There was an episode of “Andy Griffith” in which Howard Sprague moved to a Caribbean island and was living in a grass shack drinking rum.

I think that Howard looked like this in that episode:

HowardSprague

This is me, during our last Cabo trip. For some years, we were alternating – Cabo one year, and Isla Mujeres the alternating year. Last year was supposed to be Isla, but we wound up moving to Montana (you might have heard) and that used up money, time and energy that we would have needed to hit Isla for three weeks.

So this year, even though Ethel is training for (and has already signed up for!) a Half Ironman 70.3, and I’ve got a Half in June and a mumblemumble (we don’t actually use the term Ironman in this house, unless we’re referring to a Half – if we’re talking about a Full, we just mumble incoherently rather than let the phrase “Ironman 140.6” pass our lips) in August, we’ve already set aside three weeks for Cozumel.

Cozumel is NOT Isla – it’s not the sleepy town that we’re used to. Heck, when we go to Cabo, we don’t go to Cabo San Lucas, which is “drunks naked on the beach covered in whipped cream” Cabo; we go to San Jose del Cabo, which is “walking on the square and buying empenadas from the little old lady with the cart’ Cabo. And Isla is like that, only moreso.

But this trip is in July, rather than the April or August/September trips that we’ve taken before, and the problem is that Isla will be even sleepier in the hotter months, which means – probably nobody at the English-speaking AA meetings. So we decided to drop down the coast to Cozumel instead.

Cozumel has a lot more people, and it has the cruise ships stopping in – but it does have a lot more meetings, and a lot of diving, as well. We’ve gone through AirBnB to get a condo owned by a local, and we’re hoping to miss the crowds and stick to the local areas….

Now, when I started typing this, I started watching the aforementioned Andy Griffith episode…and now, 7:52 into the episode, Howard has bought his ticket and is headed for St Benedict’s – “land in Trinidad, and get there by boat.” And the thing that talked him into it, really, was Andy’s assumption that “nobody really does that sort of thing. People talk about it, but they don’t do it.”

My friend George Ritter once told me that “Lots of people talk about moving to a ski town, but nobody ever really does it.”

Today, they delivered seven trees from the nursery – now I get to dig a bunch of big holes and plant them. I get to do that in between working, and meeting my service commitments, and training for a MumbleMumble, and paying my mortgage, and then I get to take care of the trees, and paint the house….

….Okay, Ethel. Just let me know when you’re ready. We’ll go live in a grass shack:)

 

 

As far as I can tell, about six to eight weeks ago, I must have been thinking.

I really don’t need to be more specific than that, do I? It wasn’t the “what about” that caused me the problem – it was the “thinking”. Or maybe I should say that I wasn’t thinking about God, or about my family, or about what I could do for others – I must have been thinking about me, and about what I thought I wanted or needed.

And, as a result, I now have a problem.

problemchild

This is Abby, my problem child.

I call her that because, as far as I can tell, I must have been thinking that I didn’t have enough problems, and needed to add one. Because I certainly have done that.

As those who follow this page will know, we picked Abby up just over five weeks ago, at RezQ Dogs in Dodson, MT. She came home with us scared out of her wits.

The “scared” is largely gone now – we’re left with the “out of her wits”:)

Abbilicious alternates between skittish and just plumb goofy, with the “goofy” getting more and more play time. She’s talkative and playful, and learning a lot, and doing very well indeed! She is a lot of fun, and it’s heartwarming to watch her change and grow.

There are still some confusing aspects about this relationship, though – for one thing, she doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with ME. She’s pretty much always with Ethel – because Lucy is pretty much always with Ethel.

According to our trainer, Abby sees Lucy as her comfort, and me as her structure.

I’m not sure exactly what that means in theory, but in practice it means that I feed Abby, and train her, and make sure that she gets outside, and walk her, and give her treats, and brush her fur – and the rest of the time, she follows Lucy around.

I don’t know if she’s ever going to be my dog, but she is, certainly, my problem:)

Which is what I’m talking about – I’d forgotten how a dog rearranges one’s schedule. When I wake up, I don’t just grab my coffee and take my morning time – everything gets rearranged depending on whether or not Abby gets up when I do – and since both of the dogs eat breakfast, the morning also depends on whether or not Lucy gets up, as we want to make sure that they eat at the same time.

