April 1996 through December, 1999

THE ONGOING ADVENTURES OF MINNESOTA SAM & ABBY


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December 1, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss Graham Hancock's Book, Fingerprints Of The Gods, After Briefly Wondering If They're Ready For The y2k Debacle

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby, what day is it today?

Abby The Labrador:  December 1, 1999.  One more month until the year 2000.

Sam:  Is our computer y2k compliant?

Abby:  Yes.  Don't you remember?  Dad ran Norton 2000 Bios Fix on this laptop here at home, and the computer at work, and everything checked out fine.

Sam:  That's good.  The last thing we need is to have our computer crash at the end of the month just when we have to write our first column of the new millennium.

Abby:  Yes.  It seems like some of the y2k worries are reasonable, and some aren't, which is why it will be very important for us to come out with our column on time next month.

Sam:  By the way, what are Dad and Mom doing for the New Year?

Abby:  I think they're going out for dinner on New Year's Eve with the same couple they've been going out with on New Year's Eve for the past 15 years.

Sam:  They're leaving us home alone when all of those clocks and computers crank over to January 1st?  Do you think we should stock up on anything?

Abby:  Yes.  I think we should stock up on dog biscuits.  Don't you think?  I'll put it on the shopping list--here, I'll add it to the list they've already started--"2,000 new dog biscuits."

Sam:  Jolly good show, Abby.  Now, what about water?  Oh, wait, I think there'll be enough water around, either in the form of snow, or out in the pond behind the house if there isn't any snow.

Abby:  But what if the heat doesn't work?  What if Northern States Power Company's computers zonk out due to the y2k bug?

Sam:  We can still eat the snow.  We do that anyway.  But if the heat doesn't work on January 1st, then we're all in BIG trouble.  It can be 20 degrees below zero on January 1st.  We could all freeze to death!

Abby:  Well, we'll have to hope that all of the computer tests that they've run have fixed the problem.  We'll just have to trust.

Sam:  Yes.  And maybe we should store some charcoal for the barbecue grille!

Abby:  I suppose. But...

Sam:  ...but do you know what?  I've been reading this book I got at the Ramsey County Library the other day, when Dad was home doing paperwork and we pilfered his car for a few hours and went on a joyride around the Twin Cities.  The book is called Fingerprints Of The Gods by respected British journalist, Graham Hancock.  The book has almost 100 pages of scientific references to support his thesis, and every few months, there is another scientific discovery that supports it further. In fact, it seems as if human beings have been sailing and traveling around the planet for thousands of years.

Abby:  So, what's his thesis?

Sam:  Well, it's quite complex.  But it starts with the well known scientific phenomenon of the "precession of the equinoxes."  The earth rotates on its axis, but it has a slight wobble in it.  And every 12,000 years or so, the wobbling gets a little more intense, and because of the build-up of ice on the polar ice caps, the wobbling becomes fierce.  When this happens, the entire crust of the earth slides around the earth's core, causing violent disruptions of the earth's crust. Hancock and others believe that's why some of the Hairy Mammoths discovered in the Arctic Circle had tropical vegetation in their stomachs.

Abby:  Ahhhhh!  Because they were living on a tropical part of the planet when the displacement of the crust occurred.  Yes.  That would make sense.

Sam:  The other evidence suggests that the pyramids and Sphinx were actually built 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, and that they were designed to warn us about this violent upheaval.  Furthermore, this evidence suggests that all of the "Flood Myths" in so many cultures are all so similar because much of the entire planet was flooded when this happened.

Abby:  Wow!  That's fascinating!!  How interesting!!

Sam:  Yes.  It's really interesting!  The other thing that's so amazing is that prior to the invention of an accurate time piece, it wasn't possible to draw accurate maps.  But several centuries ago, a map of Antarctica was found, and it had apparently been drawn long before chronometers were invented.  Furthermore, it was an accurate map of Antarctica without the ice!!!!!  The last time Antarctica wasn't covered with miles of ice was something like 10,000 years ago, which means that there must have been much more advanced cultures than we have ever imagined back then!

Abby:  This is truly amazing, Sam.  Do you think any of it is possible?

Sam:  It's a theory.  Theories are measured by whether they are useful or not.  I guess only time will tell.

Abby:  So, what does this theory predict?

Sam:  Well, Ab, it predicts that the next violent disruption of the earth's crust will be in 2012.  So, we'll know soon enough, I suppose.

Abby: Sam, I can't tell you how exciting this whole thing is.  How fascinating!  It is so  much fun to think, wonder, and hypothesize!  Don't you think?

Sam:  Absolutely!  It is so cool!   By the way, what are Dad and Mom doing on January 1, 2000?

Abby:  Oh, they're apparently taking it in stride.  They have tickets for A Prairie Home Companion at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul.  Garrison Keillor has been doing his brilliant show centered around the mythical town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, more or less continuously for 25 years.  It began about a year after Dad moved to Minnesota.

Sam:  Think of it, Ab.  Twenty-five years is a long time.

Abby:  Yes. Tempus fugit.

Sam:  Well, I can't wait to learn what life has in store for all of us in the next millennium.  There is so much to look forward to.

Abby:  Yes.  It is very exciting.  See you all in 2000!!  Stay warm!!
 

November 1, 1999  In Which Sam & Abby Show How Without Humility (Shame), Graciousness, and Dependency, Power Is Just Perpetration

Abby The Labrador:  This is fascinating, Sam.  And very sensible.

Sam The Cockapoo:  You're doing it again, Ab.

Abby:  What, Sam?

Sam:  Beginning your sentence in the middle of your thoughts, as if I've been privy to your private thoughts all along.  What are you referring to?

Abby:  Oh, sorry, Sam.  I'm looking at some notes on the desk here...about the relationship between power, perpetration, humility, graciousness, and dependency.

Sam:  And?

Abby: Well, think about it.  Think about a bully...someone who has power but uses it in a mean or disrespectful way.  He hurts people's feelings, steps on people's toes, insults people, says cruel things, and then when someone points out how he's hurt you, he turns it around and makes it about the person he's insulted, as in, "Oh, you're too sensitive," or "What's the matter, can't you take a joke," or "You're all just out to get me."

Sam: Wow!  That IS remarkable! Remember that big bully dog down by the lake?  HE was like that.  He was this big, tough, muscular bulldog and he'd scare other dogs, insult them, make fun of their normal canine limitations--after all, we ALL have normal canine limitations--and the thing that's REALLY fascinating is that you and I caught ourselves both admiring his candor and sort of feeling protective of him at first. He seemed so "honest" and "right out there."

Abby:  Yes.  That's what's so interesting about this.  When someone is a perpetrator, that's what happens.  He can't allow himself to acknowledge his shame, and when you can't acknowledge your shame, you're automatically a perpetrator. So he's broken.  And caring canines can sense that broken-ness, and at first we feel protective.

Sam: Wow!

Abby: You can say that again.  Shame is the feeling that asks us to be accountable for our actions, and it lets us have humility.  Because every creature is imperfect, there will be times in every creature's existence when he must admit that he is flawed.  And when those flaws hurt others, the shame lets him admit that he has hurt others, which helps relationships heal.  If he is too weak to admit his flaws, then his relationships with others will always be damaged or damaging.

Sam:  So being able to admit that we're defective is a sign of STRENGTH, not weakness.

Abby:  Oh, definitely. It's called having ego strength--or the ability to be effective and competent in the world, while also being respectful.  People who don't  have a lot of inner strength get stuck as either victims or perpetrators.  They don't have HEALTHY POWER.

Sam:  It would seem that having healthy power would also include the ability to acknowledge that at times we need each other, and that there are those who are more competent or powerful than us, and that at times we need to depend on their strength.

Abby:  Of course!  How else would we continue to grow and learn and mature?  Truly powerful people are able to admit that at times they don't have the answers, and that they need to rely on a higher authority or a creature with more knowledge or wisdom.

Sam:  So, it would be like me giving a "helping hand up" to someone younger or less wise than me, but then also being willing to ask for a helping hand up when I need it.

Abby: Exactly.  As soon as you believe that you can't learn from anyone else, you've become grandiose, a perpetrator.

Sam:  Is this ability to ask for help the same as being hopelessly dependent?

Abby:  Not at all.  Powerful creatures are self-reliant and competent.  They just aren't arrogant. And they know that creatures like dogs, baboons, and humans are social animals, and therefore depend on each other for survival.

Sam:  Now let me get this straight.  We're talking about someone who says or implies that it's weak to admit one's flaws. And we're talking about someone who looks down on those who know that they don't have all the answers. And we're talking about someone who doesn't admit his shame, and denies that he feels fear. (Fear gives us wisdom, of course).  So we're saying that this dog or person is admitting that he is a perpetrator, which is a distorted use of power, and that he is therefore weak. Right?

Abby:  Right, Sam.  Good.  REAL POWER, HEALTHY POWER, is power that is tempered by humility, graciousness, and acknowledgment of one's need to rely on others.  Look at Nelson Mandela.  Talk about power.  He turned around an entire nation that seemed to be hopelessly trapped in the misery of apartheid.  And he did it humbly, by spending 27 years or so in prison.  They tried to cut deals with him year after year, if only he would give up his goal of creating a fair and equal government in South Africa.  But he never gave in.

Sam: It's awe inspiring and humbling just to think of what he did. What amazing power!

Abby:  Yes.  And that's the point. Compare him to the neighborhood bully who can make people cower in fear.  So what if the bully can force creatures to do things?  What does that prove?  That he's scared, lonely, arrogant, grandiose, and hollow.  Abuse of power is weak.  It isn't respectful.  And in the end, bullies lose everything.

Sam:  Boy.  This is great.  I have a whole month's worth of stuff to ponder now.  Just in time for the first snowfall.

Abby:  Wha...?

Sam:  No, it isn't going to snow just yet, Ab.  But it won't be long.

Abby: Good grief, Sam!  Dogs get so GOOFY in the snow!  I wonder why that is?

Sam:  I haven't a clue.  Must be in our genes, because all dogs do it.

Abby:  What are genes?

Sam:  Uh...we're done for this month.  Say "Goodnight," Ab.

Abby:  "Goodnight, Ab."

October 1, 1999 In Which Sam & Abby Analyze Sam's Dream And Discover How Good It Is To Get To Know Oneself

Sam The Cockapoo:  Okay, Abby!  What's the deal with those two new pictures of us up there?

Abby The Labrador:  The one of me is showing me cocking my head and listening intently like we Labradors are wont to do.  The other is of you...

Sam: ...it's of me taking a heavy-duty snooze on a big pillow next to my 'gator, which I love so dearly, mainly because it looks just like me--sort of fuzzy and all.  I was REALLY having a great nap when they took that shot of me!

Abby:  I should say!  You looked like you were in a coma!

Sam:  I was having a wonderful dream.

Abby:  When you awoke, did you feel like the dream had been real?

Sam:  Oh, very much so.  It was just like it actually happened.  I was running across an open meadow that was sun-drenched and covered with spring wildflowers.  I wasn't sure where I was heading, but I felt exhilarated.  It wasn't like someone was chasing me or anything.  I felt like I was heading toward something wonderful and I was running with anticipation and joy.

Abby:  So what happened next?  Did you come up over the crest of a hill and run right into a big mountain of doggy treats?

Sam:  No.  I went up to the top of a little grade and when I got there I stopped and looked out over a pristine glacial mountain lake and then I was suddenly flying just a few inches above the surface of the lake, and when I looked to my left, I saw that you were flying right along with me, and my heart began to sing!

Abby:  Sam, what do I represent to you?

Sam:  Well, you represent warmth, safety, friendship, stability, intelligence, loyalty, and companionship, Abby.

Abby:  That's very kind of you, Sam.  And what does the lake represent to you?

Sam:  Well, I'm not a great swimmer like you are.  We cockapoos are genetically set up to hunt small animals.  We're actually quite ferocious and confident when on land, but in or over water, we're less sure of ourselves, to put it mildly.

Abby:  And how were you feeling as you were flying over the water?

Sam: Absolutely relaxed, exhilarated!

Abby:  And then what happened, Sam?

Sam:  Then I was walking slowly through a dark forest that should have been scary but it wasn't.  In fact, rather than being scary, I found it to be intriguing.  It was almost as if I was embracing the darkness and the mystery of the forest.  It was as if the energy beneath my fear of the unknown had suddenly been converted into an almost mystical connection with the mysteries of creation.  It was a very spiritual moment.

Abby:  And then?

Sam:  And then I woke up feeling unbelievably peaceful and confident.  It was truly amazing.

Abby:  Okay Sam.  Now take all of the elements of your dream and let yourself BE each part of it, and go back through the dream and tell the tale again.

Sam:  Well...if you think that might be a fascinating thing to do, okay.  I was running across a sun-drenched meadow covered with spring wildflowers, and I AM the meadow and the sun and the wildflowers.

Abby:  Right.

Sam:  And so I am warm and peaceful and beautiful and joyful.  And then I come to the crest of the hill and spy a pristine lake down below, and I AM the lake--mysterious, potentially frightening, but I am at peace, even excited about that part of myself.  So I begin flying over the lake, and I AM you, Abby--There is a part of ME that is warm, safe, a good friend, stable, intelligent, loyal, and a good companion.

Abby: Yes, Sam, that's true.

Sam:  And I AM the dark forest.  There is a part of ME that is dark and potentially foreboding, but if I befriend that part, it allows me to have incredible depth and spirituality and ultimately peace with the most mysterious and unknowable elements of the universe.  If I face and make peace with my own dark side, my fear and hopelessness may be replaced by understanding, acceptance, comfort, and love.

Abby:  Isn't that amazing, Sam?

Sam: What a great way to interpret dreams, Abby!  By letting myself be each part of the dream rather than making those parts separate from myself, I am able to connect up parts of my identity that are usually hidden from conscious view.  I feel more...I feel more...WHOLE!

Abby:  Right.  And if you talk it through with a trusted confidant so that it is validated by being witnessed, then those parts of yourself become embedded in a social context, making the experience even more powerful and integrating.

Sam:  That's brilliant.  Just brilliant.

Abby:  You sound a bit British.

Sam:  You're such a card, Abby.  A real card.

Abby:  Thank you, Sammy old boy.  I try.  (:-)

Sam:  Are you smiling again, Abby?

Abby:  But of course.

Sam:  See you all in November!

Abby:  Pleasant, informative dreams!

September 1, 1999 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss Some Principles Of Healthy Aging Through Activity, As Well As A Brief Interlude About Airline Food

Abby The Labrador:  So, Mr. Sam.  When do you start back to school?

Sam The Cockapoo: Wha...?  School?  I'm not going back to school, Abby, and neither are you.  We've been to school already.

Abby: But we've forgotten some of the things we've learned.  After all, I'm eight and you're six.  We're getting up there in dog years.

Sam:  Oh my dear, dear Abby.  Where is this coming from?  Don't you know that you're only as old as you act?  If you stay active and playful, you'll be young for a long time, Abby.

Abby:  Do you think so, Mr. Sam?

Sam:  I know so, Ab.  I've been doing some research on the aging process, and what I've discovered thus far is that gerontologists--those who study older people and dogs--have found that "You Don't Lose What You Use."  Another version is "Use It, Don't Lose It."

Abby:  Do you think this is true, Sam?

Sam:  Yes.  Look.  I overheard Dad and Mom talking to friends about your predecessor, Nick, who it would seem was a German Shepherd Yellow Labrador mix that they got at the pound when he was approximately three years old.  It turns out that he developed hip dysplasia...

Abby:  ...Wait a minute, Sammy!  The phone's ringing.  You'd better hit that button on the computer that activates the human phone answerer simulator and see who it is.  Our vocal cords don't permit us to speak more than a few human words.

Sam:  Right!  It's on!  (The phone answerer answers and from the other end of the line comes this...) "Hi guys!  How are you?  We're on the plane on the way to Seattle and we knew you'd find our lunch menu to be quite humorous.  The flight attendants just announced that we had a choice of meat loaf or a really tasty airline-prepared chicken stew!!!!  Can you imagine what's in airline-prepared chicken stew?" (There is raucous laughter from several people on the plane).

Abby:  You know, Sam, even we wouldn't like that...er...uh...would we?

Sam:  No, Abby.  We may be dogs, but we have good taste.

Abby:  What if we were starving to death?  What if we were the only survivors of a terrible plane crash in the Himalayas, and the only food available to us was a huge stash of airline-prepared chicken stew?  Then what would you do, Mr. Sam?

Sam (Without missing a beat):  We'd eat it!!!  Now, as I was saying about your predecessor, Nick.  He developed hip dysplasia, which is a terrible degenerative disorder that is inherited and which results in a gradual deterioration of the ball-and-socket joints of the hip.

Abby:  That sounds awful.  And painful.

Sam:  It is.  But the interesting thing about Nick was that Dad would take him for a five-mile run several times a week for many years, and then when Nick got older, he scaled back to three miles, then two, then one, then one day he just stood in the driveway and stared out at the road, but refused to budge an inch.  He couldn't do it anymore.  A few months later, when his hips were so bad that he could barely walk, Dad took him in to be x-rayed, and the vet couldn't believe his eyes.  There was no bone left there at all, to speak of.  He said that it was all that running that allowed Nick to live as long as he did and to enjoy the quality of life that he had, despite the dysplasia.

Abby:  That's truly amazing, Sam.

Sam:  There are numerous studies of humans who suffer from certain kinds of arthritis, and how much improved they become when they engage in vigorous physical exercise.  It keeps the joints lubricated, the muscles in shape, and the circulatory system in good working order, all of which help reduce the symptoms.

Abby:  I read in one of Dad's books on chronic back pain that the standard wisdom nowadays is for the person to also engage in vigorous physical exercise--to work through the pain.  And that the old belief--to keep the person inactive and immobile to promote healing--just doesn't work.  In most cases, at least.

Sam:  It has certainly proven true in Dad's case.  He's had three surgeries on his L4-5 disc since he was 16, and if he didn't run regularly, he'd be in trouble.

Abby:  Yes.  It's true.  When he doesn't run regularly, he starts to have leg pain, numbness in his foot, and back pain.  But as soon as he gets back to regular running, the pain goes away and seems to stay away until he slacks off for one reason or another.

Sam:  Yep, Ab.  And the gerontological studies are unequivocal in their conclusions that 1) physical decline accompanies aging, and 2) despite the natural decline, continuing to use all of one's physical and mental faculties for as long as possible mitigates the decline and increases the quality of one's life, right up 'til the end.

Abby:  Of course, you know what this means, don't you, Mr. Sam?  It means that every time we get on this computer and write this column, we are increasing the quality of our lives by flexing our intellectual muscles...

Sam:  ...And our paw muscles, too!  Not to mention eye-paw coordination, which in turn helps with mental dexterity.  Yes, when we invented these canine computer keyboard gloves that allow us to type on a typewriter or computer keyboard, it was no less of a miracle than when Gutenberg invented the printing press.  Imagine what it was like for us and our fellow dogs before the advent of these gloves!

Abby:  Why, it's almost unimaginable today, Sammy.  We dogs had no way to communicate other than to bark with various inflections, make faces, and paw on the ground or on our parents' arms when we wanted to tell them something.  Now, we can send them an e-mail if we want to!!

Sam:  Yes, Abby.  We can send e-mail, type and print out letters, you name it.  We live in a glorious age, Abby Old Girl.  A glorious age.  It will go down in history as The Age Of Canine Enlightenment.

Abby:  Okay, Sammo, time's up.  We need our nap.

Sam:  As you wish, Abby.  As you wish.

Abby:  See you all in October.
 
 

August 1, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Take A Look At The Importance Of Struggle

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby, why do they call it The Dog Days Of Summer?

Abby The Labrador:  Sam, I'm not sure.  Do you think it has something to do with how hot and humid it gets here in the Land Of Lake Wobegon in August?  It sure makes us "dog-tired" much of the time.

Sam: I don't know.  We'll have to look it up on the internet when we get a chance.  Dad took the computer with him on his trip, so we'll have to wait.

Abby:  All I know is that it sure is hot and humid this time of year.  Can you believe that some people actually live in weather like this all year around?

