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Fence Me In


Some people go on vacation. I go to the annual Home Show. Where else can you learn about retractable patio door screens and tiny houses (they’re so cute when they’re little), get a free chiropractic evaluation, and take a dip in the hot tub? “Always take a swimsuit to the Home Show” is my mantra.

Like any tourist, I always come home with souvenirs: pockets full of hard candy, sample tiles, three different textures of bark-o-mulch, a tiny sedum I rescued from the floor, and a buff young man named Paul. That’s right, I picked up a guy, and as I write these words, he is rebuilding part of my fence (in his shirt sleeves even though it’s only 48 degrees this morning—not that I’m complaining, mind you). My whole front fence needs to be replaced, but I can only afford to have work done a little at a time. It’s the same way I approach my own dental health. “Just clean the one tooth, doc.”

Watson and Penny aren’t as happy about today’s adventure as I am. They’ve spent the last hour barking from the window seat, which I remind them was built by another man I picked up at a previous home show.

My house is 53 this year, which means that it needs almost as much spackle and shingling as I do. As a result, a lot of tradespeople come and go, in and out, in and out, in and out of the house. In their way, they are much like my dogs—always needing to be on the other side of the door in front of them. But, unlike my hounds, they typically shed less and are friendlier to the mail carrier when he arrives with packages (which, by the way usually contain either organic gluten-free fair trade dog supplements or free-range pillows for the pooches.)

Unfortunately, I’m about as handy as a drunken octopus trying to text. I’ve resigned myself to the knowledge that I can’t “fix” anything; I can only postpone the inevitable phone call to someone with a tool belt and tattooed biceps the size of oak tree limbs. Case in point: the fence being repaired today. A few years ago, one of the boards broke in two, giving the wiener dogs a perfect view of people who dared walk anywhere near their property. In order to calm the ruckus I decided, “Hey, I have a hammer and nails, I’ll just go get a cedar board from Jerry’s and take care of the problem myself.” Ah, if only it were that easy.

This section of fence is decorative, if by decorative, one means “odd, with fence boards running horizontally instead of vertically and held together with a mostly decayed old totem pole.” Still, it was just one board, so off to the hardware store I sashayed, thinking that maybe just this once the hours of Rehab Addict I’ve watched would pay off.

When I returned, after being frisked by the hounds to make sure I hadn’t snuck out to either pet kittens or roll in dog treats, I grabbed my tools and began the repair…only to find that the reason the other board had detached in the first place was that the part of the totem pole it had been nailed to was missing. So off to the store I went again, this time to buy a post. I don’t know if it was a 2-by, a 4-by, or a fly-by. I just chose something that would fit in my car and that I could carry to the parking lot without throwing out my back. (This, by the way, is how I will choose my next husband, should I ever go that route again).

Now before you ask whether I dug a hole and poured in cement before setting the post in place, let me just giggle. No, no I did not. I used some nails the size of railroad spikes to attach the post to the remaining good parts of the totem pole. It was solid as a rock stacked on top of several smaller rocks, but it was much better than it had been. Then I nailed the board to it. Of course the board I used was 1-foot longer than it needed to be, but at this point I was too exhausted to saw it off by hand with my Swiss Army knife attachment, so I left it as an “adornment.”

Then I went inside and lay on the sofa with the dachshunds and watched a marathon of Flip this House.

This brings us to today with the hammering and the barking and the laughing from Paul as he examines my handiwork. If only the home show was still going; I could really use another dip in the hot tub.


Become a Less Hateful Person

You’re a hateful person.

Okay you can stop screaming at your cIMG_0010omputer now that you’re not hateful. You are. I am. We all are. We want to think of ourselves as loving, kind, compassionate folks who do the best we can given our circumstances, but just stare into the eyes of a dog, a cow, a pig, or a human baby for five minutes and you’ll know you are much more hateful than they are.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not the kind of person who sends threatening texts, carries torches in the streets, or considers hate speech a pick-up line on Tinder. There are, fortunately, very few of those kinds of haters in the world. Too many, but just a fraction of the rest of us whom I will refer to as “haters light.” Sadly, whether we want to admit it or not, we empower the active haters by turning our heads, by chalking up bad behavior in others to “boys will be boys” or some other cliché, and by shrugging our shoulders and thinking, “Well, at least I’m not part of the problem.”

