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Entries in dogs (5)


Morning Report--an unfinished Favorite on Friday

2013Donald Owen Kistner

At approximately 9 am every morning, my phone rings. If they are within earshot, my children break into the song from The Lion King, “Morning Report”, because we all know it is 'Petah', my father, calling to give us his. He is 83 years old, though you would never guess it. A few weeks ago, we went to a pre-op consultation for a heart procedure. Before stepping on the scale, Dad kicked off his Docksiders, removed his coat and belt, took his billfold out of his pocket and handed it to me, and then made sure to mention what a large breakfast he had had to the nurse, adding that he might have quite a bit of hair gel in, if the number seemed high. She laughed--nurses adore my dad. Once in the exam room, he asked a little sheepishly if his age would be a factor in the procedure. 

“I don’t see why, Mr. Kistner,” she chirped and then glanced at his chart. The nurse turned bright red. “Oh, I, I’m sorry,” she stammered, “I thought you were sixty-three.”

"Oh," I rolled my eyes, "he gets this all. the. time."

  But as a retired man of a certain age, living alone, with maybe too much FOX News in his life, Dad grew concerned in the past few years that Something might happen to him in the night, and then whether it is urban legend or a reported horror from Nancy Grace, he is afraid that his cats might eat him.


  So we set up the Morning Report. He calls me every morning at nine. If I have forgotten to turn my ringer back on from the night before, he leaves me hilariously macabre messages, about how El Gato and Serena are maybe just nibbling at his toes, but he will fend them off until I can call back. He always ends the message, "Love from my house to your house."

In the Morning Report, we share all the details of what has happened since the last time we spoke, which is usually a matter of hours. He tells me who went home the big winner from his regular poker game, what new series he's into on Netflix, highlights something outrageous from his news feed, or says whether or not he slept with the windows open. "Great sleeping weather last night!"

Next I give him the report from the Hoffstead. He knows which of my children has a cough, or grouched about going to school that morning. He asks what I know about my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. I catch him up. We discuss animal news: which of my chickens are laying, which pony Piper and Quinn rode in their lesson, whether or not Sampson has gotten into any trash-digging or trouble. 

Then we move on to weather, which is a real treat. If his cats have woken him early, he has already been through a round of The Weather Channel. My father has eight children, all grown, and when we started to leave the nest, I noticed he used a morning perusal of the Weather Channel to connect with us. He doesn't speak to all of his children every day, but he likes knowing what the sky is doing in their part of the world, whether they left the house with an umbrella, or if it is cold, hopefully with their throats covered. (My father is a big fan of scarves and turtlenecks to keep you from getting sick. He has an entire drawer of 'dickies', those fake turtleneck squares that fit under a collar, in every color.)

"Looks like the Louisiana crew is getting some heavy rain," he'll say when we talk. Or, "Did you see the fires in Colorado? Wonder if it's hazy out near Gavin and Lisa today." When my sister lived in the Caribbean, she said Dad was her most reliable early warning system for tropical storms, that he would call her with alerts to low pressure systems long before they were on her radar. 

My father also loves wordplay and nicknames. Sometimes he tells me witticisms he has come up with in the night. "What do you think of this one, Boo?" he'll say, and recite a little ditty, like this one bemoaning the challenges of aging:

Can't see

Can't pee

Can't hear

Can't drink beer

Why am I still here?



10 April 2014

I started the above blog late last year, for my Favorites on Friday section, but then never published it for a variety of reasons. Despite a proclaimed general avoidance of female authors, my father read my blog religiously, and I worried this one might embarass him. It was maybe too intimate or trivial to share. (So her Dad calls her every morning, so what?) I wondered if it would make my other brothers and sisters envious that I got to be Dad's point person every morning, making sure the cats were not snacking. When we lived abroad last year, the Morning Report transferred to my younger sister, who confessed that she missed it when it switched back to me.

