The End of Summer (ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes)

Change of heart. Change your mind. Loose change. Change of pace. Changeling. Change of life. Small change. Change it up. Chump change.

Change or die.


Knowing and being ready to act upon knowledge are two very different things indeed. How many habits have you known you needed to break, only to circle back, to indulge in one more “last time?” I could feel a change brewing for much of this summer, but the experience of knowing it and feeling it coming on couldn’t quite morph into living it.

Change is hard. I settle into routines as easily as the next guy and only pain and suffering wrests me out of those routines. I had worked out a great dog care routine here at the shack, but this summer I could feel it inching (and, at times, hurtling) towards change. But still I resisted. I didn’t want to change. I still don’t. But it’s inevitable. Change or die.

Iske died in February. I knew what a giant loss this would be to our pack. It’s not sentimental, and I doubt they “miss” her, although if Cinder could articulate her emotions, perhaps she’d describe it that way. They needed her. She played a critical role here, and her presence even as an aged, blind, deaf, incontinent, demented and ultimately dying pack member meant certain types of nonsense was not going to happen. The young and the restless did not act up when she was alive. She didn’t rule with fangs and claws, but somehow rule she did. She kept a certain sense of order and decorum. Without her, I predicted, there would be a real hole in our pack and none of the other dogs would step up to fill it. I was right.


Iske and Mica skewed the pack in the elderly direction. Hawkitt and Peeka reorient it towards youthfulness. And mayhem. Cinder has no interest in maintaining order – she just wants to do her own thing and be left alone. Lily is firmly ensconced in her Omega position. There’s no one but me to keep the nudniks in line.

Add in that Mica and Iske both loved hiking. They were natural hikers, at ease and utterly comfortable in the woods, trotting ahead of me on the trail enjoying chipmunking but not manic or compulsive about it. Cinder is compulsive – all moving things must be stopped. Peeka is confused but eager. And Hawkitt is bored. The daily hikes no longer meet the pack’s needs the way they once did. And a bored, high drive, 95 lb striped marauder is just no good at all. Hawk attacks trees, brings toys along to play with on the way, and on one awful braindead morning, followed his nose to go join another hiker. I spent hours looking for him, yelling myself hoarse calling him… only to find him safely delivered to our home via a car ride from a stranger. That can’t happen again.

You see, some of the change I must adapt to is not part of the natural evolution of my pack. When we chose to move to this place, our choice was in part due to the property backing up to over a thousand acres of public land – public land that had no public hiking trail on it. This summer that changed. A public trail was opened, and the result is exactly as I predicted – I have lost something I valued beyond words. While I know many people would think one person’s loss means little on the balance sheet when “The Public” stands to gain so much, but that isn’t really accurate or fair. What I lost is gone forever, and quite frankly, I’m stuck here. What was gained by the community could have been gained many other local places… Scutt Mountain, Moon Mountain, or up in Prattsville, where the waterfall trail has been waiting to be finished for years. My backyard wasn’t the only option for a hiking trail. But now it is there. And I just have to adapt. Change … or watch change happen around you.

I am heartsick and grieving the loss of this mountain and my daily routine, but I don’t have the luxury to process that loss. I have to function, taking care of 4 beings (ok, 5 if you add in Tom) with very different needs. I have to find ways to satisfy all of them, imperfectly perhaps, but it’s got to be good enough to keep everyone mentally healthy. Me included.

Hawk’s foray onto the public trail and his interest in meeting a human really took me by surprise, but instead of getting angry at him, I interpreted it as communication: Hawk wants more interaction with the outside world. God knows why – I loathe interaction with the outside world. But Hawkitt believes he is the mayor of Bramley Mountain – perhaps of Delhi and Bovina as well. He needs to meet humans and tell them how happy they are to meet him. He is gregarious with a capital G. So I’ve been taking him to the Delhi Farmer’s Market each week. Some of the vendors have gotten to know him and literally squeal with delight when he rounds the corner. “It’s HAWKITT!” they cry and his wag could send bushels of winter squash flying. He loves being a good boy in public. I’m changing, letting this be part of the routine.