But we are part of the problem. Our easy forgiveness of own bad behaviors large and small allows us to feel more at ease with our own internalized hatred. Have you ever, for example, thought, “People should be required to retire at 50 so those of us who know what’s going on in the world can get jobs?” That’s hate. How about “She shouldn’t dress like that if she doesn’t want people to think she’s a slut?” Hate again. Or “I like black people. I just don’t want them in my neighborhood.” Hate. All of it.

The good news is that many of us feel the mirror has been held up and we don’t like what we are seeing. We’re slowly realizing our own role in creating a society that does not allow every American to have “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as promised by our forefathers (probably at the urging of our foremothers, who never get any credit). But, how do we fix ourselves, especially when we’re so busy living our own lives?

I suggest we start by focusing on eliminating what I call “The Three B’s” (no, “bitch” is not one of them). The Three B’s are “because,” “but,” and “between us.”

Because: The word “because” refers to something being caused by something else and is a perfectly lovely word when used with science or when relaying the facts of a story, e.g. “Because the cantaloupe fell on her foot, her toes were bruised” or “She couldn’t focus for days because she took off her eclipse glasses too soon.” Science and facts – two of my favorite things!

Too often, however, we fall back on “becausing” to explain why we (or others we support) perpetuate bad behavior. See if any of these sound familiar:

I am this way because:

  • I was raised (choose from: in the south, in a small town, with only white people, in “the church”) and that’s the way we were taught.
  • I was born in the ‘40s (or ‘50s). It was a different time. You just don’t understand.
  • My childhood was really hard. I was scarred for life.
  • I once had a bad interaction with a person of (insert race, gender, religion, culture, etc. here) and I have a right to my opinions/behaviors.

When I argue for putting a stop to “becausing,” I’m not suggesting that any or all of the above statements may not be true for you or me. We are all products of our past experiences. What I’m suggesting is that we all stop considering “because” to be a trump card that excuses our current behavior. If you think for just a few minutes, you’ll be able to conjure up a friend, co-worker or relative who grew up in one or more of the situations above but is less judgmental, more inclusive, and just a better all-around human being than you are. So although the past shapes us, it does not dictate who we are now.

But:  This little conjunction frequently causes trouble in our interactions with others. For example, as an improv teacher I teach the importance of the rule “Yes, and” and how important it is to stop “No, butting” people. “No, butting” isn’t something goats and drunken frat boys do; it’s what happens when we pretend to listen to someone, but immediately dismiss their thoughts and ideas and try to convince them to accept that ours are better (because that’s what our ego tells us). As an experiment, try to count the number of times you hear the words, “No, but” tumble out of your mouth every day. I bet you’ll be surprised.

“But” causes divisiveness in another way too. We use the world to claim our own goodness when someone calls us out on being racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, or looksist (judging people on their looks). How many of the following have you used “but” to make yourself seem kinder and more inclusive in the eyes of others (and in your own)?

But I…

  • have friends who are (insert race, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.) here
  • have never used that kind of language
  • am so much better than the rest of my family
  • do lots of good things you don’t know about (like serving Thanksgiving dinners to the homeless or showing up for the pro-immigrant march that one time)

It’s really difficult to be called out on our own bad behavior and our first instinct is to fall back on “but.” We have to keep in mind that all of us can and should do more to make the world an easier place, a safer place, a more compassionate place for everyone (and I include in “everyone” creatures who are not human). Instead of giving yourself a pass for the good that you do, just do more and for people and other earthlings who are not like you – no “buts” about it. It’s easier, and more rewarding, than making excuses.

Between us: If you would be humiliated by the inner judgmental thoughts you reveal to your friends and family, chances are those thoughts are hateful and divisive. Any time you tell someone “this is just between us,” (unless it’s an issue of national security, you’re pregnant or you’re planning a surprise birthday party for someone), what you may mean is, “This is too mean-spirited for me to share out loud.”

I am not suggesting we can or should scrub all our thoughts until they’re squeaky clean. But we should become aware of how often we share inner musings that reveal deeply held prejudices we don’t want to admit we have. Do any of these ring a bell?

Between us:

  • I’m afraid of Hispanic men who wear hoodies.
  • People from the South are all idiots.
  • When someone in a hijab or a robe gets on an airplane, I worry about being hijacked.
  • I never know where to look when I’m talking to someone who uses a wheelchair so I just say, “Hello” and move along as quickly as I can.
  • I wouldn’t want to work for a woman. They’re so emotional.

