licking her lips atop the ‘sea mountain head’

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How did we get up here?

It was the first hike of the season last weekend, and it took me this long to upload the photos. Ella and Louis look rather regal, don’t they?

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The church in the middle of the village.

We took the train to Bayrischzell, which is an area of Upper Bavaria we know quite well. We’ve hiked here often. Sitting in the square before we began our way up the mountain, the dogs wondered what was taking us so long. Here we go…

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Bayrischzell from above.

Since we hadn’t hiked yet this year, I had to stop for relatively frequent breaks. I took the opportunity to snap a photo of the village on the way up. The dogs could’ve run on without any pause.

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‘Why do we have to stop?’

The mountain in the background is Rotwand (‘red wall’), which we’ve climbed in years past. Maybe that’s in our near future, as well.

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Aggressive bovine activity.

These cows might look friendly enough, but they were anything but. We’ve actually been chased off of a mountain by aggressive bovine activity in the past. Not a pretty sight.

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Ella licking her lips atop the Seeberghof at the moment of arrival.

This is the girl dog atop the Seebergkopf (‘sea mountain head‘). Her brother tires after about 6 or 7 hours of hiking and has to lay down, but I’ve never found Ella‘s limit. She doesn’t stop wanting to hike. Ever.

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Louis at the train station on the way home.

For some reason, I’ve always liked old train stations. The one in Bayrischzell is no exception. It wasn’t the longest hike, but it’s good to ease into the hiking season slowly. Well, for me, anyway. The dogs were ready to climb another mountain that very day.

 

 

 

 

the best red dogs on the planet turn eight today!

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doing what they love most…Ella and Louis will definitely spar like this at some point on their birthday

On 13 January 2005 the best red dogs on the planet were born. I went into detail about all this last year at the same time, but I just wanted to share this photo. If I let myself, I’d blog about their love and what an honour it is to take care of them on a daily basis.

My heart doubles in size when I see Ella and Louis playing. These dogs have quite simply been the single most reliable thing over the last several years.

Am thrilled that photos of them bring joy to so many people I know only from the internet. I’ve been using the hashtag #EllaandLouis for a while over at twitter if you’d like a sampling of the joy they bring. Have at it.

thanks Ralf for saving my Christmas

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Louis is not doing a yoga pose…NO, he’s not

Yesterday was Christmas Day, and all was going relatively well until my boy dog Louis decided to disappear. It was quite honestly the most terrifying half hour I could imagine, because he’s not one to wander off.

His sister Ella, on the other hand, regularly runs off when we’re hiking in the mountains, but she’s smart enough to come back. Eventually. As much as it scares me when she does it, she’s clever. She’s able to find her way back.

Her brother Louis? Is he clever like his female counterpart? Uh, well.

He’s got a great personality – he’s earnest and takes defending us quite seriously. I promise you he’s got his better qualities, but intelligence isn’t something he was blessed with. I’m not being cruel – he really is a bit dim.

So when I turned round and he’s gone, I wasn’t pleased. I was the opposite of pleased. Ella was concerned, but to be candid she takes everything a bit too seriously, so I assured her that her brother would be back soon enough. After a few minutes of whistling and hollering his name, I was no longer able to feign calmness.

She and I switched positions, and she began assuring me that he’d soon be found. Everything would be ok. Right?

I wasn’t quite sure.

Now, if I wanted to build suspense and make this a decent piece of writing, I might draw it out. I could go into excruciating detail and describe my emotional spiral in a blow by blow manner, but I simply can’t bring myself to do that. It’s not somewhere I’m prepared to go with this.

What I’d rather do is make yet another plea that you hold those you love closer to you during the holidays. If you come here regularly, you know it’s one of my regular themes. Savour what you’ve got while it’s there. Don’t wait till you lose someone or something to appreciate it. Really.

My family in America seems to be doing rather well. Every time I talk to my brother’s children, my heart hurts a little that I’m not there more often. They love their Uncle Ken, and I wish I could corrupt them in person and not just via Skype. At some point in the last month I realised that if I needed a character reference, my niece Amelia would be my best bet.

Go ahead, ask her. What does she think of her uncle? The one who lives in Germany and always brings her a Dirndl or a nice bit of Swiss chocolate? If only that reference could help me get a better job or help me find a flat…

But then I realise, when I have that kind of high quality character reference, what else do I need? If this particular eight-year-old is properly impressed, why am I worried about little things like a place to live or a more stable source of income? Her mom Sara told me while we were on the phone last night, ‘Well, you could always come live here.