Regardless of the why, I'm sorry I never published it, that maybe he never knew how much I cherished this.

Two weeks ago, Friday, March 28, the phone did not ring at 9 am. 

There is no blog entry or tribute or whole memoir that can capture the wonder that was my father. This is by no means the last word on him. Impossible to sum up, he was a complicated man, with very simple, elemental loves: big dogs, little children, puppy breath and convertibles with the top down. Click here to view the tribute of words, images and music we created in his honor. Dad, I am beyond grateful to have shared the morning minutiae with you the past few years. You are missed.

* *** *






La Vida Tranquila -- Night Run 

Tonight, as the sun slid down over the casuarinas and the boats made steady progress in front of our house, home from a Saturday at the Cays or back from Town, I was reluctant to run. It had been a full day-- we passed on going to the Independence Day parade in Town and kids yoga on the dock to stay home. We made a stack of thick coconut pancakes and Toledo bacon for breakfast, followed by a family boat trip along the dive sites of the South Shore. We dropped in and out of the water, snorkeled the cave at Big Rock and searched for J's kiteboarding leash in the shallows. We didn't find his leash, abandoned during a dicey shore landing last week, but we did meet a bad-tempered spotted moray. 

Amigo is always up for a runA sunny day on the water takes it out of you, and after editing for the rest of the afternoon, I was ready to sit out and drink a glass of wine at sunset, but Amigo insisted we go. I'm not much of a distance or a speed runner but I am doggedly devoted to logging some miles at the end of the day. (I talk about my relationship with running in this essay.)

After weeks of flip flops, my sneakers feel like stones, like 80's aerobics ankle weights. Tonight I saw fingers of lightning on the mainland, and heard the rustle of wind in the sea grapes. Rain would be good news for our cistern, which ran dry again this week, but bad for my iPod. I went anyway. In spite of the heat, I layered up against mosquitoes and bad weather, sprayed myself with bug juice, called my perro and set out.


The first part of our run is along a narrow trail through a tangle of sea grapes, palm and almond trees, ten yards above the shorebreak. I had my headphones on, so I didn't hear them rustling in the dried leaves and underbrush. Amigo was in a feisty mood, nipping at my side, and when we hit the open beach, he leapt and twisted in the air beside me, demanding attention and some training, so I didn't notice them at first. When I finally looked down, they were everywhere. Dozens of land crabs on the white sand, dukes up, boxer dancing in their side-stepping sashay from the bush to the water.

We had just arrived on Utila when this happened before, a month ago, walking home from the marina after a boat ride home from dinner. One of them managed to find her way up inside my bootleg jeans; I screamed like a gringa. It is breeding season for the Cardisoma guanhumi, or Blue Land Crab. After mating, the females carry their eggs, as many as 700,000 under their armored bellies for two weeks, before they bring them down to wash them and deposit them in the shallows. This happens most often around full moons in the nights from July to November. 

I jogged in the soft sand past the soon-to-be-opened restaurant, west, where it is wilder, where rutted Polaris tracks covered in island pine needles mark the trail along the beach, and everywhere, skittering out of my way, confusing Amigo, there were crabs. I made noise and watched my step, until I came to a point where I simply couldn't go anymore. From the water to the treeline, the ground was a carpet of crabs.

I realized the kids would love to see this and Amigo and I raced the mile home. We abandoned music and came back with Hayden and headlamps as the light was nothing more than a watery gray by then. We ran, clapping and laughing, as more and more came out under the cover of darkness. 

Hayden among the 'Cardisoma Guanhumi'

Generous, Hayden suggested we go back for his brother and sister, so they wouldn't miss this incredible experience. Another sprint back, the ground crawling with them, and now it was truly dark. A cloudy sky, night bird sounds, the increasing wind, the hum and slap of the unlit boats making their way on the ocean, we brought Piper and Max out to the beach. Running was impossible this time. They crawled over our feet, danced out of our way, their eyes glinting. Our lights picked up glowing underneath the crabs, covering the sand and sparkling like diamonds, too far up the beach to be bioluminescence and first I wondered if they were lost eggs, but it was greenish blue gleam of tiny spider's eyes. 


