dogs, memories, obits

A year without Zane…

We had kind of a scary day yesterday. Our dog, Arran, didn’t seem to be feeling very well. He had a tragic look on his face, seemed to have trouble jumping, and when I touched his back, he yelped in pain. Arran is ten or eleven years old. He’s always been very healthy, but he’s not getting any younger. We also had a rather active weekend. He got walks and went with us to our visit to a winery on Friday night, as well as a day trip to Kallstadt, which is where Donald Trump’s grandparents were from.

Bill was worried enough about Arran yesterday that he took him to Tierklinik Hofheim, which is a really high speed veterinary facility near us. Our former vet down near Stuttgart told me, back when I was struggling with our other dog, Zane, that Tierklinik Hofheim is one of the best veterinary hospitals in Germany. I used to worry about how I would get Zane there, if he needed their services. It’s a good three hour drive from where we used to live. Now, we only live about twenty minutes from Hofheim, and about a year ago, Bill took Zane there and got the devastating confirmation that he had canine lymphoma.

We had hoped for one last month with Zane, but he was gone a week after our regular vet told us she suspected the disease. August 31, 2019 was a sunny, hot day. We found Zane that morning, exhausted and curiously bloated. It turned out he was bleeding internally from a ruptured tumor in his spleen. By noon, we had said goodbye to him. It was very sad for Bill and me, but as dog deaths go, particularly from cancer, it wasn’t as horrible as it could have been. Zane had a good last week. He was able to eat, bask in the sunshine, and even take a couple of walks.

We have now lost three dogs to canine cancer. Zane’s death, while certainly not easy, was much kinder than the deaths of his three predecessors. Our first rescue died of a very rare mycobacterial infection that required special testing by the Virginia Department of Health. Our second had prostate cancer. Our third, wonderful MacGregor, died of a spinal tumor. All three of those dogs endured excruciating pain that was barely touched by pain medications before we helped them to the Rainbow Bridge. I did not get the sense that Zane suffered pain as much as he did exhaustion and discomfort.

It was a terrible shock to lose Zane so quickly after finding out how sick he was. Zane was always a very special dog to me. I’ve loved every dog we’ve had, but Zane and I had an incredible bond. He was like a ray of sunshine most days… always friendly, mostly laid back, often hilarious, and happy almost all the time. He loved to play games and had a comical side to him. He also loved to snuggle, especially in my lap, and he loved running and playing, even though he was kind of fragile and needed a lot of veterinary care over his almost eleven year lifespan.

This is all Zane.

I usually get a new dog about a month after losing one, but this time, it’s taken a lot longer for a lot of reasons. We tried to adopt a new dog a few months ago, but he escaped before he managed to come into our home. I knew he was doomed as I watched him run away. We live close to two Autobahns, and the new dog, who was from Sardinia and apparently not very socialized, didn’t know us. Sure enough, he was killed before twenty-four hours had passed.

Bill and I are now expecting to bring a new dog into our home in about a month. The new dog is from Kosovo and, for now, is known as Noizy. I’m not sure if we will change his name. I don’t always change my dogs’ names when I get them. It depends on how fitting they are to their personalities. I have heard that Noizy isn’t actually very loud, either. Anyway… I expect Noizy will also be special because all dogs are in some way. I have yet to regret adopting a dog. Even the one we tried to adopt in March ended up doing something positive.

First off, the lady who runs the Tierpension where we board our dogs when we take trips thought of Bill and me when a German family “dumped” an elderly cocker spaniel named Maxl. Maxl’s human “dad” had died, and his “mom” was unable to take care of him. Family members brought him to the Tierpension and asked the staff to help them rehome him. Maxl had some health issues that were neglected, plus he’s about twelve years old. A couple tried to take him, but Maxl was too “stinky” and, for whatever reason, they decided not to take him to a vet but, instead, brought him back to the Tierpension.

Since Bill and I had already committed to taking in Noizy and I know that Noizy will probably cause angst for Arran, we declined to take Maxl. However, I did share Maxl’s information in one of several Facebook groups I joined because of the dog that escaped. I had been wanting to spread the word and ended up staying in the groups. A group member in the Pets of Wiesbaden group decided she could take in Maxl, and within a couple of days, he was in his new home. If not for the dog who got away, I probably never would have joined that Facebook group because my experiences with Facebook groups in Stuttgart had kind of soured me on them– especially the ones affiliated with the U.S. military.

And secondly, there’s Noizy, who’s about two years old and was found wandering the streets of Kosovo when he was a small puppy. He’s missing most of his tail and part of an ear. His rescuer thinks maybe some kids mutilated him. I haven’t met Noizy in person yet, but I’ve seen many pictures and videos. I have a feeling we’re going to get along fine, although Arran may not be too happy to have to share us with a new friend.

As for Arran… he seems somewhat better today. We are going to take him to the vet. He’s due for a checkup anyway, and we’re going to update some vaccines that we stopped giving after he had a mast cell tumor. Zane also had mast cell cancer and that was probably what led to the lymphoma, but Zane’s mast cell cancer was much worse and more active than Arran’s was. Arran just had one lone tiny tumor that was low grade. That was five years ago, and he’s not had another since. Zane, on the other hand, had lots of lumps and some systemic involvement. He held on for three years until lymphoma took him– lymphoma often strikes dogs who have had mast cell tumors. It’s not recommended to give vaccines to dogs who have had mast cell cancer, although we have kept giving the rabies vaccine because it’s the law. Since both dogs had mast cell tumors, we stopped most vaccines for both of them. Arran hasn’t had another tumor, so he’s probably alright to get boosters now.