The best way to deal with prejudiced thoughts you share with close friends is to ask those friends to regularly call you out (and ask them if they’d like you to do the same). You can even provide them this set of questions to ask you when they feel something is inconsistent with the person you want to be: Why do you think you feel this way? Does this belief harm other people? Has it proven true to you or do you hold it spite of reality? If it has proven true, is it possible that what’s happened in your experience does not reflect everyone else’s?  Would you like to change this belief? How can you start to do that?

Self-change, like world change, is difficult and the best way to approach it is one simple step at a time. For now, just focus on reducing or eliminating The Three B’s.

Proud Snowflake Here

All of a sudden I’ve become a snowflake! I do have a complexion that looks somewhat like a snowy field on a moonlit night and have spent much of my life covered in Zinc oxide to protect me from sizzling, but I don’t think that’s why the word “snowflake” is popping up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds lately.

stormtrooper-snowflakeThe kind of snowflake I am

“Snowflake,” if you don’t know is supposed to be an insult for those of us who support our fellow human beings and all other creatures living on this planet. I guess some people, those who’d rather wall themselves up and never worry about anyone but themselves, believe that snowflakes are weak and melt easily.

I choose to see snowflakes differently. Although each of us is unique, when we come together we do amazing things:

  • We create peaceful beauty.
  • We can form avalanches that can wipe out anything in our way.
  • Once we get rolling, it’s hard for anything to stop us.


Old white men in ties don’t scare us

  • We have been around for millions of years and aren’t going anywhere simply because someone hurls what they believe to be insults at us. Imagine yelling profanities at a blizzard. See how much effect that has?
  • We’re fun! Tell me snowmen, women and children don’t make you smile!

Two weeks ago, I marched in the Women’s March in my hometown in the pouring rain. I marched because I don’t want anyone to have to drink poisoned water or breathe poison air. I marched because I think sick people should have health care and poor people should have food. I marched because I believe women and women only should get to control their own bodies. I marched because I don’t want to see people who spent decades paying into Medicare and Social Security tossed out on the street, never seeing money that belongs to them. I marched because I believe love is love.

And I marched because I stand strong with my community – those other snowflakes, also out there in the pouring rain, not melting. Getting stronger together.


And last week, I marched again to protest the ban on Muslims. Yes, this snowflake and thousands of others, took to the streets and airports to protect people who don’t look or worship like me. Crazy, right? Supporting people different than you. We snowflakes are like that. We don’t judge each other on color, shape, or beliefs. After all, we’re snowflakes and we know that that will just melt away one day.

I will march on General Strike Day, on Science March Day, on Tax Day. And I’m hoping to – one day soon – march on We’re All Human Beings Sharing the Same Planet with Each Other and All the Other Creatures Who Live Here So We’ve Decided to Give Peace a Chance Day. That’s what this snowflake really wants. Peace. If you’ve ever walked outside after a snowfall, you know we’re all about peace and quiet.

And you know what? No one has paid me to march. Not even in coupons! Can you believe that? Someone willing to stand up for what they believe is right without profiting from it? I know it’s a tough thing to wrap your head around, but it’s true. True-true. Not alt-true, whatever that is. And I have a job!! Actually, I have four jobs! I am one busy snowflake! Good thing it’s been chilly outside so all this sweating didn’t overheat me!

I would like to put this question out to the non-snowflakes in this country. (What is the opposite of snowflake? Hothead?) This is especially for the hotheads who get so upset every time I say something about how I support humanity and the planet.


What is it that makes you so angry to see people supporting each other? Why does the idea of love trumping hate bother you to your core? Why are you so angry all the time, little hothead? Have you considered therapy? Or maybe a massage? We snowflakes love massage – it helps get out the knots from hoisting our protest signs high above our heads.

And what made you think snowflake was an insult? Maybe you should get a thesaurus. There are much better words out there.

