High Aptitude

“You need to think about where you want to go.”

“I want to be an artist.”

“Pshaw. We’re going up to Denver for you to take an aptitude test at the VA.”


“They won’t pay for your college if you aren’t going in a direction that makes sense according to their test.”

“What? Those tests are bogus.” (Actually they are not but at 18 I knew more than anyone else had ever known anywhere at any time.)

Drive, drive, drive. Park. Go in. Sit down. Take multiple choice “test”. Wait for scores. Scores come out. Lowest, office work and food service. Highest, forest ranger. Semi-high — in order — creative work, news reporter, writer, lawyer, newscaster, teacher.

“Miss Kennedy,” says the counselor, “you have a lot of possibilities. You need to find the right direction. The VA will pay for any of these majors.” The list says “Journalism, English, education.”

Nowhere does it say Forest Ranger.

Over the years I sent a lot of students to get that vey same aptitude test — the Strong Interest Inventory. I usually sent them when they confided to me they didn’t want to major in business or engineering or something that their parents had set them on. Sometimes they were REALLY in the wrong major. Sometimes they needed confirmation they were in the right major. Sometimes they said the test was like a horoscope. For a while I argued with them, then I just said, “You’re right. You fill in hundreds of questions about what you like and do not like in order to get your zodiac sign.”

But what no one, no counselor, aptitude test, mom or dad can tell anyone is what lies ahead in life, where the turning points are, or that life is a lot more than whatever your job turns out to be. The best aptitude to have is one for patience combined with a sense of humor. There’s no test for that, as far as I know, other than life itself.


Teddy Update (Nothing Else Going on Around Here and I’m Not Complaining)

There’s a lot of nurturing going on at my house right now. The whole “family” is involved. Yesterday Teddy got his rabies shot which involved picking him up, putting him in Bella, driving to the vet where he joyfully met everyone.

“What a cute little guy!” said my vet as Teddy greeted everyone including the bobtailed cat. “Where’d you get him?”

“The shelter,” I nodded in the direction of the shelter which is right next to the vet. “I’m here to get him rabies shots.” My vet looked at me curiously. Most animals adopted from the shelter get the rabies shot with the neutering. “He gets fixed next week.” Rabies shots are 3x more expensive at my vet than as part of the package deal with neutering at the other vet in town who has a contract with the shelter to neuter adopted animals.

“I didn’t want to wait,” I said. “There are bats.”

My vet looked puzzled. “You know, at night.” I don’t know why, but suddenly it struck me funny, and I pointed to my head. One of the people who works there is an immense Navajo whom I like very much. He’s hilariously funny and kind.

“We got that, Martha,” laughed the Indian.

So Teddy got his exam and was pronounced “Perfect” and “If you decide you don’t want him, give him to me.” Teddy only weighs 24 pounds, less than half the size of the second smallest dog I’ve ever had. Teddy kissed my vet all through the “ordeal” of the shot and the prodding and poking of the exam. The vet thinks Teddy is six months old. I wonder, considering how perfectly (knock on wood) house-trained he is.

After me, my vet had to see a large animal who’d been brought in by trailer, belonging to a young ranching couple. Cow, horse or goat, I don’t know. Next to my vet is a little paddock and bales of hay.

Bear does most of the nurturing work around here and she’s doing brilliantly. They don’t play in the house. She’s tolerant of his obnoxious adolescent sexual advances which are randomly placed and silly. She lets him walk on her, under her, around her — literally all over her. My role is to be a kind, affectionate, mildly aloof benign authority while this goes on, the divine purveyor of treats and meals. He’s learning to sit on the leash without being told, but until he’s neutered it will be hard to keep his attention very long. I’m pleased. In less than a week he’s learned his name, sit, stay, and go to bed.

I have ordered him a head collar which isn’t here yet. I don’t like walking a dog on a neck collar for several reasons, but mostly because when they pull, it chokes them. I also find head-collars make it easier to keep a puppy’s attention.

The only downside is that maybe when winter comes, long rambles alone with Bear won’t be so easy. We’ll see.

