Boogie Girl stuff

This was my first idea for what the cover of my garden book should look like:

But of course the art department at Bloomsbury had other ideas:

Don’t get me wrong: I like this cover very much (after all, I painted it) and it’s a view of London that has had a special place in my heart for neigh on 15 years (see: page 140 for the whole story). It’s just that for my first two books, the art department at Bloomsbury told me that I could never take an image from the inside of the book and put it on the cover because that’s not how they did things, and so I had to come up with a whole new idea for the cover. And then, for my garden book, the art department insisted on taking an image from inside the book (this image) and put it on the cover. I didn’t argue, I didn’t ask WTF??,  I went home from the meeting and had a big stonking G&T.

Any hoo, it seems that the cover did the trick, the trick being to make everybody in the world want to buy my book, and win me heaps of awards and the love of everyone who was ever mean to me.

Because I just won an award from The Garden Writers of America!

The award came as quite a surprise; it was an ordinary day and I was at home, as usual, catching up on some housework and doing what I have to do in order to get myself in the frame of mind to write my heart out for one more day . . . 

. . . when the prize committee and marching band showed up at the front door and presented me with my Silver Medal:

Actually, the GWA mailed me a certificate, but still.

I did win a silver medal and I can now legitimately call myself a prize-wining garden writer, thank you very much. Pretty good for someone who has never, and will never, garden in the verbal sense of the word. Weeding  and getting my hands dirty and stuff: Ew.

The only other prize I’ve ever won was in 1994 when I entered an art work into a contest sponsored by the historical society that preserves the oldest house in Westchester, New York (The Timothy Knapp House in Rye) and I won Best in Show:

It’s an embroidery, of course, and it shows four seasons at the oldest house in Westchester, NY. It’s big, about 30″ on its longest side.  The society liked it so much that they asked if I would donate it to their collection. Naturally, me being the sweetheart that I am, I gave it to them, happily.

Not long after becoming a prize-wining artist I quit the lucrative business of free-lance fine-art embroidery and entered the field of free-lance writing, where they just throw money at you. Those pennies hurt when lobbed from across an editor’s desk, let me tell you.

While working a glamorous day job in the office administration field (they only throw paper money at you in Corporate America, whew) , I managed to write my first book When Wanderers Cease to Roam, which came out in 2008. I contacted the historical society and reminded them who I was and asked if they would let me hold a book signing in their cute historical building (not the Timothy Knapp House) because the book was all about my life in Westchester and so were they (all about Westchester), and they said no. Me and elephants: we never forget.

So any way, here I am, a prize-wining garden writer of all things, and my most recent book, Gardens of Awe and Folly , is an award-wining travelogue of my adventures in nine of the world’s most thought-provoking gardens. The London chapter sees me in the Chelsea Physic Garden, and not all that happy about it:

Come to think of it, I wasn’t all that thrilled with the Japanese garden either:

In spite of my misgivings about some of the garden experiences I wrote about, nobody has ever mentioned to me that they detect any melancholy in any of the chapters, which I am grateful for because there were parts of this book that I had to write during the very hard time that I was dealing with the death of my DoG and I was very sad.

Boogie Girl: my sweet 17-year old cocker spaniel who I adopted three years ago this month, and was my heart and soul for nine months, two weeks, and a day:

Boogie Girl, in the car on our ride home from the ASPCA in Manhattan. We had known each other for about 30 minutes. I had to pull the car over to the side of Second Avenue and get a hold of my nerves: What on Earth had I got myself into…I just adopted a DoG!!!

Thank you, Boogie Girl, for being my First, and Only, and Best DoG.

