You can teach an old dog new tricks

Zoey has lived with us for the past eleven years and for the majority of those years, remained in either the house or yard. She (and Coco) didn’t get to go on neighborhood walks (or open space hikes) because they were out of control on leashes. When they saw another dog, no matter how far off in the distance, they’d bark, growl, lunge, and generally behave in a bat-shit manner.


Zoey right after we got back from today’s walk.

At one point early on, we spent a whole lot of money to have a personal dog trainer work with us. That strategy ultimately failed because of a lack of consistency. The dogs responded to me as the alpha, but couldn’t care less about pushover-Zippy’s commands or young Wildebeest and Zebu with their high voices and unassertive attitudes. The dogs still believed they were the alphas who needed to protect the pack.

It all came to a head years ago when I took Zoey and Coco for a walk. They went nuts when they saw another dog, and in their ensuing barking / twirling / lunging, knocked me to the ground. Both my knees were thoroughly black and blue.

That was it for me. I no longer felt guilty about having two dogs that never, ever left the yard.

And then Coco died. To help Zoey through her grief, we started walking her once a day. I’ll admit that it hasn’t been an entirely pleasant experience (one walk lasted a full three minutes because I had to drag Zoey home after she went ballistic at the sight of another dog), but I am pleased to say we’re having some enjoyable walks. Today’s, for example.

Zoey still has an alpha attitude, but she’s older and wiser (and a little less strong). I’m grateful we can give our old girl the gift of a daily walk.




Coco, RIP


Joined the family August 18, 2005
Said goodbye November 17, 2016

You came to us as Cocoa, and Wildebeest changed that to Coco.
Over the years you were our Coco Sue, Susan, and Speckled Snake Dog.
No matter the name, you were always our funny friend
with the big eyes and catfish whiskers.
You could run faster and see farther than anyone,
and now you can do that forevermore.
Plus eat all the poop you want.

Rest in peace, Coco Sue.


Hey ho! Let’s Go!

Okay, this is a stretch.
Coco isn’t a Ramones fan
and she doesn’t sing Blitzkrieg Bop.


This expression, as she stands at the door waiting to be let inside for dinner, just screams HEY! HO! LET’S GO!Coco

Or maybe I’m projecting a punk attitude on her because I know how when that door opens she’ll run inside and her back legs will go out from under her as she negotiates the turn to her food dish. Pure mosh pit enthusiasm.

Hey! Ho!





Friday Five: The New-to-Me Edition

ONE: The right headlight on our 2004 Prius went out and Zippy fixed it with a new bulb (something he’s done four times over the years, thanks to the kindness of people who post YouTube how-to’s).

New bulb in the old car.

New bulb in the old car.







We replaced our garbage disposal splash guard (taking only three trips to the stores to find the correct size), again thanks to the kindness of people sharing DIY knowledge.

My new view from above.

My new view from above.








THREE: One night this week Zippy and I watched WILD, the movie based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, and an image from that film that’s stayed with me is Cheryl writing in her journal and then tearing out the page after it’s filled, and feeding it to the campfire.

WILD movie






FOUR: One of our two old dogs is suddenly walking like a drunken sailor and yesterday the vet told us Coco is (hopefully) suffering from “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease, so she’s now on some medication and we’re hoping she’s soon upright and back to herself.

Coco's got a new tilt to her head.

Coco’s got a new tilt to her head.










FIVE: Last fall Zippy and I dug out the raised bed on our patio that had been destroyed by our two old dogs, and replanted it with new perennials (before adding a barrier fence to keep out Coco and Zoey), and the new plants are poking through.

A new penstemon has joined the garden.

A new penstemon has joined the garden.

One Very Average Dog

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”
~ Andy Rooney

Zoey and Lebowski 002Zoey, of the unconditional love and bad breath, is at the vet’s right now receiving a “senior exam.” I’m hoping I’m wrong about what I sense. Either way, I’m leaving now to pick her up and bring her home to her best friend, Coco. The reunion will result in tail-wagging that would sting my legs if I was foolish enough to get in the way.magpie, coco, and zoey 012

Ties That Bind (Up Your Mind)

At the end of May, Zebu graduated from high school and was one of the speakers. The ceremony was held at Red Rocks Amphitheater (coolest place ever!), but we were seated halfway up the venue so had to rely on the Jumbotron. (Aside: It was a thrill seeing Zebu and friends on the big screen.)

