The Lighted Angel Ritual

Kali was disappointed. She tried not to let on but I could see it in her eyes. “This is it?”, she seemed to say. “This is the big deal?”

In a recent post I mentioned a fall ritual that involved setting up a lighted Angel in front of our house to mark the beginning of the holidays. This year, as with most, the ritual took place the day before Thanksgiving. The ritual has been greatly streamlined over the years from strands and strands of of lights and yard decorations to a simple lighted Angel. The children are all adults now and only one still lives at home. The first year that there was an absence of lights on the house and just the angel one of my boys was home for a visit. He asked me about the lights; why weren’t they up? What about tradition? I invited him to go into the shed to dig out the box of lights and yard ornaments, get the ladders out, and get to work. He said something like, “the angel looks nice”. And that was that.

So on Wednesday Kali and I headed out to the shed to get the angel, check her lights, and get her positioned and secured in front of the house. In my romantic version of this ritual the day is cold and damp, the skies are dark with rain threatening, the shed is on the “back 40” requiring a pre-dawn start in order to finish the job by sundown, and a flask full of brandy is in my hip pocket for purposes of warmth and motivation.

The "back 40" (in my mind)

The “back 40” (in my mind)

It’s fun to romanticize about a cold and harsh fall ritual with a lighted angel but in the spirit of honesty here is what really went down this year with Kali and the lighted angel ritual.

Kali and I head to the shed to get the angel. The shed is not on the Back 40. We don’t have a Back 40. I don’t think I have ever been on a Back 40… the shed sits about 30 feet from the front yard and is easily accessed from the backyard. It’s 2:00 pm, the sky is clear and blue with no rain forecast for at least a week. The outside temperature is 74 degrees. I consider getting some brandy but opt for a beer instead. After all, it’s 74 degrees out and with the low sun feels more like 80! Kali is already suspecting that I misled her. She was really looking forward to the Back 40…

I didn't sign up for this...

I didn’t sign up for this…

OK, so Kali has the stakes and hammer and we set off to secure that angel in place. But wait, it’s 74 degrees and the rose bushes think it’s spring. We’ll need to do a little pruning first.

I didn't sign up for this either

I didn’t sign up for this either

Kali’s endurance (interest) is less than anticipated so she needs a break. She opts to take the break on the “Front 0.16”.

Union dog taking her "15 minutes"

Union dog taking her “15 minutes”

The Angel is finally secured, my beer is empty, and Kali of course proudly accepts thanks for a job well done.

I did it all by myself - where's my brandy?

I did it all by myself – where’s my brandy?

Later that night Kali invites Smokey out to see the fruits of all her hard work.

I look good under lights don't I?

I look good under lights don’t I?

Kali and Smokey chilin' in the mild evening air

Kali and Smokey chilin’ in the mild evening air

And yes Kali, this is the big deal.


This weekend marks six months since the grand arrival of Nala and 23 of her Taiwanese foster brothers and sisters. When I mentioned this to Kali this morning she looked at me as if to say, “who’s Nala?” and promptly went back to sleep. I nudge her and ask, “Don’t you remember being called Nala before you arrived from Taiwan in America and joined our family?”. Kali: “Zzzzzz”.

“Come on Kali – you must remember. This was a big deal for you. It was a life changing event”.

Kali looks up at me and with her big sweet brown eyes now open wide and keenly alert. She’s sits up and stares directly into my eyes. Her breathing quickens. Her head tilts slightly When I ask again if she remembers once being Nala. Kali opens her mouth and to my amazement she speaks. I mean actually speaks words. In clear distinct voice she says, “You realize I’m a dog right? So while there may be a chance that at some emotional or instinctive level I remember this event you refer to and this thing called Nala it’s highly unlikely that I can intellectualize the experience. It’s even more unlikely that I can articulate my thoughts in a way that would be understandable to a human. I mean no disrespect and of course I love you more than you’ll ever know. But, as I said, I am a dog. You do know that right…?”

At this point this post could go in several directions. Which makes most sense to you?