On the way home, we laughed and dodged and made noise, feeling them pass over our feet, marveling at their size, their numbers, hundreds, thousands, "Infinity!" Piper suggested. Amigo darted between us, highstepping like a nervous show pony. We stayed out until the raindrops chased us home. 

* *** *


La Vida Tranquila -- Part Four

La Vida Simple


The other day, while waiting for the boat into town, I run into Señor Tino, the general manager for Coral Beach Village. I ask him about agua de coco, something fresh, thirst-quenching and delicious. At home, I tell Tino, I buy my coconut water from Amazon or when I'm in Grand Cayman from Fosters--I regularly drink several cans of Grace brand coconut water con pulpa. Ah, Señor Tino nods, he knows this. One, the fresh agua de coco, comes from the mainland, but has to be brought over refrigerated, and the Grace, is actually an import from Thailand and not available here. We talk about the logistics of bringing over a fresh case of agua de coco when he goes to La Ceiba for the weekend, and then Tino holds up a broad hand and says,

“I think I have a solution for you." When I come back from town later that day, there are ten fresh green coconuts on my screen porch and a dark-blade machete leaning up against the door.

I realize the wisdom of Tino, and smile at my slow transition to a life more simple. In our yard, in the hundreds of acres of Coral Beach, there is an abundant supply of fresh jelly coconuts. Funny that it took so long for me to make the connection between putting my mouth where my intentions are, closed over the sweet cool nectar of something accesible, local and utlimately, simple.


In the States we strive for or at least talk about aspiring to a life that is less cluttered, less frantic, more connected and elemental. Here, over the last week, I am finding it. Sometimes the struggle is as stretching and painful as the dreaded downward dog in yoga I am loathing as my runner’s hamstrings scream. Here, the simple life isn't a choice--it is essential. We wake up at sunrise, the rays flowing in through the ethereal light of our mosquito netting and start our day. Our dog Amigo stretches and pads outside to meet up with his island compadres, Lobster and Princess, Bundu, Foster and Trouble.


J and Amigo making agua de cocoJ brings me the simplest of pleasures—cold, fresh ice water or a jelly coconut with a straw poking out of the top. When the kids get up, they're hungry, and they eat well. Thick pancakes off the griddle or orange-yolked eggs cooked in farm-fresh butter that has a rich array of flavors.


We sweat, and we reapply a generous coating of homemade bug juice, since the sandflies are most active at dawn and dusk. The most ridiculous thing I brought here was not my flatiron but my perfume, because for the next few months, my scent will be an intense blend of lemon, citronella and peppermint.


J takes Hayden for a sunrise SCUBA dive—yesterday they discovered the octopus they have been visiting has laid eggs, which means the end of her life cycle is near. Our friend Brad Ryon, an underwater photographer and marine biologist caught this amazing photo of her:



female octopus and eggs


After diving, J goes to work and we knock off a little schoolwork while everyone is fresh. In the heat of the day, we abandon the house for the beach. In our week here, I have been so proud of my kids and their tenacity, their huge hunger for the ocean, especially Piper, who has a reputation for being somewhat of a diva. At five, she is young to be so comfortable with equipment that can be frustrating, brave to snorkel in a drift current or swell, enthusiastic beyond my wildest hopes.


Art classWe are coming to know the coral heads of the South Shore like landmarks in a new neighborhood. A certain pair of red Christmas Tree worms on a dome of lime-green brain coral the size of a cocktail table signifies the start of the entry to our shallow trench swim home. We often meet a Caribbean whiptail stingray out by the dock, and there are two big-eyed squirrel fish hanging out around the elkhorn coral just in front of our house.