During the day, I have to remember that there’s a dog with a bowel and a bladder who doesn’t yet know how to tell me that she needs to go outside – sometimes I miss the timing, and then I get to clean stuff up. And she needs to be walked and exercised, and she needs to be trained.

I really don’t mind doing any of this – but it means, again, that things have to be rearranged. And that is pretty much the nature of a problem – it means that something has to be done or addressed differently.

And I can’t remember any time recently when I said to myself “I have too much free time, and not enough to do.”:) …but I must have said that very thing to myself, and my self listened, and arranged things…like this:)

I saw this car parked like this this morning, here in Bozeman:

parking

Now, in most towns, this would cause some consternation, but in Bozeman, that’s just the way that people park.

There are many things that we Pucketts love about Bozeman and the surrounding countryside, but it occurred to me this morning that the things that I don’t care for all have to do with lanes.

Parking lanes, driving lanes, swim lanes.

Parking here is strange; it truly seems to have nothing to do with the little lane markers on the pavement. It’s occurred to me that perhaps this was because there was often snow on the parking lots, so you couldn’t see the line markers. Now, obviously there isn’t always snow on the asphalt (in fact, the snow is mostly gone these days; it snows some every day or three, but it melts fast) but I thought that, perhaps, since they can’t count on seeing the lines, maybe they just ignore them.

My friend Scott says that no doubt there used to be plenty of parking in Bozeman, so folks simply assume that it’s okay to park any which way. And there may be something to that. This area has been growing very fast for quite some time, and the infrastructure may be having a difficult time keeping up – but let’s be plain; the infrastructure will NEVER “keep up” in terms of providing two parking spots for everybody:)

There’s obviously nothing that can be done about this; it’s just one of the adjustments that I’ll have to make. Folks in the Bozone simply are not going to park inside the lines.

Driving lanes are a different problem, but perhaps a different manifestion of the same issue; folks in Big Sky country drive slower than anywhere else that I’ve ever lived. Coming west from town to our neighborhood, the last couple of miles are 55 MPH speed limit, with five lanes (counting the suicide lane in the middle). But I’ve already adjusted (mostly) to the fact that, when I’m coming home from the gym or church or meeting or pool (90% of my trips to town, easily, fall into those four categories) I’m not going to be going 55 MPH to my home. Folks simply don’t get too close to the speed limit; they seem to have an aversion to getting closer than 5 MPH to that number that’s posted on the sign.

The strangest thing about this is that this is one of the states that used to have “prima facie” speed limits – pretty much “anything went” on the highways as long as it was “reasonable and proper”. ( I sure do wish that I’d lived here, with my BMW Z3 or my Audi TT, when that was the case). But now that the speed limits are enforced as such, folks seem to be scared of getting too close to them.

Or maybe it’s another symptom of growth – folks here aren’t used to so many people on the roads, or so many buildings/homes/etc on the roadside, and so they slow down in self defense.

Or perhaps it’s simply that folks in Montana are not in a hurry, and don’t want you to be in a hurry, either. Maybe – just maybe – they are AGGRESSIVELY not in a hurry.

But it means that I have to drive slower – or not drive at all. It’s true that I don’t drive much these days – a tank of gas will last me a month – but I do drive OFTEN. So I get plenty of opportunities to practice acceptance.

Swim lanes are a different issue – but, again, it might be the problem with recent growth. But the ratio of lap swimmers to swim lanes in Southwest Montana is much worse than Utah or the East Bay in California. Those are the only places in which I’ve done much lap swimming, so I can’t compare to anywhere else. But in Utah, I seldom had to share a lane; when swimming in Pleasanton, I might have to share a lane, but it’s just two folks to a lane, so each person gets a side – but if I want to swim the 50 meter lengths at the Bozeman Swim Center, then I have to swim “circles”, which means that the swimmers are swimming down one side of the lane and up the other side – which means that they have to be swimming at similar speeds, or there is passing and being passed, which interferes with everyone’s pace and rest times.

This is the only “lane” situation that might improve, here in Big Sky Country; there is supposed to be a new high school being built out at our end of town, and also a new YMCA being built about 2 miles from here, as well; the YMCA won’t have a pool until the second phase, but it still means that there might be some relief in the next couple of years.

I just hope that, when they build those places, they put in plenty of parking.