Sam:  Yes, but then they're probably looking at us around January of each year and asking themselves how we could possibly live in 20 degree below zero weather.

Abby:  I suppose, Sam.

Sam:  Makes me wonder about life a little bit.  It seems as if no matter where you live, or for that matter, how you live, there's always something about it that isn't perfect.  And because of that, you have to struggle with something.

Abby:  Astute observation, Sammy old boy.  Even when the weather is as near-perfect as it can be, people have to struggle with the monotony of it.  I've heard them saying things like, "I wish we had four seasons," or "I am so bored with this weather--it's the same thing over and over and over!"

Sam:  Isn't that a hoot!  But it's sotrue!  It's as if living organisms were designed to struggle, and that without struggle in their lives, organisms would be dead!

Abby:  That's more than a hoot, Sam.  That's true as far as I can tell.

Sam:  The implications of that are rather profound, Abby.  For example, how much struggle can one organism endure before it decides it isn't worth it any longer?

Abby:  And on the other hand, how easy can life be made for someone before they become helpless.

Sam:  Dad and Mom write about that in several of their books.  I think it's a central concept in the work that they do.  That's why it's so sad to see well-intentioned parents try to do everything for their children with the hope of making their children stronger by making life easier for their kids.  If too many of the bumps in life are smoothed out by parents, children don't learn to enjoy and appreciate struggle.

Abby:  And as they grow up and go out into the world, they become terribly disappointed and bitter, feeling that life has betrayed them because it is much harder than they think it should be.

Sam:  What a horror to consider!  Imagine.  One young adult graduates from school, leaves home, and begins her life--taking on a first job, paying her own rent, making new friends, dealing with the day-to-day struggles that together equal life.  She awakens each morning energized and ready to accept the day and all that it offers, including traffic jams, a lost checkbook, regular bills that must be paid each month, which means waiting to buy things instead of buying everything she wants when she wants it.

Abby:  And then another young adult with the same education, from the same neighborhood, the same age, and with many of the same interests, leaves home, gets a first job and an apartment, and then crashes headlong into the reality of day-to-day challenges.  She buys things she can't afford "because the money is in her account," but then the rent is due, or the car payment is due, and she can't pay them.  Then something happens, like the tenant across the hall from her is noisy or she has personality conflicts with people at work, and then all of a sudden life feels overwhelming.  It begins to feel as if there is nowhere on earth that could feel safe and warm and comfortable, save one--that's right, you've got it--home.

Sam:  The tug of home is so strong because it is the only place where she can feel safe.  The everyday challenges that energize others and fill them with life, overwhelm her.  So she moves back home, feeling depressed and empty but not knowing why.

Abby:  Oh, Sam, I feel so sad right now.  Do you think there are many families where this happens?

Sam:  It's hard to know.  There's a saying that 180 degrees from sick is still sick.  In this case it means that having too much struggle is not good for a child, but neither is having too little struggle.  There are some families where kids have to struggle too much, just to survive.  But then there are many families, especially middle, upper-middle-class families where children have almost all of the struggle removed, and indeed it is sad.

Abby:  I hope some people read our column this month and are prompted to re-think their childrearing strategies when it comes to this struggle business.

Sam:  Me, too, Ab.  Life is supposed to be an exciting challenge to be embraced along with all of its disappointments, heartaches, and sorrows.  It is a mystery to be discovered.  A puzzle to be solved.  A laugh to be laughed.  A prayer to be prayed.  And a tear to be shed.  It shouldn't be overly dangerous all the time, but by the same token, it shouldn't be numbingly safe, either.

Abby:  May we all struggle and enjoy the challenge this month.

Sam:  Even if it's just a struggle with this terrible heat and humidity.

Abby:  We'll see you all next month, when Fall will be just around the corner.

Sam:  And of course, Fall is the most beautiful time of the year in Minnesota.

Abby:  And the most poignant.
 

July 4, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss Freedom, History,  And The Fourth Of July

Abby The Labrador:  Sam, do you realize what this e-mail says?

Sam The Cockapoo:  What e-mail?

Abby:  This one on Dad's desk.  From a friend of his in Florida.  It's about what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration Of Independence.

Sam:  What does it say, Ab?

Abby:  I'm nearly in tears, Sam.  I don't know if I can read it aloud.  It's so touching.

Sam:  Go ahead.  Take your time.

Abby:  It says that five of the signers were captured, tortured, and died at the hands of the British.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned, two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War, and another two had sons who were captured.  Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the War.

Sam:  My God, I had no idea.

Abby:  There's more.  It says that these were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing, ruffians, but men of education and means who sacrificed all they had, for freedom.  Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners.  Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy.  He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Sam:  This is unbelievable, Abby.

Abby:  At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British general Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters.  He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire on his own home.  The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.  Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed, the enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.  John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying.  Their 13 children fled for their lives.  His fields and gristmill were laid to waste.  For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.  A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Sam:  This is incredible.  It is so important that you found this e-mail, Abby.  Can you imagine what it would be like if we ever lost sight of what the Fourth Of July was really about?  It would be a terrible tragedy.  It would be awful.  It would be the end of reverence.

Abby:  It reminds me that Dad and Mom quoted Cicero (80 B.C.) in The Soul Of Adulthood: "Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child."

Sam:  Or much worse.  To be without historical perspective is to be dangerous and shallow, too.  The less we remember, the more we repeat, including our mistakes.

Abby:  Or, especially our mistakes.

Sam:  Hey.  What's this?!  Another e-mail.  From Dad's sister in Southern California.  Listen to this!  She has added some additional facts about the American Revolution.  Deborah Sampson enlisted as Robert Shirtliffe and served for five years, being wounded twice!   In 1804, Paul Revere assisted Deborah in successfully petitioning the Massachusetts state government for a pension.  Molly Ludwig Hayes was 24 and pregnant when her husband collapsed at his post, and Molly took his place.  Women like her accompanied their husbands or lovers into battle, loading guns, tending wounds, and carrying water both to cool down cannons and to refresh the men.   These "Molly Pitchers" were often drafted to replace wounded or ailing artillery men.  Women were also spies!  Anna Strong and her Culper Ring of Long Island, N.Y., provided a crucial link between Connecticut and New York, where fighting was fierce and British occupation was long.

Abby:  Females are often ignored in the history books, Sam.  I'm glad you found this.  Now, everyone who reads our column this month will know.

Sam:  Yes.  I hope that everyone who reads this column this month will think a little bit about how much it costs to win and keep one's freedom.  And that every once in awhile it is good for the soul just to be still and reflect on the sacrifices that ordinary people have made throughout history in order to improve our civilizations.

Abby:  Sam, in all honesty, what do you think those great men and women of the American Revolution would think about the number of guns that exist in the United States right now?

Sam:  Abby, I can feel their tears softly falling to the earth right now.
 
 

June 1, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss Love, Emotional Maturity, And The Neat Trick Of Experiencing Feelings Fully Without Acting Them Out

Sam The Cockapoo:  I'm glad Mom and Dad returned from their 5-1/2 day vacation.  I love Dave and Rebecca, who were home for a visit, but I really miss Mom and Dad when they're gone.  Why do you suppose that is, Abby?

Abby The Labrador:   Because, like humans and monkeys, among others, we are social animals, which means that we have survived our brief evolutionary stint here on earth by helping each other out and pooling our resources and strengths.

Sam:  Right.  But why is it that we miss them when they're gone that long?  From an evolutionary survival standpoint, I mean.

Abby:  It's related to the emotion of loneliness, which in humans is very highly developed; but as you and I know, it's pretty well developed in us, too.

Sam:  Dad always tells the story of when Mom took you to the vet and I stayed home.  He opened the door into the garage so he could go out into the back yard with me, and I ran over to Mom's parking spot in the garage and laid down right in the center of it.  I missed you and Mom so much that I was nearly heartbroken for a moment.  Then Dad called me outside, and I had a great time with him.  But it really left an impression on him and Mom.

Abby:  Yes. Loneliness is a very uncomfortable emotion, but a very useful one, too.  The discomfort we experience when we are alone too long, or when we aren't emotionally connected to the creatures in our pack or tribe, causes us to do whatever we have to in order to be with others.

Sam:  And by driving us toward one another, it causes us to function in groups...

Abby:  Which allows us to pool our individual skills and intelligences...

Sam:  And thereby insure our species' survival on the planet a little longer.

Abby:  Right.  And that, Sam, is part of why we miss Mom and Dad so much when they're gone.

Sam:  The other reason, of course, is that they love us and we love them, and love is a very powerful emotion as well.

Abby:  Hmmmmmmm.  As we discuss this, I'm beginning to realize that separating love from our reactions to loneliness is not always an easy, clear-cut endeavor.  It appears to me that sometimes we may confuse "wanting to remove the discomfort of loneliness" with the deeper, richer emotion of "love."

Sam:  Abby, you have raised a very complex question here.  This sounds much like the confusion that some creatures experience around "over-dependency" versus "healthy interdependency."  It seems to me that over-dependency must be related to difficulty managing one's uncomfortable emotions, while healthy interdependence must be related to love.

Abby:  Yes.  I think you're right.  Deeper love is mature.  It requires restraint, self-discipline, emotional spontaneity, and a certain quality of soulfulness.

Sam:  Emotional spontaneity.  Now there's a tall order.  Some people experience their emotions in a fairly limited way, because to experience them fully requires a fascinating balance of openness coupled with that restraint you just mentioned.  Everyone experiences all emotions on a regular basis, but if they don't have the maturity to manage those feelings, then it can be pretty confusing, even chaotic.

Abby:  Yes.  Everyone experiences fear, shame, hurt, anger, joy, loneliness, sadness, and guilt.  Everyone has dark urges as well as passionate joy.  The ability to acknowledge and experience all of those emotions without being a slave to them, is the key to truly full living.

Sam:  Sometimes you really annoy me and I feel like biting you.

Abby:  But you don't bite me because you know that it would be an extreme response, and would harm our relationship.

Sam:  Yes, Abby, that's right.  I posture aggressively, and when we play we look like we're about to bite, but we just don't go that far.  In fact, Ab, I've been meaning to tell you this for a long time--you know how when I get wound up I can be pretty pesky.

Abby:  Pesky?!  That's putting it mildly.  When you get wound up, you can be absolutely obnoxious!  You make me so mad that every once in awhile I turn around quickly and growl and snap and then bark loudly at you.  By the look on Dad's and Mom's faces, I must sound scary when I do that.

Sam:  Yes, you do get my attention.  And I usually get scared just enough to back off.  But you know, Ab, I have to hand it to you.  You've never actually bitten me or hurt me.

Abby:  And that's the point, Sam.  We experience our emotions fully, but have learned along the way how to manage our emotions so that we don't harm ourselves or each other.  Feeling our feelings is one thing.  Acting them out hurtfully is another.  Being mature means anything but being stodgy and repressed.  To the contrary, it means living life more fully than ever, but balancing it with restraint at the same time.  That's why it's such a tall order.

Sam:  And when you're able to do it, you're also able to experience love with more depth and passion than you ever imagined you could.  It's well worth the effort to learn how to be lonely without acting it out, because when we do, we are propelled to be with each other, but not so powerfully that we do harm.  It makes growing up an exciting, rewarding challenge.

Abby:  Well said, Sam.  Now, let's go whine at the door until one of them let's us out.  We need some fresh air and some exercise.

Sam:  We'll see you all next month, in July!

May 1, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Signs Of Summer's Approach, The Beginnings Of Their Book About Humans, And Other Pithy Topics

Abby The Labrador:  Sam!!

Sam The Cockapoo:  What!!??

Abby:  It's WARM out!

Sam:  And the lilacs have leaves on them.

Abby:  And the oak trees have buds popping out.

Sam:  And the geese are back.

Abby: And Dad's taken us for a run three times this week.

Sam:  I am SO happy!

Abby:  Me, too, Sammy!  It's that time of year again.

Sam:  What else is happening this month, oh wise Labrador?

Abby:  Well, Dave is graduating from college in two weeks.

Sam:  He is?  Boy, time sure has been flying by.  Why, I remember when he was just a little tike.

Abby:  No you don't, Sam.  You're only 6 1/2 years old.  I'm 9 1/2 years old.  When you joined the family, Dave was already full grown, and off puppy chow.

Sam:  Humans don't eat puppy chow.

Abby:  Well, he was full grown, anyway.

Sam:  It's amazing how much happens in just four seasons.  It seems like only yesterday when he went off to college, and now he's done and will be going out into the world on his own.  How exciting for him.

Abby:  Mom and Dad are very proud of the five of us kids.

Sam:  Do you think they know that we get on this computer and write this column every month?  I mean, if they DID, they'd be REALLY proud.

Abby:  Maybe we should send them an e-mail and include the URL for this web site, and then watch and see how they react when they get it.  We could sign it "The Kids Who Still Live At Home."  Do you think they'd know who it was?

Sam:  Perhaps.  They're fairly clever.

Abby:  At times.

Sam:  And after we do that, I think we should start writing that book we've been contemplating--the one on Why Humans Do The Things They Do.

Abby:  Do you think we have enough research data to begin?  We want to ensure that it's as professionally-written as possible.

Sam:  Well, we've been watching everyone who lives here for as long as we've known them all.  We've seen their friends and relatives come and go, come and go, and come and go, season after season.  We've noted every pattern and nuance that anyone could observe.  Scientists say that dogs spend a large part of their time--up to 60 or 70 percent--watching their humans.

Abby:  Really?  I didn't realize it was quite that much.

Sam:  Oh, yes.  It's quite a lot.  Do you know WHY we watch them so much?

Abby:  Of course, silly.  We're waiting for treats!!

Sam:  Good answer, Abby old girl.  That's right.  We're waiting for treats, or for them to drop bits of food on the floor. Or for them to look at us and say "Good Boy" or "Good Girl," and then pat us on the head, or  take us outside.  Or for a run, even.

Abby:  Sam, I just LOVE those words! "Outside" and "Run" are my favorite words in the whole world, after "Treats," of course.

Sam:  Yes, Ab, language is wonderful, isn't it?  So much can be communicated in so many ways by using language.

Abby:  Sam, do we really know why humans do the things they do?  Can anyone ever truly know?

Sam:  Of course not, Ab.  Humans are enigmas.  Puzzling paradoxes.  But if we don't at least TRY, we'll never advance our understanding of this odd species.  There is so much to learn, and so little time.  Well, actually, we have lots of time.

Abby:  Not exactly.  Scientists also say that dogs sleep up to 16 hours per day, which means that we don't have that much time.  We have to sleep, then we have to watch our humans.  Then we have to be ready when they say the magic words "Outside" or "Run" or "Squirrel."  That doesn't leave much time to write our book.

Sam:  Yes, but a good book takes a lot of germination time.  A dog who is contemplating writing a book must spend days, weeks, even months snoozing in the sun while his or her unconscious mind gradually frames up the structures of the book, the details of the book, and the meanings that must be conveyed.

Abby:  You're right, Sam.  It IS a lot of internal work.  It takes a lot of snooze-time.  Thank goodness we dogs like to snooze so much.

Sam:  Indeed.  It is one of God's great gifts to the world that He made dogs sleep so much, and by so doing, made us intuitively brilliant.  I'm glad to be a dog, Abby.

Abby:  As am I, Sammy.  But you know, I'm getting sleepy.  And the sun has just started to pop up high enough to be streaming onto the living room floor right on our favorite rug.  I think it's time for some unconscious "book-writing" time.

Sam:  Brilliant, Abby.  You ARE quite brilliant.  I think I'll just curl up here next to you and...
 

April 1, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Plan To Watch Dad And Mom On The Oprah Winfrey Show, And Talk About How Parents Keep Kids From Growing Up By Not Letting Them Struggle

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby!  Who is Oprah Winfrey?

Abby The Labrador:  She's one of the most influential people in show business.  She's an African-American woman, talk-show host, author, and actor among other things.  Why do you ask?

Sam:  Because I thought I heard Mom and Dad talking about possibly going on her show to talk about their new book, The 7 Worst Things Parents Do.

Abby:  They did?  Sam, that would be a wonderful opportunity for them to get their message out.  They've worked long and hard to get this message out around the country.  Dad is especially careful to try to explain what they mean by these 7 things when he is working with local school teachers, because they have gotten so frustrated over the past decade as their efforts to teach are thwarted more and more by parents who want to protect their children from reality, or who aren't willing to step in and create family structure for their kids.

Sam:  Tell me about it.  I remember about 16 years ago, when David was 7 or so and was about to shift to the traveling team in ice hockey, and Mom and Dad went to him and gently but very firmly explained that the traveling team wasn't an option--that it would be too disruptive to his health and too much stress on the family.  He was angry about that decision for several days.

Abby:  And then he came out of it, took up tennis, and ended up being co-captain of the high school tennis team several years later.  And the family got to have some time together as a result.

Sam:  I was reading in their new book that there are parents nowadays who actually file lawsuits against their kids' teachers and schools because their kids are getting too much homework!  Can you imagine that?  Suing a school for teaching your child and expecting your child to become competent?  It's amazing what has happened to American children.

Abby:  It's sad what has happened.  Which is why Dad and Mom wrote this book.  Look, Sam, something has happened to America over the past 20 years.  Dad thinks it's because of guilt and the high divorce rate, as well as all the abuse and neglect that has been uncovered.  But whatever the cause, it seems as if a certain segment of the population, especially middle and upper-middle-class families, have decided that challenge, struggle, and competence are things they'd rather not see their children face or attain because it makes some parents uncomfortable to see their children work!

Sam:  That's awful, Abby!  If parents make life too easy for their kids, the kids become emotional cripples, and then when it's time for them to fly out of the nest out into the great big exciting world of their own adulthood...

Abby:  They fall flat on their faces and limp back to the nest, where they stay...INDEFINITELY!!

Sam:  Uh Oh!!  That's not good, Abby.  If we had Kristin, Rebecca, and David still living in THIS nest with us, it would be awfully crowded!  (:-)

Abby:  No kidding, Sammo!  We'd all be tearing each other's fur...er...or hair out.

Sam:  About 5 years ago, Dad and Mom were watching a news special about male children still in the nest.  The statistic was something like 25-30% of all male children between 22 and 30 years of age still lived at home.  They followed four families in that situation, and in each case, the son who still lived at home had a very good job! One was an attorney, one was a physical therapist, one was a dentist, and one did something else--I forget.

Abby:  I remember that, Sammy!!  It was frightening!

Sam:  And oh, so sad.  So-o-o-o-o sad.  I'm no psychologist, but when the interviewer asked one of the mothers if she still did all of her son's laundry, made his bed, cooked his meals, and so forth, not only did I feel ill, but the mother looked pretty unhappy beneath her nervous smile.  So-o-o-o-o-o-o sad.

Abby:  I loved what the psychologist said when they showed him the clip of the one young man who said he couldn't pay his parents rent because if he did, he'd have to give up his private tennis lessons at the club!!!!  The psychologist said, very emphatically, "Move out!!  Get a second job!!!"

Sam:  Oh, Abby.  I hope that humans can find their way back to a better path.  As much as this is a great country, it's times like these when I worry a little bit.  Kids don't want to struggle.  Parents sue everyone at the drop of a hat because they want to blame someone for the fact that one of life's greatest joys is the reward of struggling with something and eventually succeeding.  And when they sue, they rob their children of the chance to become competent.  Then they wonder why their very intelligent son or daughter is working at McDonald's for minimum wage after college.

Abby:  Do you remember how we met, Sam?

Sam:  Sure I do, Ab.  I was with my herd of cockapoos, galloping through the Canadian wilderness, when I fell down a ravine and broke my leg.  I told the herd to continue without me because I didn't want the rest of them to die of starvation. It was a tough decision on my part.  And then you came along, on your way back to Labrador, found me, revived me, and carried me hundreds of miles to the nearest hospital.  We have been the dearest of friends ever since, even after moving here to Minnesota.

Abby:  Right.  Now let me ask you this, Sam.  Do you think that the challenges we've shared together over the years--including that very dramatic first one where you almost died, and where I wore the pads off of my paws as I carried you for miles and miles---do you think those challenges hurt us?

