Category: Dogs

I am doing a writing exercise I’ve assigned to my students

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Insects buzz. Insects with a vibrating hum and insects chirping at regular quick intervals, like a racing pulse. Cars pass. Engines roar, mildly, louder when accelerating, heavily whirring before changing gears, puttering, brakes squeaking, a rushing sound like wind that is not wind, that is mechanical, a hush of white noise.

Shadows on yellow brick, moving as the wind moves the trees, patterned, like lace.

The dogs begin to bark. What have they seen or heard? The first to begin is DJ, loudest, the leader of this pack of two. Suzi joins, confused, eager, uncertain. DJ stops, stiffens behind the raspberry patch, behind the cluster of dead flowers, and sniffs the air. Whatever she has seen is gone. The yard is safe, again.

On the clothesline a few items hang, shirts upside-down, athletic gear airing in the breeze and sunshine. The leaves are turning colour. The sky is steady opaque blue, not quite dark, not quite light, clear behind the flame orange leaves, like an artificial backdrop for a photograph I took last year, and the year before, but not yet this year.

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photo of the changing leaves, last year

I have not taken any photos of changing leaves this year. This is not because the leaves have not changed. I don’t know why I haven’t brought my camera outside to catch the season on its cusp of coming.

I am sitting in a green plastic fake Adirondack chair, bought uptown at the hardware store for cheap. The floorboards beneath my feet are painted a rich blue, the paint also bought uptown at the same hardware store.

I turn to examine the pile of sandals by the open back door, and see instead a large spider, suspended in its web, very near me. It hangs upside down. It is alive, its legs twitch, each leg thin and ringed with a pattern of pale tan, dark brown, and a shade in between the two colours that looks mottled. Its body is fat, and also patterned in shades of brown. I would fear it, but it has lived on our porch for much of the summer, moving its web higher or lower when disturbed by one of us. I have watched it through the kitchen window suck clean the body of a large fly, a bee, draining each to a dried husk of its former self.

I am writing this because I’ve given the students in my creative writing class the same exercise. I want to feel what they feel while forced to sit and focus for 15 consecutive minutes, uninterrupted except by what they observe, their objective to seek out the details, no matter how small, and place them on the page, without judgement, without critique, simply observing and noting and describing.

It is an exercise I’ve given myself at times throughout this past year. It asks not: is this interesting; but rather: what is here to be found?

The timer rings. I don’t want to finish yet. The dogs have gone inside, and are working themselves into a sudden frenzy of emotion, howling and yipping at something they’ve seen through a window. Gradually, the noise diminishes, then stops abruptly. Here is Suzi, come to find me, her little body quivering.

Here am I, glad for the excuse to sit still and think of nothing but what is, right now.

xo, Carrie

The dogs

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Suzi dog

The dogs keep staring at me. Why? What is the matter with you, dogs?

They are pacing my office, stopping to watch me with hopeful, expectant, crazed eyes, and I have no idea what they want from me. Is it a tornado? Impending inland tsunami? Are they hungry, bored, thirsty, in need of a pet?

In tandem they place their little paws on my leg and raise themselves up and grin, staring manically.

I pet them, briefly, while they grin and stare, but it only makes them jealous of each other. “Go on, get down.”

They retreat, but only to my feet.

It’s unnerving. It’s like trying to read the newspaper while someone reads over your shoulder. You know they’re there, reading over your shoulder, even if they’re doing it quietly. I can see you, dogs! Good grief. What the hell?

The dogs.

Twice, recently, Suzi has had brief episodes of behaving like a regular dog: she’s played fetch with a ball. She performs this dog-like trick just long enough to make us think it’s repeatable, and then, less than a minute into the game, she stops cold and ignores the ball, which thunks sadly to the floor, instantly forgotten.

“But Suzi,” we say hopefully, momentarily believing in her dog-like potential, “look, it’s the ball, don’t you want to chase it?”

Suzi gazes off into the distance, pretending never to have been involved in such indignities. Was it an hallucinatory episode? “No, but really, she was chasing the ball and bringing it back to me! You saw her, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”

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DJ dog

Suzi is the smaller one, a neurotic ball of nerves and need, and DJ is slightly larger, and essentially untrainable, although she can perform spontaneous backflips when her dinner is being served; and the dogs seem to be getting old, suddenly, and that worries me. We don’t know how old they are, as they came to us having been rescued from an over-crowded pound in Ohio. I have pangs, thinking about them being old, perhaps older than we’ve guessed. I look for new grey hairs around their muzzles.