I had thought that part of the changes coming up would include adding a new member to our pack. I committed to taking in Summer, a drop dead gorgeous 10 month old malinois from Florida. We were awaiting transport details when an incident unfolded that ultimately made us all – me, Tom, and Cindy, Summer’s coordinator – change our minds. My dogs acted as a pack, aggressing against an “outsider.” I was able to break up the 3 against 1 melee but not before my friend’s dog bit me. I’ve received a lot of accidental nips and bites (Hawkitt isn’t careful about adjusting his grip on the stick), and plenty of what I affectionately term “asshole nips” by Peeka. This was neither. I received a full-on hard bite from a frightened dog defending itself. I’m fine, and I was able to prevent injury to all involved (well, ok, except me), but this whole thing shook me up. I couldn’t think straight for a few days, just so dismayed that I had placed all the dogs in that situation. When I finally settled down enough to think clearly, I knew that losing Iske had been even more monumental to this pack, and to me, than I realized. Without her, there is an instability that could pop up at any moment, with dangerous results. Taking in a new dog was possible, I realized, but not without making radical changes in how I managed everything around here. It would be a fully new experience, despite the number of new dogs I’d introduced before. I talked it over with Cindy and left the final decision up to her. She chose wisely, and Summer is safe in Florida in an excellent foster home. Saying no to a new dog… that’s a change I hadn’t anticipated.

We’re moving into the new house on October 15. The changes to come are incredible. I’ve never lived in a house I participated in building before and it’s an amazing feeling looking around, and knowing – I touched every single piece of insulation. I picked up and carried every single piece of rough-sawn siding. Items that sat in our backyard for years (the kitchen sink was acquired long before this property was!) are in place and functioning. My new kitchen will be magazine-worthy. I have lived in one room for 3 years. Sleeping in a different room and having to walk from where I sleep to where I eat… down stairs, around a corner, into a fully different space – this is huge. Everything about how I manage the dogs will be different – where they eat and sleep, how we walk each morning, and where we go to pee at 10 pm. We will all adjust most joyously, I think.

Change or die… and sometimes, change and live well. I guess that’s the definition of hope.




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I’m jealous of my dog.

Sure, sure: what a great life he has, now that he is rescued and not starving, freezing, running the streets and dumpster diving for a living. But that’s not what I mean. Yes, he has a great life, as do most dogs I know. He has a pack of miscreant nudniks to play with and ample food and a soft bed, but that’s not why I’m jealous of him. I have all that too.


He is in his prime and he is a formidable beast of a dog. His muscles ripple. His coat gleams. He moves with a powerful grace and suppleness that makes me swoon. No, I don’t want him in a lustful way, and no, I don’t want to be with a human male who has those qualities. Ok, well, maybe I do. I haven’t really given it much thought. But I want those qualities for myself.


I am jealous of my dog because I want to be him. I want to be that strong, that vibrantly and intensely alive, that healthy and powerful. I want to move with that ease. I want nothing to stand in my way of getting what I want. I want to be able to leap up trees, scale cliffs, fly through the air, break doors down, pull my truck with my teeth… (don’t call the humane society; I’ve never asked him to do that but now that I’m thinking about it, I bet he could). He is more alive than I think I have ever been.


Any living creature at the height of their prowess is breathtakingly beautiful. All athletes at the top of their game are intimidating adversaries and mighty Caseys at the bat. My Hawkitt is animal grace and power all wrapped up in a soft striped coat and a gentle demeanor. He is a lover, not a fighter. But that’s a choice he makes. If he were sharp, skittish, nippy… I’d be dead meat. He is a gentle, kind, loving presence in our family in a physical package that is completely intimidating.


I often think of my dogs and I as a team, working together to accomplish goals (like making it home unquilled). But we are not equals. I am not what he is. He respects me and accepts my leadership, using his body as a force for good, not evil, in our home. He is proof that power does not always corrupt.


I am jealous of my dog. And my heart sings each and every time I look at him.


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Hide and Seek

I found ginseng the other day.