Sam:  Hurt us?  That's silly, Ab.  That's SO silly.  Hurt us?  These challenges made us the wonderful canines we are today.  And they gave us a love that's beyond measure.  No, Abby, those challenges are what have given us the meaning and depth in our lives, and the depth of love that no one could ever imagine.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Abby:  Me neither, Sammo.  Me neither.

Sam:  I sure hope parents reconsider their positions on these issues, and that if they feel so guilt ridden or so powerless that they can't lead their children into adulthood, that they get some help.  It's such a waste to see a grown man or woman who's still emotionally  back in early childhood because someone kept robbing him or her of the chance to struggle and grow up.

Abby:  Such a waste.

Sam: See you next month, everybody.  The snow is almost all gone here in the city that is just a few cities east of Lake Wobegon.
 

March 7, 1999  In Which Sam & Abby Look Forward To Mom And Dad's New Book, And To Spring In The North Country

Abby The Labrador:  Sam, we're late writing our column this month!  How did we get so far behind this week?

Sam The Cockapoo:  It was Dad's birthday on March 5th, for one thing, and we had so many squirrels to chase that we got distracted until it was almost too late to make him a card and a birthday gift.

Abby:  Squirrels??!!  What about that crazy rabbit that's been leaving his little marks all over the yard in discrete little spots?  He drives us nuts!

Sam:  Yeah.  Right out of the DSM-IV!  Do you remember Wednesday night?  Dad let us out, thinking that we needed to do our business, when in fact we smelled that rabbit right through the walls of the house.  And when we reached the edge of the stairs of the deck we spied him right in the middle of the lawn, and we flew down the stairs and chased him down into the back yard, around a couple of big oak trees, at which point he made a u-turn and raced back up onto the lawn with the two of us together in hot pursuit.  It was so intense I was almost beside myself!

Abby:  You were beside me, Sam.  And we almost nabbed him, but then he scooted between the slats of the picket fence and scampered off into the night.  It was the closest we've come to getting him.  Every night, several times a night, we try to catch him.  Maybe we never will.

Sam:  Well, the fun is in the chase, I suppose.

Abby:  Do you think Dad liked the card we made him?

Sam:  I think so.  We spent days working on it.  After all, it was quite a feat, given that we don't have thumbs...or fingers.  And we had to write it on an old oak leaf we found in the back yard.

Abby:  He seemed to like our gift, too.  It was quite brilliant of us to think of giving him that old shoe we found down at the lake.  I think he had a nice birthday, all-in-all.  And then he took us for a 3-mile run this morning, too.  I feel so much better!

Sam:  Yes.  By the way,  he and Mom seemed to be pleased with the new book that they just finished.  It's called The 7 Worst Things Parents Do, and includes a whole bunch of positive things that parents can do instead of those worst things that they often do.  It's already listed by Amazon.com Books, and should be in all the bookstores in about three weeks.  Mom and Dad have it right here on this web site, and there's a good synopsis of the book at Barnes&Noble.com, too.

Abby:  Have you read it yet, Sam?

Sam:  They only have one copy.  Their publisher, the guys who do the Chicken Soup For The Soul books, sent them their first copy by Federal Express.  I know, because I always bark ferociously when the Fed Ex man comes to our house.  I signed for the book, growled a little so he'd know I was still a dog, after all, and then when we curled up to snooze in the sun later that morning, I crept into the living room, grabbed the book, curled back up next to you, and read half of it while you were out cold.

Abby:  That's interesting.  I did the same thing the other evening when you were taking your nap.

Sam:  It's a very timely book, I'll say.  It covers parents not acting as parents, not creating enough of a sense of family, not teaching impulse control, not letting kids struggle, trying to become kids' pals, putting their marriages last, and a couple of others.

Abby:  And a lot of really good pointers on what parents can do to make those things better.  There are even a couple of really nice endorsements on the cover, too.

Sam:  Maybe we can read the last half together.  That would be fun.

Abby:  Yes, Sam.  That would be fun.  I love to read with you.

Sam: Ab, have you noticed that the days are getting longer?

Abby:  Have I ever, Sam Old Boy!  It is so nice to feel like that cold deep darkness of Minnesota winter is finally lifting.  It's so oppressive that I think I get depressed in the dead of winter.

Sam:  Yes, Abby Old Girl, I know what you mean.  I heard some geese honking the other day.  I wonder if they're starting their return to The North Country?

Abby:  I think they are.  I mean...they must be returning!!!

Sam:  You mean, they must be returning because if they are, it means Spring is just around the corner?

Abby:  Yes, Sam.  That's exactly what I mean.  And it is just around the corner...technically, anyway.  Of course, here in Minnesota, Spring as it is experienced in other places may not actually arrive until........M-A-Y!!!!!

Sam:  Now, Abby.  Wait a minute.  You're not being fair to the great state of Minnesota.  Why, we now have Governor Wrestlemania.  And we have mosquitoes the size of B-52's.  And we have lutefisk.  And Swedes.

Abby:  Mom's a Swede.

Sam:  Swedes are good.

Abby:  Yes.

Sam:  And we have Garrison Keillor and his A Prairie Home Companion radio program on Public Radio, and we can claim Charles Lindbergh as our own, and Hubert Humphrey, and the Cohen Brothers, who wrote and directed the dark comedy, Fargo.  And remember how Garrison Keillor so aptly describes Lake Wobegon as the place "where all the woman are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

Abby:  (sighs and rolls her eyes)  Spring is almost here.  Say "Goodnight," Sammy.

Sam:  "Goodnight, Sammy."
 
 

February 1, 1999 In Which Sam And Abby Discuss Personality Disorders And Personal Responsibility

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby!  We've nearly made it through the very worst part of winter.  And despite some nasty cold weather and a lot of snow so far this year, the past few days have been downright lovely.

Abby The Labrador:  You can say that again.  Saturday and Sunday were sunny and warm--between 35 and 40 degrees.  If you look at the graph of daily highs and lows throughout the year, you'll see that during the last week of January and the first week of February, the highs often don't get above minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lows are often minus 20 degrees, or worse.

Sam:  When it's that cold, I last about 60 seconds and you last about 120 seconds outside before our feet begin to freeze and we try to lift them off the ground one after the other.  It isn't an easy thing to do, and it doesn't solve the problem.

Abby:  Yes, and every once in awhile you go a little too far from the house when we go out to do our business, and then you get stranded out there with freezing feet, and Dad has to run over and rescue you.

Sam;  Yes.  Thank goodness he waits out there with us when it's that cold.  Otherwise, I'd freeze to death. And as much as I hate to put on those boots and that coat when we go for our run with Dad, I think if I didn't, we'd wind up having to go back to the house before we got to the lake, only a block away.

Abby:  You look very dapper with your coat and boots, Mr. Sam.  Very dapper.  It's nice to have such a handsome best friend.

Sam:  Your kindness is humbling, Miss Abby.  Thank you.

Abby:  So, Sam, I'm bored.  What shall we read?

Sam:  We've already read the Minneapolis StarTribune from front to back.  And we've gotten our political updates from CNN.  I don't know.  Whatever you want to read is fine with me.

Abby:  Let's see...hmmmmmm...I'm rummaging around on the top of Mom's and Dad's desk here looking for something...aha!  Here's something interesting.  It looks like a paper they're writing.  Here, Sam, will you read it to me?  I love it when you read to me.

Sam:  Oh, of course I'll read to you.  Curl up on that foam doggie bed over there and I'll put on Dad's reading glasses and get started.  Let's see.  It's an awfully long paper they're writing.  I think I'll just try to condense it for you if that's okay.

Abby:  Why, certainly, Mr. Sam.  I just love the sound of your voice, that's all.

Sam:  Okay.  Well, the paper is talking about personality disorders, which appear to be psychological disorders that go way back into childhood, and that are more or less enduring traits, unlike problems such as depression, which seem to have a more definable beginning and end, and are thus often more transitory in nature.

Abby:  Personality disorders must be more a part of one's personality than, say, an anxiety disorder.  I know that sounds redundant, Sam, but I think it makes sense to me.

Sam:  Sure.  We're talking about something that runs a little deeper, and that may be a little more resistant to change, because it's more part of one's core identity, or lack thereof.

Abby:  Go on, Sam.  You're doing a great job.

Sam:  Well, then it goes on to talk about different kinds of personality disorders, like narcissistic personality disorder in which the person is hardly ever able to empathize with anyone else, is completely wrapped up in his own self, and often talks in vague and grandiose terms, like people who are constantly describing things as "fabulous."  It's not that "fabulous" is a bad word to use.  It's just that when you use it all the time, and with a dramatic, affected tone of voice, it comes across as superficial and hollow.  In fact, "hollow" is a good word to describe someone who has this problem.

Abby:  What other personality disorders do they write about?

Sam:  Well, then there's borderline personality disorder, which describes a person who, like the narcissist above, has almost no inner self or core or identity, which means that he or she is literally like a ship adrift at sea without a rudder.  People with this disorder are at the mercy of their own emotional whims, so that one minute they can seem perfectly reasonable and whole, and the next minute they can be in total chaos.  As a result of this, they tend to idealize people and then soon afterwards, get disappointed by them because they turn out to be imperfect, and then they try to destroy that person for letting them down.  A popular book written for the general public, for people who may be living with or working with someone who has this problem, is titled something like I Hate You, Don't Leave, which captures the deeply conflicted and contradictory emotions and behaviors associated with this disorder.

Abby:  Wow, Sam!  That sounds like a big problem to have!

Sam:  It certainly can be.  People with borderline personality disorder often spend much of their adult lives filing lawsuits, butting heads with their bosses and creating havoc with the personnel departments of their employers; and creating chaos for their friends and families.  Paradoxically, they can also be very successful in their careers, and when they aren't stirring everything up and trying to destroy those around them, they can be quite wonderful.

Abby:  It sounds like such a painful way to live.

Sam:  Oh, indeed.  It surely is.  Of course, many people try to justify a person's behavior because of the developmental-family history of the person in question.  In the case of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder, there is little question that the cause is abuse or neglect in childhood.  But the fact that a person had a bad childhood--yes, even a tortured one--is not an excuse for one's inappropriate, damaging behavior.  Having no empathy for anyone but oneself, or creating near-constant chaos for self and others, is not justified by one's mental health history.  And the only way for people to overcome these painful conditions is to take responsibility for their actions.

Abby:  Yes, Sam.  I agree with you.  It is most unfortunate that the humans in this country have strayed so far to the extreme of seeing everyone as a victim of something.

Sam:  Yes.  It is most unfortunate.  We are, after all, responsible for our actions, no matter what.

Abby:  What can someone with one of these personality disorders do?

Sam:  Well, it says here that they need to establish a long term relationship with a therapist whom they can trust--a therapist with impeccable boundaries so that the client isn't able to manipulate him or her--and then to stick with that therapist through thick and thin.  The real test comes, of course, after the client idealizes the therapist and then begins the inevitable process of demonizing him or her.  This is a crucial time in the therapy, because a therapist who can't handle the client's anger, or a therapist who tends to baby his or her clients, will blow it.  At the same time, many clients will leave therapy at this time, just when they're on the verge of a major breakthrough in working through their disappointment.  Learning to deal with disappointment gracefully--and to even deepen as a result of it rather than destroying everything because of it, is a key here.

Abby:  Is that why many lawsuits filed by this type of person are so sad?

Sam:  Yes.  Granted, there are some legitimate lawsuits filed in these situations, but there are many that actually turn out to set the client back months or even years by sabotaging this process of learning to deal with disappointment.  After all, life never gives us everything we want.  But if, as a result of being deeply hurt as a child, a person believes that life now owes him or her everything,  then trying to get "restitution" from life when all that really happened was just a normal part of life's normal disappointments can cause the person to get even more entrenched in his or her symptoms than if he or she tried to get through it without expecting life to "even the score."

Abby:  I get it.  Disappointment is part of life.  Learning to deal with disappointment gracefully is one of the hallmarks of healthy adulthood.  People with certain personality disorders expect, as a result of deep wounds, that life will eventually give them everything they want, which is impossible, which sets the person up for more and more disappointment.  What a trap, Sam!

Sam:  Aye, that it 'tis, Miss Abby.  That it 'tis.  And with that, I am ending our most learned discussion so that we can catch the last of that late afternoon sun streaming through the windows of the kitchen.  Shall we?

Abby:  We shall.  For soon it will be dark, and we will have to wait 24 hours for that late afternoon sun to return.  But I don't mind. Things often come to us when we least expect them.

January 1, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Examine Depression And Medications, Sometimes In That Order

Abby The Labrador:  Sammo!  I don't know how much longer I can take this medication I'm on!

Sam The Cockapoo: What are those pills that Dad keeps giving you?

Abby:  Lysodren.  For Cushing's Disease.

Sam:  Which is...?

Abby:  An overactive adrenal gland, due either to an adrenal tumor, or a tumor in the pituitary gland, deep in my brain.  It makes me drink water incessantly, and then I have a heck of a time not having an accident in the house.

Sam:  Good grief, Abby!  Are you going to be okay?

Abby:  I don't know.  It's so complicated that he and Mom finally took me to the University Of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital because our regular vet had me on the Lysodren, but also on antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, and special food to balance my salt intake.  But it just wasn't working.  The urinary specialist at the U Of M doesn't seem to be getting anymore of a handle on it than our vet.

Sam:  So where are you with it now?

Abby:  I think Dad's going to put me back on the antibiotic until we get back to the University, then they'll do an adrenal stim test on me, then they'll probably realize that it's more than that, then we'll be where we were when they took me to the University in the first place.

Sam:  Oh.

Abby:  Hopefully we'll all figure it out in time.

Sam:  It makes me think of how complicated the body is.  It isn't just a simple linear relationship.  It's more than X causes Y causes Z.  There are all kinds of feedback loops and interrelationships between systems in the body.

Abby:  Sounds like that article I read on Mom's desk about depression.  Depression seems to be more than a unitary problem.  It can be caused by a shortage of serotonin or dopamine in the brain, but also by unresolved traumas from childhood, by extreme stress, loss, and even lack of stimulation.  It's so complicated, that long-term stress or deprivation can actually alter one's brain chemistry so that it looks as if there is a genetically determined shortage of neurotransmitters in the brain, when in fact, the shortage is environmentally caused.

Sam:  That does sound complicated.

Abby:  Yes.  And then there's the scenario which is actually more common, in which someone has a genetically determined vulnerability in the neurotransmitter system that doesn't show up unless one is subjected to prolonged or severe stress, and then they get depressed.  In this case, antidepressant medications like Prozac or Paxil or Zoloft will help a great deal, and will be able to be terminated once the stress is resolved and the neurotransmitter system is back in balance.  And then if the person undergoes severe or prolonged stress again, they may need to go on antidepressants for 9 to 18 months again to get everything back in order.

Sam:  But some need to be on antidepressants pretty much indefinitely, right?

Abby:  Yes.  Some people have enough vulnerability in their neurotransmitter system that they'd be so much better off if they simply stayed on antidepressants indefinitely.

Sam:  Why do some people have such an aversion to medications?

Abby:  Well, Sammo, because they scare some people.  And then some doctors over prescribe medications.  The current research seems to support the belief that a combination of regular talk psychotherapy and medication is the best way to handle depression.  But it isn't just a simple linear relationship.  Many people just need to work through things in therapy.  A few just need medication.  Another group do best with both.

Sam:  What about some people's belief that if they take antidepressants it will just mask their real problems?

Abby:  In general, that's hogwash.  The truth is that for people who are actually suffering from biochemical depression, taking antidepressant medication will simply allow them to get to work on their therapy issues and work them through rather than getting stuck in therapy all the time.  Antidepressants are not addictive, and they don't mask human problems.  They just make it possible for people to have enough energy and focus and clarity to heal their wounds.

Sam:  That makes sense to me, Abby.  I hope people take the time to think this sort of thing through.  I'd hate to see people making impulsive, fear driven decisions that actually made their lives more miserable.

Abby:  Me, too, Sam.  Life isn't black and white.  Nor is medical science.  It's complicated.  Which is why an active, informed, participating person is much more likely to get better than someone who isn't.  That's why we're working actively and systematically to figure out this problem I have.  Sooner or later, we'll figure it out.

Sam:  I hope so, Ab.  You're very important to me.  My life would be so much less without you.

Abby:  I know, Sam.  I know.  I feel the same way.  That's why we continue to work at it.

Sam:  I can't type anymore.  My paws are getting tired.

Abby:  Mine, too.  Let's go chase some squirrels.

Sam:  Got it.  Last one out the door is a rotten egg!
 
 

December 1, 1998 In Which These Two Brilliant Canines Discuss HMO's and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Sam The Cockapoo: Abby, have you been reading the APA Monitor lately? The struggle between Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO's) and the mental health community is really getting interesting.

Abby The Labrador: Sam, I think you should have become a psychologist instead of a world famous hunter and all around vigilant watchdog. You scared the daylights out of the UPS man yesterday.

Sam: Well, I know, and I feel a little sheepish about it, but after all, it is what I was bred to do. I am a fierce one. That's all there is to it. Such is the way of the mighty cockapoo.

Abby: Yes. It is true.

Sam: Abby, you didn't answer my question, though. Have you read this stuff about HMO's and mental health? It's heating up quite nicely.

Abby: No, I'm still reading the Harvard Mental Health Letter that Mom gets. They have a fascinating article about the latest treatments for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It would seem that this disorder has responded fairly well to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI's) like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, which are typically prescribed for depression. But OCD also responds well to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). PET scans of people's brains during an obsessive-compulsive episode are very different from the scans of people who are not having such an episode.

Sam: What's a PET scan?

Abby: Positron Emission Tomography.  It's a way of mapping the electrical activity in various parts of the brain, and is very useful in studying certain physiological and emotional disorders.

Sam: Okay. Go on.

Abby: So, after CBT, the scans of people who have OCD are much like those of people who do not have OCD. In other words, the way you think about things, and how you choose to think, or how you choose not to think, can directly affect the severity of a disorder that may have a primary physiological component to it. Amazing.

Sam: It is. Yes. You'd think that if a disorder had a physiological cause, that only physiological treatments like drugs or surgery would help. That "how we think" can actually change the course of such a disorder is quite amazing. Stunning, in fact.   Do dogs get OCD?

Abby: Of sorts.  Canine acral lick is a disorder in which dogs lick away the fur and skin on their legs.  It's treated with the same drugs used to treat OCD, and seems to be related to a malfunction in the brain circuit responsible for basic grooming behavior.  So, we ARE more like humans than some humans would like to think.

Sam:  Not Dad and Mom.  They know we're human.  Er...well...they treat us as if we were their children, anyway.  They're very good to us.  We're very lucky.  A lot luckier than some of the subscribers who need mental health care under some HMO's.  Some of them are very good programs, but some of them are pretty unscrupulous when it comes to providing benefits that they said were available when they were pitching their program to clients.

Abby: How does that work?

Sam:  Some, not all, health plans claim that people can get all kinds of psychotherapy under their health plan, the people sign up with the health plan, and then when they need therapy, the health plan administrators tell the client they can only have three sessions.  There is a big lawsuit going on in California about it right now, I think.

Abby:  Hmmmmmmmm.  Doesn't sound like such a great deal.

Sam:  No.  I think the best deal would be to do away with all health insurance companies and just have a single-payer system in which people can choose where they go for their medical and psychological services, and have reasonable limits on how much they utilize, but with the option to supplement their care with their own money.

Abby:  Do you think there might be a relationship between OCD and HMO's?

Sam:  Clever question, Ab.  Is that why you're grinning?

Abby:  I'll never tell.  So, is there a relationship?

Sam:  Sure, Ab.  It has something to do with compulsive hoarding of other people's money!

Abby:  Yikes, Sam!  We'd better sign off before we get into trouble here.  We hope you enjoy the holidays, wherever you are, whatever you do, whichever ones you celebrate, and however you celebrate them.

Sam:  Ditto, Ab.  Happy Holidays
 

November 1, 1998 In Which Sam And Abby Discuss Tule Fog, The X-Files And UFO's, And Decide To Want What They Have

Abby The Labrador: Sam, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. We sneak upstairs and take naps on Mom's and Dad's bed while they're at work, as you know. And we race downstairs and wag our tails furiously when we hear them coming into the house at the end of the day. And when they let us out to run around in the yard, we sniff and snort and root and bark and cavort like fools. You know. We have a pretty wonderful existence.