 

Abigail Amanda Puckett is getting used to our routine. Here she is in the training room yesterday morning while we were doing our rides:

BikeAbby.jpg

That’s her, with her head just visible over Ethel’s blurry knee.

We’re five steps forward, four steps back, around here these days. Abby alternates between fearful shyness and goofy playfulness; she doesn’t seem to have anything in the middle. (Maybe she’s in the right family).

The last two evenings, we’ve closed the bedroom door and sat on the floor and let her run around loose. The result has been wonderful – we all start playing. She’ll play bow and bump noses with me and then there’s a sudden flurry of kisses, then she prances off and pretends to ignore us for several minutes. You can see her looking around and taking in everything, over and over again, and watch the wheels spinning in that head. She is alert.

I can’t help but compare and contrast Abby with my last sled dog, Maia. There are so many strong similarities, and also huge differences. Maia was a 100 lb. malamute who was much more powerful than Abby; Maia moved like a lion. Abby is probably about half that in mass, and she either slinks like Peter Lorre, or bounds like Rudolph when Clarice tells him that “he’s cude”.

Playtime is some of the same movements, but their personalities are very different; Maia, in retrospect, seemed to be like an older Sean Connery at playtime; she was enjoying herself, but mostly she was amused in a good-natured way about the silliness of the rest of us.

Abby, when playing, is like Robin Williams doing an improv. She knows that everybody’s watching her, and she keeps looking for the next thing to riff on.

But then the switch goes off, and suddenly Abigail is scared – of me, mostly, although Lucy barking can make her jump. The literature says that, since I’m male, and thus have a larger jaw and muscles and movements and deeper voice, that I’m more of a danger – and so a fearful dog will be drawn to a female rather than me.

Which means that Abby is a lot like me. There’s a powerful – but incomprehensible –¬† entity in her life that only wants to love, provide for and protect her – and she’s scared of him, and keeps hoping that he’ll go away.

This is Miss Abigail.

Abigail.jpg

On Saturday morning, Miss Abigail was happy – but hopeful – at Rezq Dogs in Dodson, Montana. By Saturday evening, she was miserable and terrified, on a five-hour-long drive from Dodson back to Bozeman – at high speed, in heavy rain and winds, and with a bald guy sitting beside her, attempting to reassure her that she was going to be okay. It wasn’t working very well – she seemed to be in Cheyne-Stokes breathing for the entire trip home. I couldn’t believe that a creature could maintain those stress levels – that respiration rate, for one thing – for that long. But we had to get her home.

Abby is between 12 and 18 months old; she was born in a kennel on the Fort Belknap reservation, with an owner who raises sled dogs for the mush market; for some reason, nobody was interested in Abby, and she almost went feral; no human interaction, and I’m not sure who was feeding her or if she was foraging.

She came to RezQ Dogs after having been found with a bullet in her right shoulder; after surgery and physical therapy, she lived with RezQ from October until yesterday. (I cannot for the life of me imagine why she wasn’t bought from the breeder; she’s purebred Siberian Husky, and absolutely gorgeous. But I can now understand why she wasn’t adopted for four months, and there are two components here; there is a very small adoption pool in Dodson, as there aren’t any sizable communities closer than Great Falls, and RezQ was being very picky about where they placed her; several applications were rejected. We were lucky!:)

I decided to drive up to Dodson via the six-hour route, and home via the five-hour; I did not want to get my hopes up on Abby being our dog, so I hedged my investment; I figured that we’d make the drive to “see as much of Montana as possible” and, just maybe, pick up a puppy. But from the moment she came around the corner at the kennel, my heart was captive.

We finally got her home Saturday night, and then had much to do with trying to get her settled in. I realized on Sunday morning that I’d never spent an entire day so singly devoted to a single purpose; when any of my children were born, there were many other things to do on those days that were associated with having new little blessings, but many events happened normally. I’ve done marathons and a half Ironman, but on those days we went out to eat or spent time with friends.

But Saturday, from morning prayers to nighttime review, was all about Abby.

And it’s been all about Abby since then, with the rare diversion. We are tethered by a 30 inch lead; she’s having to learn that I am her person, even though she’d much rather have Ethel be her person – Kim’s softer voice and hand and manner really appeal to her more than my whiskey-and-cigarette vocal chords and man-motions (I am not feeling any jealousy about this at all. I’m way too spiritually advanced for that). Also, Miss Abby hasn’t actually pooped since she became a Puckett, so I’m keeping her close for that eventuality. A three-day Huskypoop would not be a casual event.

