Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zippety-doo-dah

Zippity doo dah, Zippity ay,

My oh my what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine coming my way,
Zippity doo dah, Zippity ay!

If you don’t recognize this little ditty, it’s a song from the 1946 Disney classic live-action and animated movie Song of the South, sung by James Baskett.  The music was written by Allie Wrubel and the lyrics by Ray Gilbert and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year.  (It was the second in a long line of Disney songs to win this award, after When you Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio.)

And if you’re wondering why I’m sharing it with you, it’s is in celebration of this being my final post in the A to Z Challenge 2013!

I did it!  I completed the challenge.  I posted 26 blogs this month on different topics from A to Z.  It wasn’t easy.  It was a lot of fun, but I have to give credit where credit is due and thank all the people who posted suggestions for topics that sparked my muse and inspired me.  I think I would have given up 20 or so posts ago if it wasn’t for that support.

So sing along with me as I end this final installation in the A to Z Challenge…

Zippity doo dah, Zippity ay,

My oh my what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine coming my way,
Zippity doo dah, Zippity ay.

Mister blue bird's on my shoulder,,

it's the truth,
it's actual,
everything's satisfactual!
Zippity doo dah,
zippity ay,
zippity doo dah,
zippity ay!

Have an amazing day, everyone.  Thank you all who stopped by and read my challenge posts.  Here’s wishing you all plenty of sunshine!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yoga

Most people who know me are aware that I am a certified Yoga teacher.  In 2008, I completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Program through the South Okanagan Yoga Association (SOYA).  I didn’t do this so much because I wanted to teach yoga classes; I did it more because I wanted to understand Yoga better.  I thought that it would complement the Yoga Philosophy course I had completed in 2004.  And it did!

In the West, Yoga is more or less thought of as a type of exercise.  And to some degree it is.  But Asana, or postures, practice is only one part of what Yoga is all about. 

There is also the misconception that Yoga is a religion.  It is decidedly not.  It is a life style; a way of living, similar in some aspects (of philosophy, particularly) to Buddhism.  And while Buddhism is now considered a religion, it was not Siddhartha Gautama’s intention that it be one.  (But that is another blog.)

There are actually eight parts, or limbs, as they are called, to Yoga:

The roots are found in Self Study, Discipline and Dedication

1.       Yama – Self-restraints: non-Greed, Spiritual conduct; non-theft; Truthfulness, non-Injury
2.       Niyama – Things to do, coming to terms with yourself: Dedication, Self-study, Austerity, Contentment, Purity
3.       Asana – postures and movement: control of the body
4.       Pranayama – Breathing techniques: Control of the breath/life force
5.       Pratyahara – detachment form the world, sitting quietly aware of breath: control of senses
6.       Dharana – steadying the mind
7.       Dhyana – contemplation, mindless attention
8.       Samadhi – Bliss which defies description (enlightenment)

The last three culminate in meditation, contemplation, concentration.

For the visual learner - a visual!

There is nothing religious about any of it.  There is a mystical feature that is talked about in the teachings; that of psychic and other supernatural powers that develop through the practice.  These come with cautions and warnings and all the regular disclaimers – If this is your goal, then you will not achieve them! 

Yoga teachings strongly suggest and encourage practitioners to be vegetarian.  It isn’t a rule, as such, but there is a bit of snobbery going on there, I think.  I also think that it has been greatly influenced by all the hype about what is and isn’t good for you.  Occidental thought and culture have not made Yoga better.  Just different from its original form. 
The typical yoga class in the West contains elements of all of the limbs of Yoga, but the true philosophy is buried deep under the pursuit of looking good in the usually expensive “yoga attire” that the western capitalist mentality has pitched, to phenomenal success, as being required.  I often wonder if the ancient Yogis had special Yoga-wear loin cloths.  I highly doubt it.  Asana practice is just as effective in sweats and t-shirts as it is in “yoga” pants and camis.  You’re probably better off doing it naked anyway.  (I wonder how much a naked yoga class would cost…  I’m not sure it would be conducive to concentrating on the poses.)

I do want to be clear that I am not knocking yoga classes.  I think it’s wonderful that people are being introduced to this limb of the practice – no matter what they wear.  I enjoy sharing yoga asana with my friends, though I do not teach professionally.  It’s very peaceful exercise, relaxing and I think that is probably what westerners need more than anything:  some relaxation!  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X ix for X

X is one of the most useless letters in the alphabet.  Along with C and Q, and possibly Z, it could quite easily be eliminated without being terribly missed.  While C would be missed in words like “achoo”, why not just use K?  Akhoo!  (Your left brain is rejecting this!)

