Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Monday, April 30, 2007

Bao has made himself at home in Cruise Beagle's basket.

Cruise -- as always -- is being the perfect gentleman, and treating this development with his usual aplomb. Cruise hardly ever loses his cool. He's a sort of canine Cary Grant. Elegant, understated, unflappable.

I'll always remember the first time he and Bao met. I'd only just moved in, and one afternoon we encountered Morag and Cruise walking by the marina. The dogs took a liking to each other from the start, and so did we. It was late afternoon. Come back to my place for a drink, said Morag. I accepted with alacrity, delighted at the prospect of making a new friend.

As soon as we walked in the door, Bao headed straight for Cruise's pile of toys and grabbed Pink Pig, Cruise's favorite stuffed animal. Put it down! I said. He wouldn't. Give it to me! I demanded. He wouldn't. It's okay, Morag said. Cruise doesn't mind.

But I minded. It was so embarrassing.

Morag poured the Scotch, while Bao resisted my attempts to wrest Pink Pig from his slobbering little mouth. We chatted. The sun went down over Biscayne Bay. Bao was still holding on to Pink Pig. He can take Pink Pig home with him, Morag said graciously.

How could you humiliate me like this? I asked Bao.

Bao knew that if he opened his mouth I'd snatch Pink Pig, so of course he didn't say a word.

I apologized for my ill-mannered little boy, hoping Morag would continue to speak to me. And eventually, Bao did relinquish Pink Pig, albeit somewhat worse for wear. Cruise never gave it a second thought and that Christmas, Morag surprised Bao with a Pink Pig of his own.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Here they are, Cruise Beagle and Bao. Together at last. These little guys really like hanging out together, and they're both gettting older. Bao is nearly eight; Cruise is nine. Morag and I can remember when they were sprightly young men!

South Florida is like a foreign country. Bao fels it too, even though we once used to live here. (Mind you, it felt like a foreign country then, too. And it bothered me, because after 32 years overseas, I thought I was coming back to the United States. Which South Florida is, geographically. But no other way)

Here, the lingua franca -- the language you hear in stores, the language you hear on the street, the language people are screaming into their cell phones -- is either Spanish or Haitian. The people are Cuban, Colombian, Argentine, Haitan, Jamaican, Caribbean. They are not hyphenated Americans, and they don't want to be. The (wealthy) Caucasian minority lives in secure, heavily guarded tower blocks of condominiums and pretends the rest of it doesn't exist.

Customs are different, too. Dogs are fashion statements, like gold chains and designer handbags, rather than beloved pets. They are well dressed, but not loved. Their owners don't pick up. They're mostly small dogs, but some of them are quite nasty, snarling and snapping, and Bao is scared of them. If it weren't for Morag, we wouldn't be here.

Mostly, we're hanging out with Morag, watching television. At least she's in her own home, with her dear little dog lying on the bed next to her. If she didn't have Home Care insurance, she'd be in a nurshing home. I hate insurance companies with a deep and abiding passion, but Home Care insurance is definitely worth considering.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bao, waiting. Bao is better at waiting than I am. I fret. Bao sleeps. And we had some long waits. Total travel time between Tucson and Fort Lauderdale, Florida was nearly 20 hours. You could fly to Australia quicker. But Bao was a prince, throughout.
I have discovered that working for American Airlines -- and working for Verizon -- means never having to say you're sorry. This has not been an easy trip. Food poisoning (me, not Bao)Three hours delay in Tucson. Another six hours waiting for the flight that replaced the flight that replaced the flight that was cancelled because of the tornado (or two) in Dallas. And of course, waiting for the Verizon Technical Expert, who doesn't exist. This is why you haven't heard from us. The Verizon Pocket PC will not talk to Blogger. End of story. End of Verizon Pocket PC, which is going back to the store as soon as we get back to Tucson. If you want to blog, stay away from Verizon. Do as I say, not as I did, and save yourself $300.

Southern Fl0rida is pretty much how I remembered it. Humid. Hot. Road rage.

My friend Morag (who is mostly confined to her bed) appears to be making a slow recovery. It's really good to see her again. And Bao has renewed his friendship with Cruise Beagle, who was one of his best friends. So that's nice.

We got here a little past midnight on Tuesday morning, and Bao knew exactly where he was, as soon as we drove through the gates. (We lived here, a couple of years ago. That's how I know Morag. We were neighbors) But Morag has been very ill, and her computer wasn't working, and it only just got sorted out today.