I still think about Zane every day. The house has seemed kind of empty with just one dog around, although it’s also been peaceful and Arran has kind of morphed into a better behaved dog. But Arran is mostly Bill’s dog. Bill is Arran’s favorite person, even though Arran does his best to pay attention to both of us. All you have to do is look at the many photos I’ve posted of Arran and his habit of worshipping Bill every day. I don’t need to be worshipped… neither does Bill… but it would be nice to have a dog of my own to snuggle while Arran basks in his love for his “daddy”.

Hopefully, Noizy will like me as much as Zane did.

Anyway… for those who are curious, here are a couple of videos I made to remember Zane. They show his progression from adorable “teenaged” pup, who was originally named Einstein and fresh from Atlanta Beagle Rescue, to venerable old man living in Germany and acting like a brilliant canine ambassador. We were very privileged to know him and have him in our lives from December 13, 2009 until August 31, 2019. Sometimes, it even feels like he’s still hanging around.

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rants

God forbid I say that out loud…

Today’s post is a bona-fide rant. And no, I’m not “mad”. I’m irritated and annoyed, as usual. This is just a vent.

This morning, I read a very depressing (to me) article about how to train children to wear face masks. The tips were in The New York Times, and they were accompanied by pictures of adults trying to coax little kids into tolerating masks at school. Even though I don’t have children, and thus, have no skin in the game, I read the article and looked at the pictures. Then, against my better judgment, I left a comment on the Facebook page for the New York Times. I wrote “How depressing.”

It is depressing to me that small children have to worry about coronavirus at a time when they should be free to explore their environments, interact with their peers, and learn lots of new things using all of their senses. It is depressing to me that many very young children are going to be taught to fear germs before they even know how to count or recite the alphabet. Some of them will still lose friends and loved ones to the virus even though they wear masks, wash their hands, and eschew playdates. To me, that’s sad, even if I understand why children are being forced to “mask up” and can’t freely go play with their pals on the swings.

But God forbid I should mention that out loud. I knew that when I posted, and sure enough, along comes a busybody to remind me of what’s “important”, because we all need a member of the thought police to slap us upside the head and remind us of how “wrong” our thoughts are…

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. We have to remind ourselves of the doom and gloom that is happening daily right now, thanks to COVID-19. Thank GOD for masks. They will save us all. And thank God for the lady who set me straight. Thanks, I needed that. /sarcasm

If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s some all-knower who can’t simply let people make a statement without adding some obnoxious one-upping, thought policing, virtue-signaling comment of their own. And it’s not just the issue of masks that get this treatment, either.

For example, today happens to be the one year anniversary that we learned that our sweet, loving, amazing dog, Zane, had lymphoma. I remember how I felt one year ago, when Bill took Zane to our local vet because I had felt swellings where his lymph nodes were under his jaw. I hoped it was an infection, but knew deep down that it was cancer. And Bill brought Zane home to tell me the news. I knew that Zane would be dead very soon. I commented on Facebook that I was very upset and my life “sucked”.

Sure enough, I got lots of responses from people telling me that my life doesn’t suck. One person argued with me about my statement. Another person told me to “buck up”. Still another said I should “get a grip”. After a few comments such as those, I posted this:

This was my admittedly snippy response. That was a legitimately AWFUL weekend.

I seem to remember that the evening that we learned about Zane’s cancer, we also spent responding to a truly ridiculous letter from our former landlady’s lawyer. Precious time that we could have spent with Zane was spent with Bill writing in German that, “no”, we didn’t steal a refrigerator from the ex landlady and we can prove it. And “no”, Americans don’t routinely clog up toilets with toilet paper. Hers was the only toilet I’ve used in my 48 years of shitting that has ever routinely clogged up, and I have taken dumps in MANY countries. It is sad that we had to spend an evening on that bullshit instead of enjoying sweet Zane’s company. But God forbid I say that out loud, either.

One week after I posted the above status, Bill and I drove Zane to the vet for the last time. Sometime during the night, he started bleeding internally. I don’t know for certain, but I think he had tumors in his spleen that had ruptured. When we awoke on August 31st of last year, Zane looked like he had grown teats. They were full of blood. I do take comfort that his last week was relatively pleasant, as cancer deaths go. He spent the week enjoying the outside, agreeable temperatures, sunshine, eating what he wanted, and being with his people. But losing him hurt me a lot. I still think of him every day. This is the first time I’ve lost a dog and not replaced him soon afterwards. Some of you will remember that a few months ago, we did try to give a new dog a home as the COVID crisis was beginning. Our attempt to take in a dog ended in senseless tragedy. Guess I should “buck up”, though, because things aren’t so bad.

Dealing with COVID-19, a year after losing Zane, is depressing for different reasons. The world has changed so much in such a short span of time. I think people want and need to talk about it. Many aspects of the pandemic world are, indeed, very depressing. But if you dare mention it out loud, you run the risk of some asshole reminding you of what’s “really important” (in their minds). If you acknowledge that small children wearing face masks is abnormal, you have to brace yourself for an upbraiding by self-important twits who have to contradict you. You know what? Fuck those people. I have about had my fill of dealing with them.