X is a decorative letter, making for interesting looking written words.  But as far as pronunciation…  well, there are alternatives. 

Looking for a topic for this Challenge post, I did come across some X words.  Mostly scientific in nature and, on this sunny Saturday morning, not really all that appealing.  So X, itself, is the topic. 

X is much better suited to being a symbol than a letter.  It’s decisive and succinct; easily identifiable.  It can indicate – quite clearly – that something is wrong.  It represents the number 10 in Roman numerals.  It also represents the unknown – as in algebra.  Alternately, it can, as is my favourite use for it, “mark the spot.” So it does have its uses.  And it sounds cool to say:  eks. 

The multiplication sign (or times sign) is not called an X, though it does resemble one – exactly.  It’s called a multiplication sign or times sign.  Which I found rather disappointing as I was hoping that there was some cool name for it that I had been unaware of.  But no. 
I did discover that it was introduced in 1631 as the multiplication sign by William Oughtred and was chosen for this purpose for religious reasons to represent the cross.  I could find nothing to explain the rationale for this choice.  What does the cross have to do with multiplying? 

According to Wikipedia: “The letter “x” is sometimes used in place of the multiplication sign.  This is considered incorrect in mathematical writing.”   I’ll be mulling this one over all day, I think.  How on Earth would anyone know the difference?  Can you imagine:

“You failed your math test because you used the letter eks instead of multiplication signs.”

“No, I used multiplication signs!”

“They are clearly letter ekses.  You fail.”

God, I’d love to be a math teacher and use that on a student as a joke sometime!

Anyway, if you will X-cuse me, I’m not going to X-tract some brunch from the kitchen and think about the difference between x and x.  (As soon as I figure out which one is the multiplication sign.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Words

Words.  I love words.  I love discovering new words.  I love trying to work them into conversation. 

I have started a collection of words that, for one reason or another, have intrigued me.
  • Vilipend – v. to regard or treat as of little value or account; to vilify, depreciate
  • Terpsichorean – adj. pertaining to dance; a dancer
  • Psithurisma –n.  a whisper or a whispering sound
  • Pluvious – adj. of or pertaining to rain; rainy
  • Obumbrate – v. to varken, overshadow, or cloud; n. Obsolete, overshadowed, darkened
  • Nemophilist – n. lover of forests
  • Hamartia – n. tragic flaw
  • Gibbous – adj. convex at both edges, s the moon when more than half full; humpbacked
  • Fricative – adj. (of a speech sound) characterized by audible friction produced by forcing the breath through a constricted or partially obstructed passage in the vocal tract; spirantal; spirant; n. Also called spirant – a fricative consonant as th, v or h. 
  • Eponymous – adj. giving one’s name to a tribe, place, etc. (Romulus, the eponymous founder of Rome.)
  • Crapulous – adj. given to or characterized by gross excess of drinking or eating; suffering from or due to such excess.
  • Chiaroscuro – n. the distribution of light and shade in a picture; Painting – the use of deep variations in and suble gradations of light and shade; a woodcut print in which the colours are produced by the use of different blocks with different colours; a sketch in light and shade
  • Bouleversement – n. an overturning; convulsion; turmoil
  • Ataraxia – n. a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquility

These are just a few of the words I have recently added to my collection.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.  Which is your favourite?  Use it in a sentence in a comment below.  (Yes, that is a challenge!)  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Vinegaroon

 Just to be perfectly clear, I am a certified arachnophobic.  If it has eight legs and and an exoskeleton, I’m outta there.  Yuck.  That includes lobsters and crabs (though I do give crabs a small measure of latitude, being my astrological sign and all).

But in my search for an interesting topic of today’s A to Z Challenge post, I happened across the word: vinegaroon.  If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll probably understand why this word stopped me in my tracks and caused me to further investigate.

I’d never heard the word before.  Had no idea what I was going to find.  Imagine my disgusted surprise to discover that such a cool sounding word belongs to a scorpion.  Now there’s the stuff of nightmares!