So, just checking in. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Here we are, taking a break from our latest foray into advanced technology.

Tomorrow, we're off to Florida to visit Morag and Cruise Beagle. And oh, boy! Have I been dreading the process of air travel with a laptop! Taking the battery out and proving to Security that it isn't an explosive device. Putting the battery back in, all the while trying to keep track of everything that's just been dumped out of my handbag. Slinging it back over my shoulder and lugging it thorugh the endless corridors of the air terminal. Not fun.

Why don't you just get a Smart Phone? suggested Laurie.

So yesterday, I did. It's the size of a pack of cigarettes (or maybe a bit smaller) with a flip-out qwerty keyboard and internet access. Oh yes, and a camera that takes stills and videos and a touch screen. Of course the touch screen is the size of a largish commemorative postage stamp (like the ones from the Dominican Republic) so you can't actually touch it with your great, big fingertip. You poke at it with a stylus, sort of like the way you eat winkles in a French restaurant. (I wasn't spectacularly good at that, either)

Thus far, the Smart Phone has proved to be a lot smarter than I am. And I've misplaced the stylus (which is the size of a truncated knitting needle, and black) three times. So tomorrow (or the next day) heaven only knows what's going to appear on this page. Maybe nothing. However, there is apparently a way to post messages and photos from mobile devices. The technology exists. All I need to do now is figure it out. Bao has promised to help. (I should hope so. After all, this is his blog) So please bear with us.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Doing lunch in Green Valley with Aunty Charlotte and Uncle Bill, two of Bao's favorite people.

Bao loves doing lunch. I always bring along treats, and his clever, Handi-Drink water bottle, but he still expects people to share. I've devised various strategies. For instance, I'll order a Chicken Caesar Salad, but ask for the chicken on the side. That works. I get the salad, he gets the chicken, nobody gets fat. Or if there's a brunch menu, we share a side order of bacon. He loves pasta, too. But pasta is easy, because they usually give you such a big helping that you can't finish it by yourself, anyhow. Sometimes, I cook up a bit of pasta for him here at home, as a special treat.

After 32 years in Australia, I have been having an ongoing love-affair with American cheeseburgers (especially the exotic ones) and all last year I kept telling myself that they weren't really fattening because I was sharing them with Bao. Alas! this proved to be wishful thinking, and I gained 15 pounds. (Bao didn't gain an ounce. I wish I knew his secret!)

What Bao really adores is bread and butter. Or better yet, rolls and butter. This particular restaurant featured a freshly baked, textured cheese bread which Charlotte is feeding to him, delicious bit by bit. Afterwards, he curled up on Bill's feet and went happily off to sleep.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Still life of a Shih Tzu with multiple, stacked manuscripts.

My New York agent asked me to print out seven copies of the manuscript of my novel for distrubution (I assume) to interested publishers, and so that's what we've spent the past couple of days doing. (My New York agent. I love being able to write that. I love saying it. My New York agent. It rolls so tripppingly off the tongue)

Bao was bit bewildered by it all. What is she doing? Why does she keep screaming at that poor little grey plastic machine? Why did she get so mad just because I tried to make a nest in that stack of paper? When are we going for our walk?

My printer is one of those modest affairs that gets bundled in with the computer (Buy this computer and get a free printer) and I wasn't sure it would be up to the task of printing 2,336 pages. But it rose manificently to the occasion, like the little train in the children's story. I could practically hear it saying, I think I can, I think I can. Chugg, chugg, chugg. Four pages per minute, except when the paper jammed or we ran out of ink. Finally, an hour ago, all seven copies went off with the nice man from Fedex. Gosh, it's exciting!

I thought I should do something nice for my plucky little printer, reward it for a job well done. But when I asked, What would you like? it just blinked its green light at me.

Bao is glad it's over, whatever it was. All that collating, all that angst. But of course, it's just the beginning. It could be months and months before anything else happens. Will my novel actually sell? Dogs don't have such worries. Dogs don't write books. Dogs live totally in the moment (if you believe Cesar Milan) and at this particular moment, Bao is asleep on my instep.

And Bao is right.

So I'm going out to sit in the garden.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Food, glorious food. A hot fudge sundae. Broiled lobster, dripping with butter. Fettucine Alfredo. Another hot fudge sundae. Eggs Benedict. Bacon. Waffles. Maple syrup. I love food, I do. This diet I've been on for a couple of months now is getting very, very old.

