Sunshine 2 days in a row…!

After weeks of cold, rainy days, it was impossible to sit at the computer once I realized what the big yellow ball in the sky was.  Time to get outside, wander around the yard and take the big girl for a walk.  Lola is just about the happiest dog in the world,

but she’s not crazy about rain and ends up moping around the house, asking me to let her out… then back in, then out again when she see’s Moe go out on the porch.  Then Moe smacks Lola and she wants back in, then Moe wants in which means Lola wants out.  I guess what I’m saying is I can’t sit down for 2 minutes without one or the other wanting in or out – no matter what, somebody’s always on the wrong side of the door.

The moping stopped when Lola saw me put on my sneakers and grab the leash and then there was a whole lot of exuberance in the house  – chairs tipped over, desk got cleared, and a cat got smooshed.  It may sound like I have an out of control dog who’s never been to a training class in her life but really Lola’s been to dog classes.  It’s just that the curriculum doesn’t coincide with her outlook on life.

I mean get this tidbit of wisdom from a book someone (John) was kind enough to pick up:  “a proper heel is taught with your dog on your left side.  Ideally, in the heel position your dog’s head is close to your left knee”.  You know what I think a proper heel is?  Being able to walk at a somewhat leisurely pace without getting pulled into a tree or poked in the butt to get a move on.  Ideally, I would like to remain upright throughout the entire trot walk.  I do not care what side she is on, I’d just like her to pick ONE side and stick with it.

Lola’s training started early.  Basic puppy training and socialization – 8 weeks of it.  Although I went to every class, John was the handler since I was in a cast due to an unfortunate walk with Lola that ended with my ankle broken (hers were fine).  It was a good class based on the click-treat system.  If your dog does something right, you click this clicker then give her a treat. Halfway through the class, all the puppies were let off their leashes to “socialize”.  Lola’s a friendly dog but she’s also a food whore and it didn’t take her long to realize that while all the puppies were running around playing with each other, the owners were just standing around with treats in their little side pouches… and it seems like everyone brought Lola’s favorite treats which meant that Lola’s playtime was sucking up to the other dog owners eating treats.  Lola actually did a decent job with basic commands and it looked like she enjoyed the classes.

More so than Klondike (on the right) the Newfie who slept through every single class and only woke up when it was time to go home.

As Lola got bigger and we couldn’t seem to break her of trying to lift John up by his crotch, we decided a “real” training class was in order.  Enter Louis the professional dog show handler who had very specific ideas about proper training.  This class was in a huge roped off field with about a dozen other dogs, one being Daisy the perfect collie.  Unfortunately an agility class was going on at the same time in a different area.  Those dogs were running up ramps, jumping through hoops, going through tunnels!  So while our class was marching around in boring circles doing heels, sits, downs, stays, I was leaving furrows in the field as Lola dragged me straight across to the other field in front of all the perfect heelers… did I mention Daisy?  Any of you read Marley?  Remember Marley’s training class?  Pretty much the same thing.

Getting too sore for this on a weekly basis, I again traded off with John and although he’s stronger than I am, he didn’t have much better luck either.  And Lola and I would have to hear about it all the way home…“did you see Daisy?  She doesn’t drag her owner across the field… Daisy doesn’t roll over on her back when we do ‘downs’…” Like listening to your mother rave about your perfect cousin’s manners.  I had a hunch that Daisy was a ringer and confirmed it one week after talking to her owner.  Yup, this was Daisy’s second time around.  Of course she was ahead of the class, she’d stayed back!

Now I don’t want to be petty about this, but there were 11 other dogs in this class and Louis would always demonstrate specific commands using someone’s dog.  I didn’t think that much about this until John mentioned one night after class “have you noticed that Louis never uses Lola for demo purposes?”  Ok, well maybe he’s just trying to use dogs who need his remedial techniques… John looked at me, then at Lola and said “ah, I don’t think that’s it”.
Lola never missed a class although I think Louis would get this horrified look when we continued to show up.  Didn’t bother her a bit, she was as exuberant as ever… “SIT”  … and she’d bounce off John’s chest all excited.  “STAY”... and she’d come charging across the field knocking the pins out from other owners stupid enough to turn their backs on her.

Finally, the session was over and it was graduation day.  Now who would think it was a good idea to tell everyone to bring food for a  picnic for a doggie grad party?  Really?  Have you ever seen a Berner at a picnic?  All I can say is the “diplomas” had to have been printed up well before the end of classes.

Lola was really, really excited about graduating though.  Louis had set up a card table at one end of the field and each dog was supposed to demonstrate a command they had mastered.  Did I mention that Daisy stayed at one end of the field until her owner called her?  Huh, Lola and I had been practicing too, so I took over for the demo with the same command.  “Lola – Stay (please stay Lola)”.  I walked across the field and Lola stayed (I think she was busy checking out the picnic table and hadn’t noticed that I left).  I got all the way across the field, called Lola and didn’t she come charging right at me… and didn’t stop.  After I picked myself up, we were supposed to heel over to the card table.  Owner takes the diploma, dog gets a cookie from a great big jar full of cookies.  I think I mentioned how excited Lola was about graduating.  We got to the table and didn’t Lola smack the rickety card table with her big ol’ Berner paws, knocking the table over and spilling all the cookies, which didn’t last long after they hit the dirt.  Good thing there was only one other dog after us.