Normally, this would be a good place to end a blog post but you know that I can’t let my Dear Readers go without a cat story. And here it is:

Taffy: This folded up cotton sheet is the most beautiful and comfortable place in all the world, for there is no other place as beautiful and necessary as this, even though there is the whole rest of the couch that no kitty is using. :

Lickety: I too think that this folded up cotton sheet is the most beautiful and wonderful place in the world and I would like to take a nap here, and not anywhere else on this empty couch for I am Lickety and there is no other place in all the galaxy that I can nap as peacefully and wondrously as here. RIGHT HERE. :

Taffy: I don’t know, Lickety; it doesn’t seem to me that there is enough of this wondrous and beautiful sheet for two kitties to nap upon and have their fabulous and magical dreams, which is surely what kitties will have, if they rest upon this most beautiful sheet in all the universe. :

Lickety : But there must be room enough for us two here, for there is no other sheet in all the world as beautiful and wondrous as this sheet upon which I have tucked my little kitty feet. :

Taffy: That’s not upon the sheet most magical and mystical (in all down realms of reality or fantasy) upon which you are tucked, Lickety; that’s my feets.:

Lickety: Let me show you how, in the World of Lickety . . .

. . . two kitties can occupy the same space . . .

. . . especially if that space is the space  . . .

. . . upon the most wondrous and fantastical sheet in all the Not-Lickety World. :

Have a Happy Thanksgiving Day weekend, everyone. Thank you for being the Dear Readers that you are — May all your nap times be tucked in with sweet dreams most wondrous and magical. See you back here next Friday.

And Thank You, Karen Fonseca of Fort Bend, Texas, for proving that not all Texans are Drumpf-loving pukes :

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It was a Sign.  No doubt about it.

Sunday morning, 8:10AM, October 27, 2013.  It was THE Sign.

I turn on the Channel 2 (WCBS in NYC) for the weather forecast but I get the anchorwoman talking about “senior citizen” dogs from the Manhattan ASPCA who need homes. I see two little doggies squirming in the bright TV lights. They do not look happy to be there.

Then the TV shows the mug shot of one of the dogs, a cocker spaniel called Boogie Girl …

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“She was called Boogie Girl by her old owner, but you can change it,” the ASPCA told me. First of all, I would NOT change a name that a dog’s had for 17 years. Second, I thought “Boogie Girl” was a FANTASTIC name.

…I know immediately. This is a Sign, from the Universe, that Boogie Girl is meant for me.

To back up a bit: I have been a proud Crazy Cat Lady all my adult life. But ever since I married Top Cat and went to live in the suburbs of Long Island in a house with a beautiful back yard, I’ve had a hankering to broaden the scope and endeepen the depths of my human existence by getting a DoG.  But deciding what kind of DoG person I was — that was impossible. The DoG world has too many variables: small lap-size cuddler? Big goofy labrador or retriever? Mid-size pit bull? Super-smart poodle or shepherd? Really dumb bull dog? I had no idea.

But as soon as I see Boogie Girl on the TV I know that I am, without a doubt, a Boogie Girl kind of DoG person.

The following Wednesday, I am at the Manhattan ASPCA, meeting Boogie Girl in person:

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That’s the Adoption Counselor, above, walking Boogie Girl through the Cat Room to prove that she has nothing against cats. Done deal. I make an application, give references (including a vet reference), pay the $250 adoption fee, and on November 6, 2013, I am back at the ASPCA to bring Boogie Girl home!

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Front passenger seat, Toyota Camry hybrid, about 11 o’clock in the morning, Nov. 6, 2013.

I took this picture (above) after I pulled the car out of traffic on First Avenue, to settle Boogie down so she wouldn’t get us killed by crawling all over the driver’s side  — she was supposed to have stayed in the back seat, curled up on a blankie I’d brought for her, but I hadn’t been warned that she had probably never ridden in a car before and did not understand the protocols.

I took this picture to commemorate the very moment that I dedicated my life to her: There she is, looking at me, and in her eyes I see that she is dreading/pondering  what new shit has happened to  her now.

And I look back at her, ashamed that I don’t even know how to take a dog for a car ride, and I promise her, “Baby DoG, (when I don’t call her Boogie Girl I call her my Baby DoG), I may not know what I’m doing, yet, but I want you to know that I will protect you, and love you, and we’ll figure it out together in your forever home.”