My older brother and his girlfriend also attended, sitting even farther from the stage. Later on, he told me he couldn’t see a whole lot of details but did notice Zebu’s red tie beneath his black gown. I reminded my bro he’d given Zebu that tie for Christmas one year (along with white gym socks), thinking that was a cool factoid. NOT. Rather than feeling warm and nostalgic, my brother panicked a bit because he had no memory of that and went into a short tailspin about getting old and forgetful. I eventually helped the silly codger to a chair and handed him a glass of milk to calm his nerves, and we laughed it off.

Fast forward to today. I just found photographic proof of the tie AND gym socks. Behold, Christmas eve 2005:

l-r: Wildebeest, Zoey, Tracy, Coco, Zebu, and Uncle Pizza.

l-r: Wildebeest, Zoey, Tracy, Coco, Zebu, and Uncle Pizza.

I’m thrilled with this evidence, but am not sure whether it will soothe or further agitate my brother’s mind . . .


Friday Five: The Farewell-to-Lebowski Edition

On Wednesday, July 10, we said goodbye to Lebowski. We adopted The Dude (known as “Harry” on his adoption papers) from the Dumb Friends League in November of 2004. I went to the shelter with the intent of adopting another female cat (I’d had two females before, Diva and Isis), and instead ended up with the friendliest (male) cat I’d ever met.

Lebowski would run ahead of us and flop down on the floor, inviting us to rub his tummy. At which time, he’d purr in the loudest tones. Writhing in ecstasy.Lebowski 027Making that constant contactWhen people came to the house, he’d hang back a minute or two but then stroll out to make introductions. Lebowski viewed everyone as potential friends and ear-scratchers.Batman and Lebowski 002He had a good relationship with Coco (pictured below) and Zoey, the two shelter dogs we adopted in the year after he joined us. He tolerated their sniffing and nuzzling, and he repaid them with friendly swats on their heads from where he perched atop their crates.Dogs and Cat 026This summer was The Gift of Lebowski. Expectations were that he’d die in May but he stayed with us for almost another ten weeks. I spent most of the summer with him. Lots of time on the bed or couch, but increasingly either on the deck, the patio, or wandering the backyard. He had quality of life as he watched (and sometimes chased) the butterflies and stalked beetles. In the final days, he was happy to curl up beneath the yarrow and valerian where he could observe everything around him. Lebowski 004I like to say that Lebowski won the lottery when we brought him home because for the rest of his life he had four devoted friends who loved on him and satisfied his hedonism. But that lottery feeling went both ways. I’m forever grateful the female cat I’d picked out to meet/adopt didn’t want anything to do with me and that the shelter volunteer then said, “You know who’s a really nice cat you should meet . . .”

Words can’t do him justice.

Friday Five: The Pain Management Edition

1) Coco’s acute back pain troubles have greatly improved, but it’s a fine balance between managing her pain and keeping her from feeling so good that she does dumb things like jump from the back of the car before I can stop her. Right after a massage session.

2) Due to lifting Coco and the stress of her ongoing health issues, I’m now experiencing back pain that isn’t alleviated by yoga but is improved by treadmill running.  Hooray?

3) We’re gathering estimates for a roof replacement and already feel enormous pain in our bank account that is further exacerbated by the fact that the roofing materials we can afford are bad for the planet. Asphalt shingles = nasty.

4) This morning while removing Zebu’s bread from toaster oven, the slice fell onto the heating element and burst into flames. Ouch.

5) Okay, that last one was just silly. It’s not as if I burned my hand or stabbed myself with the knife I used to remove the flaming bread. Who am I trying to kid?!

And on that note, here’s a dapper little House Finch on this late-February Friday:Bird shots 025

Wishing everyone a wonderful, pain-free weekend!

Dog Ache

Our Coco is suffering some mystery ailment now, crying out in pain associated with her right back leg. It came on suddenly Tuesday at 5 p.m., and the vet doesn’t have a diagnosis.

Our vet is also our neighbor, and she just took Coco with her to the clinic for further examination.

I want to know what’s wrong, and yet, I don’t want to know. I’ve had many canine companions over the years, and I’m not ready for another round of break-your-heart-in-two.

Coco 003

A Tale of Three Sweaters

Years ago, my mother bought me a multi-colored wool sweater from L.L. Bean. I wore it often when substitute teaching in Anchorage, and sometimes felt too warm but still loved it because wool seems to provide a psychological barrier against cold and dark. At least, that’s how I see it.