After the water, our appetite is huge. We drink thick smoothies—whatever is ripe and fresh. Even Hayden, my pickiest eater, is guzzling concoctions of mango, coconut, banana, lime and almond or powdered milk. 

Utila Town is a fifteen-minute boat ride away, so we shop frequently, whichever one of us in town, J for work or me for yoga or errands. We go with little plan for exactly what we will eat, selecting based on what looks good and easy. I am learning to browse the various markets since prices for the same item can vary by as much as double. Some items are cheap, significantly less than the States while others, particularly imported American food, can be three or four dollars more per item. We buy only as much as we can carry, and load up the boat.


Boys burning Afternoons are mellow. The wind often picks up. Sometimes I set the boys on caveman tasks, like burning leaves, moving rocks, or carrying food compost out to the crab pile. We are also fostering a pair of kittens and the kids have the job of gentling them and refilling their beach sand litterbox.


 Mostly we lounge and read or paint or draw or play games. We have majorly severed our online umbilicus. Our internet connection is J’s  iPhone, so unless he is home, we are untethered. I wash our clothes and hang them out on the line. Sometimes, by accident or intention, they get an extra rinse cycle because they stay out overnight during the rain. I rinse our dishes with water from our cistern and put them in the drying rack. I refill the seven ice cube trays with bottled water and make sure everyone stays hydrated. Because we are trying to minimize our consumption and output, I wash Ziploc bags and hang them up beside Piper’s watercolor paintings to dry on the porch. The first night we were here, our new neighbors came for dinner bearing the peculiar gift of a gallon Ziploc full of ice and Brad told me we would soon come to see what a blessing both items were. 


In the late afternoon, we exercise on the porch. The boys are particularly fond of ‘mountain climber’—going backwards up the inside of our open staircases on hands and feet. Sometimes, depending on the wind or the weather, we swim again. Amigo is a game dock-jumping and swimming pal. With the incredible underwater reef life here, the kids are learning to bring a mask every time we go in the ocean. Earlier, they would insist, “No, I’ll just swim or flip off the dock,” but hearing siblings squealing through their snorkels because there is some amazing creature underwater--a peacock flounder, a lettuce leaf sea slug, a sunrise talon shell--you can’t see, it quickly got old.


J and the kids roast veggiesIn the evenings, we shower in water warmed by the sun, reapply our spray, and dress for dinner. We eat early—sunset—more of the same. Veggies roasted over a cardboard and driftwood fire, hot dogs or seasoned meat, and of course, rice and beans. Because our house currently lacks efficient solar power and air conditioning or sandfly-proof screening, once the sun has set, we turn the fans on high and settle into the darkness. Online time and before bed, a highlight of the kids day is reading Harry Potter aloud by headlamp. With Amigo and our kitties, the blessed night breeze and sounds of the ocean, we sleep hard. 


Soon, things will be different. The kids' Spanish tutor and our air conditioner will arrive from the Mainland. Piper will be off on her playdates. Max will find his soccer games and Hayden has secured an internship at the Iguana Research Station. During Spanish class, I'll be riding into Town for yoga, work on my third novel and fruit smoothies at Munchies. But until then, we are here, living a life more simple.  






To read Part Three -- First Trip Into Town, click here





La Vida Tranquila -- Part Three 

First Trip To Utila Town

           The day began at 5:15, since our feet point east toward the open louvered windows and Honduran pineSunrise from our bed French doors that let in both the breeze and the light. I had actually set an alarm because I was worried after staying up late for dinner and drinks with friends the night before, I might miss my 7:30 boat ride into town with our neighbors for yoga.

 The kids woke up at dawn too--rattling around and scratching and kvetching. Max wound himself up in the lone mosquito netting over their bed like a little taquito all night and left poor Piper to be munched. J was covered in sand fly nips too. A quick call to Señor Tino regarding more mosquito netting from the Mainland, and amazingly, three of them were on our doorstep before the day was over.

