Category Archives: life with pets

PIGEON GRATEFUL

cute pigeons 2 flickzzz.com 019-768559
Last month I rescued a sick pigeon.

I’ve done it before. In fact, this is the third pigeon I’ve rescued.

I like pigeons a lot. They are actually pretty smart birds, and they do well in captivity. Better than in the wild, in fact. In captivity, wild pigeons can live 10-15 years. In the wild (in cities, I mean), they last about a year or two. (Yes, all those pigeons you hate are very young pigeons.)

Most injured wild birds will die in your hand from shock if you attempt to rescue them. Not pigeons! They will get quiet and look at you as if to say, “Well, finally, my ride is here! Where have you been?!”

I spotted this one on my drive home one day, and knew he was in trouble. It was extremely hot and humid, and a thunderstorm was brewing. He was staggering in circles, listing to one side, barely able to stay upright.

I vaguely remembered the virus PMV that causes these symptoms. I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot and stalked him for fifteen minutes til I caught him. He kept trying valiantly to fly away, but after flying into a building and then into a passing car, he was finally exhausted enough to let me pick him up.

I looked up his symptoms to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself, my family or my pets to anything toxic, then made up a cage for him. I didn’t expect him to survive the night–he was in pretty bad shape, with an injured eye, dehydrated and subdued. I forced a dribble of water down his throat, made him as comfortable as I could, and left him alone.

The next morning, I was surprised to see him looking (askant) at me from his cage. Beady bright little eyes, like the pilfering penguin from the Wallace And Gromit movie, The Wrong Trousers. “You made it, Magoo!” I exclaimed. I made him drink a little more water, cleaned him up, set out some cockatiel food, and left him alone again.

Soon Mr. Magoo (I have no idea if it was a he or a she, but “Mr. Magoo” seemed to fit his bewildered stare) was drinking on his own, and eating, too. He was still aslant and wobbly. But every morning he let me pick him up so I could clean his cage and refill his food and water. Every time I went out in the mudroom, he looked down at me from his cage with his shiny eyes.

About four weeks went by. I was getting ready for a drive home to my folks in Michigan. I knew Jon wouldn’t be wild about cleaning up after a pigeon every day. I toyed with the idea of letting him go. he was getting a little better every day. But I wasn’t sure if he were fully recovered or not.

The day before I left, I went to lift him up. To my surprise, he fought me and flew out of my hands. I managed to corner him and snag him in the mudroom. But I knew then it was time for him to go.

I took him out to the front steps and set him down. “If you’re ready, you can go,” I told him. “If not, you’re welcome to stay.”

He exploded into the air and flew away without a backwards glance.

I didn’t begrudge him the lack of gratitude. Wild things don’t owe us anything, even when we help them. I was glad he lived to fly again.

A day later, I went to get in my car.

On the driver’s side door was a huge white splat of pigeon poop dripping from the window all the way down the panel.

Now, I could have have been annoyed, and made up a story about how pigeons will poop on the person’s car who saved them.

But I like to think that a pigeon, wanting to say, “I’m alive and okay!” would have very few ways to communicate in a way we’d be sure to notice.

So I’m making up a story that Mr. Magoo was saying, “Thank you” the only way he’d know how, by pooping on my car.

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Filed under choices, life with pets

GOMEZ SAYS GOODBYE

We have everything we need to know, right here in our hearts.

More musings on the grief writing workshop I teach at Home Healthcare and Community Services here in Keene, NH….

For each week of the class, there’s a central topic for our journaling or free writing exercise. Some topics allow us to talk about who we were, and where we are now after the death of a loved one. Some encourage us to remember them in a different way. Some acknowledge the difficult nature of our relationship with them. Some “point us toward home, so we can go there…” (A quote from DEAN SPANLEY, a remarkable, gentle and sweetly funny movie about death, grieving, and redemption.)

There’s one particularly powerful exercise we do in the writing workshop. It’s so powerful, I’m afraid I’ll give away the punchline. But it’s also so healing, it would be a sin not to share it with a wider audience….

It’s something I structured, sort of aim the sessions toward, so we get there at just the right time. Last week was the proper time.

I ask everyone to imagine the deceased in a place–it could be heaven, it could be nirvana, it could be in an alternate universe, it could even be in our dreams. It’s a place where they are safe, and loved, and happy. A place where they are fully healed, in mind, body and soul. A place where they are at their highest, most evolved self. A place where no matter what their faults or failings were, no matter how much they’ve already suffered or given, or loved, they are the best person we’ve always dreamed they could be.

“Write a letter,” I say to the class. “From them, to you.”

This always draws a lot of confusion and questions. I usually have to repeat it a few times. There are frowns, and pursed lips, and sighs.

Then the writing begins.

And then come the tears.

I am always astonished, when we finally share what we’ve written. It’s as if people have really stepped outside themselves, and delved into the heart of that person. The things we see, and recognize, and understand and finally accept, are incredible.

It’s a letting go of what could have been. It’s accepting what it was, and is. It allows hope to sprout the tiniest, most delicate green leaves.

And it lets the healing begin.

It’s never failed me, this exercise. I wrote about this the first time I did it, with a complicated death that had haunted me for decades.

I did it again last week with my cat Gomez.

It was a funny night to begin with. Three of us selected animals to write about. It felt a little disrespectful at first–People before animals, right? Except we were also accepting that the loss of a beloved pet can be just as rattling, especially since they are often the very thing that soothes us during other, larger losses.