60 Things I’ve Learned in My 60 Years So Far

file06561. If you’re not laughing so hard you actually hurt at least once a day, you need to re-evaluate your life.
2. Pigtails are better than Botox.
3. You can only fake something for so long. Eventually the real you will shine through, so you might as well just be yourself all the time.
4. If you don’t love animals, you’re probably going to need a lot of therapy.
5. Sorry blondes – redheads have more fun!
6. Dance – even if others don’t recognize it as dancing.
7. Pay attention to red flags, black auras, and deep green eyes.
8. The family we create is often better for us than the family we’re born into.
9. Jimmy Buffet music is a good cure for sadness.
10. Your boobs will be closer to your waist than your chin for 60% of your life.
11. Tip well and treat everyone like people not the job they do.
12. When you’re happy, notify your face.
13. There is no such thing as too much chocolate (as long as it’s vegan, fair trade, and sustainably harvested).
14. Don’t be afraid to let your talents shine.
15. We catch the mood of the people we spend the most time with, so choose carefully.
16. One of the most important things we should all learn is how to be happy alone.
17. The voices in your head are often out of their minds.
18. Not everyone will like you. In fact, there are some people you really don’t want to like you.
19. If you buy the low sodium version, you’ll just end up adding salt.
20. Picking up dog poop is much less disgusting than wading into political debate.
21. True friends show up in many different ways – vegan soup when you’re sick, helping you in the yard, painting your house, or calling you out on your bullshit.
22. Do what makes your inner 5-year-old happy.
23. Never trim your bangs drunk.
24. It’s okay to have money, but if you value money over love, kindness, and empathy, your life will be sad and empty.
25. You can be a great parent without having any human children.
26. When you realize that we really are all – humans and other sentient creatures – connected, everything in your life will change.
27. Throw the ball, tug the rope, and dangle the fuzzy toy.
28. Even if you had an awful past, you can have an amazing present.
29. If dogs don’t like you, you have some karma issues to work on.
30. Every time you whine, speak out loud five things you’re grateful for.
31. Always wear kooky socks or underwear. Or both.
32. There are 7.6 billion sides to every argument.
33. It is okay to unfriend people both online and in life. This includes blood relatives.
34. Be the most fun you’ve ever had.
35. Even if you’re sure your butt won’t fit, you should at least try to go down the playground slide.
36. You should regularly do things that scare you.
37. Never type LOL unless you are. And work on your real LOL skills.
38. Whenever you say, “I’m doing the best I can,” make sure it’s true.
39. Try to line up your mistakes from biggest to smallest throughout your life, but give yourself a break if you screw this up.
40. Even if no one reads it, when you’ve written something that expresses your soul, you’ve have done something amazing.
41. Jealousy is a waste of energy.
42. Nothing real is measured in Facebook likes.
43. You know you’re having fun if there are sequins on your floor after you get dressed.
44. Saying “No” can be the most freeing thing ever. Saying “Yes” can also be the most freeing ever.
45. Dog hair goes with everything.
46. Pointing fingers is a distraction from what we need to work on.
47. Make funny friends. They’ll keep you giggling.
48. Yes, you really can use those math skills you learned when you were a kid.
49. Time really does fly. One day you’re graduating high school, the next you’re been reincarnated as a tree sloth.
50. Always use your powers for good, not evil.
51. You know it was a really fun adventure if you forget to take pictures.
52. Pay attention to what makes your heart smile.
53. A full calendar is not a good measure for a full life.
54. Count your blessings, not your calories.
55. Squirrels make good listeners, especially if you’ve got nuts in your pockets.
56. When the moon is amazing, you should go outside and look at it.
57. Fall in love often – with friends, with animals, with trees, with blue skies, with amazing meals…
58. Wear your heart on your sleeve, but keep your gallbladder covered up.
59. Everyone deserves to wear a tiara now and then.
60. The best anti-aging cure is dog kisses.

7 Reasons Not to Get Engaged During “Engagement Season”


As ads for diamond rings keep reminding us, December is “Engagment Season.” As someone who has been engaged (and then married and then divorced) three times, I have some advice for those of you who are still single and thinking NOW is the time to change that up.

Here are my Top 7 Reasons Not to Get Engaged During Engagement Season:

1. Do you become a tree on Arbor Day? No? Then you don’t have to get engaged during “Engagement Season.” You also don’t have to get an STD during Chlamydia Awareness Week.


2.  Are you bored with your romantic partner and think that a diamond on her or your finger might just shake things up? Spend the money on a tropical vacation somewhere during earthquake season. THAT will shake things up.

3.  Does it seem like the next step in your relationship? If you’re thinking about making a lifetime commitment to someone because it’s another step in a process, join a 12-step program for fairy tale addicts instead.


4.  Is engagement on your to-do list because all your friends are doing it or they’ve already done it and are having babies and leaving you in the dust? Are you in middle school? If so, you’re too young to get engaged. If not, you have so many options, including finding new friends who are spending their time volunteering to fight climate change or drinking.

5.  Do you or your partner just want some jewelry this holiday season? Fine, get some jewelry. Buy from a local artisan who crafts amazing art for your fingers, wrist, neck, ankle, or nipples. It will cost you less money, cause you less guilt wondering where the stones came from, and help keep an artistic community member from a life of crime.


