Friday, January 31, 2014

Fiction Friday: Spoiler Alert

If you're like me, you sometimes skip to the second-last chapter of a book, just so you can find out how it ends. I always go back to where I've left off, because I'm interested in learning how the author gets to that climax, but I have NO PATIENCE.

Today, I'm letting you do that with Methuselah, for two reasons:
1. I'm kind of bored with Methuselah and need something to jump-start my writing.
2. On Pinterest, I came across the above writing prompt. (I've started a board for Writing Fiction.)

So here we go: The Death of Agnes

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Retirement: Keeping the Cogs Turning

Have you noticed that I keep putting the word retirement in quotation marks? There are a couple of reasons for that:
  1. It wasn't a planned - or therefore celebrated - event. Frankly, it felt like I simply quit my job in desperation, with no plan for the future. Which is a pretty accurate description, actually.
  2. Because I haven't worked at one place for a significant chunk of time, I don't feel entitled to a retirement. In fact, Steve's retirement this summer will be more of a joint retirement. He's earned the celebration and, since I was along for the vast majority of the ride, I'll share in rejoicing.
So I've taken to calling this "pre-retirement."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

We are not amused.

This picture was taken later, at an off-leash dog park.

After our less than stellar experience at dog school and his having dragged me to the ground, I decided I needed to give Kane a lot more practice with walking. So I piled on my layers and strapped on his leash and we walked to the pet store to pick up a toy -- something to keep his busy mind occupied for more than 30 seconds at a time.

He was still tugging a lot on the leash, but wasn't being absolutely horrible. Then we got to a -- literally -- slippery slope. A slippery and lumpy slope where two dogs had very recently been playing (so their scent was strong).

Kane trotted down with goat-like ease, while I followed. And then I fell. And then I rolled, kind of in slow motion.

Kane toddled back to me and grinned eagerly, as if to say, "Hey! That looked like fun! Wanna do it again?"

I was not happy, not one little bit. I now had fresh bruises on my recently scuffed knees.

These are the cleats I bought that evening, so slipping will not (I hope) be a problem again!

Being in the pet store almost drove him over the edge (there was another dog in the shop), but we made it out with his toy in hand and proceeded to walk back home, about a 20-minute walk.

This is the toy. You put a kibble or treat in each tray, then align the points.
Kane took about three seconds to figure it out.

Part of the walk home goes through an abandoned school yard -- a big, wide-open space. I figured this was a good opportunity to practice a technique the trainer had shown us the previous evening.

The trainer suggested that I periodically change direction, so Kane will learn that I am the leader, he is not. So that's what I was doing as we walked up the lane-way to the school yard. I would walk a couple of steps forward in one direction then, when Kane started tugging, I would change direction, even step backward.

When we got to the open playground, Kane lost it. He pulled the leash to its fullest extent and started running in circles around me. He wasn't even going after anything this time!

To keep from getting tangled, I was spinning around anchored in one spot, like a whirling dervish. I had talked about teaching Kane how to dance, but this was not what I had envisioned! And then I realized I was actually getting dizzy and that Kane could probably do this for hours.

(I should note that the ground was actually clear of ice at this point, so the cleated boots would not have made a difference.)

So I let go of the leash. Kane had won. Dammit.

He grabbed the leash in his mouth and growled as he ran wildly, like a squirrel on LSD.

At first, I stood there calling him. And then I just stopped because, clearly, it was not effective.

Instead, I turned my back to him and ignored him, like I would a toddler having a temper tantrum.

After a little while, he started looping back to me, so I called him and offered him a treat. Finally, he came close enough for me to step on his leash.

And then he started wrapping the leash around both my ankles. I had visions of him yanking me to the ground and then dragging me feet-first around the playground. (You may think this was accidental, but I tell you, this dog is really, really smart!)

From whirling dervish to dog sled in mere minutes.

So I sat down to lower my centre of gravity before he could pull me down. From there, I finally got his collar, wrested the leash out of his mouth and recomposed myself.

We walked the rest of the way home with Kane on a very short leash.

Since then, we have purchased a "head collar" which seemed to control him significantly better. Until he learned that he could bite the base of the leash and stop the collar from gripping his jaw, thereby taking ME for a walk!

