Slobbery balls are like other people’s babies

Gus slobbering his ball

Okay, now you think I’ve completely lost the plot!  Don’t worry, this blog remains G-rated.  It’s just that sometimes you need a break from being all philosophical and serious, and sometimes things just strike you in a funny way.  So, here goes:

Yesterday as Gus and I headed towards the field, we ran into Tami and her son Adam, with their dog Watson.  They are long-time friends from the neighbourhood.  In fact, if you check out the post “Simple words; serious power”  you’ll see Watson in the picture with Gus when he was just a puppy.  We had a great walk through the fields together.  Gus, of course, was carrying a tennis ball in his mouth, and I stopped from time to time to throw it for him.  Watson wasn’t interested in the ball at all.  He was content to sit and feel the wind in his face (to be discussed in an upcoming post), and to watch his rather goofy friend run like crazy.

Now, I’ll confess that I’m pretty awful at throwing a ball.  I have improved dramatically over the past 3 years, but I have received quite the abuse for my throwing skills.  Adam took pity on me and offered to throw the ball for Gus, so he could have the chance to really run for it.  It was then that I realized that this meant that Adam would actually have to touch this ball!  Pardon me for being so gross, but by this point, Gus’s ball was completely covered in dog slobber and slime.  It’s just what happens to a tennis ball in the mouth of a thirsty, slobbering dog!  I thanked Adam, and told him it was ok – Gus was used to my rather lame throwing.  But Adam is true hero.  He picked up that disgusting ball and he threw it!  In fact, he kept on throwing it over and over again.  Gus was in heaven.

While this was going on, Tami and I were chatting.  We both remarked how there are some things in life that change for you under different circumstances.  I remembered a time before I had kids.  Now, I always loved babies, and would hold and cuddle them at any chance.  But there were certain things that I was happy to deal with only minimally until I had babies of my own.  Somehow all that yucky stuff like drool and diapers seems revolting when it’s associated with other people’s babies, yet when it comes out of your own kids, you just take it in stride and it doesn’t seem to bother you at all.  Maybe it’s parenthood.  It just seems like we all develop stronger stomachs and greater tolerance for a lot of stuff when our own kids are handed to us.

I guess touching a slobbery dog ball fits into the same category.  For most people, the idea of having anything to do at all with dog slobber is disgusting.  Now, slobber from someone else’s dog – that’s really gross!  Adam, I’ve got to hand it to you;  you are a true friend.   I know you’re too young to think this is a good thing, but I have a feeling that you’ll make a wonderful father some day!!

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Whose path is it anyways?

The gang on the path

It’s one of the ongoing issues faced by every neighbourhood dog owner.  Dogs need space to run and walk every day, and many of the handiest places are public parks and pathways.  Finding the perfect balance between people and pets requires cooperation and compromise, and occasionally it generates a bit of tension.

This morning Gus and I ended up on the path in the park near our house.  As it was a lazy Sunday morning, we were lucky enough to meet up with a few of our friends that we don’t see every day, due to our varying schedules.  Gus was ecstatic to run with Lucy, Phoenix and Skye, and I was delighted to have a chance to catch up with Shelley, Celine and Mary Lou.  All in all, it was a lovely social event; one of the moments when I really appreciate just how important all my dog-friends are in my life.

As you can see from the photo above, we created quite a presence on the pathway.  During the time we humans were chatting, the dogs alternated between running insanely among the trees, chilling at our feet, and generally just milling about in the general area.  Several people walked by us, and most of them greeted us warmly and smiled at the dogs.

At one point, however; a man approached on the path.  I didn’t know him, but didn’t think anything of it.  Gus, in his usual friendly manner, ran up to say a rather slobbery “hello.”  It was then that I realized that this man was definitely not a dog person.  He scowled at the dogs and grumbled as he walked by, and he pulled his hand away where Gus had touched him, as if he had been burned.  I think he also muttered “s–t!” rather loudly as he glared at Gus.

What followed was a rather lively discussion about who had the right to be on the path, and who should have given way at that particular moment.  We weighed the relative merits of municipal bylaws requiring dogs to be on leash, versus the generally accepted neighbourly understanding that exists in our park. Everyone had their own opinion on the situation.

