Creative problem solving

Okay, so here’s the story:  I was all set tonight to write a serious post about dealing with stress, but then I looked over at Gus, and he just made me smile.  We can talk about stress another day, right?  I decided that a few smiles would do everyone a world of good.  In fact, they might just help alleviate a bunch of that stress that I was going to write about.

What happened is that Gus got a small cut on his back a few days ago.  It wasn’t any big deal, but, being a dog, he just wouldn’t leave it alone.  He kept licking at it, and he was preventing it from healing.  We were trying to think of how to get him to stay away from it.  A band-aid wouldn’t work, for obvious reasons.  We didn’t think he needed to go to the vet’s, and we didn’t want him to have to wear one of those awful lampshade cones.  Then I had a brilliant idea.  I suggested that we put a t-shirt on him, to keep the area covered so he couldn’t get at it.  Bingo!  It worked.  So, for the past few days, Gus the labradoodle has been sporting a variety of Jeff’s old t-shirts.  He actually seems to enjoy wearing them. He calmly lets us put the shirt on, and he hasn’t tried to take them off at all, although I can’t imagine how he would do that anyways!

Of course, we take the shirt off when he goes outside – we wouldn’t want the other dogs to get jealous!  We have jazzed things up a bit by finding some more stylish shirts as well.  Don’t you think he looks great in mauve?

Today he was sporting a nautical, preppy look.  I think it really suits him!

So there you have it.  A little story about solving a problem by thinking outside the box.  Gus’s cut is healing up nicely, and we have thoroughly loved seeing him in all his stylish apparel.  I hope that you have too – enjoy!

It’s beginning to look a lot like. . .

Pretty cool huh!

Well, the weather is mild, and the grass is green, and there are still some hardy flowers peeking about in the gardens.  But never mind, it is November 23 and everywhere we look it is starting to look like . . . Christmas!!

As one who has never had the chance to celebrate Christmas, I have always loved all the festivities that go along with this time of year.  I particularly enjoy all the ways that people decorate their houses for the holiday season.   With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few shots I took of Gus today as we walked around the neighbourhood.  There are some very creative people out there.  Gus thought so too!

(although he wasn’t too sure about this guy in the red suit!)

Sorry, but we didn’t see any elves.

Up the down staircase

The other day as I was on my way upstairs, I came upon Gus as he was on his way downstairs.  He looked at me, and then he stopped in his tracks.  He paused for a bit, as if to consider his options.  Then he watched me go past him.  After an awkward minute or so, half-sitting on the stairs, he maneuvered himself somehow, turned around, and then proceeded to follow me where I was going.

I captured this shot of him in that moment where he frozen halfway; neither up nor down.  I think you can see the awkward look on his face, as if he isn’t quite sure which way he should be going.

In a funny coincidence, I happened to be speaking to my Mom later that afternoon.  When I asked her how her day was going she said, “to be honest, I feel like I’m going up the down staircase.”  I laughed and told her of my experience with Gus.  I said that she wasn’t alone;  and that he was having the same kind of day.

They happen to all of us.  Those days where we just can’t seem to get it all together.  I’m sure you can relate, and can think of a day, perhaps even recently, when nothing seemed to go according to plan.  On those kind of days you often feel as though you’re spinning your wheels, or, like Gus, sitting halfway up the middle of the stairs trying to figure out if you should be going up or down.  They are often days that leave me feeling as though I haven’t accomplished much of anything, even if I’ve seemed to be busy all day.

The good news is that these days usually pass quite innocently. If we don’t get too stressed about them, we can usually get back into our regular mode pretty quickly.  I’ve learned to accept that sometimes there will just be days like these, for whatever reason.  Maybe we have too much on our minds, or maybe we’re just plain tired out.  Whatever the cause, the best thing to do is to just give in and cut yourself a little slack.

When I find myself feeling this way, I usually try to keep a low profile, and I try not to take on anything too demanding.  These are often great days to just treat yourself to a little indulgence – even if it’s only a cup of tea and a half  hour with a really good book.  With a little TLC, everything ends up going in the right direction!

Just move

We always joke that Gus only came with two speed settings:  flat out and flaked out.

Flat out

It’s hard to say which one he actually spends more time in over the course of the day.  If you were to ask him which speed he prefers, I’d put my money on flat out.  Gus is truly happiest when he is in motion.  To see him running full tilt across the field, with his ears flapping wildly, is to witness pure joy.

I think the reason that Gus is so calm when he’s in the house has something to do with the fact that he gets so much exercise outside every day.  We figure that, on an average day, he spends over 2 hours outside; walking, running and playing ball or frisbee.  The interesting thing is that, if he’s outside, so are we!

