree. That, in addition to the fact that I appeared to be in good health, kept me from over analyzing the situation as I breezed through life, with nary a care in the world.

For the most part, I enjoyed my youth. I had a lot of friends, was pretty sociable and spent a good deal of time yukking it up with my pals, participating in theatre productions and later, in film and television as well. Often playing the “comic relief”, I did actually spend a lot of my time laughing.

I still remember being a kid and my father wagging his finger in my face , accusing me of “making everything a joke” and “not taking life seriously” enough. Admittedly, he had plenty to be concerned about but I had purposely chosen a different path. Now all grown up and having had a small “Myocardial Infarction” myself, it would appear that my “smart - ass attitude” may have actually saved my life.

I was lucky. Several years ago, I went out for lunch with friends, felt a weird sensation in my left arm and became short of breath. My coworkers concern swirled around me as I suggested that I might be having a heart attack-but insisted on driving myself home to have a nap, thinking I was jumping to conclusions. Against their wishes, they did let me leave- but I drove myself to the hospital instead.

Stress tests, angiograms and minor surgery were in my future as my brand new cardiologist asked me “what the hell was so funny?” Sure I was scared, but was laughing out loud at the absurdity of the situation. Looking back, it’s comical to have thought that I would escape what heredity had in store for me since birth. The difference between my survival and the generations before me? Hard to say for sure, but I have always lived by the adage that “laughter is the best medicine” and lately, medical science seems to agree.

In a 1996 study published by Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California, research showed that laughing “lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion and boosts the immune system by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies.” (

In Berk’s study, the physiological response produced by laughter was opposite of what is seen in classic stress, supporting the conclusion that laughter is a “eustress” state: one that produces healthy and positive emotions.

In March of 2007, researchers at the University of Maryland
( concluded that laughter is “linked to healthy function of blood vessels. Laughter appears to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of vessels to dilate, or expand in order to increase blood flow.”

When the same group of study volunteers was shown a film that produced mental stress, their blood vessel lining developed a potentially unhealthy response called vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow.

Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventative cardiology at UMM medical center was quoted as stating that “given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

He went on to say that “the magnitude of change we saw is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic exercise, but without the associated aches, pains and muscle tension.” Miller did admit that the study was not able to determine the source of laughter’s benefit, but suggests the possibility that the chemical release of endorphins that flood the body while laughing, could be a determining factor.

More studies are underway as each fresh discovery triggers new research. An earlier study by Miller suggested that laughter may be good for the heart and was based partly on questionnaires that helped determine whether people were prone to laughter and ascertain their levels of hostility and anger. Half of the 300 volunteers in the study had suffered heart attacks or had undergone coronary bypass surgery; the other half did not have heart disease. People with disease responded with less humor to everyday life situations than those with a normal cardiovascular system.

Miller concluded by saying that “we don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis.” I, for one, plan on staying the course. I’ve laughed my way through plenty of difficult times, but have always- knock on wood- come out ahead of the game. My mom would probably prefer that I was less of a clown sometimes, but we’ve had a lot of laughs together and she’s still here. My advice? Listen to Nat King Cole and “smile, if your heart is breaking.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tyra Banks Ate My Cell Phone

Yes, I adopted a puppy in November. Call me crazy. Devastated after losing my 14 year old terrier to the ravages of canine diabetes, I did not relish the idea of spending the winter alone in the woods without a dog to snuggle up with, which ( for dog lovers) does help stave off cabin fever and the accompanying doldrums.

I knew I wanted to rescue a dog in need and had no plans to adopt a puppy. No plans to house train in below zero conditions. No plans to bring a confused, abused and possibly insane animal into the home and yet- the best laid plans...

After searching the shelters for possibilities, I saw her. Small and frail and afraid, she called out to me as they often do. I took one look at those enormous, heavily lined eyes, her gorgeous hair (er, I mean fur) and seeing the possibility of intense beauty behind the fear, I proclaimed her new name was Tyra Banks and brought her home.

Naturally, all hell broke loose. She was fewer than 10 months old and had clearly been mistreated by some monster with no name. Tyra was afraid of the outdoors, had never seen a toy and had no clue where to pee. My severely lacking patience, combined with grief and loss over her predecessor all combined for an emotional roller coaster that had me tearing my hair out with frustration.

Having had (and trained) dogs my entire life, I was adamantly opposed to crate training and was always happy to expound on my totally uninformed position that it was “cruel” and “inhumane’ and just plain wrong.

This was, of course PTB (Pre Tyra Banks). Naturally, everyone I spoke with had an opinion, one which often had the word “crate” in the sentence. I pretended to listen knowing all the while that they were clearly mistaken and that crate training was not an option for me.

Tyra continued to pee wherever she cared to and destroy Christmas ornaments, shoes, caps, gloves and scarves, while I gently wept, walking her dozens of times throughout any given 24 hour period with virtually no success.

My fingers flew over the keyboard as I surfed the web for total strangers’ advice. More allusions to the “C” word. Hmm. I read. I mused. I caved. according to “Crate training can be an efficient and effective way to train a dog. Temporarily confining your dog to a small area strongly inhibits the tendency to urinate.” So far, sounding good.

