Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pet Tails and the Rainbow Bridge

Yes, it's true. As you might have read in last Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, after 13 years, Pet Tales is crossing the Rainbow Bridge.  

I could hear the regret in my editor's voice when she called to break the news. She said that despite recognizing the popularity of the weekly column, "market research" shows that newspapers need to take a different direction. I'm guessing this is why sections of the paper keep getting revamped--they're still trying to identify what that "direction" may be. 

These days print media is doing their best to connect with a generation that simply doesn't read print anymore. If it ain't online, they ain't readin'.  Trying to reach this generation might be as hopeless an endeavor as trying to get my generation to convert solely to e-readers, smart phones, and iPads. Oh, I've got a Kindle and an iPhone. But I'll never use them for my news. Never.

I love newspapers. Always have. My affair with print started in 1967 when I was 9-years old and with my folks visiting Aunt Amelia and Uncle Frank in San Francisco one weekend. I was bored. Oh God, so bored. Theirs was not a kid-friendly house, and it was cold outside. And foggy. No yard to play in, no toys, no other kids. Bored bored bored. 

And so, when I came across their Sunday San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle, I started reading it out of sheer desperation. Anything to kill time.  But my interest in the paper suddenly spiked when I came across a photo of actor Tommy Steele in the entertainment section. Helloooo! I had just seen his new movie, Half a Sixpence, a few weeks earlier and had an enormous crush on the British singer/actor.  

I  must have been the only 9-year old in history to ever ask her parents for a subscription to the San Francisco Examiner. I got it and have never stopped reading. Even when I moved to Utah for a couple years, I continued my subscription to the weekend Examiner/Chronicle, although it would  arrive three days later.  No matter where I lived, no local rag could ever replace my beloved hometown newspaper.

Yes, I love print. The smell of the ink, the tactile feel of the paper, the peripheral news elsewhere on the page that catches my eye--maybe a word or a picture--and so I find myself reading an article or blurb that I had no intention of reading and as a result, I learn something new. It just doesn't work that way online. Sigh....

But Back to Pet Tales 
My main regret is losing this voice for the rescue community. It's been extremely rewarding to spotlight the joys of animal companionship and share the many wonderful resources we have throughout the Bay Area.  From bunnies and birds to chihuahuas and pit bulls, there's a rescue group for that one particular person looking for that one particular pet. Plus, I've met so many wonderful people, like-minded folk who love the creatures that share their lives.

But the good news is, I've been asked to write a pet "lifestyle" column in the 96 Hours section of the Chronicle, addressing trends, events, and quirky topics that appeal to pet owners. It'll be different, but fun and I'm looking forward to discovering what's out there. Because really, I don't get out much...what IS out there? I need readers to share their favorite pet tips and ideas with me.  

Thanks for reading Pet Tales all these years. I hope you'll follow me over to 96 Hours for the new column, which is yet to be named. I had suggested "Heavy Petting" which a few editors liked, but the Powers That Be nixed that one. Oh well. 

Can't win 'em all.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Ugly Shelter Dog

I loved this email I received from a Pet Tales reader, Holly Field, of Fort Collins, CO.  She was responding to last week's column (Maddie's Pet Adoption Days) about a shelter pet finding her forever home. I asked Holly if I could share her email and she agreed, so here it is.  This made my heart smile; hope it does yours as well.

"I always tear up when I hear of animals finding their homes. I have a dear friend, Susan, who lives in Santa Fe and for years volunteered at a shelter taking dogs out for walks on Sundays. I don't know how she steeled herself for it, but she managed. She had a dog-sitting business and owned two already, so she couldn't bring any more home.

There was one particular dog that was very sweet, but quite ugly. She loved him and feared he'd never find a home. One day, when she was out walking another, she heard him barking, barking, barking...and she looked up to see his little head sticking out of the window of a car that was leaving the shelter.  

She knew he was saying,'Susan! Susan! Susan! I have my family and they have a BOY!!!!!'"

Photo credit:

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Different Type of Memorial Day

A few months ago, I came home to find a large package on my front porch. The return address read The San Francisco Chronicle, the newspaper where I've been a freelance columnist for the past 13 years.  

What the heck was this?

I opened the box to find dozens and dozens of envelopes and small packages from names I didn't recognize. As I started sifting through the contents, mystified, I noticed a common theme: many expressed sympathy about the death of my mother in 2009, others addressed the death of my greyhound, Lucy, in 2011, and the remaining lamented the loss of my boy, Elvis, in 2012.  Confused, I took another look at the envelopes and realized that every one of them were postmarked between 2009 - 2012. 

These were condolence messages from readers of my Pet Tales column. 