I keep thinking how awful it would be to wake up in the middle of the night and realize I'm having a heart attack and dying and my last thought is, Damn! I wish I'd had that piece of chocolate lava cake.

Dieting means you've got to read the labels on things.

More importantly, you've got to know what the things really are. And when it comes to pet food, this is tricky. For instance, you see a phrase like "meat and bone meal". That sounds okay, doesn't it? In fact, according to the USDA, meat and bone meal can legally consist of ground up dead animals, including road kill and dead pets from your local animal shelter. And probably does.

What about BHA and BHT? They're preservatives, we all know that. But what I didn't know was that they've been proven to cause liver and kidney failure in dogs and cats. They're carcinogens, as well. Even so, you find them in almost every pet food, wet and dry. Are they in your pet's food?

Apparently, dogs and cats have the genetic potential to live well into their twenties. Yet most die between the ages of 12 and 15. Is it because we're lovingly and unwittingly feeding them to death?

You can watch a really interesting video on this topic at

They sell pet food, but you can always turn off when you get to the commercial. The video is is full of information, and I found it a real eye-opener. I've sent away for a free sample of their product, but whether or not Bao will deign to eat it is another story!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The desert is alive with spring color. The Palo Verde trees are blossoming out into masses of brilliant yellow, and spiky, red flowers have sprouted on the tips of the ocotilla. Plus, the first pink and red cactus flowers have appeared. I'm told you can make jam out of the fruit. I must get the recipe.

You don't usually think of a desert as being beautiful, but the Sonoran Desert is. It's also the only place in the world where saguaro cacti grow. They're the ones with the arms, that you see in all those old Westerns.

I keep trying to see it all through Bao's eyes. Or -- probably more accurately -- to smell it through his nose. Just as our world is shaped by images, his world is shaped by smell. Perhaps that's why he seems to dislike windy days. Too many smells, all mixed and muddled together, assailing his nostrils. Bao doesn't like muddle.

We've had some strong winds, these past few days. I'm always careful about walking under the gum trees (or eucalypts, as you call them here) on windy days, because a branch can break off in an instant, without warning. Widow-makers, Australians call the gums.

Yesterday, when Bao stopped to lift a leg, a gust of wind caught him (the little, upraised leg was like a sail) and blew him over. I just wish you could have seen the look on his face! He was bewildered, embarrassed and miffed, all at once. Can't blame him, really. Had to pick him up and give him a kiss and a cuddle.

He's much happier out on our sunny, sheltered patio, watching the finches and doves on the bird-feeder, and smelling the roses. Or in this case, being bribed to be photographed alongside the cacti.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Can I have a cookie? Please, please, please?

And it works every time.

Bao has got the art of non-verbal communication down to a science. By the time he was three months old, he knew that it's not what you say, but how you say it. The senior executives at Menu Foods responsible for distributing contaminated pet food that killed cats and dogs could learn a lot about effective communications from Bao.

It doesn't help that Menu Foods Chief Financial Officer Mark Wiens sold sold half his shares in the company three weeks before the pet food recall, especially when you consider that this was about the same time that Menu Foods executives realized they had a problem. Wiens sold 14,000 shares for $89,000 on February 26 and 27. The shares are now worth about $54,000. Do the math. It's a nice little windfall.

"He feels just awful that this link has been made," company spokesman Sam Bornstein tells us.

In that case, maybe Wiens will chip in and pay some of the enormous veternarian bills that his unsuspecting customers have incurred. But somehow, I don't think so.

It also doesn't look good that when a US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee invited Menu Foods representatives to attend the hearings they're holding into the disaster, Menu Foods declined. They sent Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute, instead. The Pet Food Institute is a trade association for the pet food industry. "Pet foods are safe," Ekedahl said.

Tell that to the people whose pets have died.

The non-verbal message that Menu Foods is sending is that they don't give a damn and they're not sorry. Maybe they do give a damn. Maybe they are sorry. But that's not how they're acting. People who are genuinely sorry don't hide behind company spokesmen and trade associations. People who are sorry say so. That's what Menu Foods needs to do.

The CEO of Menu Foods needs to say, We're sorry. Please, forgive us. Please, please, please!