I have a feeling the one person who “laughed” at my comment to the busybody did so because he’s also sick of dealing with this type of person who can’t just let people just express a thought without correcting them. Honestly, I think people like the woman who retorted to me are the reason we have people like Trump in charge. Most folks don’t want to be lectured to or told what is “right” by holier-than-thou people. And, as much as I now identify as more of a liberal type, I also understand that sometimes preachy liberal types are “insufferable” and tiresome. I can understand why that makes a loudmouthed cretin like Donald Trump seem refreshing to certain people.

I remember sometime last year, I wanted to issue a complaint to USAA about their two-factor authentication system. I would have done so privately, but was unable to find an email where I could send my feedback. So I posted my comment on their Facebook page. Sure enough, someone had to come along and contradict me. She couldn’t just let a fellow customer voice a valid complaint. She had to discount my comment by praising USAA, and reprimanding me for daring to make it in the first place, even though I’m a paying customer, too, and have a right to voice my concerns.

I know people don’t like complainers, but there has to be room for criticism in every situation. Nay-sayers provide information about what could be improved about something. Take the face masks, for instance. Lots of people are just fine with them. They happily strap them on before they do anything, from shopping to having sex. Some are even expressing delight in how they can make them fashionable and how the masks might help them avoid getting sick as they also hide their resting bitch faces. They actually enjoy smelling their own breath. They probably enjoy the smell of their own farts, too. And you know what? That’s fine and dandy for them.

But there are other people who have legitimate issues with wearing face masks. For instance, there are people who have trouble wearing them because they wear hearing aids and the ear loops on most masks knock the hearing aids out of their ears. Some people feel claustrophobic or super anxious when they wear them. Some people need to be able to read lips and can’t because of the masks. Some people make their living or just really enjoy playing woodwind instruments or singing. And some people literally lack ears! I’ve actually known a couple of people in that situation. One was a guy whose ears were deformed due to years of wrestling and being grabbed by his ears. Another was a man who’d lost part of his ears at war. Yes, there are masks available that tie in the back, but in the case of the war veteran, that was also problematic because he also had arthritis in his hands.

These people have needs that should be considered. They don’t need to be shut up by self-righteous dipshits who can’t simply let people have their say without a virtue-signaling, “one size fits all” rebuttal. People have a right to point out why masks are problematic for some folks and should strictly be a TEMPORARY measure. If no one complains, what incentive do we have to make things better for everyone— not just the cheerful, super responsible, self-righteous types who revere the masks?

It’s not normal, natural, or fun for most children to be forced to wear face masks. Really young children are just starting out in the world, learning how to socialize and communicate with other people. I do think it’s depressing that they have to be “trained” to wear a mask, which will hinder their ability to communicate, instead of being allowed to interact with others the way generations of people before them have been allowed to. I can make that statement without failing to realize why the masks are currently necessary and needing a fucking lecture from some stranger about how people are getting sick and dying of COVID-19. DUH. I’ve gotten the news. It’s on EVERY channel.

I can also make a statement about being really upset about my dog dying and my life temporarily sucking without some twit reminding me of how good I have it (especially since most of the people making those comments have NO IDEA what my life is actually like– they can only make assumptions).

People need to let people say their piece without contradicting them with their own virtue-signaling bullshit. Although to be fair, there’s a reason why I rarely bother posting comments on newspaper articles. It’s mainly because I hate dealing with people like the woman who corrected me this morning with her parental wisdom. Thanks, lady. You sure set me straight. I learned something new from you and am suitably chastened. Now run along, pick out your favorite mask for today, and let me go back to being my cranky self.

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music

How an adjunct professor changed my life…

Back in April 2014, I posted the following essay on my music blog, Dungeon of the Past. I don’t post on that blog very often anymore. It’s mainly a place where I write about obscure songs from the 70s and 80s, as well as some musical book and album reviews. I love music, but I don’t really enjoy writing music reviews, so there aren’t too many there. Anyway, since we are all on house arrest, lately I’ve been doing a bunch of new recordings. I was reminded of how my very first voice teacher, an adjunct professor at Longwood College (now Longwood University) changed my life. I’m going to repost that essay, along with some updated thoughts.

I have a few friends who are college professors.  One of my teaching friends is a woman I met while we were both working as waitresses.  She later earned higher degrees in English literature and now teaches at a small college in Virginia.  Yesterday, she shared an article from The Atlantic about how some adjunct professors at colleges are living at poverty level.  While the article itself was shocking reading– it’s hard to imagine a college teacher being forced to sleep in their car— it also made me realize that an adjunct professor changed my life in a profound way.

In the fall of 1990, I was a brand new college student.  I had signed up for the usual general education classes… math, English, history, music appreciation, etc.  One course I had signed up for that was kind of a surprise was voice class.  I chose it because I needed an arts class for my general education requirements.  Of the four disciplines offered– theatre, art, music, or dance– music was the art that spoke most directly to me.  I had never sung before, except in the car when I was alone.  I knew I had a pretty decent singing voice, though.  My parents were musicians as are a number of my extended relatives. I have a cousin who is a professional musician in Nashville. My mom played organ professionally for over 50 years. My dad was a much celebrated singer in many local ensembles.

So I signed up for voice class, which was a one credit course that met once a week and was taught by an adjunct professor named Ann Brown. My father happened to know Ms. Brown’s mother, who is a concert level pianist and was the accompanist for one of the many singing groups of which he was a member. He was excited when I told him Ms. Brown would be my teacher. He knew she was very qualified because he’d met her through her mother. Ms. Brown had attended Westminster Choir College near Princeton, New Jersey and, like me, had perfect pitch (I found out about mine during a brief period during my childhood when I studied piano). Besides teaching at college, Ms. Brown was also a professional singer.

