Monthly Archives: February 2014

Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!
– Robert Browning

Last November with the first cold snap there was silence in the woods. I had never really noticed it in previous winters. Maybe because this winter has been so mild the chorus of bird song that greets me every morning when I walk the dog up the nearest hill never seemed to die down, it was just suddenly gone. It was kind of a shock. One of those, you never miss it till… things.

I cherish my morning walks (even though sometimes I trudge up that hill like an old steam engine although it is really not that high). There is hardly anyone about. Those who have to work are already gone into the city; those that don’t have to work so early are still in bed. We are often greeted by the remnants of the wild boars nightly feast – the ground torn up and pushed around – or by a few deer trying to feed before the woods fill with dog walkers or nordic walkers or lumber men. The animals in the forest seem calmer this year. Maybe because the hunt that usually happens twice a year only happened once this year. Apparently, with the weather so mild it is hard to get the animals to run. When the hunt comes, the energy in the whole forest changes and it disturbs me. Maybe it is just in my imagination but I try to not be at home on those days and take the dog with me if I can.

But the thing is, here it is only the end of February and the walnut tree and the other early flowering trees are starting to bud. The bird songs are in full chorus. I can see a hint of green on some of the bushes and it isn’t just moss. Something lifts my spirits and opens my heart. There is something wonderful in the change of seasons. Let it come.

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Alja at her favorite pasttime - Play!

Dogs in my Life – Part 2 / Dog 3

Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.
― Mark Twain

When we put Weia down, I thought I would never want another dog. She was so special, so much a part of us. But after you have lived with a dog in the house it is hard to live without one and so after about a month, I started looking in the internet for dogs to save. This time however, Wolfgang insisted on getting a puppy, so we found a breeder where the mother dog looked a lot like Weia – there is quite a range of looks in the Kuvasz breed – and we asked if we could be considered for a puppy. Interestingly, because it was the first litter, the breeder wasn’t sure that there would be enough puppies to give out. Usually the first litter is quite small. But “Devina” had 11 puppies in her first litter and after they were about a month old we went and picked one out.

Honestly, I would have taken them all home. Puppies are so cute as they stumble around and snort. I wanted a boy dog but Wolfgang insisted that we get a girl dog. Male Kuvasz dogs can get to over 100 lbs and there was reason to believe that I wouldn’t be able to control him so I agreed. We chose one little puffball called “Antares”, which is also the name of a star. It was very important to the breeder that we got to know the dogs before we picked them up – and also I think that they got to know us, they were very conscientious about making sure that the people who got their dogs would take good care of them -so we came a few times before we took her home and every visit with the whole bunch was a joy.

Alja all tired out - 10 weeks old (Note the rubber chicken under her head)

Alja all tired out – 10 weeks old

At the time we got Alja (pronounced AL-ee-ah and means “the Sublime”- we renamed her when we got home, Antares was a man), there was a lot of press about a polar bear cub that had been born in the zoo and we felt like we had our own little polar bear. Her fur is thick and bushy and her black-rimmed brown eyes look black from a distance and the black nose. Her paws were unbelievably soft in the beginning and wide and flat like a bear’s. She loved to play – not typical of the breed – and she was always so excited to see us and everyone else. It was always so cute, at least when she still weighed under 20 lbs.

But she grew up of course. She now weighs around 80 lbs and she still tries to jump up on us and on other people when they come, something we have never been able to cure. We were hoping that she would be different than Weia and get along with other dogs. To achieve that, we have tried to bring her together with other dogs as often as possible. We also take her regularly to a “day pension” for dogs so that she can have time with other dogs and get worn out from playing and we have never had a complaint there. But at home, if another dog walks by even if it is 100 yards away, all hell breaks loose. People who see it are shocked. She is so sweet with people and so aggressive with most dogs. We get lots of tips about what we should do to fix that.

The thing is with Alja nothing has seemed to work. Since she was a puppy, we have taken her to dog trainers. I have watched several Cesar Millan DVDs, I have read several of his books. I have read books about click training, about how to deal with a dominant aggressive dog. We had a private dog trainer who worked with us and Alja for six weeks. When it came to dealing with the aggression, she was shocked and helpless. We paid for two sessions with an expensive certified dog trainer and when she was there, Alja was perfect. The minute she left it was back to ground zero again. As sweet as she is in our four walls, when she gets outside and there are potential dangers to be seen or to be smelled or even to be imagined, she goes berserk. Kuvasz are very territorial and bread to be watch dogs and on top of that Alja is exceptionally “awake” for a dog. When a plane flies over, she stops and watches it go. At every wildlife track in the woods, you can see her go on alert and check it all out. As a result, we also have to really be on the alert. It can sometimes be very tiring.

Tired kids.

Tired kids.

