Happiness is a Warm Puppy…

…and a Cool King


photo credit: Monica Medina

Oliver Twist, our Maltipoo puppy, is almost three months old! And, in case you’re wondering how the little tyke is getting along with the Master of the House, aka, Henry, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who descends from royalty, you need wonder no more.

Turns out, these fellows are as happy as can be. Two peas in a pod. Actually, more like, two pigs in a pen. In other words, they’re getting along just peachy!

Or, as Henry would say, “We are treating each other with the respect and civility befitting a royal of good standing. That would be me.”

So herewith, some recent photos of the dynamic duo in action, showing how they spend their day. After all, the proof is in the pudding!


photo credit: Julienne Aquino


photo credit: Julienne Aquino


photo credit: Julienne Aquino


photo credit: Julienne Aquino


photo credit: Julienne Aquino


photo credit: Julienne Aquino


photo credit: Monica Medina

Until next time!

Lightning in a Jar: My She Was Yar

Chapter 9:

Anxious. That was me. I was on the phone with George, and the clock was ticking, as I was supposed to meet up with James and Sam at Eisenhower Park in less than an hour. My plan had been to get an early start, so by now I should’ve been on my bike, halfway there.  After all, it was six miles away and I didn’t want to show up all sweaty and out of breath. I needed time to compose myself, and here, one phone call was threatening to derail everything.


Eisenhower Park today looks very much like it did then.

George was being his usual, persistent self.

“Who the heck is James?” He’d repeated his question, a question that startled me out of what had been my quiet reverie and anticipation of seeing James soon.

Who the heck is James? His intonation made the name sound more like a contagious disease than someone for whom I was feeling a growing attraction.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure I owed George any explanation. After all, it wasn’t as if he and I were going steady or anything. We’d just dated a few times and after the third date, I did all I could to discourage him, short of demanding him to cease and desist.

For the first time, someone was daring me to explain what I was not prepared to reveal, all because of a slip of the tongue. My slip. What could I possibly say that would make any sense, when I, myself, hadn’t figured out what James was to me?

James was my secret, hidden from prying eyes. Partly because I was embarrassed to admit I liked him. Partly because there was something so different about him. Nothing like the other guys I knew. James was like an orchid requiring extra care from outside pollutants, and I worried letting others in would spoil it. They’d draw their own conclusions and judge unfairly. I’d told no one about my friendship with him and Sam. Not even my closest friend, Liza. Not a soul.

So why bring him up now, especially to someone like George? In all likelihood, he’d run and tell Jake. Not that he’d care. The two of them would probably just have a good laugh over how, after being dumped by a senior, I was dating a measly sophomore. Which, wasn’t true, of course, but soon word would be all over school as if it was. Yes, I cared what people thought. Opinions of others mattered. Which is why I decided to ignore George’s question, and instead focus on the purpose of his call.

“Hey George, what’s up?”

“Okay, if you’re not going to tell me, fine. I’m calling to see if you’d like to go on a bike ride today, and maybe stop at Friendly’s?”

Was this his way of saying he was on to me?

“Um, don’t think I can,” I said cautiously.

“Why not?”

Think, think. “My mother needs help with a sewing project?” I said the first thing that came to mind, more like a question than a statement. Which was dumb. Most people knew my travails with Home Economics and sewing. If my mother did need help, I’d be the last person she’d ask, on account I couldn’t sew a stitch.

He was quiet for a moment, which should’ve been my in to say goodbye and hang up, but instead, I asked, “Is there anything else?”

He took a deep breath. “Well, I was calling to see if you’d like to be my date for the prom.”

The prom? As in the senior prom–the one that I had hoped to attend with Jake? Somehow, the idea of going with George felt like it would be a consolation prize. George, with whom I didn’t have a thing in common or felt an iota of spark. And yet…

Yet, I had to admit, the idea was tempting. It could be my last chance to remind Jake of what he’d given up, and make him pine for me in a way he never had before. This thought made me waver, though, when I thought of going to the beach with George, and making out, I wasn’t as sure. I’d sooner swallow fistfuls of sand.

“Hmm.” I paused, then added, “Let me get back to you on that.” I needed time to think this through. Time that I didn’t have right then. The clock was still ticking.