Breakfast was weak ground coffee with rice milk for us and for the kids, the overpriced box of Froot Loops. I'd grabbed this when we stopped at Bush's Market on the way home from the airport the first day, not bothering with lempira conversion, just seeing an American product and nabbing it. But in a place where Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum is cheaper than cow's milk, the kids ended up dumping the cereal and the boxed leche they deemed 'gross' on the crab-compost pile out back. J called this a victory, and I scrambled some eggs. Land and hermit crabs descended on the cereal and the rest of our compost--the entire pile was gone by midday. 

As the sun spread over the red earth, Max and J walked me to the Coral Beach marina where Max astonished everyone by befriending Princess, the most skittish of the project dogs. I boarded Brad and Andi's boat and we wove through the network of mangrove canals to Utila Town, Andi pointing out egrets in the bird sanctuary on the way. They arranged for a tuk-tuk to pick me up at the marina since three would have been too cozy on their motorbike, and Alejandro drove me the short distance over rutted roads, past colorful houses with backyard crab pens. Similar to Cayman, locals catch the abundant land crabs and feed them mangos for several weeks to clean them out and sweeten them before eating.


In town, my first feeling was one of complete nakedness. I often experience a similar sensation whenever I'm without any kids, but this was more intense. I was without all my US trappings as well. Carrying only my yoga mat, a pack of pink Trident, a list of sundries and groceries to pick up, and enough lempiras for the tuk-tuk from the boat dock ($1.50) Ashtanga class ($5) and a few days of supplies. I had no watch or cell phone--I didn't even have J's Honduran phone number. The plan was for him to take the kids to work with him on the South Shore, then bring the Miss Quinn to the dock at Coco's Bar to pick me up, sometime around 11. 

"But how will we find each other?" I worried, and he assured me town was small enough that we would. Did this mean, I wondered, that a gringa like me would not blend in?


Utila TownI spent the early morning at my first-ever Ashtanga yoga class on the outdoor dock of a bar, where Aura clucked knowingly over my tight runner's hamstrings and promised I would get better each time. In Spanish, English and Sanskrit, she guided me and five women through a powerful sequence of poses and breathing and chants. Her adjustments, lilting accent and reassuring demeanor were perfect. The class was complemented by the view across the blue water to the mainland in front and the start-of-day street sounds--the clink of bottles and the putt and pop of dirt bikes--behind us on the narrow street.


After class, I was introduced to two other expat mothers. One has a boy around my boys' age who is learning to windsurf but they are leaving for six weeks in Denmark. Another has a little girl turning five on Friday. She promptly invited us all to the party and I eagerly jotted down the details: "Bine" 5 years old, pizza, kids! Jumping off dock into ocean. Bring suits! Bine's mother told me this is how it often is in Utila--just as one friend leaves, new ones arrive. I remembered the fast friendships formed in other international cities where I have lived-- quick connections, hungry conversation, immediate companionship.

Afterward, I wandered down Main Street and stopped into several little markets, ticking items off my list and practicing my Spanish. When one man chuckled over my purchase of thirty eggs I said, Tengo tres niños acasa que gustan los huevos! He answered with a friendly string of Spanglish I pretended to understand. I was beginning to notice throughout the island that this was an unofficial dialect. Nobody said 'Vale!' like they do all over Andalucia, but the English and Spanish were equally garbled.

At another store, I wracked up 1,024 lempiras of rice, beans and produce. Rather than take and make change for another 500 bill, the man waved me on and told me to bring it the next time I was in town, and with a broad smile, he welcomed me to Utila. 

I bought clothespins for the drying line I strung behind Casa Tranquila, a butane torch for the stove, six huge fresh mangos, bananas, coconut and almond milk for the smoothies my kids guzzled and a white cheese so intense-smelling it reminded me instantly of Gertie and Phoebe.