And so we wrote a letter from our pets, to us.

In my opening sentence, I immediately saw how empathic this exercise really is. I wrote, “Dear kind lady….” Because, of course, Gomez would have no idea what my name was. And being a cat, he probably wouldn’t care.

Here’s the small miracle: All three of us did the same. Realized our pets don’t “know” our names. But they know who we are to them. One writer started her letter with “Dear Mom”, because that’s who her dog would think she was.

Here’s my letter from Gomez:

Dear kind lady,
When I saw you at the shelter with your child, I knew I was going home with you. I saw you go to each cage, check out each cat. I saw you trying to connect with each one.

“I want an older cat,” you said to the shelter person. “I want a cat who really really really needs a home.”

But none of those cats would play with you. They knew I was meant for you. They wouldn’t give you the time of day–they knew it was my turn.

Finally, after coming to me 3 times–and every time I tried to tell you, I tried to show you–“Me! I’m the one! It’s me you want!”….

And finally, though you said I was too beautiful, and too young, you said I was the one.

I charmed everyone, didn’t I? Even Chai. Even Tuck. Even Nick.

I brought you mice, and birds, and I slept on your bed. You gave me a good home.

Yes, there was a bad man, and yes, it hurt. It hurt so much.

But that pain is gone. It is no more.

The only pain I feel now is the pain in your heart, the part of you that blames yourself for what happened.

It’s not your fault, kind lady. It’s not your fault. Be at peace.

My time with you was lovely. You cared for me, and loved me, and kept me safe. You gave me a good home.

Someday there will come another cat, a cat that needs a good home. Open your heart again, your kind and loving heart. Give that cat a home, a hearth, a sofa to sleep on, dogs to tease and torment, food to eat and saucy mice to chase.

Don’t grieve for me, kind lady. I don’t regret a thing.

Everything we need to know, is already in our hearts.

All we have to do is be silent. And listen. Truly listen.

Goodbye sweet boy cat.

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Filed under art, grief journaling, lessons from hospice, life with pets, The Keene Sentinel articles

GOODBYE GOMEZ

A local news story brings its share of heartache this morning.

Our cat Gomez has been missing since August 18, the day we left on vacation. He escaped the house just as we were packed and ready to go. “He’ll be fine!” everyone groaned. “Mary (our pet care person) comes tonight, he’ll be back for dinner time!”

So against my better judgment, we left. I tried not to worry. Everything would be fine, I told myself.

That was the last time I ever saw Gomez.

Mary called two days later to tell us there was no sign of Gomez. When we got home, he still hadn’t made an appearance.

We made very effort to find him–calling shelters, hanging posters, talking to people in the neighborhood. We met many wonderful people who tried to help us.

But every lead dried up. Even the black cat sightings all turned out to be other cats. I never knew there were so many black cats in Keene!

Gomez is such a great cat! I held onto a slim hope that he’d ingratiated himself into a new home, though I know that’s not how most lost cats end up. I called him every time I went outside. I watched for him as we walked or drove around our neighborhood.

Twice I was sure I’d found him. Happy, happy day!

Then I’d wake up, and realized I’d been dreaming.

Then I read the article in last night’s Keene Sentinel, our local newspaper. Three dead cats found in different Keene neighborhoods. Although there’s no evidence the cats were deliberately killed, the number of incidents, and some details about the deaths, raise a suspicion or two.

Two of the bodies were found very near our house.

I called the detective assigned to the case to get more information. Sure enough, one of the incidents involved a black cat. Actually, the head of a black cat.

It was disposed of by the home owners before the police arrived. And with no body, there was no microchip to be checked.

The head was found the day after Gomez disappeared.

The detective was sympathetic. He has pets, too, and had recently lost one. He knows how hard it is to lose a furry friend.

Some day soon, I’ll share those wonderful stories. As in any bad situation, there are good people who come forward, who cross our path, who restore our hope and faith.

It helps to know that Gomez is not lost, or suffering, or frightened anymore.

But right now, it is a very sad day at our house.

Goodbye, beautiful, beautiful cat.

Our charming and suave cat Gomez.

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Filed under art, life with pets

MAGIC ACTS

For your reading pleasure, here is my latest column for The Crafts Report magazine.

Oh, also a sneak preview picture of my exhibition piece for Craftwear at this year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair!

I’m not participating in the Fair this year, for the first time in….14 years?? My only representation there will be this necklace. I feel totally at sea about missing it, but I know I couldn’t physically handle it this year. My knee replacement surgery was my fourth surgery in three years, and it’s catching up to me! Hopefully I’ll be back in the saddle for next year’s Fair!

Click the images for a bigger view.

Shaman Necklace–Bear Clan
My “walking bear” artifact with handmade and hand-carved polymer beads.

Detail of “walking bear-man” pendant, modeled after a 30,000 year old artifact of a walking lion-man.

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Filed under art, humor, life with pets, The Crafts Report column

TRAINING CATS TO DRINK WATER

To achieve new heights, we have to acquire new habits and tell ourselves a different story.

Stay with me, there’s a point to this drinking water thing.

We’ve always had cats. If you have cats, you know what happens.

Cats train you to do some really funny things. They get us to act in ludicrous ways, irrational ways. And we end up believing in the idiocy, too. We even believe it’s natural. “Cats are like that–they’re finicky!” we say.

It starts out very innocently. Maybe the cat starts playing with water coming out of the kitchen tap. Soon, every time you turn on the tap, the cat is there to play some more, and maybe take a few sips.

