Sunday, December 16, 2007

Of Ice and Hand Warmers

We have ice.

Granted, it's not as much as the dear folks out in the mid-west have had over the last week (bless their souls), but it's enough to knock down trees and power lines. And it's our second ice storm in the past few days.

Here are a few shots from the yard:

Burning bush berries:

Our poor white birch:

Our poor clump birch:

Our poor weeping willow and white pines:

Mr. Chickadee at the feeder:

Mr. Titmouse above the feeder:

The clothesline:

More feeders:

It's still cold and raining (at 32 degrees, still cold enough to add to our ice accumulation), so I suspect we'll get even more ice build-up. And we've been given wind advisories for the rest of the day (supposedly getting wind gusts up to 40 mph again).

That's not good. Accumulated ice + high winds = mega tree damage.


I must say, though, that I've found a small silver lining in the freeze: hand warmers.

When I was outside taking pictures, I didn't wear gloves (it was above 30 degrees after all -- who needs gloves when it's so warm???).

But my camera is metal, and metal cools quickly and retains the cold, and my poor stubby fingers got numb fast.

I do have a hand-warmer mug, btw (a gift from a friend after I broke my hand last year). If you want to see it or read about it, click here.

But that's not what I'm talking about.

When I came in from outside, all I had to do was announce to the ten hopeful eyes looking up at me, who wants to be my hand-warmer?

And I had five living volunteers clamoring to be the first to bring life to my stone-cold hands.


There's nothing like the warmth of a Lab to lessen winter's chill and bring life to the soul.

'Til next time,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Lessons from Labs #2 - Gifts, Part Two

1. Give with the recipient in mind (and it needs to be an accurate perception of the recipient; NOT who or what we wish they were or want them to be).

You can tell in this picture how thrilled Baxter was by his Christmas collar three years ago. :l)

This year, with how intelligent our Lab kids are here, I could probably make a case for giving them the latest season of House on DVD (they do look at the TV now and then) or a Backpacker magazine subscription (they love hiking, the outdoors, and shredding glossy periodical pages). I could even give them a book on Basic Obedience Training (they do love to work!) :o) But I'll resist the urge and get them what they would enjoy (like treat-stuffed kongs) instead.

Now, this idea of thinking about the recipient may sound obvious. BUT, we've all been on the receiving end of a gift someone wanted to give who clearly gave little thought to who they were giving it to or how we would receive it (I'm thinking about a mounted singing trout given to someone who just wants peace and quiet, or of a husband giving his wife a vacuum cleaner or diet cookbook).

There is, however, always room for surprises! ;o)

2. Reality check: Sometimes the wrapping really is more fun. Okay. Who of us hasn't received a gift with heart-thumping anticipation over what it might contain only to discover what it really contained was far less exciting (like the mounted singing trout from #1 above). I think of Ridge shredding stuffed toys to find squeaker mechanisms (yesterday's video): what seems so exciting to him, when unwrapped, turns out to be anticlimactic, at best.

Need a human illustration? Just think of two-year-olds tearing through packages, finding what's inside, and then playing with wrapping paper, empty boxes, and ribbons because the trimmings are far more fun.

That's just the way of it with gifts. Sometimes they're home-runs, sometimes they're foul balls, and sometimes they're just plain duds. It's all part of the experience. There's no need to take a disappointing gift personally (as either giver or receiver). The gift itself contains the hidden gift of hope-filled anticipation-- a gift all by itself. If nothing less, we can treasure the process.

3. Food is always good. Here's real wisdom from our gang: when in doubt...give edible gifts (hehe). Yummies are never duds (well, except maybe fruitcake). ;o)

4. Presence means more than presents. Our canine kids relish being with us; as far as they're concerned, there's nothing like snuggling, resting near, or playing with their humans. Oh, sure, on Christmas morning we can make them happy and keep them busy in another room with a bone or two, but it doesn't last long. It's a momentary distraction at best. What they really want is to be in the middle of it all, with us. They want to be included (that's Baxter as puppy opening his present with us Christmas morning five years ago). Is that really too much to ask?

5. It's the not the what as much as the who. Well, okay. With Labs, maybe it really is the what (our gang doesn't care who hands them the treat biscuits, as long as they get the treat biscuits).

But I do vaguely recall back in 1996, while we relocated to France for three months, we arranged for a house sitter to move in with our then two Labs, Stoney and Strider. Stoney, being more people oriented, didn't care about the what. She wanted her humans. Period. She wanted them home now. She stopped eating. She got sick. She grew depressed and lethargic.

No amount of what (treats, food, walks, work, exercise) could replace her need for her who. (Yes, that's the old Stoney girl in photo on right.)

Maybe it depends on the recipient (see #1 above). And if I really think about it, even our gang today (Baxter, Strider, Elsie, Kenya, and Pinot) wouldn't trade who for what any day of the week.

I wouldn't either.