The Obvious Ending
“ do know that right?” I wake up and look over at Kali still sound asleep even thought the light is beginning to shine in though the blinds. I’ve always had very vivid dreams and can remember many of the dream’s details even weeks and months after waking up. This dream with Kali was pretty cool but honestly speaking I don’t know if would really want her to talk. I was a little intimidated by Kali’s masterful command of the language and frequent usage of five syllable words. Then there was the cleverly ironic manner in which she used those big words to tell me that it was crazy to believe she could rationalize her own emotions. And frankly, I was a little put off by her posh British accent. I mean, where the heck did that come from?

The Practical Ending
“ do know that right?” It’s fun to muse about dogs talking but there are a lot of situations where it would be very cool to have a real conversation with your dog. What if they could understand relatively complex concepts. For example time. If only Kali could understand what I mean when I tell her, “We’ll go for our walk later.” This way she’d know that I haven’t forgotten. I can hear a rational Kali responding with something like, “Ok, I’ll take another nap and you let me know when you’re ready.”

It would also be helpful at certain times if dogs could articulate their desires and emotions with words. For example, Kali: ” I know you don’t like me eating the decorative figs that fall on the ground but if you would pick them up more regularly I wouldn’t be tempted”. I’d know that she was trying and not simply ignoring me, but it would be helpful if the figs weren’t there to tempt her.

Or, Me: “What’s bothering you? You seem a little lethargic today.” Kali: “I ate a couple of those dried up figs that you keep forgetting to pick up. Oh, yeah and I ate some of a green apple that fell on the ground this morning. My stomachs just a little upset. After I eat some grass I’ll be fine”. Worries mitigated and trip to the vet avoided.

Kali’s Ending do know that right?” Then I snap out of my silly day dreaming and see Kali asleep at my feet. “Nala” I whisper. Kali looks up at me and thumps her tail on the ground. She does remember! Then I whisper, “Kali”. Same result, thump thump. “Agnes”. Again, same result.

And then it hits me. “Kali”, I say, “you respond to all the words I say. I don’t have to say walk. All I need to do is get up and put my shoes on. When we come to a street crossing I stop and you sit without me saying a word. You read my body language. When I do give a command you respond because whether you recognize the word or not you read my body language. You stare into my eyes waiting for me to tell you what I want and when I want it and you are always glad to oblige. So, I guess we do have real conversations, don’t we. Maybe it’s not so absurd after all that dogs could talk.”

Kali smiles and I see a thought bubble over her head:

“At last, he’s thinking like a dog. I’ve made good progress with my new dad over the last six months. He’s very trainable and definitely a keeper. My foster brothers and sisters would be so proud of me. I hope they’ve made as much progress with training their American families as I have with mine. Hey Dad – I’m looking at your eyes. Tell me what to do next ’cause I’m ready when you are”.

Oh yeah, all right  Take it easy baby  Make it last all night  She was an American girl - Tom Petty

Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy baby
Make it last all night
She was an American girl
– Tom Petty

Kali’s New Fall Rituals

Today Kali and I closed down the backyard. “Closing down the yard” is one of my annual rituals that marks the ending of warm weather and outside living. It’s also marks the preparation for the Holidays and winter. Yes – the harsh Northern California Winter where some days we have to actually put on a coat and wear shoes… what’s up with that?!? 🙂

Closing down the yard is a rather silly ritual and more of a mindset than a physical act. These days the activity consists of packing up patio cushions, throwing covers over the patio furniture, moving small outdoor items into the shed, performing light pruning, and swapping out the Summer BBQ for the Winter BBQ. What? Doesn’t everybody have two?… None-the-less it took Kali and I around three hours all the while taking our time to enjoy the relatively warm fall morning since we didn’t have anything else specific planned for the day.

Since my Bailey Boy died five years ago I’ve performed the ritual alone. So this year it was great to have Kali helping. As usual she supervised and I did the work. I say supervised but really Kali is a bit of a micro-manager. She’s never more than a few feet from where I’m working following me around and cracking the whip. By cracking the whip I mean watching my every move in between short naps of course and an occasional sprint and woof chasing off a squirrel or bird who may distract her worker (me) from doing a good job. Eventually she’ll stop following me around and set up a command center with a global vantage point allowing her to monitor my activities without having to get up as I move from spot to spot.

Global Command Center

Global Command Center

I’m fine with the micro-management. I like having Kali by my side. I’ve become so accustomed to it over the past six months that on the rare occasion that she’s not right there next to me it feels a bit odd and I’ll call her or go looking to see what she’s up to.