I check the Weather Network. No signs of tornado or tsumani. I open the back door. They show no interest in going out. Apparently they just want watch me, anxiously.

Um, okay, dogs. (I’m fine, I think. But you’re making me wonder …)

Hashtagthismoment

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Enjoying the peace of this photo. Or maybe it’s the pause. The moment suspended.

In a rush. Monday morning. Dog can’t decide whether she wants in or out. Need to get on bike and get to a school meeting. Still not getting enough sleep.

I’m tempted to put all of the above into hashtag form, but I don’t know why. Maybe hashtags are kind of like miniature poems? Or maybe I should just sign up on Instagram? Here’s how it would look …

#inarush #Mondaymorning #dogatdoor #biking #meeting #moretiredthansleepcancure

:::

Just have to add a postscript. Goes like this.

#bikechainblues #argh #greasecoveredhands #foreverrushing #notquitelate

A series of unfortunate events

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I’m writing this post in bed, because it’s bedtime, and because I can, thanks to my precious and much-appreciated laptop. On a day when I spent five hours driving children around to their various activities, waiting outside of their various activities, and folding laundry during the down-time, I just feel like writing before bed, please. (I also spent at least an hour this afternoon watching Canada play Latvia in an Olympic hockey game, while live-texting results to my brother, who was in a meeting, so I really shouldn’t complain about time wasted.)

I want to tell you about the worst hour in recent memory, which happened yesterday evening, just upon arriving home from AppleApple’s soccer practice. I’d made advance plans to meet my siblings for a drink, basically as soon as I’d arrived home from AA’s soccer practice, and I was really looking forward to sharing a pitcher and catching up, as some of us haven’t seen each other since Christmas, and also because the day had started rather on the wrong foot when a dog made a deposit in the front hall, which I stepped in without realizing, and then tracked around the house in the dark, while up at 5AM to take AA to swim practice. Which meant that when the deposit was discovered, in the light of day, to have been tracked all around, I was on my hands and knees cleaning it up before breakfast, which put me in rather an unpleasant mood.

Suffice it to say, I was looking forward to that pitcher of beer with my sibs.

We pulled into the driveway. Kevin appeared rather mysteriously from the back yard, looking a bit perturbed. “What are you up to?” I asked, still, in my imagination, about to depart.

“DJ seems to have escaped,” he said.

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“And DJ’s so dumb!” Fooey said worriedly. “She won’t know what to do!”

Well. The panic began. Children circled the house, calling for DJ. I thought I heard her collar jingling. We searched the snow forts in the back yard, the garage, all the rooms of the house. It seemed apparent that she had indeed escaped, likely through the back gate which had been difficult to close with all this snow. The pitcher of beer began to fade, along with the plate of nachos I’d conjured up to accompany it. I decided to eat a leftover baked potato while Kevin drove off to widen the search. AA and Fooey ran around outside awhile longer, then they both came in and AA announced that she was putting on pants. She was still in her soccer kit. Pants sounded like a good idea. She popped in again not long after to say she was going “that way.”

Kevin drove up, no dog.

“Where’s AA?” he asked.

I thought she was in the front yard, or maybe around the corner. But no. Apparently, she’d gone further afield. And that’s when the real panic began. Kevin headed out in the truck, again, this time to look for our lost daughter. She is 11, I reminded myself.

“But she has a terrible sense of direction!” Fooey reminded me.

I gave her twenty minutes, and then I called the police. Perhaps an over-reaction, but it was dark and growing late, and cold, and my kid had left the house in soccer cleats, in an emotional state, and she hadn’t come back. I was kind of losing my mind, actually. Meanwhile, a couple of my sibs turned up and offered to drive around looking for AA, too, even though the snow banks were so high that no one driving by could spot either a child or a dog on the sidewalk anyway. My sister confided later that she thought, “We’re going to be driving around looking for AA, and we’re going run over DJ.”

Kevin’s texts had ceased.

The kindly dispatcher did not berate me for permitting my 11-year-old to search by herself for our lost dog in the snow after dark while wearing soccer cleats. Or that I couldn’t manage a detailed description of her coat. Or I didn’t know the colour of my lost daughter’s pants!

The back door whammed open. There was AppleApple, in tears because she hadn’t found DJ. I let the dispatcher know that the search was off (sorry, DJ).

“I couldn’t find DJ!”

“It’s not DJ we’ve been looking for–it’s you!” I told her, to her complete astonishment. She’d been so focused on searching (and of course she knew that she was perfectly fine) that she had no idea she’d been gone for a good half an hour.

