Bettina's Studio

My people, my pitbull, my pictures, my Parkinson's

Crazy For You

What's with the jacked-up boots, lady?
What’s with the jacked-up boots, lady?

The more time I spend alone at Three Dog Farm the Enclave, the more I realize that the neighbors must think I’m batsh*t crazy. I prefer to think of myself as “zany” or “creative.”

Neighbors that seemed very friendly when I moved in now seem to hide their children when I’m out in the yard. There they are, playing nicely in the tick-ridden, spider-infested grass, and as soon as I crack my sliding door, they start running like wildebeests being herded by a low-flying helicopter. Never mind that last week, the 11-year-old across the street spent a full hour rolling around on his front lawn like a dog rubbing his face on a dead squirrel head. And they think I’m weird?

I reluctantly admit that some of my behavior could be misinterpreted as odd. I get up fairly early to let the dogs out, and since the yard is thick with dew and lawn spiders (you think I’m kidding – they freaking EXIST and the live AT MY HOUSE), I put on knee-high wellies to complement the green velour bathrobe I’m sporting. Then I tromp around whisper-shouting “Shut UP Shut it shut upshutupshuttttuppppp!” at Blanche and Rico, whose rabid “JOGGER! PASSING! BY!” barking could wake the dead. At night, I add an LED headlamp to my outdoor garb (for cobweb avoidance), so I look a bit like an Orthodox Jew who’s decided to take up mining.

The neighbors have watched me attempt to fill giant, 10-foot bladders with water from a jet-powered hose while standing on the aluminum pool deck during a thunderstorm; engage in a losing battle with the “pool pillow” that’s supposed to stay in the center of the pool to keep the water from freezing in winter, but that just ends up floating to one side so it looks like I’m hiding a baby elephant; and cut down enormous, unruly bushes using Jaws-of-Life size titanium pruning sheers and my electric hedge trimmer. Just imagine Edward Scissorhands. With Parkinson’s. I look like I’m using a jackhammer in a hurricane.

Notice the baby elephant hiding in the pool.
Notice the baby elephant hiding in the pool behind me.

When Pierre is here, he does little to help us look normal. He likes to stroll the property, glass of wine in hand, surveying my latest pile of hacked leaves or shrubbery and yelling, “Wiggles! What did you DO?!”

Moving the Needle

Me on my first date with Lunchbox Meerkat, back in 2010.

As many of you know, I recently broke up with my corporation (whom, for the purposes of this story and to maintain privacy, we shall call Lunchbox Meerkat). We had a good five-year run, but I felt like we’d been growing apart.

One of the tricky parts of a break-up like this is navigating “friend custody.” Especially since I just started a new relationship with a company called Swell (not its real name). Would the friends Lunchbox and I shared un-LinkedIn me? (Un-Linked-me-in?) And what about my new Swell buddies? Could we all like each other’s posts on Leveraging the Synergy of an Energetic Workspace Like Learnings Functionality Matrix…wait, what?

The answer is, happily, yes! In fact, a friend of mine who used to see Lunchbox Meerkat casually started a serious relationship with Swell a few months ago, and she’s the one who introduced us! We’re both involved with the same Business Unit now.

The biggest thing I will miss about Lunchbox is its on-site medical facilities. (Yes, you read that right. As Patient of the Month for several months running at three major area hospitals and my local CVS, these things are important to me.) Swell lives in Texas, so it’s more of a long-distance relationship. Lunchbox was right nearby. So whether I sprained my core competencies or felt woozy while actioning my deliverables, help was never far away.

On my last day, I went to say goodbye to my favorite nurse practitioners, Laura and Lorrie (totally their real names). They have drawn more blood from me than I knew I had (in the name of science and research – I think – except for that time when I came in with a sore throat. That time was weird.), patched up a fingertip I cut nearly totally off, and provided me with ice packs, bandaids and comforting, mommy-level attention. Granted, I’m older (by a number of years) than both of them, but I ran with the whole “mom” theme anyway. It was tough to tell them about the break up.

Me: Lunchbox and I aren’t together anymore. But I was wondering if I could still see you. Do you have, you know, office hours somewhere else?

Lorrie: (smiling nervously) Umm…Hey Laura! Look who’s here! It’s Bettina! She’s leaving us!

Laura: ooooooh, we’ll miss youuuuuu (said in that reassuring Nurse Voice).