On the first day of voice class, about five students met in the choir rehearsal room at my college.  Ms. Brown was there, looking like she’d jumped off the pages of a Spiegel catalog.  She wore colorful, stylish clothes and had long, curly hair.  She was very tall and seemed serene as she sat behind the grand piano in the rehearsal room.  She immediately put me at ease.

The five of us each had a copy of the required textbook for the class, Basics of Singing.  It was basically a songbook that had a nice selection of songs for beginning voice students.  I actually wish I still had that book.  I see it’s listed on Amazon and very expensive… it also gets low ratings.  Well hell, I liked it at the time.  I sold it back to the bookstore, no doubt because I needed beer money. 

Ms. Brown asked us each to choose a song.  We would be learning three each that semester and performing it in her class.  Basics of Singing had a number of familiar songs in it, which was a good thing, since I never did learn how to play piano and was too poor to buy the optional accompanist tapes.  The first song I chose was “Summertime”, from Porgy & Bess.  I sang it with relative ease and Ms. Brown was apparently impressed.  She took me under her wing.

Sometime near the end of the course, Ms. Brown took me aside and told me she thought I was very talented.  She said I should study voice privately and encouraged me to audition for Camerata Singers, which was our college’s “better” choir.  I had never sung in a choir before.  My dad’s obsessive devotion to his choirs had turned me off of them.  Besides, my mom was an organist, which meant she was always at choir practice, too.  I grew to enjoy the couple of hours with the house to myself.

Studying voice would entail an extra expense.  I would have to hire an accompanist and pay an extra lab fee.  However, given my parents’ devotion to music, I knew they would agree.  They did… especially after they heard me sing for the first time during a beer enhanced Thanksgiving celebration (but that’s another post).

The audition for Cameratas didn’t go quite as well because I was nervous and, at that time, wasn’t such a good sight reader.  Dr. Trott, the director of the choirs, asked me to join the non-audition group, Concert Choir, instead, which I did. 

The following semester, I took private voice lessons from Ms. Brown.  Her class quickly became my favorite, even though I was an English major.  I found studying voice challenging, yet relaxing. I enjoyed exploring this part of me that I had just discovered. I felt like I’d found a new super power, because seriously, before I took voice class, I almost NEVER sang in front of other people, not even in church.  My parents had no idea I could sing.

I grew to really like Ms. Brown as a person, too.  She became more than a teacher.  She was a friend.  While I was her student, I got to go with a bunch of music majors to Richmond, Virginia, to see Cosi Fan Tutte.  After the show, we visited Ms. Brown at her home and looked at her college yearbooks.  She had attended Westminster Choir College at the same time Dr. Trott had and it was fun to see them when they were college aged.  With Ms. Brown’s help, that semester Dr. Trott welcomed me into Cameratas when I demonstrated my uncanny tonal memory, which also makes for a fun party trick.

Besides teaching me the basics of singing and showing me that opera can be beautiful, Ms. Brown introduced me to the wonderful music of Kathleen Battle.  She gave me a copy of Battle’s CD, Kathleen Battle Sings Mozart.  I became a big fan of Kathleen Battle’s crystalline voice, even though she has a reputation for being a bit of a prima donna.  I now own many of her albums, but before I met Ms. Brown, I had never heard of her.  Because I listened to Kathleen Battle, I started listening to other singers and developed quite an appreciation for classical music.

My exploration of classical music enhanced my study of literature, which made me a better writer and a more cultured person.  I can’t even count the number of poems and literary works I became familiar with because I first encountered them set to music.  The very first Robert Burns poem I ever heard was set to a lovely melody in four part harmony.  When I went to Scotland years later and enjoyed my first taste of haggis, I appreciated Burns’ gift of language even more than I might have, for I associated him with music.  It made his “Address to A Haggis” much easier to swallow.

I took lessons from Ms. Brown for three semesters.  Unfortunately, after the third semester, the college decided to lay her off.  It turned out another professor, one who was tenured and had been working in the Office of Continuing Education, had decided to come back to the music department.  There was no longer room for Ms. Brown and her very special style of instruction.  I was very sad when I got the news, especially since I had already signed up for lessons the next semester.  The next professor didn’t make as good an impression on me at first, though I eventually grew to like her.  But let’s just say, the initial transition was very rough.

A year later, Ms. Brown was asked to come back to my school.  Rumor had it she declined, because as an adjunct professor, there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t be laid off again.  Another very competent adjunct professor was hired.  I wanted to take his class, but by then the tenured professor had claimed me as her student and changed my schedule back to her class.  At the time, I lacked the assertiveness to raise hell about that… in the long run, it probably wasn’t a big deal anyway.  I eventually grew comfortable with Ms. Brown’s successor and learned from her, too.  The last time I saw Ms. Brown, she was on a stage in Richmond, performing the starring role in The Medium.  She was outstanding, of course!   

Adjunct professors can and do make a huge difference in the lives of their students.  I think it’s shameful that so many of them are struggling to survive.  If it weren’t for Ms. Brown, I might not be a singer today.  I might not be writing about music.  I might not be as fierce a competitor as I am on SongPop because I know more about opera and art songs than I might have.  She truly did change my life and enhanced my college experience in the most amazing way.  If I had never taken her voice class almost 24 years ago (now 30), I couldn’t have made this video.