Still believing that “father knows best”, I acquired the crate but did not put her in it. Then Tyra Banks ate a box of Hanukkah candles, peed right in front of me and devoured my cell phone. I had done enough research at this point to know that I could not introduce the dog to the crate through fear. Having visited and, not to mention I had picked up a hint or two.

I introduced her to the crate, made it inviting with blankets and toys and threw in a boney for good measure. Slowly, over a period of days, she went in by herself, making a little nest, taking a short nap. If she didn’t “go” during one of our numerous visits outside, I would suggest the crate for a while and try again. In just a few days, Tyra Banks chose to pee outside and was amply rewarded with praise.

I continued the experiment, giving her short bursts of confinement while working, since she would not leave me alone and insisted on “acting out" right in front of me, chewing up my brand new slippers and munching on clothes pins. She was not “punished and banished” to her crate for such behavior- she was admonished and then later- lovingly crated while I worked, in order to to avoid a slip.

Weeks have gone by. Tyra Banks pees outside. If she is cranky or mischievous, I recommend a “time out” in the crate, but never force her. If I catch her dragging a boot through the living room, she drops it and steps into her crate all by herself and takes a little self-imposed nap. This morning, while the ever-present plumber was here, I couldn’t find Tyra Banks. I looked upstairs and down, calling her by name, whistling and starting to worry that she had sneaked outside.

I found her, sound asleep, in her crate with the door somehow closed -without any assistance from me. Did she close it herself? It wasn’t actually latched, so my guess is yes. Does crate training help? My guess is yes.Is Tyra banks a good girl? She sure is getting there.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Go With The Flow

Just as the last gift was unwrapped, the last fruitcake tossed and the last, last minute gift arrived. It wasn’t a surprise- in fact the post-Christmas gathering was planned months in advance.

Little wonder then, that the plan unraveled faster than a ball of yarn in the paws of a psychotic kitten. Don’t get me wrong-I love making plans. It’s the execution of a carefully thought out, meticulously choreographed and minutely detailed extravaganza that is usually my downfall.

The months-long preparation to drive to Philly, hook up with family in Media, PA and meet there with friends who were coming in from Pittsburgh, collapsed like a house of cards mere hours before the truck was packed.
Frenzied conference calls ensued. Alternate cards were laid out on the table before the players and a new hand was dealt. I selfishly volunteered to stay home and let everyone come here.

Granted, accommodations are less than ideal for six adults, six dogs and a partridge in a pear tree- but “what the heck, it’s the holidays!” I muse, while tearing through the house, making beds, getting the plumbing (always the plumbing!) attended to, scribbling shopping notes on tiny post- it’s strewn throughout the place and whipping myself into a frenzy of straying outside of The Plan.

More phone calls ensued. Strep throat struck in Philly, knocking out two very important members of the group. Sighing, I picked up the phone and added one more, in lieu of the now-missing loved ones. Creating menus on the phone with Pittsburgh, I flew out of the house, picked up an extra large dog crate, more beer , less wine and looked heavenward as it began to snow.

Choking back tears on another call from Philly, I hastily made additional post-its to facilitate the completion of all tasks before the roads became too slick to navigate.In light of shifting the venue, searching for the now all-important fondue pot became tantamount to finding the Holy Grail. A minimum of three was required to pull off Bob & Ron’s now famous fondue for ten and my basement was (and is) “The Nightmare Before Christmas” - a result of my flinging dozens of crates filled with ornaments, dog stockings and assorted holiday “cheer”, resulting in the impression that Santa had literally exploded in a last ditch effort to smother my tiny house in a mountain of holiday splendor.

One by one, cars appeared. Dogs barked, luggage arrived in heaps. Bags and bags and bags of groceries were unpacked. (Bob and Ron are always prepared!) The phone rang incessantly as the mayhem ensued and I multi-tasked my little heart out shouting instructions to anyone who would listen.

I don’t care for surprises (ask anyone who was at my fortieth birthday bash) but made a valiant attempt to “go with the flow” as continual changes were thrown at me, including a last minute “date” appearing on the scene. (don’t ask!)

Folks settled in as the dogs made themselves at home on every couch, chair and hassock in the place. Menus were fine- tuned as the animals, en masse, were fed and walked (repeatedly- in below zero weather). Maps were poured over as all parties concerned debated which sights were to be seen, now that the party was in the Catskills.

Amidst the mountains of coats, scarves,suitcases, hats and boots-I surveyed the comical scene and smiled. I was once again reminded of how fortunate I am. My friends had traveled hundreds of miles- at a moments notice, just to congregate and make merry... without hesitation.

The house smelled like hot cocoa and cookies (and dogs, dogs, dogs!). I breathed it all in, trying to capture the glorious moment in my head... creating the proverbial movie in my mind. I snaked my way through the living room, the ever-present phone to my ear, making even more plans for the next day- and the day after that. I forced myself to stop and smell the roses (yes, I mean dogs), soaking it all in. I took a picture or two to remind me of the moment and told each of my friends how much I love them.

We made more calls to those who could not attend and told them how much we loved them too. Either I’m becoming a complete sap as I mature, or maturity has caused me to appreciate something I have always possessed. Either way, it feels good, so I think I’ll just “go with the flow.”