Meanwhile, Kevin was slow to return. Turns out, he’d gotten into a small car accident on a side street. Yeah, it was that kind of an hour.

But the thing is, all’s well that ends well. AppleApple came home, safe and sound. The truck suffered a minor paint scrape that’s purely cosmetic. And not long after, a woman called to let us know she’d found DJ. In fact, she’d picked up DJ not far our house, probably within minutes of DJ’s original escape. DJ, who is not known for her arresting intellect, was crossing the street. (“And she’s colour blind, so she can’t even see when the stop lights are green or red!” Fooey noted.) Kevin and the girls went to pick her up, halfway across the city. DJ responded with typical DJ-ness to the arrival of her relieved entourage: she was largely indifferent, but agreeable to riding home in the car (she loves riding in cars). It appeared that she’d been nicely brushed during the interlude.

But I heard all about this later because I’d left with my siblings for that pitcher of beer. Which at that point seemed hardly sufficient, although it had to do. I was too tired for genuine debauchery. And my brother Cliff is the father of a four-month-old who rises at 5:30AM, so he was too tired, too. And my brother Christian had to leave as soon as we arrived for a soccer game. So it wasn’t quite what it was going to be, in my imagination, and I didn’t bother with the nachos. But it was still a good ending as far as I’m concerned.

This is my brain on Snow Day

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Tuesday morning, 9:30AM

Well that was short-lived. I am very definitely, completely, assuredly, hopelessly not alone in the house this morning. The day Albus has been praying for has arrived: Snow Day! School’s cancelled. Although I think it should more accurately be called Really Cold Day, because that seems to be why they cancelled it.

And it is really cold. I can’t deny it.

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Behind me comes the persistent wail of the five-year-old: Mom, no one will play with me! Mom, no one will play with me! Mom, no one will play with me!

His sister suggests: If you had an imaginary friend, you’d always have someone to play with.

But imaginary friends can’t win!

Yes, says his sister, it can be arranged that imaginary friends can win. You just have to know how to do it.

Random parenting tip: I find that if you answer in soothingly vague understanding tones, yet don’t follow up with any action, children will go off and find something to do. Case in point: five-year-old has retired to exploding little go-go figures in the living-room. Happily.

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Does our living room look really empty? It is. It’s the perfect play area for indoor soccer matches and floor puzzles and exploding go-go guys that you’ve arranged across the barren floor. It’s ugly as all get-out, of course, but that doesn’t diminish its value as a play area.

Kevin and I are currently brainstorming. This is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not. For example, we do have two dogs (unrepentant early morning whiners and poopers on porches in cold weather) due to impulsive brainstorming. But we all know how hard it is to change one’s habits. And Kevin and I maintain a perverse fondness for impulsively brainstormed decisions. Right now what we’re impulsively brainstorming is getting a gas fireplace. Maybe where the sofa is (see above). We can only do this if we don’t get a new stove and range hood. But, we brainstorm impulsively, maybe the stove will prove fixable. (This has not been adequately determined, nor do we know how much it will cost, to keep fixing a stove that has frequently gone on the fritz ever since its costly purchase six years ago. It’s like that car you keep repairing because you own it and you’ve committed so much to it already. “Throwing good money after bad.” That’s the phrase. But then again, there must be a handy counter-phrase, such as “Waste not, want not,” and “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”)

I’ve lost my train of thought. So have you. This is my brain on Snow Day.

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I am currently reading Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, an entertaining guide to punctuation, which I fully intend to inflict on future creative writing students, should I ever teach again. Yesterday I haggled over a comma. Today, I’m writing dreadfully long parenthetical asides while my children lie about the house. Tomorrow they will be back in school. Won’t they? Are swim lessons cancelled, too? And soccer practice? Is the entire day a clean slate? If I hide out in my office drinking coffee will they notice? Can I keep them from the siren’s call of ‘lectronics, as my youngest puts it? Should a question mark have been placed at the end of that last sentence?

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It’s beautiful out there. And frozen. I’m leaving the office to go for groceries now, actually, because we’re low on everything and this is the kind of weather that screams: STOCK UP OR PERISH!

Although apparently we can expect a light rain by Saturday. (Really, weather?) Sometimes I suspect we’re just lobsters in a pot, happily swimming around without a clue to our fates. Except it’s worse than that. That analogy only works if the lobsters have filled the pot, lit the gas flame, and jumped in voluntarily, while their leaders systematically burn and bury all the scientific evidence that jumping into pots on stoves is certain to cause cooking in lobsters. And strains in analogies. Perhaps I’ve taken this too far.

It’s 2014. I wonder why I thought it would be different from 2013.

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