With Ella and Louis and all the contents of my tea cupboard?

I don’t think Amelia would think I was so great if she had to live near me on a regular basis. All things in moderation – even moderation.

Hug your people. Tell them you love them.

Savour this life. It’s precious. It really is the only one you’ve got.

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Louis and his stare…where did you run off to sweet boy dog?

Did his sister and I eventually find the ridiculous boy dog? Yes, of course we did. He was being cared for by a very kind family that had dogs of their own. Ralf was the guy’s name, and he and his family had him in the boot of their car. They were patiently waiting for Louis‘ people to come wandering along, and eventually we did.

Wish I could say I didn’t get emotional and cry a little, but I’d be lying if I tried to appear more strong and/or silent. There were tears, and maybe a bit of hugging. I’m not sure if the family knew what they were getting into when they decided to take care of Louis, and after my blubbering display I’m not sure they’d do it again.

Wherever Ralf is, I hope he knows he saved our Christmas.

Ella and Louis are now sleeping peacefully and all is right with the world. It really is going to be ok.

all for the love of dog

Ella and Louis on the U-Bahn in Munich

Ella and Louis on the U-Bahn in Munich

Have been searching for a new flat, and in Munich that’s not an easy task. It’s like a full-time job, and I’ve already got one of those. Well, sort of.

So, the biggest impediment when it comes to finding a place, aside from the fact that Munich is completely saturated, is my two dogs. Ella and Louis mean the world to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Oy, is it not easy.

While I look for a place, the dogs are at the sitter. They love it there, but it’s not easy for me to have them there. I want them with me. Full stop.

Yesterday, I found a hotel that allowed dogs, rented a room, and spent the night with my little family. It was heaven.

Here’s how they greet me when I pick them up from the sitter. Enjoy:

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Don’t ask me what I’m thinking…I won’t tell you.

Recently took a day trip to Austria.

Whenever I travel without my dogs Ella and Louis, I stop and admire other dogs. It’s not something I can control.

Have always liked dogs. Because mine aren’t with me, I live vicariously through other dog owners. It’s a weakness.

This dog breed is Japanese.

Great dogs.

Very stubborn.

Unlike my dogs, not that interested in other people.

His owner he loves.

Anyone else? Not so much.

I wish he’d tell me what he thought. Or what he’s thinking.

Oh well.

travelling with Out of True as it was intended

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So, one day in the mail, this little green book arrived. Poetry?

Who reads poetry these days?

Oh, I know. Guy Clark does. He says this in one of my favourite of his songs:

Here’s a book of poems I got
From a girl I used to know
I guess I read it front to back
Fifty times or so
It’s all about the good life
And stayin’ at ease with the world
It’s funny how I love that book
And I never loved that girl

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Then I went to London, where I met @elaine4queen and this is a photo of her upon first seeing my copy of Out of True. As good as it is, it’s even better with a cuppa.

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Then there was sleeping and such…upon awakening, it turned out Poppet ‘ad been readin’ a bit of poetry on her own while I wasn’t looking. How twee is that, innit?

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Here’s where our Elaine finally takes a gander at the ol’ book itself. She’s awestruck. ‘That’s some top shelf poetry there, I tell you what!’ I hear her exclaim.

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Then later I was in another café in London and I met this lovely couple from Edinburgh. Although I had my copy of Out of True with me, we didn’t talk about it. There’s no real reason for me to include this photo…I just liked them.

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Here’s a photo of the book and my copy of Myrtle Takes Tea in the same café that I was with the Scottish couple.

And finally, a photo of the book on a pile of money with a baritone ukulele. Because it’s my damned blog and I can do whatever I want here.

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Before I forget: the poet is Amy Durant. She’s a friend. A good poet, but an exceptional friend. You can read her daily musings at Lucy’s Football (lucysfootball.com), and although her posts are long and rambling and often have only a very thin connection to reality, she’s that sort of writer you should keep an eye on.

She’s going somewhere – that Amy Durant. Those crazy eyes? ALL. THE. CAPS. She’s going somewhere, for reals. Luckily, she’s promised to take us with her.

going home (if there even is such a thing)

Ella and Louis somewhere in Austria

This might be a bit strange- this blogpost. Yes, I’m aware my writing can be odd on a semiregular basis, so this isn’t necessarily the most shocking opening gambit, but nevertheless…you’ve been warned.

