Luna is my co-pilot

I must confess I’ve always been envious of people whose big dog is hanging its head out a car window with the happy face on and ears blowing in the wind.

Luna rocks her purple harness.

And, equally truthful, I really have no idea how to train a dog to be THAT dog riding in a car, going to Home Depot, doggy daycare or who-knows-where.

There are You Tube videos that offer pointers, but I haven’t watched them.

We didn’t try very hard with the Bichons. They were anxious about so many things. And, what did we know? They rode in crates, they rode on laps. They whined (but didn’t dine) and shook on many drives to the beach. The lap dogs were never going to be the happy face in the breeze.
But what we are learning from Luna is that sometimes you just have to jump into things, like a swimming pool for the first time.

I have learned to utilize her purple harness so that her leash wraps around the headrest and reattaches to the harness with a carabineer. Luna has enough room to put paws on the window, paws on the middle console/my arm or lie down, but in a sudden stop she would never leave the seat to hit the dashboard.

So we took the plunge and drove together. First it was to McDonalds from where our daughter faithfully gets lunch every Saturday and Sunday. A bit nervous at first, Luna was easily distracted by string cheese, a trick we learned from Chris the Trainer from Lucid.

Luna, I guess this is training.

Luna gets her first open window rush.

Then I drove her to Home Depot where we wandered around looking for a spray cleaner. And she was so VERY good on leash, rocking the purple harness.
We have taken a half dozen drives together so far. She’s gone with me to the pet store where we have wandered the aisles smelling bags of food, peoples shoes and (hoping to eat, I mean greet) kittens up for adoption.

Now I’m looking for any excuse to drive somewhere with her. Ultimately, we want to take her to the beach, but that’s a two-hour drive she may not ready to take just yet.

The co-pilot to become a Sea Dog?

How did you train your dog to ride in the car? Click here to write to Scott Wolff. I will update this blog as I receive your comments.

Let’s sit

I will sit for bacon!

We wanted a Cockapoo in part because our research indicated they are pretty smart dogs. Luna has already proven she’s got the potential to be on puppy honor roll.

Steering out-of-control puppy behavior has been a priority from day one, based on life with Bichons. Knowing one’s name, potty training, nipping at George the-Old-Man-Bichon or now chewing on shoes have been our initial training efforts.

Pre-puppy, we pre-ordered treats and bought a cool teat bag on a belt so we’d be ready when she arrived. The treats were a bust — except for Amazon (these treats went home with friends for their pit bull.)

Leftover crumbled bacon was a hit. Within 24 hours of homecoming, she started turning her head when we called “Luna.” We worked on both name recognition and “sit” at the same time. Half the time we call her she automatically sits.

Smarty pants now knows there are treats in the bag; she also almost immediately sits when the bag goes on my waist, hoping it’s training time.

Training goes something like this:

(High-pitched baby voice) “Luna? Luna? LUNA!”

She investigates; George wanders over, stands right next to us.

“Sit Luna. Sit Luna. GOOD GIRL”

(Regular voice) George: “Breathe. GOOD BOY.”

I think we have conquered a few easy tricks. We’re trying to get her to sit and hand out her paw to shake. Our daughter is trying to get her to stand and to spin.

We thought we had potty training nailed, but she’s nailed a particular rug a few times when we weren’t supervising closely; we will have to go back to treats plus praise when she makes the big deposit at the Bank of Grass where she has an account.

Sometimes, sending her to a finishing school isn’t such a bad idea.

Ready! Set! Go!

This blog is part of a series about our first year with a Cockapoo named “La Signorina Lunetta di Excellence” (AKA “Luna”). Go to to read my blogs.

Getting ready for a new family member can be hard.

Getting ready for a puppy might be even harder.

Will I be a good puppy parent? What will this dog’s personality be like? Will this dog fit in with our family?

Not for lack of preparation: a dozen or so toys, crates, Blue Mountain puppy food and treats delivered weeks ago, color coordinated harness and leash, treat bag for the humans and even an Oregon State University shirt. But there’s more to get on the list.

And then there’s much studying: We found Zak George training videos and now subscribe and watch often, along with reading his book. Grooming videos remind us of our intent 10 years ago to groom our two bichons; buying the tools (and getting a message from the online store congratulating the start of our grooming business.)

Fifteen years ago, Lily the Bichon arrived, much like Luna will, in a crate on a plane from the Midwest. My first dog. I had never lived with a dog, knew nothing about taking care of one, raising one, taking care of one. Somehow, through the frustrations and confusion, Lily was The Dog my wife and I had hoped she would be: playful, trainable and a companion to our daughters. Eventually, she would spend eight plus years sleeping every night with one girl, then the other.