After a while, you begin to notice that the water level in his official water dish, stays the same. “Oh, no!”, you think. “The cat isn’t getting enough water!” So you turn on the tap. He jumps up and gratefully starts drinking.

Before you can say, Holy Catfish! you have a cat who will only drink out of the faucet.

Eventually, you even have to adjust the flow of water to just the right speed–not too fast, or he’ll be frightened. Not to slow, or he’ll walk away in impatience.

It will seem very normal to you, too. You will simply accept the process as what you have to do to get him to drink.

Until you see someone else doing this in their house, with their cat. And then you see how ridiculous the situation is.

For us, it was when we visited a friend with a cat. He had half a dozen caps from cans of shaving cream arranged around his bathroom floor, each cap filled with water. He told us (in total seriousness) he had to do this so his cat would drink water.

I burst out laughing. Because, you know, I know, and Pete knows….

No cat dies of thirst because his water is in the wrong-sized container.

No cat starves to death because his food is not the right brand.

Your teenager isn’t going to starve because you don’t make his sandwich the right way, with the right bread.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you’re hungry enough, when you’re thirsty enough.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you want something badly enough.

I was thinking about this today. Oh, all right, I admit, because I now have a cat who will only drink water who has trained me to think she will only drink out of the bathtub faucet.

As I watched her drink this morning, it suddenly occurred to me…

I wondered what have I trained myself to do….
What story have I told myself….What story do I ‘know’…
That’s getting in the way of getting what I really want in my life?

I’ve been fearful of “not doing it right” with an upcoming workshop I’m teaching–to the extent that I wanted to cancel it. I want to do it badly. But I think I can’t do it unless I do it perfectly.

I have a project dear to my heart, something I’ve been dreaming about for six years. I have a million reasons ‘why it won’t work’. Today I wrote in my journal all the excuses I’ve made up for why I shouldn’t do it: ‘I know’ there’s no way to exhibit it. ‘I know’ there’s no one who would buy it. ‘I know’ I shouldn’t start it til I have the whole concept figured out perfectly.

Well, duh, who cares??!!

I want to do it.

And the only thing holding me back is the story I’ve been telling myself, and all the ridiculous reasons I’ve made up about why it won’t work.

So giggle a little at the thought of Tomcat Toes drinking daintily out of a lovely assortment of plastic cups. Smile at the thought of chubby Chai shlurping heartily from the bathtub faucet. Let’s tease my sister not wanting her son to go to California years ago because he would never make himself a sandwich and so he would go hungry….

But the next time you have a project, an idea, a glimmering of something that makes your heart beat a little faster….

Listen hard for the imaginary can’t/shouldn’t/no-way thinking that could have you drinking out of a shaving cream cap within a few weeks.

Won’t that look silly?

Now go to your studio. Write that song. Start that video. Get out your brushes.

Me? I’m gonna go dust off my sewing machine.

And yes, I will share my big project when it firms up a little more. Just keep those cups of water outta my sight for awhile, okay?

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Filed under action steps, art, business, courage, craft, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life with pets, mental attitude

PUPPIES REVISITED: The Torch Wipe Thing.

When I published the PUPPIES article, people asked me what “torch wipes” were.

I had no idea. Googling didn’t turn much up at the time.

But I kept thinking about it. Gentle readers, I am nothing if not concerned about you getting answers to all your questions.

Well, I just found out what torch wipes are.

I found this wonderful article by Elizabeth Dodd, director of the creative writing program at Kansas State University.

Ms. Dodd was fortunate enough to be invited to actually visit the cave of Chauvet in France. I envy her with all my heart. In a good way.

She says…

…At some point in time, other visitors to the cave marked their way with torch wipes, rubbing the burning surface to knock off ash and renew the flame—and perhaps if the way was unknown to them, to leave signs of the route back up and out….

So there you have it, folks. Torch wipes. Who knew??!!

And what will I do with that envy?

I will put it to good use.

I’m thinking it’s time for another trip to France, to visit the caves I can. I found other sites in Germany, sites that were the home of wonderful artifacts (including the oldest horse artifact ever discovered) that might be open to the public.

If anyone knows someone in the “cave art biz” (is there such a thing??) or someone who can pull strings in the French or German government, start pulling for me now!

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Filed under art, craft, dogs, life with a dog, life with pets

PUPPIES

I just realized I never republished my article “Puppies” that I wrote for The Crafts Report. And I already have a P.S. to add to the article! So….here it is.

PUPPIES

It’s been a typical wild and crazy month, craft biz-wise. Someone filmed a video of me and my work; I was artist of the month at a local gallery; I had my first trunk show, I had some great sales off my web site.

All exciting stuff. But not funny.

“Write about the puppies,” my husband said.

The last few weeks we were foster parents for two rescue puppies—street dogs, or “Potcakes” from the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean, where we got our own puppy, our first dog, last year. Tuck adored the wee visitors and played with them constantly.

Yesterday we found the puppies’ forever home, a little family that is the perfect fit. We said goodbye to our little wards last evening. We woke up today to our first morning sans puppies. We all feel a little sad. Tuck sits with his head in my lap, gazing woefully at me. A line from the song “Puppies” by the Incredible String Band wanders through my head….”Hey, hey, the puppies, they are gone. Left me here, holding this song….”

“I can’t write about puppies!” I exclaimed. “They have nothing to do with my craft biz.

Jon just smiled and said again, “Write about the puppies.”