I'll write more about that in another post. In the meantime, we're off to basic training again tonight. We'll see if he can stay in the classroom with the other dogs tonight.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Sorrow Sisters

Our Lady of the Wayside
I went through a period of depression when I was in middle school, and my best friend couldn't understand what I was talking about when I told her. Was I sad? What was I crying about?

"Haven't you ever been depressed?" I asked in astonishment.

"No," she answered frankly. "I guess I haven't."

We looked at each other like we were from different planets. 

I was surprised to learn that there are people who have never been depressed. Depression has been such a regular visitor in my life that, to this day, it astounds me to meet someone who's never experienced it. Like my own husband.

He's been stressed, exhausted, anxious, sad -- he's experienced many, many of the feelings that go along with depression, but he's never had that prolonged inescapable feeling that spirals down to hopelessness, that makes you hate your life and your very own self.

Last fall was pretty bleak for me as I struggled with health issues, stress at work, and depression that didn't want to budge. It was not until I kicked the first two factors out of the way that the mood finally lifted. In fact, it lifted enough that I've been able to go through two significant losses (our dog Scooter and my friend K.B.) in less than one month without revisiting the place of self-loathing.

Having so recently weathered the storm, I was worried that I would fall again, but was fascinated to observe the difference between grief and depression. I've decided to write about it because I expect that, for many people, grief is as close as they will ever come to experiencing depression.

Much has been written about grief, and the "five stages of grief" popularized by Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross include depression as one of the stages:
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
But I would say that, as I've bounced back and forth through these stages (and I am by no means "through" my grieving for K.B.), the "depression" stage has been significantly different from classic depression. I think there is a distinction between emotions and mood.

In grieving, I have felt intense emotions, feelings. My own feelings of the so-called depression stage have included sadness or sorrow, regret, loss, longing, and loneliness. There have been plenty of tears and heavy sighs. (The sighs were completely spontaneous and were almost laughable at how frequently they happened.) It sapped energy but also felt cathartic and honest. Rather than withdrawing, I have found a great sense of community with others who shared my sorrow. I've even made new friends through this valley.

Depression, however, is a pervasive mood. On top of the sadness, longing and loneliness, there is despair, hopelessness, irritability, and self-hatred. When my depressions are at their worst, I just want to "make it stop" (though I couldn't really tell you what "it" is) -- by whatever means necessary. I don't feel like I will ever get through it. And I become so enveloped by the bleakness that it is all but impossible to feel empathy, compassion, or connection. Not surprisingly, relationships suffer.

The two states are rather like sisters: they share a lot in common and, from far away may look identical, but, up close, are very distinct.

Here. Have a purring kitty.
I want to conclude with two points.
  1. If you've never struggled with depression, but have gone through grief, then you have some idea of the nature of depression.
  2. If you are grieving and find you are "stuck" or want to hurt yourself in hopelessness and despair, you may actually be depressed on top of the grief. Get help. And bookmark this article: 21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together when You're Depressed.
I'd be interested in hearing if any of you have also noticed a difference between grieving and depression. If you've never been depressed, did this discussion help you understand?

Monday, January 27, 2014

My 23 favourite pictures from 2013

Oh, my do I enjoy taking pictures! It's becoming a bit of an obsession, having outlasted several other hobbies and interests I've had over the years. So, here we go -- my favourite pix from 2013.

What makes them "favourites"? In each of these pictures there is something about it that makes me want to look at it again and again.

(P.S. In my first draft of this post, I used the word "love" about 23 times. Those of you interested in writing may be interested to see how I edited to say the same thing in different words without being awkward.)

Produce from the organic food basket we had delivered weekly.
I am drawn to the colours in the food basket.

Our beach, beautiful, even in winter.
I remember the serenity of the beach and the idea of visiting a "summer" place in winter, "away from the madding crowd."

My niece, Melissa, with her fiance, Elvis
I was so happy with how this picture turned out! They are so happy together and weren't planning to do an engagement shoot, so we spontaneously took a few pictures during a family gathering.