Sam The Cockapoo: Dad takes us for for long runs pretty regularly, Mom takes us for long walks pretty regularly, they both adore us, and Abby, I'm overcome with emotion, because I think I know where you're going with this conversation, and I know you're right about it.

Abby: I overheard them talking about a new book they heard about. They were both so excited about the title. It was something like How To Want What You Have by Timothy Ray Miller. I heard that, and tears started to flow from my eyes.

Sam: You have beautiful eyes, Abby. Did you know that? Did I ever tell you how much I love your eyes? They're brown, but they're golden around the edges. You have the most lovely eyes I've ever seen. And you have the most peaceful soul in the universe...

Abby:  ...Sam, I think this is getting way too mushy!!

Sam:  I know! I know!  What happened to us?

Abby:  I think we were overcome with emotion because...because...you know, the new season of The X-Files is starting next Sunday.  I think we were overcome because of some unknown influences from a galaxy far, far away.

Sam:  I think you're mixing up tv shows with films.  But I think you may be right.  We've both been a little odd lately.  I thought maybe it had something to do with the gorgeous weather we've been having so close to the frigid onslaught of winter.  After all, today was bright and sunny, albeit cool; but it's supposed to snow wet, slushy snow by Tuesday!

Abby:  Yikes!  We do have reason to be acting strangely.  But there's more.  Did you see those strange lights flickering on and off above the lake last night?  It was the strangest thing.  They hovered over the center of the lake and then accelerated high up into the sky, then banked sharp right, then sharp left, then back down over the lake, where they slowed down for a moment, and then they accelerated again as they flew all around the edges of the lake.  And then they disappeared behind a bank of tule fog at the end of the lake.

Sam:  Tule fog?  How do you pronounce that?

Abby: "Too-lee"  It's like marsh fog in the midwest.

Sam:  Is there tule fog in the Minnesota?

Abby: I don't think so.

Sam: Hmmmmm.  Oh.  Well, those lights sure sound like a UFO to me.

Abby: Yes.  And I think that's why we were so mushy just then.  I think these space aliens tampered with our neurotransmitters when they passed by the house on that last fly-by.  I'm feeling a little more normal now than I did yesterday, which probably means that the effects will be temporary.

Sam:  That's good.  We wouldn't want to be slobbering all over each other in maudlin fits of emotion all the time.  Appreciation is one thing, but sappy stuff gets pretty old pretty fast.

Abby:  Yes. It needs to be done in moderation.

Sam: Do you think there are a real Mulder and Scully out there right now, investigating what flew over our lake and temporarily altered our brain chemistry?

Abby:  I hope so.  If there aren't, then I hope someone reads this and decides to take that on as their career.  In the meantime, I'm going to be thankful that the X-Files season starts up again next Sunday, and that you and I appear to be okay despite an alien fly-by.

Sam:  I am grateful for what I have, Abby.  Even though we won't get any Thanksgiving turkey because it isn't good for us, I am thankful for what I have.

Abby:  I am, too.  How to want what you have. That's a great title for a book.  I was reading the introduction to it, and the book looks as good as the title.  I  don't need any Thanksgiving turkey.  I have my food every day, and we have our water bowl, and interesting weather, squirrels to chase, a great family.

Sam:  I think we need to cut this column short and go enjoy the rest of the day.

Abby:  I'm right behind you. Thanks.

Sam:  Thanks
 
 

October 1, 1998 In Which Sam & Abby Talk About Dad's Travels, Mom And Dad's Editing Of Their New Book, And Then Take The Miata To Stillwater, Minnesota and Talk About Jessica Lange

Sam The Cockapoo: Well, Dad made it to London and back.

Abby The Labrador: Barely, I understand. He's very relieved that the Northwest Airlines strike was settled.

Sam: It will make his life a lot easier, I can tell you that.

Abby: Is he going away again?

Sam: He's doing a Lifeworks Clinic in Sioux Falls this week, then one in Orange County California in a couple of weeks, and then he has a couple of short trips where he does one-day training seminars, and then he's off for the holidays. He's doing a special Men's Day workshop near Chicago in November, and a big seminar in Oklahoma City that month, too.

Abby: That's not too bad, I guess. We had a couple of great 3-mile runs this weekend. That air brace Dad's been using for his sprained ankle really does the trick. he doesn't seem to be limping much at all.

Sam: He said his ankle swelled up like a cantaloupe on the flight over to and back from London because his ankle was doing so well that he didn't bring the brace.

Abby: Bad planning on Dad's part, Sammy.

Sam: So, Abby, what else are Mom and Dad doing these days? I saw them in the kitchen with the laptop computer and a bunch of papers both days last weekend. What's the deal with that?

Abby: They're editing their new book. The title will be something like The Seven Worst Things Parents Do. They're doing the final editing. After their editor edited it. It's the editing that comes after the editing. Get it?

Sam: Yes. It's not that hard to figure out what you just said, Abby. It just sounds redundant, even though it isn't.

Abby: Writing books must be a lot of work. Look at how much work we put into writing this little column every month. It takes us hours! Granted, it takes us hours because we have to wear these Canine Computer Keyboard Gloves so we can type on the keyboard, but still...it's a lot of work.

Sam: Abby, have you noticed what it looks like outside lately? The leaves are changing. It's another glorious Fall here in the land of Lake Wobegon.

Abby: You know, Sam, I think it's time we go for a spin in Dad's car. Isn't today Thursday? He's in Sioux Falls if it is. So, what are we waiting for?

Sam: Let's go!

[So our fearless canines don their sporty racing caps and scarves, sneak down into the garage, carefully release the levers on the converetible top of the old 1991 Mazda Miata, and flip down the top. Sam gets in the driver's seat while Abby jumps in the passenger seat. They hit the button on the garage door opener, the door slowly rises, Sam turns on the ignition, the engine roars to life, he puts it in reverse, pops the clutch, and squeals out of the garage, down the driveway, and out into the street. The Bassett Hound next door looks startled.]

Abby: Head out toward Stillwater. It's a lovely drive along highway 96 this time of year.

Sam: We could stop at the Apple Orchard and buy a couple of apple pies for Mom and Dad. Maybe they'd give us some if we did that.

Abby: Good idea, Sam. Let's do that on the way back.

[With the wind streaming through their hair, their scarves streaming and flapping in the wind behind them, and their racing caps fixed securely to their heads, Sam & Abby made a dashing pair indeed.]

Sam: Look! It's Stillwater! What a charming little river town it is. The St. Croix River, isn't it, Abby?

Abby: Yes. You're getting good at your geography. There's a bridge over the river, into Wisconsin, if we want to drive into another state. But just look at all of these quaint little shops. So much charm.

Sam: Jessica Lange, the famous Oscar-winning actress just moved here a little while ago.

Abby: She did!!!??? I like her. Wasn't she in The Postman Always Rings Twice? And Blue Sky, Cousin Bette, Frances, Country, and...

Sam: She's been in a lot of films. And she's always good in them. Did you know that she was born in Cloquet, Minnesota?

Abby: That's a small town, isn't it?

Sam: Very small.

Abby: Did you know that her longtime live-in love is actor Sam Shepard? Great first name, eh, Sammy?

Sam: Well, I think it's lovely that she's chosen to settle right here in charming, sleepy old Stillwater.

Abby: Me, too. But you know, Sam, right now, I'm really hungry. What's that place over there with all of those people sitting outside? I can hear the clanking of silverware.

Sam: It says, The Dock. I think it's a restaurant. Let's go eat. I'm famished.

[And so Sam & Abby trotted into The Dock, requested a table outside, overlooking the glistening St. Croix River, with all the pleasure craft dotting it's sun-drenched surface, and they ordered lunch. Sam had a nice crushed dog biscuit pate while Abby ordered the Science Diet Special, seeing as how she's had some problems with her urinary tract. After lunch, they indulged in some lamb and rice treats for dessert, and then they were back in the car, speeding along highway 96, west toward the Twin Cities]

Abby: Ah-h-h-h-h. What a lovely day. You don't think we'll get in trouble for taking the car, do you?

Sam: No. Like I said, Dad's in Sioux Falls and Mom's at.....oops! [As they turned the corner and pulled in the driveway, who was there, sweeping up some Fall leaves, but none other than.....Mom!!!!!]

Abby: Oops!!

Mom: Where have you two been? Did you go for a drive again? Did you fill up the gas tank? Did you have lunch yet? You two look mighty smart with your scarves and racing caps.

Sam: [whispering to Abby] I think it's okay. I think as long as we don't smash up the car, and as long as we get back at a reasonable hour, Mom won't mind. But we forgot to stop and buy the apple pies. We'll have to do that next time.

Abby: Do you think Dad will get mad when he reads this column on the internet and realizes we took his car for a spin?

Sam: No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, Abby. He adores us too much!

Abby: Oh, yeah, that's right. Whew! Saved by the bell again.

Sam: Let's go take a nap in the late afternoon sun up in their bedroom! Last one there is a rotten egg!!

Abby: I'm way ahead of you, Sammy old boy. I'm snoozing already!

September 1, 1998 In which Sam & Abby Discuss Dad's Upcoming Flight To London, And How To Grow Old Gracefully

Abby The Labrador Retriever: Dad's flying to London on the 9th....if he can get a seat on another airline. The pilots at Northwest Airlines are on strike, and Northwest accounts for about 80% of the air traffic into and out of the Twin Cities Area.

Sam The Cockapoo: He's giving a talk to the general public on the 10th and then an all-day seminar for professionals the next day. I hope he makes it. That would be terrible if they had to cancel his talks because he wasn't there.

Abby: Oh, you know Dad. He'll make it one way or another...even if he has to swim across the Atlantic to London. He's pretty dedicated to fulfilling his speaking obligations. In over twenty years he hasn't missed one yet.

Sam: That's an admirable record, Ab.

Abby: Twenty years is a long time, Sammy Old Boy. How old are you now, by the way?

Sam: I'm five. And you're seven, Abby. That's 35 and 49 in dog years. I'm approaching my Midlife Crisis, and you have supposedly finished it and are heading into the Fabulous Fifties.

Abby: Maybe that's why I feel so centered, content, and confident.

Sam: Yes, Abby, it's true. For people who face the stresees, strains, and struggles of the early to mid-forties, life gets pretty darned good afterwards.

Abby: I overheard Dad and Mom talking about this stuff a couple of weeks ago. Developmental psychology is really pretty interesting, especially the stuff about adulthood and aging. In fact, that was one of Dad's specialties when he was earning his Ph.D. back in the 1970's. And Dad has a good friend from highschool who is the Director of the Sanford Center For Aging at the University Of Nevada in Reno.

Sam: A lot of old folks around us, eh? So, tell me a little bit about this Adulthood and Aging stuff, Abby Old Girl.

Abby: Well, one of the most famous studies of all was done back in the 1960's by Neugarten, Havighurst, & Tobin. They were trying to identify which types of people adjusted best to growing old. They studied a lot of different older people, looked at how well adjusted they were, how active they were, and what kind of personality type they had.

Sam: Sounds like a fairly comprehensive piece of research work.

Abby: Oh, it was. They divided the people into three different acticity levels--those who were still very active, those who were moderately active, and those who were pretty inactive. They also divided them into those who were well-adjusted and happy, those who were moderately so, and those who weren't so happy.

Sam: The plot thickens.

Abby: You're right, Sam. What they discovered was stunning. First, it turns out that how active you are as an older person doesn't make a huge difference by itself. They found some of their very active people as well as quite inactive people to be happy and well-adjusted. But others weren't so happy.

Sam: Go on, Abby. I'm all dog-ears.

Abby: People who were what they called Armored-Defended were happy as long as they could stay active, but as soon as the physical limits of aging began to catch up with them, these people took a nosedive. They found similar results for the Passive-Dependent people--as long as they had someone on whom to lean excessively, they were okay. If their spouse died, they'd go right out and get into another dependent, enmenshed relationship. But when they weren't able to acquire a spouse like this right away, they took a nosedive as well.

Sam: So, who manages to age comfortably?

Abby: People who gracefully and competently handle the dramatic changes of growing old were those who faced their life crises all along the way. They let themselves go through an identity crisis in their twenties, the second identity crisis in their early 30's, the midlife crisis in their mid-40's, and so forth. Instead of recoiling from these crises and avoiding them by "staying busy", clinging to a dependent relationship, having extramarital affairs, drinking or using drugs, they faced their painful crises head on and then moved to the next stage of their lives. When thier children grew up and left the nest, they handled that graciously and with joy and anticipation and renewed energy, too, formulating a revised dream for their later years.

Sam: Are you saying that among these well-adjusted older people, some were active, some were moderately active, and some were fairly inactive?

Abby: Right. It wasn't activity level, per se, that made the difference. It was each person's internal psychological integrity and depth that made the difference. People who have faced life's crises along the way tend to be more open and less fearful in general--and especially less fearful of loss and death. They are also more flexible both intelectually and emotionally, more tolerant, and more able to bend with the winds of change. We may sometimes stereotype older people as rigid and inflexible and resistant to new things, but then all you have to do is look at the number of senior citizens who are hooked up to the internet and you'll see how outdated nhat stereotype is.

Sam: Well, Abby, this has been a most informative interlude.

Abby: I think it's good for you to learn new things, Sam. And it will help us to understand each other, and Mom and Dad, as we all grow older..

Sam: But...what about people who haven't faced their life crises along tjhe way? Is there any hope for them?

Abby: Of course, Sam. The nice thing about human and canine growth and development is that it may stop for a long period of time due to trauma or whatever, but you can pick up where you left off any time you choose. It's never too late to grow up or grow peaceful. I've overheard Dad and Mom discussing all kinds of examples of people they know who decided they'd had enough of "Being Little" even at the age of 50, 60, or 70, and who then chose to face those old unresolved crises, grow up, deepen, and therefore live out the rest of their days in harmony with themselves and creation.

Sam: Wow!! What a hopeful mmessage for our readers as we head into Fall.

Abby: Yes, Sammy Old Boy. As we were running around the lake with Dad yesterday, I noticed a few yellow leaves on the ground. And the geese are starting to act up a little bit.

Sam: And we slept with all the windows open last night. It was cool and dry.

Abby: A hint of Fall.

Sam: See you all next month.

August 1, 1998 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss Northern Ireland, Eating Steak, And Wearing A Victim Filter

Sam The Cockapoo: I can't believe it's August already, Abby. Where has the summer gone? The ground is covered with snow, you turn around and it's spring, and then it's August. Time certainly passes quickly when life is so grand.

Abby The Labrador: Tempus fugit, Sammy Old Boy. It has been a fascinating year thus far. We've had El Nino, some terrible shootings of children by children, a tentative peace in Northern Ireland, and then there's been that whole ongoing thing about Kenneth Starr, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton.

Sam: Yes. quite fascinating, to say the least. Speaking of Northern Ireland, I was reading the American Psychologist the other day after Dad left it laying on top of his desk...

Abby: I did, too. We must be on the same wavelength, Sam. It was most interesting to see a journal like that attempting to tackle such a knotty problem. The article was written by two psychologists from the University Of Ulster, and they tried to outline some of the major psychological, social, and political causes for the terrible strife there over the past few centuries.

Sam: I was pleased to see that one of the more effective strategies designed to reduce tensions there was the reduction of inequality between Catholics and Protestants, which had been working in favor of the latter. Apparently the electoral problems have been solved, and unfairness in provision of housing "has been virtually eradicated," according to the authors.

Abby: I think it was a major breakthrough when Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein were allowed to be part of the negotiations, too. I don't think anything could have happened until that occurred. According to the article, 40% of the Catholic voters support Sinn Fein, which is a very large base of support. It would be folly to try to move forward without them.

Sam: I overheard Dad talking to his sister and her husband on the phone the other day. The two of them have bicycled around Ireland several times, and they had just finished up their latest trip a few days ago. They said that the majority of Catholics and Protestants they spoke to were in favor of the peace process, and that along with the Catholics, most of the Protestants were outraged about the three children who were recently killed by alleged Unionist petrol-bombs.

Abby: They also said that the Irish idolize Bill Clinton even more than they did John F. Kennedy; and that they think this whole Kenneth Starr business is silly and irrelevant. It's remarkable how these situations are perceived so differently by people in different countries.

Sam: Everyone has different filters through which they take in information about the world. That's what makes observing human beings so fascinating, I guess. We dogs see a steak sitting on the kitchen counter and we all respond pretty much the same; but humans do all sorts of mental gymnastics about the steak. One human might think, "I'd like to eat that steak, but I'm on a diet. Maybe I shouldn't." Another might say," That's Bob's steak. I'm really annoyed with Bob right now. Maybe I'll eat his steak before he gets back from the store just to annoy him back." Yet another might say, "I can't eat steak. They butchered some poor cow to get that steak!"

Abby: You know, Sam, when I reflect on it a little bit, I think we do have some filters like that. I mean, how about the dog who has been trained not to take steak off of the counter. He says to himself, "I'd love to eat that steak, but if I do, my humans will get mad at me, and I can't stand it when that happens. I'm too darned loyal and bonded to them."

Sam: I think you're right. It reminds me of that famous research that Martin Seligman did on learned helplessness in dogs. He shocked two groups of dogs but didn't give one group the opportunity to shut off the shock. In later trials, the dogs who learned that they could shut off the shock were quickly able to avoid shock in a new situation, whereas the other dogs just stood there, frozen, apparently believing that nothing they could do would matter, so why try.

Abby: Yes. And the only way Seligman could "cure" those dogs was to physically drag them to safety, away from the shock, to show them that it was indeed possible to get away from it. After that, they were able to not be helpless anymore, all on their own. Fascinating. It's a lot like humans who have learned to use a "Victim Filter" when taking in information about the world. If you perceive the world to be done to you, and if you believe that you are helpless and have no choices, which is never true, then of course you will react to the world very differently than if you don't use that filter.

Sam: In other words, humans and dogs who believe that they have no power to change things will have no power to change things; while humans and dogs who believe that they do have the power to change things will be able to change things?

Abby: Exactly. It's that simple. Oh, it's not always simple to change the filter you have installed in your brain, but once you do, it's that easy.

Sam: Isn't life amazing? I love it.

Abby: Me, too.

Sam: My brain is tired from all this thinking. Let's go chase some squirrels.

Abby: Good idea, Sam. Good idea.

Sam: Have a good August, everyone. We'll see you in September.

July 1, 1998 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss Travel, The ClearLife/Lifeworks Clinic, Their History, Varmint Bags, And Other Things...

Abby The Labrador: Where did Dad go? He was gone an awfully long time. I missed him. We haven't run in several days.

Sam The Cockapoo: I'm not sure, but I remember when he was packing that suitcase the other day. What day was that? I hate those days. I try to sit in the suitcase because I don't want him to go.

Abby: I don't know what day it was. Let's look on the desk again and see what we can find. Sometimes he leaves his plane receipts out on the desk until he records them in his business account.

Sam: Good idea, Ab. Okay, let's see. A bill from Norhtern States Power Company. What do they do?

Abby: Gas and Electric, Sammy. So we don't roast in summer and freeze in winter.

Sam: Oh. He'd better pay that one, eh!? Okay. Here's a paper from Northwest Airlines. What does it say? Hm-m-m-m-m-m...Oh! It's a ticket receipt. It says SNA on it. I wonder what that is.

Abby: Look on the next page. There. It says Roundtrip From Minneapolis/St.Paul to John Wayne Airport/Orange County California. What was he doing there? He was there from Wednesday until Monday afternoon? Long time.

Sam: Look at this. A flyer. It says ClearLife/Lifeworks Clinic. That's where he was. He was doing one of these.

Abby: What is it?

Sam: Let me read this. Hm-m-m-m-m-m. I see. It's a 4-day therapy process to help people work through old patterns from the past so that they don't keep repeating them in the present. I think I get it.

