Along Came The Muse. Enter the Tibetan Terrier

My theory is you shouldn’t apologize for believing in an idea-channeling muse. You should just be sure to feed her.” ― Laurie Seidler


The dogs of my life. I counted them one day and I came up with eleven. Twelve if you count Teal, the dog who dropped in for a visit and left four years later. As she was the one my husband liked best, I think I do need to count her, too. Twelve dogs who trotted gaily thorough my life strewing joy in their paths, beginning with Teddy who showed up shortly after I learned to walk. More than once we had several living with us.

“You know, I think I like dogs better than I like most people,” I once told my Aunt Joan. She studied me carefully for a minute as if to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind and then said, “Who doesn’t?” So now you can see that I am one of those writers who will always slip in a dog or two.

Two years ago in September we made the decision to let Grace, our English cocker spaniel, go. It was a hard decision but in the end it was kind. “Never, never, never again. No more dogs,” I said, through my heartbroken tears. My husband actually snorted. Really, he snorted.

We went to Ireland in November and there in Phoenix Park, Dublin we met a dog.

Murphy the dog from Phoenix Park

Murphy the dog from Phoenix Park

“Is that a miniature sheep dog?” I asked the gentleman at the other end of the lead.

Clearly affronted, he drew back and told me with no small degree of umbrage, “No. He is a Tibetan Terrier.”

Never having heard of the breed, I asked. “Is he friendly?”

Disgusted now, the man said, “Murphy, go say hello to the lady.”

We came back from our trip and I began to hunt…not that I wanted a dog but…there was something about these Tibetan Terriers.

Some times things happen as they are meant to. In December, I discovered Gamine Tibetan Terriers in Blandford, Massachusetts. Cute dogs…very cute dogs. But there’s more. Gamine Tibetan Terriers are neighbors of my husband’s cousin…really. And there’s more. A litter had been born the very day I checked the Gamine website. An unusually large litter so, yes, I could have a puppy.

And along came The Muse.IMG_1303

Her name is actually Arleigh Burke. Yes, I know it’s a man’s name but we thought we were getting a boy and then suddenly it was The Muse, already exerting her powers.

My husband retired from the Navy with the rank of commander. All three of our dogs have been named for U.S. Navy admirals: Halsey, Hopper and now,  Arleigh Burke, because, of course, an admiral outranks a commander. Every single time.

I have loved all my dogs and they each retain a special place in my heart but The Muse is the smartest. She is also pretty cute.

Her role in my writing process is to show up and inspire.

The Muse inspiring

The Muse inspiring

Midway through writing Francesca’s Foundlings, a black and white Tibetan Terrier whose name is Thatch trotted into the pages while I was writing. You will have to read the book to find out more but I credit his appearance completely to the powers of The Muse.

In Tibet, these dogs were known as ‘the little people” and believed to bring good luck. We treat The Muse like a little person, one with a lot to say, and she has certainly brought us good luck.

You will be seeing more of The Muse here on this blog. So stay tuned.


The Muse

The Muse






For the Love of Grace

You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.—Robert Louis Stevenson (author, Treasure Island)


Admiral Grace 2002 - 2013

Admiral Grace 2002 – 2013

Grace trotted into our lives during a time of great sorrow. Our English Springer Spaniel, Admiral Halsey, had recently died tragically. He was six and half years old. Almost demented with grief, I desperately needed another dog. Grace was available because at the last minute the family she was destined for decided they didn’t want a black dog. Grace was left behind when her brothers and sisters went to their new homes. All her life she was slightly anxious and those two weeks alone with her mother may have been the reason why.

Halsey was a beautiful dog, bearing a striking resemblance to his grandsire, Salilyn’s Condor, who won Best of Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1993. He completed four levels of obedience, earning the equivalent of a PHDog. Grace had big paw prints to fill. Knowing her as I do now, I realize if she had found those paw prints she would have squatted over them, the same way I have seen her squat over Halsey himself in the dog cemetery on Bailey Island.  Grace was not impressed. You could almost see her thinking, Halsey, Halsey, Halsey! Who gives a damn about old Halsey? whenever his name came up.

A smallish English Cocker Spaniel, Grace was not, as they say in the dog world, “typey”.  Her nose was too long, her chest too narrow and her feathers not curly enough.  Grace, however, thought she was “such a pretty girl” because we told her she was and so did the many people who admired her during her walks around the North End of Nashua. We named her Grace, after Admiral Grace Hopper. All our dogs were admirals thus outranking Mike who is a commander.

Serious Grace

Grace distinguished herself in other ways. She failed Obedience Level One and had to repeat it. Ate her Gentle Leader. Never learned “Leave it.” but cleverly taught us to “Trade.” (for food, of course) instead. She was also iffy on “Come.” but would turn up for an obnoxiously loud plastic whistle we used as a last resort. She took the longest of any dog I ever owned to become housebroken, reluctantly agreeing after six months that, okay, the dining room was not part of “outside”. No roll of toilet paper was safe in her presence. When she was bored, she would go seek one out for her amusement. She was the only dog I have ever shared a bed with, causing us to upgrade to a king-size mattress. This did not last long because her idea of sharing consisted of sprawling horizontally between us pushing with all four legs. One of us woke up with a nose in the face and, the other, something worse.