Teddy Kennedy Update and a Note on Adopting Shelter Dogs

Long night, but the good news is if Teddy wants out, he makes sure I know it. Yesterday he became my dog for real. I took him back to the shelter for his second worming and to sign the adoption contract. Anyone showing up to claim him now has no claim. I also realized that on his vet records he will be “Teddy Kennedy” which cracked me up. Then the whole “family” went for a “walk” together. I’d describe it, but it would only make sense in “dog” I think. It made no sense in human.

Teddy is a busy happy little guy.

Most of my dogs have been females. Male dogs are a different animal in many ways. I’ve usually had ONE male, and he’s had a “harem.” Dusty lucked out with the harem — three beautiful Siberian husky girls who adored him.

Then, for a while, Dusty’s life wasn’t great because Cody O’Dog didn’t think there should be two male dogs at “his” house, and I had to keep them apart. It got to be a normal thing to be sure they were never in the same room together, or went in or out of the dog run or backdoor at the same time so there was no scuffle for dominance. No one got seriously hurt, but it couldn’t have been fun for Dusty who usually (because he’s a pacifist) got the worst of it. Cody only lived with us a short time which, maybe from Dusty’s perspective, was a lucky break.

Of all my dogs — more than 20 — only Lupo, Dusty and Cody have been/are male. And now, Teddy. Female dogs are easier to house train and generally easier going, BUT if a couple of female dogs get into it it’s not necessarily a short-lived dispute over who “owns” this moment. It can get serious.

So far Teddy is fitting in as well as he can given his nature. He loves learning, is smart like no dog I’ve ever had. This morning I let them out to play and when Teddy thought I should get up, he came to my door and barked. I got up and he was sticking his little paws under the door trying to reach me. Everything with a puppy is training and my good fortune is that he likes it.

As I spend time with him I get more of a sense of what he’s been through. I think he was running loose for a while before whoever tied him up tied him up. He seems to have some scrounging habits. Many of the dogs I’ve had spent some time at a dog shelter.

Any dog from a shelter has a “past.” Sometimes the past was a loving home and a person they loved who died. Sometimes they, like Dusty, suffered something horrible. A lot of dogs are in shelters because people bought cute puppies and didn’t know what to do with them once they got them home; maybe they were surprised they couldn’t take the Siberian husky pup back to the store and exchange it for a goldfish. Sometimes, like Mindy, the dogs in the shelter were ignored and neglected by their humans. Sometimes like Bailey, my friend’s golden retriever, they were used as a breeding animal for a backyard breeder and tied on a short chain or kept in a cage. Some dogs come into shelters from situations even worse than these.

I read an article yesterday about a new “fad” of people going to shelters and asking for the dog who had the “worst past.” I don’t think those people get “dog” nature, though they are moved by lovely compassionate instincts.

Still, that’s an absurd rationale for adopting a dog from a shelter. No dog — not even the one with the “best” past — is in a shelter for fun. In a way, it’s the dog with the best past who should be promptly adopted before shelter life disillusions them, breaks their spirit and leads them to despair — which can happen which is why the shelter where I got Bear and then Teddy was so eager to find homes for those two beautiful, gentle souls.

The point of adopting a dog is to give it a home for the rest of its life. Those people with the beautiful big hearts should learn about the traits in various dog breeds so they have some idea of what to expect, and then search for a dog who will fit in their homes FOREVER.

I know that’s not always easy.

I’ve hired professional trainers to help me teach some of my dogs — including Dusty — to live in the world of people. It’s expensive, but a good idea. I never would have tried it if Jasmine and Lily, two Siberian huskies I adopted from a loving home that was falling apart, hadn’t come to me professionally trained. With them, I saw what that kind of training can do to help a dog from a breed that’s very independent and training resistant, as huskies are. Dusty came to me completely unsocialized and terrified of everything and, therefore, aggressive. I wasn’t living where I could help him with that, so he went to live-in training for six weeks while I rehabbed from my first hip surgery.