The vinegaroon (also spelled vinegarroon) is a type of whip scorpion that emits a vinegar-like mist (mostly acetic acid) and is not a true scorpion at all.  Not that that matters – there’s still the eight leg/exoskeleton thing going on.  In the creepy little guy’s favour is the small fact that it is not venomous.  Its long tail is a sensory organ and does not have a stinger, which is what distinguishes it from a true scorpion.  It is a nocturnal carnivore that dines on bugs and have a particular fondness for crickets.  The large pincers are used to catch prey and tidy up its living quarters.  And it’s big.  Like 4 inches long.  (Might as well be 4 feet!)  Home is in southern USA (scratching that area of the world off my bucket list).

Now that I’m as thoroughly educated on these critters as I ever care to be – not to mention a little grossed out – I shall now leave you with these images of vinegaroons:




Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Unusual

I am typically drawn to things that are unusual or unconventional.   And mystical.  I like things that are a bit strange; unexplained.   Esoteric teachings fascinate me. 

Good.  If you're eight feet tall and only
sleep in one position.
At the same time, I look for logic in the unusual and unconventional.  It has to make sense.  To me. 

So I experiment a lot with thoughts and ideas.  If This is so, how is That not so?  That’s a big question for me; one I like to play with often.  How did this come to be?  How did it come to be accepted?  Why?  What is the purpose of this belief?  That ideology?  How does it serve?  How does it not serve? 

Hold on to your handlebars -
it's going to be a bumpy ride!
I used to ask myself what my purpose in life is.  I don’t anymore.  My purpose is to Be.  And so I try to do that.  Just Be.  Just Be creatively. 

I love this!

My struggle is to balance the mundane obligations of life with creativity.  My challenge is to approach the mundane as creatively as I can.  It’s hard to be creative when vacuuming the floor, for instance, but the floor still needs to be vacuumed.  Or does it?  I’ve been conditioned to wanting to live in a clean environment and vacuuming is one way to achieve that.  If the stuff I dump out of my vacuum canister is anything to go by, it’s testimony to at least a certain degree of success.  (Where does all that stuff come from!?)  If I can’t be creative about pushing Tyler, my Dyson Ball vacuum cleaner, around, I can at least be thankful for the time it gives me to experiment with thoughts and ideas.  Like how to be creative when I’m paying my bills!  Again, I find it fascinating that just by moving numbers from one field on my computer screen to another, service providers are somehow satisfied.  All I’m giving them is digits, disguised as binary code.  It’s kind of bizarre – when you really think about it.

I can't decide if this looks
comfortable - or not!
Nature always finds a way.  
I love conspiracy theories.  I love that they challenge me to think unconventionally; to see an unusual perspective.  I love that they cast doubt on the status quo.  I don’t necessarily believe them (in fact, I rarely do), but I like that they challenge the mind to see things differently.   I think that there is great value in that.  Question everything is my motto.  Like mantras, why, what and how are the first things that come to mind when presented with any new information.  Is it at least plausible?  If so, is it good or is it bad?  Does it serve the greater good, or is it a product of egocentric greed?  Is it beautiful, or is it not?  Is it creative, or is it destructive?  Is it helpful, or is it harmful?  Can it make my life better?  Can it make everyone’s life better?  Can I get behind it?  Or is it best to walk away? 
I wonder if this is real...
Obviously, I don’t have the time to put that much energy into everything that comes my way.  It has to pique my interest, speak to me somehow as being worth the effort.  But if it does, I’m like a dog with a bone.  I buy books.  I find articles.  I experiment with it – mentally or physically, if I can.  Deconstructing notions, reverse-engineering an idea is one of my favourite… for lack of a better word, hobbies. 

I'm guessing PhotoShop...?
Does this count as topiary?
It took me a long time to realize that not everyone likes to be challenged like I do.  I still have difficulty processing that sometimes and it does get me in trouble now and then.  I don’t mean to be aggressive or cast aspersions, but that’s how I come across to some people.   And, yes, I do occasionally take exception to the points-of-view of others.   (Usually, only when they are being aggressive or casting aspersions, though.) 

Few things are as satisfying as a healthy debate.  Often this is where the unusual and unconventional come to light; where the imagination is ignited and new ideas are born. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Topiary

How majestic!  

I don’t know a damn thing about topiary.  Except that it’s very cool.