Panax quinquefolius

I spend an inordinate amount of time in the woods, and almost all of that time is spent looking for, and/or looking at, stuff. I’ve looked for and found someone’s lost keys, a specific pregnant porcupine, my cell phone, the dog’s toy, several patches of orchids, the ‘one way’ sign on the west side of the mountain, chicken of the woods, golden chanterelles, bear dens, porcupine dens, and human “dens” (hunting blinds). I’ve found 50 year old whiskey bottles, and 5 day old ‘congratulations on graduating’ balloons. I’ve found the best view on the 1200+ acre parcel, the best tasting blackberries, and the secret caves.


I’ve run into bears (plural – Mama plus 2 cubs once, and teenage boys several times), fishers, deer, and coyotes, and spotted bald eagles and indigo buntings. None of these are particularly rare, but they all give me a thrill.

There’s what you’re looking for and then there’s what you find. I’m always looking, but rarely seeking. Some days I go out to find something specific, and my track record is only fair. The pregnant porky was amazing, but there were a few trips looking for Steve’s keys before I actually came up with them. Sometimes (e.g., the cell phone) failure is not an option. But every day I look at everything, expecting nothing/anything.

Finding ginseng was eagerly anticipated. I knew the chances of finding it were so-so. But I also knew that I saw some last year and got shot down – one expert “wasn’t sure” and another said “nope, lookalike plant.” I thought I was right and they were wrong and I was bound and determined to show them. So it’s been a solid year of seeking, not every day, but often enough. Tenacity rewarded.

This time I waypointed the find on my GPS and my plan is to keep looking for more. But in the meantime, there’s plenty to look for and even more to marvel at. Maybe one day I’ll join the ranks of those who believe they’ve seen a cougar. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to keep finding plump sweet blackberries and other forest edibles.


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The Notion of Promotion

Despite the time-wasting, short-attention span nature of scrolling through my Facebook feed, I did stumble upon an article about hiking that I not only read, but read closely. Well written and full of useful tips, long enough to be a decent treatment of the topic but not in the TL;DR category, I should be extolling its virtues, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to tear the whole thing apart. Come on, you’d expect nothing less from me. Here’s the link:

The article does a nice job of promoting and encouraging new, out of shape, and inexperienced hikers to stay with it and bag those peaks. The tips pass muster and the tone is positive and upbeat. But — why can’t we be ok with the fact that some folks don’t like hiking, don’t want to hike, or CAN’T hike back country trails? Why do we have to promote, encourage, heck – browbeat – nonhikers into joining us in our endeavor? If we need to promote the activity to people who find it stressful (first paragraph, hiking is described as “incredibly challenging” and in the second paragraph – “stressful”), maybe we’re on the wrong trail.

I completely agree with efforts to encourage “unplugging” from devices and the internet. I completely agree with promotion of being outdoors. But you can do that while you pick apples, go for a swim, sit and read a book, or doze in a hammock. Promotion of outdoor recreation doesn’t have to mean the back country. In the Catskills, we can enjoy the benefits of being outdoors “in nature” on rail trails, village sidewalks, and our own front porches. Speaking of the benefits of nature, I’ve seen a few articles about the so-called benefits of being in nature – mental health benefits, “spiritual” benefits, etc. In every single study, when you look at the specifics, the benefits gained could have been gained in one’s own back yard, a town park, or similar nonbackcountry outdoor area. The notion of nature walks somehow being a jumpstart to human spirituality is fodder for another blog post, but all I’ll say here is nope. Visit a few gorgeous places that are littered with beer cans, broken glass, used condoms and diapers (yes, that’s what I picked up in the woods at a litter picking event at the Blue Hole, formerly one of the most pristine and sublime places in the entire Catskills) to understand that folks are gonna do what they do. Being out “in nature” isn’t going to take anyone to Spirituality Central unless they were already on that bus.


