On The Blackwater

Musing on retirement, writing, puppies, and whatever else strikes my fancy

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Spending my life in 20-year increments: DC, Calif, Maine, & now in the BlueRidge Mountains of VA, where my YoChon, Sadie Mae, has started to blog...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman died...

It's the end of an era. How many of us were influenced by his many movies? By his charitable works? By his insistence on privacy in a very public business? He was 83, and of course it was cancer. Early reports don't identify it as lung cancer, but I suspect that was the culprit.

He died at his home in Connecticut, yesterday (Friday). By all accounts, his long marriage to Joanne Woodward was a good one, although both said there were harsh words at times, and he would retreat to "his part of the house" until everything cooled down. How normal is that?

We'll miss him. I last saw him in Empire Falls, playing the role of Ed Harris' scalawag of a father to perfection. I'd read that he loved the role, so entirely different from any kind of heroic do-gooder. He also played in Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool.

Our Book Club is getting ready to read Russo's Empire Falls; Russo won the Pulitzer Prize for writing that book. No wonder Paul Newman was eager to play those parts...the dialog and characterizations were perfect for him.

I'm sure TV will be playing all Newman's movies now and we can again enjoy Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the rest of his amazing roles.

Off the screen, he quietly changed lives with his "Hole in the Wall" kids' camps around the world, using his profits from salad dressings and pasta sauce to establish the camps for disabled children. OK, y'all know all of this already. I'm sure there's a lot we don't know about this private person.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tragic Dog Story in Today's Roanoke Times

I've never been a person who cried easily; I hold my emotions inside. But today, in the Roanoke Times Virginia section, I read a piece that just horrified me, and made me cry. Forgive me if this upsets someone who didn't read about it in the RT, or who lives in another area.

A fellow who had a small white curly-haired dog from a pup, a little dog who had become deaf, blind, and had lost all her teeth in the 14 years he'd had her as his only companion, even the years he'd lived on the streets after suffering a nervous breakdown, had finally moved into a house with a fenced yard, but his little dog had disappeared.

He posted notices and called the animal control officer, who had the sad duty of calling him back to tell him his little dog had been killed. It seems a 22-year old man had beaten the little dog to death, while two of his friends watched. When the man realized someone else was watching the beating, he insisted the dog had snapped at him and tried to attack him. The man who had witnessed the killing said outside court that he didn't believe the killer's story. "How are you going to get a deaf, blind dog to attack somebody?" he said. "How does he know you're there?" He testified that when he came home the evening of June 18, he heard his own dogs barking. He peered over his fence to see a tall, shirtless man repeatedly beating a small dog with a stick as the dog lay on the ground, twitching her tail.

Continuing to insist the dog had attacked him, after the director of the state animal health lab testified that the dog had severe bruising along her back and her skull had been caved in, the director was asked if she could have been rabid. He replied that the condition of her body meant he could not reliably be tested for diseases. The owner and caretaker of the little dog said her shots were up to date and she was wearing her Roanoke dog tag when she was killed.

The case has been referred to the grand jury. The killer could get five years in prison after a law was passed and went into effect in July 2002. Before that, only a year in jail and a $2,500 fine would have been the judgment. Five years? Isn't that how Jeffrey Dahmer began, by brutalizing small defenseless animals?

Pookie's owner...that was her name, Pookie...says he still breaks into tears, particularly when he sees a dog that reminds him of his loss.

Tuesday evening, I sat in a room-full of people of every age, all of them dog-lovers there to learn more about training their pups or grown dogs. Today, we see what happens when someone, for whatever reason, chooses to harm, to beat, to kill a small blind, deaf, toothless dog, a 14-year loving companion to his owner, who at one time had to scavenge from restaurant dumpsters to feed both of them.

Is this what our world is coming to? How many monsters are out there?