Not unlike “Hatchi,” a dog that waited for its diseased master every day at a train station, I’m hopeful that Lily will be there every day watching over us, guiding us to be good puppy parents.

Our other four-legged family members won’t be prepared, but will adapt: George, our 14-year, old-man Bichon, and CoCo, our bombastic black Bombay cat. George spends most of his days relaxing in his crate by choice. CoCo was a rescue cat and was socialized with big dogs; she thinks she’s a dog anyway and has never hesitated to casually slap George or Lily when CoCo felt they needed to be put into their place in the pecking order. (I call it her “whack-a-poodle” game.)

Luna will not be Lily. She will not be George or CoCo (CoCo is smiling at this.)  Luna will be a new adventure and, based on the pictures and video from the breeder, we love her already (OK, not so much CoCo.)

Homecoming is June 15.

Dad: an essay

The following is a eulogy for Bernard Wolff (1926-2016) read by Scott Wolff at the Celebration of Life gathering Sunday, April 10, 2016, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College.

WOLFF Essays cover 103 x 150pxAs an introduction, Dad discovered while living at the coast that he could offer a programing suggestion to a local radio station; his suggestion was a joke segment. So the producer asked him to tell a joke on the spot. He told about two sons who were contemplating their responsibility, sooner or later, for planning their mother’s funeral, including what to do with her remains. So when the time seemed right, they asked whether she would want to be buried or cremated. Smiling at her sons, the mother replied, “Surprise me.”

Dad surprised me and other family members about 7-8 years ago when he started sending short essays he was writing about his life’s experiences—sometimes one essay at a time, sometimes several—over the course of 3 or 4 years. I was able to compile many of these essays into a book (click here to read it), which I was able to present to him several years ago. Click on the book cover to read an online version of the entire book at your leisure and from which I’m quoting here.

It’s in one of his essays that he describes his Sacred Places, which was inspired by a sermon he had heard at the Portland Unitarian Church in 2009. He wrote that “sacred is not necessarily God-related. Sacred may refer to something one feels at a different time usually related to a person, place or thing. It may elicit positive memories or emotions, or maybe it’s just a feeling you have.”

Today I’d like to change around Sacred Places to become Dad’s Sacred Traits. Three traits out of the many I could choose are the ones most relevant to me: Family, Education and Service.


Regarding family, Dad quoted from a Unitarian sermon that “you have to have people in your life who care about you and prepare you, as much as possible for today, tomorrow and the future.” Dad went on to write for himself “I believe one shows his or her love by the way that individual behaves, such as care giving to friends and loved ones.”

He was not only devoted to his own family, but also to family around us, often in a caretaking role. In college he dutifully came home from Oregon State to wax the floors for his mother. He would later look after his parents together and separately as their health faded.

He was both devoted to and a caretaker for my mother, who as a young mother fought and overcame polio. They would endure countless medical adventures during her bout with cancer, which would eventually take her life. In between those downtimes — and despite them — were many joys: camping and later owning property on the Wind River in Washington; two active sons; yoga and meditation retreats together; a beach house near Lincoln City.

At a point when both his personal and professional lives were in turmoil, Dad found new directions, first meeting and marrying Carol, then retiring from Lewis & Clark to devote his considerable professional talents back in the elementary classroom. He and Carol would have their own 30 years of experiences.

Dad’s family grew with the addition of Carol’s three grown daughters and Carol’s mother Becky. He was devoted to her comfort, including her on trips to the beach and moving her to live next door in an adjoining SE Portland duplex until her passing. Dad also helped care for Carol’s middle daughter Rebecca, whose life was altered by an automobile accident in Idaho. He and Carol spent weeks in Idaho during her convalescence and then watched over her during the years she lived independently in Portland-area assisted living situations until her passing two years ago.

Besides the devotion and caretaking, there were also many skills and lessons he taught me directly as a father, but there were many other traits and attitudes that I observed that perhaps have served me as well or better.

He instilled in me this creative sense to think outside the box—before there was even a box to consider. He built a playhouse—more like a shed—in our back yard and covered it with aluminum offset printing press sheets recycled by our neighbor. It could have been disguised as an Airstream trailer. And, rather than using cardboard from a box, he fashioned a real shield for me for a Knights of the Roundtable theme at Cub Scouts meeting using another aluminum sheet —including on it a family-crest stencil he created—nothing else at the event came close. Rather than just digging a hole in the forest, he built a pre-fab outhouse at home for the Wind River property, fashioning it after the forest service variety in shape and color.  I can’t go forward with a graphic design or remodeling project without considering the extreme options.

