Bettina's Studio

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

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.

Children and Pets

Notes from Blanche:

After a hectic Christmas with Hug and Shrug and the gang, mom and I headed north to see her family, which this time included her sister. Mom only had one other person in her litter, another girl, whom I met once before, and she seemed to have a puppy of her own. When we first arrived at her house, a smallish creature opened the front door and promptly screamed and ran away. They wouldn’t let me get near him, which is a shame, because he smelled like hot dogs and peanut butter, and I was certain we could be great friends.

This time when we got to my mom’s parents’ house, the smallish creature was waiting in the window with his nose pressed up against the glass. He didn’t scream, which was good, but he did hide behind a TERRIFYING FENCE OF HORROR that made dreadful noises every time somebody moved it. He had matured, and he seemed more appreciative of me as a possible future companion. We exchanged several meaningful looks across the top of the TERRIFYING FENCE OF HORROR. I also noticed his scent has mellowed nicely in the yogurt-banana direction, with a soupçon of graham cracker.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized there was another small creature in the house. I didn’t see him as much as I heard him. The screams were terrifying. Like someone was possibly eating someone else’s head. Mom turned on a light in our room to check on the commotion – also to drag me out from under the bed, where I was hiding. When she opened the door to peek out, I saw him. At first I couldn’t believe that single wall of sound was coming from one animal. He turned and looked me right in the eye. Then he ripped the chew toy he was sucking on out of his mouth, threw it across the room and gave another yell.

He looks like a cross between a bear and a Great Mastiff, but compact. Like maybe if a pug ate Godzilla. That kind of strength. Like Hercules. Which is what I decided must be his name anyway. He has Popeye arms and he walks on all fours, just like me. But in a far less efficient manner. He travels back and forth like a sailboat. Like if Vikings built a sailboat. And then sailed it.

The taller one, whom I now understand manipulates the adults using charm (not the raw power of his younger sibling), did not seem to like being left out of the morning’s discussion. He also offered his own shouting to the day. Wait, did I say “morning” and “day?” I apologize. It was still too early for the sun at this point.

My mom’s eyes were narrowed into slits. She looked a little like the mole I found in the woods, but without the overbite. Her sister said “Merry Christmas!” really nicely, but it was in the voice mom uses when I have something I shouldn’t in my mouth. Like a nail. Or her toothbrush.

Mom tried to go back to sleep, but after she turned the lights off, put her earphones in and pulled the comforter up around her face, I remembered I had to poop. So we got to see the sun come up after all!

We Do Not Fund Research

CIMG2151In this very silly photo of me and my friend-since-forever-and-ever, Summer, I did not know. It was July 4th weekend, 2006, and just three months prior, I started to feel a tiny spasm in my right hand – between my thumb and my forefinger.

In the image I’ve posted of me and my mom at the beach, I did not know. It was Christmas of the same year, 2006.

About two weeks after that photograph was taken, my parents came to visit me in Washington, DC. My mom and I got up before dawn and took a taxi to the National Institutes of Health, where I underwent a four-hour series of tests. Some silly, some humiliating, some just annoying.

And then a doctor – a woman who couldn’t have been much older than I was at the time, 34 years old – sat me down in a tiny little room, gave a funny little sigh and said, “Well, it looks like you have Parkinson’s.”

Just like that.

I am approaching my eight-year “anniversary” with this disease, and I’ve been actively fundraising this entire time, to support research and treatments that will make my Parkinson’s easier to manage.

What I have realized is that however important the research and “cure” (I say it with air quotes because I don’t see it as a real possibility in my lifetime) for Parkinson’s are, so is managing the day-to-day of this disease.

That’s how I got involved with the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area. Yes, it’s a mouthful – and if I use its acronym, PFNCA, not many people know what I’m talking about. But those who do, know how vital it is to their lives and to their every day functionality.

The money I am trying to raise – through the sale of my photographs – stays local. It helps people in the so-called National Capital Area (Maryland, DC, and Virginia) manage their Parkinson’s by providing dance classes, exercise classes, speech classes, and support groups….at NO CHARGE. Free to attend, free to participate, free to get the support they need when they’re paying so much for medication, treatment, doctors, diet, you name it.