She threw world-class temper tantrums with such force they caused her steel crate to move across the room and had long conversations with us making sounds like the chatter of a monkey. We referred to this as Grace’s “monkey talk”. One weekend before she was a year old she ate two pairs of prescription glasses costing over a thousand dollars. On the positive side, unlike Halsey (Halsey, Halsey, Halsey…) she was willing to dress up. She had several spiffy coats and happily posed for pictures.

Dressed for winter

Dressed for winter

She inherited a dog nanny from Halsey. Devoted to Halsey, Nanny was slow to warm up to Grace (Halsey, Halsey, Halsey…). Grace chose to ignore this and with her needle nose wormed herself straight into Nanny’s heart. Every Tuesday and Thursday, she would wait for the sound of Nanny’s bike bell and off they would go on an adventure.

She started licking the air when she was four; her long pink tongue, reminiscent of a frog’s, repeatedly flicking in and out of her mouth. This can be a sign of serious neurological problems so we took her to see Dr. Lisa Anderson, her vet. Nothing was physically wrong but it seemed Grace had “issues”.  Dr. Anderson sent us to a specialist in animal behavior, otherwise known as The Dog Shrink.

In my writing, I often explore relationships between men and women. How do you know if a man loves you? When Mike agreed to sit for a two and half hour session of family counseling while Grace slumbered on the floor at our feet, I knew for certain he loved me. (He still has no idea what that appointment cost.)  The Dog Shrink felt that Grace needed to bond with Mike. She was confused about the order of our pack. Mike needed to be the one to get up with her, feed her and walk her until her confusion cleared up. Because he loved me, he did, balking only at the suggestion that, at first, he loop her leash through his belt and take her everywhere, including the office. Grace figured it out. Every morning from then on they shared a banana unless the person responsible for the banana purchase screwed up. Mike made sure that Grace understood who that person was. As for the air licking, it was her way of coping with stress, and as a coping strategy, The Dog Shrink considered it to be very benign. She implied we should be careful not to cause the dog any stress!

Three years ago Nanny decided Grace needed a cat for companionship. We had a cat when Grace arrived but she was long gone. Nanny and I went off to the Humane Society and found PeekABoo, soon shortened to Booder. Within two weeks, Booder owned Grace.  Grace had several dog beds scattered throughout the house. The fancy wicker bed with the sheepskin in front of the fireplace in the living room was her first choice  as a spot to snooze. Booder liked it, too, much to Grace’s dismay. On the days Booder got there first, Grace would sit and stare at Booder who in turn would stare back only moving if I inserted myself and told her to get out of the dog’s bed.  On rare sub-zero winter days they would share.IMG_6532


Two years ago, I pointed out to Dr. Anderson that the top of the nails on Grace’s left rear foot were scraped. Sometimes, on our walks I would hear the sound of her nails dragging on the sidewalk. Dr. Anderson checked her reflexes and confirmed they were slow in her left hind leg. She said it was probably a sign of degenerative disk disease. “And where does this lead?” I asked. “Over time to paralysis.” she said.  There was a surgery. It was very expensive, the recovery was at least six months and the end results were often not ideal. “Is she in pain?” I asked. I was assured she was not. I decided not to put my neurotic air-licking ten year-old dog through it and the doctor supported my decision.

The following year the weakness in her leg became more noticeable. Dr. Anderson suggested we could try acupuncture and sent us off to Dr. Gretchen Ham. Grace loved Dr. Anderson but she adored Dr. Ham whose beautiful office on top of a New Hampshire mountain felt more like a study in a country house. Indifferent to the handful of needles Dr. Ham stuck in her back, Grace loved the ultrasound machine the doctor ran up and down her spine. She would tip her head back and croon sounds of pure joy. Dr. Ham gave us another good year.

In November we put a gate on the stairs going to the second floor after Grace took a terrible fall from which she walked away, although I don’t know how. By June, I knew. Her right leg began to give way on her, too. Mike and I noticed that her vision was deteriorating and Dr. Anderson confirmed cataracts advising against surgery. Grace slept more and more both here and in Maine. Nanny shortened her walks, letting Grace meander where she wanted. Having avoided the sun her entire black dog life, she took to basking in its heat  while sprawled in the grass sometimes rolling over to rub her back, her now silver ears spread out around her. She began falling more and more, both forward and backward, sometimes all four legs would go out from under her. I began to dread opening the crate in the morning afraid this would be the morning she would not be able to come out.

Sometimes, she seemed confused when she woke up. Not sure where she was or who we were. I had two tearful conversations with Dr. Anderson. She told me she could not make the decision for me but that in her professional opinion people err on the side of waiting too long. On Tuesday, I watched Grace fall backwards in a heap three times trying to get out of her bed, only to walk five feet and sink to the floor.  I don’t know if she was in actual pain but at that moment I knew for certain life was very hard for her. I knew the question was not how much Grace loved me – I never doubted that – but how much I loved her. I realized that even though my heart was breaking, I loved her enough to let her go.

