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Our brave boy

We lost Oliver on Friday. In the past two months, he was diagnosed with two different kinds of aggressive cancers. One, nasal, one in the rear. Not fair. Rather than treating one and waiting for the other to catch up, we opted to prevent further suffering and have him go out on a happy note.

To say letting him go was tough is an understatement.


12 years young.

Twelve years young, Ollie should have been around for another many years. He blessed our lives just shy of 11 years and we will never forget him. He became part of our family after he had been abandoned by his first family. Left for animal control after getting hit by a car, a rescue in California’s Central Valley nursed him back to health from a broken pelvis and leg and other internal injuries over five months. We were so grateful when we were chosen as his new parents.

He became the little brother to big sister Frances. He loved road trips and traveled up and down highway 5 with us to Los Angeles. He loved taking a pee break at Anderson’s Pea Soup – he used to do this with Frances and then showed his sister Dot the car-ride ropes.

He loved visitors and family. Whoever sat down first got a lap full of Oliver and licks for as long as they could stand it.

Oliver also got himself into a fair amount of trouble too. Eating things he shouldn’t have (like chicken bones). Parts of soft and rubber toys. The 3-foot garbage can we have with a locking lid has a fair amount of Oliver teeth marks on it. Jumping off couches, chairs, tables, and the back planter area in our yard in El Cerrito. Hello fractured leg.

He loved living in the UK. I will also remember our twice-daily walks and the time a little boy said, “Mummy, look, a sausage dog.” Loved that.

Walks along the Thames, to old Deer Park, to Richmond Park, Ravenscourt Park, Richmond Green. And who can forget Friday night pub nights. He loved going to the White Horse. He even spent a night with us in Frankfurt Germany on our way back to the US. Running down an empty hallway on the floor they put people with pets, he triggered all the lights as he ran down and back.

He briefly had a little Schnauzer brother Griffin while in London and once back in the states he became big brother to 8-week old Dot. And boy, did he show her the ropes. She got her confidence from him, learned to love fruit and vegetables, got calmed by him on her first plane ride to Seattle and back.

He goes back to Piedmont Stationers and Blurb days. And boy, did he live through a lot more jobs and addresses with us. He lived with us mostly in Oakland, Burlingame for a bit, Richmond-upon-Thames, San Francisco for about 5 weeks in our first and last condo rental, El Cerrito, and finally, Denver.

He embraced the six months we’ve been in Denver. The epic 3-day car ride from California. Snow days. Squirrels (in Oakland, Richmond, and Denver). New smells. Fruit trees on every block. And to our surprise, a crab apple tree in our back yard. For months, a daily battle as we had to wrestle crab apples from him. He had quite the fruit on the ground sweet tooth.

Other than hunting down fruit trees or discarded food (he really loved living by the train station in London), he got his fair share of critters: one bird (poor thing), a rat or two, and a mole. Post-killing he was a proud boy. Ugh.

Oliver. You were the best. Your legacy lives on and we will miss you dearly.

Little Dot misses you too.


The last cuddle.




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Have a dog? Here’s how to spend $575 in 90 minutes

This recipe is just for guidance. You can replace “a dog” with any companion or feral animal and “chicken” with any kind of meat that has bones. Also, cooking time may vary. It might take you a while to figure out what works best for you.

Apparently serves only 1.


1. Take one 14-pound dog (in our case, we used a male dachshund)
2. Let him have access to all parts of your house within reason of course (we keep the door to the backstairs closed)
3. Boil fresh, skinless chicken until done for your digestive-impaired, 65-pound female dog
4. Debone cooked chicken (wear rubber gloves for safety) and dispose of bones in plastic-lined garbage can under kitchen sink. In our case, we disposed of approximately 15 thigh bones.
5. Close sink door, aware that it sometimes doesn’t latch
6. Leave dogs unattended with access to all parts of your house (see #2) and go shopping
7. Return home an hour later to find two guilty looking dogs (ears back, tails tucked, the slightest hint of nervous dog grins), an opened kitchen sink door, a tipped-over garbage can, and about seven discarded thigh bones
8. Add a bit of confusion as to what dog actually consumed the leftover bones
9. Marinate both dogs for a few hours, feed them both, and ignore glassy eyes, slowness in walking, and bloated appearance
10. Convince your spouse that both dogs are fine. Eat your own dinner. Salad is recommended.