I’ve always resisted doing “any old animal” in my art, despite many customer requests. And I get requests all the time. “Do you do dolphins?” “Can you make a turtle?” Resulting in my favorite cheerful yet gentle response to one inquiry, “Sorry, there were no kitties in the Lascaux cave.” (Interestingly, this remark also appeared in the video, as a shot of a page from one of my countless journals…)

But having a dog has changed my life, no doubt about it. And the presence of this intelligent, highly intuitive, mischievous creature in our home has me wondering…. What is the “Ancient Contract”? And just how long have dogs been with us humans??

The old answer, 10,000 to 11,000 years, was based on actual dog remains in burial mounds. So, after Lascaux. But DNA studies now suggest the break of dogs from wolves started earlier, up to 100,000 years ago, perhaps the result of changes in behavior and diet. Marks of a human hand? Perhaps. And new evidence found in older European caves indicate the dog domestication process surely began as long ago as 30,000 years.

And to clinch it, here are the words that grabbed my heart today:
“…ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog (discovered) at Chauvet Cave, France…(Evidence from) torch wipes accompanying the prints indicate the child held a torch while navigating the dark corridors accompanied by a dog.”

The words of my own artist statement echoing back to me: “Born by the flickering light of torches….”

So I’m writing about the puppies today.

After all, just as I can’t live my life without making room for my art, I cannot make my art without my life spilling into it, either. Just as my art informs my life, my life—with children, with silly pets, with the lessons I’ve learned from climbing, and martial arts, with chickens and yes, puppies, informs my art.

I suspect there is a dog artifact wending its way in the days ahead into my art. I know I will use my art in some way to support the Potcake rescue foundation: A fundraiser with my jewelry, perhaps some artwork to sell in their shop.

And here I am, writing about the puppies.

How did Jon get so smart?

And if he’s so smart, how come he can’t remember to wash the outside of the coffee mugs?

I know something of the puppies will remain with me, always. I know because I just found a last memento of our time with these little creatures….

A big pile of puppy poop in my studio.

Tuck, Mike and Molly

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Filed under art, craft, dogs, life with a dog, life with pets, pets

LATEST ARTICLE AT THE CRAFTS REPORT

Well, actually there’s my regular column, Craft Matters: How to Build a Craftsperson

and the shout-out from my friend Nancy LaFevre for Bunster in her article The Joys of Having Your Pet at Work”.

Yes, that’s BUNSTER in the picture!

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Filed under art, craft, humor, life with pets, life with rabbits

OH, THOSE CATS….

And now, a short break from my regularly serious program…. Trying to stay sane as our giant snowstorm turns into a giant cold and gray rainy day.

Today I read a short news item in our local newspaper about the newest recipient of Britain’s Dickin medal.

The Dickin medal, awarded to animals in wartime for bravery and devotion to duty, is the highest military honor an animal can receive. A bomb-sniffing black Lab in Afghanistan named Treo won it this year.

I was intrigued by this about the medal: “It has been presented to 63 animals since its inception in 1943, including 32 World War II carrier pigeons, three horses and a cat.”

Thirty-two pigeons. One cat. What gives??

Wikipedia says this about the cat’s win:

1949: Simon – the ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, noted for surviving injuries from a cannon shell, raising morale and killing off a rat infestation during the incident, by doing this duty despite being wounded. He was raised to the fanciful rank of “Able Seacat” and awarded a campaign medal. The medal was sold by the Royal Navy and is now a valuable collectors item, partly because Simon has been the only cat to win the medal

I don’t know why I think it’s so funny that only one cat has won. For sure there’s just something about them being beaten out by so many birds that tickles my funny bone.

Granted, cats are just not very reliable when it comes to delivering messages, except for the occasional “Yo! I’m outta cat fud!” one. Or when they eat YOUR food instead.

On the other hand, I think this kitty really does deserves a medal!

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Filed under funny, humor, life with pets

TRIBES #1: RUNNING WITH THE PACK

Last summer, we came back from our first Caribbean vacation with a rescue dog. A puppy, in fact, from the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most people bring back a t-shirt or some shells, we came home with our first dog.

Watching him grow and adapt to our household has been a treat. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t make us laugh.

He’s desperate to belong–a potcake cannot survive on the islands without his mates. Here in our home, it means fitting into our family. Watching his antics as he tries to befriend and play with our cats is a hoot.

There are no other dogs in our household, so of course he mimics many of the our cats’ behaviors. He has been around other dogs, of course. But he and the cats are together 24/7, so they are his first source of observation. For example, he noticed that both our cats take a piece of kibble, drop it on the floor, then eat it. And so he does the same.

The funniest cat imitation is how he goes up and down stairs. He watched our cats closely as a pup to see how they did it. Aha! One step at a time.

It worked when he was a puppy because he was the same size as our cats.

But he’s a lot bigger now. As he grew to the size of a border collie, it got harder and harder to scrunch up his body to take each single step. His contortions were extreme.

Yesterday, he had a sort of doggie breakthrough.

For the first time, he took the stairs in great, bounding leaps, three at a time. He practically flew up those stairs.

The look of pleased astonishment on his face was delightful. “Aha!”, he seemed to say. “I can bound!”

There’s a lesson in here for us; you know that, right?

When we have no other examples to learn from, we believe the right way–the ONLY way–is what we see around us.

We look to the people around us to learn “the right way” to do things.

That’s perfectly fine, if we are surrounded by excellent examples. But ask yourself: Perfect examples of what?

Not many artists grow up surrounded by artists and encouraged by other artists.