Giant's Causeway, in Northern Ireland
This picture is not a spectacular work of art, but does mark a memorable moment of 2013: visiting a landmark that I had always wanted to see.

Creamy cheese in an open market in Ireland
Oh, how the light makes the cheese look so edible. The market was a photographer's delight! Heck, Ireland itself was a photographer's delight!

Ring of Kerry shrine
Sometimes, the composition draws me. (I would like to edit the above picture so there's a little more light on her face, but I love it even as is.

I am captivated by clouds and storms. (Preferably when I have a warm, dry place to hide.) The light in this picture is mesmerizing.

 Sometimes the scenery is just so perfect . . .

Absolutely scrumptious fish & chips
 I do have a fondness for photographing food.

Trinity Library, home of the Book of Kells

Ah, those clouds!

I love the light and simplicity in this picture.

This one just made me laugh. The sheep were quite oblivious to our bus.

This picture almost lets you touch the texture of this headstone.

I didn't take this picture, but it's one of my favourites nevertheless.

You're probably sick of seeing this father-of-the-bride picture about now, but I think I never will be.

Aside from loving this little dog, I'm also happy that I captured the mood in this picture.

Again, the subject is dear to me, but I also like the warm tones and focus of this picture of Scooter.

My flower garden means I get to have fresh flowers in my house all spring and summer, and look at pictures of them through the cold months. Flowers also make delightfully stationary subjects for a photographer to practice with. (Maybe that's why I also like food photography.)

Old architecture is so beautiful, and I especially love the light streaming through these windows.

Over Christmas, I did a lot of food photography, and was very happy to see that I'm making progress. The challenge has always been to get enough light and to get just the right depth of field (i.e., what's in focus and what's blurry). I've also started paying more attention to "staging" -- all the background and surroundings in a food photograph.

I could look at this one every day just for the fact that it makes me laugh. I also like the focus and lighting.

My favourite kitty cat. It's hard to get a good picture of her when she's moving, so I was pleased with this result.

It was quite a year. And here we are, almost with January this year!

Do you take pictures? Do you have faves? What do you do with them? (I add mine to my desktop slideshow and screensaver, so I get to see them again and again.)

Are any of my pictures amongst your favourites?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fiction Friday: "Found" Short Story

I found this short story when I was digging through my files the other day. I have absolutely no recollection of having written it, though I recognize the characters. But yes, the name Kerry Anne is a portmanteau of my name and K.B.'s. The narrator is an amalgam of several middle-school friends.

Don't forget to enter the iTunes gift card giveaway!

My mother is the mother that all the other girls want. Or most of them. They tell me this when they come over to visit and there are fresh-baked cinnamon rolls on the counter. They say things like, “Wow, your mom is, like, the best! My mom just keeps frozen pizza snacks in the freezer and thinks that’s a big deal.” Or, “Your mom actually sewed you a gown? No way!”

And it’s not that she’s super permissive or anything. When we hang out at my place, we still have to follow basic rules. We aren’t allowed to drink or anything stupid like that. Or stay up all night, though we do stay up pretty late, as long as we aren’t loud and wake up my annoying brothers, Pete and Tim.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wild Thing

Kane gnawing on his antler.
Recap: we adopted Kane from Friendly Giants Dog Rescue on January 10, 2014*. He is a 55-pound, 11-month-old mix of Black Lab and Border Collie. He is handsome, smart as a whip, and full of energy. Also, he suffers from ADHD. Last week I told you that he had taken me for a drag along the street when he lunged for a squirrel. (Hence the ADHD diagnosis.) 

I underestimated how much it had scared me, but now I find I'm extra nervous walking with him, especially when ice is under foot.

So our obedience classes came none too soon! We signed up for basic training through our local community centre:
Dog-Training Basics
Positive reinforcement training for dogs of all ages. Have fun teaching your dog the basic commands: sit, pay attention, down, come, walk on a loose leash, etc. Focus is on developing a safe, well-socialized pet and a happy home environment.
Here's what I expected would happen when we brought Kane into a room full of dogs: he would be excited, start leaping about, let loose a bark or two, but then he would settle down, especially if we let him sniff the other dogs.

