riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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“I’ll be back.”

Well, this is it. Within minutes of ‘publishing’ this post, Ruby and I are leaving the Bay area, where we’ve been for three days, and heading north for our cross-country adventure (which is starting out more like up-country). I’m both excited and nervous to begin this journey into unchartered territory, literally and figuratively. As I face these huge unknowns, I wanted to take a moment to look back at all the things, places and people that I’m leaving behind (in no particular order).

My apartment. Kaz’s apartment. He lived there for many years before he met me. The place where we fell in love. Where we lived together. Where he died, and where I grieved him. I still remember the first time I stepped into that apartment, I had butterflies in my stomach.

My neighborhood. One mile east of Mann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in an area called “Little Armenia,” which is adjacent to “Thai Town.” Unlike much of Los Angeles, in this neighborhood everything you need is in walking distance: café, cheap tacos, cheap Thai food, dog supply store, dog washing, dry cleaning, bank, grocery stores (the small mom-and-pop kind and the large chains), gas station, 7/11, post office and so on. Many of these establishments knew me. The mom-and-pop grocery store once let me walk out with a $50 I.O.U. because I didn’t have cash and their credit card machine was down and it was 10 minutes to closing time. I came back the next day with the money. It was such a wonderful interaction. “That’s what it means to be a regular,” a friend told me. 

My neighbors. Believe it or not, I never knew any of my neighbors before getting a dog. But in the past two years, I’ve made some very dear friends on the block, mostly other dog owners. We’ve spent hundreds of hours walking our dogs together, having play dates, drinking vodka and juice on hot summer nights, having heated discussions about all kinds of subjects, and laughing until we cried. My neighbors helped me so much with the move, I honestly don’t know how I would have managed without them. Meeting these folks enriched my life, and I’m very grateful.

My dog’s friends. The summer of ’14 will always be known as the summer Ruby met her first love. His name was Capone. They were exactly the same age, born in the same year, just three days apart. They would run around and wrestle in Capone’s yard for hours. To a stranger’s eye, their rough-and-tumble play might have looked scary. But despite the bared teeth, growls, body slams and neck grips neither ever got hurt. On the contrary, they were perfectly matched in size, stamina, strength and love. Capone’s father Ivan said Capone now has two “tear drop” markings under his left eye and sent me the before and after pics. It’s true. They’re there. That’s love for ya.

My dog’s daycare. A dedicated bunch of super professionals who loved Ruby as if she were their own (and whom she loved just as much). Whenever I left her there, I knew she was in good hands. On her last day, they gave her an entire bag of dog treats for free. 

My dog’s vet. Though across town and a little pricey, the level of service was excellent. Again, she was in good hands.

My dentist. Remember when I came back from Vermont with a loose front tooth? My dentist gave me a brand new smile and didn’t charge me an arm and a leg. He was kind, patient, gentle, thorough and professional. As a bonus, he was also young and handsome. He was my favorite dentist thus far in life. And, as we all know, a good dentist is hard to find. 

My mechanic. In a city like Los Angeles, your mechanic is almost as important as your dentist. I had the same mechanic for 19 years. He was a handsome, middle-aged, white-haired, Persian Israeli man named Eddie. He was like a second father figure, helping me maintain the four cars I’ve owned since moving here. He would always shake his head when I would bring in my ailing vehicle, “Why don’t you bring it to me sooner?” Of course, I brought my car to him before the road trip for a total tune-up and new front brakes. He hugged me goodbye, “Please call me when you arrive. I want to know you got there safely.” That’s a good mechanic.

My therapist. I changed therapists this year and really liked the new one. I liked the old one too. In any case, I’ll miss them both.

My friends. I have the best friends in the world. The only thing that makes leaving slightly less painful is that a few of my closest friends have also left L.A. in the past few years (one just the other week). But I still have close friends in the city, and I will miss them dearly. The good news is a few have promised to visit, and now with social media and Skype, it’s not as difficult to keep in touch. But still.

No list would be complete without mentioning the weather, which is so consistently sunny and pleasant that it’s almost the only thing you can count on in L.A. (other than the traffic). As a friend recently told me, “There is more to life than sunshine.” She’s right. But when I’m shoveling snow in sub-zero degrees I can almost guarantee I’ll be thinking of balmy L.A.