Video production is another skill I’ve learned, in part, because I sing.  I’ve most recently been teaching myself how to do sound production and have even been improving my photography skills.  It’s all a work in progress, obviously… In this video, I’m singing with my YouTube friend, George, who lives in Scotland.

Ms. Brown was the first of many teachers I’ve had who have helped me develop a part of me that, until I went to college, was completely undiscovered and undeveloped.  I may not be a professional singer, but being able to sing has improved my life exponentially.  I have an adjunct professor to thank for that.  Yes, she really did change my life for the better.  I sure hope she’s not sleeping in a car these days.

Now– back to 2020… Thanks to the coronavirus, I’ve been thinking about ordering a guitar and picking up a few chords. I can’t go anywhere, and my piano is in storage in Texas. I can’t play piano particularly well, but I have zero guitar skills. But guitars are more portable than pianos are, and lots of musicians are generously offering video tutorials. And hell, I’ve got nothing else to do. I have always regretted not sticking with music lessons when I was growing up, but horses gave me a lot of joy, even if I wasn’t the most talented. There’s probably a reason things turned out the way they did.

I’m so glad Ms. Brown was there to help me discover a part of myself that went hidden for 18 years. Learning to sing and becoming willing to do it in front of others has changed my life on many levels. It’s a skill I’ve been able to use worldwide and helps me connect to people even when I don’t speak their language. Just last week, the memorial video I made for our dog, Zane, helped me convince locals how much I treasure our canine family members. Yes, the pictures helped, but I think the emotional music was also useful in conveying how I felt about Zane.

As I’ve been making more music lately, I’ve thought about my very first teacher, and how if it weren’t for her, I probably would have just taken that one voice class and left it at that. She truly cared about her students and took an interest in developing their skills. I will always remember her, and feel much gratitude for what she did for me.

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musings

Sometimes the truth is in our dreams…

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of weird dreams. Most of them have included our dearly departed beagle, Zane, who died on August 31, 2019 of lymphoma. Zane’s death and subsequent “visits” haven’t followed the usual pattern that seems to happen after Bill and I lose a dog. Most of the time, I get a lot of “visits” in my dreams or otherwise just after the dog has died. With Zane, it took a few weeks before I started to “see” him in my subconscious. I have a feeling that it’s my brain telling me it’s time to find another pack member… or maybe it’s the spirit of Zane encouraging me to give another dog a home.

Unfortunately, adopting a dog in Germany can be problematic for Americans, particularly if they are affiliated with the military. Many of my countrymen have ditched their dogs in German shelters, which leaves a terrible impression. It’s understandable that Germans would assume Americans are irresponsible regarding pets, although not all of us are. Some of my friends have adopted dogs in other countries, or from other Americans. Some have purchased dogs from breeders, which I would prefer not to do. I have a couple of German friends who are rooting for Bill and me and, perhaps, will vouch for us if we attempt to adopt from a German source. In fact, I have one German friend who keeps sending me pictures of dogs who need homes. I plan to start looking after the new year, though, because we are planning a road trip to France. Also, we need to have a better idea of what’s coming up in the future. We could end up having to move or something.

Anyway… Arran’s personality has changed since we lost Zane. He’s a bit clingier than he used to be. He now sits by the door at about 5:00pm, knowing that’s when Bill usually comes home. He’s better behaved, too, since he has two humans who lavish attention on him. It’s been kind of nice, although I think he likes having other dogs around… especially if he can be the boss. Zane wasn’t a fighter, per se, but when he wasn’t sick, he didn’t let Arran be his boss. That caused insecurity and conflict, which I think is what led Arran to act out at times.

The ghost of Zane isn’t the only one wondering what the future holds. Last night, our landlord came over to talk to Bill about the annual Rechnung. This is an accounting that is legally required to be done between the landlord and the tenant. It shows how the Nebenkosten (money for other costs) was spent, and gives Bill the chance to reconcile any discrepancies. Bill will sit down with the landlord and they will discuss it together, rather than simply get an email with a bill for money we owe and no accounting of how the money we paid was spent.

We have no complaints whatsoever about our current landlord, who is also our next door neighbor. He wants to do business with us and it shows. He’s always kind and respectful, and has never shouted at me or blamed me for things I either didn’t do or couldn’t control. His house is updated and basically in great shape, so we really haven’t had many things that have needed to be repaired. When we have asked for repairs, he’s been fair and hasn’t freaked out or immediately accused us of negligence. He gives us free firewood and asks us how we’re doing, and he truly seems concerned about how we answer. He seems to like our dog(s) and doesn’t seem to mind Arran, now that Zane is gone. Even if he doesn’t like Arran, he doesn’t make it obvious. He also doesn’t seem to care about how I spend my time or whether or not I meet his wife’s housekeeping standards, not that I know what they are. That is a true gift. Blessed are landlords who live and let live, and don’t meddle in their tenants’ business.

Our next door neighbor on the other side is also nice. She has a super cute Labrador Retriever named Levi who is just a sweetheart and always comes over to say “hi”. She is also encouraging us to find a new hound.

I do think the landlord was a bit worried that we’re planning to move, since he knew Bill went to Poland on business last week and I accompanied him. He’s heard about Trump’s desire to expand our military presence into Poland and, perhaps, build a “Fort Trump” there. I guess he figured we were househunting, since our Poland trip was business based for Bill and I accompanied him. He jokingly asked Bill if we were moving… although actually, I don’t think he was joking. I think he was probably legitimately concerned that we’d move and he’d have to find new people. He seems happy with us and, I’m sure, each time he has to find new tenants, there’s also the worry about what kind of people he’ll have as neighbors as well as whether or not they’ll pay the rent on time.