Abby: You do? Let me take a look. Oh, okay. I think I see, too. He and Mom are psychologists, right? This is a program they do to help people. But I wish he didn't have to do it in California. He's gone too long.

Sam: Yes, we miss him when he's gone. But Mom is good to us. She gives us our favorite treats, takes us for walks, cuddles us on the couch, and rubs our heads. I like that.

Abby: Me too. And I liked it when Kristin came to visit again this weekend. I overheard her say that her dog Gracie got a little sick again the other day. And then I got sick, too. I wonder why we dogs eat grass and bad stuff that makes us sick. I can't stop myself from doing it, either. I've tried.

Sam: Maybe you need to see a psychologist!

Abby: Maybe you need to see a urologist!

Sam: Watch it, Abby. I may be small, but I am mighty! I could chop you up in pieces before you could say Bay Of Baffin! My teeth are like razor blades and my muscles are tight and sinewy from all that running we do. (Sam has a twinkle in his eye).

Abby: (giggling dog-giggles) Okay, Sam. I'll be careful. But in the meantime, watch out where you're sitting. You just sat on my tail.

Sam: I always sit on your tail, Ab. That's my second favorite snuggle position. You know that, Ab.

Abby: I know. I'm just giving you a hard time because you're so ferocious this morning. How did you get that way, Sammy-Boy

Sam: I am a Cockapoo, Abby. Remember where I came from, my dear. If you go back to our September 1, 1996 entry on this page, below, you'll recall that I was on a hunting trip in the Canadian North Woods, on my way to Labrador, with my Cockapoo Pack, when I broke my leg and was in trouble. The pack went on without me, you discovered me, nursed me back to health, and then took me to the hospital. I am a fierce, ferocious, 20-pound Cockapoo, Abby. I am a mean, lean fighting machine.

Abby: Now I remember, Sam. I think I had a little memory lapse there for just a moment. Yes. And I am a Labrador Retriever. Dad says that even when I was a puppy, whenever anything would fly over our yard I'd stare up at it and track it across the sky as it flew by. Instinctive. Bird-dogs, they call us. And natural born swimmers, which is a mite more civilized than a natural born killer, I should add.

Sam: Yeah, well, we can't all be Labradors, Abby. I am a Cockapoo, and proud of it. But next time, I'm going to get in a Varmint Bag and go to Orange County with Dad.

Abby: A Varmint Bag? What the heck is a Varmint Bag?

Sam: It's like a garment bag, except you pack a varmint in it. Like me! <(:-)

Abby: Oh, brother...........!! See you all next month!

JUNE 1, 1998 In which Sam & Abby realize how grateful they are

Sam The Cockapoo: Summer's just around the corner, Abby.

Abby The Labrador: Yes, Sam, and before long, the dog days will be here.

Sam: What does that mean?

Abby: I have no idea. I've just heard some of the people say it. Maybe it's like a celebration of dogs or something.

Sam: Hm-m-m-m-m-m. Or something.

Abby: You know, Sam, I was thinking about our life together. About all the things that we do, the dogs and people we see, everything that comes into our life. Sometimes I grumble and growl about how hot it is or how cold it is or how I wish I hadn't gotten so sick the other day after eating something powerful-bad down at the lake a few days ago...

Sam: ...Abby, we were all very worried about you. You were really sick. I overheard Mom and Dad saying that if you weren't able to keep some fluids down, they were going to take you to the hospital...

Abby: That's what I mean, Sam. I mean, things like that happen in life. The weather changes, people come into our lives, and then they go and we're sad...

Sam: ...Dave was here for a week, back from college for the summer, and then he left to do an internship in Costa Rica until August. I really miss him. I love it when he picks me up and rubs my belly...

Abby:...And I like the way he whistles to me and throws the ball for me. But he has a life, and so off he went. And when he returns in August, we'll wag our tails until they almost fall off. That's the point. People come into our lives, we appreciate them beyond measure, and then they get back into their own lives, and then they come to visit again.

Sam: It's almost like there's a rhythm to life...

Abby: ...and if you learn to listen to that rhythm, life starts to flow instead of being so hard. By the way, I think Kristin's coming to visit this month. She always gives me hugs, and she smells so good because she has that dog, Gracie, who accompanied her when she was here in December.

Sam: And of course, Rebecca just stopped by to visit and say goodbye to Dave. She chuckles at me, lets me pester her, and she smells like...

Abby: ...another Labrador Retriever. Maggie. That Maggie's quite a hunter, you know.

Sam: She smiles every once in awhile, too. That cracks me up!

Abby: That Gracie is very energetic.

Sam: No kidding!

Abby: So as I was saying, we have so much for which to be grateful. We have good friends, people who love us, enough to eat, some nice toys, and lots of animals in the woods to chase, even though we almost never catch them.

Sam: Except that rabbit.

Abby: Let's not get into that, Sam.

Sam: Right. But I will say that whenever we feel like grumbling and growling, I think it's imperative not to forget all the good things in life. It could be so easy to do just the opposite--to focus all of our energies on the things in life that don't go exactly our way.

Abby But what a terrible way to live. You know, Sam, I'm almost convinced that if all you ever do is focus on the things that don't go your way, you might be depressed all the time.

Sam: Oh, I think you're right, Abby. Creatures who acknowledge that life can be a struggle at times, but who also make a point of expressing their gratitude and appreciation, have a spiritual quality about them that makes them glow.

Abby: And it's not that hard to do. All you have to do is stop for a few seconds each day and look around and see what is wonderful about your life, and there it is, right in front of your eyes.

Sam: You're looking at me, Abby. Am I a wonderful part of your life?

Abby: The most wonderful of all.

Sam: I feel the same way about you, Abby. We really do have so much for which to be grateful.

Abby: Isn't life grand, Sam?

MAY 1, 1998 In Which Sam And Abby Celebrate The Best Time Of All--Spring In The North Country

Abby The Labrador: Yesterday was the most gorgeous Minnesota Day we have had all year. It was as dry as Tucson and the sky was as blue as Lake Tahoe.

Sam The Cockapoo: And the geese have been migrating north up to Minnesota in droves...er...flocks, and nesting all over the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area, including in our lake, just down the hill and around the corner from here.

Abby: Have you heard the loons every morning around 6:00 a.m.? Don't you just love their call as they fly over the house and drop down onto the lake? You know, Sam, there aren't supposed to be loons down here in the Metropolitan Area because they're so shy; but there have been two pairs of them in the area for the past five years.

Sam: And one pair lives on our lake. Well, it's not just our lake, but you know what I mean. It's the lake we run around when Dad takes us for a run. He took us for five miles yesterday.

Abby: I got really hot. Thank God he had enough sense to stop halfway and let us swim. I might have died of heat stroke.

Sam: He always lets us swim when we're too hot. You know that, Ab. He's really quite considerate for a psychologist. You know, he's never seen me swim in the lake, actually. I just wade around, drink some water, cool off, and then hop back out. The only one I've ever let see me swim is Mom, and it was just that once, last summer, when Dad was out of town on business and she took us for that long walk. I wonder why I've never been swimming since then?

Abby: Well, Sammy Old Boy, Cockapoos aren't exactly water dogs. By the way, where is Dad going this weekend? I noticed another set of airplane tickets on the desk when I came in here last night to get on the internet while they were asleep.

Sam: Let me see. Hmmmm. Looks like he's going to San Francisco. Didn't he grow up in that area?

Abby: Yes. Let's poke around and rifle through these drawers. Maybe we can find out. Look, Sam! Look at this! It says, 90th Anniversry Of The Founding Of Ross Grammar School. And then there's an invitation to an 8th-grade class reunion from the graduating class of 1961!

Sam: 1961! When was I born, Abby? I'm just going to be five this summer, aren't I?

Abby: I think so. 1961 is 37 years ago, Sam. That's a long time in human years. Is Dad getting old?

Sam: I don't think so. His beard is gray, but he still runs pretty well. He wears us out.

Abby: Hey, look, Sam! There's a whole herd of deer trotting through the woods outside the office window.

Sam: Oh, good. I hope they do the same thing this summer that they did last summer.

Abby: Which was?

Sam: Several of them curl up and snooze in the shade under those oak trees along the driveway, and then I sit at the dogs'-eye-view windows looking out into the driveway and the woods, and stare at them intently, daydreaming about tracking them down, chasing them until they drop, and then...

Abby: And then doing to them what you did to that rabbit that weighed more than you? It made for an interesting summer tale last year.

Sam: Well, jeeeze, Abby. Cockapoos are trained killers. I'm sorry. That's just the way it goes.

Abby: Poor Mom. She tried to stop us, but she was too late, and too disgusted. She left it by the fence along the pool until Dad got back from California that weekend, and then he disposed of the remains.

Sam: Sometimes Mother Nature is cruel.

Abby: Huh??!!

Sam: Well, I hope Dad has a great time at his reunion, and that Mom takes us for a walk this weekend. Maybe I'll surprise her and swim for her again.

Abby: I've seen you swim in the pool a couple of times, you know. Last summer when Dad's sister and brother-in-law were here, you were jumping in the air trying to catch the water that Dad was splashing at us from the pool, and you accidentally fell in and almost sunk to the bottom. And then you bobbed up to the surface and swam like a champ...sort of.

Sam: I'm a better hunter than I am a swimmer.

Abby: As a true water dog, I can agree with you on that one. I can also say, with great enthusiasm and vigor, that I am ever-so-excited that summer is just around the corner!

Sam: And that the loons are back. And the geese. And the leaves on the trees. And the warm air. And the lazy days snoozing in the sun. Have a great May, everyone. We'll see you again in June. And remember to get outdoors, smell the air, go for a run, and watch for the loons. Summer is just around the corner!

April 1, 1998 In Which Sam And Abby Bypass April Fool's And Discuss Violence In America Instead

Sam The Cockapoo: Abby, what is an April Fool?

Abby: I have no idea. I was on the web the other day at a site called The Motley Fool, but...

Sam: The Motley Fool?! What's that?

Abby: It's a site where they try to predict which stocks will do well and which ones won't. That's why they use the word "Fool" in their name.

Sam: Cute. Well, anyway, I guess we'll just have to let go of this April Fool thing.

Abby: Good plan. And besides, I want to know what you think about this shooting in Arkansas.

Sam: The one where the kids shot the kids?

Abby: Yes.

Sam: I have some opinions about it, yes. As I am sure you do. First of all, I don't care what anybody thinks about this, but I've never seen a child from a healthy household ever come near to something like this. Yes, society is goofy right now, and the media is filled with gratuitous violence, but I think the media is a reflection of society as much as it is an influence on it. The United States is one of the most violent societies on the face of the earth--we have more murders, more rapes, more assaults, you name it. On top of this, or rather, as a result, we also have more guns than anyone else.

Abby: But what about the saying that "Guns Don't Kill People, People Do."

Sam: What about it?

Abby: It's the most laughable saying I've ever heard. The majority of the murders in America are crimes of passion that occur in the home. A gun is a weapon of impulse, and a weapon of finality. If you're in a rage at your spouse and there is no gun in the house, then of course, you won't be able to act out the rage by killing your partner. You might just throw a dish at him or her. Dish-throwing is violent and inappropriate and should be treated, but it isn't final like a bullet to the heart..

Sam: Right. And kids who swear out of control, rage out of control (yes, that's redundant), and shoot weapons out of control, are...now here comes the tricky part...are...OUT OF CONROL!!

Abby: Good show old chap. Jolly good. It's a no-brainer, as the teenagers nowadays say. In his lectures and workshops, Dad asks if some people might need to explain tragedies like these shootings by attributing them to the fluoride in the water, or to subversive Communist plots.

Sam: You can guess how old Dad is by those comments! But, of course, that's how some people think. It's too scary for them to admit that maybe guns are bad for society, or that violent kids are violent because there's something wrong at home.

Abby: Or they look at the surface of the kid's family--they all go to church and they all eat dinner together--and assume that everything is healthy in the family. It's so sad. Intelligent, well-educated, otherwise bright analysts and commentators who make a simplistic, black-and-white assumption like that and confuse half the population.

Sam: If they could only step back and listen to themselves. "Go To Church = No Mass Murders, or Eat Together = No Mass Murders."

Abby: It's frusrating, I know. So, what do you think it's about?

Sam: Well, Ab, this is not a uni-dimensional response, although it may sound like it. But I believe that one of the strongest contributors to this kind of tragedy is lack of impulse control. People learn impulse control almost from the time they're born. Or, they don't learn it. Some families value delay of gratification and impulse control, and some don't. The fact is that everyone has fantasized doing something violent to another person. Do you know anyone who has never felt like running a rude driver off the road? Or doing something violent to a friend or relative who has hurt them?

Abby: I can't think of anyone who hasn't, no. Those are normal feelings.

Sam: Right. And some people leave them as feelings, and don't act on them. While others believe that every feeling should be acted out. Those are the ones who murder family members or friends, or who end up in prison for killng someone on the freeway. This is a planet filled with human beings, not a video game or coliseum where your job is to kill or be killed. Remember Lord Of The Flies?

Abby: Of course I do. Dad made us read that as part of our puppy training. So you think this impulse control is part of it. Hm-m-m-m-m. Sounds right to me. I also think there's something else that goes on in homes where this stuff happens. Something we don't hear about until much later--if at all. And then, of course, there are the biological factors, too, like brain chemistry anomalies and so on.

Sam: Yes. And biology plays a big part in some of these cases. But that isn't an excuse. If it were an excuse, then anyone with hypertension, diabetes, alcoholism, or depression would be doomed to a life of misery instead of to a life of healing, recovery, and happiness. Every being on earth has one or two, if not more, biological limitations or flaws. That doesn't excuse anything.

Abby: No, it doesn't. And if we write any more stuff here, Dad will be late for work. He needs to use the computer before he leaves.

Sam: Okay, okay. We'll see you all next month. In the meantime, stop and think before you act. Anybody can do it.

Abby: STOP AND THINK.

March 1, 1998 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss John Gottman's Research On Marriages, And Also Victim-Perpetrator Dynamics; After Getting A Birthday Present For Dad

Abby The Labrador: Sam! Dad's birthday is in a few days. We'd better get hopping on a gift for him.

Sam The Cockapoo: Are you sure? Did our automatic reminder show up from Infobeat.com?

Abby: Yes. And I have the perfect gift idea. Let's arrange to send him and Mom to Hawaii. They've both been really busy this winter with work.

Sam: Yes. I know how to do it, too. We log onto the internet and then go to expedia.com, and that will land us right in the middle of Bill Gates' travel service. Then all we have to do is type in MSP to HNL and the departure and return dates, and it will show us the best fares available.

Abby: I'm way ahead of you, Sam. While you were expounding on the way to do it, I've already logged on and done it!

Sam: Good. Now, give them a credit card number.

Abby: Dad's or Mom's?

Sam: They have the same credit card number.

Abby: Oh. Right. Okay. It's in. Look! It's all done. Looks like they'll mail the tickets right to the PO Box. Great. Will they ever be surprised!

Sam: We need to make hotel and car reservations, too, you know.

Abby: Right. Okay, I'll go back to the Car Wizard, then the Hotel Wizard, and in no time, it'll be done. We can send Dad an electronic greeting card, too. Then he'll really be surprised.

Sam: Okay. That's done. Now, Abby, what do you think about John Gottman's latest research on successful marriages?

Abby: I think there's a lot of misinterpretation of it in the media--that's what I think. He's one of the most respected research psychologists in the country, and it's a shame to see his findings obfuscated by the media.

Sam: Even Bill Maher had it pretty messed up the other night. He explained it something like: "Husbands who say `yes' to their wives have good marriages."

Abby: Well, what it actually said was that husbands who listened to their wives--you know, who gave their wives some respect and therefore did not interfere with their exerting some of their power--had better marriages. It's pretty hard to have any kind of a decent relationship when only one person has power and influence in a relationship.

Sam: Say, that reminds me of some of that work by James Maddock and Noel Larson that Dad cites in his professional training seminars on Victim-Perpetrator dynamics. They describe power as the ability to influence, and control as the ability to shape or limit influence.

Abby: So, according to James and Noel, Perpetrators have too much power and not enough control, and therefore violate other people's rights, hurt them, use them, and so on.

Sam: Right. And Victims use too much control and not enough power, and so they wind up trying to limit or stop everything and everybody, which means they live in a state of deprivation and desperation.

Abby: And of course, it also means that if people are going to be healthy adults, they need to balance the amount of influence and control that they exert. Which takes us back to John Gottman's latest research.

Sam: Yes. It does, doesn't it. If power and control are balanced in a relationship, then the relationship is much happier and much more likely to last, than if it isn't.

Abby: Good show, old boy! Good show!

Sam: Do you think the power is balanced in our relationship? You're much bigger than me, you know.

Abby: Yes, but you don't miss anything that goes on around this house, and most of the time, you exert your role as the dominant male. I say most of the time, because as you well know, every once in awhile I get really tired of listening to you, and then I chase you away.

Sam: Yeah, and you get pretty rambunctious when you chase me away, too. Sometimes I decide it's just wiser to get under the coffee table until you get over it.

Abby: Yeah, I think our relationship is pretty balanced, overall.

Sam: I do, too. It's a gift for which I am truly grateful.

Abby: Even if I chase you under the coffee table sometimes, Sammy-Boy?

Sam: Even if you chase me under the coffee table, Old Girl.

February 1, 1998

Sam The Cockapoo: Ab, this has been one of the warmest winters we've had in all of recorded history, up here in typically-frozen Lake Wobegon.

Abby The Labrador: And we've had so little snow that I've thought now and then that it's been perpetual spring. Although we did have that one week which included a morning when we awoke to 22 degrees below zero, just to impress upon us that this is Minnesota.

Sam: Yes. But all-in-all, it's been wonderful. Weather-wise, 1998 has gotten off to a good start.

Abby: So Sam, tell me, what do you think about Iraq?

Sam: Iraq?! Uh...well...okay, Abby, I'll tell you. I don't think anyone should have chemical or biological weapons. I think the whole idea of them is sick. I think whoever plans to use stuff like that ought to be sent to their rooms without their treats until they figure out that it's a stupid thing to be fooling around with. That's what I think, Abby.

Abby: Good answer, Sam. So, what do you think about Bill Gates saying that he's going to match or even exceed Ted Turner's 1 billion dollar contribuion to the UN?

Sam: More power to him. But I also think he ought to play a little fairer in the "browser-business."

Abby: "Bowser-business?"

Sam: No, Ab--"browser business." You know, Netscape vs. Internet Explorer 4.0. That's how we surf the web when Mom and Dad are gone. Acquisitiveness can be a positive trait up to a point, but after that point, it smacks of avarice and greed. I mean, Ab, did you ever notice what you do when we both get our rawhide chewy-sticks?

Abby: Um...uh...um-m...

Sam: You look a tad sheepish. We get the sticks, run over to the big glass sliding doors facing south, lay in the warm, morning sunlight streaming onto the carpet, and begin to chew. Then, being a cockapoo who is always interested in what's going on elsewhere, and perhaps having a touch of Attention Deficit Disorder, I get distracted by something. I scamper away for a moment, leaving my rawhide stick on the carpet. When I return, you have it in your big mug, and you've reduced it to a tiny scrap. If Dad or Mom is around, he or she will command you to let go of it, which you do, and then I finish it off.

Abby: Uh...yes...that sounds about right.

Sam: I don't know which is worse--that, or when you simply devour your own rawhide stick in thirty seconds, and then stand over me, drooling, watching, and waiting patiently for me to get distracted, so you can go in for the kill! Sometimes you're really clever, and you simply lay down nonchalantly next to me, gazing down at the floor, or out the window, all the while watching that rawhide stick out of the corner of your eye. I mean, Abby, it's really obvious, if you haven't noticed.

Abby: It is?

Sam: Haven't you heard Mom and Dad chuckling? They say, "Oh, look at Abby. She's so sneaky. She's just waiting quietly for Sam to leave that stick, and then she'll discreetly swipe it up in her mouth and it'll be gone before Sam knows what hit him."

Abby: They do?

Sam: Duh, Abby. Don't play dumb with me.