'Til next time,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ridge and Squeaker Toys

The following video captures why squeaker toys don't last long at our house.

DD Sarah and her future hubby (yes, they're officially engaged and getting married in June!!!!) were in for a brief visit this weekend, and Sarah wanted Chris to see how Ridge reacts to anything with a squeaker inside.

Hence the following video (just click the arrow pointing right and the video should start, even if the screen is black). Check out how focused Ridge is until he's succeeded in removing the squeaker - hehe.

He's just so proud of himself, protecting his humans from that big bad scary squeaky thing!

Now you know what Santa will definitely NOT be bringing the canine kids this year. :o)

'Til next time,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas Lessons from Labs: #1 - Gifts

1. The best gifts are free. Time, attention, affection, companionship -- these are the things every Lab (and human) longs for.

2. It's far more fun to give than receive. Think about it: Would your Lab prefer to lick your face or have his faced licked by you? Case rested.

3. It's the heart, not the thing, that counts. Tennis balls peel, booda bones shred, and kongs disintegrate. Yet our faithful friends bring these "gifts" to our feet day after day after day (along with dead birds, grass clumps, and giant tree limbs -- see #1 above) with the same enthusiasm and hope-filled expectation they had the day we removed their new toys' packagings. The truth is, things break. Gadgets wear out. But gifts of the heart last forever.

4. Authenticity rules; Norman Rockwell drools. Holidays can (and will at some point) depress us. People let us down. Gifts disappoint. It's just the way of it. No Lab (or human) lives in a Norman Rockwell print or Currier & Ives painting. But that doesn't stop our faithful friends from living with gusto, embracing hope, and loving us with abandon.

5. The time for giving is... now (and everyday, of course)! Imagine if our canine companions decided that giving was something they should reserve for once or twice a year. How dreadful life would be! Labs are wired to give of themselves all the time, every day, in all kinds of circumstances -- even if they're feeling blue. They are other-centered creatures (not self-centered like their humans). They think of gift-giving as the joyful norm. Sure, their gifts may be things like affection, companionship, help or aid, service, saliva-coated kisses, limp mice, or dirty socks taken from the laundry pile, but they give these things with whole-hearted devotion and unconditional love.

Wouldn't it be something if humans were more like them?

To be continued...

'Til next time,

Roaring Lions

I don't really think of myself as a roaring lion, let alone a shameless one. I feel more like a whisper in the wind or a hiccup on the soundtrack of life.

But that didn't stop my Lab-world friend Laura over at Dog's Eye View from giving us "A Roar for Powerful Words" -- a blog-recognition award created by the folks over at the Shameless Lions Writing Circle.

I'm incredibly honored. I think the world of both Laura (her writing and photography are incredible) and her faithful Labs, Willow and Stella (what sweet, faithful, intelligent girls they are!). Laura's blog offers gentle, insightful commentary on the world in which we live. Her unique perspective humbles and challenges me. And I deeply value her heart. (Read her blog to see what I mean).

So I'm doubly honored that Laura would choose our humble blog here for that award.

Seamus, author of the blog Shameless Words and creator of this award, describes it this way: "A Roar For Powerful Words is the chance to scream from the mountains the good news about the powerful posts that are produced every day in the blogosphere, despite what some mainstream columnists and journalists claim."


I'm encouraged and grateful. Thank you, Laura.

And now I'll have to ponder to whom I should pass the award (Laura would've been my first choice, but I can't pick her since she's already received the award).

In the meantime, though I don't think of myself as a roaring lion, I'll continue to let the life lessons I learn from our Labs speak for themselves. :o)

'Til next time,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pinot Loves Her Dad!

Warning: Cute snuggle pics below!

Pinot is persistent about her affection for Ridge. And he's suprisingly tolerant. Even more than tolerant, he welcomes it. Take a look:

She gives Ridge lots of kisses, often grooming his face and ears (which he doesn't seem to mind despite his ear sensitivities):

They watch the other dogs together (What are they doin' Dad? Huhhuhhuhhuh?):

Like Mamma Elsie (see "Taking Cues" entry from 12/02), Papa Ridge makes a great pillow:

She loves being close to him (could they be any closer?):

She even lets Ridge use her as a pillow! Now that's a rarity. :o)

No doubt about it; they're buds. I think Ridge is "closer" to Pinot than any of the others in our gang. He really does seem to enjoy her affection. I doubt he "knows" she's his offspring (unlike Elsie's knowing from whelping her). But there is something about their connection that surpasses that of Ridge's connection with the other dogs.

Go figure.

Maybe it is a daddy/daughter thing, and he just doesn't know it. :o)

In any case, it warms my heart to see.

There's something unusually tender about his connection with Pinot; he offers her a gentleness, patience, and tolerance he doesn't show anyone else. I can't help but wonder why.

But I don't wonder long. I'm just thankful for their mutual affection.

'Til next time,

Monday, December 03, 2007

An Unperturbed Holiday?