So whose path is it?  When push comes to shove, I tend to defer to the law.  If there is a sign that says that dogs need to be on leash, then I will err on the side of caution.  After all, who wants to pay a fine?  I admit that most of the time I do let Gus run free, and he usually doesn’t bother anyone.  When I see someone who looks a bit apprehensive, I will always clip on his leash as a sign of respect.  He is a lot of dog, and if you don’t know his sweet and goofy nature, he can be a bit intimidating from a distance. I don’t want to upset anyone in the community.

In many areas of our lives we have to deal with “turf” issues.  It starts when we are toddlers and we have to learn how to share our toys.  We move on to the playground, the high school cafeteria, and finally the office, where we have to learn to manage the lines that separate our own sphere of responsibility from that of our co-workers.  In fact, these issues even spill over into family dynamics, where well-meaning siblings sometimes upset one another by overstepping unwritten boundaries without intending to.

The one thing in common with all of these situations is that there is rarely a clear answer to the question of whose turf is whose.  Even if there is, as with the bylaws in the park, reality often causes the lines to be blurred by other factors.  We are influenced by the heat of the moment, by history, by emotions or pride.  Sometimes we are able to step back off the path and let the non-dog person walk freely by, and at other times we feel compelled to stake our claim; even when we know it’s not really the right thing to do.

There’s harmony in our park every day because we all usually manage to figure it out. We have managed to work together to come to a mutual understanding, and a kind of balance in which everyone’s rights are respected for the most part.  As for those moments like this morning when the lines get crossed;  I hope that man won’t hold it against me or Gus.   After all, he only wanted to say hello!

A few good pictures are worth a thousand crummy words

As you may have gathered, I’ve had a pretty exhausting few weeks.  I’ve done my best to keep blogging through everything, and I am so grateful for all the feedback and support I have received.  Your comments have made me feel that what I am doing is worthwhile, and that I should continue with what I committed to.

I find myself completely exhausted this weekend – I think everything just caught up with me.  When I first decided to start blogging, my one concern was that I didn’t want to post anything that wasn’t worth reading.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t write garbage just for the sake of having a post to publish.

So, as I sit here yawning, realizing that it has been a few days since I posted, and trying to string together something of interest, I came to the conclusion that I’d take a little break. Today I’m going to give you something to look at instead.  Here are a few of my favourite photos of Gus – they always make me smile.  Enjoy!

Gus in the tall grass

Gus curious face close up

Gus asleep with his ball

sweet gus 2

Gus cozy in red blanket

The power of touch

Sarah and Gus black & white

This is one of my all time favourite pictures.  It shows the strength of the bond that Gus and Sarah share, and it projects beautifully the warmth and easy comfort between them.

There’s a joke in our family that our household productivity plummeted when Gus came into our lives.  None of us can walk by him without stopping for a snuggle, a belly rub or even a simple pat.  I’ll often walk into a room to find one of the kids wrapped around him, asleep on the floor.  There’s no question that he is our living stuffed animal.  He’s like a blankie for all of us.  I’ll often sit with Gus in my lap, and just run my hands through his coat as a way to calm myself down. During these past weeks of great stress I have often buried my hands and face in his fur and had a good cry – it really helped.

There is a huge body of research on the power of touch.  In terms of known benefits, it reduces stress, boosts the immune system, decreases pain, calms the mind and lifts the mood.  I teach at a massage therapy college, so I guess I should know!

Yesterday I returned to work at the college after almost two weeks absence.  I was bombarded all day by my wonderful students wishing me well and expressing their concern for me after what I’ve been through.  As you’d expect from a bunch of future registered massage therapists, they are a very physical bunch.  I  received so many warm hugs and gentle touches – I was blown away by the energy of it all, and it made me feel so good.

As a society, we tend to keep pretty much to ourselves, and we are inclined to save touch for our pets, our partners, or specific people in certain situations.  After reflecting on what I’ve experienced and what I’ve just written, I’m making a personal commitment to relax a little and to hug a lot more.

Give back

Gus giving back

When we were in the throes of deciding to get Gus, we struggled with the pros and cons, and the balance sheet associated with becoming dog owners.  Many of our well-meaning friends and family members cautioned us, and sternly advised us to fully understand what we were getting into.