I passed on a rasta-colored hammock for the porch that was overpriced, and made a note that the movie showing at the tiny cinema Friday night looked good--something about Drew Barrymore and trapped whales. I scanned the menus of cafés and ogled nightspots where fifteen years ago, I would have been whipping my hair and dancing til daylight. The general street population was a curious mix of young Euros, grungy, barefoot twenty-somethings, SCUBA divers, and coffee-skinned locals, all jockeying through the narrow streets on anything with wheels. 

Wandering back toward Coco's, I happened to look up as the Miss Quinn came into the harbor with J at the motor and my three tangly-haired blondes in baseball caps and sunglasses. There was some relief in the serendipity of this--that all of this happened as we planned, without texts or obsessive calling or discussion over whether or not we needed the hammock I passed on, and where he thought I might find cinnamon and whole bean coffee. The important parts had been accomplished, and now we were here, the family reuniting.

A motley group of island dogs, odd mixes of dachsund and pitbull and pointer and labrador jogged past the next yoga class on the dock to greet them. One growled at J and his owner whacked his rump.

"All dogs like me!" J insisted. The kids found this hilarious and a girl swabbing the bar deck waggled her mop after him. Together, we loaded up our little craft with the flimsy bags of groceries and glass bottles of olive oil and wine and supplies. Max untied us, J engaged the motor, we waved goodbye to everyone and headed back out to sea, toward the quieter side of the island, and home.

 * *** *


To read Part Two, The Things We Carried, click here

To read Part Four, La Vida Simple, click here



Guest Dog Blog--Anna Cole and Claude Giroux

This week's guest dog blog is a young German shepherd named after the Philadelphia Flyers hockey phenom Claude Giroux. His owner Anna Cole plays incredible defense and is a natural leader on the Blizzards womens hockey team with me. Sampson and young Claude have met once or twice at the local rink (with mixed results) when we cheer on our sons or our husbands are there to cut the ice. You can read Anna's post about a recent training lesson with Claude below, or follow along on her Life Coach website and blog.




Claude Giroux -Gets a Quick Lesson -Easy Puppy Training

This is our baby, Claude Giroux, he is quick, agile, smart and very loyal to his team.
We are his team and we want to train this guy.
Look at his face, he wants to work and please.
It's a spring-like day in mid-February and I take him for his morning walk, to practice heeling, him walking by my side on a leash and following my lead. He generally does well at the heel as long as there are no other dogs around.
I quietly pray today this will be the case.
The sun is shining, and the air is clear. Everything is going well, until we both realize there is another dog walking in front of us. Margo, a community acquaintance of mine, walks her puppy whom is so very obediently at her side.
Margo's puppy reminds me of Lady, from Lady and the Tramp, as she elegantly and obediently walks beside her owner.
Claude, on the other hand, begins pulling and lunging, as normal, wanting to approach the dog ahead of us.
We eventually catch up to the Lady like dog and her owner, and my embarrassment shines bright as I apologize for my lack of control over my thirteen month old shepherd who would love nothing more than to initiate a play date with this adorable female puppy.
I come up with a few excuses for Claude's lack of restraint, He isn't fixed yet, other dogs are a challenge for him...
Margo requests, "Can take him for a bit?" Surprised by her offer, I consent, and we trade leashes.
She proceeds to walk with Claude correcting him with quick jerks to his collar while simultaneous giving him immense amounts of praise and treats. She basically teaches me the ropes of what a walk with Claude can look like, and she seems to do it effortlessly.
AND Claude listens and responds to her methods.
She returns Claude and we decide to walk together.
Whenever Claude begins to lunge out of line anticipating a romp with a dog passing by I use Margo's teaching techniques and this makes for an enjoyable walk.
I am grateful to have met my town's own Cesar Millan.
[About+Anna+Photo.JPG]BIO: Anna Cole is a Certified Life Coach through premier coaching school Coaches Training Institute. She works with busy moms and professional moms to strengthen their relationships, let go of guilt, improve self confidence, and make time for themselves so they create lives and careers they love.


 You can find out more about Anna here on her website