The next Fall ritual Kali and I will share is setting up the lighted angel in front of the house while listening to Kenny Loggins’ album called December. This will happen on the day before Thanksgiving. In years past this ritual involved strands and strands of Christmas lights hanging on the house and a variety of lighted lawn decorations to assemble and place around the front yard. There would be ladders, hammers and nails, trips to the hardware store to get replacement strands or bulbs, brandy, and a little swearing. When my kids were small it was important to them that the house had a full complement of lights along every eave and window. I was younger and I liked doing it. When they were away in college they’d come home for the holidays and I wanted the house lit up for them as we drove in from the airport. I liked it a little less but I still did it because it was what they remembered and wanted. But these days there’s just the lighted angel; simple, elegant, and less likely to need multiple trips to the hardware store and little cause for swearing. There will, however, still be brandy.

So this year Kali will supervise the Angel ritual just as she did the closing of the yard ritual. And there will be more after that. The setting up the Christmas tree listening to the Vince Guralidi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas album ritual, the taking down of the tree and lamenting that Summer is light years away ritual, the re-hanging of the SF Giants flag ritual, and, wait for it…… The opening of the backyard ritual.

And for all these things and a blessed life I am so very thankful that Kali will be by my side supervising my every move.

Kali:  "job well done dad"

Kali: “job well done dad”

Waiting For Spring Training

Summer has left us.  Seemingly overnight.  The mornings are now cold, damp, and dark.  It is November so I shouldn’t be surprised but it catches me off guard every year.  It’s just that I enjoy Summer, the hot weather, and long days.  I love the warm nights on the patio listening to music with Holly and sharing a bottle of wine.  I enjoy the early morning walks with Kali – me in shorts and flip-flops and Kali with just one of her two beautiful golden coats.  I enjoy the street fairs, festivals, and wine events that go on during summer in our town.  I love seeing my garden explode in color during spring and staying vibrant throughout the long hot summer days.  I embrace major league baseball with a passion beginning with spring training, into the dog days of summer, and ending during the warm days of October.

And there it is – baseball.  The major league baseball season starts the cycle and ends the cycle of warm days that I love so much.  The SF Giants flags in the backyard convey this cycle to friends and family.  If the flags are up  – life is warm.  If the flags are down – it’s time to hunker down, put another log on the fire, and wait for the beginning of the next cycle.  In other words the countdown to spring training…

Throughout the baseball season my wife and I watch just about every SF Giants game.  I can’t say that Kali “watches” with us but she is a very loyal fan.  This I know because she sleeps at my feet through every inning of those games rarely getting up even during commercials to get a snack or beer from the fridge…     She did, however, seem a little put off by some of the start times of the playoffs.

Kali’s afternoon playtime is usually around 4:30 or 5:00 when I’ve begun winding down my day. Many of the baseball playoff games overlapped with our afternoon play time.  Kali was not real happy about this.   As loyal a fan as she professes to be (as evidenced but he aforementioned sleeping at my feet during all games) I believe she would have forgone the first couple of innings of these games and not have had them preempt afternoon play time.

Kali’s internal clock is amazing.   At 3:30 she comes into my office and pokes me with her nose.  Tail wagging she looks at me as if to say, “I’m bored.  You’ve been working all day and it’s really time to stop that and give me some attention.”  I tell Kali that it’s not time, that I have work to do, and she’ll have to be patient.  She’ll make that low grunting sound in her throat that Goldens do and reluctantly lie down to wait.  Admittedly, there are many days when her big brown compelling eyes combined with a willingness to wait for me are too strong a statement for me to ignore.  “OK”, I tell her.  Let’s fill up that Kong of your’s to keep you busy until I’m done.  Kali loves her Kong!

Kali is a bit of a paradox:  creature of habit but yet so flexible.  So it will be interesting, Kali’s first winter here in America.  Shorter days may mean walks  later in the day or a wet walk or (gasp!) no walk at all.  As Kali sees the sun setting earlier and earlier each day she must be thinking, “What will happen to afternoon playtime? Maybe I should poke him earlier in the day. Can Dad be as flexible as I am?”

Probably not.  But like Kali I’ll have to adjust, make the best of the change, embrace Fall and Winter, and wait for Spring Training.


World Champs Again in 2014

It’s a warm day when they flags are flying