a field trip with Phoebe

I found this quote a few weeks ago and it made me curious…

Ever wonder where you’d end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash? ~Robert Brault

Living in a city neighborhood this is a practical impossiblity. Too much traffic, too many other dogs, and lots of little kids. Let’s face it, my dog’s size can be intimidating. What if I could try this somewhere else? Somewhere less crowded during this time of year.

Phoebe loves the car! Whenever we begin our walk to the park she always stops by the car…just in case. She gives it a smell, looks at me, then looks back at the car, and we march on. Imagine her surprise when I opened the car door! Without a moments hesitation she stepped right in and sat down. Today we were taking a field trip, a field trip to the Evanston lakeshore.

For the half hour drive to the lake, Phoebe happily propped her head out the window, jowls flapping in the breeze. As we arrived, parked the car and made our way to the beach, once again, she sat. She seemed to need a moment to look at and take in all of the open space. Little did she know I was not going to pull back on the leash. Today she would walk me. Since she was a puppy, Phoebe has loved sand, water and open space. I could tell she was pleased with our destination! She finally stood up, put her nose to the sand and we were off.

We moved back and forth, over here and over there, around in a circle until we stood close enough to the lapping water. Phoebe froze – looking, smelling, listening and then she began to slowly tiptoe in. I was surprised because the water at the lake is still very cold. She managed to walk in up to her belly.

imageAs I continued to follow her lead, there were many sights that caught our attention – another dog running along the beach, some artwork in the sand, an opening in some boulders along the shore and the big watermelon boat already out for the summer. We spent many long pauses because Phoebe likes to study things.
I was happy in my choice of footwear for this guided walk. It turned out to be the perfect day to wear a pair of boots, because our hike took us through water, sand, grass, crushed gravel, cement, and atop some small boulders.

The natural path along the Evanston Lakeshore leads north to Northwestern University’s Campus. There has been a lot of construction on the campus for the last three years, closing parts of this path. I was happy to see the path reopened. There are two new buildings and a sailing center at the south end of campus overlooking Lake Michigan. They are all beautiful and seem to complement the lakescape. At the end of the walkway, looking to the south – a great view of the Chicago skyline. We continued to the north end of campus and the soccer field, Phoebe paused once when she could hear a flute by the Music building.

When it was time to turn around, we walked back through the open grassy field that runs along the lakeshore. As luck would have it the clouds began to break and the sun came out! We moved in a southward zigzag pattern, from smell to smell. I was still letting her guide us in a roaming kind of walk.  As we approached the car, Phoebe seemed happy to reach a familiar destination. I poured out some water and she had a nice long drink!

What a great 4 mile walk! What an awesome walking partner! I had a lot of fun letting Phoebe walk me for a change.image


i’ll be there for you…

IMG_2661This is Phoebe.

Phoebe is my ultra quirky, one hundred and twenty pound majestic Saint Bernard. She is three years old, and still has the mind of a puppy. She and I walk at least a couple of times a day.

Walks are never boring with Phoebe. They are slow, ‘in the moment’ and sometimes very unpredictable. Did I mention she was quirky? Oh yeah, I did. Well, here’s an example of what I mean by that…when most dogs see another dog they quicken their pace to try to get to it, to say hello or socialize as dogs do. Not Phoebe. When Phoebe sees another dog she mechanically goes into “sit” mode and I can’t move her, budge her, coerce her, or divert her incredibly powerful focus. She becomes the most stubborn Saint Bernard on the planet and she’s not moving. With her laser beam eyes glued to the ever approaching target, and her mountainous strength firmly planted, we wait. We watch and we wait.

The other dog owners think I have this precisely trained, oh so polite, well disciplined animal. Nope. She came this way and I guess I shouldn’t complain because there are far worse habits – sometimes. Every once in awhile we come across the unfamiliar owner and dog. What this means is…the on-coming dog doesn’t always think she is mindful and mannerly. I guess in dog world (like everywhere else), there are those culturally diverse canines who interpret her stately and dignified posture as an intimidating challenge. This is when we have problems – (strained biceps tendinitis problems for me)  and awkward “what emotion am I supposed to have right now” for her, as I try to hold her and her crushed feelings back when the dog she has patiently waited for –  goes into attack mode. Amid the commotion, the embarrassed Mom in me comes out as I apologetically try to explain her behavior to the frightened owner. I know she meant well, only wants to “meet” a new friend, she just can’t help or doesn’t have a concept of her monumental size.


All that to say… I am very grateful this week because… my big, beautiful Saint Bernard has a new friend. Her name is Peaches. Peaches is a tiny, fur ball of hyperkinetic energy who loves Phoebe and never goes into attack mode as Phoebe sits and waits for Peaches to come by and say hello! Once Peaches arrives, she looks up at Phoebe’s grand, noble head as if to say “whoa!”