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How CUTE is she in her Winter coat????

Boogie Girl had already been through a lot. She was one of 4 dogs rescued from a deplorable living situation in a hotel, from an old lady who had long gone senile, and finally been evicted, so the state had come in and removed her to an assisted living facility and called the ASPCA to come get the animals.  Boogie Girl had been at the ASPCA shelter for 6 months and was the third (of the 4 dogs) to be adopted.

When I met her, Boogie Girl was 17 years old. She was hard of hearing, and also a bit hard of seeing (inoperable cataracts — her heart couldn’t withstand anesthesia). In other words, she was perfect.

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Top Cat filling in on dog-walking duty. It was snowing and I just could not go back out there to go on a sniffing expedition to the neighbor’s garbage cans for the third time that day.

Boogie was 18 pounds when I got her — she was thin. Later, I figured out that if it took 6 months to get her well enough for adoption, the poor thing must have been in very bad condition when she arrived at the shelter. I figured it out because, at home with me, she was so frantic and greedy every time she ate (I think that’s called “food insecurity”) that I had to save her from herself or else she’d puke from over-eating. So that’s how I begin to  parcel out her feedings to three times a day, and make her scrambled eggs, eggs over easy, and gravy; and give her spoon fulls of cat food to delicio-tize  her kibble, and let’s not even start with the wet food catering (all veterinarian-approved). By the end of the Winter she had put on about five pounds and couldn’t fit into her cute little coat any more.

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She only used her meshy harness for a week. It irritated patches of her skin that were bald. She only wore a collar when I put her on the leash — my Boogie Girl was going to have as free-range a retirement as possible.

The ASPCA did not tell me that Boogie Girl  wet her bed most nights. See that spiffy $100 bed (above) I got for her? It lasted a week. It was so big that I had to go to the laundromat in town to use the triple loader to wash it every time she, uh, piddled in her sleep, and as I was not capable of spending hours of my life going to the town laundromat three-four times a week, I knew I needed to come up with a home-based bed-washing/keep Boogie in clean beds system. Voila:

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Don’t judge me for putting her in a cardboard box — I’ll explain in a minute.

The cats got Boogie’s $100 old bed. She now has four different little beds (on rotation; she goes through two a day) that fit nicely in my home  washing machine. A friend advised me to get an indoor pen for her boudoir, so we pulled up the rug on our slate-floored den, put down two shower curtains, and circled them with a light-weight pen. The pen was never locked, and it was very flexible. It was more of a suggestion of boundaries than a hard core kennel.

We laid down newspaper on top of the shower curtains, and every night we carpeted her pen with nice clean Wee Wee pads  (see above).

And after her long night’s sleep, THIS is what I have to clean up (see below)  every morning:

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Now, about the cardboard box: Everything I know about taking care of Boogie Girl, I learned through trial and error, and one thing I learned about Boogie is that she is a sloppy sleeper:

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So, if I want to save her from sleeping head-first in her own night soil, I have to contain her in her bed somehow.  And that’s why we started ordering really big stuff from Amazon just to get the box:

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See that butt? She doesn’t have a tail, so every time she’s happy her whole back end wiggles, like at 100 mph. And we wiggle together, to a song I call ” Happy Boogie Butt! Happy Boogie Butt!”

It works. It isn’t pretty, but it works.

Boogie Girl and I spend most of our days together in the den, but Boogie Girl’s den is a big room. It’s 350 square feet. It has 7 regular windows and one big picture window. It has two sofas, a stuffed chair, various end- and coffee-tables, and my desk. This is a picture of her, hogging up the whole left side of my office space, while I’m trying to type the Damn Garden Book:

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Here’s another picture of my working conditions:P1210043

And another:

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She also comes with me upstairs when I work on stuff in my painting workroom. This is a picture of her in my work room, snoozing in a bed that was not meant for dogs:

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Here’s another picture of her in amanuensis  mode, in my workroom:

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One thing that the ASPCA didn’t tell me, kind of an important thing, was that Boogie Girl had never been house broken. I figured it out myself after our first five days together, but I wasn’t going to traumatize her with training at this point in her life.  This is her happy retirement. So I try to manage her tendency to answer the call of nature inside the house by walking her four or five times a day —  Dear Readers, I must confess: having to trot her to the same neighbors’ trash cans four or five times a day so she can sniff every last bit of discarded rotten food gets tiring. Crazy tiring. And gross. But who am I to deprive Boogie of such pleasure?