This would look so cool outside
the library.
The idea of training live perennials to form shapes fascinates me.  Not enough to go out and learn how to do it.  Just enough to blog about it. 
The word topiary derives from the Latin, topiarius – a creator of topia or “places.”  Evergreen plants such as European box, arborvitae, bay laurel, holly, mertle, yew and privet are commonly used in topiary due to their small leaves or needles and dense foliage.  Today, wire cages are sometimes used to guide untutored shears, but traditionally topiary depended on patience and a very steady hand.  For the impatient and unsteady, small-leaved ivy can be used to cover a cage to give the look of topiary in a few months (more my speed).  The simplest form of topiary is the hedge, used to create decorative boundaries, walls or screens. 
Running puppies!  And you don't have
to clean up after them.
Topiary is also a fun word to say.  Topiary.  It sounds fanciful and whimsical; somewhat magical, which it sort of is. 
Giraffes would make a nice addition
to any garden.
Ah, the king of the jungle.

And now that I know a wee bit about it and have discovered the ivy cheat thing, I might just add some pseudo-topiary to my garden plans…  Hmmm… 

This guy is interesting!
I'm guessing the owner does this
for a living. 
And the mighty tiger.  My favourite.

Anyone know where I can get a wire cage shaped like a tiger?

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Spanokopita

If you’ve been following this blog – or if you know me at all! – you know that I am a very fussy eater.  Very fussy!

The only cooked vegetables I typically eat are peas and corn – and I prefer my peas raw and my corn popped.  If you count potatoes as a veg, then, yes, I do eat cooked potatoes.  But I’m talking about veggie-veggies… green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and such.  

Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers can be lumped in here as well, even if they are technically fruits.  Although, I do like cucumbers a bit.

I will eat almost any vegetable raw.  I love salads.  Not crazy about tomatoes (unless they are in a sauce) or peppers (at all).  But spinach and cabbage and carrots and broccoli and cauliflower, etc. tossed with lettuce and cheese cubes and boiled egg and nuts or seeds and a bit of yummy dressing and I’m in heaven.

Cooked carrots, beans, broccoli, cabbage…  Yuck.  You couldn’t pay me enough to eat a brussel sprout.  I’m not adventurous enough to know if I’d eat asparagus or squash.  Getting past the veggie part takes a lot. 

And spinach?  Well, raw in a salad is fine.  I can handle that.  If it’s chopped up really fine, I don’t mind a good spinach dip.  But cooked?  Yeah, that’s just not going to happen.

A few weeks ago, my niece was staying with me while her parents were in China.  She came home from the babysitter’s house one afternoon with a little container filled with Spanokopita.  She was so excited and suggested that we have some with our dinner that night.  I had no idea what Spanokopita was, but pretended to be as excited as she was. 
As I prepared our dinner – can’t recall what it was now – my niece kept reminding me about the Spanokopita.  I assured her that it would be on the table.  She was probably just happy to have something for dinner that wasn’t… well, cooked by me.  I’m not much of a cook either.  When we sat down to eat, my niece reached immediately for the Spanokopita.

“Have one, Aunty Toni,” she said, so enthusiastically.  “They’re really good.”

Not wanting to set a bad example, I took a small piece from the container and placed it on my plate.  I used my knife and fork to cut a corner off so I could see what was inside.  It was green.

Green mystery food and I don’t have much of a track record.  “What is it?” I asked my niece.

“I don’t know.  But it’s yummy!”

She’s seven.  And she’s eating – willingly! – food she can’t even identify.  What’s up with that?
I actually made these all by myself.  
I sniffed at the corner I had cut off.  It did smell good.  So I closed my eyes and plunged the fork into my mouth, fully prepared to make an exit to the washroom to spit it out if I had to.

I stayed right where I was, chewing thoughtfully. 

It was good.  It was really good.

I still didn’t know what it was, but I heard myself telling my niece to ask her babysitter for the recipe. 

After dinner, I Googled Spanokopita.  Imagine my surprise to find it was spinach.  Wow!  Must have been the feta cheese, nutmeg and garlic that won me over.

What a delicious treat!  The recipe is now tweaked and safely recorded in my recipe box.
Spanokopita (Toni style)
Phyllo pastry sheets
One package chopped spinach, thawed and drained
One package cream cheese, softened
One tub feta cheese
Two eggs
Salt, pepper, garlic to taste. 
A pinch of nutmeg – optional
Put everything (except the Phyllo pastry) into a food processor and blend the crap out of it.  Follow the instructions on the phyllo pastry package for making triangles.  Use a good dollop of the filling – almost a tbsp. or so – for each triangle.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. 
There is enough filling for two packages of phyllo pastry using two sheets per piece of spanakopita, more or less.  (About 72  pieces)

Spanakopita is a Greek dish, by the way.  