I completely agree with promoting and encouraging children to get outside and play, and adults can find their version of outdoor recreation (grown up play) that works for them. Unstructured free play outdoors is something I think all kids can find a way to enjoy. Some will be incredibly athletic and run around, build jumps and ride bikes, skateboards, go karts, etc. over them, climb trees, and explore their own kinetic extremes. Some kids will sit still on a stream bank and daydream, listening to the brook sing. Some kids will be in that brook, on their hands and knees, catching crayfish and marveling at caddisfly larvae. [Confession – more than one child was forbidden from playing with me because they came home too dirty. I was perpetually covered in mud. Still am.] All forms of enjoying time outdoors, unplugged, and away from adult “supervision” (i.e. control) are good for kids. Letting kids choose what works for them is by far the best way to build enjoyment and help kids develop a strong positive association with being outdoors that can last a lifetime. Similarly, letting adults gravitate to the activity that resonates for them just makes sense. When I read the encouragement provided by the article referenced above I felt like this is all about trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

Why push hiking? There are so many different ways to enjoy being outdoors, why herd folks onto the hiking trails and then coach them on how to enjoy it? Seems like wasted effort to me. And, dare I say it – potentially dangerous, both to the hikers but also to the fragile mountain ecosystems. Inexperienced people are innocently ignorant and do ill-advised things (like cutting down trees and branches for all kinds of weird reasons). They also tend to get lost, ill, or injured. They trespass and make for problematic relationships with adjacent land owners — here in the Catskills this has resulted in loss of access in several places. But to me the single most important reason to NOT encourage people to enter the back country? They don’t have fun. They endure it, survive it, damage themselves and the nature they are supposed to be inspired by, and all too often require rescue. All of that could be avoided if folks didn’t hike unless they actually love hiking. Why not follow your bliss (yeah, I hate that phrase too) and do something that you enjoy? Yes, climbing mountains offers some great rewards for those who love doing so, but that cost-benefit analysis has to make sense.

Ultimately, the article made me uncomfortable. I don’t want to encourage people to push themselves. I want to encourage people to be happy (and yes, some people take great delight in pushing themselves. Those folks need no encouragement and they sure don’t need an article telling them how to push past discomfort. They do it all the time.). I want to encourage people to feel good about themselves and embrace who they are. We are not all the same. Yeah, hiking is popular. It’s trending (I just threw up in my mouth a little). But really, it isn’t for everyone. Hauling your mass up a mountain is just not comfortable, period. Not everyone enjoys being uncomfortable. And that’s ok. Miles of trail are boringly similar, and the viewspot is a blip in an otherwise endless sea of sameness. There are ticks carrying Lyme disease and other debilitating diseases, there are gnats, mosquitoes, blackflies, and no-see-ums, and they all bite. There are amazing amounts of stinging nettles and blackberry canes. There are bears and coyotes, which seem to scare the sense out of most people. There is no latte at the summit, no frozen snickers bar, no craft-brewed IPA. You need to go into the villages for those things.

Sometimes there is no view at the viewspot.

Sometimes there is no view at the viewspot.

If we care about economic development, we need to stop promoting the wilderness and start promoting the villages. If we care about environmental protection, we need to stop promoting the wilderness and start putting our money where our mouths are in terms of protecting it. And we need to figure out how we’re going to deal with the ever increasing numbers of people who do come visit and hike the back country – because parking areas are full, the back country is littered and chopped, and the reports of rescues clearly demonstrate that at least some of the folks coming out here and getting into trouble are neither prepared for nor enjoying a back country experience. I don’t know what the answers are, but I worry that the right questions are just not getting asked anywhere near often enough or loudly enough. The din of promotion, no matter how well written and kindly the form it takes, is shouting over what I believe is common sense.

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Welcome to #Wellness

I’ve toyed with writing a wellness blog for years. I’ve actually dipped my toes into this corner of the blogosphere a couple of times in the past, my recipe for green beans being one of my all-time favorite pieces of blog-blather. But to kick off an honest-to-goodness foray into telling people what to eat, how to eat, how to exercise, how to live their lives, how to think, how to act, and generally how to structure their inner and outer worlds, I thought I’d offer a recipe. People love recipes, right?

I wish I could share with you Bunmi Laditan’s recipe for her chicken tenders, but she didn’t publish the recipe. Read her description, though, and you’ll understand why I want to marry her. I may just settle for buying her book and stalking her online.