Finally, I will miss my father, who didn’t live in Los Angeles but six hours away. Even though we didn’t see each other more than once or twice a year, it was reassuring knowing he was fairly close. Now, I will be joining my siblings on the east coast. 

I’m sure I’ll miss more things and people, but these are the first things that come to mind. 

As our former governor cum action hero once famously said, “I’LL BE BACK.”

Now it’s time to hit the road.

Los Angeles (view from Griffith Park)

Los Angeles (view from Griffith Park)

 


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What’s New

It’s been a while. I won’t use the excuse that I’ve been busy because you’re all busy too and keep blogging. I will say that I took a freelance writing seminar in late March that sort of rocked my world, in a good way. In no particular order, these are some changes I’ve made in the past six weeks since the seminar (and last blog post):

New Routine

I now wake up at 6:00 or 5:30 a.m. and write until 7:00 a.m, every week day. I don’t always write, sometimes I just stare at the computer and think about writing. But things I definitely do NOT do are: 1) check my email or get on the internet, 2) clean the apartment, 3) pay bills or do anything administrative, 4) wash the dishes, 5) check my phone. This time in the morning is my sacred hour, when everyone, including the dog, is asleep and quiet. I love it.

Another change is that I no longer sleep with the phone (and alarm clock) next to my bed. The phone sleeps in the kitchen, so when the alarm goes off at dawn, I have to get out of bed to turn it off. There have been a few mornings when I’ve stumbled back to bed. But after staring at the ceiling for a few minutes, I got up to write.

Besides more/better writing time, I naturally wake up earlier now, even on days off. I’m more punctual to work. I feel more satisfied with my day because, even if I get nothing else creative done, at least I’ve had this hour. I watch less television and go out less during the week. On more than one occasion I’ve used “I have to be in bed by a certain hour” as a reason to decline evening invitations.

New Diet

At the writing seminar, I was asked to choose “a personal experiment I’d like to try for 30 to 365 days.” I chose not drinking, not spending money, and not over-eating. The day after the seminar, I quit drinking alcohol.

I honestly didn’t know if I could do it. I’d been drinking either a few beers or half a bottle of wine almost every night.  I’m not exagerating when I say that not having alcohol in the house used to make me antsy. The thought of not drinking really scared me, and the first week was tough. Tougher still are social engagements like going out to dinner or a party. The thought of going to brunch this weekend and not having a mimosa makes me sad. I miss drinking socially more than anything. On the other hand, I like being more present and less groggy.  I think it’s made waking up early a little easier. Originally, I’d given myself a 30 day limit. It’s been 37 days now. I’m not saying I’ll never drink again, but for now, I’m going to keep refraining.

As an experiment, I also decided to cut out sugar, and more recently wheat, dairy and caffeine. Again, very scary (especially caffeine). I’m now eating mostly protein, vegetables, fruits and nuts and drinking water or tea, occasionally a non-alcoholic beer. Like alcohol, I thought I couldn’t live without caffeine, but the weird thing is I actually feel more awake and energetic. I’m also less moody. I’ve heard people say these things before, but when you start feeling them yourself, it’s a bit of a revelation.

Oh, one last benefit of not drinking alcohol: it saves money.

New Social Media 

Not as important as routine and diet, but still relevant – I’ve started to be more active on Twitter (@nivaladiva) and less active on Facebook. Twitter was a challenge to figure out (I’m still figuring it out), but what I’ve learned so far is that engagement is key, as is providing information and not being afraid to voice your opinions about things that matter to you. You can learn a lot from the news feeds and other people, including job opportunities. I know people who have landed jobs that they learned about on Twitter. It’s not all about following celebrities.

New Toy

I bought a Suzuki s40 Boulevard motorcycle. More on that in another post.

New Work

No, I haven’t quit my job (yet), but I am revving up the freelance writing. Just this week I sent out my very first pitches to two publications. Working on the next set of pitches now. Feels both scary and exciting to put myself out there, but I’m determined to forge a writing career in more markets than just film & television.

New Travel

I took a few days off from work around Easter to visit family in the Bay area. Good practice for road tripping with Ruby at a later date. One thing about traveling with a dog, you end up spending a lot more time outdoors.