Apparently, as a freelancer, the newspaper's mail room staff wasn't familiar with my (cough) brilliant prose and didn't know what to do with all the incoming mail. And so, all the letters and packages sent by caring readers languished in a dark corner of the basement until--fast forward to 2014-- someone had the foresight to look me up. 

Hence the box on my porch.

The outpouring of love, sympathy and support expressed in every piece of correspondence was so overwhelming that eventually I had to stop.  Each card and letter brought back a flood of fresh memories, like I'd just lost my mom, Lucy and Elvis, days ago, and not years.  I set aside the box of letters to read at a later date; perhaps when I wasn't caught off guard about revisiting these painful periods in my life.

That date was today. Appropriately enough, Memorial Day. A day of memories.

Sifting through the letters, I again found myself overwhelmed, but this time I knew what I was diving into and was emotionally prepared. Each card and letter was like a loving hug from a pair of warm arms who felt my pain and wanted to make me feel better. Some sent photos, others shared similar experiences or comforting books, a few sent invitations for therapeutic hikes or meditation retreats. I was amazed that these readers--total strangers--took the time to buy a card or write a letter, and pen messages of such depth and compassion.  

And I was equally mortified that they hadn't received a response from me. A "thank you" for their thoughtful words.  Of course, they had no way of knowing that their letters hadn't been received. They probably just thought I was too busy or didn't care.

But I do care.  Very much.

And so, I'll be busy the next few weekends, sending emails, dropping notes. I want each reader to know that their kind words, however late, were very much appreciated.

Because no matter what the postmark says, it's never too late to return a hug.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I Love Lucy = Mom

Woke up this morning with a chihuahua on my stomach and a greyhound at my feet. Not a bad way to greet the day if you love your four-legged children as much as I do. The greyhound, mine, the chihuahua, a house guest that I'm very fond of.

Rolled out of bed and made myself a latte on my 25-year old Krups espresso machine, read the Sunday Chronicle while listening to KFOG's Acoustic Sunrise, then loaded up the "kids" in the car for a ride to the park. Went for a nice long walk on trails that were empty since it was still quite early for a Sunday morning. Clear skies and warm temps, but with gusty winds that had leaves twirling, branches flying, and threatened turning the chihuahua into a helium balloon on a leash. 

Returned home, dropped off the dogs, and ran to Safeway for a few necessary supplies: chocolate chips, flour, butter, parchment paper. Came home and vacuumed, mopped, dusted, did laundry, changed the linen. 

Kept busy, busy, busy. 

Then I whipped up a batch of my favorite comfort "food," chocolate chip cookies. I snacked on raw cookie dough (yes, it has raw eggs and no, I don't care) while the rest baked in the oven, filling my home with yummy, chocolaty smells. Finally, I snuggled on the sofa to watch the I Love Lucy marathon I'd recorded earlier. 

I Love Lucy was my mom's favorite program. She never tired of watching Lucy's crazy antics, even if she'd just seen the same "Lucy goes on a diet" episode a few days earlier. I remember epic battles between Mom and Dad when, as a one-TV household, 7:00 pm would roll around and it was time to choose between reruns of Star Trek or I Love Lucy

Lucy always won.

Today I Love Lucy too, but now more than ever because the series reminds me so much of my mom, down to the heavy Spanish accent she shared with Ricky Ricardo. My best friend, my coach, my confident, my greatest fan, my loving mom. She isn't here this Mother's Day for me to cherish and care for in her old age, as I'd hoped to do. 

And so, I watched I Love Lucy instead. No doubt, Mom would have approved. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

GoD And DoG

This morning on KFOG's Acoustic Sunrise, my favorite radio personality, Rosalie Howarth, played a song so simple and eloquent, it took my breath away. It's been around since 2009--how have I not heard this before? But maybe you haven't either. 

And so, for all my dog-loving friends, here it is, with a link to the video. I hope you find it as touching as I do.

by Wendy J. Francisco 

"I look up and I see God, I look down and see my dog.
Simple spelling G O D, same word backwards, D O G.

They would stay with me all day. I'm the one who walks away.
But both of them just wait for me, and dance at my return with glee.

Both love me no matter what - divine God and canine mutt.
I take it hard each time I fail, but God forgives, dog wags his tail.

God thought up and made the dog, dog reflects a part of God.
I've seen love from both sides now, it's everywhere, amen, bow wow.

I look up and I see God, I look down and see my dog.
And in my human frailty...I can't match their love for me."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Twist of Fate

So, the blog, a bit quiet lately. You may have noticed. Or not. Since I don’t track numbers, I never really know who’s reading. 

Or not.
But there’s a reason for the silence. Of late, there have been several deaths—all unrelated—that have knocked the wind out of my sails and the “get up” from my “go.” Weekends normally reserved for Sunday brunches or leisurely walks with the dog have been spent attending services. Sharing the grief of friends for the passing of their elderly parents, feeling their pain while remembering the passing of my own parents, long gone.  