I’ll continue to do the Unity Walk in Central Park each year, because the money I raise for that organization goes to supporting the big guns – Michael J. Fox Foundation, National Parkinson Foundation, etc. We need that research. We need better treatment. We need a cure.

But on a daily basis? I feel compelled to help the PFNCA. If I sell enough of my photographs to support a $100 contribution, that means 10 people can take a dance class at no cost to them. If I can shell out $200, maybe we can spring for another support group in an area we haven’t covered yet.

Life before the pictures attached to this post doesn’t really exist anymore. But the rich life I’ve lived since is because of the people who have supported me every day, whether grim or glorious. Everybody deserves that kind of community – Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers alike. Until a cure comes along, that community is better than any medicine!

(Okay, not any medicine, but most medicine. Especially the stuff I take. And no side effects from free dance classes! Except you feel more limber. And maybe you can touch your toes. You might freeze in that position, but you’re finally touching them!)

My Mom’s iPhone

I realized as I wrote the title to this blog post that “I got my mom an iPhone” sounds like the start of a really good country song…because so much could go wrong.

Mom and dad live in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It’s the kind of quaint town where you expect to see Julia Roberts riding her bicycle down the street while a quaint piano-based theme song plays in the background. My mom grew up there. Her father was the town librarian – there’s even a plaque with his name on it in the reference room! (For you kids reading this – a library is a building that has books – the kind that have paper pages with words on them.) My mom is an active member and fundraiser for the library and is the brains behind the Bookworm Ball – an annual themed event that raises money to keep the library alive and thriving.

This is a town where people go to the library to use the computers and the internet because they do NOT HAVE THEIR OWN COMPUTERS AT HOME. Breathe deeply – I know. I didn’t believe it either at first. Some of these folks still have phones that are physically attached to their houses! It’s called a “land line.” It doesn’t do anything other than act like a phone. And the # sign on the keypad means “pound,” not hashtag, as in #hashtag #pound.

Sorry – getting a little meta there.

It is into this environment that I am introducing the iPhone. Not just any iPhone. The iPhone 6. The large one. The one that looks like you’re talking into a piece of toast when you hold it up to your face. Speaking of which, the last time I called my mom on FaceTime, I spoke to her cheek the entire time because she couldn’t get the hang of talking to my face. Or maybe she couldn’t hear me. I’m not sure which. Also, I shouldn’t make fun of her because I’m the one who never figured out how to snorkel because being able to see clearly underwater and breathe at the same time were too confusing to do together.

My mom isn’t a total technology rube. She simply becomes incredibly angry when technology doesn’t support her goals to get things done in a simple manner. It is a shocking thing to see my polite and graceful mom begin to spew profanities the likes of which have not been heard since sailing vessels first crossed the equator, when she encounters a problem with the internet. Or Google. Or Microsoft Word. Or email.

I’m also slightly concerned that her new iPhone 6 will become a target of gossip in Old Lyme. I get the feeling that anyone who has even as much as a flip phone is referred to in hushed tones as a communist or a lesbian. And although mom vehemently denies it, I believe she spearheaded the movement last year to evict a member of the library board because that person purchased a Kindle. She does, after all, volunteer in the “Book Seller” – a real cellar (get it? Play on words! Those punny librarians!) from which a group of townsfolk sell used books. I bet they also store their pitchforks and the bodies of AT&T and Verizon Wireless salespeople there too. Cricket Wireless seems to have gone unscathed – but only because the locals think it’s a bug conservancy organization.


I deliver the new iPhone to my mom on Thanksgiving, when the family gathers at my sister’s house. My father will have his new phone as well – I ordered him some giant flat piece of electronic toast as well, though it’s not of the “i” variety. I’ll be interested to see what he’s done with his piece of technology.

As for mom, I can’t wait to start loading all kinds of apps on her new iPhone. Then I can go home and wait for her lovely face to appear on my phone when she calls to ask me: “What IS this APP?! The phone keeps asking me for my APPLE ID! WHAT IS THAT? Can you hear me? I don’t like how I look on the screen. Can you fix that?”

(Love ya’ mom!!!)


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