The cost of the puppy himself became insignificant as we considered a lifetime of vet bills, pet insurance, food and accessories; not to mention the human cost in terms of time we would take from our already busy lives to devote to his ongoing care.  Many people told us we were crazy.  Of course, we went ahead anyways, and we have never looked back.

In the three and a half years since he became part of our family, Gus has given so much more than he has taken from us, no matter how we measure it.  His unconditional love, his enthusiastic greetings, his sunny and goofy disposition, his ability to connect with others in any situation, and his sweet and gentle presence when we need it are just a few examples of what he gives to us and to so many other people every day.  If it actually were possible to construct a balance sheet to evaluate Gus as an investment, I can tell you that we have come out way ahead.

The importance of giving to others is one of the basic principles that defines who I am.  Jeff and I share this philosophy, and we have tried to instill this in our children from a young age; doing our best to set an example through our own behaviour.  It is perhaps no coincidence that many of our closest friends and family members also give to others in so many ways.  Over the years we have helped support many different causes; some big and some very small, but all equally important.

This morning I received an email from my friend Debby Kaplan.  The subject was “I need your help.”  She outlined a project that her son Jordan has begun.  It is called “A Million Tweets to Remember” (1MTweets).  The website is http://1mtweets.com/   -the link above will take you directly there.

The following is taken from the email I received today:

This project is being launched today to coincide with World Alzheimer’s Day.  Its goal is to digitally memorialize one million people who have lived with Alzheimer’s disease by having their loved ones tweet about them.  Alzheimer’s robs people of their memories, so this movement is a powerful and poetic way to ensure we are remembering those who can no longer remember for themselves.  Everyone who tweets will be asked to donate a minimum of a buck to Alzheimer’s research.

Everyone has their own reasons for doing good and for giving to others.  Some are driven by religious obligation; many view it as a social responsibility that comes with being part of a civilized society.  Others don’t even give it that much thought – it is just a part of who they are.  Whatever your motivation, I encourage you to help me spread the word about this incredible project to support this worthy cause.  If you do so you will find what a mountain of research has confirmed:  doing good simply feels good.

Sunshine and a new puppy

New puppy

Dogs need walking every day.  Every morning since Dad’s funeral,  I have dragged myself out the door, and Gus and I have spent our usual hour striding across the fields and through the neighbourhood together.  It has been good for me.  Using my body and breathing in the fresh air has helped me to feel better physically,  and, as usual, walking with Gus has given me the chance to process and reflect on the events of the past few days.

As you know, the weather this week has been beautiful.  I have stopped many times at the top of the hill and basked in the morning sunshine.  I have smelled the changes in the air and noticed the leaves beginning to turn colour and drop from the trees.  Fall is my favourite time of year, and it is arriving on schedule once again.

On my first day out this week, I felt a sense of  disbelief that everything could look so beautiful, when my world had been blown apart.  As we walked our route, I felt myself wanting to scream at the people strolling and driving by, to say, “don’t you know what has happened!”  Then I came to accept that, of course, they don’t.  I was hit by the realization that the rest of the world is continuing on as though nothing is different at all.

The gaping hole that my family is struggling with, and this sense of being thrown off balance are confined to our own tiny piece of this vast universe we all inhabit together.  I know for sure that, in a million other places on earth right now, there are countless others coping with a similar reality, and with so many other issues of so many different types.  And yet, through it all, the sun comes up each morning as it has every other day.  The earth revolves and life goes on, as it should.

Jewish tradition dictates that we observe a period of shiva, or mourning, when a loved one dies.  Since the funeral, my family has been at our parents’ house, receiving friends and relatives, and being comforted and supported by so many wonderful people who are part of our lives.  While the shiva traditionally lasts seven days, ours had to be cut short because the celebration of the New Year, Rosh HaShanah, began at sundown last night. The custom to mark the end of the shiva requires the family to leave the house together, and to walk around the block, symbolizing our re-entry into the rest of the community.

Yesterday morning as we all strolled quietly together up the street from Mom and Dad’s house, we noticed some neighbours outside.  They were welcoming home their brand new puppy.  She is so new that they haven’t even picked out a name for her yet.  As you can see from the photo above, I couldn’t resist taking her in my arms and snuggling her for a moment.  As I held her close, it suddenly occurred to me:  a new life, a new year, a new beginning. . .

