Archive for December, 2012

Stay Away!

December 24, 2012

I must have a very guilty conscience!

I went next-door over to my daughter and son-in-law’s house to borrow a little honey and a few other items I was out of to save having to make an extra trip to the store. No one was home. As I was about to leave with my little stash of pilfered goodies, I noticed four opened bottles of wine on the counter. I thought to myself, “They won’t mind if I pour myself a little drink.”

As I reached over in the direction of the bottles a can sitting right in front of the wine suddenly let loose a smelly whiff of spray all over the counter—and when I quickly withdrew my hand it sprayed again! It startled the living daylights out of me!

Standing back a safe distance, I squinted to read the label on the can. It said, “STAY AWAY!” I immediately assumed it was a prank—a gag gift that someone gave to my son-in-law to keep thieves like me from helping themselves to the wine. That is how my mind works.

Then a few seconds later I glanced up at the refrigerator door and saw a note that said, “Days without pee on the counter: 2.”

And then I remembered my daughter telling me a few weeks ago that one of their cats occasionally took a notion to pee on the counter.

So then the rational, logical part of my brain kicked in. I positioned myself near the back of the can (not wanting to get sprayed in the eye) and squinted to read the small print: “Stay Away Motion-Activated Pet Deterrent.” There was a picture of a bad cat on the label.

Aha! So it wasn’t a mother-in-law deterrent after all! I reasoned that if I carefully reached for the wine from the direction of the back of the STAY AWAY can, I wouldn’t activate the sensor. I carefully pushed one of the bottles off to the side (having no idea how sensitive these pet sensors are) and poured myself a half cup of Honeymoon wine. . .

Stick with Honey: A Doga Writing Memoir

December 23, 2012

Four years ago, on the Friday before Christmas . . .

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
–Mark Twain

Suza_book_cover_size   The last Chapter in my dating memoir, “Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir,” is entitled, “Stick with Honey.” As many of you know, Honey is the Australian Shepherd rescue dog who appears on the cover. When I told my friend Dale Hanson the truth about “Adam,” the antagonist in my memoir, she offered this simple advice, “Stick with Honey!”

Well, I have stuck with Honey, through thick and thin! Truth be told, like most other relationships, it has not always been easy. We’ve had enough adventures to fill a book. Here’s the beginning of the story:

Four years ago, on the Thursday before Christmas, I got a call from a local dog rescuer who said she heard I was looking to adopt a Queensland Heeler or Australian Shepherd. She asked if she could bring an Aussie rescue over on Friday, “Just so you can meet her.”

I thought to myself, “What a coincidence that I would get this call today.” My previous dog, Queenie, a Queensland Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog), had died exactly one year ago, on the Friday before Christmas.  003_103_8005

I tried not to take this as a sign from God!


Honey, Australian Shepherd rescue dog Photo Credit: Janeson Rayne

For a moment I hesitated. I already had plenty of other animals — four cats, two rescue pigs, and a dear mouse named Whitey. Life was so much easier without the responsibility of a dog. I knew very well that if this Aussie arrived on my doorstep it would probably be case closed.

The clever, determined rescuer softened me up by explaining how her organization goes into the animal shelter on a regular basis to save as many dogs as they can from death row. They already had as many dogs as they could handle in one trip and she almost didn’t notice this beautiful Aussie. She described how this little girl dog came up and gently licked her hand.
I imagined the other dogs desperately barking, “Save me! Save me!” while this Aussie girl wisely distinguished herself by quietly licking the rescuer’s hand.

So the next day, on the Friday night before Christmas, a truck stopped in front of my house. The back of the truck had several crates, each holding a yapping dog. The driver took out a beautiful, fluffy Aussie dog. She didn’t bark. It all happened very fast and I felt like I was adopting an unknown orphan child.

The unknown Aussie stood beside me on the street, appearing very calm. We watched the truck with barking dogs drive away. After the truck disappeared, Aussie girl looked up at me as if to assess this human being who fate had delivered her to. At that moment I think she saw right through me –she picked up that I was easy and that she had nothing to fear. She willingly followed me into the house.

What I remember from our first night together is that this Aussie, who I named Honey a few days later, not only did not chase my cats (at least not while I was looking), she licked Leo’s face. Possibly because Leo’s lips taste like cat food, but it looked like a sign of affection and scored big points in her favor.

Late that night, while we were in the kitchen, a band of raccoons that had gotten way too tame during the year that I had no dog, came looking in the cat door, to see if it was safe to come in. I noticed Honey staring intently at the door, well aware of the intruders peering in. Suddenly she let loose an explosive bark that would shatter the ear drums of the dead. That was the end of the raccoons sneaking into the kitchen and stealing cat food.

For the first few days, as is the case in most new relationships, Honey was on her sweetest, best behavior. She smiled at everyone and sat still during my yoga classes with her front paws crossed, observing my students like a flock of sheep. But gradually, as she felt more secure, the reality of her true nature emerged.

