“It was like being hit over the head with a baseball bat: This is what you’re going to do,” says Alice Mayn. Naturally this staggering epiphany came when she least expected it. “I had retired. I was living in a house that I had remodeled and was going to live in the rest of my life. My young grandchildren were right down the road from me. I was never going to move again. Then Lily comes into my life.”
Lily just wanted a little peace and comfort in her old age (don’t we all?). Instead, she was found wandering the streets of Santa Rosa, California with no place to call home. As a golden retriever, Lily couldn’t share details of her backstory, but she had a host of pesky health problems that suggested she’d been alone for a while. She went to a shelter but was still at risk; sadly, senior dogs are often the first casualties of an overburdened system. When Alice fell for Lily’s sweet charm and took her home, no doubt the dog could hardly believe her luck.
Lily enjoyed four contented months before succumbing to a fatal blood disorder. But according to Alice, Lily’s work wasn’t finished. “She had an agenda for me.” That agenda — Alice’s new mission in life — was establishing a sanctuary for other hard-to adopt, at-risk, large, senior dogs. Fifteen years later, thanks to generous donors and a team of 75 selfless volunteers, Lily’s Legacy sits on a five-acre ranch with room to run, a canine swimming pool, and a barn where old dogs get a daily cuddle, letting them know they are not forgotten, marginalized, or invisible. They are loved.
I was in Seville when I first read about this “Cuddle Club” just before Christmas of 2019. When I realized it was located in Petaluma, just half an hour from our cottage in California, I printed their flier and gave it to Rich, with the words “We are doing this!” scrawled across the top. But before we could act on the plan, the world was upended by the pandemic. It wasn’t until last Sunday — three and a half years later — that we finally made it to Lily’s, sat on those comfy sofas, and scratched some of those sweet old dogs behind the ears.
They are all great dogs, carefully vetted to make sure their personalities and temperaments will mesh comfortably with the rest of the pack. There are typically ten to twelve dogs in residence and a few fostered; all are larger animals (50+ pounds) older than 7 years. After some vet care and TLC, around 85% of them get adopted to a “furever” home, and the rest live out their days at Lily’s. Alice’s mission keeps expanding; she launched Saving Senior Dogs Week USA and the Lifetime Care Program that guarantees your dog will have a home at Lily’s after your demise. I know, estate planning for dogs; who knew?
I explained to Alice this visit marked the final chapter in this summer’s Nutters’ Tour of California. “I don’t mean to imply you’re a nutter,” I added hastily. “Rich and I are very clear that we’re the nutters, exploring the world in our own eccentric way.”
She laughed. “Oh, I’m a nutter all right.” Glancing around her office, filled with dog beds, canine memorabilia, and the large, lovable Uni, she grinned. It was clear she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rich and I are leaving California next week, and my view of life here is already taking on a warm, nostalgic glow. Rich keeps reminding me of all the stuff I won’t miss. The chaos caused by two water main breaks this month, causing flooding and endless repairs on our street. The recent energy blackouts disrupting our lives. The neighborhood firebug who has twice started towering blazes in the middle of the night on a property adjacent to ours.
Well, yes, there’s all of that. But most of the time it’s been a great, fun-filled summer. I’ll miss our CA companions — human, furred, and feathered.
Every morning Rich and I sit in the garden and have breakfast with the birds. They are messy eaters, and we keep a birdbath underneath the feeder to catch the inevitable spilled sunflower seeds. This spring, the squirrel we call Peanut discovered this treasure trove of easy eats, and for months he’s been gorging himself. In fact, he’s grown so stout I began worrying about his mobility and his cholesterol. When he disappeared for a while, I wondered if he was off having his stomach stapled or visiting a health spa, but he recently returned, hefty as ever, to resume his favorite position.
When I told my sister-in-law we were glad he’d come to no harm, she gave me an incredulous look. “You’re feeling nostalgic about Peanut?” she asked. “Squirrels are just rats with better PR.”
“I won’t tell him you said that,” I replied.