What follows is where time and prices may vary. In the following case, about 90 minutes transpired.
11. Start to observe that the small 14-pound dachshund is looking rather fat, lumpy, and has difficulty moving
12. Call emergency vet (after hours of course)
13. Humor the vet by bringing, or in our case, whisking, your now very heavy and painful sausage dog to the vet
14. Watch in disbelief as the vet assistant records your dog’s weight at over 17 pounds
14. Humor the vet again by allowing x-rays even though she says he seems fine
15. Nod your head – and remain calm – as the slightly worried vet gets your signature on a pricey estimate for inducing vomiting
16. Nod your head again as the vet returns with a limp dog, now with a lump of saline on his back
17. Nod your head as the vet can’t even describe how much stuff was in your dog’s stomach, aside from the fact that the bones were chewed. Nice.
18. Put limp dog on the counter as vet assistant (see #14) rings you up for $575
19. Return the dog to his home, knowing that he’s going to sleep very well because of drugs
20. Be very thankful that you’ve got pet insurance

And finally, it’s recommended that you try this recipe only once or better yet, never.

Our little space cadet

Our little space cadet


A dog, a checkbook cover, and a bit of separation anxiety

Oliver has been with us for three months now and he continues to surprise us. He has been left alone all day during the day, has never peed in the house, and is generally pretty well adjusted, or so we thought. Now that he gets to spend his entire day with his dog sister, Frances, and his “for the time being, stay-at-home” mom, he gets a lot of attention. But is he getting too much attention? And if so, what does that mean?

The other day, Shelly had the gall to hang out in the basement while two guys were attempting to install a new washing machine. She left both dogs upstairs together so they would be out of the way. Well, Oliver heard Shelly’s voice and freaked out a bit. He wanted to be with her. So, he did the next best thing in his mind. He found her checkbook with the leather cover and ate as much of it as he could before Shelly came back upstairs. Needless to say, he didn’t learn any lessons from the eyeball incident and we’ve yet to see any evidence of said checkbook.

At least he didn't eat any checks ...

At least he didn't eat any checks ...

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Frances comes alive

It’s been about two months since we lost Mickey and it’s been hard for us. We still cannot talk about him all that much, but now we can mention his name without choking down tears.

And when I say it’s been hard for us, I include Frances, our 7-year-old lab mix. Initially, she appeared almost ecstatic and acted as if nothing had changed. Her behavior really rubbed us the wrong way. We were grieving. Why wasn’t she? Sure, she probably wasn’t aware at the time that he wasn’t coming come, but she didn’t even look for him in the house, outside, anywhere.

Frances in her snuggleball about in 2006

Frances in her snuggleball in 2006

Then one day, without warning, she slipped back to her pre-Mickey state – she stopped eating. She needed to lose 10 pounds at this point so I kind of welcomed the self-imposed “dieting.” But, Frances has Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and in her case, when she doesn’t eat, she throws up bile. Nice, eh? So, when she’s being picky it becomes a constant battle to get her to eat. Feeding her becomes more than a chore than usual because alas, she will only eat if hand fed. Believe me, we have tried to break her of this habit, but it’s hard to let her starve when she’s throwing up. In fact, we adopted Mickey so she’d have some competition around eating. And that worked. Mickey had her number.

So, in the weeks following his death, Frances lost about 6 (necessary) pounds. Then as quickly as she stopped eating, her personality started to change, and one day, she started eating again … from her own bowl (with some coaxing, of course). She simply blossomed. She pranced around the house. Dug around in her basket full of toys. Twitched and barked at us to play with her. And for the first time in a long time, started sleeping regularly in our room on her dog bed. Mickey would sleep with us, but Frances more often than not, chose to sleep on the “dog couch” in the other room.

One of the biggest changes happened on our daily walks. For the past five seven years, we had pretty much taken the dogs on the same “morning walk” through our Maxwell Park neighborhood. Sure, we’d cross the street and walk on the other side (at Mickey’s urging) and take a special Saturday morning walk in the opposite direction. And evening walks were a glorified walk or two around the block. But all of a sudden, Frances was in charge. We’d walk down our front walkway and instead of veering right and crossing the street, she took a left, and another left, and then wherever. We both felt bad for her and we were still numb, so we let her lead the way.