When I adopted Cheyenne, a completely untrained Siberian husky, she went to live with my trainer for a month. The trainer tried everything to teach Cheyenne, but finally the only thing that got through to her was a zap collar. In one day, Cheyenne got sit, stay, heel, down and learned one or two tricks. She returned thinking the zap collar (which I never turned on) made her special. It was the promise of treats, walks and attention. She loved it. If I came out the front door with it in my hand, she began dancing around knowing good stuff was happening. The trick is finding a good trainer who honestly loves dogs.

Yesterday, in the car, I discovered Teddy likes music — even my singing. Later on I tried dancing with him and I think we can do something like this — not as good because 1) he’s only an Aussie, not a border collie, and 2) I’m not as mobile as this cowboy. But we’re going to try.


Good Doggone Morning!


Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog has demonstrated her breeding as a livestock guardian dog and her general sweet nature in the last couple of days as Teddy has recovered from sadness and diarrhea. She plays with him until she’s exhausted (he’s not). She’s patient and wise, gently tells him when he’s out of line, and keeps him where he’s supposed to be. I’m not sure she really likes him yet, but she understands that he’s here to stay.

They’re cute. Bear is SO MUCH BIGGER than Teddy, but he puts his head down in classic Australian shepherd fashion and “herds her” outside to play. I think it’s really cool. I’ve seen these dogs work as partners with a herd of sheep — really one of the beautiful things life has offered me to watch.

I let them out this morning hoping to sleep a little more (I didn’t, I worried with my bedroom door closed). I left the backdoor open so they could go in and out of the house. I had no idea what I’d find when I got up, but when I opened my bedroom door, I found a house with everything where it is supposed to be and three happy dogs telling me “Good morning.”

I gave Bear a break from puppy-sitting this morning and left Teddy outside so she, Dusty and I had a few minutes of quiet time with the RDP and coffee. Insider tip: buy stock in whatever company makes the rawhide pencils I give my dogs.

Otherwise, I’m just waiting on the edits for the China book. It’s good Teddy arrived now. I’m kind of looking for a blog tour for it — any suggestions? As always and ever my $$ is limited. I’d also love reviewers so if you’re interested in the subject — which is simply (and I mean simply) the experiences of ONE person in ONE city in the People’s Republic of China during ONE year (1982/83) teaching English, let me know. It’s not more than that, but I think it’s a good story. I’m thinking of putting together advanced reading copies for Kindle. I’m thinking of going whole-hog with this book, including a book launch in a Denver bookstore. I think that young woman who went to China deserves it.

P.S. If you are thinking of getting a dog, get two. You’ll have half the work. Get one, acclimate it to your lifestyle and socialize it well. Then get another. They’ll have friends that way, you won’t have to start from ground zero with dog number two. I had no idea about that until I got my first real dog, Truffle, then, when she was older, I got her a puppy. Training Truffle was a lot of work. Training Molly was not nearly as difficult. Dogs are conformists and they look to each other to know what to do in the “den.”

Truffle and Molly, 1987


Teddy Bear Day Three

It looks like Teddy will be staying and I’m very happy about it. This morning I got up and put them all outside, shut the back door and went to bed. When I got up for “reals,” it was clear they’d all be playing hard. I was very happy. I got Teddy as a playmate for Bear. At first Bear’s nose was out of joint and she sulked in the back yard

I got to see them play this afternoon — it’s pretty funny to watch a giant breed livestock guardian dog play with a small mini-Aussie puppy. First they chase each other, then they wrestle. Teddy needs to be neutered, and it’s obvious in his play strategy which starts with him humping Bear, Bear walking away and laughing in his face. There’s no way he can dominate her.

I think dog play is good for dogs. It develops good manners in puppies, entertains them and makes them tired. I’ve felt bad that Bear has had no playmate since she moved here. Dusty also appears to want to play, but he’s bad at it. I also noticed he is protective of the puppy which astonishes and pleases me.

They get very dirty in the yard they’ve customized which is OK. It’s a chance for me to teach Teddy to like getting his face washed.

This afternoon, we took our third walk and practiced “stop/sit” commands again. Teddy met the kids at the end of the block, and that was great. We haven’t seen them in a while so Bear and I were also happy to find them outside. They loved Teddy but in their eyes NOTHING compares to Bear.