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Read

I love to read.  Reading is one of the things that I could never, ever, take for granted.  It’s a privilege and an honour to be able to read in this world.   Too many people cannot do this seemingly simple thing.  Illiteracy is a huge problem.  And I’m not just talking about third world countries; it’s a problem right here, right now, in my own country, my own community.

I don’t remember not being able to read or write, really.  I do remember the pride I felt at being able to read and write when I was young.  I was one of the kids in class whose hand always shot up at the chance to read aloud in class.  I loved seeing the little black characters on the page and turning them into words.  Turning the words into stories and information was, to me, an amazing magic.

Reading challenged me in ways that I didn’t expect.  New words thrilled me.  Applying the rules of English (loose as they may be at times) and figuring out a word that I had not come across before made me feel good.  It still does! 

One time in grade 4, I had a reading assignment.  I can’t remember exactly what I had to read, but for some reason, I knew in advance that I was going to have to read it out loud in class.   I was excited.  Until I came across a word that just stumped me.  I could not figure out what it was.  The word was determined, but I read: deeter-minded.  Over and over again, while practising to perfect my inflection, I got to the word determined and read it wrong.  I knew it was wrong, but my budding young pride would not allow me to ask for help.  I was stubbornly set on getting it on my own.

The morning that I was supposed to read the assignment dawned without enlightenment.   I grew nervous.  For the first time since learning to read I was afraid to read this particular assignment out loud. 

Then the moment arrived and the teacher called my name.  I stood up beside my desk and opened my book.  I cleared my throat.  I licked my lips.  My tummy tightened.  And I started to read.

Determined, my new nemesis, fell about three quarters of the way or so through the passage.  I read slowly, speaking clearly – as I was taught to do – thankful that I had practiced so much that the fact that my mind was reeling, trying to figure out what the word was, went unnoticed.  I paused at the beginning of the paragraph with the strange new word in it, took a deep breath and told myself that I was determined to get it. 

And the light flipped on! 

With great confidence I forged ahead and when I got to that word, I said it right.  I remember looking up from the page at the teacher for any sign that I had screwed up.  I hesitated briefly, waiting for her to correct me.  But she did not.  She simply smiled encouragingly.  As I finished reading the assignment, I did a little happy dance inside.  That was the moment when I realized how truly incredible the ability to read is.  And I will never forget it!

Since then I have read hundreds of books.  I read for the stories.  I read for the lessons in the stories.  And I read for the challenges they present.  Whether that is a new word to add to my vocabulary, a new perspective or a new idea, reading is a connection to the world – and many other worlds! 

It saddens me to see young people (and not so young people) who struggle with reading and writing.  I wish I had a wand that I could wave to give them the magic of literacy.  How much better would this world be if everyone had this blessing and could use its magic? 

Much, I think!  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Quest

When I hear the word quest, I think of heroes.  I associate it with myth and fantasy and magic. Visions of damsels in distress and dragons and evil Lords bent on quelling the hero come to mind. 

Wikipedia defines a quest as a significance-laden journey.  I kind of like that.  A significance-laden journey.  It has rather a cool ring to it.  Makes me want to go on a quest!  Hmmm…

Typically, a quest involves a hero, either dispatched or of his own accord, who sets forth from the world of common day into a land of adventures, tests, and magical rewards.  Sometimes his goal is to win the heart of a beautiful maiden.  Sometimes he has to save the world from some evil force – or at least restore balance so that the evil force cannot take over.  Sometimes he has to solve a mystery.  Sometimes he has to locate and return with a specific object, usually of great value and often supernatural in some way.  He may have to travel far; possibly to other worlds or dimensions.  He may, in the end, decide not to return at all.  In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s quest was not to find something, but rather to destroy the One Ring.  Indeed, quests take many forms.  Invariably, they are fraught with danger and test the hero’s strength (physical, mental, spiritual) and skills. 

But they make for great stories. 

The Hero’s Journey – or monomyth - is one in which a “hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (Joseph Campbell.)  It is fated or predestined as part of the life-path of the individual who is called to adventure.  His spiritual centre of gravity has been transferred from the known to the unknown.  In other words, he challenged to go beyond what is accepted and find his own truth. 