If you are a dog, there are only so many things you can do like a cat. No matter how many cats you surround yourself with, you cannot be a cat. No matter how much those cats wish you were a cat, you are still a dog. No matter how much they wish you were not a dog, it ain’t gonna happen.

If you yearn to make things with your hands, if you love to draw or paint, if you love to make music, or you must dance in order to think… (I urge you to listen til he gets to part about the little girl who could simply not sit still in school. It is astonishing.)

…And the people around you do not understand that….

What contortions would you put yourself through to fit in?

I scrunched to get up and down those “stairs”, for years. I’ll bet many of you did, too.

When I finally broke through, and created my own paradigm, I felt a freedom of spirit I hadn’t felt since I was a kid.

Ever since, I’ve encourage others do do the same–to find some way of getting their heart’s work out into the world.

Because when you try to bury who you really are, bad things can happen.

If you cannot be the artist you are meant to be, you may become a shadow artist.

I guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, inspiration, life with a dog, life with pets, pets, shadow artist, tribes

ALMOST ANOTHER EXPENSIVE PUPPY LESSON

The things you have to check on when you own a puppy!

We’ve been pecking away all week at a pile of eight cords of firewood, stacking it onto pallets in our yard.

Our new puppy, Tuck, loves to help. He also loves chewing on wood. Consequently, just as we turn to pitch a chunk of wood from the pile to the pallets, we often see Tuck merrily pouncing on a wood chip just where we’re ready to chuck. Fortunately, we’ve always managed to “un-chuck” in time. But we could tell how this would end if we didn’t do something different.

So Jon has taken to tying Tuck up to a long clothesline while he works. Plenty of room to romp, and access to nice chewy chunks of wood, but keeping him out of harm’s way.

Today’s nearly expensive lesson hinges on exactly what the other end of the clothesline is tied to. Sometimes it’s a wheelbarrow, sometimes it’s a tree trunk. Sometimes…..wait, I’m getting ahead of my story here.

Yesterday I was running late for an appointment. I jumped into my car, did my three-point turn to head out of the driveway, and headed out to the street.

Halfway down the driveway, I heard a horrendous noise and the entire car shook. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the passenger side rear view mirror wobble. Wha….???

I braked immediately. What did I break now?? I got out to take a look.

Someone….someone…had tied Tuck’s clothesline to that rear view mirror. No, Tuck was not still attached. (I would have noticed that!)

But when they’d brought Tuck inside, they’d untied him at his collar, and left the clothesline attached to the mirror.

And as I whipped down the driveway, the trailing rope had gotten run over by my rear tire, jerking the rope. And nearly yanking the mirror off my car.

Fortunately, I’d stopped in time. So I still have my mirror, although it looks a little bendy right now.

Who knew that once you own a dog, you have to do a walk-around check of your car before you drive it, to see if someone has tied a rope to it??

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Filed under funny, life with a dog, life with pets, pets

EXPENSIVE PUPPY LESSON

Where NOT to let your dog ride in a car.

We just learned a very expensive lesson today.

When we go in the car, our puppy Tuck rides in the back seat, preferably on the floor. He immediately would scrunch under the driver’s seat, which we thought was cute. “Oh, look!” I’d say, “He’s trying to get closer to us without actually getting in front!” (Which isn’t allowed.)

Two days ago, my “air bag” warning light came on. I took it in to the Subaru dealer today.

The service manager called me back a few minutes ago with an odd questions.

“Do you have a dog?” he asked.

“Yep”, I replied. How did he know??

“Is it a small dog?” he asked.

Wow, I thought, this guy is amazing! “Yes, he’s a puppy.”

Then I thought, did Tuck poop in the car??

Nope. Much worse. And much more expensive.

Turns out our little Tuck chewed through the air bag harness which is located…..under the driver’s seat. It will take at least four days for a new one to be sent, and it will cost $545 for the harness and it will take 2-3 hours of labor.

Oh my.

So here is my public service announcement: Do not let your darling little puppy-or-small-dog crawl under the car seats.

Because in addition to the candy wrappers/empty pop cans/gas receipts/other assorted trash, there is evidently a pricey little part under there that dogs just love to chew.

That, or Tuck is actually a gold-digging puppy who hoped to inherit our estate after we were killed in a car crash.

Naughty Tuck! But he’s in good company, as you can see from our other pets who create havoc with their chewing.

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Filed under announcement, funny, humor, life with a dog, life with pets, pets

DOG OWNER, HEEL THEYSELF!

Living with intention makes for better dogs, and makes us better artists.

Our new puppy Tuck (he’s the stylin’ dude in the blue bandana) is a delight. Tuck is our first dog ever. He’s a little too smart, but funny, sweet and eager to please. He has already added a lot to our lives. Including a few little puddles and stinky poo piles. (He’s getting much better with housebreaking, though.)

Actually, we’re getting much better with housebreaking. Which is the point of today’s post.

We’re learning that training our dog means retraining ourselves.

This weekend we hired our local “dog whisperer”, Perry Davis, for a one-hour intensive puppy training class. Perry is amazing with dogs. He doesn’t have a website (yet) but if you are interested in his services, please email me privately and I will send you his phone number.

We found we were doing some things right. But there were quite a few things we could do better. And the time to start doing better is right now, in this stage of deep learning, before Tuck hits the human equivalent of adolescence. (Parents of teens know this is when you seem to become invisible and mute to your child.)