There is no question that we are more active as a family since Gus came into our lives.  One of the commitments we made when we decided to get a big dog was to ensure that he was properly exercised.  It has certainly paid off, both in terms of his health and ours.

There are volumes of research on the benefits of physical activity at any age.  Just today, I heard a radio announcer discussing a new study in which the evidence seemed to indicate that older people with stronger muscles are at reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  That’s great news, and it can be added to the enormous list of benefits already attributed to being active.  They include: improving your mood; reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis; helping with weight management; boosting your energy level; improving your sleep; and even improving your sex life!  Wow, if someone said they had a pill that could do all that, people would be lining up for it.

A lot of people complain that they don’t have the time to exercise, or that they can’t afford to join a fancy gym.  That’s crazy.  In the end, you don’t need a swanky place or elaborate equipment to get active.  As far as I’m concerned, anything at all that gets you moving is better than sitting on the sofa!  Just put on your shoes and walk around the block – it’s beautiful out there!  As a bonus, you might just see something inspiring while you’re at it.

This point was brought to life beautifully for me this morning.  It was a cool and clear day, and the sun was sparkling as we strode through the neighbourhood.  At one house we passed, a grey-haired couple were out in front on the driveway. The man was wearing roller blades and a helmet, and he was helping his wife pump up the tires of her bicycle.  We passed them, and then I stopped and doubled back to say hello.  I wanted to take their picture, because it was such an inspirational scene, but they were a little camera shy.  Instead, we chatted for a bit, and I told them that I planned to write about seeing them today.  The woman piped up, “make sure to tell them that we’re seniors – 68 and 69!”  So now you know.  A few minutes later, once we were well down the street, they whizzed passed us with a smile and a hearty wave; she pedaling rapidly on the bike and he striding gracefully behind on his rollerblades.  It was a beautiful sight!

What’s in a name?

Gus baby with name tag

It was actually kind of hilarious and embarrassing at the same time.  This morning we were out at the park with our neighbour Mary Lou and her dog Jake.  As we strolled up the path, we noticed two women approaching.  I told Mary Lou that these were two of Gus’s good friends.  We have seen these two ladies out walking together on many mornings over the last few years.  In fact, they have known Gus since he was a puppy.  As they approached, Gus and Jake gave them great big hellos, and we all exchanged greetings as well.

As usual, they stopped walking to visit with us for a bit.  I know that one of them has an aging  dog named Sparky, who hasn’t been well.  I asked how he was doing, and was filled in on the latest details.  We ended up chatting for quite some time, and the conversation somehow rolled around to funny stories about small animals getting in houses.  We had a good laugh as we shared squirrel and mouse capers.

It was only near the end of our conversation that we somehow started to address the issue of names.  We all came to the realization that, while we knew the names of all the dogs, we did not really know each other’s names.  They knew me as “Gus’s mom” and I knew about Sparky, but I did not know the name of his mom, who I have chatted with for years.  Ironically, I knew that one of them was Carol, and we all burst out laughing as we realized that she was the only one without a dog.  “That’s why you know my name – it’s because I don’t have a dog!” she exclaimed.

So what does this say about us?  There are so many dogs we have met on our daily adventures.  I remember all their names, and I’ve written about many of them.  Very often, though, I never learn the names of their owners, or if I do, I don’t always seem to remember them.

I stopped to think about it, and I realized that there are a lot of people that I only know as “Charlie’s mom” or “Rocky’s dad.” Is it possible that I’m so focused on the dogs that the humans become less important?  I don’t really think so. because I often get into deep conversations with other dog owners, and we sometimes chat for over an hour.  I think that what happens is that, after we exchange names, I get distracted and fail to really commit that name to memory.

I have learned that, when I meet someone new, if I consciously associate their face with their name for a few seconds, then it seems to be embedded permanently in my brain.  If I fail to do this immediately, then it’s just simply gone.  It’s as if I have to tell myself, “this is important; file it for later.”  When I’m caught like today, and I realize that I haven’t really registered someone’s name, I feel as if I haven’t marked that person as important, even if that’s not truly the case.

Addressing someone by their name tells that person “you matter to me.”  I’m making a commitment to do a better job of learning and remembering the names of  all the wonderful people I meet in my travels; whether they have dogs or not.  It’s not that big of a deal; I just have to make a mental note to register those names as I learn them.  I’m sure my efforts will be appreciated.

Oh, and by the way, Sparky’s mom’s name is Robyn!