Not sure what this is, but looks like a huge "N" to me (Crissy Field, San Francisco)

Not sure what this is, but looks like a huge “N” to me (San Francisco, CA)

Ruby meeting the Golden Gate Bridge (Crissy Field)

Ruby meeting the Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, CA)

Meadow in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland)

Meadow in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland, CA)

Redwoods in Redwood Regional Park

Redwoods in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland, CA)

Bench in Cesar Chavez Park (Berkeley, CA)

Bench in Cesar Chavez Park (Berkeley, CA)

Close-up of bench

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”             – Helen Keller

Ruby and her sunset (101 Freeway rest stop)

Ruby and her sunset (101 Freeway rest stop)

 

 What’s new with you?

 

 

 


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The Joy of Hiking With a Dog

Lately, the activity that brings me the most joy is hiking with my dog Ruby. During the week we spend so much time cooped up in the car/office/daycare/apartment, that on the weekends we both crave the freedom of being outside. The goal is to eventually hike every other day, but for the moment, we are weekend warriors. We do a regular Sunday morning hike with a friend, and, on Saturdays, we venture out just the two of us.

Our Sunday hike happens to be in the middle of a city park, but other trails are farther away. We only hike off-leash trails like Runyon Canyon and Westridge  Canyonback Wilderness Park.

Runyon Canyon, LA

Runyon Canyon, LA

I have many friends who won’t let their dog off the leash except in an enclosed area like a yard or dog park, the fear being that the dog will run off – either after another animal (like a squirrel), into a nearby road, or just run off out of curiosity and end up lost. People also worry about their dogs reacting to other dogs and people. All valid concerns. 

If you want to hike with your dog off-leash, your dog MUST:

– be friendly with other dogs and people

– be obedient (i.e. come, sit, stay and leave it on command)

– be in good physical shape

If any of these things is a concern, then hiking off-leash might not be for you, at least not right away. You can socialize your dog to be friendly with other dogs and people, and train it to be obedient. You can also put your dog on a diet and condition it to take longer walks, unless it’s too old or sick.

If these things are NOT an issue, then I highly recommend  taking your dog out on the trail when and wherever possible. Not only is it great exercise for both of you, but it’s also a wonderful way to bond with your canine companion.

Ruby happy to be hikingSomeone once told me that hiking off-leash enforces the “pack leader” mentality, which I can’t prove but tend to believe. When Ruby is on the leash, she instinctively wants to go ahead. But when she is off-leash, she walks right beside me or right behind me, like my shadow.

She also runs off at intervals, but she A) regularly stops to wait for me, B) stops the minute I call her name, and C) always comes back when I tell her to. More often than not, she comes back on her own after she’s finished exploring.

Ruby far away on hillRuby in field2ruby running down hill

Other things to keep in mind when hiking with a dog, on or off the leash:

– Bring plenty of water for both you and the dog. I once encountered a man carrying his dog down the trail because it was dehydrated (and it was a hot summer day). I offered him some of our water, and they made it the rest of the way down okay. It goes without saying, don’t hike in the hottest hours.

– Bring an extra leash. I once lost Ruby’s leash on a trail and had to face the prospect of carrying her several blocks from the trail’s entrance to my car. Luckily, another hiker offered to double leash her dog with Ruby, so for a few blocks the dogs walked side by side.

– If it’s a long hike, I recommend bringing snacks but only giving them once you stop for a rest. I once gave Ruby treats while we were actually hiking, and she threw them all up when we reached the summit. Other dogs also kept coming over to us because they smelled the treats in my hand. What works better is keeping treats in your bag until you get to the summit (or the mid-way point). I don’t bring treats on every hike, but definitely the long/difficult ones.

– After a hike, check your dog’s body for ticks, cuts or burrs. A few weeks ago, Ruby got a large, bloody scratch on her arm and a tick on her left paw from running through brush. I removed the tick in the car, and treated her scratch when we got home.

– Bring a first aid kit. I actually need to get one of my own. Right now, our Sunday hiking friend always brings one.

– Bring poop bags. I pick up after Ruby even when we’re out in the wilderness, and yes, have trekked for over an hour with her stinky poop in my backpack. I had never been so happy to see a trashcan.