“Okay, but let me know soon. ” He seemed disappointed.

“I will. Promise.” Click. Poor George. I was sure he deserved better.

Looking at my watch, twenty minutes had passed since the time I had originally planned to leave. With the half hour it took to get there on bike, I wasn’t sure I’d make it on time.  I needed to make haste. I bolted out the door and hurried to the garage to get my bicycle.

When we first moved to Long Island, I didn’t know how to ride a bicycle. I never had one in Queens. It’s not that I was deprived. I did own a tricycle, which I used until the age of five, but a bike didn’t seem a neccesity in Queens, where you could get just about anywhere on foot or by public transportation.

But soon, after moving to Jericho, my brother, who’d figured out how to ride a bike on his own, offered to teach me. I was 12. From then on, there was no pinning me down.

My, she was yar. I’d heard Katharine Hepburn say it to Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story, about a yacht they once owned together, and the sentiment sounded perfectly apropos for my bicycle. “My she is yar,” is what I’d say when anyone asked me why I spent so much time on my bike. Purple and shiny, I could give a little upward flick to the kickstand, climb onto the triangular seat, and be off in one fell swoop.

I’d go anywhere. I knew all the short cuts and back roads to get to school, the library, and the parks. I could ride my bike to the mall, and to neighboring communities, through Hicksville, Westbury, Mineola, East Meadowbrook, and even all the way out to Jones Beach.

My, she was yar.

There was no greater feeling than the one of riding your bike at top speed, along traffic, weaving in and out as I pleased to get where I needed to go. I even rode along one of the highways, and through lush winding roads dense with foliage, as well as through corporate parks and along railroad tracks. Just me and my bicycle, free to be me. I’d astound myself by how far my bike could take me before I’d turn around and head home.

Now, I was pedaling as if my life depended on it, and maybe it did. I’d been so miserable, these last few months after the breakup, that I didn’t realize until now how much I needed this. How much I was looking forward to it. Yes, there it was again. A yearning deep inside, beckoning me forward. To him.

As I reached the appointed spot for our assignation, I eyed James and Sam right away. James looked up and I could see his face immediately relax. Sam made a face and said something about it being high time I got there and what took me so long.

But I wasn’t listening. My eyes were on James and his on me, and my heart was full.

We were magically entranced, until Sam broke the spell by making a big deal about getting on his bike. James and I followed suit, and soon the three of us took off down a trail that led deeper into the park.

Just James and me–and Sam. There would be no more talk of prom that day.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

Lightning in a Jar: The Walls of Jericho


Another year of school was winding down. Pretty soon it’d be time for finals and the Regents Examinations. But first, there’d be the senior prom. For months, I imagined I’d be going to the prom with Jake. We’d hold each other tightly while slow dancing, and when it was over, we’d end up on the beach, as most revelers did, making out beneath the glow of the sunrise. The one time when talk of curfew would be excused.

Jericho always had the best apple cider bar none.

Jericho Cider Mill. The best apple cider, bar none.

It promised to be the perfect night. Me, on the arm of my boyfriend, wearing a long flowing dress sewn by my mother and her Singer sewing machine. That had been the plan, but now Jake would not be taking me, but rather, his new girlfriend, who seemed to always look like she’d swallowed a bag of prunes, pits and all.

Two months had passed since spring vacation and the devastating breakup. Two months of uncertainty and hurt burrowing inside me, taking hold like a vice constricting my body. Two months that found me sometimes doing well, sometimes so high I had to lay perfectly still to keep my head from spinning, and sometimes longing for a boy who I knew was too young for me. I couldn’t help but wonder, how different things might have been if we hadn’t moved here at all. Jericho. For better, for worse, it sometimes felt as though the walls were tumbling down around me.

Located on Long Island, in the Town of Oyster Bay, Jericho didn’t really start to see a boon until after the Second World War. Like all suburbs, the houses there looked immaculately pristine, with only slight variations to tell them apart. We were a traditional community, where women mostly stayed at home, and men caught the Long Island Railroad from Hicksville, the next town over, to their jobs in the city, which was about an hour away. We kids had our run of the neighborhood, but often you’d find us hanging out at the local shopping center, springing for a strawberry or chocolate parfait at the Gertz department store. Our version of the soda shoppes of yesteryear, I suppose.