And act as if he means it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I am extremely myopic. Blind as the proverbial bat, without my glasses. And yesterday, in the course of a single hour, I manged to break all three pairs.

The first pair fell on the floor and sprung its little screws. Of course, I couldn't find them without my glasses. So I put on the second pair, and the arm broke off. Then the frames of the third pair disobligingly snapped in half. So there you go. It was evening, and I decided that I couldn't cope. Bao didn't understand. I could see him thinking, What's the big deal? Why can't she just smell things, like I do? So I poured myself a Scotch and went to bed.

This morning, I scotch-taped the second pair of glasses to my face, and went in search of the eyeglass frame repairer. Usually, it takes a week for repairs. But there I was, a poor little old lady with lenses like coke bottles -- and no glasses. The nice man took pity upon me, and fixed one pair on the spot.

So I thought you'd enjoy the picture. It's from a painting by Gerome, an entry in a 1902 Parisian exhibition of advertising signs made by artists. Au petit chien -- optician. Get it? An oddly surrealist painting for Gerome, who actually urged the French President to cover his eyes rather than look at the Impressionist paintings at the 1900 Paris Worlds Fair, which he considered a national disgrace. I love the terrier's monocle. And the way the sign sort of looks back at you.

And guess what? A New York literary agent has agreed to represent my novel!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Safe and sound in my study, and not a javelina in sight.

People keep telling me not to worry. For a start, they assure me that yesterday's pack of three was a really, really small pack. Usually there are at least half a dozen of them, and often more. (Just quietly, if half a dozen javelina had appeared on my doorstep, I would have put my house on the market and moved to Mexico. Or the dark side of the moon)

And they're typically not out and about so late in the morning. So they must have been really hungry. Poor javelina! Why is pity not welling in my bosom? Why am I not throwing bunches of carrots into the wadi for them? Because they kill little dogs, that's why.

Also, their territory is huge. Rather than hunkering down (like rattlesnakes) javelina roam from place to place, over dozens of square miles. I might not see another one at my front door for another couple of years. Here's hoping. They weren't back this morning, at any rate.

Finally, the good news is that javelina only attack when provoked. Unfortunately, the bad news is that the sight of a dog provokes them. Other things provoke them, too. They particularly hate the feeling that they're trapped. That might have caused a problem, someone told me. As if it was my fault they waltzed into my front entry-way! Maybe they were really dumb javelina, and that's why there were only three of them left.

But every cloud has a silver lining. After yesterday's experience, I decided to test the little cartridge of mace I've been carrying around for the past three years, just to make sure it still worked. It didn't. Instead of emitting a blinding mist, it dribbled. So that was interesting. I didn't know mace had a use-by date. Did you?

Monday, April 09, 2007

This is for you sceptics who thought I might be exaggerating about the local wildlife.

We are not in the open desert here. We are not in a National Park. We are in the front entryway to my house, inches from my front door. And this -- for those of you who are lucky enough never to have got up close and personal with a wild boar -- is a javelina. A wild boar. Knocking at the front door, so to speak.

Javelina are herbivores, but they've got sharp hooves, razor-like tusks (to defend themselves from the coyotes) and mean dispositions. They hate dogs, and have killed a number of little (and not so little dogs) in various parts of Tucson. They'll attack, unprovoked. And there were three of them. (You can only see two in the photo. But trust me. There were three) Three very big javelina.

A minute earlier, Bao and I had come back from our morning walk. I'd brought the bird feeder indoors and filled it, and was just about to take it outside when I realized we had company. I just stood and stared. Then I realized that this one could see Bao quite clearly through the floor to ceiling glass window. And it was nearly as big as a jet ski. What if it decided to come through the glass?

Grabbing Bao, I ran into the bedroom and slammed the door. Then I thought, Nobody is going to believe this. So I sneaked back out with the camera and took this picture.

I'm thinking they were attracted by the running water in the fountain beside the front door. I've often wondered why that fountain needs to be refilled so often. Another mystery solved. They also breakfasted on the asparagus fern.

I've never seen javelina around here before, not even down in the wash. Its not like birds hovering around the feeders. Javelina are not fun. They're not cute. They're big, and they're scary. And they kill dogs for fun.

From now on, we're going to have to watch ourselves when we walk.