This is the time to take advantage of natural tendencies in a puppy (eager to please, follow the leader) to lay down a good foundation for all future training.

Our dog sees us as either a leader, or a follower. We need to establish ourselves as the leaders in every situation.

For example, we’ve been using “come” to get Tuck to go along with us. And already it was not working as well as it should. He was beginning to resist going for walks on his leash, and would end up sitting in defiance while we tugged and lugged on his collar. He loves to go home, though. So I would drive Jon and Tuck downtown, and then they would walk home from there. Not something we want to become a habit.

Perry showed us that we were giving Tuck mixed messages, and not taking advantage of a built-in tendency: A dog his age (four months) wants to follow.

In order to encourage him to do what he naturally would do, we should not face him and ask him to “come”. (“Come” should ask a dog to return to you, not go with you.) We were to turn around, face away from the dog, and go, with the firm command, “This way!”.

We tried it. Sure enough, his compulsion kicked in, and he hurried to catch up. It was amazing! It worked every time. Soon Tuck was walking downtown and back with us again.

My husband Jon, as always, was quick to see the subtle structure beneath the advice and suggestions Perry offered. It was Jon who noted that the sequence also trained us.

Changing the command and the posture also changed the whole balance of energy in the interaction.

“Come” asks for something to come to you–in this case, our dog. It hopes the “something” will come.

“This way!” is you taking charge, you going your way. And expecting that “something” to go along with you.

What an intriguing metaphor….

Of course, there are many times when it’s nice to ask.

And hope is a good thing. It’s always good to have hope.

But there are also times when you need to just get going. “This way!” This is what I want. This is where I want to go. Making our intention clear to the universe.

When we know what we want, when we take responsibility for our journey, all our energy will go into supporting that. Naturally, without fuss, with enthusiasm.

Not without obstacles, of course. There are busy streets and high hills to cross on our walk. There may be setbacks and issues.

But knowing we want to go there will give us the good energy and zest we need to make our way.

Such a useful management tool for dogs. And for us.

P.S. The title comes from an old joke about a guy who named his dog “Physician.” When they went out for walks, he could say, “Physician, heel thyself!”

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VACATION MODE–OFF! Sunburn, Island Dogs and Fire Safety

We’re back from our very first Caribbean family vacation. We spent a week on the Turks and Caicos islands. And yes, it’s as beautiful as it looks in the pictures.

My sun-lovin’ husband is happy, happy, happy, but despite avoiding the sun between 10 and 3, applying not one but two layers of sunblock (we’re talking zinc oxide here, people) and staying in the shade, I managed to get so sunburned I needed medical intervention. I love the idea of a tropical island, but I’m afraid I could never really survive on one.

Most people come back from the islands with seashells, or maybe a t-shirt. We came back with a potcake puppy.

We actually adopted our little sweetie (a male–we’re still arguing over names) from the Turks & Caicos SPCA. The folks there arranged every single detail of our adoption and transportation of this pup, and another one who will be eagerly welcomed at our own local animal shelter.

Our Monadnock Human Society has had such incredible success with their spay and neuter program that we actually have a shortage of mixed-breed dogs available for adoption in the region. The TCSPCA, on the other hand, is desperate to find homes for these abandoned dogs. They already have connections with other shelters in the U.S. We’re hoping this newest connection with our local shelter will result in more wonderful new homes for these amazing island dogs.

Traveling with these two puppies through three airports, customs, immigration, one delayed flight and a long layover, was a piece of cake. Many airport personnel were familiar with the dogs; you haven’t lived til you’ve seen a stern and proper customs official melt at the sight of one of these pups. One former islander laughed heartily and said, “Yah, we say ‘potcake’, but you say ‘MUTT’!” That’s exactly what they are, of course, lovable, affable mutts.

People unfamiliar with them cannot believe how relaxed and happy the puppies were. They really are mellow, loving dogs, and we hope more can find their way to the states.

And to get right back to business, here is this excellent article on fire safety for your booth by Candy Adams in Exhibitor magazine. It’s one of the best I’ve seen on the subject, and though it’s written for “the big guys” at major trade shows, it offers good insight and clarity for us artists/craftspeople and our more humble booths.

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Filed under adoption, art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, display, life with pets, pets

CHICKEN LESSONS

We’ve had a small flock of chickens for awhile now. We enjoy them immensely, not only for the delicious fresh eggs but because they’re so funny to watch.

A few days ago, though, we saw the worst of all chicken behaviors.

“Pecking order” among birds is not merely unpleasant, it can be deadly. Chickens will mercilessly attack and kill not only a strange bird, but one of their own flock, if they perceive it as sick or wounded. Theories abound about why they do this, and the theories make good sense. But it’s still hard to see in action.

Our little flock had turned on one of their own. They started in on one hen, pecking at her til they drew blood. We took her out of the coop and put her in a large cage in our mudroom.

The “house hen” was happy enough for a few weeks. But my daughter, convinced she was missing her flock, returned her to the coop.

We either put her back in too soon, or she’d become enough of a stranger to the others that her fate was sealed. The next day, Robin found the bloody carcass, minus a few important body parts (like her head).

It was an awful sight, especially to us “chicken newbies”, and Robin was devastated. She declared she wanted nothing more to do with chickens ever again.

We talked about it later. As I shared with her these “chicken lessons”, I realized they can also be good lessons about making and selling your art.

1. Chickens can’t choose. We can.

Chickens are not people. If, in fact, they are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, then we are dealing with instinctive behaviors that have been in place millions of years before humans appeared on this planet. Our own human heritage has evolved to allow us to choose whether to fear and hate “the other”. We can choose to behave differently.