So, now, every morning, whether Shelly or I walk her, Frances heads left and down a different street. And she pulls us. I sometimes have to jog to keep up with her. Shelly swears she’s looking for her brother. I think she’s just expanding her territory. Whatever. We’re now learning more about our neighborhood, checking out new streets, cleaning up dog poop on different lawns. Who knows if she’ll settle into a groove. For now, it’s okay by me. Though I do miss the old morning walk and force it on her every now and again. There’s something very comforting and almost relaxing about that traditional walk.

Well, gotta go, it’s time for Frances’ evening walk.

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The last supper and the last gelato

Saturday, September 20

Up early to take the train to Milan, the final leg of our trip. Everything fit in our bags, we washed the dishes and emptied the trash, and took the bus to the train station.

As we were waiting on the train platform, a woman walked by with her little wire-haired dog. Of course, the woman noticed us noticing her dog, and came over to chat. Her dog’s name was Latte (milk) and he had recently been operated on because he had been attacked by another dog. Latte was yet another unneutered dog – we have not seen a single, neutered male dog. They are all intact. But then again, we have not seen a single stray dog.

Our seats on the train were next to a mother and her son. And their cute little dog  named Slinky who looked out the window as the train started up. Okay then. Time to go home to our dog.

Once in Milan, just about two blocks from the train station, we rolled our suitcases over to the Berna Hotel, our four-star hotel, Italian-style. We found a caffeteria lunch around the corner, expensive by our standards, and then retreated to our hotel for tea. We bought yogurt and cheese down the street for our early-morning breakfast. Our hotel is famous for their breakfasts, but since we need to leave at 5:30, we will miss it handily. We caught an episode of the Daily Show on TV. Here, however, it was sponsored by the country of Croatia.

Our last big deal on the itinerary – Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper – was our next stop. You have to have reservations for this masterpiece and only 15 people are allowed in at a time.  It’s not in great condition – some renovation gone astray – but it was completely worth seeing it.

But let’s not gloss over the best gelato I’ve had on this trip. We discovered Chocolat on the way to see DaVinci. Not only did it have a line out the door, but it had at least six different kinds of chocolate. Chocolate, pistachio, and crema rounded out the gelato tastings for this trip. Now, no more ice cream for the rest of the year.

Back onto the underground for dinner by the canal. Pizza for me, pasta for Shelly, and a shared salad. And a walk back along the canal. What a busy spot. People were swarming into the area as we were walking out. But time for us to go.

And that wraps up our 12 days in Italy.

See you back on the other side of the pond.

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A three-hour tour to Venezia

Rain today. Or at least first thing in the morning. Despite the weather and Shelly’s cold, we choose heading to Venezia over hanging out in Verona. We missed the morning trains and bought round-trip tickets that gave us just under four hours in Venice. Not a lot of time, but enough to get the flavor of the city. We almost missed our train though because we had a good 1.5 hours before our train left. We hopped a bus back into Verona only to hop the wrong bus across town. With the traffic and waiting for another bus back, we had less than 45 minutes to find lunch and get back in time for the train.

We took another bus, went to a bank, found no decent restaurant, and ended up buying a yogurt, cheese, breadstick lunch from an outside market. The cheese was amazing. Gorgonzola cut from a fresh wheel, and nodula pugliese (I think the spelling is close), which is pulled fresh mozzarella. Great stuff.

Venice. The train station exited right onto the Grand Canal where we jumped on a water taxi. The weather had cleared and warmed up, so it turned out to be a perfect day. We passed gondoliers, work boats, all kinds of boats. I can now say that I have seen someone steering a boat and talking on a cell phone at the same time.

We got off just past St. Marks Square and actually walked away from it. The crowds of people were a turn off, so we just walked through little alleys and over the bridge by the Accademia stop toward the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. The museum, one of my favorites, wasn’t packed with people, and was quite the little oasis in the middle of this overrun city. The permanent collection, the traveling exhibit, Peggy’s house and garden entertained us for an hour, and then it was back to the alleys, and a boat trip back down the Grand Canal to the train station.