Quests of the archetypal Hero as described in myth are epic in nature.  They lead the hero away from what is customary and conventional and give him an opportunity to become the catalyst of change.  Not just for himself, but for the world.  And hopefully, for the better!

Today heroes find themselves on quests quite different from the mythological ones we read about in books.  Today’s heroes quest for sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.  The dragons they fight are plastics, pollution and politics.  They don’t wield swords; they employ information.  They raise awareness, peacefully (mostly), and teach by example. 

My daughter, Bizz  is a hero.   She inspires me every day to try to be a better person, to respect our great Mother Earth and to live simply and lovingly.  She is courageous beyond measure.  She is creative.  She is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.   

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for Pickle

Ah, the lowly pickle.

Pickling began about 4000 years ago in India using a cucumber that is native to that country.  Designed as a way to preserve food for out-of-season use or for long journeys, especially by sea, pickled food was not only practical, but quite delicious.  Spicy sauces made to accompany meat dishes were called ‘pickles’ but it wasn’t until the 17th century that brined vegetables like the cucumber or gherkin came to be called pickles.  The word pickle comes from the Dutch or Low German pekel, meaning “something piquant”. 

The process of pickling preserves food by anaerobic fermentation in brine to produce lactic acid.  Alternately, marinating and storing food in an acid solution – usually vinegar – creates a pickling effect as well.   Antimicrobial herbs and spices, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, are often added, which in turn add to the flavor.  In some cases the nutritional value of the pickled food is increased by introducing B vitamins that are produced by the bacteria. 

While pickles are a delicious addition to almost any meal, it is not considered auspicious to find one’s self “in a pickle.”  To be in trouble or have a dilemma is considered being in a pickle, an allusion to being as disoriented and mixed up as the stewed vegetables that made up pickles (the sauce kind, presumably).  The phrase appears to have been coined in the 15th century, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the almost identical saying, in a stew, came to be. 

I can attest, however, that being in a pickle can at times become a favorable circumstance.  This morning, for instance, while wracking my brain for a suitable topic for today’s challenge post, I said to myself, “Well, isn’t this a fine pickle!”  It was at that point that the proverbial light bulb flashed on in my brain and how P came to be for Pickle today.

May your gherkins always be crispy and cold!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Oliver

After Neiko died I swore I would have no more pets.  The heartache of losing that big guy was just too much. 

Then I met Oliver.

Oliver was about six months old at the time.  He was rescued in Smithers, taken to the Northwest Animal Shelter and fostered until someone could adopt him.  That someone turned out to be me.

No one is really sure what his back story is, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that since December 29, 2011, Oliver has been a wonderful companion and has helped to fill the hole in my heart left by Neiko.

While Oliver may not be a big brown dog – in fact, he’s not a dog at all, but a cat – there are moments when I have to wonder.  He loves to play fetch, for example.  We spend many amusing hours together, me tossing a mouse down the basement stairs and Oliver bringing it back to me. 

I’ve always been rather partial to cats.  My favourite animal is the tiger!  Long before I had ever even heard of the Chinese zodiac, much less knew that I was born under the sign of the tiger, these great feline beasts have held me in thrall. One of my childhood fantasies was to have one for a pet.  I got to pet and walk (briefly) a young one at zoo once.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven that day.  As I grew older I realized that their place was firmly in the wild.  And the next best thing was a truly domesticated cat.   They’re much smaller and cheaper to feed. 

I’ve had a few cats in my life time:  Ebony, Cleo, Beau, Jazz, Randy, Venus, Kato, Josephine, Sunday, Cyan, Tango, Pudding and Petunia.  All special in their own way. 

Oliver is my first rescue pet.  And so he’s just a wee bit extra special.  It feels good to be giving a good home to an animal that might otherwise have had a very different story.  He’s affectionate and sweet and generally well-mannered.  His habit of crawling into the space between the floor joists is a bit alarming at times.  And his very cat-like love of yarn can be a bit of nuisance.  It’s very difficult to knit with him around!  But all-in-all, I’m very glad he’s part of my life.

So much so, that I ended up adopting a second rescue cat to keep him company.  But that’s a whole other blog!  Suffice it to say that Oliver’s adopted brother epitomizes kittendom like no other cat I’ve ever known.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for Neiko

I’m re-sharing a blog post I wrote a while ago – Ode to a Big Brown Dog. I still miss him every day.  