Here's what happened: Kane was told to sit in the hall.

Yup. We have a "Marley and Me" type of dog. Here's a refresher:

Well, maybe Kane's not that bad, and the teacher didn't exactly make Kane an example of how not to behave, but she pretty much insisted that we go through the exercises apart from the other dogs.

In Kane's defense, some of the other dogs were ill-behaved (even worse, I'd say -- they jumped up on their owners and the trainer), but they were all smaller and they all had quieter barks. Kane's is quite a deep, mature bark. Imagine James Earl Jones barking. Yah. You'd be scared, too.

Furthermore, he threw all the other dogs off their game, kind of like a class clown can derail a classroom.

Kane was never able to just relax when he was in the same room as the other dogs. He was fully alert and ready to lunge at any given moment, so any time one of the other dogs yipped or bounced, Kane was beside himself. Out in the hallway, he could still see into the room, and that proved to be as much excitement as he could handle.

In the hall, he did exceptionally well at responding to his name and calming down, for about 5 seconds at a time. Next step is learning to abide by a loose leash.

All in all, I'm glad we're taking this course. We'll work on his two lessons all week, and I do hope he'll be a little better socialized by next Wednesday.

* January 10 happened to be the very day that K.B. died and, as flaky as it seems, I think that Kane brings K.B.'s joie de vivre and openness to me. I feel consoled by Kane's presence and the way he reminds me of her. Eventually, I may train him to dance. (I don't think he has much potential in the kitchen.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter Mist

We are having another cold snap. As in: sweet cinnamon beavertails, that's cold! The thermometer on our front porch read -45 C. Which can't possibly have been true.

When I looked outside and saw steam rising from the sewer vents, I knew I had to get down to the Ottawa River and snap some pictures for you of the mist rising off the frigid water. I was not disappointed.

I took Kane with me, of course. That dog behaved as if it were a pleasant spring day. He is completely immune to the cold, it seems.

Most of the river is frozen, except here, where there are rapids. Kane would gladly have leapt into the water. I was having none of that.

I'm not fond of cold weather, but I do think winter makes up for it by offering up some spectacular scenery!

Isn't it mesmerizing? Even with all my layers, I was starting to go numb, so we made a quick U-turn back to the car.

Would you look at that? Winter can even make a parking lot look pretty!

When we got home, the thermometer on our front porch was reading -19C, which seems more reasonable. Kane seemed satisfied enough with his excursion that he lay down for a good nap.

What's your favourite season? Are you a lover of winter?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lazy Bones

On my way home

I'm guest posting over at I, MayB today. It's a repost from something I shared here last fall, so you may recognize it, but I think it was worth reading again. Why not pop over and see the other witty things she has to offer?

Have you noticed how travelling just sucks the energy out of you?

I got home from Regina late Saturday night after taking the milk run: Regina-Edmonton-Calgary-Ottawa. Ordinarily, I keep my connections to a minimum, but this time I had a choice between that and getting up at four in the morning. (Have I mentioned that I am not a morning person?)

Fortunately, all the flights were on time and there was plenty of layover time at each connection. I even had time to write a blog post and have a leisurely lunch. And I checked my bags so I could get around easily. So it was not stressful.

But, boy, when I finally got home and hit my bed, I crashed. I slept for a good ten hours, then had a nap, and still went to bed at the right time that night. The next day, I did as little as physically possible. I even skipped Kane's walk (he had a good run with Steve in the morning) and served leftovers for dinner.

Today, I'm feeling better and will get back to a more normal routine, something I'm sure Kane will enjoy. As will I.

How about you? Do you bounce right back? Do you have any tricks?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Time to say goodbye

I flew all the way to Regina, and K.B. didn't meet me at the airport, didn't even text me.

I stayed with her best friend for three nights, and still never heard from her. (Though her ears must have been ringing because, Lord have mercy, did we talk about her!)

I talked to all sorts of people who loved her. I even saw her body, but she was not there. There is no way they could have contorted her face into one of her full-body smiles. It would have been horrific.

I saw her children and was helpless to mend their hearts, because she didn't tell me what to say. She would have known.