– Have a charged phone and your vet’s number in it, just in case something happens.

– Be aware of the local wild life (snakes, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, hawks, etc.). Personally, I wouldn’t hike off-leash with a small dog in Los Angeles. I’ve heard of hawks snatching Chihuahuas right in front of their owners (!). We’ve also encountered horses on the trail, and I immediately put Ruby on the leash. When the rider said his horses don’t mind dogs, I let her off. Both the horses and Ruby were totally calm.

When in doubt, approach hiking with your dog like you would hiking with a child. You want to balance the fun with common sense. Your dog will thank you for the fresh air, the exercise and especially the freedom to just be a dog and sniff, run and play to its heart’s content. She will also sleep for the rest of the day.  🙂

Ruby rolling in itRuby carrying big stickRuby playing with stick

Here are some other sites with advice on hiking with dogs:

http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/hiking/hike-with-your-dog.htm

http://www.outdoors.org/publications/outdoors/2013/features/a-hikers-best-friend.cfm

http://phoenix.about.com/od/anim/a/hikingdogs.htm

And this site will tell you where there is an off-leash trail near you (anywhere in the world).

Until the next hike!!

Ruby in field3


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Take a Journey to Joshua Tree

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I love getting away from the city to Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding areas. I’ve written about it here, here and here. This past weekend, a national holiday here in the States, I went to The 29 Palms Inn, a motel where Kaz and I once stayed for his birthday. Quite a different experience travelling with a canine companion. For one, the motel didn’t feel quite as romantic as I remembered. I also noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, like the dozens of rabbits, lizards, birds, and hundreds, if not thousands, of ant hills, all of which Ruby gleefully pointed out to me.

We arrived just after sunset, a little later than expected but a beautiful time to view the hundreds of wind turbines near Palm Springs, part of California’s effort to use natural energy.

JT windmills

The next day we woke up a little after dawn to catch the sunrise.

JT sunrise

Ruby stared at the vista for a while. We were clearly very far from the city.

Ruby zenRuby zen2

I was a bit nervous bringing her to the desert in July, when temperatures can soar as high as 105 Farenheit. Before leaving I read some articles about how to manage with a dog in extreme heat. They all said to keep the dog out of the sun, hydrate the dog often, walk the dog only in the morning and evening, pay attention to signs of heat stroke and, if the dog is pale, apply sunscreen (dogs can get skin cancer too). I ended up taking her on a couple of early morning hikes and with lots of cold water and ice rubdowns, she managed pretty well.

We saw some amazing scenery.

JT vista5JT vista4JT vista3JT Ruby on hikeJT vista2.pgJT vista

JT tree

My city friends often ask me why I love going to the desert so much. I suppose it’s one of my favorite places to think and write. While I’m not a religious person, I have often felt a certain something while in the park, similar to how I felt at Mount Sinai in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula years back. Joshua Tree might not be as historically and religiously significant as Mount Sinai, but it contains a silent power nonetheless, and inspires a feeling I can best describe as oneness.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. Apparently, the tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. All I know is it’s a special place… and not without a sense of humor.

Joshua Tree is a favorite destination for rock climbers because of the incredible rock formations, formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface. Groundwater is responsible for the weathering that created the spheres from rectangular blocks. The most famous formations include Skull Rock, which looks quite a bit like a human skull.

(source: andreea.francu.com)

(source: andreea.francu.com)

There’s also Jumbo Rocks, Split Rock, and the Hall of Horrors rock formation where someone actually fell to their death last year.

Kaz and I used to play this game of naming the rock formations we would come across. I think if we had seen this one, we would have called it Listening Rock.

JT listening rock

This one might have been Hamburger Bun Rock.

JT doughnut rock

Overall, it was a great weekend. Hot but restful. I missed Kaz, missed having a person with me, but was grateful to not be entirely alone. Ruby made a good companion and charmed everyone she encountered. She seemed content to slow down, sleep in the shade and be near me in this hot, dusty, windy, wild-looking place. Times like these I feel very grateful to live in California.

JT Ruby and me

Do you have a place of natural beauty near you?

Related Articles:

http://www.energy.ca.gov/wind/overview.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_brevifolia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_Tree_National_Park