She sleeps in a crate on my side of the bedroom, and currently she’s on the Learn to Earn program – we’re not actually feeding her in a bowl, but she is living on treats when she does the right thing.

Last night, we watched Sergeant York (“When you comin’ home, Alvin?”) and at the start of the movie, she was excited by watching the screen; then she became agitated. We thought it might because of the gunshots in the opening scene (although, to be fair, how much like an actual gunshot would the sound effects of a 1940’s movie be, anyway:) – but then she calmed back down and by the final battle scenes, she was asleep. She’s learning to sleep through pretty much anything – this morning, I had her in the training room with me while I was doing a 90 minute bike ride; at the start, she was excited by all of the new stuff to sniff, then seemed to be agitated by the trainer noise and motion – after a half hour, she was laying down between my bike and the wall.

She seems to be pretty adaptable and resilient – more so than I would be, in her situation. She’s going to be fine, I’m sure.

Although she seems to want to be Ethel’s dog (although, again, I’m not the least bit jealous. This doesn’t bother me at all. I won’t bring it up again. No, really! : )

This morning was a bad swim at the Bozeman Swim Center.

widths

From 5:30 AM to 7:30, one swims the lengths – 50 meters, 100 meters per lap. From 7:30 ’till noon, one swims the widths – 20 yards, 40 yards per lap.

Now, that sounds like not that big a difference; 20 yards to (around) 55 yards. But I found out this morning that swimming 20 yards has not really been swimming 20 yards; I suspect that it’s closer to 17 or less, because of the push-off from the side. So I thought that I was getting better at swimming, but all I’ve done is get better at pushing off.

I found this out by having such a terrible swim when I was actually swimming the lengths. Now, I was swimming lengths because Ethel said that there are now open lanes in the early morning, because the high school swim team has stopped training. But we still had somebody asking to get into our lane, which mean swimming circles rather than splitting the lane.

So swimming widths isn’t getting me better, and lengths aren’t sustainable because it’s too crowded. Bozeman has the worst ratio of swimmers to swim lanes that I’ve ever seen.

So we have to move.

So I told Ethel, “I swear to God, Agnes, we may have to move.

THE FIVE NAMES OF ETHEL

  • Agnes

“Agnes” is one of Ethel’s five names. It is the one that gets used the least (or, at least, that was the case until the last few months). Because she’s only Agnes when “…we may have to move”.

And “Agnes” is a Bogart. A Bogart is an instance of the “Play it again, Sam” variety – because Bogart never said “Play it again, Sam”, even though everybody thinks that he said it. So a Bogart is a misquote from a movie.

In this case, the movie was “The Neighbors”, a late 80s offering with Belushi and Ackryod that we never finished. It was…pretty crude, so we stopped it well less than an hour into it. But the last thing that I can remember from the movie is Belushi turning to his wife after “the neighbors” did yet another outlandish thing, and saying “I swear to God, Agnes, we may have to move.”

Now, I don’t know that he actually said “…we may have to move”, and I’m not sure about the “Swear to God…” part either. But I do know – because I went looking – that the wife’s name was not actually AGNES – it was Enid.

But I only heard it once, thirty years ago – but I’ve said “Swear to God, Agnes” many hundreds of times. So Ethel is not Enid, but Agnes.

  • Ethel

Ethel is Ethel because of this T-shirt that we bought while on our first Western skiing trip, to Purgatory, in January of ’93, that we now keep in a shadow box on the bedroom wall:

purgshirt

‘Nuff said.

  • Adrian

Ethel is Adrian when we are separated, and I’m calling out to her – although, to be fair, we’re both Adrian in this context. This happened when I started running races, and we’d be looking for each other in the crowd after the race; calling out “Kim!” or “Jim!” is an activity with a low return on investment, because a lot of people will answer.

But if we called out, ala Rocky, “Adrian! Adrian!” not only would we not get false positives, but we’d also get other folks to pick it up can carry it along.

  • Kim

Ethel’s mother called her Kim. Well, not exactly – Ethel’s mother named her Kimberly. Now, every so often, Ethel decides that she’s tired of being called Ethel, so she says “My mother named me Kim”.

No, she didn’t, Ethel. She named you Kimberly. Do you want me to call you Kimberly?

  • Alvin

The Fifth Name of Ethel is Alvin.