So when you’re out and you see someone walking their dog and that dog is in the perfect heel position, take a good look & see if that dog is this happy:

A moment of Lola Zen

Wow, thank you all for the great comments about my adventures with Berners!  While I’m trying out a new recipe that involves steak, port, and dried cherries (if it works out I’ll post it after a taste test), I thought you might like a quick moment of zen with Lola.  Every Berner I’ve ever met does what’s called the Berner Bump which is probably a throwback to when they worked the dairy farms and needed to poke a few cows into the barn.  Although not technically a herding dog, some, like Lola do have some herding instincts.  When Moe the Terrorist Cat escaped the house Lola chased his fuzzy butt right back into the house.  In Lola’s case she uses the Berner Bump more for attention.  As you can see, it usually works.

Berner Tails


I’ve been getting requests to post some Berner stories, especially Lola stories.  We’ve owned 3 Bernese Mountain Dogs and I’ve loved every one of them.  If you’ve never met a Berner, a little background… they are a large working class dog, great family companions, dump bundles of fur all over the house, clear coffee tables with one swoop of their fan tails, and are absolutely shameless about food – they’ll eat their food, the cat’s food, your food & anything you’re foolish enough to leave on the counter. (See my post for Artichoke Dip to see just how shameless they are.)  They’re also known to eat plenty of things that have no nutritional value. (See my post about my kitchen re-do and how my kitchen floor was eaten by a certain Berner.)   They’re also one of the happiest dogs you’ll ever meet but I think of them as the class clown who will do anything for a laugh, so you don’t want to laugh when they do something you’d rather they not repeat. As puppies, Berners look a lot like little chunky plush toy dogs.  But if you think you might want one, do your research.  They’re a dog that you can’t help but love, but as my vet & I have discussed, they can also be known as the ‘heartbreak dog’ because of their short life span and medical problems.

Our first, Clancy, was a very mis-marked guy who died way too young at the age of 3 from what’s known as Berner cancer.  Clancy loved to twirl and used to play a twirling game with gray squirrels that he managed to catch by the tail.  Unfortunately for the squirrels, they didn’t hold up very well to the twirling game.  His best prank was at 6:00 am.  I used to drive Niki to skating lessons before school and in the winter would make her a to-go mug of hot chocolate.  My day didn’t start very well when I came downstairs to find Clancy playing his twirling game with Niki’s mug of hot chocolate spraying all over the kitchen.

Clancy after he got into the fireplace

Our second Berner, Spirit died at 5 years from an autoimmune disorder.  He was our biggest guy at 120 lbs. although that never stopped him from thinking that he was a lap dog.

His best trick was helping John to clean out the gutters.  I heard a lot of yelling outside and I have to be honest.  I wasn’t sure whether to call 911, go out & help or grab the camera because my husband was up 2 stories clinging to the gutter.  He hadn’t tied off the rope on the ladder.  So, Spirit grabbed the rope & was using the ladder, with John on it, as a giant pull toy.  Spirit was also fearful of a lot of things – the woodpecker who used to pound on the side of the house, having his picture taken, and most of all… thunderstorms!  He could hear a storm coming an hour before it got over us and he would either try to dig a bunker in the mattress or more often, hide under the bed.

Bernese Mountain dogs can flatten themselves out like bearskin rugs & Spirit could get himself under Niki’s bed but for some reason couldn’t get himself back out.  We’d have to lift the bed after the storm passed so he could crawl back out.

And then Lola arrived from upstate New York at 8 weeks old.  Cute as all Berners are, it was pretty obvious from the start that this girl was different from the other 2 guys.  To say willful is an understatement.

John explaining the house rules to Lola

She is by far the most clever yet challenging Berner to date.  By the end of the her first week with us, I was so frustrated with her chewing on me that I called the breeder who said “well give her something else to chew on – give her some stuffed toys, cardboard boxes, bones that aren’t yours”.  I did that and yes, all those things got chewed to bits, but it never stopped her insatiable desire to chew everything in sight and when she ate the kitchen floor, I started singing “I Looove New York” to her & threatened to put her on a bus right back up there.

She does find the sound of ripping cardboard & paper really satisfying. If John makes the mistake of letting Lola out in the morning before grabbing the newspaper, Lola retrieves it for him.  That doesn’t usually go so well, but then again most of the news is pretty depressing.

 I woke up one summer morning to hear John out on the front lawn… “WHAT are you doing?!?”  Well, what Lola was doing was shredding.  We live on a cul de sac which has a bank of 6 mailboxes on the edge of our yard.  And once a year, some phantom arrives in the early morning hours & drops a pile of yellow pages under the mailboxes.  Lola took a walk down to the mailboxes & hauled 6 big fat Yellow Page books into the front yard & shredded all of them.  And I guess it made her thirsty because she decided to get a drink from the birdbath (a sentimental favorite of John’s from his parent’s house) and well, unfortunately the top of the birdbath kind of got knocked over & sort of cracked in half.