Teddy is younger than I first thought which is fine. Someone already did the hard work of housebreaking a male dog (thank you unknown person) and I just have to teach him good manners in the house and with people. He has Australian shepherd nature which means he’s loyal to his person. I went out to get the mail and found he’d climbed up on one thing that would allow him to look outside to watch what I was doing — the coffee table. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t be angry. I just have to teach him that’s not OK and an easy way to do that is to put barriers there.

I’d say so far we’re happy he’s here. Bear has her hiding place from him, his from her and Dusty has the potential to be VERY assertive (which I want to avoid), but so far it’s just been a very clear, “No!” when Teddy trespasses Dusty’s space.



Discovering all those letters I sent my mom from China was a huge surprise. I thought I’d thrown out everything in the Great Purge of 2015. Writing the blog posts about my experiences was fun. Transforming them into something like a coherent book was difficult. Integrating the letters was emotionally intense and when I was finished, I was drained, exhausted.

It’s very strange meeting yourself after 35 years or more and that’s essentially what happened.

Some of what I found was inspiring, some was simply informative, some of it showed me how consistent I have been through time. We are more than the sum of our experiences. We’re also something intrinsically, fundamentally.

Most of all I saw how deeply I loved China.

I also saw the virtue of ignorance — if I’d known more about China and its history leading up to 1982, I might not have gone. But I didn’t know, so I was open to being told by the people around me. In my mind was a vague memory about the Cultural Revolution and, of course, the Beatle’s song, “Revolution,” but as none of that had any meaning to me as a teenager in Colorado Springs, I didn’t pay attention.

When I returned from China I literally read everything I could find, had friends in China send me books, went to LA’s Chinatown to buy books, had a friend in Macao send me books and used the library at San Diego State. I desperately wanted to know where I’d been. It was important, ultimately, to do all that learning away from China and away from the influence and commentary of my Chinese friends who’d all grow up “under the Red Flag.”

For a while I felt that I’d really failed my life since the only great thing I’ve done was go to China for a year, the only adventure but then I thought more about that. What’s an adventure? Yeah, I have regrets over many of the choices I made. I think that’s just part of living long enough to be able to look at your own life as if it were a book. We make some choices because we really don’t know better, or don’t have a clear view of our essential selves, or think we’ll live forever and have time to make it up.

This is the third book I’ve written about my life. All of them are show a character who’s utterly consistent. It’s interesting because several years ago I never imagined writing about my own life experiences. I thought writing memoir was self-indulgent and self- important. Again, a completely consistent aspect of my personality. The very thing I mock or say I would never do is probably the next thing on my agenda.

The most wonderful thing I found in all those letters was this. You need to know my mom didn’t want my brother or I to be artists. She said over and over “Art is a four letter word in this house.” But, the poor woman gave birth to two artists. She thought all artists were Van Gogh, insane geniuses who couldn’t be happy and who sliced off their ears. Still, I wrote her this:

“Dear Mom, I think art (you can cover your ears if you don’t want to hear about A-R-T) if it’s any good has to be about something. If you just stay in the same place and do the same things always you’ll write one story and make once picture over and over and over…so maybe I’m in the process of preparing to make something.” October 13, 1982

Night One with Teddy Bear T. Dog

I woke up this morning to what looked like it might be Facebook drama, but…

The woman who found the little dog, Teddy for now, was upset to find that someone had already adopted him. She said she wanted him. She did everything right. She took him into her home when she found him tied up at 7-11. She advertised that she had him in case his owners were looking. She took him to the shelter when no one claimed him so he’d have a better chance of being found. Most of all, she loved him. The one thing she should have done was tell the shelter she would adopt him if no one came to get him.

So I woke up this morning to find my friends (real life not only FB) fighting gently for my right to keep him. The woman backed down, but I see it as a good thing. Right now he’s doing everything he can to fit in. He bugs Bear a little — she’s jealous, he’s small and she’s disgusted. Dusty is pretty OK with him — I think even likes him — (Dusty just sat on Teddy who didn’t care), but both big dogs are clearly waiting to see what’s going on, as am I. Only Teddy is not waiting. He lives here.