First, my apologies for the poor picture quality above. I took this through my office window this morning (window and screen, no less) because I didn't want to disturb Baxter. He seemed so content.

Baxter, as many of you know, is our observer. Just as he did in yesterday's video, while the others romp and race outdoors, Baxter sits and ponders. Ponders what? Heaven only knows! But he seems to be pondering nonetheless.

Lately, while Baxter observes the world going by, I've been observing him.

And I think he's on to something.

What you can't see in the picture above are the 40 mph wind gusts swirling around him. Admittedly, compared to a hurricane or tornado, 40 mph isn't much, but for around here that's pretty windy.

Our wind chimes clamor incessantly. The tarps strain against their tie-downs. The house moans and creaks in resistance. What few leaves are left on their trees struggle to hold on, but I know they'll be gone by the end of the day.

As Pooh and Piglet would say, it's a zephyr day -- a day for scary things like heffalumps and woozles.


But there Baxter sits, unperturbed by it all.

Maybe it's his focus.
Maybe he really likes the wind.
Maybe he finds new airborne scents fascinating.
Maybe he enjoys the changes in the air.

Or maybe he's just oblivious. :o)

Again, heaven only knows.

All I know is I see my big galoot of a gentle giant out there calmly watching the fury. And I wish I were more like him.

For me, the weeks before Christmas can feel like zephyr days. Whirlwinds. Cyclones. Howling swirls of activity and preparation. And though I've resisted the crass commercialism of Christmas and have worked hard to make the season a family-oriented, faith-based celebration, I still find myself caught in a flurry of activities.

This year, I think I'll be more like Baxter. I'll let the season howl around me, but I'll take time to sit, be still, and focus on what counts.

Will you join me? Maybe we can even encourage each other (via posts and comments) over the next few weeks to remember to pause and reflect .

How's your zephyr meter these days? I'm hoping to make mine read about zero in the weeks to come, but I'd settle for a five or less (on a scale of zero to ten, ten being the busiest and most frantic).

How about you?

'Til next time,

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Taking Cues

It's funny now we (and our Labs) take cues from each other. Take Pinot, for example.

This morning brought our first snow of the season -- a wet, icy snow that will turn to all freezing rain before the day is out.

When Pinot went out into the snow for the first time, she wasn't quite sure what to do with the cold white mush seeping between her toes. Good? bad? indiffent? It smelled funny, too.

She didn't know how to react, so she watched the big kids. Our gang, of course, loves the snow. Remember, Baxter is our blizzard boy, and he seems to have set the pace for the rest.

All Pinot had to do was observe the others dogs' reactions (for all of about three seconds), and she knew: snow is fun!

There was no stopping her then (well unless she paused now and then to sit and watch the world go by, just like her Uncle Baxter). She starts off this video playing with a frozen clump of grass (that's what she tosses and chases), then moves on to wrassling with Kenya. Just take a look (also notice how Blizzard Boy Baxter sits on the hill in the background the entire time Kenya and Pinot are playing -- the cold doesn't bother him a bit):

It's the same with things indoors.

Elsie enjoys the wood stove; it's her favorite place to park during the winter. Pinot wasn't sure what to make of it at first. In this next picture, I can almost hear Elsie encouraging her: You see, Pinot, fire is a good thing if you don't get too close, lick it, or try to pick it up. It's great to just watch and get warm by:

So Pinot, taking her cue from Elsie, learns to relax and enjoy the woodstove's warmth, particularly when coming in from the cold (not to mention that Mamma Elsie makes a pretty good pillow).

Another example: Baxter likes the swoop chair. And if the swoop chair is okay for Baxter, then it must be okay for Pinot:

At 12 weeks old, Pinot is rapidly learning and growing, taking in new things everyday. And she's deciding what's right or wrong, good or bad, or safe or unsafe by how she sees others reacting.

That includes us, of course. She identifies friends (or foes) by how we react. The same goes for good behaviors and bad, desired behaviors and undesired ones. Even things like sounds (firecrackers, thunder, low-flying planes, four-wheelers): she looks to us and the other dogs to gauge her responses.

Cues can be good things; as long as they're accurate. We wouldn't want Ridge's reactions to thunder and fireworks, for example, to influence Pinot's responses to them. We wouldn't want his fears to become hers. Especially since thunder and fireworks are nothing to worry about.

Yup, Pinot is taking cues, for sure. That's how she's learning. And, for the most part, the cues she receives are right, true, and accurate.

But it makes me wonder: when I'm unsure or when I'm learning, where do I look for my cues? Are the cues I receive accurate or are they influenced by negative past events? And if my perceptions differ from the cues I receive, when should I trust myself instead of the cues?

It's good to think about this stuff now and then. Especially with the holidays (and all of its ingrained reactions) coming.

In the meantime, I'll watch Pinot. Maybe I'll even take some cues from her! Who said old dogs can't learn new tricks?!

'Til next time,