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Dog Who's Always Welcome

Last night, a group of us went to hear Lori Long speak about her book. Lori has trained dogs for years, and competes in Agility contests. Then, at a college campus, she observed a person in a wheelchair whose service dog was trained to help her from her car, tug her wheelchair up a sloping curb, open a door into the student center, give her money to the cashier for food, get the change for her owner, then sit quietly while the owner ate.

Lori was amazed and intrigued enough to visit Assistance and Therapy Dog Training Centers to learn how to train the 'perfect' dog...one who can ride on an elevator comfortably, stay in a motel room (often necessary when traveling to Agility events), walk quietly in a mall setting, and otherwise be completely socialized.

Taking all that into consideration, Lori has written a book with information that any of us can use to work with our puppies, or our grown dogs, and turn them into "A Dog Who's Always Welcome."

Yes, even Sadie Mae!

Lori mentioned that small terriers are delightful hearing assistance dogs for those with hearing problems. They know to bounce to the front door when the doorbell rings and can be trained to alert their owner to a phone ringing or other sounds such as smoke alarms going off. Larger breeds can be trained to assist someone with balance problems when fitted with a brace the owner can hold on to. But the socialization is the key component. They need to know how to stay calm and focused when in a crowd of people.

A major point that Lori made was the crucial fact that we need to pay very close attention to our dog and what she or he is trying to tell us through their body language, their eye contact with us, their barking to get our attention, every signal they can use. Yes, it's train the trainer!

Two service dogs lay quietly at their trainers' feet in the back of the room, a testimony to their training. They wore assistance dog halters asking that no one pet them, as both were still in their training status. Best behaved Labs I've ever seen!

Lori Long spoke at the WestLake branch of the Franklin County Library, and the library managed to get an excellent price arrangement on the paperback. It was $12 as opposed to the printed price of $19.99 plus tax. The room was nearly full, and quite a few copies were sold as lines formed to buy a copy, and then to have Lori sign them.

Her talk was excellent, and now I'm reading her book, which I find to be very well written. It appears to be giving me just the information I need; after all, we have one older chocolate Lab, one chocolate Lab puppy, and of course, little Sadie Mae. This could present a real challenge!

Added note: The St. Francis of Assisi Service Dog training center will be holding an all-day event in Roanoke on Saturday, October 11th, from 10 am until 4 pm. "Free Admission, Bring your Dog!" There will be all kinds of things going on for what they are calling "Dogtober Fest." There'll be a Parade of Dogs, Agility Course, Climbing Wall, Moonwalk, Games for Kids and Dogs. Check out their Website for directions and more information at http://www.saintfrancisdogs.org

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Baby Chloe and GreatGrammie

Here's Baby Chloe, born May 5th this year, wearing a 'scarf'' of sorts that I crocheted while up in Maine. Notice that SHE likes it fine!

Train Trip came to an abrupt stop...

Between the immediate financial crisis that finally got our Congress' attention, and GMA's train trip that must have continued through the night across Virginia and on to DC, Friday's train segment was a bit of a disappointment...my apologies to those of you who tuned in.

They DID have interesting information from the Newseum in DC, but all the beautiful scenery and individual visits to each state's citizens, just didn't happen.

Today is Saturday, and what I call GMA-Light folks climbed into a van and visited a college in NC (which is about to meet VT in a game!). OK, just not the same as a train trip, I know.

Of course, I knew Diane Sawyer, Chris Cuomo, Robin Roberts and Sam Champion would not be riding day and night on the train for the entire 50 days...those quarters were quite cramped. At one point, they showed Chris 'stretched out' on his bunk with his feet stuck up on the wall and his hand actually touching the compartment's door handle at the same time. Diane said she missed having a bathtub.

Well, it seems our elected Congress must actually do some work for us, trying to resolve the financial mess they got us into. We all saw this coming; where were they looking?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Get Aboard the GMA Train!

We all have our morning routines, and mine since retirement has been watching Good Morning America beginning at 7 am, drinking my coffee and eating my oatmeal while getting up-to-date information and lots of laughs from the 4-person GMA team: Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Chris Cuomo, and Sam Champion.