To all my family and friends,  Shana Tova Umetukah

I wish you all a good and sweet New Year.

Tribute

My father was a big man.  And he took up a lot of space.   Right now, we are all trying to come to terms with how we will ever cope with all of the empty space he has left behind, now that he is gone.

His chair at the head of the table.  The corner spot on the family room sofa.  The chair on the front porch.  The driver’s seat behind the wheel of his Porsche.  The space he so often occupied in places like the balcony in this sanctuary, the Y, and the marina at the waterfront.

And of course, there is an enormous space he has left empty in every one of our hearts.

As I’ve been struggling to imagine how we will ever manage with all of this empty space, it occurred to me that I had it all wrong.   It’s like one of those optical illusion puzzles – if you look at it one way, it appears as though nothing’s there at all, but if you change your perspective and look again harder, suddenly a vivid and detailed 3-dimensional image jumps out at you.

Instead of focusing on the unbearable fact that he isn’t here anymore, our job is to shift the lens and to bring into clear perspective the rich and detailed images that are filling and overflowing out of all of that empty space.

Mickey Cooper was all about people.  His children and his grandchildren are living proof of all that he truly valued, and it is through our lives that everything good about him will live on.

He taught us all that the most important things in life aren’t things; and that it’s the relationships between people that matter the most.  Through my whole life I’ve watched him build and nurture relationships, and so much of who I am today is the result of those valuable lessons.

He found a way to forge a connection with everyone he met.  In the simplest of human interactions, he would always draw out some detail about the other person, and he would find a way to link their lives together, so that he became not just another customer, associate or patient.  He was even doing it in these last days while he was so sick in his hospital bed.

Late on Sunday night, as his new nurse was helping him get settled for the evening, he insisted that she look at his jacket hanging in the closet, because it had a logo on it from the country she was born in.

Our family is Dad’s greatest achievement.  He was so proud of us, and who we are, and he made sure that we all knew it; especially in these last weeks.  He told me that he was so happy about the way that we all pulled together around him and Mom during this tough time.  I let him know that we were simply following the lead that they had set for us for all our lives.

There were so many times when we all worried about him, and we struggled as we tried to protect him from knowing just how bad things really were.  In comparing notes over the past 24 hours, we have all come to feel that he knew all along, and that, through his actions as always, he was looking after all of us in so many ways.

He announced the other day that he was going to write a book about all of this once it was over.  And he was planning a party to show his thanks to all the special people who were so good to him and to us through his illness.

As he rallied last week, we all got a gift, and we had precious time again with Dad in his best form.  He held court in his hospital room; telling jokes to his grandchildren.  Without meaning to, he started up a competition of sorts.  We tried to outdo each other in showing our love for him, but we did it in his style and in the language he understood best.

Dad wasn’t one for flowery or sentimental speeches.  We all casually said “love you” every time we left him in the hospital, and he’d blow a kiss and say it right back.  But we truly told him how much we loved him as we bent over backwards to smuggle all of his favourite things into the intensive care unit.  Even on his worst days, he was jokingly handing out “stars” for our efforts:  rice pudding was trumped by chocolate ice cream, then a McDonald’s hamburger, a corned beef sandwich, chocolate cake, salami, and finally. . . kishka!

He rarely took any credit for his role in creating the family he was so proud of.  But  just the other day, in his inimitable style, he looked at Mom and I and he said: “I guess we must have done something right; there isn’t a loser in the bunch!”  Mom, you and Dad did everything right.  And you did it together.

It’s the next generation that carries forth the legacy that anyone leaves behind.  I’d like to close by reading you some excerpts from something that our children put together for Dad’s 75th birthday, 4 years ago.  It says a lot about who he was, and the wonderful images and memories of him that we will all carry forth forever.  I think it reflects his unique sense of humour as well.

It’s called:   All I Really Need to Know I Learned from My Bumpa

The best part of any meal is the meat.

Anything green will be eaten “later”.

The world’s finest instrument is the ukulele.

Sailboats are meant to be polished.

No matter the topic; there’s always a song to go with it.

Any performance, recital, game or life event, regardless of how small, is worthy of a grandfather’s attendance.

When in need of obscure information for any school project; call Bumpa.

Above all, family comes first.

We love you Dad