So the way this situation looks to me is that if it doesn’t work by Tuesday, Teddy will still have a loving home.

I think Teddy is a lucky dog.

This is my first (only?) foster dog. I think people like Cara Achterberg who foster dogs, give over their homes to dogs having puppies, and love and train them, over and over are heroes. I don’t know if I could do it. But I can see doing it for dogs like Teddy who should not be at a shelter, even a really nice and loving one like we have in Monte Vista. It’s packed.

Teddy is so smart. I haven’t had a dog like this in a while, but it’s fun to see him pay attention and then, next time, respond as I want him to. Dogs like Bear or Siberian huskies are not really “trainable.” They have strong instincts that inform their identity, and they are exceedingly independent because they have “work” to do. Training dogs like that means one has to consider that. Aussies’ strong instinct is to take instructions from people. Last night I took them all outside to pee. I’ve taught all my dogs that peeing is a trick and they will pee on command. At times that’s been fun to watch, like when I had six dogs. On a rainy night, I’d take them out, tell them to pee, they’d get in a circle, all facing outward (guarding for predators while they were in that vulnerable position) and pee in unison. It was hilarious and also very cool to watch.

Last night I took these three out. I haven’t done that “trick” much with Dusty and Bear because they know the drill, but Teddy doesn’t. So out we went and just like he’d lived here forever, Teddy joined in. It’s instinctive behavior for dogs in a pack and I was happy to see how Teddy perceives himself.

I think part of this is working because Teddy is small and non-threatening AND he’s an intact male (at this point). I suspect Dusty and Bear are both acknowledging his superior maleness. Wednesday or Thursday he’ll be neutered.

Bear’s Friend?!

Last Saturday I cleaned out the garage and found letters I’d sent my mom from China. I also found three “stories” I’d written back then, one about traveling to Hainan Island, one the script that went with the (long? tedious? boring?) slide show we gave friends and family, and one a proposal for an article. I told my editor to throw out the manuscript I’d sent her. Then I read everything I’d written so long ago and edited my manuscript. I was surprised to find I’d remembered things well. What was more surprising was that the stories I was telling back then are the same ones I’ve written this year. Somehow that made me very happy.

And, I made a book trailer last weekend.

It’s finished again and just at the moment when I saw the end in sight, yesterday, I saw a dog posted by the local dog shelter. I went to see him and he seems perfect for my “family.” He’s a mini-Aussie who looks very much like my dog, Mindy (RIP). He was “advertised” as a Bernese/heeler mix, so I was expecting a MUCH larger dog and was delighted when I saw him. I’ve loved this breed for years. I’ve had two regular sized Aussies and an Aussie mix and they’re great — smart, alert, cooperative, adaptable. I think he’ll figure out his place in the family quickly. Dusty’s a lot more stable with the meds he’s on, too.

I’ve been worried about what Bear would do when Dusty joins Lily and the others in the Enchanted Forest. Bear’s never been an only dog. When I saw the dog’s photo on Facebook I thought, “There’s Bear’s friend.”

The shelter has to keep him for five business days, but I’m going to foster him in the meantime. The shelter is packed to overflowing and most of the dogs there are large, the majority pits, which I love, but this little guy isn’t the dog to stay in a place like that long without losing heart. If his owners do step up, that will be fine, too, but it seems they might not. He was found several days ago by a woman in Del Norte who took him in as long as she could and posted daily that she’d found him.

Anyway, I’m going to go get him in a little while. 🙂

Otherwise, I finally planted all the veggies that had become house plants. It’s been a cold spring, though every chilly day was one more won from summer. I know, I’m a weirdo.

Scarlet Emperor beans

I’m not hopeful that the garden will be great this year, but the iris and lilac have been spectacular.

That’s pretty much the view from Heaven. I’ve been reading posts from time to time, but not consistently. I’m sorry. The China book has been very compelling and I’ve loved working on it. Now I have some short stories in mind that I might write here since it has worked so well in the past.