This week has been incredible, as the four of them are aboard a special Amtrak train visiting 50 states in 50 days. Today (Thursday) they visited Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, and they began with actually stopping the train so they could take in a beautiful view of the Shenandoah River in the early morning mists. It was magnificent.

If GMA (on ABC) is not your usual morning habit, I'd recommend switching it on if only to virtually climb aboard this train. They manage to incorporate some of the history of each stop in the state they are visiting. I really enjoyed seeing Stockbridge Village in Massachusetts, for instance, as I've always wanted to go there. I have the Main Street ceramic village that I set up in our bay window every Christmas but have never convinced hubby that we should stop and visit every time we drive near that highway exit.

When we retired to Rocky Mount, I was unaware that Roanoke, once a major railroad city, was no longer in that category at all. Now, with the current gas prices, efforts are being made to reactivate some of that railroad heritage, perhaps bringing Amtrak closer to, or even into, Roanoke. Maybe GMA's train across America will show people what we could have here.

Get on the train, everyone! GMA runs from 7 to 9 am. Yes, they are plugging in political interviews, which I personally could do without (and much of their e-mail indicates I'm not alone in this respect) but if you want to see the corn growing high in farmers' fields in Ohio, or the sun coming up on a beautiful river in West Virginia, tune in.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Delighted at Roanoke Times' Coverage of Health Issue

When 400 people showed up for the health meeting Dr. Cotter and others sponsored in Roanoke, I was delighted to see the Roanoke Times giving it major coverage and then a continued focus on the problems inherent in Carilion's actions, in particular their penchant for over 100 court cases every Friday, taking people to court for payment of hospital bills...even putting liens on their homes.

My feeling is a bright light has now been switched on, and hopefully those folks unable to pay their health care bills will have other options provided to them, such as small monthly payments or even forgiveness of debt when there is simply nothing there to be collected.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Bathroom in Maine

I don't have any 'before' images of my daughter Cathie's downstairs bathroom...suffice it to say it was falling into her basement and was dangerous to use because of deterioration (the farmhouse is over 100 years old, and in fact was the home of the richest family in Easton, Maine, originally, with servants' quarters and servants' stairs directly down into the kitchen).

But I'm going to try to add a picture taken when Dick and Cathie's friend Jason finished three weeks' work of tearing out the old floor, building a new sturdy floor, and then installing a beautiful new bathroom. From Adams' Family to Home and Garden...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sadie Mae's Latest Adventure

As I've mentioned, Sadie Mae is half Yorkie and half Bichon Frisee. The veterinarian tells me she has the Yorkie's brains and temperament, and the Bichon's sweetness.

Yesterday, she ventured out on the front porch to find an exciting big bug (I think it was a June bug?) with iridescent wings. It was giving out a loud tick-tick-tick, fascinating for an investigating Yorkie. Sadie Mae promptly put the entire live bug into her mouth, clamping her jaws tight.

It continued to tick-tick-tick. Her big dark innocent eyes focused on me. I told her: Drop it!

Unfazed, she looked at me as if to say: Drop what?

Tick-tick-tick. Her jaws were still together. Tick-tick-tick

Sadie Mae! I said, You drop that bug right now!

Her eyes got bigger. What bug? she seemed to mumble through her jaws. Tick-tick-tick.

By now, I was laughing so hard at that innocent look of hers...and trying to figure out how to get that big bug out of her mouth...finally I grabbed a doggie treat from inside the front door. I dropped it a few feet from her, and saw her trying to figure out how to get the treat without dropping her new friend/toy/goodie. Tick-tick-tick. She dropped the bug and went for the treat. Yes, I'm afraid I scooped up the big bug and gave it a proper funeral in the flush. I really did not want bug guts all over the carpet!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Big Health Meeting in Roanoke Tues at 7 pm

I saw my glaucoma doctor early this morning, and the news was excellent. He'd done a laser procedure in both eyes just before we left for Maine, and today's verdict was...(drum roll!)...a pressure of 10 in each eye. I have low-tension G, so he's been trying to get the pressure below 16.