6.  Have you been in a relationship with someone for too long and it’s about damn time he/she made you an honest man/woman or you did the same for him/her. (Can we please start using gender-neutral pronouns, grammar police?) Really, threats and coercion are how you’re going to play this? That doesn’t bode well for a healthy relationship. Perhaps you could run a republican presidential candidate’s campaign instead.


7.  Has he/she asked you and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings? This one is serious, folks. I got married twice out of not wanting to make my then-partner feel bad that he had popped the question, despite the fact that the first time the ring wasn’t even real! If someone else wants to get married and you’re not ready, it’s time to move on. Date someone else. Get a dog. Write a screenplay. But for god’s sake, don’t say yes when you mean “No, no, I’d rather have a colonoscopy!”

There you have it. If I’ve saved just one single person from making the same mistakes I have, my job here is done.


Questioning My Sanity

I question my sanity regularly. Fortunately, it usually doesn’t answer and I take that as a sign that I’m mostly still okay — or perhaps my sanity has taken a vow of silence.


Three weeks ago a new puppy joined my family. Well, he didn’t just show up at the front door  and when I answered, say with his eyes lowered, “I’ve been searching for my birth mom and I believe you may be her.” I was somewhat involved in the process. Involved, as in, I decided that my three senior wiener dogs and I could probably use some youthful energy to perk things up around here, then I scoured all the animal rescue sites nearby for dachshunds, filled out three applications, and went to meet a young fellow named “Boston” who was advertised as a 1-1/2 year old dachshund.


Did I mention that I frequently have doubts about my sanity?

As it turns out, Boston was lying about his age. And lineage. And name.

His name is actually Murray. I know this because when I call it, he comes. Two of my other dogs are named Watson and Justin, so Boston was not going to work. Plus, when he barked, there was no trace of an East Coast accent.

He’s definitely part dachshund — the stubborn, hole-digging, begging for treats until you cave in just to be released from the overwhelming guilt in those eyes part. But he’s also got a little something else in him. I’m thinking kangaroo, given that he can jump 3-feet straight up in the air. I’m thinking maybe I should carry him around in an apron pocket.


And given his proclivity for chewing everything, including my earlobes (which is the most action I’ve had in years), I’m pegging his real age at around 9 months.

Murray was found roaming the streets in California. Perhaps he was hunting for a good Pinot Grigio.

So here I am matriarch to a family of three dachshunds and one dachshund hybrid (perhaps I should have called him Prius!) I’ll stand at the back door, rattling off a list of possible names until I hit on the one that belongs to the dog who is digging holes, eating tomatoes, taunting the koi (wouldn’t Taunting the Koi be an excellent band name?), or just obstinately sitting steps away from me ignoring me for the hell of it.

I was right in my prediction that a younger dog would pick up the energy level around here. Everyone is awake a lot more than previously. This is a good thing, for the most part, except at 3 a.m. when sleeping might be a good idea. And everyone is in better shape too. Walks are faster and more plentiful as we attempt to wear the newest family member out so that I can go out into the world and earn enough money to buy squeaky toys for him to destroy the next day.


Am I glad I have a new pup? Absolutely! Am I also crazy to have four dogs? I’m fairly certain of it. But I’d rather be crazy happy than any other kind of crazy.

A Canine Guide to Presidential Candidates

We all know that dogs are better judges of character than we lowly humans, so why not ask them how to choose the right candidates for president?

After surveying my three dachshunds and a terrier and labradoodle we met on a walk, here are the criteria they came up with that should help you count a candidate out:

A human would NOT make a good president if:

He starts sentences with, “I’m not a cat, but…” and then tells cats what they should and shouldn’t do.

imagesWhen he goes on the paper, it’s the U.S. Constitution.


She rides around in the pocket or purse of rich folks.

imagesHe wants to build a wall to keep out losers.

imagesHe always sticks his snout into other people’s business.

images42He hasn’t learned a new trick in decades.


He only hangs out with his own breed.


Not only did he not pass obedience school, he still barks with a 4th grade education.


He blames others for his mistakes… and his brother’s mistakes.

hqdefaultHe doesn’t care who he steps (or sits) on.


She’s never been a working dog.


He isn’t a service human; he’s a “serve me” human.


She thinks everyone should worship the same squeak toy she does.


He believes in piddle down economics.


He is against reproductive rights.

He whimpers about how much he misses the “good old days.”