Me: (crushed in a hug with Laura and trying to pretend I’m not smelling her hair – what shampoo does she use? It’s amazing. Like sugar cookies and flowers.) Seriously, can I see you guys outside of work? A Minute Clinic down the street maybe?

Lorrie: (taking my temperature one last time) Oh you’ll be fine. Here’s my business card. Give us a call and let us know how you’re doing.

Laura: (slips her card in my blood pressure cuff while Lorrie takes a quick reading) We’ll miss you!

Then they slapped a couple of bandaids on me for good measure, handed me a pamphlet on controlling my blood sugar and sent me on my way. Sigh.

It’s going to take me a while to move on. Rite Aid may have a 24-hour clinic, but it’s just not the same. I dream that one day I will run into Laura or Lorrie at the supermarket. Our eyes will meet and we’ll recognize each other, even without my lanyard or her white coat. We’ll smile briefly, sadly, in recognition before we pass by each other. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll glance at my cart and notice my vitamins or take a quick read of my latest prescription I picked up. “Yes,” she will nod. “Yes. That’s what I would have given you to relieve your constipation too.”

Whimsical Wednesday

Why no pictures? I didn’t take any. So you’re just going to have to read words. Like in olden times.

Welcome to the first Whimsical Wednesday post. I was going to say “my” whimsical Wednesday post and encourage you to slap a hashtag on it and send it to all your friends, but the Internet beat me to the punch. Turns out it’s a thing. So my whimsy has been validated by social media! I feel a little bit of Kardashian self-congratulatude.

Ok. Yes, you’re right. That is NOT a thing. 

Back to whimsy. 

Those of you who know me on Facebook may remember that I posted recently about some Buddhist monks I ran into on my last trip to Costco. For those of you not on Facebook, this is not the start of a joke.

A group of Buddhist monks, wrapped in saffron robes, entered Costco at the same time I did. I headed for the Electronics section, and I noticed they made their way over to Wellness. (Also not a joke.)

I crossed paths with them again as I was putting a cask of B12 vitamins in my flatbed grocery truck. As I rounded the end of the aisle, I realized one of the monks was directly behind me, and he had his hands over his head like he was about to cheer. I was so surprised, I turned around to face him. And when I did, I realized he was cheering about…


A 95-lb bag of Doritoes. I thought he was going to jump out of his socks and sandals. Of course, he did all of this very quietly. I don’t think I heard a peep out of him. But he did smile an awful lot.

But this was not the only whimsy to be had! (Thank God, think those of you who have heard my monk tale and are thinking I should have posted it on Told-me-already Tuesday.)

There were two happily voluptuous ladies chatting over lunch beside full grocery carts, each featuring a giant bag of Skinny Pop popcorn. 

And the woman in line behind me, checking out with a 24-pack of Kleenex, a huge bottle of white wine, and the next book in the Girl With A Dragon Tattoo series. I was going to tease her and say if the breakup was that bad then she should go back for ice cream.  But I didn’t, because I suddenly remembered the cashier at the Container Store who, upon seeing my full-to-the-ceiling cart shrugged and said, “Well…good luck organizing your life.” That was not very whimsical at all. 

Riding in cars with dogs

Sleeping Blanche-y.

Blanche is a car dog. She doesn’t care if we’re going to the park, the vet, or taking a six-hour drive to Connecticut. She jumps right in, waits patiently while I attach her bright red seatbelt harness and then settles down for the journey.

Pierre’s dogs, however, are not similarly adoring of the old fashioned road trip. The first few drives to The Enclave, Pierre drove Thor and Rico in his Jeep. Thor panted heavily for three hours, but he managed to stay quiet. He positioned himself right behind the driver’s seat of the vehicle, so he could breathe hot, moist dog breath into Pierre’s ear and cheek.

Love. This. Face.

Rico, on the other hand, stayed true to his Beagle heritage and shrieked as though he were being murdered. By squirrels. Using grapefruit spoons. (They have that sharp edge. You know – for cutting and scooping the grapefruit? Not the squirrels. The grapefruit spoons.) Work with me people. It was awful. Pierre would pull in the driveway and emerge from the car looking like he himself had been attacked. By squirrels. With grapefruit spoons.

Loud and proud Rico.

Pierre eventually figured out a system that made for a relatively bearable drive.