This causes my highly sensitive and sweet Phoebe to lay down, as they greet on common ground nose to nose. Here, in this moment, I am a super proud Saint Bernard Mom.

Inevitably, Peaches will use Phoebe’s head as a glorious jungle gym, and Phoebe won’t mind one bit. Peaches will jump onto and climb over Phoebe’s awe inspiring head, all the while wagging her tail in absolute celebration of her new best friend! I am happy, Phoebe is happy and Peaches seems to be the most happy little puppy in all the neighborhood! Cue Friends music!


a fall haiku – from a walk with Nellie

foot leaf


  On the dull hardscape
 big dog halts before beauty-
fall magnificence!

walking the dog, sexy and the stones

As everyone in my neighborhood can probably guess, I love to walk my big Saint Bernard, Phoebe.

I found this very early video of the Rolling Stones. It is adorable. Only Mick could sing about dog walking and make it sexy! Have a look and enjoy…


Now, if you don’t own a dog, you might just wanna go get one. Maybe you can borrow one, just to get yourself outside. For those of us owners…a little bit of inspiration for that walk. You never know who or what you’ll see!


Walking the dog
I’m just a walking the dog
If you don’t know how to do it
I’ll show you how to walk the dog
C’mon now c’mon

Read more: Rolling Stones – Walking The Dog Lyrics | MetroLyrics


It’s seems as though it’s been snowing straight for a week.

Chicago is silently, stealthily getting buried under feet of snow. Tomorrow…the big chill comes with temperatures “the big windy” hasn’t seen in 20 years. They say the daytime high will be something close to -6 with a windchill of -13. Brrrr. People are heeding the weather advisories by sheltering in place –  with netflix binge-ing and crocks of comfort food. Yay! We can stay in our pajamas all day long. There is no better excuse.

But what about the walking? What about the habit?

Some of us… have one of these…

Let's go

and this Saint Bernard will beg, snuggle, sit on me, whatever it takes..with a look of “let’s go Mom, we really need to get out for a walk.” She absolutely loves the winter and totally transfers that joy to me. There is no way I can deny her a walk, and when I think about it, I realize she gets me going and out the door. Even when it means I may spend a half hour putting on boots, scarves, mittens and snow pants over my “lounging around the house clothes”, I do it. Isn’t it funny…dogs train us to their habits. They just think “walk”. There is no interference thinking like “it’s too cold, it’s too snowy, what will I wear? I’m too tired right now etc.”

While my dog helps me on most days, there are some days I really need more motivation to keep up my habit.

Recently, I came across an interesting blog – What happens to our brains when we exercise and why it makes us happier.  The science to support what is chemically happening within our brains and why it is so important to try and create a pattern of exercise can be incentive enough for me. Within the post were some very good tips about how to get into a consistent exercise habit. I found these tips prompted me to make a plan so that I would look forward to walking. Staying in a positive mindset meant I didn’t have to spend extra time and energy doing battle with negative thoughts.

Laying out my workout clothes the night before, logging my progress (which is what I do on dailymile), and starting out small – very small, has helped me move through these past few months. I would also add (because I’m a former teacher, of course) it helps to have a goal in mind. To get going on this, I found an awesome link to a template for making a habit. (oops! teacher in me – again.) Since I am a visual learner, there is no doubt visuals help keep me focused, plus, it doesn’t hurt when the template is humorous and good for a laugh.

So, with all of this in mind, I’m out for a walk – on this frigid, snowy, blowy Chicago day.

So  true!


On occasion my walk takes place at dawn with my dog – and in the morning stillness it’s brand new.

This morning I shared a walk in the park with Phoebe my young Saint Bernard. Trying to be present in the moment, I focused on her and was absorbed by what she engaged with on our walk. There was frost on the grass- some of the first of the season, and she was happy. She had a smile on her face from ear to ear as she looked at me then broke out into a galloping run, circling around me at the end of the radius of her leash. When she finally stopped after about 4 laps, panting and happy, her breathe came out on the air in little puffs. She then dove into the frosty grass and wiggled around on her back for quite a few seconds. Her reverie ended with her righting herself up and into a standing position, giving a good shake of her lanky body and then looking at me with happy eyes as if to say “thanks Mom, we can go now.”

As we continued through the park the sky began to lighten and fill with various shades of purple and orange color. There was a wind whipping around and through the trees, yellow and red leaves were snowing down upon us. In between smells, Phoebe would look up, catch site of a swirling leaf and chase it, pawing the leaf when it landed as if she were a cat coaxing it to move again. Together, we walked for about a mile and  for me, seeing the morning through Phoebe’s eyes was so simple and happy and beautiful I never wanted this dawn to end.

No matter how many times I walk through this park it is never the same for me.