We are not planning to move, at least not at this point in time. I went to Poland with Bill because his trip happened to be at about the time of our wedding anniversary and Poland is kind of a cool destination now. Bill likes having me with him when he travels for business because I get to see and do new things and write about my experiences. We also like being together and miss each other when Bill has to travel. It’s possible that someday, we might end up living in Poland, but that’s not in the plans at this point. On the other hand, two years ago, we didn’t know we were going to be leaving Stuttgart within a matter of months. I didn’t actually want to leave Stuttgart, because despite everything that happened, I liked it down there. Even though the traffic sucks, I know my way around. The landscape is beautiful, and though some of the people are crotchety and litigious, I kind of knew what to expect. I had no idea that the grass would be greener in Wiesbaden. You can’t miss what you’ve never had, right?

As of today, we’ve lived in our current house for a year. It was a year ago that the movers packed us up and Bill and I caravaned to Wiesbaden. Although we are in a much better living situation, it’s taken about a year for me to process the living situation we were in previously. I think it came out in my dreams this morning.

I dreamt that Bill and I went to a restaurant that we had been looking forward to trying. From the get go, the service wasn’t very good. We were seated at a table near a large party. The wait staff kept charging us extra for things we didn’t order. They were slow, and their table maintenance was sloppy. The staff was also eavesdropping on our conversation and gossiping among themselves. The food was somewhat attractively presented, but overpriced and not that tasty.

Still, even though the signs were there that we should look for another restaurant, we hesitated to go. “What if the next restaurant is even worse?” I asked Bill, as we watched other patrons get up and leave in disgust.

“Yeah, this isn’t really so bad, is it?” Bill confirmed. “I mean, at least the dishes look nice.”

We sat there for a few more minutes, resigning ourselves to settling for an overpriced meal served by surly, disrespectful wait staff. I mean, at least we weren’t hungry, right? But we certainly would have appreciated a better meal, served with more respect and less attitude and at a fairer price, without a bunch of bullshit upcharges.

Finally, a man at the big table full of loud people came over and said, “Come on with us. We’re moving to another restaurant that has better food at a more reasonable price. You might pay more, but you’ll get what you pay for and then some.”

“Hmmm… I don’t know.” I said. “What if it sucks even more? I don’t want to have to pay more for an even worse experience.”

“Could it get much worse?” Bill asked.

“Um… yeah, actually, it could.” I said. “I mean, at least the roof isn’t leaking, the toilets aren’t overflowing, and there aren’t any rats running around.”

“But what are the odds it’ll be worse?” Bill asked.

I had to agree that it wasn’t likely that the next place would offer worse food or service. Why was I fighting to keep eating at a restaurant that didn’t seem to want me dining there? I decided it was worth the risk to move on to the next eatery. So we got up and left the table, even though the wait staff came running after us with a bill, demanding payment for other things we hadn’t ordered. We all went to the next place and, indeed, it was pricier. But the host smiled, welcomed us with a glass of bubbly, sat us down at a nicely set table with stylish silverware and china, and asked us how we were doing. I woke up just as we were about to tuck into a lovely holiday dinner.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I have agreed to bake Bill’s favorite chocolate cake. I haven’t made one since we moved last year, even though this house has a brand new oven (as of last year, anyway). I guess I’ll head downstairs and start baking in a bit, even though the house already smells lovely since Bill set the Crock Pot with tonight’s dinner.

We really should have enjoyed this past year more than we did, but the truth is, we’ve been recovering from a massive mind fuck. A year ago, I tried to be hopeful, but I knew craziness was coming, and it did. I spent a good portion of the year looking back on stuff and wondering if I really was as horrible a tenant as I was made out to be, even though no one else has ever had the level of complaints about us as our former landlords did.

When I lived in Armenia, three of my four “landladies”, for lack of a better word, wished I were a bit neater and better about housekeeping. We’re talking dusting, putting away clothes, straightening clutter, making the bed, and what not– stuff that makes the house look neater, but isn’t necessarily a matter of health, safety, or hygiene. I am not a filthy slob who leaves dirty dishes in the sink, lets the trash pile up, or allows the toilets get nasty. But I don’t bust my ass to make sure the house is constantly tidy, because frankly that just doesn’t matter to me. As long as things aren’t gross, I don’t care about dust or clutter. I feel like I’ve outgrown needing to be lectured about keeping my room clean, especially when I’m paying. Besides, even though I’m not a “neat” person, I have seen the living conditions other people live in that make me look like Mrs. Clean. I’d say my housekeeping is pretty average.

Three of these four different women in Armenia who were my landladies also used to regularly let themselves into my space and help themselves to my stuff, too. The daughter of one of them “borrowed” some of my cassette tapes without asking, which I later had to retrieve from her bedroom. The son of another ate my food and left the dirty dishes in the refrigerator. The younger brother of a third got into my colored chalk and broke all of the pieces. It was fine with them that they were doing these things– ripping off my personal property and getting into my personal business– but I was expected to be perfect, follow their orders, never complain, and keep paying by all means, and they had no qualms telling me this to my face.