And it involved my car. And me driving.

Ha! I am only partially kidding.

First, we discovered that Rico likes classical music. He tends to favor piano and violin-heavy orchestral pieces. I know this because when we play music at home, he lies down and acts like he’s eye – all narrowed eyes and goofy smile.

He also seems to enjoy Frank Sinatra. When Ole Blue Eyes is on the radio, Rico’s Aria of the Dead calms down a quiet whine reminiscent of an old tea kettle on a low boil. Which is totally acceptable for driving. Especially if the dog is secured in a cozy kennel in the third row of a large vehicle.

The funny thing is that Rico loves getting in the car. I walk out of the house with him on a leash and he’s beside himself with excitement. But the second his paws touch the floor mats, it’s as though he suddenly remembers. “Oh, right. I do NOT like being in here. Noooooooooooooooooo!”

Thor is the last one I put in the car. He weighs 85 pounds. I weigh…a little bit more than that. But nowhere near enough to wrestle with him. He pops out of the house all ready to go because he thinks we’re on a walk and then…LION!

“Lion” is a patented Thor protest move. It’s a combination of Toddler Noodle (when screaming kids go limp and you can’t pick them up to move them out of the way of the TSA line at the airport/grocery store aisle/other public place where they shouldn’t be screaming) and the Occupy (a maneuver often seen among protesters of nuclear waste/the 1%/Whole Foods running out of pomegranates), which entails sitting on your butt, legs crossed, with all your weight centered on the ground.

Thor sort of sits back so his collar comes off his neck to the point where he’s created a giant lion’s ruff around his face, which is now smooshed up to look like a Shar Pei’s. Then he sways back and forth and backs up. There is no way to get him to move when he pulls a Lion. On my last trip, I foolishly tried to pick him up and carry him to the car myself.

I just ended up covered in dog fur and Thor’s nose in my ear because suddenly he thought we were playing the hugging game.

I finally bribed him with a few treats I threw into the back of the car. He put his paws up on the bumper to see what deliciousness was afoot, and I picked up his butt and shoved him in. From the neighbor’s perspective, it probably looked as though I was wearing a bushy blond wig and trying to cram a bag of groceries in the trunk.

I put in my headphones and started up one of my favorite podcasts and we headed off merrily down the road: one screaming Beagle, a panting Golden Retriever, a nervous Plab (Pitbull/Lab), and Frank Sinatra crooning at high volume. I looked in the rear view mirror to check on Thor and saw his face and one giant paw sticking out of the gate that protects him from getting thrown around the car. “Why are you so FAR AWAY?!!!” he was saying. In dog words. A swaddle of bikers (or is it a bunkus of bikers? a goggle? a zizzle? or none of those, probably) zoomed by us, so terrifying Blanche that she pulled herself, her chest harness, and the seatbelt down onto the floor and then tried to fit into my handbag. And then I hit a small bump and Rico launched into the dog rendition of Mozart’s Queen of the Night.

At that very moment, Pierre texted me:

“How’s it going?”

Bettina Buys a Farm

When I first started house-hunting, I felt a bit like Goldilocks. This house was too small, this was house was too expensive, this house looked like it was inhabited by far more people than are permitted by County Fair Use and Tax Code regulations. I perused nearly 300 houses online and visited maybe 25.

My Realtor, whom I fondly refer to as “Aunt J” is a woman after my own heart (read: Philly girl who doesn’t take any s*&t from anyone). Sample conversations on our tours about town:

Me: What about this one? It looks decent.

Aunt J: NEVER. If I put you in that house, your parents would knee-cap me. It’s too close to the most dangerous street in America/bank that gets robbed twice a week at gunpoint/gas station.

Me: I liked the one we saw this morning.

Aunt J: You’re joking, right? [hits the steering wheel with one palm, smacks forehead with the other]. The water tower was so close to the roof it might as well have been coming out of it.

Me: Yeah, but it’s across the street from the Jewish deli. I can walk to get bagels!

Aunt J: And on your way, you can stop at the auto repair shop next door.

When we finally found the place I eventually purchased, I knew I wanted to live there the moment we walked in the door. Aunt J cast her experienced eye around the property and gave me that secret “Let’s pretend you don’t like it very much so I can negotiate properly for you” eyebrow raise.

I put an offer in about two hours after I walked back out the front door.