Last Wednesday, Dr. Anderson gave Grace a sedative and she fell asleep in my arms and then we sent her on her way. The last words she heard were,  “Mama loves Grace.”

I know that many organized religions believe that animals don’t have souls and don’t go on to a better place. These same religions make a point of telling you that God is love. Anyone who has ever been loved by an animal knows that love is pure, unselfish and true. I believe that Grace ran toward the light arriving in a place filled with sunshine, soft grass and mountains of marrow bones there for the snatching. I hope that when my time comes I am judged worthy of joining her and that some times before I get there she cocks her head and remembers: Mama loves Grace.


Our beloved Gracie – how we miss her.












The Eleventh Hour

“Why can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like when they like and as they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them?” ― Kenneth Grahame

This weekend I found myself alone with two perfect June days to spend doing exactly as I wished. My partner in crime had gone off to an academic conference leaving me with the gift of forty-eight unobserved hours.

My initial plan, after dropping him off Saturday morning at the Park and Ride, was to be very productive. I had a list. It was long. It had things on it like wash the kitchen floor.

Returning home, I let Grace out before I officially commenced to get to work. Grace will be eleven in January and she is failing. She suffers from progressive disk disease in her spine. It hurts me to say it, but I suspect this may be her last summer.

She was blissfully unaware of my dark thoughts as I watched her gambol through the grass, nose down in search of Fink, the woodchuck, who grudgingly allows me to have a leaf of lettuce when I beat him into the garden. Satisfied that her fierce presence had forced him to retreat to whatever dark fortress he hangs out in, she threw herself on her back in the sun and rolled back and forth, obviously delighted.

Grace looking for Fink the woodchuck

I thought, “Why not?”  I took my list and ripped it in half. I spent the two days meandering. I deadheaded the roses, and I went for two long walks, one with Grace and one with a friend. I read the book I plan to review this Friday. I sat in the sun and did nothing at all.

The perfect spot

I thought about possibilities for plot twists in Francesca’s Foundlings and about the essay I am thinking of submitting to a magazine competition later this summer. It was an unhurried two days of not doing anything I didn’t want to do. It was wonderful and I highly recommend you try it.

A lot is written today about living in the moment. Sitting on the patio reading and writing, I kept one eye on Grace remembering the advice the dog nanny had wisely given to me when I told her sadly that we were almost at the twelfth hour with Grace.

“We’re not there yet. It’s only the eleventh hour. There will be plenty of time to mourn later, now you should just enjoy the eleventh hour with her while you can.”  So often in my life, focused on the future, I have missed it.

This summer watching my sweet old Gracie, I intend to savor ever moment.

Grace enjoying her eleventh hour


What Do You Want to Be?

It’s time to start living the life you imagined.” Henry James

What is it that you wish you were that you are not? Regardless of how old you are, I know that there is something. We all have a secret list of “I want to be…”s.

One of the things that consistently shows up on my list is to be a gardener. Yes, that’s right I want to be a gardener. Every time I turn the corner of the street leading to my own, I am reminded of this. I live in a gardening neighborhood. Everywhere I look there are beautiful and unique gardens. The neighbor in the house on the corner gardens in the rain and drives a serious lawn tractor. She also has beautiful weed-free garden beds. I want to be her.

My fellow homeowner is a natural, if somewhat haphazard, gardener so we do actually have gardens, largely his creation. But, I want to garden, too.  And I have tried, both in this house and in others I have lived in, with limited success.  I don’t really know why. I start strong and then I seem to lose my motivation. Gardening is a lot of work.

Does this ever happen to you? Is there something you have tried to do and never accomplished?  I always wanted to be a writer and now I am. So why can’t I also be a gardener? This year I intend to try.

Several years ago, I planted a shade garden and have continued to expand it  each year with new plants. This garden is composed mostly of Hosta and Heuchera commonly called Coral Bells. I have had moderate success, with the exception of two years ago when all the Hostas were eaten by a plague of slugs. I tried chemicals (bad, I know) salt, and hummus containers filled with beer. Nothing worked. Those disgusting fat slugs just got drunk and kept on chomping.

Shade Garden

My Shade Garden

Here is my current challenge: a jungle of weeds surrounding my Oriental Poppies, We  established this bed several years ago and have neglected it.


The reason that I can't call myself a gardener

I have discovered that gardening is very conducive to writing. It gives you a lot of quiet time to think, create dialogue, and work through plot points.  It turns out that a lot of writers are also gardeners.

My brave and lonely little poppy

The only problem is that Grace keeps disappearing and I have to stop what I am doing to track her down. There is a ground hog the size of a small sheep that lives in the bushes next to the fence. So where is Grace?

Grace hunting ground hogs

I have always believed the first thing to do when you embark on a new role is to dress the part. At least you look like you know what you are doing. I am a dedicated costume person. Here are my latest accessories.

My gardening stuff

Is there anything that you really want to be? If so, why not go for it?