See, I want to ask one of those big questions that blogging really isn’t capable of tackling. This is a novel-sized theme. Many blogging experts, if there is such a thing, insist on the need for concise, clear writing. Nothing wrong with having that as a goal, right?

Some of my favourite writers are anything but concise. Faulkner and Melville get a bad rap for it, but one they probably deserve. It was a different era, you know. Over-explaining was the done thing. In the modern era of literature you had writers, such as Hemingway, attempting to trim the fat and give the reader the most streamlined version of the story.

The conventional wisdom is that blogging should be more like A Farewell to Arms and less like Moby Dick. You probably know some bloviated blogs. Ones you know are good, but reading one of his blogposts is a time commitment.

Here’s a test. If you convince yourself you need a beverage in hand to read someone’s blog, it might be that the posts are too long. I can hear you saying, ‘But lahikmajoe, I always read with a coffee in my hand. That’s no indicator.’

That’s not quite it. Before you read this hypothethical writer’s blog, do you say to yourself, ‘Ok, I know I like this blog, but every single time I read it, I need a libation of a larger-sized than normal,‘ because that’s the sort who are conspiring with the likes of Captain Ahab. Who’re so focused on hunting the White Whale that they have no time for reflection on their method.

I’m going to try and take my own advice on staying brief. My question is simply this: What is home?

For me, it’s those beautiful red dogs pictured above. As long as they’re with me, I’m home. Full-stop. We could live most anywhere and Ella and Louis would be perfectly happy. Their needs are simple. As are mine, which I’m finally beginning to see.

What about you? What do you need for a place to be considered home? Is it a physical need? Do you need, for example, to be near a park or forest?

I know what I said about being long-winded, but blog comments are another story. You’re welcome to write a blog comment as long as you like. See? I’m magnanimous like that.

little Vizslas

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Insomnia has struck, so I’m up in the night looking at old photos.

Have another blogpost in the works about Schoko Bär, but it’s not quite ready, so this’ll have to do.

These are photos from when Ella and Louis were still tiny. Puppies are a bit like babies in that everyone thinks their precious little drop of sunshine is the cutest thing that has ever existed. Sometimes it’s simply not the case.

But Ella and Louis are the exception. Yes, I know everyone thinks they’re somehow more objective on this.

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That’s them (with littermates) in their house in Hamburg. Don’t they look adorable? This was all I had to look at before taking the ICE train up there at Easter seven years ago. Sometimes I get really choked up when I think about all we’ve been through over the years. Enjoy the photos, yeah?

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smoke and mirrors

Today I found out about a friend’s death, and I’m so disoriented that I find my emotions swirling here and there. I might be able to leave impressions scrawled on the page, but at the moment I can barely have a conversation with those closest to me.

I regularly read about how unreal the friendships we make online are. That they’re ultimately superficial. Those of us who think we really know anyone from what they post on their blogs or sputter on about by way of various microblogging possibilities – the likes of us are questionable to the population at large.

‘This isn’t real life,’ I hear them admonishing us. ‘You’re wrapped up in a world of holograms. Make-believe.’

And in some ways, I suppose they’re right. It’s easy to forget that. That none of this is real. That we’re just avoiding life while we post photos of our children or dogs. Somehow we missed learning interpersonal skills, so we crawl into our caves and approximate a life with total strangers half a world away.

It’s not natural.

But here I am weeping over the death of a woman I’ve only gotten to know through electronic snippets of her life. A guest blogpost where she explained her fascination with all things British and how that came about. Photos of her new grandchild and the unmistakeable pride that someone she’d created had then created something so precious.

I know I don’t know her and she didn’t really know me. That we were just fooling ourselves. The way people do.

When I was visiting family stateside, she’d chirp that she was pleased we were in the same time zone. We could finally correspond in real time without having to do a bit of arithmetic to figure out competing clocks.

She liked my dogs. That’s the only reason she reached out to me early on. Saw a photo and thought, ‘Anyone who has such beautiful dogs, can’t be all bad.’ When she said it, I refrained from mentioning that anyone could purchase beautiful dogs. I mean really. Good thing we kept it all on the surface. Where things belong.

When her dog, Wellington, was gravely ill, I convinced her that I knew what that was like. And when he died, she was inconsolable. Somehow, I was able to create the impression that I knew what she was going through. Not really sure where that came from.