Abby: Okay, okay, okay, Sammy. We're dogs, for goodness sakes! We're dogs!! We may be the most intelligent, literate, computer-savvy dogs west of San Francisco and east of Manhattan Island, but we're still dogs. We have instincts. We have fixed behavior patterns and drives. We're still dogs!! And besides, I weigh 60 pounds and you only weigh 20 pounds, so...

Sam: Give me a break!! That was a nice try, but I don't think it cuts it. I think we're getting down to the meat of the matter, though. I think it's a question of What is enough? Saddam Hussein has so many gigantic, opulent palaces that he couldn't possibly use them for any purpose other than absolute greed in a million years; and yet his people live in substandard conditions by and large. Bill Gates has, what, 40 billion dollars or more? So, one billion dollars is a pittance. After a certain point--after one has enough--the fairness of it all changes, in my opinion.

Abby: Are you equating Saddam Hussein with Bill Gates? I think that would be a gross mistake.

Sam: I agree. No, I'm not equating them. But I think there is a related issue in both cases.

Abby: And in your mind, this is related to my desire to grab up your chewy stick when you leave it on the floor?

Sam: Maybe.

Abby: But I am a dog, and so are you. We eat what's there when it's there because in the wild, if we don't, we won't survive.

Sam: I know, Abby. And I don't deny that you're right about that. I just think that there's a philosophical issue here that deserves further exploration. After all, wasn't it Freud who said that human beings are basically driven by animal instincts? And if so, what hope is there for mankind if humans don't keep trying to rise above those basic instincts when the chips are down.

Abby: When the rawhide chips are down on the carpet?

Sam: Good one, Abby. You do have a flair for puns.

Abby: Thank you, Sam. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

Sam: Thank you, Abby. And if I didn't love you so much, I'd never tell you that while it bothers me now and then that I leave my rawhide stick on the carpet and then you devour it before I have a chance to get back to it, it really doesn't ruin my day when that happens. Cockapoos are naturally, instinctually curious and busy creatures, and while you are busily chewing up my rawhide stick, I am fulfilling my need to know what's going on around the house and yard at all times. And of course, every once in awhile, when you aren't looking, Dad or Mom slips me a treat while you're finishing off my chewy stick. So in the end, I guess we both get enough.

Abby: Hm-m-m-m-m. They give you a treat? I'll have to be more vigilant. Maybe I can get both your chewy stick and another treat from them. Or, maybe I could be grateful for the nice life that we have, and that we do, indeed, have enough.

Sam: Yes, we do. And I am grateful for that, and for having you in my life.

Abby: Thanks, Sam. You're a prince.

Sam: And you're my girl, Ab. Let's go pester Mom incessantly until she gives us a rawhide chewy stick. You can sing The Whiny Labrador Song, and I'll get up on my hind legs and paw at her. That usually does the trick.

Abby: I like being a dog. Let's go for it, Sam!

Sam: Righto!

January 1, 1998

Abby The Labrador: Happy New Year, Sammy-Boy!!!

Sam The Cockapoo: Happy New Year, Abby, Old Girl!!!

Abby: I'm only six.

Sam: It was a figure of speech.

Abby: So, what do you think of the holiday season, Sam. Was it the best ever?

Sam: No question, Abby. The very best ever. Mom had the house decorated with her usual tasteful magic, Dad had all of the lights up all over the place, and the houseguests couldn't have been more gracious.

Abby: It seemed like one gathering after another, for days. I think they're tired.

Sam: But in good spirits, it would seem.

Abby: Absolutely.

Sam: And it's been so unusually warm so far this winter. The first really cold day was yesterday, when it was zero out when we awoke.

Abby: But it's going back up to above freezing today. How marvelous.

Sam: I could handle this all winter, but I'm not holding my breath.

Abby: Well, Sam, what do you think is in store for 1998?

Sam: Abby, I was reading a book in Dad's office the other day. It's called Fingerprints Of The Gods, by Graham Hancock, a writer for the London Times. It's a fascinating treatise on the theory that every 12,000 years the earth's crust goes through a massive planet-wide displacement that causes catastrophic disruption of all of the continents, resulting in a mind boggling rearrangement of land and water on earth.

Abby: What?!

Sam: Yes. It's supposedly tied in with the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis, and because of buildup of ice on the poles, every 12,000 years it wobbles out of control a little bit. In planetary terms, "a little bit" isn't a big deal. But in human and canine terms, it's a pretty big deal.

Abby: Is that why every primitive, ancient culture on the planet seems to have a myth about a huge flood?

Sam: Right. It's not just in the Old Testament. It seems to be a part of many other cultures, too.

Abby: When is this supposed to happen again?

Sam: Sometime between 1998 and 2012.

Abby: Uh Oh! That's.......Now!

Sam: So, let's make a New Year's Resolution.

Abby: Seems fitting. Okay. Let's resolve to be the best dogs we can be. To treat each other with kindness and warmth. To take risks. And to keep learning.

Sam: Even if the earth goes through a massive change?

Abby: Even more so if that happens. I mean, it might not happen, Sam. It's just a theory, not a fact. But whether it happens or not doesn't really matter, does it?

Sam: No, Abby, you're right. It doesn't matter at all. There are so many things in life that are out of our control--like loss, change, and death. All we can do is try to be the best we can be, stay flexible, and live our lives as they unfold.

Abby: Right, Sam. So what are we going to do today?

Sam: Let's bark at those squirrels on the deck. Kristin's dog, Gracie, went back to Michigan with her the other day. Let's go bark at those squirrels in honor of Gracie. She certainly was an energetic girl, wasn't she?

Abby: Springer Spaniel. Very energetic. I even saw her "spring" twice. Pretty amazing, eh?

Sam: Yes. Oh, and Abby, let's go for a run down by the lake, in honor of Peter, who cramped up his hamstrings for three days because he ran with us on that icy path.

Abby: And then we can get on the computer and surf the net, in honor of Dave, who was cruising around on Dad's computer the other day.

Sam: And then we can eat some cake, in honor of Mom's Aunt and Uncle, Phyllis and Clifford, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Christmas Day.

Abby: And then we can...wait a minute! Who's going to give us cake?!

Sam: You caught me. I thought I could slip that one by you, Abby.

Abby: Hey, Sam, I'm tired. Nap time.

Sam: Got it, Ab. Curl up over there in the sun, so I can curl up beside you.

Abby: Good plan, Sam. Good plan.

Sam: And if the world changes, it changes. We're ready for 1998, whatever it may bring.

Abby: You got that right, Sam. You got that right. Snoo-ooo-zzz-zzz-e.

December 1, 1997

Our dynamic canines are curled up together, sound asleep in front of the fireplace. Suddenly, Sam The Cockapoo's little legs start to twitch, his face contorts a bit, and his eyes sweep back and forth rapidly behind his gently closed eyelids as this dream sequence unfolds....

The Cratchit home was brightly lit with the warm glow of Christmas cheer. The sounds of laughter and music filled their hearts, and the intoxicating smell of Mrs. Cratchit’s special festive meal wafted out from the kitchen. Scrooge was nowhere to be seen, and the cold emptiness of the painful months preceeding Christmas had melted away, replaced with joy and good will.

Tiny Tim, sitting comfortably on Bob Cratchit’s lap, looked up into his father’s eyes with excitement and anticipation and asked sweetly, “And what are we having for Christmas dinner, father?!”

Just then, Mrs. Cratchit rushed busily into the dining room and exclaimed, “Roasted Cockapoo With Plum Sauce!!”

A look of dismay and disgust swept across the little guy's face as he muttered, “God help us, every one!!”

Sam The Cockapoo (who awakens with a start): Roasted Cockapoo With Plum Sauce?! What in the heck is going on, Abby?!

Abby The Labrador: Sam! Sam! Wake up! You were having a nightmare! You were twitching like the San Andreas Fault in 1906!

Sam: I was? Oh, yes. I was! I was really having a nightmare. I was dreaming that I was in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, only I was really going to be in it. As in, in the Cratchit family's bellies!! It was awful. Mrs. Cratchit was serving Roasted Cockapoo With Plum Sauce!

Abby: Oh, dear, Sam. That is terrible. I am so sorry you had that nightmare. You know why you had it, don't you?

Sam: Yes. Yes. I know Mom was only teasing last Thanksgiving. And I know she never would have said it if she had any inkling that we can understand English flawlessly. She adores both of us beyond words.

Abby: And the way she carries you around and cuddles you like a baby, well...!

Sam: But when she kiddingly said that she was cooking Roasted Cockapoo With Plum Sauce for Christmas dinner, I just took it too seriously. I think it's because we can't reciprocate in English, so we can't get the benefit of the contextual cues that would have been imbedded in the conversation. Had we spoken back and forth for a few moments, I think it would have been fine. I mean, I know they love me unconditionally.

Abby: I'll say. Now that their kids are grown up, I think they love us more than anyone. Well, anyway, I'm glad you had the nightmare now, and have been able to talk about it with me. That should take away the power of that imagery from your unconscious so it shouldn't bother you again.

Sam: You're right, Ab. I feel calm about it already. It's amazing what happens when one can converse back and forth about one's deepest fears, hopes, dreams, and feelings.

Abby: Yes. It's truly amazing. That's why it's so sad to see some creatures, people and other animals, so bound up by their own fears and prejudices and unhealed hurts that they can't seem to bridge that communication gulf anymore. They can talk endlessly about intellectual topics, or about sports, hobbies, or each other, but when it comes right down to showing care for each other, they just get so stuck.

Sam: And it's so easy to do. You know, like when I clean your ears every morning.

Abby: I love that about you, Sam.

Sam: I love it when we're out running with Dad and I've gotten way behind because I stopped to sniff something and mark it, and then you keep looking back, worried about me, until I race like the wind to catch up and then zip past the two of you. Then you continue to run forward.

Abby: I don't want you to get lost, Sam.

Sam: I know. It feels good that you care.

Abby: I like it when Dad or Mom goes up to the other, out of the blue, and gives the other a hug and a kiss. It makes everything seem right in the world.

Sam: I think that's why we care about each other like we do. They say dogs take after their humans. That's why we sent that nice electronic Thanksgiving card to Maggie, who is Scott's, Rebecca's, and Christopher's yellow lab. She's a doll. I hope she didn't really think we were bummed out about not getting any turkey. We were just kidding.

Abby: By the way, Sam, what's happening for the rest of the holidays this year? I really enjoyed Thanksgiving. Your buddy Dave was home from college, and Kristin was here, and a whole bunch of Mom's relatives.

Sam: I was on the internet the other day, on Dad's laptop, and I rifled through some of his e-mail. It looks as if their friend, Peter, is coming over from London for the week between Christmas and New Years. And get this, Abby! Kristin is bringing her new dog, Gracie, for a few days!

Abby: She is?!

Sam: Yes, all the way from Michigan! Gracie's a Springer Spaniel. Very energetic breed, you know!

Abby: Wow! Are we ever going to have fun! Hm-m-m-m-m. Peter. That nice man with the British accent. Sam! Do you remember when he was here a few years ago? He was the one who was feeding us Shredded Wheat every morning, when no one was looking.

Sam: He called them "Shreddies." How charmingly English! I liked Peter.

Abby: I liked Dad's brother-in-law, Bill, too. Remember those blue tortilla chips he was sneaking us the whole time he was here? He was a great guy!! That was a fun Christmas. It was Bill, Nancy, Brian, Carrie, Kristin, Scott, Rebecca, and a whole bunch of Mom's relatives, too.

Sam: Say, is Dad's brother, Rich, coming this Christmas?

Abby: No, he said he wanted to spend a nice quiet Christmas at home, in Arizona, where it's warm. I don't blame him for that.

Sam: No, I guess not. Well, anyway, Abby, I think these holidays are going to be absolutely wonderful. And I love you.

Abby: And I love you, too, you little weasel. So don't worry anymore about that plum sauce. Let's go back to sleep and rest up for the holidays. With any luck, we'll have a huge snow storm right before Christmas, and then you, I, and Gracie can run out and romp in that freshly-fallen snow, and act like crazy dogs!

Sam: You've got it, Abby. Happy Holidays, everyone. Remember to show someone in your life that you appreciate them.

Abby: It'll make your day. Trust us. See you in 1998!

November 1, 1997

Sam The Cockapoo: Did you take your last heartworm chewy of the year, Abby? We don't want those little creatures burrowing into our hearts and...

Abby The Labrador: ...Yes, Sam, I did. And please don't gross me out with a vivid description of what they could do to us. Je-e-e-z-z-z-z. Give me a break! We haven't even had breakfast yet!

Sam: Whatever. You know, Abby, this is the month when those humans celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. They get all excited, and then all riled up, and then really busy planning this huge meal late in the month...

Abby: ...And we don't get any of it because they think it will throw off our digestive systems and make us sick.

Sam: Sometimes I think they care too much about us.

Abby: You can't care too much about dogs like us, Sam.

Sam: You know, Abby, I think humans are very interesting creatures, speaking of creatures. They lead such complex, hectic lives so much of the time, and then every once in a while, just when you think they're all stark raving mad, they rise above their frailties and puniness and display transcendant acts of love or courage that are beyond even my comprehension. How do you suppose they do that?

Abby: Oh, despite the millions of tracts and treatises that have been written about this since recorded history, Sam, I think it's quite simple. They have good hearts.

Sam: Yes, Abby, you're right. It is so simple. I think that's why they can get so frustrated with each other sometimes. They struggle so gallantly every day to live decent lives that they forget how simple it really is. And then they have these elaborate holiday feasts and celebrations during which time they often bring out the best and the worst in each other, all the while skipping past the real moments of grace that occur between them every day.

Abby: Like when one of them compliments the other for something right out of the blue.

Sam: Or when one abruptly stops in the middle of a fight and says, "I don't want to fight with you. I love you."

Abby: It's so magnificent when they brush away all the cobwebs of stress and frustration for a moment and pay attention to the life in life.

Sam: Well said, Abby. Obtuse, yet simple and pithy, in a canine sort of way. Very good.

Abby: Thank you, Sam. I like it when you appreciate me.

Sam: By the way, what's the deal with the leaves out there? This has been an odd Fall, leaf-wise.

Abby: I don't know. It has something to do with the moisture in the ground, the air temperature, and the number of dry, sunny days. It's been a rather long, slow, drawn-out Fall, leaf-wise. The colors haven't been as intense, and the leaves are still falling, even though we've had a little bit of snow already.

Sam: We did?

Abby: Oh, yes, Sam. About three weeks ago. I overheard Dad telling Mom that he had an inch of snow on his car when he left the office one Monday night after running his men's groups.

Sam: Where was I? I think I missed that.

Abby: We were sitting at the window in the dark, staring, waiting for him to come home that night, but I think we were in some kind of trance.

Sam: Yes. You're right. I think we were daydreaming about going for a run with him. He's just getting over that head cold he got earlier this week. Maybe he'll take us today. Today is Saturday. What do you think?

Abby: I think you're right, Sam! Look! He has his running shoes on, and he's carrying our collars in his hands. That can only mean one thing, Sam!

Sam: It means....

Abby: We're going for a run!!!

Sam: Let's give thanks as only we know how!!

Abby: Right!!! Let's jump up and down, run back and forth from here to the door and back, again and again!

Sam: And then we'll drag him down the hill, around the corner, and out onto the path that goes around the lake!!

Abby: Yippeeeeeeeee!!!

Sam: See you all next month. And.......have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

October 1, 1997

Abby The Labrador: October!! We only have one more month of taking our heartworm chewies, and then...

Sam The Cockapoo: ...And then the snow flies! Good grief! What happened to summer?

Abby: It went by all too fast. There are hardly any mosquitoes left, which is nice. And the leaves are beginning to turn, which is lovely.

Sam: Yes. Fall is my favorite time of year. When we did our 3-mile run by the lake when Dad got back from Sioux Falls Sunday, the wind was blowing, the sky was crystal clear, the air was crisp...

Abby:...and the geese were honking up a storm, getting ready to fly south for the winter. Another Fall in Minnesota. Life just keeps cycling along, doesn't it old boy?

Sam: I'm not that old. I'm just four. You're six. You're older than me by far.

Abby: I wonder what the deer do all winter long. I wonder how they stay alive when it's minus 20 out during the day.

Sam: I'd die in a minute. I'm designed for warmer climates, I believe.

Abby: I know, Sam. I worry about you when it's so cold out. But, hey, it's still Fall. Let's enjoy it while it's here.

Sam: Good idea, Ab. Let's go into that extra bedroom and sit, quietly, and stare into the woods like we always do. You never know what we'll see next.

Abby: Okay. Let's go. Say, Sam, did you ever notice how Mom and Dad react when we're in here at night, when it's pitch black in here? They wander around looking for us, wondering where we went, and then they pass by the door and see two canine figures, one tall and the other short, peering out the window. They think it's so cute!!

Sam: I know, I know. We have to humor them. They're getting old, and you know what happens when humans get old, don't you?

Abby: No, what happens?

Sam: They get a little bit eccentric.

Abby: Because they've lived long enough to realize that many of the things they worry about when they're younger really aren't that important after all?

Sam: That's right, Abby. You're very smart--for a Labrador.

Abby: Watch it buddy. Remember. You weigh 20 pounds and I weigh 65 pounds. Don't rub me the wrong way.

Sam: Oh, Abby, lighten up, for goodness sakes! Here. I think I'll swat you across the snout with my paw like I do when we're bored, then you'll get annoyed and start chasing me all over the house, and I'll hide under the coffee table so you don't throttle me. Sound like a good idea?

Abby: No, Sam, it doesn't sound like a good...hey!! Stop swatting me on the snout. Hey! Stop it! Okay, buster, now you're asking for it. You'd better run. I'm going to chase you all over the house until you hide under the coffee table for safety!!

Sam: Good idea, Ab! Away I go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!

Abby, after chasing Sam for ten minutes: Okay. Nap time.

Sam: What? We just got started.

Abby: I know. But Dad has to get to work now, and he's writing this column every month, putting these words in our mouths. So when he has to go, the story ends for now.

Sam: Okay. Okay. Let's go lay down in their bedroom in that wonderful late-morning sun that comes streaming through the window. The squirrels are busily preparing for winter. We can watch them, drool, and then drift off to sleep until Dad and Mom get home from work.

Abby: And then when it gets dark, we can go into that othe room and stare out the window, in the dark, and see how long it takes them to find us.

Sam: Good idea, Ab. See you all back here next month!

September 7, 1997

And so our fearless dogs, trapped in some sort of Worm-Hole-Time-Warp, are still careening along Interstate Highway 694, heading west, toward their parents' office.  Unbeknownst to them, an entire month has passed.

Sam The Cockapoo:   Dad went to London a couple of days ago.  That's why he was packing his suitcase.  I always sit in his suitcase when he's packing, because I sense that he's going away.

Abby The Labrador:  I can't fit in his suitcase.  He almost always packs his carry-on luggage when he goes.

Sam:  Abby, Look!  The exit says "Silver Lake Road."  I think this is where we get off.

Abby:  Okay, Sam.  Be careful when you exit.  You'll have to stop pretty quickly.  Good.  You stopped just right.  Now, turn left.  Go up to the corner.  Make a left turn at that stoplight.  Now make a left into that parking lot.  Good.  Now, park the car carefully.

Sam:  There.  We're here.  Let's go in.  I hope the door is open.  We don't have thumbs, you know.

(Someone exits the building just as they try to enter, and they scurry past the person, into the building)

Abby:  How will we get in the office?  Wait, look, somebody left the door open and the lights on.  Maybe their secretary is working and went out for lunch.  Boy, are we ever lucky.

Sam:  Let's go in.  Good.  Now, let's get up to that computer.  Look, it's still on.  I think you're right.  Let's get to work before she gets back.  I'll just load up Netscape....okay...there it is...now I'll click on "mail" and we'll see what happens...

Abby:  Look, Sam!!  Some e-mail from Dad!  Let's open it up and see!  Hey!  It's from Cyberia, a cyber cafe in London.  What does it say?

Sam:  It says he arrived safely and is trying to stay awake until evening so he can adjust to the jet-lag.  He got in at 9:35 a.m. London time, which is 3:35 a.m. our time.  His biological clock must be really goofy!  It says his friend, Peter, rode his bicycle along while Dad jogged through the streets of London to the cyber cafe.  He says hello to Mom and us.