Right now my main preoccupation is packing for the five-week Nutters’ Tour of Sicily we're taking before returning to Seville. Rich has devoted the last month researching ever-smaller suitcases. As a packing minimalist, his preference would be to hop on every plane or train carrying nothing but a toothbrush and a passport.
Rich is not the only one with a “less is more” attitude toward luggage these days. To promote more sustainable travel, Japan Airlines is testing a clothing-sharing program called “Any Wear, Anywhere.” You pack the bare necessities and find pre-worn (but clean!) rental clothing waiting at your hotel. European ski resorts are pioneering similar programs. To be honest, I’m having a hard time warming to the idea. Will these rented clothes fit comfortably, let alone express my personality and tastes? Somehow I doubt it.
As we’re not heading to Japan or an Alpine ski lodge, we couldn't rent a travel wardrobe even if we wanted to. So two weeks ago we bought trim new four-wheel suitcases, just 22 x 14 x 9 inches. I’m happy to report I’ve done a successful test pack, fitting in everything shown below.
(I always get questions about brands and details, so I’ve linked to some new discoveries for those who are interested. As my regular readers know, there are no paid promotions on this blog.)
My Minimalist Packing List for Sicily
Suitcase: 4.6 pounds, 22 x 14 x 9 inches
Featherweight travel vest
2 pairs trousers
2 short-sleeved t-shirts
1 sleeveless t-shirt
Button-down no-iron dress shirt
Light rain jacket, detachable hood
Yoga pants for PJs and exercise
Socks & underwear
Meanwhile, I’m busy researching Sicily. My friends, this is one nutty island.
Rich was ecstatic to learn they serve ice cream with brioche for breakfast. I’m fine with the ice cream but a bit worried about the brioche. Turns out the Sicilians say, “If you drop even a single crumb, there is a place reserved in purgatory where you are doomed to pick up breadcrumbs with your eyelashes for hundreds of years.” Yikes! Here’s hoping I don’t find myself in God’s doghouse, collecting crumbs for eternity.
“Buckle up,” I told Rich. “It’s going to be a wild ride.”
I'll be On the Road, So No Posts for a Week or Two
After that, my schedule may be erratic, by I promise to keep you informed of all the oddball things I find Palermo and the rest of Sicily.
JUST JOINING US? THE NUTTERS' WORLD TOUR SO FAR
SUMMER 2023: THE NUTTERS' TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
At Last! We Finally Visit the Cuddle Barn (Senior Dog Rescue)
The Accordion Is Hip Again. Yes, It Is! (Cotati)
Boonville: A Town So Remote It Has Its Own Language (Anderson Valley)
Can't Stop the Madness, But Let's Slow It Down a Bit (Thrift Shops)
It's Only a Movie. Or Is It? (Bodega Bay)
Why I Spray-Painted My Shoes (Theme Weddings)
Please, Please, Please Don't Ask Me to Sing Karaoke (San Anselmo)
Keeping It Strange & Wonderful for Future Generations (Fairfax Festival)
Why Isn't Anyone Banning My Books? (Alameda)
When Pigs Fly (Yes, They Can!) (Sacramento Pig Races)
Do You Believe in Magic? (Macabre Market)
My Close Encounter with the Skeptic Society (Outer Space)
The Nutters' Guide to Modern Comfort Food (My Kitchen)
Relationships: Do Humans Stand a Ghost of a Chance? (Hangtown)
For Nutters, There's No Place Like California (Petaluma Chicken & Egg Day)
Can Artificial Intelligence Help Me Plan the Next Nutters Tour?
SPRING 2023: THE NUTTERS' TOUR OF SPAIN
Spain Never Runs Out of Offbeat Curiosities (Zaragoza, Barcelona, Tarragona)
I Travel Deep into the Heart of Nuttiness (Palencia & Pamplona)
Road Warriors: Let the Good Times Roar (Léon & Oviedo)
Travel Alert: You Can't Always Get What You Want... (Madrid & Burgos)
Gobsmacked at Every Turn but Embracing the Chaos (Jaén & Valdepeñas)
All Aboard for the Nutters Tour of Spain (Packing & Organizing)
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. Right now I'm on a Nutters' World Tour seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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