Overlooking the Grand Canal from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Overlooking the Grand Canal from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Let’s just say we got on the train with not even two minutes to spare. A very short trip indeed, but I’m glad we went.

We decided to break our dinner habit of eating downstairs and ventured off a few blocks from our apartment, down by the river. Via Interrato dell Acqua Morta (dead water) is basically where the river used to be, and is now covered over by streets and houses. We walked right past a church frock store. One couple stopped to look and they crossed themselves. We just took pictures.

Which color goes best with my eyes?

Which color goes best with my eyes?

We decided on Il Burchio (Nuovo Burchio on the receipt) and had a wonderful dinner. We both had the veggie antipasto buffet. Three euros and choices of giant capers and cornichons, lettuce, radicchio, sun-dried tomatoes, cauliflower, green beans, etc. Excellent. Shelly had beef in a red wine sauce and I had fagillitini, a take on raviolis, but hand-wrapped little pockets of spinach and ricotta pasta in a light cream sauce. We shared a glass of red wine and I got a homemade apple cake for dessert. Great meal.

We spent the rest of the evening packing for Milan. I hope everything fits in our bags.

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Get to know Verona day

We had two simple goals in mind today. To see some sights in Verona and possibly do a little shopping. We did both. We visited the Chiesa di San Fermo, a cool but spooky church with a long history. The church proper sat on top of an earlier, more Byzantine style church. The church below had arches, and that great ol’ old-church, tomb smell. (There were actually three layers, the later two built upon a Roman temple/tomb area.)

They don't look too happy to me

Not so happy looking religious figures

Our trek took us to L’ Arena, Verona’s colosseum. It mimicked the larger, Rome Colosseum in that it was in fairly good shape. In fact, they still hold concerts there (Bjork performed there last week), so it was a bit weird to see the place with seats ready to be filled.

Verona's L'Arena

Verona's L'Arena

To be honest, our main destination today was Dada, a shoe store that our apartment owner told us about and even circled for us on our map. When we got there, it had just closed … for lunch. Phew. It promised to reopen again at 15:30, so off we went to get an espresso. I got a cappuccino and Shelly ordered a little coffee advertised on a banner hanging above the bar. It came in a cute little cup and pretty much curled her hair when she drank it. I guess it was a bit strong. An interesting fact that I hadn’t remembered from my previous trip through Italy – their espresso is served warm, never hot.  Maybe they served them cooler this time of the year, but the three that I’ve had have definitely not been hot.

We had some more time to kill, so we walked back toward the center of town by L’Arena. We passed an older gelateria. I had to walk in. I walked out with a wonderful treat – La Giuduitta or something. Basically, a small cup of whipped creamed, chocolate hazelnut ice cream, more whipped cream, chopped nuts, and dark Swiss Chocolate. They are also known for their ice cream bars, so Shelly got a three-layered one with Amaretto, chocolate, and vanilla, nestled between two tiny, thin wafers. It looked better than it tasted.

Coffee drinking, ice cream eating delay tactics done, and onto Dada, a store of shoes. Their men’s selection was disappointedly small, but Shelly found and bought two pairs of  women’s shoes – reddish, leather loafers and bright red desert boots. Mission accomplished.

We wandered slowly through town, back toward our apartment, still looking for shopping opportunities, but found none. We finished the evening with some quick food shopping, laundry across the street, and dinner once again, below our apartment at Arce di Noe. Seems like we’re getting into a pattern.

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What do Google Maps, AIG, and Dell have in common?

After visiting the church built below the Chiesa di San Fermo, we walked toward Verona’s Arena, a mini-Colosseum.

On the way, Shelly noticed a little black car outfitted with a fold down, roof-mounted camera and a Google Maps placard in the front window. In the passenger side of the car, a Dell monitor. And in the front window, paperwork that said the car was insured by AIG Europe.

Little, black Google Maps car

Little, black Google Maps car

Try not to run into anything little black Google Maps car.

Might make for a good Geico commercial

Might make for a good Geico commercial

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Onward to Verona

Last-minute packing and a 20-minute walk down narrow sidewalks to the train station. Knock wood, but I am amazed that the wheels on our little wheelie suitcases have mastered the cobblestones of this city.