Once, Jericho had been a haven for Quakers, who ended up giving the town its name. I imagine that then it was nothing but farmland and gentle hills, nurtured by the sun, and the rains of a thousand storms, with earth rich with minerals and nutrients, giving forth to tall oaks, maples, rambling roses, untold brambles and foliage that grew darkly rich and plentiful.

I never gave much thought to how we ended up leaving Queens for Jericho, but knowing my father, he probably bought the first place that came on the market, sight unseen. It was a split level with a large backyard, and the front yard was caddy corner to an off ramp of the Long Island Expressway. With no fence to protect our plot of land, cars speeding too fast as they exited the highway were known to end up in our yard, leaving tread marks across our lawn and my mother’s daffodils.

For a little while we planted roots, if only fake ones, because when push came to shove, there was no tying my family down. My parents, having left their home in South America 20 years earlier, were nomads and we kids, were along for the ride. Seems fitting that we lived so close to a major thoroughfare, as we were constantly on the move and nothing, not even owning a home, could keep us tethered to one place for very long. Seemed we were always about leaving.

I was 12 when we moved in, 14 when we sold it, and 16 when we bought a similar house on the same block, this time facing a different highway, the Northern State.

I lived on the west part of Jericho and James lived on the east, with the main thoroughfare being the dividing line. On the west side was the neighborhood park, where we’d spend summers at the pool, and winters at the ice skating rink. There was also a drive-in nearby, which we never went to as my parents didn’t like sitting in the car to watch a film, and the Ho-Jo’s, a family sit-down restaurant, where every Monday featured all you can eat fried chicken.

On the east side was the public library, the Waldbaum’s supermarket, and the Jericho Cider Mill, which served cider so flavorful and naturally sweet, you felt like you were tasting a little bit of heaven. The high school was down the road a ways, along the main thoroughfare, and just beyond it was the Catholic Church. The synagogue was located above the firehouse when we first moved to Jericho, but later moved to a building of its own, still close by, so that devout congregants could walk, not drive, to services on the High Holy Days, as was expected of them.

I came to know my town well and the surrounding ones, too. Eisenhower Park was about six miles away, which is why I figured it was a better place to meet James and Sam, rather than the park down the street from where I lived. I feared that the park by my home would increase my chances of running into someone I knew, and I couldn’t fathom having to explain what I was doing, or who I was with, to anyone.

I woke up late on the morning of our outing. After trying on several outfits, I decided on a floral top and shorts. At precisely 12:05, I pulled my bicycle out of the garage. It would be about a 30-minute ride to the park, but I was too excited to wait another minute. I wanted to be sure I was on time, since it wasn’t in my nature to be late for anything. As I straddled my bike, with my right foot on the pedal, I heard my mother open the front door screen. Cupping her hand to the side of her mouth, so she could be heard across the traffic din of the highway, she shouted.


“Quién es?” I asked, hoping she could just take a message for me.

My mother shook her head. “No se. Un muchacho.”

A boy. Could it be James calling me to let me know he was going to be late or worse, that he wasn’t coming at all? Yet, I didn’t remember ever giving him my phone number. Something told me to take the call just in case. Leaning the bike against the garage door, I ran inside, and headed down to the basement to take the call there, out of earshot.

“James?” I said hesitantly into the receiver.

Click. My mother hung up the line in the kitchen.

“I was just getting ready to leave. What’s up, Kiddo?”

“That’s what I was going to ask you. You haven’t been retuning my calls and maybe I’m wrong, but you seem to be avoiding me at school. Keep it up, and I might reconsider inviting you to the prom.” I heard a hint of sarcasm in his laugh.

It wasn’t James at all. It was George, Jake’s pal, whom I hadn’t seen since the night at HoJo’s, when we ran into Jake and Miss Pinched Face.

“And, who the heck is James, anyway?” He added, with a certain bravado in his voice.

Something told me I was going to have to back peddle pretty hard to explain this one.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

A Walk for Animals

Let the walk begin!

Let the walk begin!