Smells like home

Sarah and Gus smells like home

I’ve mentioned before how all the members of our family use Gus like a sort of living stuffed animal.  He is so sweet and gentle, and he loves to be cuddled.  He’s so big that he’s like a full-body pillow.  He’s the perfect size to snuggle up to and wrap your arms around, if you’re feeling sad or happy, or simply just in need of a hug.  Of course, we all love to bury our faces deep in his fur while we do this.

The other day, Sarah was snuggling up to Gus, when she suddenly looked up at me and exclaimed, “He smells like home!”    She’s right.

We started talking, trying to find a way to express what we knew to be true, but were struggling with putting into words.  What we agreed on was the feeling that we get when we bury our faces in Gus’s fur.  It is a comforting, settled, familiar feeling that just seems to say “home.”  You might think I’m crazy, but I spent a while trying to analyze it, and the truth is that he really doesn’t smell much at all. (Apparently we are doing something right!).  However, I took a deep sniff and tried to concentrate really hard.   When I did, I was able to detect the fresh scent of the outside air, a hint of the garden, the grass and fall leaves lingering on his fur.  I guess that’s what evokes those calm and settled feelings for us.

What scent says “home” to you?    Is it a pot of aromatic soup simmering on a crisp fall day?  Is it the familiar fragrance of a loved one’s cologne or perfume?  Is it fresh cut flowers?  Perhaps, it is the unforgettable soft sweet smell of a tiny new baby.    I’ve written before about the power of scent to evoke strong memories.  I also believe that we form powerful associations with certain smells, and that these tell a lot about who we are, and what has meaning for us.

Don’t be afraid to harness the power of scent to perk yourself up or to calm yourself down when you need it.  This is what the field of aromatherapy is all about.  We always said that we wanted Gus to be trained as a therapy dog.  I guess we didn’t realize that he already is!

. . . and if you go to new places, there will be new friends to meet

Looking at the river in Pomona valley

Well, Gus and I took Wendi’s advice yesterday, and we went exploring in Pomona Valley.  We had an amazing time, checking out the trails and the new sights and smells.  I was struck by how different everything looked from last weekend.  So many of the leaves have fallen from the trees already, and the landscape has changed to reflect the advance of the season.  There was still a lot of beautiful fall colour to be seen, but there were definitely more bare branches along the way.  All in all, it was another beautiful morning to be outside.

Gus was in heaven.  He kept running ahead on the trail, to check out where we were going, but he ultimately stayed nearby to keep me company.   He occasionally got quite adventurous and strayed from the path into the surrounding brush.

Meeting a new friend in Pomona Valley

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see evidence of Gus’s “dip” in the muddy swamp just off the trail.  His normally tan coloured paws were temporarily dyed black – he looks like he’s wearing socks! In this photo, you can also see the moment when we met a new friend, Jake, and his owner.

We always meet new dogs and people on our outings, and I’m often struck by how different those encounters can be.  Some people and dogs are interested in being social, while others just simply aren’t.  I’ve even come across people who will pull their dogs close as they walk by, as if to avoid having to deal with anyone new.

This time, we said a friendly hello and we fell into an easy stride together.   We ended up walking together through the trails for over half an hour.  The two dogs got along famously, and they ran and chased each other happily through the brush. Jake’s owner and I got into an animated discussion about our dogs and their personalities, and we had a good laugh about some of the crazy capers we’ve each experienced.

When we find ourselves in new surroundings, whether down the street in a new park, or far away in a foreign country, our attitude and actions will determine what kind of experience we are in for.  I’m reminded of the stereotype of the “tacky tourist” – an individual who, though in some exotic location, is intent on finding all the familiar comforts and tastes of home.  To search for McDonald’s in a faraway locale is to deny yourself all the unique tastes and experiences that define that particular place.

This theory applies to people as well.  In any new place, no matter how far from home, there are faces and friendships waiting to be discovered.  If you are open in spirit and attitude, you will find that you can meet people and develop friendships that may last a lifetime.

Almost twenty years ago, Jeff and I moved to Australia for a year.  We were expatriates with a Canadian company, on a temporary assignment.  We were struck by the fact that so many of our colleagues chose to live and socialize with each other, despite being in a fascinating new environment.  By contrast, we found a house in a neighbourhood where there were no expats, and we made an effort to get to know our neighbours in the community.  I can tell you that the friends we made that year are still some of the most important people in our lives. I sometimes stop and think about how different our lives would be if we hadn’t been open to meeting the people around us in that new place.

Although Pomona Valley isn’t quite as far away as Melbourne, Australia, it presented a similar opportunity for a short time yesterday morning.  We may meet up many times in the future, or we may never bump into Jake and his owner again, but I know that Gus and I are both happy that we made friends yesterday.