Sometimes you start out thinking you’re having a great day & without notice, it goes down hill really fast and people are yelling.

Now since we’re going into burn season I have to tell you about Lola’s most spectacular escapade.  When she was a pup, I was trying to clear brush from our back hill.  Of course she was underfoot and I was afraid she’d get smacked with the hatchet.  As I cleared, I’d give her the brush which she’d happily scatter all over the yard, but at least she was safe and out of my way.  This started her fetish for sticks and she considered every stick to be her personal stick.  Believe me, it was dicey when I broke my ankle and needed to use a cane!  And, by the way, my ankle was broken due to an unfortunate walk with Lola!

We can burn here from January through April and John started a burn pile.  Lola, being a work dog was outside helping.  John would cut and pile up the brush, Lola would drag half of it off, John would drag it back.  Overall it was going really well.

Until the burning started & Lola realized “hey, he’s burning my sticks!”

At which point, Lola decided to rescue her sticks and grabbed one out of the fire, taking off through the woods with the burning stick.  Since it was a very dry year, of course the woods caught on fire.  John  grabbed the hose and doused the woods as well as Lola.  This resulted in a very depressed & wet dog but she wasn’t finished with that stick burning guy.  At the end of the day, John dragged the hose back down to the burn pile to put out the last of the fire when he realized the 40′ hose wasn’t offering a whole lot of resistance….

A 4′ hose is much easier to carry around.  Moral of the story:  do not mess with Lola’s sticks!  Good thing we love ya Lola.

Artichoke Dip-Transforming a recipe into a family photo

This is where I love to get creative combining a favorite recipe with a photo.  One of my favorite party dips is this artichoke dip.  It fills a casserole dish and serves lots of people.


2      Cans regular artichoke hearts (14 oz)
1      Jar marinated artichoke hearts (6 oz)
2-4   TBL minced onions
2      Large cloves garlic, minced
2      Lbs. cream cheese
3      TBL chopped fresh basil
½      Cup Parmesan cheese, grated  plus extra for sprinkling on top (good quality makes a difference)

– Cook onion & garlic in sauté pan until transparent

– Place artichoke hearts & cream cheese in mixing bowl.  Use your hands to crush the artichoke hearts into the cream cheese.  Add onion/garlic mixture, continue mixing until combined, leaving only a few chunks of artichokes remaining.

– Add basil and Parmesan cheese and combine.

– Place in oven proof baking dish. Top with small amount of butter & Parmesan cheese.

– Bake at 400 until top is golden brown. Serve with warm pita bread or toasted French bread.

Funny story about the first time I made this dip.  It was late afternoon Christmas Eve and I was busy trying to prep food for Christmas, cleaning the house, wrapping gifts & also doing the laundry.  This dip was for a party we were going to that evening.

Since I was flying around trying to put this together while doing other things the dip was sort of put together piecemeal.  When I got to the part about grating the cheese I just couldn’t find it.  I knew I’d taken it out of the fridge so I thought maybe I had it in my hand while I was going from upstairs, to the pantry, to the laundry room… I retraced my steps & actions right down to looking inside the dryer for this large block of very expensive Parmesan cheese ($26 worth of cheese to be exact).  Believe me this is critical to this recipe.  As I stood there scratching my head I realized that I hadn’t seen Lola (remember the 85 lb. of Bernese Mountain Dog?) for a while.  She is an eternal optimist so is always underfoot when there’s food around.  Hmm…. very odd that I hadn’t been stepping over this small pony/dog for a while.   I think you can see where this is going.  I found her upstairs in her typical Berner bear skin rug mode but looking very sorry and like she might have a little bit of a belly ache.  I mean let’s face it, an entire block of Parmesan?  In case there is any doubt in your mind,  yes, I found the plastic wrapping on the stairway and I was a little surprised that that didn’t go down the hatch too!

Lola, the cheese thief !!!!

I was very lucky that the store was still open & my husband was willing to make a quick dash for another block of Parmesan.  Normally this recipe is not all that expensive, but I do recommend a high quality Parmesan for the best results and if you happen to have a Berner that you keep the cheese in the fridge until it’s time to use it.

Once I’ve decided on a recipe I love, I choose a favorite photo that reminds me of a special holiday where I’ve made the dish, or possibly a photo that just seems to “go” with this recipe.  In this case, Niki and I have made this dip for Christmas Eve parties.  Niki had returned from Italy before Christmas but downtown Florence had been decorated and she took this picture of the lights in the city which I love for it’s simplicity and elegance.

After choosing a photo, I use my photo software to fade out the background, playing with different shadings.  For example, this is a 30% transparency effect of the entire canvas:

After deciding the effect of the background, I overlay the recipe on top of the photo:

After overlaying the recipe onto the photo I add it to Niki’s recipe collection in an acrylic box frame.  New pictures can be added to the front to display or you can move the recipe you are making to the front and it’s protected by the acrylic frame.  Another idea is to slide each photo/recipe into a plastic sleeve and keep in a notebook.