Chickens can’t choose. It’s not fair to attribute such human notions as “kindness” and “cruelty” to behaviors that keep the species healthy and viable at the expense of the individual.

We, too, are not completely at the mercy of the world when it comes to our art. We may feel that way sometimes! But we actually have tremendous choice.

We can choose what kind of art we make, what quality of work we produce, and who to market it to. We can choose how to promote it and where. We can choose the story we tell people about it.We can choose our own balance of prestige, money and fame, if we are willing to do the work associated with each choice. I could go on, but you get the point.

2. Don’t make it personal.

The chickens didn’t do this to make us miserable. It’s just part of owning chickens. Sometimes bad things will happen. A fox will take one, or they will get sick and die. We can minimize the bad stuff by taking good care of them, but we will still make mistakes. And even if we take perfect care of them, stuff happens.

When it comes to making and selling your art, try to avoid taking setbacks and failures personally. “They” don’t get my art…. “Nobody” likes my work…. “I did that show and it sucked big time! Nobody wanted my work!” Who is “they”?? “Nobody” likes your work?? Is it really just you and “everybody else”? Statements like this are gross generalities. They set you up against the world, they doom you to pessimism and lassitude.

Instead, try to view your marketing and promotional efforts as experiments. You got results that were effective or ineffective in furthering your goals. “I tried that show and didn’t do well. Its audience was not a good fit for my work.” Or even “I may need to invest a few more years at that show to build a good audience for my work.”

3. Only brittle hearts break.

To rephrase: T’is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

When we love something or someone, it stretches our hearts. When that object of our affection is hurt, or hurts us, it feels like our hearts are broken. We feel like never loving again, because it is too painful when things go wrong. I know people who, when their beloved pet dies, swear they will never own another–because it hurts too much to go through that again.

But that pain we feel is is the growth forced on us by experience, by living life to the fullest. The pain I feel when my spouse and I are fighting is excruciating. Yet that is simply a consequence of being a different person than him. Though we love each other, sometimes we just don’t feel the same way about certain things. My children drive me nuts sometimes, and if anything were to happen to them, I would feel like dying. But I never regret for an instant my decision to marry, nor our decision to have children.

The same with our art. Sometimes it seems too hard to get it out there, and the setbacks seem unbearable. Some days we may feel, “What’s the use? I just don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. People don’t care. Why should I keep butting my head against this wall??”

But when I think back to what my life was without my art, I can hardly breathe. As hard as it gets sometimes, it was worse–much, much worse–not being an artist.

I am grateful to have had the chance to make beautiful work that has brought so much joy not only to me, but to others. My life is richer for it.

4. Gain, don’t blame.

It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of determining whose fault it was. But in reality, we were all to blame–and none of us to blame. After all, I could have called a friend to ask their advice about the situation. If I’d really felt it was too soon for the hen to go back to the flock, I could have stood my ground. In fact, some of the anger I felt about the situation was guilt for my part (lack of action)….

But that doesn’t get us anywhere. Hindsight is always so damn obvious. We shoulda, we coulda…. Guilt and dismay keep us locked in the moment. They are only useful if they help us resolve to do better next time.

In the end, it’s not about “What did we do wrong?” It’s about “How could we do better?”
Try not to dwell on the mistakes you’ve made with your art in the past. Instead, look at them as marvelous opportunities not to make that same mistake again.

5. It’s still a good life.

After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I realize that even with this unhappy event, our chickens have lived a humane and enjoyable life, compared to the chickens raised commercially for eggs and meat. Our chickens get to run free, eat bugs, enjoy the sunshine and dig to their hearts’ content.  For a chicken, it’s a pretty good life.

So, too, despite the ups and downs of the artist’s life, it’s a life I would choose again, and again, and again. Because this is still my best life so far.

As I get older, people are starting to say to me, “How did you get so wise?!” Okay, I admit it–I love it when they say that!

But the truth is, wisdom comes with experience. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to learn from the mistakes of others. Mostly, we learn from our own.

Everything you read in my blog is me working out the good stuff from all the bad stuff that happened to me. Sometimes I do it easily, and sometimes it takes me a few days, or weeks, or even years to get there. I’m a work in progress.

But the wisdom is always there, if you are willing to look for it. Even in the sad death of a single little chicken.

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MORE BUNNY LESSONS

My rabbit Bunster (she looks a lot like this rabbit) pretty much has the run of my studio. Sometimes this is not fun. She chews a lot, for one thing. If I don’t pay enough attention to her, she will even chew my pant leg. All my pant legs have rough spots where she’s nibbled the edges.

But she amuses me with her little bunny romps in the early mornings and evenings, when rabbits are most active, and I love the fact that she always hangs out near me when I’m working or writing.

And the lessons she teaches me are useful, too. I’ve written about some of these lessons before here and here.

Last night she taught me another lesson.

I often run back and forth between the main house and my studio. She hangs out happily in the mudroom in between sometimes. But every time I open my studio door, she runs over as if she wants to come inside.

If I opened the door to let her in, she stops and just sits there.

This always infuriates me. “Come in or go out!” I exclaim. “Make up your mind! It’s cold out here! I can’t leave the door open all day!”

She always ignores me, of course. I think she’s teasing me. Or trying to figure out where I’m eventually going to land, so she can hang out there, too.