June 1, 2000.  My daughter Tracy was 15 years old and determined beyond measure to convince me to let her keep a gangly brown puppy that she had carried home from the trailer court.  I was determined not to let her.  It wasn’t that I didn’t think she would take care of it; I just didn’t want a big dog and I knew that I would inherit it when she eventually moved out.  She promised that would never happen. 

I argued that we didn’t have a proper yard for a large dog.  She said she would build a run.  I pointed out the high cost of vet bills and food.  She swore she’d work to support his every need.  I simply said no.  She simply waited until Dave came home from work.  When I told him that Tracy wanted to keep the puppy, he casually remarked that it was okay with him.  At that moment I knew I was doomed.

Doomed to spend the next 11 and a half years with one of the coolest dogs that ever was. 

Neiko was born on April 10th, 2000.  One of a litter of 14 Chocolate Lab/Akita cross puppies, he was the only one that was solid brown.  The only tell that he was more than just a lab was a thick line of wavy fur down his back.  And the fact that he grew into an 86 lb. monster of a lab.  For the most part, he had the sweet disposition of a Labrador retriever, but the 25% Akita in him was 100% dog aggressive.  This trait didn’t really present itself until he was a little older.  Had we known that cute little bundle would become such a terror, we might not have given in so easily. 

Tracy wanted to name him Bartleby after the angel in the movie Dogma.  There was no way I was going to stand on my deck and call a Bartleby into the house, so I protested vehemently.  Oddly enough, a woman named Pollyanna suggested Neiko and, thankfully, Tracy liked it.  With that settled, we did our best to put up with one of the dumbest, clumsiest puppies in the world.  He got hit be cars twice, but both times was fortunate enough to escape serious injury.  Tracy took him everywhere with her and so he assumed that the whole town was his playground.  One night he followed a friend of Tracy’s home and when her friend’s mother came home from work at the mill at midnight, refused to let her into her own house. 

By the time he was approaching his second birthday, even Tracy was feeling like she just might have bitten off more than she could chew.   We were about to give up on him, but seemingly overnight, Neiko stopped being  dumb and clumsy and turned into an incredible dog.  His aggression toward his fellow species notwithstanding, Neiko was smart and full of personality.  His repertoire of tricks included the standard sit and lay down, but was enhanced by singing and playing dead when we pointed a finger at him and said, “Bang!”  He could roll over, sit pretty and crawl, too.  

Neiko loved people.  Someone once remarked to me that I must feel so safe at night when Dave was working with Neiko around.  I had visions of an intruder breaking in and Neiko thinking, “Hey, someone new to pet, pamper and play with me!”  Thankfully, his protective instincts were never put to the test. 

When he wasn’t happy with us, he let us know.  He would pout and refuse to acknowledge us if we had offended him in anyway.  Pretty much the only way to get him to forgive us was to say the word ‘treat’ – and, of course, follow through with the offer. 

He loved to go for rides.  Any opportunity to hop in the car or truck was met with joy and big, happy doggy smiles.  It didn’t matter where we were going or even if he never got to get out when we got there.  Neiko just wanted to be included in our activities. 

Our yard was constantly littered with bones that Neiko dragged home from God knows where.  Moose, deer, cow – and even  horse once – parts were a familiar part of the landscaping.  We never mowed the lawn without first “walking the grid” in search of blade bending bones.  One morning we woke up to the head of a four-point buck on the lawn.  Neiko and Simon (our dachshund) munched on that for weeks.  I prayed that no one would drive by and see their trophy in our yard.  Hooves were a particularly favourite treat.  Ever step on a piece of Lego in the dark?  Hoof bits have a similar effect!

True to her word, Tracy looked after The Schnoof, as he affectionately came to be called.  She fed him, brushed and bathed him, walked him and cleaned up his messes.  She worked to buy his food and pay for any vet bills.  She responsibly had him neutered when he was six months old.  And when she moved out, she took him with her.  Neiko, however, didn’t want to go.  He became even more aggressive and difficult to handle.  Tracy, in tears, thought she was going to have to put him down.  But Dave had other thoughts on the matter and told her to bring him home.  As much as I didn’t really want to have look after him, I was relieved that he wasn’t going to die and welcomed him back.   Tracy continued to support him by buying his food and tending to vet bills over the next several years. 

As brave as Schnoofy could be in a dog fight, he was terrified of fireworks, backfiring cars and the sound of gunshots.  Thunder had him cowering next to – if not on top of – us on the couch.  He would visibly quake until the noise stopped. 