I listened to the children's eloquent and profound eulogies and thought: oh, K.B., you must be so damned proud of these two, they do you such honour.

I hugged her bridegroom and wished that things were different, tried not to be angry on his behalf that their honeymoon had really only just begun.

I was regaled with stories of kindness, generosity, and weirdness ("How many teapots in her cubicle? Eight?! All with matching cups?").

I spoke to her ex who seemed only just to have really added up the costs of his choices, of what he had let slip through his fingers.

One friend cried as she asked, "How did I not know?" How did she not know that K.B. was really a sister, a twin. And I felt the same: everybody else knew how much she loved me. I didn't give her nearly all the love she deserved.

I saw the home she loved, touched her dance shoes and glittery scarves. I walked through the tiny kitchen and imagined all the love she had cooked up, but there was no yeasty smell of rising bread. I pictured her dancing in the dining room.

I packed a bag full of her shoes, because we shared a ridiculously small foot-size, and I pondered the metaphor of "walking in her shoes." It means I will have to dance more.

And all this time, after these hours and hours of obsessively picking at the wound of my grief, she didn't come.

Because she's gone. And all that is left are the bits of her that are in me, and the bits of her that are in these wonderful, wonderful people. And now I miss them, too, but I'm glad to add them to the circle of my friends. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves:,
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets... Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, 'Here comes one who will augment our loves.' For in this love 'to divide is not to take away.'
My life has been augmented in so many ways for having known K.B. This last one - the gift of more friends, is a surprise to me, and I am so grateful.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Settling in with a giant puppy

Kane is 55 pounds of puppy. Fifty-five pounds of very energetic puppy. Although he was relatively sedate during our first visit with him, he warmed up quite quickly.

He thinks he only weighs three pounds.

One of the first things I did with him on his first full day with us was a dog IQ test. After reading about Allie Brosh's profoundly stupid pet.
Simple Dog licking the floor.
So we did the tests, the same ones that Allie's dog failed. Here is how Kane did.

1. Food under can: 11 seconds to get the kibble. 4/5.
2. Dog under towel: 2 seconds to get himself free. 5/5
3. Social learning: he did not get up or come to me. 1/5
4. Food under towel: 10 seconds to retrieval. 5/5
5. Food under couch: 10 seconds to digestion. 5/5
6. Knowing his name: no budge at all for refrigerator or movies. Instant response to his name. 5/5

Kane's score: 25/30

Over 25 points... Your dog is a genius
15 - 25 points..... Your dog is smart, but won't go to Harvard
5 - 15 points....... Your dog is not too bright, but is most likely very cute
Below 5 points.... Your dog must be an Afghan

These tests are supposed to be done after the animal has been in your home for a month, which is probably why he didn't immediately come when I smiled at him. In fact, the first day I did the "name" test, he failed, but when I did it today after practising his recall all day today, he aced it. So I think he's actually a genius and would probably pass that third test if I re-did it today.
Remember: he's not full-grown yet.

We spent the weekend getting to know each other and establishing ground rules:
  • One gentle woof is fine, but no outright barking in the house.
  • The big, fluffy bed is your place.
  • Absolutely NO jumping up on people.
  • No going upstairs.
  • No going downstairs.
  • When I call you, you come.
  • When I say "sit," you sit.
  • When I say "down," you lie down.
  • When I say, "wait," you stay put until I say otherwise.
  • No playing chase. Ever. (We had one completely unacceptable episode where I was trying to grab his leash (which he was trying to chew) and he kept running away.)
  • No biting. (He sometimes tries to playfully bite when we're have a little floor time.)

So far, we're doing well.

His bed is so big, it makes Kane look small.

The only real hitch is that the cat did not want to come downstairs for love or money, so we've moved her food and litter box back upstairs. Only today has she ventured down to the main floor of the house, but she hasn't approached Kane. For his part, Kane behaved when he saw her (I still had him on his leash), but would really love to have approached her.

Gnawing on his bit of antler.
For the past few days we've been really working on the "come" command. I consider it really important for his and our safety to be able to recall him on a moment's notice.