A year or two later, I purchased a longer/larger wool sweater while at the Alaska State Fair. It was made with different shades of blue and purple yarn, and every time I put it on, remembered that day at the fair. Specifically, riding the Scrambler with Zippy, laughing while our friends Anne and Jim (who I hoped to make a couple) rode in another car and blushingly struggled to maintain some distance between them as the laws of physics smushed them together.

About ten years ago I went to the People’s Fair in Denver on a hot, hot summer day and, in a fit of counter-intuitive behavior, tried on wool sweaters. I ended up buying a black and white one that was handmade in Ecuador, a stunning sweater that came with a jaunty little hat. I couldn’t wait for the temperatures to drop. Later that winter I wore my new sweater across the street to my neighbors’ house where a bunch of people shouted SURPRISE! and squirted me with silly string to help celebrate my 40th birthday.

Beautiful sweaters, all.

I kept them in my closet in Anchorage and then here in Colorado, up on a shelf for easy access. Then one day I decided to put them in a zippered bag and store that bag in a bin beneath my bed. Last weekend I got cold and went to the storage bin for my large made-in-Alaska sweater. I pulled it out and put it on, thinking something felt different.  As I walked back down the hallway, a wooden button dropped from the sweater. I ran my hands over the wool and realized it’d changed.


Apparently I’d sealed my sweaters away for safekeeping with a moth who got very lucky. And very busy.

I said goodbye to those glorious wool sweaters and threw them in the garbage, encased in their zipper bag. However, I’m still having difficulty getting that imagery and tactile sensation out of my mind, and it doesn’t help that I found a caterpillar in my cleavage a few minutes after putting on the sweater. (Like I said, EWW!)

All that’s left is my little hat.  Still out on the deck because I’ve been afraid to bring it back inside. Here it is in all it’s Ecuadoran wool glory:

Wool hat 001But now that I’ve handled it in order to get a photo, maybe I’m brave enough to give it another chance in the house.  I’m not yet ready to wear it, though.  Perhaps it should be my gift to Coco.

Wool hat 004


Vote Against Romney or Vote My Conscience?

Several years ago I decided I would not, could not vote for Obama again.
Not because I believe Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim Socialist who was
once The Most Liberal Senator Ever; there are boatloads of facts refuting each of these
claims and I wish people would either do the research or shut the hell up.
Really, it’s disheartening to share citizenship with so many people who
grasp at faux issues rather than recognize that our two-party system is offering us
two candidates who operate right-of-center and are both bent on creating an oligarchy.
The differences between Obama and Romney** are mostly a matter of degrees (see the Foreign Policy debate for their Israel love-fest, Iran hate-fest, and who-would-use-more-predator-drones-to-kill-more-Muslims-fest).

Here’s a partial, reality-based list of reasons for my anger at Obama:
climate change inaction
predator drone murders
assassination of US citizens without due process
the Tuesday morning kill list
war on whistleblowers
“Grand Bargain” to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security
income inequality
Wall Street profits
blocked investigation/prosecution of torture
record number of immigrant deportations
Not to mention, the oft-cited truth that while Republicans fear their base,
Democrats hate their base.

There are many other reasons, some less quantifiable than others.
For instance, Obama’s betrayal of young people’s hope and involvement
after he rode in on an overwhelming mandate and then squandered the
opportunity for positive action, thereby creating mass disillusionment.

Also, the fawning Democratic establishment that thinks as long as it’s
a so-called Democrat in the White House, all actions are justifiable (even
those actions that caused outrage when committed by a Republican president).

And a related item: as a result of that Democratic denial, a lack of an opposition party
which means Obama reacts to extremists and continues to move the discussion/policies
to the right with few in power willing to call him out on this, much less put up roadblocks.

After living through what is essentially Bush’s third term, my thinking was I’d be a hypocrite
if I voted for Obama after raging against the Bush administration’s policies for eight years.
I would definitely vote for either Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson or Green Party
candidate Jill Stein.

Then I read Daniel Ellsberg’s piece on why angry progressives in swing states should vote
against Romney/Ryan by voting for Obama. I have huge respect for Ellsberg
as a whistleblower and an anti-war activist, and his words carry tremendous weight
with me. If this nation’s most famous whistleblower believed it was in the country’s
best interest to reelect the president who has prosecuted more whistleblowers
than all previous presidents combined, I needed to think hard about my vote.
After much thought, I decided I’d vote “for” Obama.

(Coco doesn’t care about the election, but I thought she’d provide a fun break in the text.)