I called Pierre to tell him the news:

Me: I bought a house.

Pierre: You what? Since we talked this morning?

Me: Yes. It’s great. You’ll love it.

Pierre: When can I see it? Will I like the area? Will the boys like the neighborhood?

Me: Well, I sort of kind of already bought it.

Pierre: [silence]

Once he got used to the idea that I had purchased a huge family home for all of us in the span of several hours, Pierre peppered me with the key questions any self-respecting Jersey man needs to know:

“Where is the closest Italian restaurant? How many Italian restaurants are within a 5-mile radius? Where I can get espresso? Is it good espresso? How about bagels? We’ve gotta’ have good bagels. You CAN’T GET A GOOD BAGEL IN VIRGINIA TO SAVE YOUR LIFE! WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO MAKE A BAGEL? AND THE PASTA! DON’T GET ME STARTED ABOUT NO PASTA IN VIRGINIA!”

Pierre cuts the birthday cake for Twins 1 and 2 in the new kitchen, which has an espresso machine.

As we headed toward the closing date, Pierre and I realized we had yet to name the new house. Actually, I realized this. Pierre said: “Wiggles [Pierre’s nickname for me]! Get REAL! Who names their HOUSE?!” I started running through ideas, but we couldn’t agree on anything until one evening while we were watching The Last Don. It’s a miniseries based on a Mario Puzo book about the mob.


Tagline: “In this world power isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” It’s a TV mini-series from 1997. It is deliciously, unapologetically melodramatic. Remember the 90’s – before irony, snark and Twitter? Anyway, in the show, the family homestead is called The Enclave. “That’s it!” Pierre said. “We can call it The Enclave!”

And so it was.


I’ve spent the better part of the last two months up here tromping around the backyard ripping down overgrown plants (more on this later), having a fence put up (more on this later), and dragging garden tools and a four-wheel wheelbarrow around with me while wearing Hunter boots (more on this later), and talking to the neighbors about tomato plants (more on this…oh you get the idea).

One early morning as I was listening to the chickens (not mine – there’s a coop on the hill above me and a coop two houses down) and watching the dogs tear around like they were on a racetrack, I got an idea: Three Dog Farm.

Pierre: No.

Me: But we have three dogs! And it’s a farm!

Pierre: It is NOT a farm.

Me: But I sent pictures of the place to my godmother and she said it looked like a farm!

Pierre: [sigh]

Me: She also said we should get a horse.

There’s a dog in my vegetable garden

After a long hiatus, I’ve decided to start writing again. I didn’t “decide” as much as the words finally showed up on my doorstep. At some point last year, my muse took a vacation and left me speechless on a number of levels. I stopped playing the piano, I stopped taking pictures, and I stopped writing.

Last week I cracked open my first book of music in ages and banged out a tune on the piano. And then, tonight, after all this time, I felt like whipping the old blog out, dusting it off and diving back into my hilarious adventures for your reading pleasure.

Where to begin? Well, the first chapter of my reintroduction to the creative universe is called, ‘Bettina Buys a Farm.’ The photo above is of one of the dogs taking up residence in my overgrown vegetable garden, and the video is a Zen moment of summer relaxation wherein the dogs rip around the backyard.

But that’s the next post. I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m going to keep this post short and sweet. I’ll start simply with a “Where Are We Now In the Story” update:

I sold my townhouse in the spring and moved in with my boyfriend, Pierre (not his real name – his real name is Peter, but I want to protect his privacy) and his handsome sons, The Teenager and Twins One and Two. In late June, I became the owner of a bright, happy farm in the country (Pierre says the farm is actually just a “house in the suburbs,” but more on this later) in an entirely different state (3 hours north) so we would have a place closer our families (who all live about ten minutes away from the farm/house). And even more recently, I found a fantastic new job (more on this later, too) that has me working remotely 100% of the time. Oh, and of course I can’t forget the dogs: the mighty Thor – 80 pounds of fuzzy Golden Retriever, Blanche – the insane-o-matic love-bug Pitbull/Lab  mix, and Rico – the ornery Beagle/Lab who just wants to be loved.

And this bundle of fantastic insanity (dogs barking; kids watching movies on their mobile devices) commutes in two vehicles between the houses depending on vacation, holiday, and school schedules. Which makes for all kinds of silliness.

So stay tuned. Because I’m back.

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