Last night, she paused in front of the door, refusing to come in. But when I started to close the door, she reached and and grab the edge with her teeth and start to gnaw. I would open the door. She stopped. I go to shut the door again. She grabs the door again.

This went on and on.

Finally, I scolded, “Come in or stay out–but quit eating the damn door!!”

And then I started laughing.

I’ve been caught in the same dilemmas all season. Rest and recuperate? Get back to work? Start production? Clean the studio? Explore new ideas? Get caught up on the old ones? Chuck it all and move to Hawaii??? I just can’t decide what I should do, what I want to do, what my next step is. Someone tell me what to do!! All I want to do right now is hole up in a warm corner and knit.

As my rabbit twitched her nose at me, I realized it doesn’t matter which way I decide to go. In, out, in. If it’s not right, I can always jump back.

But there’s absolutely no point in sitting in the doorway and chewing the door.

Time to simply DO.

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GOODBYE LITTLE RAT

Yesterday was a hard day. I had to take my daughter’s pet rat to the vet to be put down.

I cried and cried as she fell asleep in my hands and then died peacefully. She was the sweetest animal that has ever been in my care.

I know, I know. I know EXACTLY what you’re thinking. “Rat” and “sweet” do not belong in the same sentence, unless it’s something like, “We killed the rat, SWEET!”

I’ve never been fond of rats, and a year living in downtown Baltimore almost 25 years ago sealed the deal. Even looking at them made me nervous. Movies like “Willard” and “The Bone Collector” merely confirmed my harsh opinion. And no one ever disagreed with me.

Oh, from time to time, I’d hear people say, “Oh, but pet rats are so SWEET!” My response was, “Yeah. Right!” A stint as a rat handler at our local human society changed my mind substantially, but I still got nipped a lot. I grew to see their charms, and I could see how desperately they sought affection. But never really thought I’d grow to see one as an uber-pet.

Until this particular little rat came into our home.

My daughter bought her as a baby at a local pet store, and snuck her into the house. She hid her inside a large box in her bedroom for months before I discovered her. (Waist-high piles of clothes and books and girl trash were very effective at keeping me out of the room.)

When I discovered the rat, Robin thought it was funny her parents were so “dumb” they hadn’t known she’d had a rat for months. I pointed out it wasn’t exactly cool to have a room so messy, you could hide rats in it.

As Robin’s friends and boyfriends dominated her life more, and she spent less time at home, I felt guilty about the rat. I did a little research and learned they are intensely social animals. So social, one source admonished, that having a single rat was tantamount to….well, rat abuse. I resolved to spend an hour every evening handling the rat while I watched TV with my family.

And I ended up falling in love with that silly little thing.

Robin called her Mavra (MAHV-rah) after some Welsh thing, and we never did learn what it meant or how it’s really spelled.

Mavra slept most of the day, and when the TV came on, she knew it was social time.

She’d scrabble out of her house, a little cardboard box we’d cut doors in. Inside that box was her her nest. I now understand where the term “rat’s nest” comes from. It’s a large, carefully constructed bird’s nest made with everything they can get their paws and teeth on. Every time we cleaned her cage, we gave her a new supply of newspaper strips, toilet paper, a rag or sock. She would carefully pull each piece inside her box and trim them down to bite-size pieces. Then each piece would be carefully stuffed into the next. This would keep her busy for hours. They were amazing to look at.

I’d pick her up and let her run around my lap and legs a little, before settling in for a cuddle. Sometimes I’d stick her in a pouch or an old cloth purse, and actually “wear” her into my studio. I’d do some work or read e-mail while she scrabbled around happily, eating tortilla chips, occasionally sticking her nose out for a peek.

She was very much like a dog in her behavior–happy, affable, curious. She never once bit me or anyone else while being handled, not even when she was given food. She even learned not to pee on us, once she realized we didn’t like it. We didn’t have to do much–we would just say, “Oh, Mavra!” sadly and put her back in the cage and go clean ourselves up. She figured out what was up with that, and rarely peed on us after that.

Mostly, she loved to lie happily in my lap and have her head stroked, just like a dog. Long strokes from her nose over her eyes and deeply rubbing her ears. She would chatter her teeth, rat behavior that means, “YES!! I LIKE that!” Often she would fall asleep.

Robin took Mavra with her last fall to her first internship. I’m so glad she did! The internship fell through, but not before Robin had spent months alone in a tiny studio apartment, in a tiny town hours away, so isolated her only social contacts were at the restaurant she worked lunches at. Mavra kept her company during the long, long hours of solitude.

I owed Mavra one for that.

I guess what broke my heart as she died is I know very few people would ever look further than her ratty head and her snake-ish tail, and see deeper to the loving and gentle heart inside. Even my husband never looked at her without shuddering, and most people’s initial reaction was “eeeuw!”

But rat lovers know.

Many folks are not who they seem on the outside. Some are pretty pretty, but shallow and cruel inside. Some are ugly or unassuming, but they are loving and kind.

Give me the rats of the world any day.

I found an old soft t-shirt of Robin’s to bury her in. I tucked her in the pocket, and tucked her tail in around her. Doug and I buried her in our backyard with our other beloved pets. I found a stone from a beach in Rhode Island that amazingly, looked like a rat–gray and long, with one pointed end and a rounded end, and flat on the bottom. I put it on her grave.

Goodbye, sweet Mavra. I hope you find a warm little nest and a pile of tortilla chips in heaven. And someone to soothe you to sleep each night.

I will not forget you soon.

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Filed under life, life with pets, pets, rats