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Spring sunshine — and Boogie Girl at her shaggiest, right before her Day of Beauty at the groomer’s.

Once upon a time, Boogie Girl found a chicken bone in the middle of a street around the corner. I took it away from her, of course, because it was disgusting, and for WEEKS afterwards, we had to make a detour to go to that same exact spot, and sniff around for a chicken bone that might have magically re-appeared. WEEKS. And yes, to make up for my guilty conscience about that chicken bone, I  put baked chicken on her dinner rotation.

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The Boogie after her Day of Beauty at the Groomer’s. I can’t believe how small she looks, because her place in my life is HUGE. BTW, Boogie is not a cuddly dog, so this is as much huggy-time as I could ever get from her, altho she does let me kiss her on the nose every time I want to.

Boogie Girl is, in short, needy, picky, and a  handful. She’s also a bit smelly, but she is dignified, brave, and gentle.

Because Boogie Girl had so many care-taking requirements, Top Cat and I had to stop traveling to week-end get-away destinations. And every place else.

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That’s Dudley, checking out the intruder to his back yard territory. Yes, that’s an empty pizza-box in the flower bed to the right. It’s DUDLEY’S pizza box.

I cart Boogie Girl off to the vet as frequently as I take her to the groomer  — at least every six weeks. New dog mom, old dog, nutty amount of love … I panic about her health a lot, and I am happy to hand over a couple of two to seven hundred dollars just to be re-assured that she’s not going anywhere, no matter how heavenly, any time soon.

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Dudley LOVES to nap on his pizza box in the flower bed. Who am I to care if it makes our place look trashy? Dudley likes it, end of story.

Even with me watching over her, Boogie Girl has managed to crap in every room of the house. TWICE. Every room. Rooms that have carpet, rooms that have oriental rugs, rooms that have hardwood, and rooms that have tile floors.

I have stepped in it, in bare feet, only once. And once in stocking feet.

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How does Boogie get along with the cats, you ask? She gets along like this — she sniffs, determines that they are not food, and ignores them. This seems to only annoy Taffy (seen here, trying very hard to get her attention).

I’m telling you all this so you will know that Boogie Girl thoroughly up-ended my cat-lady life and household. I’m telling you all this so you’ll know that from the first day we were together, my life had to be all about Boogie Girl, and I’m absolutely fine with it, and I’m telling you all this because from Day One my heart was Boogie’s  and will always be hers. I’m telling you this because I only had her for nine months, two weeks, and a day, and I miss every time consuming, exhausting, totally boring dog walking, garbage can sniffing, laundry doing, cleaning up-aftering, sloppy sleeping, wolf eating, dinner-making, bed-making, panic-making, never-off-my-mind second.

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Notice that she is not hugging me back.

Boogie Girl was not a cuddly dog, but she and I had a deal. When her time came, she would be at home, with me,  Top Cat, and a kind, soft-spoken vet. I would make her a feast of her favorite people-food treat (baked broccoli casserole with bread crumbs and garlic), she would scarf it down, and she would let me carry her to the den. She would finally let me hold her in my lap, and wrap my arms around her, and tell her what a beautiful wonderful lovable DoG she was, and keep smooching her silly head, while the vet put her worn out little soul gently to sleep.

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And that’s exactly what happened.  Boogie Girl died of congestive heart failure on the night of August 26, 2014.

I could’nt sleep that night: The vet had taken Boogie to Westchester, to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, to be cremated, and the house was suffocating me with her absence. I was haunting myself for not having done every thing perfectly for her. Mostly, I couldn’t sleep that night because I never wanted to  wake up in the morning and not have a Boogie Butt wiggling with happiness to see me.