That all being said, she is still a joy. Her fur is soft life silk velvet and she loves to be cuddled for hours. Alja is a young soul, unlike Weia who was so quiet and peaceful. Alja is full of bounding energy and is still like she was as a puppy, ready to play at the smallest opportunity. I defy anyone to resist her when she stands with her blanket in her mouth and looks at you with those big button eyes. She trusts us completely – at least in the house – you can do anything to her and she doesn’t complain. And when I come home after a whole day of teaching, even at 5 years old she still jumps for joy like I have been gone for ages. She is a wonderful energy in the house and we both adore her. We will do everything in our power to give her a long, healthy and happy life.

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The Forest for the Trees

Acknowledging Knowledge

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.
Confucius

When I went away to college, I had very little education in music. Piano lessons, singing lessons and a very rudimentary harmony and form education. But otherwise I basically knew nothing. When the other students would talk about this recording and that recording, this piece and that piece, this singer or that singer, I would pretend I knew what they were talking about when in reality I had no clue. But rather than say, “No, I don’t actually know that. Tell me about it.” I would mumble, uh-huh and let them keep on talking.

When I went to grad school, I got a job checking the card catalogue against the new computer list. I happened to work back shelves and had the opportunity to listen to any opera I wanted and to get caught up on my educational lack so that I didn’t have to pretend any more.

In my old age I am more likely to admit I haven’t heard of something. I am more likely to say, “No, I haven’t heard about that. Tell me about it.” On the other hand, this morning I listened for 10 minutes to someone explaining to me directions to their place all the while pretending I knew what they were talking about and saying over and over again, uh-huh. Some things never change.

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Fairytale Land out my window

Finding a Fairytale

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
William Butler Yeats

The world – as seen from the window where I write this – is a fairytale land. There is a series of ponds in front of my house where the grey heron spends his time. I often see him gracefully swooping to find a landing place among the tall reeds and sometimes the storks join him for a rest on their long journey back and forth across Europe. In the fall, the buck bellows his lovelorn call and in the spring, the deer give birth to their fawns in the tall grass of the swamp just a few feet from our front gate. The woods are full of wild boar and I even saw a badger once waddling down the street. The woodpecker staccato greets me in the morning, the hawk cries over the fields in the daytime, and owl hoots at night. Yes, it is quiet enough to hear all of these things even though we only live about a half hour from the biggest airports in continental Europe. I walk out the door and in less than a minute I am surrounded by trees and wildlife.

Even the people here seem somehow out of a fairytale. I can see my neighbor down the hill as she brushes her long, beautiful blond hair at her window every morning like Rapunzel. There is local guitar builder who builds bass guitars for some of the great players in the world who I see almost every day looking like a homeless man walking his dogs. You would never know how successful he is. Like a lot of small towns – we have under 600 residents – this one is full of characters.

We found this house sort of by accident and a curious synchronicity of events. Wolfgang inherited some money just at the time of the Lehman crisis and went to a State certified investment counselor to ask how he should invest it. She said, buy property; you don’t want to be investing in the stock market at the moment (which turned out to be a mistake but who knew when it seemed like the economic world was crashing down around us). That day literally our landlady called and said that she had to sell the house we were renting from her to fulfill death duties and would we want to buy it. It was a row house in the city in a not great neighborhood but with all the conveniences so we considered it in part because she named a very reasonable price. A few days later she raised her price – friends of hers had told her she should ask for more – and we noticed that there was structural damage in the house. And besides we never really wanted to live in the city, so we went looking elsewhere.

We had lived for a short time in a small town outside of Frankfurt and had felt very comfortable there, so we went looking there first and found something in our price range. The house wasn’t particularly nice and the rooms were a funny shape and organization but other houses in that area were much more expensive so we thought it was the best we could do. The only issue was that it was a prefab house from the 70’s. At that time in Germany, they used formaldehyde on the wood slats and asbestos on the outer walls and so we had it all evaluated by an expert for toxins. While we were waiting for the report, I suggested that we continue looking. To tell you the truth I didn’t like the house but I was willing to take it if we couldn’t find something else. I had however seen an ad for another house that peeked my interest. They only showed the view out of one window, but that view was only of tree tops. I wanted to see the rest.

A real estate agent made a plan of several houses for us to see including the mystery house, which turned out to be the first one we saw. I don’t know why but 10 minutes in the house and I knew I wanted to live there. The owner told us that someone else was working to find the financing but he would still accept a bid. We saw the other properties but they just couldn’t compare. We made a bid, it was accepted with a little haggling and we got the keys just a few weeks later. We had to do some renovation – most of which Wolfgang did by himself – including putting in a hardwood floor in the living room and antique terra cotta tiles in the hall but we made it in before we had to be out of the other place. We are still working on the renovations four years later but we’re doing it as we can, when we can.

Some of our friends and my students think we were crazy to move out here. I drive into Frankfurt nearly every day to teach, about a 40 minute drive and when the weather is bad coming up the hill to us its not so easy. A couple times I almost didn’t make it. But when I am here, my soul opens up and my head is clear. And then it is all worth it to live in fairyland.

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Dreams Quote

Dreams

Don’t let someone who has given up on their dreams talk you out of going after yours. Dream big and start now. – Unknown

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