Another day I will tell more about “Sunny” Honey. She is the world’s most loyal and lovable dog, but there is good reason why friends have dubbed her, “Buffalo Girl,” “Thunder Girl,” and other nicknames that reflect her energetic, exuberant, spirit!
Happy Fourth Anniversary Honey! (Honey hopes her story inspires more humans to give a dog waiting at the shelter a forever home.)

Southern California Australian Shepherd Rescue

Please spay and neuter your dogs and cats –thousands of animals are waiting on death row, hoping to be adopted before it’s too late.


Stick with Honey! Photo Credit: David E. Moody

I can’t die yet—I just spent $2,000 at the dentist.

December 7, 2012




The other day I reached inside the mailbox, which I share with seven other people. There were Christmas cards, credit card offers, a Victoria’s Secrets catalog that has no secrets, and a gourmet gift catalog with giant walnut chocolate cookies, baklava, biscuits, and cinnamon swirl buns for those no longer watching their figure.

     On this day the only item in the mail for me was another discreet reminder from Smart Cremation that my journey in this world of pleasure and pain is coming to an end.
      I can’t die yet—I just spent $2,000 at the dentist. The root canal is fixed, my chipped front tooth is whole again. But the thought of all the work I have to do to earn that money back is exhausting. Yesterday, as I assessed my life situation, I hit a wall. I fell into that depressing place where you just want to pull the covers over your head and give up. I felt tired and close to tears. So I decided that, instead of scooping the poop out of the kitty litter and making a dent in the endless hopeless housework that comes with five four-leggeds, I would run away with Honey and Chico to the basin near Pratt Trail. We would hike and I would do yoga in my favorite panoramic spot. I still had the car that I borrowed the day before to go to the dentist, so off we went.
       Chico and Honey were yapping with joy and ready to fly out the window. As I eased the car into the dirt parking area, I caught a glimpse of a Ventura County spray truck. Seeing those workers with gloves on, once again spraying toxic weed killers up and down the side of the basin and surrounding areas, killing everything that was sprouting after the rain, my heart sank. In years past I’ve questioned them . . . they have their reasons (flood control), but their reasons make no sense to me.
       The dogs were so wild to go running that I didn’t get out to question the workers. I turned around and drove away. Later I heard from a friend who lives nearby on North Signal Street that she could smell the spray from her house. The whole scene of man still poisoning the Earth, after all we know about toxins traveling up the food chain, killing wildlife. . . all this put me further over the edge. I told myself that in other countries they’re spraying people, poisoning and killing human beings—that I’m among the lucky ones; I can walk away and find refuge somewhere else in nature.
470591_10150741641279703_266408929_o        Later the dogs and I walked the creek bed in the river bottom. I’d cancelled my Thursday night class, feeling that I had nothing to give. So I had time to drift off into the sunset, to watch the light change and sink into stillness. When I came home, my sweet daughter brought me my favorite bird seed cookie with strawberry jam in the center, fresh-made at the Farmer and the Cook. “Here, Mom,” she said, “I’m sorry you’re having such a hard day.” I felt slightly ashamed that I had dumped my troubles on her earlier in the day. Laughing, I bit into the yummy cookie, and thus my hard day dissipated.

Happy 90th birthday to beloved Ojai teacher David Essel

December 6, 2012

Last night I went to the 90th birthday party of my former teacher David Essel, who I met in 1966 when I was a shy, introverted student at Happy Valley School (now Besant Hill School).

The party was held at the Ojai Retreat and the room was filled with his lifelong friends. I planted myself right next to the birthday boy in a comfortable padded chair where I could sit cross-legged with a plate in my lap piled high with delicious vegetarian food. I listened intently while he told endless stories about old Ojai—the Ojai I knew as a child.

To the other side of David Essel sat the writer Catherine Ann Jones. Also sitting in our little huddle of guests was author David E. Moody and Mark and Asha Lee, founders of the Oak Grove School. Catherine asked the birthday boy what was it like to be ninety and he replied that he’s always felt ten years younger than his chronological age–he feels only eighty! He expressed surprise that his daughters were throwing this party for him so soon –he laughingly said they should have waited till he was a hundred.

In the course of the evening David Essel told the story of how he, Alan and Helen Hooker (of Ranch House fame) and Frank and Bennie Noyes (grandparents of Marla McFadin and Brian McFadin) came to Ojai in 1949, lured by Rosalind Rajagopal, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, Annie Besant, and the Happy Valley School. He remembered a young girl named Jan, the mother of Marla and Brian, who I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye. Jan was one of the early students at Happy Valley School when the campus was located just past the Ranch House, downhill from the Ojai Retreat.