Something she found out about me became a recurring theme in our conversations. She was Anglican, or as it’s called over there Episcopalian, and found out that I have clergy in my family. She was curious and for some reason I talked about it with her.

Normally, the tone of the conversation was quite light and whimsical. Sometimes it went a bit deeper, but what was I thinking? She was just some lady on the computer screen. We didn’t even know one another.

There’s an odd sort of person – you’ve probably known one or two like this – who has an innate ability to make you think that you’re truly a friend. I’ve seen countless people online today, who were similarly hoodwinked into thinking they’d really known her.

Her make-believe tea trolley and her deft display of double entendre? All that was a ruse. To get us right where she wanted us. Believing we mattered to her. The trickster that she turned out to be.

Here’s the thing: it was worth it. All of it. Would I do it again? Of course I would. The fact of the matter is that I’d rather have that superficial, make-believe, whimsical friendship for just a few more moments than many of the day-to-day encounters I have with my neighbours.

Do I miss her? Of course I do. It’s inconceivable to me that she’s no longer there. But she never was there, right? Smoke and mirrors.

I’ll remember you Mildew. Your smoke and your mirrors.

my rays of sunshine

Before there was even the thought of Ella and Louis – the Magyar Vizsla brother and sister that I talk and write about a great deal – before them there was a dog who came walking up to our car on a little road in southwestern South Dakota on the way from Sturgis down to Colorado. There was no intention of taking this dog. None. She was a mop of very dirty black hair, and looked painfully hungry. After giving her a bit of food, she jumped into the car and insisted that she was coming with us. Clearly of her own volition.

Lyle in snowy Colorado

Her name was Lyle, and there was something about her that I’d never experienced as a dog lover. See when I was a child, we always had dogs. My brother Michael had an incredibly strong connection to each one, but the very first dog, Dandelion, lived an astoundingly long time and he was especially fond of her. So much so that when she died, he was unconsolable. From my perspective, this was preposterous. ‘What’s wrong with you?‘ I wanted to ask him. ‘The old dog’s gone, which means we get a brand new dog. Maybe even a puppy.‘ He only wanted Dandelion. Once again, this made no sense to me.

So, back to Lyle. Brought her to Germany, and she was my only responsibility in the early days when I was still polishing my German. She’d run alongside my bicycle as I went to get papers from the main train station. She’d watch German television with me and offer sympathy when I insisted that I’d never get this language.

She was the perfect café dog. For hours, she’d sit next to me as I nursed my tea (sometimes even a coffee) and read book after book in my native tongue and sometimes even struggled through the daily papers in the adopted one. She was simply happy to be alongside me.

You see where this is going, right?

Lyle and me

In late January 2005, Lyle was healthy one day & violently ill the next. Before I could even consider taking her to the vet, she was up through the night unable to sleep. Took her out to the street in the middle of the night and she desperately wanted to go deep in the snowy bushes and be left alone. I held her the rest of the night and sometime around dawn she died in my arms.

I was suddenly my brother who I’d ridiculed. For months, I cried everyday. She had been my companion in such dark, frustrating moments. I didn’t want a shiny new puppy. I wanted Lyle.

Still brings tears to my eyes when I think about her.

Sometimes you really need more time to grieve the passing of a pet. And anyone who says they need more time…

I completely understand that. Without reservation.

But in this case, the only way to still the waves of inconsolable emotions was to get a new dog. Or in this case two new dogs. Then there it was written in the local Munich paper:  ‘Hamburg family has Magyar Vizsla puppies‘. Went to get them at Easter time. In the photos, they were still tiny. They were anything but small when I first saw them. The thing that sealed the deal for me was Ella laying next to me on the bench at the family’s house in Hamburg, and she began to purr. Just like a cat. She still does it to this day. It’s easily the most adorable thing she does, which says a lot. Louis was very standoffish. Over the years, he’s grown to become anything but that.

Here they were when they were still quite small:

Louis (on the left) and Ella as puppies

And if you know me at all, you know that my day revolves around these two. Happily. I’m sure I’d go outside if I didn’t have them begging to be taken, but I wouldn’t go as often. Or for as long.

I literally have hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of them. I’m loathe to include too many, but here are some of my favourite:

earnestness

Ella listing to the port side

in the autumn leaves

Going up Wendelstein-one of our favourite hikes

serious glove tug

goodnight happy dogs

Happy Birthday my rays of sunshine. You give so much more than you take. Thanks to all of you reading for loving them too.