Over the past six weeks, I've also mourned the loss of two younger lives whose deaths-- again, unrelated--were shocking and unexpected. Out of respect for privacy, I won’t go into detail, but it’s been a lot to absorb. 

This kind of stuff gets you thinking.

The fragility of life. The randomness of events. How a routine visit to the dentist can turn into a raging infection that cuts short a life. Or how someone who is fit, vibrant, and athletic unknowingly harbors a fatal heart condition. 

Maybe this is why I’ve always been intrigued by the 1998 movie, Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The movie uses parallel time-lines to explore the different paths a woman’s life might take if she does—or doesn't—catch her London train. In one scenario, she makes it in time and in the other, the doors slide shut right before her nose. How her future unfolds, based on each perspective, is the premise of the plot

The movie was billed as a “romantic comedy” but I found it much deeper than that. Ever since watching it several years ago, I always find myself contemplating chance delays or inconsequential events. How they could, without my knowledge, alter the very course of my life’s journey.

My Teamster dad, who drove for a living, never complained when he was delayed by something annoying like a flat tire. Instead, he embraced it as a sign. “I’m obviously not meant to be on the road at this particular time,” he would say. “God stepped in and stopped me.”

Maybe. Yet I also remember the Bay Area banker who was living in Germany during the time of the 2004 tsunami, one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. The young man was supposed to spend his Christmas vacation in Southeast Asia, but his girlfriend convinced him to join her for a ski trip in the Alps, instead. As a result, he missed the tsunami. Whew.

And was subsequently killed in an avalanche.  

Sliding doors. Would he have survived the tsunami if he hadn't gone skiing? Or was it simply his time, no matter where the location?

What I found most interesting about this movie (warning: SPOILER ALERT) is the ending. Although Gwyneth Paltrow’s character takes two entirely different directions, each one circles to reach the same final destiny, regardless of the journey.  Suggesting that, no matter what path taken, the destination remains the same.

Sealing your fate whether it’s a random flat tire or trip to the dentist. They’re all just sliding doors. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Life Through Coffee

Used to be you boiled tap water, added a couple tablespoons of instant freeze-dried coffee, and voila! You had a cuppa joe. 

In the 1970s, this is what my parents drank. They'd boil a large pot in the wee hours of the morning for my dad to fill his thermos before leaving the house at 5am for his hour-long commute to San Francisco. Whatever didn't make it to the thermos would sit in the carafe all the live-long day. And then, when dad returned home from work around 6pm, he'd take that same bitter brew that had been sitting cold on the stove top for 13 hours and nuke it in the microwave for he and mom to enjoy in the evening. 

I took a sip of their coffee. Once. It tasted like battery acid with cream. My taste buds were traumatized, which is probably why I didn't start drinking coffee until well into my late twenties. Right around the time that coffee shops started cropping up with specialty drinks, like lattes and cafe mochas  and cappuccinos, and --you know--the good stuff. And I realized wow, coffee could actually be a tasty drink if made properly.

These days it's impossible not to make good coffee at home.  All you need is the right machine, like a Nespresso, Keurig, or Bosch. Plug it in, insert a pod, press a button, and before you can say, "The next best thing to waking up...." there you have it: a gourmet cuppa joe complete with frothy foam.  The only finger you have to lift is the one holding the mug to your lips. 

In 1986, when my salt-of-the-earth parents learned that I was spending $1.75 every single day to buy a latte, they said, "Enough throwing away your money. Make your own lattes!" And, as a Christmas present, they plunked down $100 to buy me a Krups Espresso Maker. The first, and maybe the second and third and fourth times I tried steaming the milk, the hot liquid exploded, spraying milk all over the ceiling and walls. But over the past 28 years I've mastered the craft to perfection. And using the same Krups Espresso Maker, I might add, three times a week no less.

No buttons to push. No pods to insert. I grind my own coffee, measure the water, and steam the milk, with nary a drop on the ceiling. Sure, I could buy one of those fancy new machines where all I have to do is insert, press, wait. 

But there's something about my ritual that I like, especially on weekend mornings. I listen to the hissing steam as I watch the sun rise, monitor the cresting foam as it nears the rim of my cup, and then sit down to enjoy my hard-earned drink, enhanced with maybe a little almond syrup or coconut sugar, and cinnamon sprinkled on top. 

Today's sophisticated coffee makers probably render my Krups method a bit archaic. Just as I thought of my parents' method for boiling tap water and adding coffee crystals. But I think of my mom and dad, who both died far too young, every single time I use that Krups machine. 

And that alone makes for a perfect cup of coffee. 
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