Abby:  Cool!  Open up the next one.

Sam:  It's Dad again.  Now he's in Edinburgh, Scotland, at a cyber cafe called The Electric Frog.  I bark at those little green frogs when they're crawling on the windows next to the kitchen door.  But I don't think they're electric frogs.

Abby:  It says his workshops went really well in London, and that he and Peter awoke on Sunday to the news of Princess Diana's death.  It also says that he and Peter toured Edinburgh, and that at Edinburgh Castle, there is a pet cemetery for the pets of soldiers and other occupants of the castle there, and that it even has stone grave markers for the graves of the pets!! It says they are going to take the train to Stirling Scotland, which is the site of the famous battle in which William Wallace, also known as Braveheart, beat the English troops under King Edward I.

Sam:  Cool!  Here, I'm going to open the next one.  Hey, he's back at Cyberia in London.  It says that he and Peter went down to Kensington Palace and placed some flowers at the gate, along with thousands of other people, and that the reaction to the Princess's death has been extraordinary.  Then it says he went for a run through Regents Park and up Primrose Hill, where there were all kinds of dogs out running with their owners.  He says that he misses us.

Abby:  I miss him, too.  So does Mom.  When does he get back?

Sam:  He's supposed to get back on September 3.  Hey!  It's September 7th!  What's the deal?

Abby:  Good grief!  I think we got caught in some kind of  Worm-Hole-Time-Warp when we were driving over here!

Sam:  What!?

Abby:  I don't know.  It says that at the top of this page that we're writing.  I don't know what it means.  But I think we'd better get back home before time and space collapse around us and we disappear forever!

Sam:  You're right, Abby!  Let's get out of here!

(So, our dynamic duo hopped back into Dad's car and sped away, flying east along I-694 toward home.  As they pulled into the driveway at home, they almost hit several large oak trees that line the driveway.  They parked the car in the garage, leaped out, and started scratching at the door into the house.)

Abby:  I wonder if anybody is home?

Sam:  I hear someone coming!  Yes, look!  The door is opening!  It's....Dad!!!

Abby:  Let's jump up and down and run around in circles!

Sam:  Yes!  Let's do that!

Abby:  Why do we do that?

Sam:  Because we're dogs!!

Abby:  Hey!  He has his running shoes on!

Sam:  Hey!  He's putting our leashes on!

Abby:  That means....

Sam:  That we're going for a run!!!!

Abby:  Yippee!!!!

Sam:  See you all next month.  We could have our first snow by then.  Watch the weather reports for us!
 
 
 

August 1, 1997

Abby The Labrador: Sam, this has been the worst month of July, weatherwise, in ten years. We had nearly 15 inches of rain from start to finish. It just rained and rained and rained and rained and rained.

Sam The Cockapoo: I know, Abby. It does this approximately every ten years. I read that in the Minneapolis StarTribune the other day.

Abby: Well, I hope it doesn't happen again for another ten. It was pretty bad. Coming on the heels of this brutal past winter, I don't know how much more the hardy citizens of Lake Wobegon can handle.

Sam: The last few days have been gorgeous. And remember. It was just a short few weeks ago that I decided, for no particular reason, to swim in the lake like a big dog, even though I am four years old and have had numerous opportunities to do so in the past.

Abby: YOU swam in the lake?!! You didn't just wade in the lake? You actually....

Sam: ...I actually swam out, way out, over my head, swam around for a while, swam parallel to the beach, and swam back, before heading in to shore. It was quite impressive.

Abby: I wish I could have seen that!!

Sam: I know, but you were taking your nap, and Mom thought she was just going to take me for a short walk to do my business outside, and then she proceeded to do a four-mile walk. When we got to the two-mile point, I was so hot that I went into the lake up to my belly like I usually do, and then, perhaps because I was with Mom, I decided to show off and swim. I really surprised myself.

Abby: Cool!

Sam: Say, where is Dad, by the way?

Abby: I don't know. I haven't seen him since Wednesday morning. I'm a little concerned, but Mom doesn't seem to be upset, so it's probably okay. He's probably out of town doing a workshop or something.

Sam: I miss our runs around the lake, though.

Abby: Let's check on the computer to see where he went.

Sam: Good idea. Wait a minute? Come here, Abby! Look!

Abby: The computer's gone!

Sam: You're right! What can we do about that?

Abby: You know, I think Dad's car is in the garage. He didn't take it to wherever he went. They have a computer at their office. Do you know how to get to their office?

Sam: I think so. But...Abby...do you think it's such a good idea for us to get out and drive on the Interstate Highway System? Isn't that a bit risky?

Abby: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Sam: Wow! That comment from the same dog who was afraid to walk down the stairs from the deck to the back yard? The one I had to teach to go down the stairs?

Abby: I am the same.

Sam: Okay, Ab. Let's go!

(And so our fearless hounds, motivated by the spirit of adventure as well as release from the boredom of waiting for Mom to come home from work, get in Dad's car, with the top down, mind you, punch the button on the garage door opener, turn on the engine, back up the car, punch the garage door opener again, and squeal the tires as they make a hasty exit from the driveway, heading toward Dad &  Mom's office in New Brighton, the radio blaring, tuned to FM 104.6, WOOF)

Abby: Watch out for that fawn Sammy Boy! You almost hit her.

Sam: Thanks, Ab. They're all over the place this time of year.

Abby: Make a right here, Sam. Not a left.

Sam: I know, I know.

Abby: Don't go so fast. You're going too fast, Sam. Now, turn left. Speed up, Sam. That car behind you is in a hurry. Watch out when you get out onto the freew...

Sam: Abby!!! Be Quiet!!! Stifle Yourself!!! I know how to drive!! You sound like Dad's dearly-departed Mother, for goodness sakes!

Abby: Sorry, Sam. You're right. I was just getting nervous, and when I get nervous, I get really controlling. Keep driving. You're doing a fine job.

Sam: Thank you, my dear. That was very gracious of you to acknowledge your shortcoming. Very gracious, indeed.

Abby: Well, thank you, Mr. Sam.

(Our dynamic duo sped along Interstate 694, heading west toward new Brighton, the wind blowing in their hair, and all the intoxicating smells and sights from the surrounding neighborhoods and pastures filling their senses. Suddenly, Sam had an uncontrollable urge to stick his head out the side of the car, even though he was driving, and even though the top was down. As he did so, Abby screamed!)

Abby: SAM!! What on earth are you doing?! If you don't keep your eyes forward and aimed directly on the road , we're going to crash!

Sam: Oops! You're right! I almost swerved off the freeway right then! I don't know what possessed me.

Abby: I know. It's that curse that we all must endure. It's the curse of the Nose Out The Window Even When The Windchill Is Enough To Cause Frostbite Syndrome.

Sam: I will try to restrain myself by using some of those cognitive-behavioral techniques that Mom & Dad taught us last year.

Abby: Good plan, Sam. And I will continue to be very anxious, and therefore extra vigilant, until we arrive at our destination.

Sam: Good. There are times when it is good to be anxious and vigilant. This is one of those times.

Abby: What do you think will happen when we get to The Office?

Sam: I don't know, Abby. I don't know. But I think it will be great......

(To Be Continued Next Month)

July 3, 1997

Sam The Cockapoo: Summer's here. It's the Fourth Of July tomorrow!

Abby The Labrador: Summer!? You mean Flood Season, don't you, Sammy? And Unusually Cold Season.

Sam: Yes. It's 59 degrees right now, at 7:45 a.m. Normally, it's 75 by now. And we got three inches of rain in one hour the other day. It's been pretty wet so far this summer.

Abby: The only good thing about it is that we just got done with our 4-mile run, and we didn't get too hot.

Sam: That little Yorkie on the running path along the lake was ready to tear our heads off. Aggressive little guy, eh Ab?

Abby: Cute, though.

Sam: I suppose. Say, what's the Fourth Of July, anyway?

Abby: The humans in the U.S. celebrate it as the day they declared their independence from England.

Sam: When was that?

Abby: 1776. Over two hundred years ago.

Sam: Wow! In dog years, or human years?

Abby: In human years. Over 1400 years ago in dog years.

Sam: Hmmmmm. And what has been the result of that political maneuver?

Abby: Well, the U.S. has become the most prosperous nation in the world. But some people think they went a little overboard with individual freedoms as an over reaction to rigid social class systems in western Europe, resulting in a society that is one of the most violent, and that has more lawsuits per capita than any other industrialized nation in the world!

Sam: It just goes to show you--there are always two sides to any issue--there are always tradeoffs in life.

Abby: Yep. We have some really excellent things going on in the U.S., and some things that we need to be ashamed of. It's that way with life in general.

Sam: You're being awfully philosophical today, Abby. What's gotten into you?

Abby: I think it's those new genetically-engineered dog biscuits that Mom and Dad bought for us at the University Of Minnesota's Experimental Genetics Laboratory the other day. They're supposed to raise IQ without the nasty side effects of being too smart for your own good.

Sam: Do you think they worked?

Abby: What do you think, Sam? I mean, listen to us. We sound like a couple of political science professors.

Sam: I guess you're right, Ab.

Abby: Of course I'm right, Sam. I'm a genius now.

Sam: Does this mean we won't have fun chasing those squirrels and chipmunks in the back yard anymore? If it does, I don't want to be a genius anymore.

Abby: Oh, I don't think so. Look at Albert Einstein. He was brilliant, but had a lot of fun in life, too.

Sam: Good. I don't want to give up chasing squirrels and chipmunks.

Abby: I think we should take a nap now. All this running, followed by high-level thinking, has gotten me pooped.

Sam: That's a good idea, Ab. Let's take a nap. And then when we wake up, we can rummage around in the garage, find some common household items, and create some of the most fantastic fireworks this side of Hong Kong. And then tomorrow night, we can surprise Mom and Dad with a fireworks display that will rival the one at the state Capitol in St. Paul.

Abby: That's a great idea, Sam! You are a genius!

Sam: Thank you for the nice compliment, Ab. You are, too.

Abby: Aw, shucks, Sammy-Boy. Let's take a nap.

Sam: See you all next month, for The Dog Days Of August!

June 2, 1997

Abby The Labrador: Wow! It's finally June, and we had our first day above 80 degrees just two days ago! Summer must be just around the corner!

Sam The Cockapoo: More or less. But I bet we'll have a few more cold days before that non-stop hot, humid summer weather sets in.

Abby: I suppose. Say, we had a great 4-mile run yesterday, didn't we? We met all kinds of people and dogs, and Dad let us cool off in the lake twice, so we could go farther.

Sam: It was great. Did you notice that little white poodle who struts in her window overlooking the lake. When I run by, she goes crazy, barking and pacing. I think she's in love with me, Ab.

Abby: You could be right, Sam. She 's a cute one, alright. Not my type, but perfect for you.

Sam: I think her name must be Fifi. She just looks like a Fifi.

Abby: I like Gregory.

Sam: Who?

Abby: Gregory. That handsome airdale. He is such a gentleman. And he carries himself so regally. I suspect he is descended from a very distinguished line.

Sam: Yes. He's just right for you, Ab. A very handsome guy.

Abby: Say, Sam, what happened when they took me away the other day? I jumped in the car, stuck my head out the window, we drove for a short time, and then we were at the veterinary clinic near our house. I ran in, excited to see all my pals, and then I don't remember anything until much later, and then Dad picked me up, and I came home.

Sam (looking shocked): Good grief, Abby. That's what happened to me, too! Remember when Dad took me in his car, last week, and then picked me up later? I ran into the vet's place to see my pals, wiggled my tail real fast until that lady put the leash around my neck, and then I knew Dad was going to abandon me there, and then I don't remember anything for a long time! What's going on, Abby? Is this some kind of X-Files script or something?

Abby: X-Files script? What's that? Oh, wait a minute. I know. That's the show everybody watches on Sunday night. About paranormal activity and space aliens. Yes, Sam. You could be right. We may have been abducted by aliens when we went to the vet. Oh my God, Sam! Do you think the vet is...

Sam: A space alien? I shudder to think about it, but you could be right. Let's add up the facts. We both lost 2-3 hours of memory after going there recently.

Abby: Check!

Sam: And they have all sorts of equipment there, and lots of animals on whom they are experimenting regularly, doing all sorts of bizzare things, God knows what.

Abby: Check!

Sam: And...Oh, Ab, I don't know. Could they really be space aliens?

Abby: Let's check on Dad's desk again. We always seem to find what we need when we rummage around in that mess.

Sam: Good idea. Let's see. Ticket stubs from the 6th and 7th games of the 1991 World Series, when the Minnesota Twins won, and Kirby Puckett saved the day. 1991? That was 6years ago! What are they doing here?

Abby: They fell off of the bookcase. I think Dad was planning to put them back where they've been for 6 years.

Sam: Oh. Hey, look! A paper with a heading on it. It says, "Minnesota Veterinary Hospital. Abby. Teeth cleaning. Anesthesia. etc."

Abby: Let me see that! Hey, look! Here's another one. Different date. It says, "Sam. Teeth cleaning. Anesthesia, etc."

Sam: The vet knocked us out with anesthesia and then cleaned our teeth!! Can you believe it? That's why we lost 2-3 hours of time. We were out cold while they were cleaning our teeth!!!

Abby: Come here, Sam. Face me. Now, open your mouth, and smile. Let me see your teeth! (Sam shows her his teeth) My goodness, Sam! Your teeth are gorgeous! So white!

Sam: Let me see your teeth, Abby. Wow! They're so white, and so clean. I'll bet Gregory will like to nuzzle up to you now!

Abby: And of course, Fifi will go crazy over you!

Sam: I didn't think the vet was a space alien, did you, Abby?

Abby: Naw. Never crossed my mind for an instant. But it was fun to think about it for a minute.

Sam: Yeah. But I'm sleepy now. let's go cuddle up together and take a nap.

Abby: Sounds like a good plan to me, Sammy!

Sam: See you all next month, folks! Watch for our sparkling smiles on that running path, around that lake, where Fifi and Gregory hang out, just 10 miles southeast of Lake Wobegon!

May 3, 1997

Sam: Am I ever glad that April is over, Abby! It was rough.

Abby: I know, Sam. Winter hung on with a vengeance, and then Mom had to go to the Mayo Clinic for that surgery. It hasn't been easy.

Sam: Yeah. I'm so glad Mom's doing better now. It was scary there for a few days. But she'll be back in tip-top shape here in no time.

Abby: Thank God for that. I didn't mind going to the kennel for a couple of days, but it was so confusing. One day Mom left, and you stood at the door all evening waiting for her to come home, but she never did.

Sam: I always do that. But when she didn't come home, I was really worried.

Abby: Me, too. And then we had to go to the kennel. Dad seemed tired, and stressed. We stayed there two days, then we came back, but then Dad left, and we were home with Dave.

Sam: I like Dave.

Abby: Me, too. But he had us sleep in the "dog room", as they call it, instead of in Mom and Dad's bedroom. I didn't like that part.

Sam: Me neither. It's so much better now that they're all home. We got to do a 4-mile run today, and then we got to snooze in the sun, out on the deck, while Dad tapped away at the computer.

Abby: It's getting nice out. Finally. There are even some tiny leaves popping out on the trees. Did you see that big birch tree in the center of the back yard? And some of the shrubs are getting leaves, too.

Sam: The oak trees are the last ones to get leaves. But spring is finally in the air. It got up to 70 degrees earlier in the week, you know.

Abby: I know. And then 24 hours later, it snowed! Minnesota is nuts this time of year.

Sam: Well, it's supposed to get up to 65 degrees tomorrow, and then go down a little bit Monday, and then up to 70 by the end of the week!

Abby: That's what they say now. But because of where Minnesota is located in relation to Canada, the Rocky Mountains, and the Gulf Of Mexico, it's really pretty hard to predict the weather here. They joke that a long-range weather forecast here is one that tries to predict the weather 16 hours from now.

Sam: Yeah. But I think it's going to gradually get warmer from here on in. I was surfing the net last night while they were all asleep, and...

Abby: You were?

Sam: Yeah. You were asleep, too. Anyway, I was surfing the net, and I ran into some stuff about how the planet Earth is tilted on its axis, which causes us to have these seasons we keep having. It gets hot for a couple of months, then it cools down and gets gorgeous, then it gets so God-Awful Cold that I have to wear those booties when I go out to do my business, and we flap our ears in pain if we're out for any length of time. And then it warms up a little. And then it gets hot again.

Abby: All because the Earth is tilted on its axis?

Sam: Yep! It's the darndest thing.

Abby: Well, I'm glad spring has finally arrived, and that Mom is doing so well. It is so great to get out and run again.

Sam: Do you think Dad will take us for another run tomorrow morning? It's Sunday tomorrow, you know.

Abby: Oh, I think we can count on it. I mean, have you ever noticed those silly smiles the two of them get when Dad asks us if we want to go for a run outside, and then we jump up and down, squeal, and run around in circles? It's the funniest thing I've ever seen two humans do. Like, what's the big deal. We're excited to go outside.

Sam: It cracks them up that we speak their language, too. Did you notice when they tried to spell R-U-N? It took me one time to figure out what they were spelling.

Abby: Me, too. They can't pull any fast ones on us, Sammy Boy.

Sam: Nope. They can't.

Abby: Well, Sammy, lets go outside and chase that squirrel on the deck. Dad left the door open, and it's still a great day out.

Sam: Right On, Ab! Let's Go! See you all next month. And here's to a better May!

Abby: Take care, ALL!

APRIL 1, 1997

Abby The Labrador: Sam! April Fools!

Sam: What? I was sleeping, Ab! What did you say?

Abby: I said April Fools!!!!

Sam: Oh! What does that mean?

Abby: I don't know. I heard Mom and Dad say it. Maybe it's a new kind of dog food.

Sam: Maybe. But I think it's something else. Sometimes I don't get them at all.

Abby: No, you're right. They can be...uh...obscure at times, to say the least.

Sam: Let's turn on the computer and see what Dad has bookmarked this month.

Abby: Good idea, Sammy. Let's get on our Canine Computer Keyboard Gloves and get to work.

Sam: Okay, he left it on again, so all I have to do is pop open the top and it will wake up from Sleep Mode.

Abby: Good, here come the pictures on the screen. Now let's dial up and connect to The Internet.

Sam: It's as good as done. There. We're on!

Abby: Yes. I'm going to click on this bookmark here. I wonder what it is? http://www.sfgate.com/breakers

Sam: Look, Ab! It's The Bay To Breakers Race in San Francisco, May 18, 1997, 8:30 a.m. A 7.46-mile (12k) foot race that was begun in 1912 to help the citizens of San Francisco forget the misery of rebuilding The City after the disastrous quake and fire of 1906. The race begins at The Embarcadero, along The Bay, of course, and goes across The City and through Golden Gate Park, ending up at the beach, at the ocean.

Abby: It used to be called the Cross City Race. And the first race only had 150 runners. Dad ran it in 1977 or 1978, and there were 80,000 runners! Wow! I wonder how many dogs got to run in it?!

Sam: I don't know, Ab, but look at this! In 1986, the Guinness Book Of World Records officially recognized it as the world's largest footrace, when 102,000 people ran in it!!! 102,000 people!!!

Abby: And look, Sam. A lot of them are wearing costumes.

Sam: Andsome of them are running naked! Except for running shoes!

Abby: Wow, Sam. This must be some place.

Sam: Did Dad sign up to run it this year? Look on the desk there. Under that pile of papers. What's that?

Abby: This is a big pile of papers. No wonder Mom teases him about having a messy desk! here it is! A registration form. No, there are two forms. Aha! He and Dave are both going. Well, that will be nice. A father-son trip for the guys. Maybe Dad can brainwash Dave into wanting to move to San Francisco someday, too.

Sam: I wouldn't mind at all, except I'd miss seeing Puddles every night.

Abby: Yeah. She's a cute cocker spaniel. Well, don't worry. I heard Dad say that he isn't moving anytime soon. Especially now that winter is almost over. He grumbles about winter after a few months of it. But by the time Spring rolls around, he's ready to stay in Minnesota another year.