It was a beautiful, breezy day on Saturday, when my team, Clifford’s Crew, took part in the San Diego Humane Society’s Walk for Animals. Frankly, I can’t remember when I enjoyed myself more.  It was such HOWLING fun!!

Mostly, it was a blast seeing all the dogs with their humans, and getting all these cool giveaways for our canine companions–treats, organic canned and dry food, clips for sealing food bags, leashes and even a day glo harness! Everyone seemed in a buoyant mood (must’ve been the pancake breakfast we all feasted on), and when the walk began at 9 a.m., we were more than ready. A special shout out to our Clifford’s Crew team leader, Ashley Rodriguez!

Here are some of the photos we took, but you’ll find more on the San Diego Humane Society’s flickr page.

Happy Dogs and their owners everywhere. Even stormtroopers love their dogs!

Happy Dogs and their owners everywhere. Even stormtroopers love their dogs!

Everyone gets in on the fun and volunteers give out water to dogs and their humans.

Everyone gets in on the fun while young volunteers give out water to the dogs and their humans.

Cool dogs, big dogs and even costumed dogs. This Walk for Animals had it all.

Cool dogs, big dogs and even costumed dogs, this Walk for Animals had it all.

Dog pals gather for a photo op. There's no getting away from the paparazzi.

Dog pals (From Left:  Elwood, Brooke, Josie, Oliver and Henry) gather for a photo op. There’s no escaping the paparazzi!

Henry thanks all who donated to our walk. We couldn't have done it without you!

Henry thanks all who donated to our walk. We couldn’t have done it without your generous support!

Heading home after spending a day at the walk. Everyone was tired, including Oliver.

Heading home after spending a day at the walk. Everyone was tired, including Oliver.

All told, nearly $400,000 was raised to support the Humane Society’s ability to care for animals. It was fun and rewarding, knowing we did our part. So, are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Yes! Maybe we’ll do it again next year!

Lightning in a Jar: Love Unexpected

“My head keeps spinning,
I go to sleep and keep grinning,
If this is just the beginning,
My life’s gonna be beautiful.
I’ve sunshine enough to spread,
It’s like the fella said,
Tell me quick,
Ain’t love like a kick in the head?”

Lyrics to Dean Martin’s Ain’t That a Kick in the Head


They say love comes when you least expect it. Like an unanticipated visitor seeking refuge in the warmth of your hearth. Or, a spray of lilacs hidden beneath a winter’s snowfall. In an instant, a cloud of darkness can give way to bright, sparkling love, moonlit promises, and a treasure trove of memories.new_library_outside

But, sometimes in the blush of youth, we confuse lust for love. And, sometimes we never know real love at all. And, as in my case, there are times love opens its arms and we walk away for reasons that later we cannot comprehend.

Like the refrain goes, love’s like a kick in the head. Perplexing and illogical, it’s safe to say, we never learn about love from the mistakes of others. Which is why, the song and dance of love is one that is repeated often, throughout the course of history.

Or, as Sonny and Cher would say, “And the beat goes on.”

Meeting Jake was unexpected. Gregariously handsome, he had all the right lines, which he’d flick at you in rapid procession so that when you fell, you fell hard. Still, if Jake was unexpected, falling for a mere underclassman like James was even more so. James had a soft, youthful quality about him, which is why it was so easy for me to scoff at the thought that there might be anything between us. Too young to consider dating, he seemed more like one of the kids I’d babysit for on the weekends.

Yet, with each passing day, James impressed me with his intelligence, crackerjack wit, and genuine compassion. Unlike Jake, he didn’t have a come-on line. He never tried to be sexy or prove anything he wasn’t. He was just James, a boy who was exactly as he appeared.

In the days that followed my breakup with Jake, James remained his usual self. In other words, James was as attentive as ever. He’d greet me with his usual ray-of-sunshine smile, copy down the homework assignment for me if I skipped out on class—which I did on two occasions—walked with me to my next class, without even asking if it was alright with me, and generally gazed at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. But, I was.

James was always there. Reliable. And, while I appreciated the little things he did to lift my spirits, my mind had been dizzily racing elsewhere. I’d needed something—a spark, a change. I wanted to be reckless and wild, and not the sweet little girl most assumed I was.