That decision only lasted several days. Because then I read Matt Stoller’s piece
making the progressive case against Obama, and I remembered all over why
I didn’t want to cast a vote in Obama’s favor. I would vote Anderson or Stein.

But then I read Dan Froomkin’s article about the betrayal of progressive activists working on a multitude of issues. These are people who devote their lives to activism and who were shut down by the Obama administration, yet some of them believe it’s still best to reelect Obama rather than Romney. If they could swallow their disappointment and keep fighting Obama on those issues, maybe I could, too. After all, the LGBT community put the pressure on him and he finally came out in support of gay marriage (a HUGE step and one for which I give Obama absolute credit.)

Tomorrow is election day and I still don’t know how I’ll vote.

I have never been more conflicted about a presidential vote in my entire life.
I have always been disappointed in the candidates and have always voted the
“lesser of two evils,” but I don’t know if I can do that again.

But no matter what, I will cast a vote for president.
(And I can only hope if Obama loses Colorado by one vote,
Zebu doesn’t keep his promise to throw a rock at my head).

**While it’s true Romney/Ryan are bat-shit crazy regarding women’s reproductive rights,
the Democrats are always willing to use women’s health issues as a bargaining chip
so I’m not convinced it’s a big enough reason to vote against my conscience on every other issue when the Dems happily enable the erosion of women’s reproductive rights.

Friday Five: The Slice of Life Edition

1)  Whenever fifteen-year-old Zebu winks at me, I swing between feelings of admiration and intimidation since I’ve never felt confident enough of my winking ability to do so.

image from

2)  At my suggestion eighteen-year-old Wildebeest is reading Stephen King’s MISERY, and enjoying himself mightily.

3)   Zoey and Coco want me to remember that when I choose to bathe them and
spray them with water, I must be prepared for the relationship to suffer a loss of trust.

© Tracy Abell 2012

4)  Zippy is reading a library e-copy of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, a 944-page
novel, and was thrilled to discover even though his copy is overdue he can
still read it as long as he doesn’t close the file.

5)  I’ve been battling flu-like symptoms much of the week but plan to get
on the treadmill in a couple hours for my cardio workout, and hope to feel
those “endolphins” kick in (so I’m, in the words of Zippy, “swimming in the dolphin tank.”)

image from

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend!

Clematis Monday


Here’s what’s growing on around here (get it? "growing on"?)

I crack me up.

This is the largest profusion of clematis blooms ever seen on this patio,
due to the sad demise of the neighbors’ crab apple tree which hung over 

this corner of the patio until the tree was mortally injured in an ice storm.


This next clematis plant is also blooming more than usual due to Coco 
not barking through the fence at the neighbors’ dogs quite as much this year.
Less barking = less trampling.
Good dog, Coco!
This clematis isn’t blooming any more than usual, but it is alive. We feared 
the closest plant to it had mysteriously died this winter (along with the vinca plants) 
but has recently greened up so maybe we’re witnessing a rebirth.
Well, friends, thank you for touring my patio with me.
If you care to join me, I’ll be out there in a bit with my morning coffee.

Coco’s Nightmare


Coco: Last night Zippy had a dream Tracy let a bunch of otters into the house.
Apparently, I didn’t much like them.

                                                                                                                                                    © Wildebeest 2011

Can you blame me?

                                                     image from                                                                                                               

Blogs or Revisions?


I’ve been scarce around here and am popping in to say
I’m thinking of everyone
but am putting my time/energy/focus into some revisions.

I don’t like neglecting my online community
but feel it’s best for my emotional/writerly health to keep forging ahead.
I’m making progress and that is good for my soul.

Know that I’m thinking of you and wishing happy stuff all the way around!

Here’s a Coco pic to make you smile:

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me what she’s thinking.

Revisions R Us


In case anyone wonders where I am today,
I’m hunkered down in the revision cave.

Thank you for the kind words of support yesterday.
I made progress and feel good about it even though I feel a bit like this. . .

                                                                                           © 2010 Tracy Abell

(I don’t, however, have the catfish-like facial hair and anyone who says different is lying).

Ooh, ooh that smell

Can’t you smell that smell?

I gave this dog three baths today.
Coco’s apparently the kind of dog who doesn’t just like skunk-stink on her face.
She likes the full-body experience.
She found leftover skunk-stench in the yard and rolled in it.  Twice.

Coco is Wildebeest’s dog.
Doesn’t that make perfect sense?

Anyway, he helped with this last bath.
When we finished he said, "That was no fun at all.  Not even a good bonding moment."

I didn’t say anything but between you and me, I felt a bond.