He helped me overcome awkward social situations. My wife Concetta and I debate whether Dad was an introvert or extrovert. What I do know is that he could walk into a room of strangers and introduce himself to everyone before the start of a meeting. As a result, while growing up, he would see someone he knew nearly every time we were at a restaurant. I don’t know if it came to him naturally or it was learned, but I remember thinking in high school at an event that I could do it too—wow, it really caught people off guard in a positive way—I was hooked. It’s still not natural for me, but I invoke him before networking events as part of my marketing profession.

He also taught me that it isn’t enough to work hard and enjoy one’s time off. The community needs our help and skills, and so he served others.

I have no doubt that he sincerely loved me – and I loved him.


About education, Dad wrote that teaching is ‘increasing the probability that learning will take place.’

Dad mentioned to me that one of his many motivations for a career in education came from a Montavilla Methodist pastor who had observed Dad teaching Sunday school there while he was in high school, telling him how well he worked with the younger children.

Dad’s path to a career in education would not be a straight one. Graduating from OSU with a Zoology degree, he instead leveraged his years working at Sheridan Fruit to start a box business with a co-worker, only to be drafted six months later at the start of the Korean War. (Similarly, his father too had started a business by purchasing a pharmacy in Multnomah Village in the early 1920s, but was forced to sell a short time later to move to his family to Colorado to mitigate my grandmother’s tuberculosis.)

He was proud to know there are 3 more OSU Beavers in the family— granddaughters Erin and Leslie who are Chris’ daughters as well as my daughter Allegra.

Following Dad’s 2 years – and one day – in the army, he and Sara Lee, now his wife, moved to Portland in 1952 where he could pursue a short program at Portland State College—which had previously been Vanport College—to earn a teaching certificate. They moved to Newport for his first teaching position in Toledo, and to begin a family with the arrival of my brother Chris. Once again, the career path was interrupted by Sara Lee’s contraction of polio, forcing the three to Portland for her care.

Limited teaching jobs filled the void until he accepted a full time teaching position at Forest Hills Elementary in Lake Oswego, proudly one of the first male teachers leading a primary class and breaking a different kind of glass ceiling. He was hired in 1962 by Lewis & Clark for a 25-year adventure, not without its bumps along the way.

“I believe you have to take some risks in challenging authority without knowing what the costs may be,” he wrote. This is certainly true when he joined faculty members in their vote of no confidence of the president of this institution, who would later be dismissed by the Board.

He managed to teach and increasingly take care of not only his parents, but also Sara Lee as she developed cancer and later passed away in 1982, the year I graduated from Lewis & Clark. He would be proud to know that my daughter Ariana is interested in becoming the third generation Wolff at Lewis & Clark.


About service, Dad wrote, “I believe that having a community to be with that has a spiritual focus and a community outreach is essential to support one on his or her spiritual journey.” I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t going off to a board meeting, to volunteer, or to remind church members to bring food items for FISH Emergency Service.

Service was spiritual, perhaps the most outward sign of his devotion to God through his gifts of his time and talents. It was certainly more telling than any commitment to an organized church, which he thought stifled spiritual growth; however at one time or another he was a member of or attended Montavilla Methodist Church in SE Portland; St. John’s Episcopal Church in Toledo, Oregon; First United Methodist here in Portland; Koinonia House at Portland State University; Tillamook United Methodist; and, First Unitarian Church here in Portland.

Chris and I joined him occasionally when he volunteered; I would spend a summer internship at FISH, sponsored by First United Methodist and inspired by his service there. I’ve tried to continue his example with my own daughters by serving the homeless downtown.

A few of the many organizations he served included: The Everett Street Drop-in Center in Old Town where he would spend an entire night socializing and serving coffee at the shelter, the aforementioned FISH Emergency Service where he was not only a board member, but periodically served on Saturday afternoons handing out emergency food rations. He served on committees with the Oregon Education Association and the National Education Association, gleefully breaking tradition to join a national education sorority; when required to introduce himself and describe a unique attribute at his first meeting, he told the audience he was a father. He served the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League. His volunteering at Arleta Elementary in Portland turned into a part-time classroom aid position where he would write grants to fund computer equipment and teacher development. He and my mother served on numerous First United Methodist Church committees; together and separately they taught many Sunday school classes throughout his life. My wife groans when she thinks of him leading my sixth grade sex-education class at the church. Later he volunteered overseas, traveling with Carol to a halfway house in Cork, Ireland, a Habitat for Humanity project in New Zealand, and to a school in Costa Rica.

I like to think that Dad’s many gifts of family, education and service were used wisely and for others, returning those gifts with increase.

I close with this: the following is a modified version of a tribute to Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, a martyred priest in El Salvador. Dad might be appalled that I invoked the Catholic Church at his memorial, but the words speak to me about the life we live and the one lived by Dad.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Thank you for reading.