But, until the moment that James drew me out of study hall, willing me to give him a chance, it had never occurred to me that the change I needed, the high I craved, might be found in him. That night, I thought about our conversation behind the school—how he looked and how exhilarating it felt to be touched by him. How he held my hand so assuredly, as if it was something he did all the time. And how the recollection now electrified me. I got little sleep that night, playing our encounter over and over in my head.

The following morning, I knew what I had to do. I was going to take the next step, I thought excitedly, as I pumped my legs, riding my bike to school. James wanted me to give him a chance, and that’s exactly what I planned to do, eager was I to discover what he was made of, and what it’d be like to spend time with him outside of school. It was do or die, and put your money where your mouth is, and I was more than ready.

Okay, maybe cautiously ready. After all, there was still the matter of the age difference. What if my friends were to learn about this date I was planning with a sophomore? Would they laugh and make me the butt of their jokes?

As I made my way past Waldbaum’s supermarket, through the parking lot, bypassing the local library, I found myself feeling unsteady. What was I thinking? I was willing, wasn’t I, to give him a chance? Suddenly, I was uncertain. As I eased my bike onto the school grounds, I found my second thoughts were turning into third and fourth ones. I was caving.

I can do this, I told myself.

No, I can’t. No way, no how.

I walked down the hall toward Geometry. The second bell, marking the start of class, had yet to ring, but Mrs. C was already writing on the chalkboard the problems we’d be working on that morning. James and Sam were there, too.

James’ face lit up when he saw me, and I felt my cheeks burn. I can do this I said to myself as I took my seat in front of them, and turned around to face them.

James must’ve also been thinking about our rendezvous the day before, for he asked, with a mischievous grin, “So, did you end up making it to your last period okay?”

I nodded. The words I’d been planning to say stuck in my throat. I can do this. I can invite him on an outing for Saturday. Piece of cake, if only I’d stop backpedaling.

“What are you talking about? Why wouldn’t she make it to her class?” Sam interjected.

“No reason. Just asking,” James quickly replied, realizing he’d nearly spilled the beans.

I’m crazy to invite him anywhere. People would definitely talk if we went out. If I’m seen alone with him, away from school, they’ll wonder. Unless, unless…a thought came to me. No one would say anything about three friends hanging out. Three, not two.

Practically choking on my words, I began to sputter, only to be interrupted by James, who lowered his voice and spoke directly to me. “Hey, any interest in going on a bike ride with me tomorrow? I was thinking we could head out to Eisenhower Park.”

Yikes. His invitation, while pleasing, caught me off guard. I can’t do this. Not without Sam.

Nervously, I brought Sam into the conversation. “Great idea! What do you think, Sam? Can you make it?”

James was puzzled by this turn of events. Clearly the invitation was for me alone. He said,  “I think Sam has plans with his folks.” He paused, then added, “Am I right, Sam?”

Sam didn’t take the hint. “Um, not really. I can make it. What time?”

A flood of relief came over me. I’d be seeing James but, in case we ran into anyone, it would be obvious it wasn’t a date. There was no way I could be seen dating a sophomore, plain and simple.

Still, to make doubly sure we wouldn’t be seen together, I said, “Actually, how about I meet you both there? Is 1 o’clock okay?”

“Sounds good,” said Sam. A sullen James looked away.

“James?” I said wistfully.

He seemed deep in thought. I knew he wanted it to be just the two of us, and was starting to feel bad about my decision to include Sam.

Say something, James. Tell me you cant wait to see me, anyway. Tell me youre as excited as I am. Tell me you understand. Its better this way, dont you see? Were friends, the three of us. Friends, thats all, JamesJames? Why cant you say something?

Sam pressed him. “What’s wrong with you?” The second bell rang, signaling the start of class.

James finally looked up and sighed, “Sure, 1 o’clock is fine. We’ll meet at the park.”

Only I could see the flash of confusion in his eyes that seemed to be asking me, ‘What are you afraid of?

Everything. Falling for you. Being with you.

Hurting you.

The truth.

I was afraid of myself.

But, frankly, I hadn’t a clue.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.