Congratulations to the Rag Tag Daily Prompt on surviving for a year and growing. I remember well how it started and wondering if it would survive more than two weeks, but it did. Take that, WordPress. We didn’t need your stinking’ prompts after all!


It’s been about a month since I last posted and I am honestly glad to have stopped trying to write something interesting every day for my blog.

In the meantime I have finished a draft of the China book and sent it off to Beth Bruno my editor for a critique. The book is a collection of anecdotes and that turned out to be difficult to organize. I really need help with that and fresh eyes, as well, and all they may discover. Meantime I’m sorting photos and I think I have designed a cover.

Lois and her developmentally disabled son were here for the weekend and we went to the Sand Dunes — it was blustery and cold but very beautiful.

Reflection of Mt. Herard in Medano Creek — snow fell lightly while we were there

Otherwise life has gone on as always (and I’m grateful!) — walking the dogs etc. The Rio Grande is higher than I’ve ever seen it from a 160% snow pack — and it snowed again over this past weekend. Not here, much to my and Bear’s dismay, but in the mountains. A few ski areas are still open…

Rio Grande River covering two islands

The garden was getting going, but the cold spell killed a tomato and a basil plant and slowed down everything, still chard and salad are up as are cosmos. The iris are beautiful

So..as you see, not much to report after a month’s hiatus!

My Demonstration

It turns out that the great love of my has been nature. Nothing and no one has given me — or asked from me — anything comparable. The photo above is of me, Dusty and my tree — it’s been my tree since I was fifteen. That tree taught me pretty much everything I have needed to know about faith, perseverance, beauty and survival. A tiny bit of it went into the ground with my dad when he was buried in Montana in 1972.

Me and Cody and my tree

Cody O’Dog and I at my tree in 2010


Back in the day, when people were marching against the War in Vietnam and all manner of things, the only demonstration in which I participated was that of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

I was a senior in high school in Colorado Springs. I had my mom’s car (I don’t remember why). I ditched school with a bunch of my friends and we went to Colorado College in the center of the city. The demonstration was small compared to what I saw on TV in places like Chicago or Detroit or San Francisco. There were a few signs “Save the Earth!” and a banner painted on a sheet. It was a beautiful morning. Some people gave speeches and I don’t remember what they said. I was thrilled at the idea of a movement to clean up the world. I’d chosen the topic of my speech because I didn’t think any other issues really mattered. I’d even had a letter to the editor published in Look Magazine.

When it was over, I drove everyone back to school, doing things in my mom’s car (riding fast over dips and humps in the road trying to catch air) that probably should not have been done in a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500.

At that time, I was also wandering around the State of Colorado attending speech meets, competing in Original Oratory. In this event, student write and present 10 minute original speeches on topics of their choice. Mine was the Earth. Back then there was no EPA, and regulations on companies to protect nature did not exist. A typical day in LA was so smoggy people could not see the sun. It was feared that Lake Michigan was a dead lake. Gas was not yet unleaded; the catalytic converted had not been invented — or was being invented. I wasn’t privy to the latest news on automotive technology at the time. My speech — among other things — taught me that the best way to overcome terror of speaking in public is to believe in your message and its importance to others. It was (in part) wry and ironic, with the kind of sophistication only shared by 17-18 year olds. For example:

“Blue sky does get monotonous. The public spirited people of LA and New York have provided their populations with the opportunity to enjoy something new — a brandy colored atmosphere. Green is a dull, drab, and ugly color, and, since the Grand Canyon is such a lovely place to vacation, why not let everyone live there? Don’t plant grass and support your local bulldozer. Our recreation facilities and National Parks are getting better all the time. It’s much easier to catch a fish if it’s already dead, and with all of the beer cans scattered around Yellowstone Park, everyone feels like he’s back in his own living room.”

I took second place in the state. I was beat out by a kid with an anti-Vietnam war speech.

And I thought this song was GREAT!


But the best part of my little speech was not the part I wrote, but a quotation I took from a speech by Adlai Stevenson. I still think it says everything, and beautifully.

We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from anihilation only by the care, the work, and the love we give our fragile craft.


Butte Falls, Oregon