All of these women had the same attitude that they were doing me a favor by renting me their space, rather than my doing them a favor by giving them a regular source of income. They acted like I was a child who was an “ungrateful guest” rather than a fellow adult in a business relationship with them. They had no issues invading the space I was paying for and nagging me about what they considered were my lax housekeeping standards, yet they didn’t see that letting themselves into my apartment and eating my food and leaving dirty dishes or taking my things was extremely disrespectful. Also, I was paying them a hell of a lot more than any Armenian would have, and I wasn’t constantly yelling at them about my legal rights or calling them to fix every little thing.

My last landlady in Armenia also falsely accused me of “theft”, claiming that I didn’t pay her the rent one month. But that was impossible– I had a record of it, and her father was always there on the first to collect the money. She actually accused me of lying and falsifying the documents, which certainly wasn’t true and was nothing she could prove. All she could do was accuse me of theft and expect that I would be so upset by her false accusations that I would simply pay her just to shut her up. I think she assumed that I was a wimp because, at that time, I cried easily and seemed depressed and sensitive. She thought I was “rich” too, and she could steamroll me by being a bully and yelling at me. All she did was strengthen my resolve to see that other Americans didn’t rent from her. I told everyone I knew about her business practices, including her former employers, the Peace Corps. In the end, she ended up costing herself a hell of a lot of money in lost rent, since her next tenants were locals who would never pay close to what I was paying for her apartment on the outskirts of Yerevan’s center.

Well… I can’t help the way other people conduct their business. I can only help how I conduct myself. I do the best I can. I don’t always please everyone, so there’s no use trying, especially when the other party is never satisfied and doesn’t show me mutual respect. I think 2020 will be a better year, because we’ve moved on to a better venue. Hopefully, we can stay awhile longer and add a new family member. I intend to start enjoying Germany again, regardless. My dream this morning spells it out. Sometimes you have overpriced meals served on Farberware by disrespectful wait staff. Rather than risk indigestion and a lightened wallet, it usually makes better sense to cut your losses and move on to a more appetizing location, if you can do it. We had the opportunity to do it last year and made it happen, once we realized that we shouldn’t keep paying people who didn’t really want to do business with us.

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dogs

Spirit animals… could it be time for a new dog?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I lose a pet, they always seem to “visit” from the great beyond occasionally. Eventually, after time has passed, they visit less often.

I understand the rational explanation for this phenomenon. I’m not an idiot– although some people seem to think I am. I know it’s probably all in my mind. I still find it interesting when I get a visit from one of my long lost animals. My pony, Rusty, died in 1993, but I still get visits from him sometimes, mostly in my dreams. In fact, most of my pets visit in dreams, although sometime their spirits seem to jump into my other pets.

Lately, I’ve been getting visits from Zane, who died on August 31st of this year. Zane’s death was different from those of the three dogs who predeceased him. For one thing, his last week wasn’t absolutely horrible. Zane had lymphoma, which seemed to just make him very tired before a tumor in his spleen apparently burst and caused internal bleeding. He had a pretty decent last week, though, lounging in the sun and eating to his heart’s content. Even his last day wasn’t absolutely awful, although the vet told us it was good that we’d brought him in because he probably wouldn’t have survived the night.

All three of our previous rescues– CuCullain (CC), Flea, and MacGregor, all had devastating diseases that were very painful for them. CC had a rare mycobacterial infection that caused abscesses. What made his passing worse was that most vets never encounter Mycobacterium Avian in dogs, and they don’t really know how to treat it. Most dogs are innately immune to that organism, and the ones who do get it almost universally die quickly of the disease. It’s related to tuberculosis and causes painful abscesses, as well as a host of other horrible symptoms. Consequently, CC’s death was particularly bad. We’d even had him on a Fentanyl patch for his last hours, which were spent in a specialty hospital with a vet who acted like he’d wanted to keep him around for research purposes.

Our beagle, Flea, had prostate cancer that slowly destroyed him over four months. He’d been determined to live, so his disease had progressed a lot before he finally made it clear that it was time to let him go. Even then, he hadn’t wanted to die and seemed to fight being euthanized. He was emaciated and, the night before he passed, had lost the ability to walk.

MacGregor had a spinal tumor that was misdiagnosed. The tumor caused incredible pain, but two vets were convinced he’d actually had disc disease. We had him get a MRI at N.C. State University to find out what was wrong with him. The tumor was invading his spinal column. When the vet told me that, I told her we would be letting him go that evening, even though she said we could wait. MacGregor was in a lot of pain and definitely ready, unlike his predecessor.

After their deaths, all three of these dogs seemed to send us signs that they were okay… or, maybe it was just us kidding ourselves. When Flea died, Bill saw a rare shooting star in the early morning the next day. When CC died, he heard an ethereal version of “Fields of Gold” while on hold with the state vet’s office, waiting for the results of CC’s PCR test (to find out what organism had killed him). Immediately after MacGregor died, we heard a lovely, comforting song by Rhonda Vincent called “I Will See You Again”. I was so freaked out by MacGregor’s death that I even read a book about spiritual signs from dogs after they die. Yes… it’s a lot of woo, but reading about the signs and knowing that others have experienced when they’ve lost animals they loved was very comforting.

Besides the immediate signs we got from stars or special songs, the dogs “visited” a lot in our thoughts and dreams, and even seemed to send us new dogs to help ease the pain of losing them. When we got Arran in January 2013, he did some things that were very “MacGregorish”, prompting tears in Bill. MacGregor had been more Bill’s dog than mine. For months after MacGregor died, Arran would do things that were uncannily like MacGregor. It was like he instinctively knew what we were missing. But then he became more of his own dog and we saw less MacGregor in him.