Another Eurostar train ride. Very smooth and fast. We had to sit across from each other this time, Shelly listening to her iPod, me typing away. We were shoulder to shoulder with an older couple from Germany. And the wife, who was sitting next to me had some powerfully bad breath. They ate their bread and stinky cheese sandwiches and bananas, while we chowed down on food Shelly bought from the same place we got yesterday’s lunch. Good stuff, but I think I had a bad olive. It was green but too squishy. Thank goodness we got off the train pretty quickly after that.

This train ride was much more picturesque than the one from Rome. Quite beautiful actually, with pear orchards, fields of verdura, old farmhouses, cities, rivers, the works. Arriving in Verona, we grabbed a bus to our next apartment.

Our Verona apartment is great. It’s very spacious, has a cute little kitchen, lots of storage, and is only one flight up. However, with the windows open, it sounds like we live on a Nascar track – with them closed, it’s very quiet and comfortable. We’re situated about five minutes from the river and one of the bridges, and we appear to be in a bit of an immigrant neighborhood. The guy at the store where we bought milk, tp, yogurt, eggs, etc., comes from Cambodia, and is here because he can work and save money. He also speaks about a million languages. We also picked up some bread just down the street. This area has everything including a stationery store. Let’s just say we spent some time in there, Shelly got names of some new products, and pictures were taken.

Pens, pens, and more pens

We proceeded to walk across the bridge (with another great view), and into town where we walked and shopped for a few hours. Shelly even got some eye-dropper medicine for the crappy cough/cold she’s picked up.

A view from a bridge in Verona

A view from a bridge in Verona

Dinner was at a restaurant below our apartment. Arce di Noe. One of our favorite, least expensive meals. We had a mozzerella, tomato, capers pizza; spaghetti with meat sauce; an insalata mista; and some cooked mixed veggies. Perfect. The husband/wife team also serves horse-meat dishes, a local favorite. No thanks.

Tomorrow: more of Verona.

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A Firenze gymnasium, The Knight Rider, and The Golden View

Tuesday, September 16

Shelly found us a gym about 10 minutes from our hotel. It was tucked away in a non-descript building, but once inside it occupied an old studio or home, and every room had some kind of equipment in various stages of decay. The machines still worked though, and we managed to get a decent workout.

Time to curl the old biceps

Time to curl the old biceps

For you Knight Rider fans, David Hasselhoff and Kitt graced the TV screens at the gym. I guess Knight Rider follows Charlie’s Angels during the week. Now, if we could just time our day to watch an Italian-dubbed “Love Boat” or “Fantasy Island” …

On the way back to our, hotel we walked past a tiny store that also sold take-away food. They were still putting out food, but we managed to get some interesting choices. Armed with our picnic lunch, Shelly looked into an archway and stopped. We were right in front of the oldest botanical garden in the world. The Firenze botanica has been in existence since 1545. And it was a perfect place for a lunch. A little oasis in the middle of the city. We used their bathroom and instead of flushing the toilet, Shelly pushed the alarm (it was a handicapped bathroom). It kept ringing until a woman came running over and turned it off. That was fun.

The view from the center of Firenze's botanical garden

The view from the center of Firenze's botanical garden

Our lunch was terrific. Ratatouille, another veggie dish with eggs and carrots, and the best eggplant parmigiana I’ve ever had. The sun made it bit warmer today so being outside and in this garden was quite nice.

Later that night, we asked for restaurant recommendations again, and this time decided to leave our immediate surroundings and head over the Arno for dinner. The 20-minute walk across town, at dusk, past the Duomo, through the heart of the city, over the Ponte Vecchio went by quickly as we weaved through all the tourists, past restaurants crowded with students, and bike shops.

We arrived at Golden View Open Bar, a scenic riverside restaurant that overlooked the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Equivalent to a Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant, but hey, we’re tourists, and this was our last night. The dinner was quite expensive for our budget at 70 euro, but I guess you have to pay for the view. I had my first draft Peroni and remembered why I drank wine in Italy.

We supplemented our walk back with gelato. I had a three-some of Nutella, coconut, and Menta, while Shelly went for yogurt and banana. Good stuff.

Goodnight Florence.

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