In spite of having fangs that were over an inch long, Neiko was incredibly gentle when being hand fed.  He was always nervous around young children, but very tolerant  and never, ever hurt anyone – on purpose.  When Tracy was raising rabbits and guinea pigs, Neiko protected them.  No other dog could get near his “babies.” 

As much as it broke my heart, I chose to leave Neiko and Simon both with Dave when I moved out last spring.  It was their home and after Tracy’s disastrous attempt at relocating him, I believed that Neiko would be content to stay with Dave for the rest of his life.  Then one day, Neiko discovered where I lived and began making increasingly frequent visits.  I would often come home from work to find him waiting for me on my deck.  I would take him home or Dave would come and get him, but he just kept coming back.  Sometimes circumstances would mean that he had to stay overnight with me.  I didn’t feed him, but he wouldn’t go home on his own when he got hungry either.  When he was home, Dave would have to physically drag him into the house to eat.  As soon as he was released, back he came to my place.  We finally decided that for his own safety Neiko would live with me.  Or rather, we finally agreed with Schnoofy on the matter. 

He settled in and was quite happy here.  He was the only pet and so got all the attention.  For a while he would go back to Dave’s for visits now and then, but eventually he stopped even doing that. 

He suffered from progressive hip dysplasia over the last couple of years.  Like most dogs with the condition, he had good days and bad days.  It was all I could do not to burst into tears when he stumbled and fell on the stairs.  But I tried to follow Cesar Milan’s advice and not show overt pity for his plight.  Neiko accepted it and so I tried to as well.  To help him, we ensured that he got top of the line dog food with glucosamine and had hoped that that would slow down the degeneration of his hips joints and ease his discomfort.  It seemed to be working.  He wasn’t as shaky and unstable for the last few weeks. 

Last night I came home from work to find Neiko waiting for me at the door.  As per our usual routine, I gave him a treat and a hug and let him outside for a pee.  He didn’t even go down the stairs and barked to be let in only a few moments later.  For the next two hours he was quite restless, moving from the couch to the floor to his bed and back to the couch again every few minutes.  I didn’t think much of it as he would do this every now and then.  I was expecting another bad spell with his hips. 

At about seven o’clock he wanted to go outside.  I opened the door and he walked out with his tail down.  He paused at the top of the stairs and looked back at me.  I gave him a pet and watched him go down the steps.  He walked into the back yard and laid down in the snow.  Again, I didn’t think much of it as he sometimes did this.  I figured he’d be back at the door in a few minutes.

An hour passed.  I decided to go and check on him.  When I opened the door and called his name there was no response.  He wasn’t on his chair on the deck and I thought that maybe he had gone for a walk-about.  When I turned to come back in, I saw him laying in the snow a few feet from the bottom of the stairs.  I called his name.  He didn’t move. 

Neiko had died. 

It looked like he was heading back inside and just collapsed on the way.  Perhaps his heart gave out.  I really don’t know.  I hope he didn’t suffer.  I feel so bad that I wasn’t there with him when it happened. 

He’s gone to rest at Dave’s Dad’s farm next to Muffy, Wiggles, Cleo and other McKilligan family pets.  Dave’s Dad kindly fired up his back hoe to dig a grave.  Being winter, the option of digging one any other way is nil. 

Before wrapping him in his old blanket, Dave removed his collar and gave it to me.  It now hangs on my headboard.  Eventually, I will put it away, but for now, that’s where it’s going to stay. 

Dogs are such amazing creatures.  Their love and loyalty, their natural empathy and compassion for their owners is a model more of us could emulate.  Dogs live in the moment.  They don’t regret.  They don’t hate.  They know how to forgive. 

Having Neiko in my life was a privilege.  I’m glad that we were able to give him a good life.  We spoiled him quite rotten.  I doubt Cesar Milan would have been proud of us, but we loved him.  So much!  He’s going to be very, very missed – by us and by a lot of people in this community who got to know him over the years.  

I’m sure I won’t miss the hair on the furniture.  Or the requests to go outside in the wee hours of the morning.  But I will miss the cuddles and the kisses, the tricks and the company.  Neiko was great company! 

Good bye, my big brown dog.  I hope that wherever you are there are no end to the bones and balls and squeaky toys that you loved so much. Rest in peace, dear Schnoofy!