Ethel is only Alvin when she’s away from home, and she won’t come home, and we’re talking on the phone, and I want her to come home, and I’m pleading with her to come home.

The name comes from  Sergeant York, a movie biopic of Alvin York, the Tennessee Christian conscientious objector who was the most decorated soldier of World War I. (Jimnethel give it Two Thumbs Up). He was a back-woods hillbilly who made it very, very big.

When the war was over, they didn’t let Alvin York go straight home. First, he had to go to New York City, and get decorated and feted and sit in ticker-tape parades and all sorts of big-city nonsense. He wanted to go home, but felt obligated to show up at all of these affairs.

So they finally got a telephone installed in the general store in Alvin’s home village of Pall Mall, TN, and little Mother York is led to it, and they make a long-distance phone call to New York City, to Alvin’s hotel room. And then, in one of the most pathos-filled moments of cinema, Mother York stands on tiptoe, and holding the earpiece to her ear, stretches up to get her mouth near the phone’s microphone, and she says, in her little country voice:

“Alvin? When you comin’ home, Alvin? When you comin’ home, son?”

 

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted the monthly Adult Pot Luck for St. James’ Episcopal at our home in Bozeman.

One of the guests brought a bottle of wine – and not only that, but it was a fancy bottle, one with a cork. Now, I’m just spitballing here, but it seems to me that, when I used to drink wine (back when Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth, or something over 11253 days ago) Mad Dog 20/20 came with a screw top. I don’t think I’ve ever had wine that came in a bottle with a cork.

And, since it’s been over 30 years since I’ve had any wine at all, we certainly didn’t have a corkscrew.

But fear not! …because I have a cordless hammer drill, and some large machine screws!

cork

Once we got the screw in tight, then we had to wiggle it loose with a pair of channel locks.

There were only three of us who were aware of the bodacious irony of a recovered alcoholic going to this much effort to get the cork out of a bottle; we were the folks with the least possible interest in the contents, but we had to be good hosts.

It was a very pleasant evening (the *Tool Time moments notwithstanding) – lots of nice church folk and their doings*, good food, and nobody wound up under the coffee table. There was a time when an evening without somebody under the coffee table would have been a waste*, but we’re older now.

Speaking of church – Ethel has been firing off land anchors right and left, and nowhere more than at St. James. We’ve both got volunteer gigs in the liturgy; we’re both doing the readings and I’m “LEMming”*. We’ve also picked up some service gigs and some involvement in church business. This is rather strange – St. James has a very active congregation, but they welcomed us in and put us to work. We’ve been in many parishes where it was pretty much “sit there and be pew potatoes and wait your turn”. So we’re very glad to be here.

We’re also both pretty active in the fellowship(s) locally, making plenty of meetings and sponsoring folks, although Ethel seems to be getting only oldtimers, while I’ve had as many as four newbies concurrently (supposed to be) working on a Fourth Step at the same time. We’re busy and happy on that front.

Triathlon?…not so good. The tri club here is dead, and nobody is interested in reviving it. One of the reasons that Ethel wanted to move was to be more involved with other trifolk, training and such together, but here that just doesn’t happen. So that was a swing and a miss in the move to Montana. And the race season seems to be pretty limited here, as well.

And skiing? The drive is no good, but the terrain is fantastic – but it’s been spring since late January, and the snow situation is getting pretty sketchy. Because of the drive, we may choose to get our pass at Bridger next year, and buy a car-top gear box to substitute for the locker until one is available. (Next year, Bridger will have actual cell towers!.. and the year after that is when they’ve planned the big base expansion, with more lockers. So we might get lucky).

Now, Bozeman drivers are still the slowest I’ve ever seen, and the parking situation is…well, we’ll cover that under separate cover.

But the neighbors remain neighborly, and Bozeman is still the friendliest place that we’ve ever seen.

People will even go to great lengths to open your bottles.

*I never actually saw the TV show “Tool Time”, but my friend Rich used to quote it – most of the quotes were grunts.

*Extra credit for whomever can name that reference

*Actually, when that was the case, I didn’t even have a coffee table. But the statement is true in spirit.

*This refers to the role of Lay Eucharistic Minister, the guy carrying the chalice during communion, not the suicidal primates, but when you think about an alky toting around an open goblet of wine, “lemming” doesn’t seem too inappropriate….

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