The recipe I’m about to share is for raw oats. Raw oats with some stuff on them. Mostly sugar, because sugar makes things taste good. There’s some sticky stuff (mostly sugar) that glues the raw oats together and makes them something you can hold in your hand. There’s plenty of room for customizing this recipe and it is fast and simple to make. And raw. Well, sort of raw – the oats are raw but the sugary stuff is warmed up to make it pourable.

NotClif Bars
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup nut butter (I used a chocolate almond butter I got from the health food store because just plain peanut or almond butter is too slippery and the bars don’t become bars… they are more like crumbles.)
1 cup honey
1 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup (or so – don’t be anal and measure) coconut oil

Prep a 9×12 pyrex baking dish by spraying with canola oil or wiping with something else – butter? Veg oil of some sort? Or just line it with parchment paper?
Put the oats and chocolate chips in a big bowl.
Melt the coconut oil with the nut butter and honey over low heat in a saucepan. Once all melted, remove from heat and pour over oats. Mix thoroughly.
Dump and spread into the prepared 9×12 pan. Press into an evenly spread and distributed layer fills the whole thing.
Refrigerate the whole shebang. Cut pieces into rectangles (or any freaking shape you want) and store refrigerated.

Now I’m hungry…



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The man with the full basket gestured for me to step ahead of him in the supermarket checkout line. I glanced at his fresh veggies and artisanal cheeses as I placed my six pack of beer and Klondike bars on the belt. I caught his eye and said “healthy lunch,” nodding towards my purchases. “Looks great,” he replied. I think he meant it.

What I wanted to say was, “I just put my dog to sleep at the vet’s down the road.” And I wanted to start crying again, right there in Freshtown, with a stranger who makes healthy choices. But I didn’t.


I could say that losing Iske is losing a part of myself but that’s a) obvious, b) maudlin, and c) kind of hyperbolic. All the same, I’m thinking it even while I’m not saying it out loud to random strangers in Freshtown. She and I had something that transcended normal pet-owner dynamics. She and I were soul-spliced, and linked in ways that make no sense. You just have to trust me on this. I think every crazy dog person has that one dog – the one that is a deeper bond than any other. Iske was that one.

ancient history 006

She was crazy. I guess that appealed to me. She threw herself into everything she did with that malinois intensity that made me laugh and gasp and duck and cover. She wasn’t a nice dog – she was wound way too tightly for that. She was a neurotic, sharp, competitive, airborne nutcase. The first time I saw her she was in an outdoor enclosure losing her mind because I had driven up her driveway. She was jumping up and down – all four feet off the ground, from a standstill, and her head was bashing the roof of her run. Her foster mom, Lyn, got her under control and beckoned me to enter the run to meet her. Lyn released her from her sit stay. Iske hit me full in the chest and her tongue was up my nose instantly. I sat on the ground so that she would stop jumping up. She placed her paws on my shoulders and held me down while she licked the insides of my skull. And that was pretty much that.

She was loving, and incredibly affectionate, but allowing her to cuddle always ended badly. Iske would get overstimulated by closeness and end up escalating the affection until someone got hurt. No hugging, no faces, no running … we all learned how to manage Iske so that she was as sane and safe as possible. Those first few years involved a lot of “oooh, that took a nasty turn.”

She was the patron saint of hiking disasters. She had a run-in with barbed wire that resulted in a 6 mile walk out with her chest torn open. She grunted “it’s only a flesh wound.” She bounced on broken glass and severed a toe. She got kicked in the head by a white-tailed deer and lost consciousness. I had to carry her out that time. She fell backwards off a cliff and tumbled about 30 feet, landing on her back. She got up, shook it off, and assumed we’d continue (we didn’t). She got quilled by porcupines three times and stoically stood still while we plucked those quills out of her gums and the base of her tongue (of course she’d gotten them everywhere. She was thorough.).

slide from neversink 052

She completed more rounds of the Catskill 35 than I can count, and hiked up Bramley Mountain a cool thousand times, the last of which was just a few days before she died. She was as crazy and intense as Hawk when she was young, as stick-obsessed and as enthusiastic about everything. The huge difference was that for Iske, the ultimate goal and joy in life was to obey me. She just wanted to do my bidding… all the fucking time. She was at the ready — “send me in, coach!” — 24/7/365. She was a ball of fire, at 50 lbs, and nothing was too much for her. Back in those days when it was just me, Maya, and Iske we had some crazy fun times – swimming in the Housatonic, hiking the AT in Connecticut, and mountain biking when I fractured my leg and couldn’t hike or run. She got me evicted from the house I rented, so I bought a house… and she adapted to living right in a village. She learned to lie in the front yard and let the world go by.