But I was too exhausted to resist a few hours’ sleep, and then it was the next day. First thing,  I made a frantic call to Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester to say I had to see my Boogie Girl one last time, could they give me a one last viewing, please please please? They said Of course. I went limp with relief.

Then I gathered up Boogie’s cans of wet food and big bag of dry, and her purple harness that she used for 7 days, and I took them to the local county animal shelter. Seeing a stranger hold Boogie’s old harness made me cry. So I went home and drank tea and passed a very numb day.

(I held onto her beds until October, literally held onto them. I held and inhaled and said my Boogie’s name, until it got cold and I thought of the little dogs who might not have cozy beds of their own and I made another trip back to the county animal shelter.)

And the next day, there I was driving up and down Central Park Avenue, hyperventilating and still to able to breathe, in heart-attack mode, seeing black spots in front of my eyes, because I was lost in goddam Westchester.

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Imagine that you are a 40-ish guy, sitting at your desk at Scarsdale Ford, on a perfectly average, normal Thursday morning. Suddenly, a wild-eyed lady storms into your showroom, clutches her head, and says, “I’m  lost and I’m going to faint.” She’s talking kind of loud and can’t catch her breath. She drops herself down in the seat front of your desk and, hands trembling, she hands you a sweaty, crumpled piece of paper with the address of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery on it, and she before she bursts into tears she  says, “I have to see my dog one last time and I can’t find her.”

She keeps saying, “I have to see her, I have to see her. And I’m lost!!”

You take a moment to figure out that what’s happening isn’t a prank. Then you dial the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. You tell them that there’s a woman having a nervous breakdown in your office because she’s worried that they are going to go ahead with the scheduled cremation because she hasn’t arrived on time and you think she’s a no-show but the truth is that she’s going crazy from  being lost [in goddam Westchester] for the last 40 minutes. You write down directions, you hang up the phone, you turn to the weeping lady, and very calmly and slowly, you say:

“You’re only half a mile away. The entrance is hidden on a side street. Go here, turn left here, turn the corner there.  You’ll be at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in ten minutes. Don’t worry. They’ve still got your dog and they won’t start without you.” The woman still looks bat-shit crazy, but her crying is quieter now and she lifts herself up from the chair in front of your desk. She says, “Thank you so much. I was so afraid I’d never get to see her again, and I have to see her one last time.”

Then you say, “Can I give you a hug? I’ve been through it too and I know what you’re feeling.” So you give the lady a hug, and she starts crying again, and she sobs, “I miss her so much!”

The lady turns, and leaves the building. Two days later you get a card in the mail, addressed to “Kind Person Who Helped Me Find the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery”. The crazy lady tells you her name, tells you that Boogie Girl was the name of her dog, apologizes for barging in on your work day, assures you that she is not usually that much of a nut job, and thanks you profoundly and humbly for your humanity.

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And that’s how I finally arrived at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery.

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I sat with Boogie for a quarter hour. She was laying in a little bed with white satin sheets and her head was on a white satin pillow. I clipped some locks of hair from her silly little head.

I saw her all the way to the door of the crematorium, and then I turned away. I walked around the cemetery for an hour. The cemetery is a beautiful place.

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then I collected her ashes, and drove home without incident.

Every time I sit at this desk, Boogie Girl is right in front of me, in a flowered tin box.

People ask me if there’s a big difference between cats and DoGs, and I say, “And how.”

People ask me if it was kind of stupid to adopt a senior citizen dog to be my first DoG ever, and I say, “I was probably in a little over my head.” And I also say, “I hope I made her happy.”

People have asked me if it was worth the effort and expense and heartbreak  to care for an old DoG that you only know for such a short time, and I say, “I don’t know any other way of having a DoG.”

People ask me if I’ll ever get another DoG, and  I say, “I’m on the lookout.”

All I need is a Sign.

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