Here are the instructions the trainer, Cher from Streetwise Canine gave me:
To teach Kane his recall, just get a long line. And EVERY SINGLE time you call him, reinforce the behavior RIGHT away. The leash doesn't need to be too long but at least double the size of his standard one. Do not ever call him if you cant reinforce the behavior. I called this activity come for your dog. 

Do this everyday, 10 times a day for two weeks. Then you will get a bomb proof recall. The point is to "pull" him towards you as soon as you say KANE< COME! Start pulling him in, when he gets to you say GOOD BOY. Then his release word. 
"Bomb-proof recall." I like the sound of that!

He really doesn't like it, especially if he's got a snoot-full of something stinky. I, in fact, have made it a point to call him when he does seem captivated by something.

Today, at last, I thought we were making headway. He started to voluntarily return to me when I called him - a distinct improvement. Maybe, I thought, he won't need the full two weeks!

About 30 seconds later, he saw a squirrel before I did. I tried to call him back and yank him back, but he was going full guns and pulled me first onto ice, then flat onto my face.
"Road rash" on my chin
The rest of the walk home was very subdued as I kept him on a short leash. He hardly even tugged at all. I think he knew he'd kind of screwed up.

But this reinforces, for me, the importance of this training.

This afternoon, I am flying out to Regina for three days, to honour the life of my dear friend K.B., who died a few days ago (it feels like yesterday). Because Kane is still adjusting to our home, Steve has decided to stay home with him to reinforce all the training we've been doing.

Kane has been a very good distraction for me.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Doing it Old-School

Aren't they just the happiest?
It's not very likely that you will ever find me baking cookies for an after-school snack while wearing pearls and full make-up, but I do share some things with June Cleaver. The biggest one is that we still have sit-down family dinners most nights of the week.

It's a tradition that Steve and I have held since our dating days. The priest who married us (at our second ceremony) wrote that one of the defining elements of "family" was eating together. It struck a chord with us as university students because we had come to feel that our housemates were indeed family. Conversely, those housemates who were never around for meals never felt like part of the family.

In fact, part of how I knew my fatigue last fall was more than just being overworked was that I was often too tired to come down and join the family for dinner. I needed a little "bed rest" between when I got home and when I joined the conversation.

Even when I was downstairs, I was often too tired to "bother with" getting dinner going if Emily hadn't already started it. So I'd suggest we all just scrounge leftovers, and then we would all eat at the couches, watching TV or surfing on our laptops.

Not good. Not good at all.

Now that I'm home and feeling much better, I've come to value dinnertime again -- to the point that I get upset if one of the members of our household doesn't join us.

It's the one time in the day when we are all conversing. We get to know each other a little better as our quirky conversations play out. The other night, Emily posted this on Facebook.

It had been a truly humorous mealtime. Some sample exchanges:
Mom [in surprise, to Emily who seemed to appear out of nowhere]: Where did you come from?
Emily [puzzled]: I don't know. Your uterus about 21 years ago? 
Emily [to Mom and Brian who sit across from each other at the table and were practicing annoying each other]: Do I need to separate you two?
Mom: No! I should sit closer to Brian! [Moves to seat next to his.] Then I won't have to look at the picture that he keeps tilting crooked.
Brian [with warning in his voice]: Mom. I swear, I will tilt every single glass in that china cabinet at a slightly different angle. [He knows my OCD.]
Mom: [Stays put. Tries to make a witty comeback, but fails because: words.]

In case you're curious, here is the tilted picture. I usually sit directly across from it, with Brian sitting directly in front of it. I have given up straightening it as he invariably re-tilts it before sitting down. (I couldn't get a picture with both in focus. The chandelier is perfectly level.)

It's crooked, dammit!
I won't lie: sometimes family dinnertime can be a little fraught. [Isn't "fraught" a good word? I think people should use it more often.] If one person is having a bad day (or even just a bad moment) it can send things skittering off the rails, sometimes ending with someone storming away from the table.

It's never as bad as it was in my childhood home (there were frequently thrown objects, including knives).

It's not great when tempers flare. But we're human and as long as things remain civil, I feel like this is part of how we learn and forgive. And I believe that, in the end, it's absolutely worth it.

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