She never said no. She just did everything I asked, the first time I asked it.

ancient history 005

When we adopted Lily, Iske established herself as dominant. She only ever used as much force as it took – no more. When we fostered Red Cloud, Iske taught him the ropes and occasionally even deigned to play with him. But not often and not much. Then we got Cinder who loved and respected Iske immediately. Then Jack, who was just so happy to have a decent meal and a safe place to sleep, he barely noticed we had other dogs. Then Mica. Then Hawkitt. And then Peeka. Through every transition, Iske was increasing serene. Ok, Iske seemed to think, my mom is a crazy dog lady. So be it. Iss just moved over, shared the dog beds and food bowls as if she’d been doing it all her life. She washed a lot of dirty ears, and snarked at a lot of foolish puppies.


All this describing her just doesn’t even come close to touching what she and I shared. She was a hoot, an athletic maniac, but she was also so fucking present to me through whatever I was experiencing. Iske was there, with me, truly with me. She came on almost all my dates. She witnessed a dysfunctional relationship – beginning, middle, and godawful end. She was not a sweet affectionate supportive little face licker, but she demanded I function. She anchored me in reality, and handed me a stick or ball every time I turned inward and shut down. No, she said. Here. Take this and throw it.

She was an equal to me, not a dog or a pet, but a being that shared my home and helped me raise my child. She witnessed my life and held me in her heart and soul. I did the same for her.

Suddenly last week she began to struggle to pee. She spent a day at the vet’s, getting xrays and ultrasounds, blood tests and treatments. We picked her up with no real answers, but her vet taught me how to express her bladder. For a long weekend, we peed for her. She accepted this intervention with grace and dignity. She let us help her and if anything, seemed grateful. Day and night, from Saturday to Tuesday, we peed her every pee with her. She stopped eating. She trembled in pain. She stopped drinking. She was mostly blind, mostly deaf, and now seemingly ready. We made the call.

I take so much comfort in the outpouring of support from the dog friends and malinois people I’ve come to know over the years. But ultimately grief is a solo journey, and what I had with Iske is mine alone. What I’ve lost is mine to figure out – how to be with that loss, how to honor what we had, and how to move forward with the pack members that remain. I couldn’t bring myself to exercise them yesterday – the wind and driving rain was the excuse, but the truth was that I couldn’t share myself with them. I ate a Klondike bar, drank the beer (two of them, the second one powerfully regretted), wallowed in tortilla chips and tipsy tears, and talked Tom’s ear off sharing memories of Iske.


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2015 – The Holiday Letter

2015 was the year I discovered how much I like beer. Not just any beer, but the particular style of beer brewed to withstand the journey by sea to India: the India Pale Ale. Balanced but bitter, strong, full-bodied, and hoppy as all hell, I have joined the ranks of the IPA lovers, although I certainly wouldn’t throw a nice sweet brown ale out of bed, and extra special bitters = completely delicious. 2015 was also the year I began making homemade mayonnaise (big thank you to Amy Jackson of Amy’s Takeaway for the lesson, conversation, and lunch in the garden – that afternoon easily makes the short list of loveliest moments of the year). My husband, who would gladly eat homemade mayo on a slab of cardboard, is eternally grateful. Not surprisingly, 2015 is also the year I’ve seen my weight creep up to a new “normal.” I blame menopause.