I can tell you that David Essel’s mind is sharp. I saw no sign of either short or long term memory loss. I remember many of the people he mentioned and his recollections refreshed my own childhood memories of Beatrice Wood, David Young, Heather and Peter Young (parents of musician Martin Young and his sister Lindy) —and other Ojai pioneers, educators, and artists ahead of their time.

When the birthday cake was presented someone shouted, “Speech! Speech!” For a moment this youthful elder looked overwhelmed and at a loss for words. But then he gathered his forces and launched into a lengthy Life Review, as most of us are apt to do given the golden opportunity of an audience waiting for the cake to be cut.

David Essel described the stages of life, beginning with his childhood family life on a farm, growing their own food. He was allergic to cow’s milk so the family learned the art of milking goats. Then came the years in the marines and the awareness of the horror of war. He told a story about meeting a Japanese family, “the kindest, nicest people… the same people we had been killing…” He described how he went to school and studied animal husbandry–and how after he had to slaughter an animal he threw all his papers and schoolwork in the trash in disgust and became a vegetarian.

He told how the three people who influenced his life the most were his father, his wife, Mary, and J. Krishnamurti, for their impeccable integrity. David’s father spent time living deep in the woods and loved nature. He also recalled that when his father was still single he gave up a secure job so that his friend, who had a family, would not be laid off.

We never know how much we influence the life of another person but I know David Essel influenced mine. His sensitivity and kindness made a great impression on me. Like Beatrice Wood, who also rescued dogs and carried spiders outside, he taught in word and deed that all creatures, great and small, love their life as much as we do.

Yoga yakking

December 1, 2012
Yesterday we were yakking in the yoga room about life, and I mentioned that I’d had a date with a man twenty years younger.
  When I first began practicing with other teachers and students, I used to try to hush everyone up, but now I realize that this “yoga yakking” while opening the body can be enormously therapeutic and insightful.
  One of the teachers present told the story of her friend who married a man twenty years younger. “She’s now in her seventies. He’s in his fifties. They’ve been together twenty-five years, and they are the happiest, sweetest couple you’ve ever seen.”
  “Well,” I said, “If nothing else, this date with a younger man showed me I need to stretch the age range at both ends.”
  When I was in my fifties, I dated a man at the other end of the spectrum—a sophisticated filmmaker in his eighties. He was totally romantic, bought me flowers and beautiful clothes, and joked about sending me to finishing school and taking me to Italy. But, alas, when we went to dinner he ordered veal, and he still smoked pot and hash and scared the daylights out of me with his coughing and hacking . . .
  “My date went great,” I said enthusiastically. “He’s a really nice guy. Very responsible. Vegetarian. And he looked so shiny and clean. He’d just gotten out of the shower. Once we started talking, I forgot all about the age difference.
  “But I think I might have blown it. First of all, I didn’t have anything to wear. All my skirts have rips in them, so I just wore my yoga pants with a blouse and shawl. It was short notice. I should have postponed it. We went somewhere very casual. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I wasn’t hungry. Just sipped some wine . . .”
  The rest of the story came out while we were opening our hips, stretching our legs, excavating the stiffness out of our shoulder joints, or hanging upside down.
  “It was so interesting,” I went on, “because the age difference seemed not to matter. He’s been divorced three years. Doesn’t strike me as a womanizer. Seems very straightforward, kind, and honest. I had only actually met him in person once, about six months ago. It never in a million years occurred to me that he might like to ask me out. He’s younger than my son! My daughter didn’t approve of me going on this date! We basically told each other bits and pieces of our past. Kind of like a job interview.
  “He told me the story of how he ended up moving to Ojai . . . asked me where I went to school . . . I told him how I had a baby when I was eighteen and that I went to Ventura College and got an Early Childhood Teaching Certificate because that was a job where I could take my toddler to work with me. I told him I did child care out of my home, worked at different nursery schools in town, and basically took care of kids from dawn to dusk.
  And then I heard myself say, “I thought I wanted to teach preschool for the rest of my life, but then when my son turned seven I didn’t want to see another kid as long as I lived!”
  I plum forgot that my young-man date had young children!
  I told my yoga confidantes, “I didn’t really mean it the way it sounded! I can’t remember if I told him that I had a daughter later in life or that I’m a grandaunt to a niece and five nephews! I love kids—really I do!”
  Truth be told, I didn’t want him to think I was some kind of cougar. We’d already joked about cougars before our date when he explained that he liked older women. For me, this was a first-time experiment. It’s in my Gemini nature to laugh and flirt, but as I sat across from this shiny clean young man —the kind I was not attracted to in my youth but was considering now—I noticed that the nun in me had the upper hand.
  Yes, I’d told myself that the age difference didn’t matter. The date was his idea, not mine. When he walked me to my car and, half jokingly, casually said something about me coming over to talk and have more wine, I’d never said no more quickly in my entire life!

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