He told me about a meeting planned for tomorrow night (Tuesday, 9/9/08) at the Ramada Inn in Roanoke, at 7 pm. I knew he and a group of specialists have been trying to bring to the public's awareness the fact that Carilion charges MORE for medical procedures than is currently charged in northern Virginia, Richmond, anywhere else in Virginia. And Carilion is supposed to be a not-for-profit medical facility.

Dr. Cotter told me the Wall Street Journal ran a huge article on their front page on August 28th. I couldn't get it online (WSJ wants $100 for an online subscription!) so I called our local library and they very nicely made a copy of the article so I could drop by and pick it up to read at home. I wanted to leave the actual WSJ there in case others wanted to read the piece.

It is shocking to me; seems the Roanoke Times' health reporter was suddenly reassigned after he'd been writing about this controversy. Apparently, phone calls are being made from Carilion execs asking folks to stay away from the meeting on Tuesday.

I understand even the TV news folks have kept this very low-key. After all, Carilion is a major employer in the area, and of course they advertise a great deal, which media folks depend upon.

OK, please let people know, particularly if they live in Roanoke. The article mentioned a charge of $4,727 for a colonoscopy, four to 10 times what a local endoscopy center charges for the procedure. Carilion bills $1,606 for a neck CT scan, compared with the $675 charged by a local imaging center. Yet they are tax-exempt as a nonprofit entity.

That's my rant today. We need to pay attention to this situation, and if attending the meeting is impossible, letters to the Roanoke Times Editor should help bring these huge charges into the light.

I no sooner wrote this blog than I was reminded that there are indeed two sides to this story, that it is a complicated issue, and that there WILL be more information out there concerning Carillion's intent. Let's watch, read and above all, pay attention.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Happy to be Home Again!

Those folks who travel constantly, who spend summers or winters away, seem to like that lifestyle, but it just is not for me. I am so darned happy to be home in Virginia again. Our state policeman neighbor kept an eagle eye on our place for us, and the only damage we 'suffered' was from someone's dog trying to get in our front door. The door was full of muddy footprints and the rubberized strip was torn by his paws.

Yep, we think it was our castle-owner neighbor's dog. She is a veterinarian who leaves her four kids in charge and believes her dogs should run loose. At least it wasn't a burglar.

Amazingly, my rhubarb survived the drought down here, so I expect to have pie plant growing well next spring. And the rain just before we returned greened up the lawn and brought the Blackwater River up from a mud puddle.

Today, Saturday, we're getting much-needed rain. Tomorrow we get to meet our new pastor; I've heard he is very energetic and preaches a good sermon. Praise Choir practice starts up again tomorrow. I DO like my routine!

Our 24-hour drive back was fine, although it now seems most I-95 and 81 eating places are dominated by the fast food folks. We drove back in the midst of "return to college" traffic, noticing that young men traveled in small cars they had packed as if they were suitcases...you could see pillows, pajamas, sheets, clothing...all pressed tightly up to the windows! I guess their buddies must help them unload their cars, piling everything on the dorm floors. Returning young women, however, were pretty much driven by their dads, and had those compact capsules on top of the vehicle, rather than bungee-corded cheap blue tarps that flapped in the wind.

We saw a sleeping bag on the highway, then a bit further on, a blue tee-shirt, then...a mattress! Poor guy must have ended up sleeping on the dorm floor. There were several pick-ups carrying small loveseats/couches. Have dorm rooms gotten bigger?

Well, we're home, and it is wonderful to be back into our comfortable one-level space. Returning over Labor Day weekend meant this week was bereft of meetings, chancel choir practice, bible study, and other church events. That gave us a week to re-stock the cupboards and fridge! How funny to reach for a jar of pickles or eggs to scramble, and nothing's there. We made almost daily runs to Kroger's. I'll bet THEY are glad to see us return!