I write this on a dark Sunday morning, El Nino-inspired rain drippinIMG_7270g onto the tin roof with irritating familiarity. It’s been a rainy December that brought us the one year anniversary of Mica’s death, and the discovery of a dead coyote in the woods… on the same day. Looking back at my records, that also happens to be the same day, 12 years ago, that I drove to central Massachusetts to pick up Iske. She still hikes and plays fetch, despite her ridiculous age. A collection of coincidences held together by a date. Tom and I and all 5 dogs released Mica’s ashes on a date I didn’t mark, sometime over the fall. We buried the coyote on Christmas day.

2015 was by all counts a great year: dominated by the completion of The Mica Movie (it even has an IMDb page), it was also the year I won the Freeditorial Long Short Story Contest, and saw the publication of my essay in the anthology Being Biracial. I’m discovering that I adore the short story format with a newbie’s passion. Since Queen of the Catskills, I’ve written Wolf Heart and Fresh Oil, Loose Stone. I think I have a few more stories in me, and at least one of them will be a sequel, prequel or side-quel to Queen. I have to admit, writing that story might have been the most fun I ever had at the keyboard.

During the first half of 2015 I also worked (yes, a job, with a paycheck and everything) outside the home. That came to a surprising and sad end over the summer, which I liken to a bad divorce – and they got to keep the kid. I have visitation, but it’s just not the same.

The second half of the year was dominated by the construction of our new house, the shell of which went up in September. “When will you move in?” is the question of the hour – not unlike the pregnant belly begging the question “when are you due?” You’ve heard the old adage “you lose a tooth for every baby you carry”? Well, with a house, it feels more like a few internal organs and a chunk of your brain. Tom has had his first construction-related trip to the ER. He’s fine: it was only a flesh wound.

The other thing I do (besides drinking beer, writing, hiking, and not having a job) is make jewelry. And the big news in that department is that my business, Malaprop Designs, is changing its name to haliagrace. Why? In part because it is time for a website, and in seeking to obtain my domain name, I realized that Malaprop Designs isn’t unique – another crafter uses the same moniker and has the web address to go with it. It was time – time to take the next step with the business, design a logo, create a website, and rebrand myself. I’m working with John Virga of Bovina Brown Bats to come up with the perfect design – and rest assured, it will be badass, kickass, and wiseass. It will be utterly haliagrace, passionately Catskills, and 100% gluten free.

The backdrop to all this is the dogs. Isn’t it always? I measure time in dogs. Not 2 months after Mica died, word reached us via Facebook (goddamn Facebook!) of malinois puppies dumped nearby. On Friday February 13th (I should have known!!! Who picks up a dog on Friday the 13th?!?!), with Christine at my side, we made the trip to the shelter and wrapped a very stinky, very sick and sad, striped puppy in a fleece blanket. Christine gets best friend status forever for holding that mess on her lap for an hour, enduring the smell and risking bringing ringworm into her home. I spent those first few nights sleeping with the pup, and she slept all night curled in the hollow of my belly. I spent the first few weeks administering medications, supplements, and bandages, trying to get her wounds to heal. And I spent the first few months worrying about her like only a Jewish grandma could – fretting over every meal, every poop, every demented dingo breath she took. She rallied, healed as best she could, and is my squeaky wheel. She is a bit of an oddball, but I have fallen deeply, profoundly in love with her.


Photo by Beth Adams, Candid Canine Photography

And now the year turns over again, and I’m knee deep in all manner of “stuff.” There’s the perennial dog stuff, as I watch pack dynamics shift and change. Iske grows truly ancient and Peeka comes of age, Hawkitt matures (a tiny bit) and Cinder and Lily remain steadfastly middle children. There’s hiking stuff, house stuff, and just life stuff. Maya is in Thailand until April, and as much as I am delighted for her, and so excited by this adventure, I’m also acutely aware of the distance and the largeness of this world. When your offspring is on the other side of the planet, you start to grasp the bigness of it all.


It’s been one hell of a year the world over, but somehow, for no good reason, in my little mountain corner I feel hopeful. If I can figure out how to live in a cramped muddy shack with five dogs without killing Tom, I think there’s a lesson in that. A lesson in love and tolerance and commitment. A lesser man and a lesser marriage would have crumbled under the weight of all this dog hair. We just keep laughing and making it one more day.


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