Friday, April 06, 2007

It’s a dog’s life. Sunning, sleeping, eating.
And it’s all thanks to Al Capone. Back in the 1920’s, he and his gangster sidekicks used to fly down here from Southern Arizona in little bi-planes, so they could drink and gamble in peace. There was no Prohibition, here in Puerto Penasco. Actually, there wasn’t much of anything. There was the Old Port, of course. And a handful of fishing boats. Al Capone ended up building himself a house, which is now a hotel, Posada La Roca. But then they repealed Prohibition and the gangsters went home, and nothing else happened for decades. In 1941, the population was something less than 200.
Of course, people from Arizona kept coming. They camped out on the beach, and some of them built houses. But there was no infrastructure, no plan. There were barely even any paved roads. And it was Mexico, a foreign country. You needed a visa, you needed special car insurance. And buying land was complicated.
Less than a decade ago, everything changed. Real estate ownership was simplified, and made accessible to non-Mexicans. Most of the paperwork required of visitors was eliminated, although you still need Mexican car insurance. They paved the roads, and built the condos, and people came. In droves. They’re saying Puerto Penasco is the next Cancun. The State of Sonora is about to license its real estate agents, the first state in Mexico to do so. There’s even a Burger King.
You may have noticed that sometimes I call it Puerto Penasco, and sometimes I refer to it as Rocky Point. That’s because Mexicans call it Puerto Penasco, and gringos call it Rocky Point. Except for the people who call it Sandy Beach, which it certainly is.
The sun is shining, the tide is out and we're off to explore the reef!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Saw a cute cartoon the other day. A man sitting at a bar is wearing a sign that reads, Please Treat Me Like a Dog. Another man is explaining to the bar-tender, He just wants someone to take him home, feed him and let him sleep all day.
We’re back in Mexico, at the Rocky Point condo.
Actually, Bao isn’t crazy about the beach. I think as far as he’s concerned, the Sea of Cortez is just a gigantic water-dish, inexplicably surrounded by kitty litter. And it moves. That’s what worries him. The water in your water-dish isn’t supposed to move, but this water does. So he sits uneasily on the sand and keeps his eye on it, ready to run if it looks as if it’s coming to get him.
He likes the pool area, though. He likes lying on the warm tiles in the sun, or if it gets too hot, underneath the deck-chair. And he likes interacting with people, especially children. They come up and ask if they can pet him and tell him how beautiful he is.
When I swim, he trots up and down along the edge of the pool following me. And he’s always very relieved when I get out of the water and sit down again. I suspect he thinks that the ocean might decide to come and get me, too.
His very favourite Rocky Point thing – and this is the biggest treat of all – is going out into the asphalt wasteland of the parking lot and checking out the little grassy islands where all the visiting dogs have peed. This is the high point of each morning and evening walk. Today we actually saw another little male dog, and Bao followed him doggedly (couldn’t resist that!) from island to island across the whole lot, taking careful aim and diligently peeing on every palm tree just exactly where the other dog just peed. What a super walk! It was almost as much fun as finding a dead lizard on the nature strip and rolling in it.
If you’re a dog, that is.
Personally, I prefer the beach.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The pet food recall is a scandal.

Nobody knows how many dogs and cats have died of kidney failure. Menu Foods says 10. Other sources say thousands. How hard would it be for the appropriate department in each state to contact veternarians, and simply ask how many animals have died within the last month because of kidney failure? This isn't rocket science. Sadly, I suspect the truth is, nobody really wants to know. Except we pet parents, and we don't seem to count.

To make matters worse, it appears that Menu Foods has been -- how shall I put this -- economical with the truth. They became aware of the problem on February 20th, when a number of people lodged complaints saying their dog or cat had died of kidney failure after eating the pet food. But Menu Foods didn't even begin testing their potentially deadly product until February 27th. They waited a whole week. Why?

And how many more pets died during that week?

When Menu Foods finally did conduct tests, which involved feeding the contaminated food to between 40 and 50 cats and dogs, seven of the animals died. Pretty conclusive, I'd say. But apparently Menu Foods didn't think so, because the recall wasn't issued until the middle of March.

Meanwhile, beloved pets continued to die.

Contrast this with Purina, who learned on March 30th that their manufacturing plant in Crete, Nebraska had received some of the contaminated wheat gluten. Purina issued its recall on the same day, March 30th. No stalling. No messing around.

Accidents happen. People make mistakes.

But Menu Foods management knew it had a problem, and these people just sat there while more and more pets succumbed.

That was no accident.

I hope someone sues the pants off them.