Sam: I know. Even though we don't get to go, I'm glad he and Dave are going to run in that race.

Abby: It would be great to run it though, wouldn't it, Sammy old boy? Think of it. We'd be flying down Fell Street and into Golden Gate Park with half the dogs in San Francisco. We could take detours all over the place.

Sam: Yes-s-s-s-s!! I could leave my mark on every tree from The Panhandle to The Great Highway!

Abby: But we'd have to fly in a plane. In the cargo hold. In a cage.

Sam: What!!??? (His face constricted like he'd just been poked with a branding iron). In a cage? In the cargo hold?! No way!! No way!!!

Abby: Right. I think we'd better stay here and take care of Mom. Remember. Every morning we have to let her sit down quietly with her coffee and the newspaper, wait 60 seconds, and then whine and squeal and whine and beg and poke and whine until she gives us something to chew.

Sam: That's right, Abby. I almost forgot. Where would Mom be if we didn't pester her unmercifully all morning until she leaves for work. She'd be awfully lonely with Dad gone and us gone, too.

Abby: Well, Sam, I wouldn't go that far. But I think we must stay here and do our jobs, as assigned--Bug Mom, bark at the neighbor and his dog every morning when they go up their driveway to get the paper, stare out the windows into the woods one-fourth of the day, nap half of the day, and so forth.

Sam: And when Dad and Dave get back from San Francisco, we'll greet them at the door and wag our tails so fast, and wiggle all over so much, that we'll forget that we didn't get to go.

Abby: And then the next day, Dad will take us for our 4-mile run along the lake.

Sam: And then we'll take a big nap. Sounds good to me, Ab.

Abby: See you all next month!

March 1, 1997

Sam The Cockapoo: Abby! It's March!

Abby The Labrador: Yes, Sam. You're right. Reading that old calendar again, eh?

Sam: No, Ab, you don't get it. It's March, 1997!

Abby: And?

Sam: March 5, 1997, is Dad's 50th Birthday! What are we going to do for Dad's 50th Birthday? Mom has a big surprise planned for him, and the kids have some kind of surprise for him the following weekend!

Abby: Uh oh! We'd better think fast, Sammy.

Sam: Let's get him some of those lamb and rice dog biscuits that we like so much. He'll love us forever if we do that!

Abby: He and Mom love us forever anyway, Sam. And I don't think they eat dog biscuits. We have to think of something else.

Sam: Okay, you're right. How about ...Wait a minute, Abby! Look!

Abby: What!

Sam: He left the computer on! Let's get on that thing and order him a book! He loves books!

Abby: That's a great idea, Sam. But how do we do it?

Sam: Well, he gave us those special gloves so we could tap the keys correctly. Let's put them on and give it a try!

Abby: Right! Let's do it!

So Sam and Abby put on their little Canine Computer-Key-Tapping Gloves , hopped up on Dad's desk (Abby is tall enough to just stand there, actually), and away they went.

Sam: Okay, Ab. First we have to log onto the Internet. Move that pointer-thing over there to the Dialer.

Abby: Right. Got it! Then I double-click it. And then click it again. Yes-s-s-s-s! It's dialing!

Sam: Good work, Abby.

Abby: Now, let's see...okay...we have to load Netscape Navigator....There! It's loading. This is exciting!

Sam: Okay. Now, I think the URL for that book place is www.amazon.com. Type that in.

Abby: Got it! Here it comes!

Sam: Wow! Look at all of those book titles! What shall we do? What shall we do?

Abby: I know what. He grew up in San Francisco. He used to read Herb Caen's column every morning, from the time he was just a little boy. Herb Caen just died after writing his column for almost 60 years. I'll bet Dad would love a book by Herb Caen!

Sam: Good idea, Ab! Let's do it!

So Sam and Abby typed in Herb Caen's name and then clicked SEARCH. They waited with baited breath, eyes wide, hearts pounding, until...

Abby: There they are! Books by Herb Caen! Okay! Let's order one!

Sam: Okay. There...that one...One Man's San Francisco...let's order that one!

Abby: I think we'd better order Baghdad-By-The-Bay, just in case.

And so they did. They clicked on the two books, entered their shipping address, and then used their Canine Master's Card to pay for the books. They were so excited, they were beside themselves.

Sam: Abby, I'm so excited, I think I have to go out and lift my leg on a tree.

Abby: I know what you mean. This is going to be incredible. Dad will love it.

Sam: Let's go find him and whine until he takes us outside. I don't want to have an accident in the house!

Abby: Good plan, Sammy. Good plan. And we'll see all of you next month, which is April, which means we only have 6 more months of winter, I think!

FEBRUARY 1, 1997

Abby: Sam, we've had some of the coldest, snowiest weather in history this past month. When will it ever end?

Sam: I don't know, Ab. Dad says not until June, but I think he's just exaggerating because he's had it with winter, too.

Abby: I hope so. I couldn't take this until June. We've already had 52 inches of snow, which is more than our seasonal average of 50 inches. And the snowiest month of the year, April, is still a long way off.

Sam: I don't even mind the snow that much. But when it's this cold, we don't go for our run. And then we get really squirrely. When Mom gets home from work, we greet her at the door with our toys, our tails wagging so fast that if it could be harnessed, we could light up the whole house with electrical energy.

Abby: Well, maybe. Do ya' think ya' might have a touch o' th ol' Blarney in ya', Sam?

Sam: Perhaps. Dad's Irish, you know.

Abby: Yes: And he just talked to his Irish friends on the phone this morning. So now he's dreaming of going back there for a visit. But I don't like it when he and Mom go to London and Ireland, because then we don't see them for such a long time.

Sam: I know. I think we should plan to take our own trip while they're over there. Where should we go this year?

Abby: Let's see...hmmmm...how about somewhere where there will be a lot of dogs!

Sam: You mean, like....the kennel??!!!

Abby: No, silly. It's fun there for the first few minutes when we walk in and greet all of the other dogs, but after awhile, it gets lonely.

Sam: And we don't get to walk all over the place. It's pretty confining.

Abby: Right. I was thinking of going back to Labrador to visit some of my friends and relatives, but I think by the time we get there, it will be pretty cold for you, old Sammy.

Sam: I could probably handle it if I brought my new coat and booties that Mom and Dad bought me for Christmas.

Abby: Really? You'd go with me to visit friends and relatives in Labrador? Sam, you're a real prince.

Sam: Anything for my princess, Ab!

Abby: Aw, shucks! Now let's see. Where else might we go?

Sam: I've always wanted to go to China. And Vietnam, too. You know what we should do? We should try to start up that computer Dad uses, and see if we can connect to that Internet he keeps talking about. I'll bet there's a lot of travel information in that thing.

Abby: No doubt. But did you see the keys on that keyboard? There's no way we'd be able to type on it. We don't have fingers or thumbs. In fact, I don't even think we could open up the cover to that computer, let alone type on it.

Sam: You're right, Abby. What shall we do? What shall we do?

Abby: Let's go downstairs and see if we can start that treadmill that Dad runs on when it's cold outside.

Sam: We'll have to figure out how to open the door to the front part of the house, first.

Abby: And then we'll have to figure out how to push in that plastic safety device on the treadmill that deactivates it in case of an accident.

Sam: And then we'll have to figure out how to program it to run at the proper speed. If we jump on it when it's going too fast, it could really knock us on our rear-ends!

Abby: Boy, Sam..This could keep us busy all winter. That's a lot of figuring to do!

Sam: Well, let's take our nap in the sun first. And then when we wake up, we'll start figuring.

Abby: Good thought, old boy. Cheerio!

Sam: Bye!

JANUARY 3, 1997

Sam: Happy New Year!!!

Abby: Yeah!!!!! It's 1997. Only 3, er, 4 years technically, to the New Millennium!!!

Sam: So, whatdya think? How did the holidays turn out?

Abby (being a Labrador): I think everything went swimmingly.

Sam: Yes. Mom and Dad seemed to have a very nice time with their kids and their relatives, and we got some of those incredibly delicious, nearly-intoxicating homemade dog biscuits that somebody gave to Mom for us for Christmas!

Abby: Sam, I've never seen your tail wag so fast in my life, and that's saying a lot, because your tail wags faster than any tail I've ever seen, all the time. Are you a happy little guy, or what?

Sam: Hey, Ab, you had a pretty happy time, too. That Kristin girl came to visit, remember? And she plays tug with you like there was no tomorrow.

Abby: Yes. It was a great Doggy Christmas. But New Year's was kind of boring.

Sam: Yes. Dave went out with his friends, and Dad and Mom went out with that same couple that they've been having New Year's Eve dinner with for 12 years.

Abby: Twelve years! That's long before either of us was born. I'm five and you're three.

Sam: Yes. So off they went to dinner, leaving us in our room, with the radio on, as usual. I know what's going to happen when they turn on that radio.

Abby: Yeah. They read somewhere that dogs feel better if they can hear people talking. Actually, it is nice to listen to it, even though I can't quite make out what they're saying on the radio, no matter how much I cock my head from one side to another.

Sam: Yes, Miss Abby, I noticed you doing that the other day. You do that quite nicely, actually. How are your ears doing today? Do I need to clean them again?

Abby: Oh, Sam, I just love it when you clean my ears. You do it every single day, and I love you for it.

Sam: I'm quite a guy, aren't I?

Abby: Don't get carried away, Sammy.

Sam: Hey, Abby. How do you like your new bed you got for Christmas? It sure beats your trying to get into that little one they bought for me. How come you kept trying to get into that little one they bought for me?

Abby: I don't know, Samuel. I just don't know. But I sure do love that new bed. That was the greatest present I could ever have gotten.

Sam: Better than those homemade dog biscuits?

Abby: Even better than those, yes. And it will last much longer, too.

Sam: Well, do you think Dad will take us for a run today? It's one of the warmest January 3rd's in history--it's going up to 33 degrees this afternoon!

Abby: Wow! 33 degrees in early January in Minnesota?! Wow! I sure do hope he takes us. It'll be one of the last days we'll be able to go outside for a while. Let's go bug him before he decides to do something else!

Sam: Good idea, Ab. Let's go!!! See you all next month!

Abby: BYE!!

DECEMBER 5, 1996

Abby: I can't believe that Thanksgiving is over and we didn't get one piece of turkey the whole time! It's a dog's life!

Sam: (appearing guilty) Well, Ab, I hate to admit it, but when Dad was watching that movie in the living room, he dropped a big piece of turkey on the floor, and before he could stop me, I grabbed it and ate it!

Abby: You did?!! Where was I?!

Sam: You were asleep on our big bed, near the kitchen.

Abby: Rats!!

Sam: I didn't have the heart to tell you.

Abby: So what's the deal with this English Patient they keep talking about?

Sam: It's a book they read last summer, and now it's a movie, and they're recommending it to everybody who even comes near the house or their office. It's supposed to be quite good, actually.

Abby: But we always seem to doze off after the first 10 minutes of a movie.

Sam: I know. We aren't cut out for movies.

Abby: Except those ones with the dogs barking all the time. That seems to keep us awake.

Sam: Which reminds me. Do you remember when we went for our run last Sunday. Along the lake. With Dad? And we ran past the house with the three spaniels, and then the one with the border collie?

Abby: Yes.

Sam: Well, I chased that border collie all the way back to his house again, but this time, when we got too close to his house, he turned and nipped at me. That's the first time he's done that! And then when we got to the spaniels' house , I chased them, but they cornered me and nipped at me there, too!! I'd better watch myself next time!!

Abby: I should say! You're one-third the size of those other dogs.

Sam: Yeah. Mom says I have Cockapoo Syndrome, whatever that is.

Abby: (rolling her eyes and speaking silently to herself: Do you ever!

Sam: So, what do you think Christmas will be like this year, Ab?

Abby: Pretty nice, I'd guess. Thanksgiving was really pleasant. We had some new snow, which is always a hoot for us. And everybody seemed to get along well this year. So, I'm really looking forward to Christmas.

Sam: Me, too, Ab. Maybe I'll get a winter coat so I can go running when it's 5 degrees out. Otherwise, I'm house bound until spring.

Abby: Put it on your list, Sammy. It never hurts to ask.

Sam: Righto!! And to all of you out there, have a good holiday season, and we'll do the same.

Abby: And remember, the holidays are always as good as you expect them to be.

*********************************************************

NOVEMBER 8, 1996

Abby: Well, most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, except the ones on the red oak trees--many of them won't fall now until the new leaves start coming through in the springtime. The geese started migrating south quite awhile ago, although we can still hear a few lonely honks late in the evening or early in the morning.

Sam: Yes, it's getting pretty cold here, too. Not really bad, but pretty cold nevertheless. Mostly wind chills right now. The bad stuff will be here in another 8 weeks. Abby and I have been laying around the house during the day because our parents are at work a lot this time of year. We did take the car out the other day before they went to work, but we had to get it back pretty quickly so they could get in and see their clients.

Abby: Our Dad was in Orange County and then Tucson last week, and he told us it was sunny and 74 degrees there, which is hard to believe. We pretty much live in the moment, so it's hard for us to imagine it being so different, or even to imagine that there is somewhere different!!

Sam: Yes. It's an amazing world sometimes. Our Dad was out in the woods two weekends ago cleaning up some large shrubs that have been choking out the trees in the forest, and now the deer come by and munch on all those shrubs piled up along the side of the house. It makes me really mad. Even though I only weigh 20 pounds, I have the spirit of a mighty hunter, and I'd give my eye teeth to get loose and chase those deer from here to St. Louis. But I don't think it will happen.

Abby: Oh, Sam, calm down, boy. Those deer are so fast, you couldn't get near them.

Sam: Oh, yeah?! Why, Abby, I could flip you like a cheese omelet! And you know it.!

Abby: Don't pay too much attention to the little guy. The holidays are coming up and we need to humor him. Which reminds me. It hasn't snowed yet! Last year, we had our first snow flurries on September 21. Sam and I just love it when it snows. Every year the same thing happens. We watch it falling in utter amazement, like we've never seen it before.

Sam: Then we race outside as soon as somebody opens the door for us (we don't have fingers and thus are totally dependent on people for that), and we race around the yard in circles, kicking up snowflakes , and acting like we're possessed by Scandinavian demons. It's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Abby: Which we get crumbs of now and then if we beg just right. But only bread. And only whole wheat bread. And only in very small amounts. They want us to stay healthy, you know.

Sam: I guess we'd better go. The cocker spaniel next door is wandering around in our yard, and in a few moments she'll come to the door and stick her nose against it, at which time we race to the door, wag our tails furiously, bark a little bit, and squeal with joy, until she toddles back to her house.

Abby: Then we'll take a nap. We'll write to you next month, after Thanksgiving. Maybe we'll dream about turkey.

Sam: But they'll never give us any. Too rich for our stomachs!

***************************************************************

SEPTEMBER 1, 1996

Sam:  I'm Minnesota Sam. I'm the 20-pound cockapoo on the right of your screen. I first met my girl, Miss Abby The Labrador, while I was running with a herd of cockapoos in the Canadian North Woods. We were on our way to Labrador to look for better hunting grounds when I broke my legs after a bad fall.

Abby: I'm Minnesota Abby. I'm the yellow Labrador Retriever on the left of your screen. Yes, Sam's right. I was on a hunting mission myself when I came upon Sam in the woods. It was autumn, and it was getting pretty cold at night. Down to 20 degrees as I recall. Sam was a mess, and his fur isn't as useful in cold weather, and so I decided to leave my pack to see if I could nurse him back to health. After a few days I became concerned that the little guy wasn't going to make it, so against my better judgment, I carried him in my mouth all the way back to civilization.

Sam: She saved my life. A marvelous woman picked us up and took us to a human hospital, where a kind surgeon operated on my legs and put pins in them. After my legs healed, Abby and I headed for Minnesota because we heard that Minnesota politics were so interesting, and because we'd heard of Lake Wobegon and Garrison Keillor. Well, actually, the Friels picked us up because we were such exceptional creatures, and they took us to live with them.

Abby: So, here we are, living with the Friels in St. Paul, or just north of there. The leaves are already starting to turn and fall, and the air is getting crisp at night even though it's still pretty hot during the day. The State Fair is almost over, too. And the local politicians are winding up for their big campaigns toward November.

Sam: And Abby and I are looking forward to a little bit of cooler weather. Our Dad takes us for a run every day or so, and during the summer months we can only go two miles because we get so hot. In the fall and spring, he takes us for at least four miles, which is really great! He gets a lot of static from some of the people we encounter, too. They don't seem to think that a cockapoo can go five miles. But my doctor just says I have really strong lungs, a strong heart, and big muscles for such a little cockapoo, so what do some people know?

Abby: Yes. we absolutely love to go for a run with our Dad. It's by far the greatest thing we do. We also like to chase squirrels, deer, raccoons, moles, frogs, toads, you name it. And every once in awhile, when no one is looking, we sneak into the garage, get in the car, and drive, very carefully, down to the Caribou Coffee shop near our house, where we order two tall cappuccinos and a couple of scones for breakfast.

Sam: Yes. It's not a bad life here in Minnesota. It's a little cold in winter, like minus 30 degrees, which is more than my little feet can handle. But then you can't have everything. We'll be watching the elections on CNN through November, barking at the squirrels in the woods outside our dining room window, and sneaking down to Caribou Coffee every once in awhile just to keep our driving skills sharpened.

Abby: So watch this page in the future, and we'll let you know what else is going on up here in the soon-to-be frozen north. Who knows what might happen when you live with two psychologists.

APRIL 15, 1996

When I (jcf) was growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, we were very parochial and coastally-centric in our thinking. The Midwest really didn't exist. I remember when the Mary Tyler Moore show first aired on television. I thought to myself, Where in God's name is Minneapolis/St. Paul? In 1973, I found myself taking my first college teaching job and moving to a small Mississippi River town 100 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, and so all of a sudden I was smack dab in the middle of the Midwest . It was both startling and exhilarating to find myself in territory that had yet to be named, let alone put on the maps sold in San Francisco and New York (Garrison Keillor hadn't created his mythical Lake Wobegon yet). For the first six months, I smiled warmly at and tried to imitate the distinctly Scandinavian accent of Minnesotans, which I performed for my coastal friends' entertainment. I was truly amazed and amused when I first saw television commercials for Banvel Herbicide and John Deere far m equipment. What a hoot!

Well, I've been living in Minnesota for 23 years, and I am 49 years old, which means that with my 4-year stint in West Virginia sandwiched in between somewhere, I have lived here longer than anywhere else in the U.S. Of course, I stopped hearing the Minnesota accent after being here about six months, and everyone outside of Minnesota tells me that I now have a clear Minnesota accent. Linda and I met briefly in 1978, I believe; and then in 1980 we ran into each other again and started dating. She was born and raised in Minneapolis. I swore I'd never go out with someone from the Midwest and she swore she'd never go out with one of those crazy, unstable types from California. We got married in 1981, and are as madly in love today as we were back then. Yes, I occasionally dream of stealing Linda away and moving to a warmer, more stable climate, but in truth, our roots, our home, and our connectedness are right here. So...

Today is Monday, April 15, 1996, and we had 3-4 inches of heavy, wet snow last night which made the woods outside our home look like something out of a Robert Frost poem. But it's April! Spring is supposed to be here. Well, by Wednesday, it should be close to 70 degrees. And by July, summer should be here! And then it will be really, really hot for two months, really nice for 6 weeks of fall, and then winter will set in again. Winter started at the end of October this season and has not come to its completion as of yet. So, you go figure it out. Obviously, jokes about Minnesotans always discussing the weather are based solidly in fact.

On these pages, updated every so often, and hopefully at least once a month, we will share with you the Adventures of Minnesota Sam and Abby. Sam is the 20-pound Cockapoo with a magical spirit," and Abby is the;calm, soulful yellow Labrador Retriever" as described at the end of our latest book, The Soul Of Adulthood: Opening The Doors. They will report on their histories, their exploits, and their prognostications on everything from the best kind of rawhide bones on which to chew, their favorite foods, animals they like to chase, Minnesota politics, the weather, and the state of Mental Health Treatment in Minnesota, and many more fascinating topics. At least, fascinating to them, and to the Cocker Spaniel next door.


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