When Zane died, I didn’t get so many signs at first. It took a couple of weeks before he visited my dreams, although he did seem to “show up” when we got a visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s only been lately that he’s been lurking a lot. He showed up in a vivid dream the other day. I was sure it was him, but then when I got closer to the dog, I realized that it wasn’t Zane. I woke up just as I was about to pet the “imposter”.

A couple of days ago, Bill came out of the bathroom with a strange look on his face. I’m sure it was unrelated to the massive dump he’d just unloaded. He said, “I’m a little bit freaked out right now.”

“Why?” I asked.

“You know how Zane used to like to come into the bathroom and nap? I just had the sense he was in there with me.” Bill explained.

There have also been a few times when I could have sworn that I heard Zane’s whine… a familiar sound when he wanted or needed something. Over almost ten years with us, he had become adept at telling us his needs. All of our dogs have done this, although they’ve each had different ways. MacGregor, for instance, was really good at words and would get excited if you mentioned the one he was looking for. If he wanted to go outside and we said “outside”, he’d jump up enthusiastically, his eyes bright. If we mentioned “cookie” or “chewy”, and that was what he wanted (which was almost always), he would reward us with happy barks and a victory dance.

Zane was less like that. He would whine, like a needy old man. It was especially like that in his last year. I’d often find him at the bottom of the steps, waiting for an escort to bed. In earlier years, he’d come up behind me and whine when he wanted to jump into my lap for snuggle time.

Flea, on the other hand, would simply squeak plaintively or bark demands. I still remember when we lived in our first German house, he’d wake up in the mornings and announce himself before coming downstairs. We always got up before he did. He was like a little despot, and he demanded to be waited on like the regal beagle he was. Every day at ten in the morning, rain or shine, he would demand a walk by whining and squeaking plaintively– much more insistently than Zane ever did. Incidentally, I was initially attracted to Zane because he sort of resembled Flea. But then when I saw him in person, he didn’t look so much like Flea. There were times when he behaved like him, though… especially when he demanded food by barking at us.

Well… it’s happening again. Arran is starting to take on some of Zane’s traits. Zane was the king of “dog spreading”. He would get up on our king sized bed and stretch out until Bill and I were pushed to the edges of the mattress. Zane also loved to burrow under the covers, snuggling up to me until he got too hot. He was also very good about going potty outside, and would tell us when it was necessary. He liked lying on the fuzzy blue blanket at the foot of the bed… that was also one of MacGregor’s habits.

Arran was trying his hardest to give us both lots of attention last night. He was especially insistent on getting time with Bill. Bill is Arran’s favorite human.

Arran, by contrast, has always liked snuggling between Bill and me at the head of the bed. He has always curled up into a tight doughnut, above the covers. Last night, he burrowed. Not all the way, like Zane always did, but about halfway. He’s also discovered dog spreading. One positive thing that’s happened is that Arran, who has never been as reliable about house training, has almost completely stopped having accidents. He tells us when he wants to go out and rarely makes mistakes anymore. I noticed when he would make a mistake, it was usually when Zane was sleeping with us. During the last year of Zane’s life, he and Arran mostly took turns sleeping with Bill and me.

Zane and Arran had been friends when we first got Arran, but neither was alpha enough to maintain leadership, so Arran would challenge Zane a lot. Zane wasn’t a fighter, but he would defend himself against Arran and, as long as he was feeling okay, would often win the battles. I think that because of the scraps they’d get into during the latter part of Zane’s life, they weren’t close friends at the end. Arran was always trying to take advantage of peace loving Zane, and Zane just wanted to be left alone. Zane got along better with MacGregor, who was a lot older and didn’t care about who was in charge. In fact, that was what had made MacGregor such a perfect buddy for Flea, who was extremely alpha and would challenge any dog, regardless of its size. Flea needed to be the leader by all means. I think Flea was our biggest challenge, too, while so far, Zane has been the easiest dog.

Usually, by now, we would have found another dog… not to replace the one departed, but to give another dog a home and enjoy another family member. We’ve held off this time, but it’s been difficult. I often feel drawn to certain animals, and there’s been at least one that has “spoken” to me. She’s very young, not a beagle, and bigger than what I’m used to. I worry about how Arran will behave with another dog in the house. He’s loving the attention he’s getting as the only dog, but he’s also getting older himself. I also think that the frequent visits from Zane are reminders that there are other dogs out there who need a home.

Practically speaking, it would probably be better if we waited until we leave Germany before we get another dog. But I don’t know how long we’re going to be here. We could be gone next year, in two years, or in five years or more. I keep thinking that after Christmas, we’ll start thinking seriously about getting another dog for me… not so much for Arran, who would probably just as soon stay the only dog. It still seems like Zane is trying to tell us something, though. He’s still with us in spirit and in our hearts. I know he’d want us to share what we have with another dog. I also think that when the right one comes along, we’ll know. He’ll probably tell us.

By the way… I don’t remember ever getting signs from human loved ones who have passed on. I know people do get “visits” from parents, grandparents, or children they’ve lost. Not me… I only hear from the pets. I guess that says something about the bond I have with my animals.

This was the book I read after we lost MacGregor. I don’t remember what I thought about it, since I posted a review on Epinions and Epinions is long gone. If you choose to buy it through this site, I’d get a small commission. Frankly, though, I’m just posting this for those who are curious. I was so freaked out by MacGregor’s “signs” that I felt compelled to read about them… Maybe it’s time to reread this book, since Zane keeps visiting.

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