Thursday, November 27, 2008

holiday gifts

I've been thinking about the holidays...specifically the gift giving aspect of the holidays. It seems that there is a movement this year, no doubt because of the economy, but hopefully because of other reasons as well, that people want to spend less but give more....more from their hearts. I think this is something good.

I was remembering Christmas' past and some of the favorite gifts I have received over the years:

  • An inexpensive globe of the world when I was young....because it was the first present that was not a child's toy. It was serious business....
  • Luggage from my parents the Christmas before I left for university. It was a total surprise and was a symbol of freedom, an exciting new chapter in my life...and to me it meant that my parents were really rootin' for me.
  • A book from my father...every year. Always inscribed at the front, always picked out with thought and care and always reflective of how well he really knows me.
  • A book of columns that I wrote for a small newspaper for a year from my sister. I can't imagine how much work it must have taken her to pull it all together....and she will never be able to imagine how much I will always treasure it.

Those are just a few of the gifts that came to mind and, in every case, it's not so much the object but the meaning behind it that I cherish. The greatest gift I receive every holiday season is the time with family and friends....the traditions we hold dear, the memories we make.

So this year I am going to put more thought, more love, more me, into my gifts for family and friends. I am going to give to those less fortunate....the people kind and the pet kind. I am going to tell my mother that all of my favorite holiday traditions and very best Christmas memories are wrapped up in her. I am going to take Sophie for a long winter walk on December 25th, hopefully in deep snow...and even more hopefully we will spot magical reindeer and sleigh tracks on our way. I am going to live the holidays this year like I was 7 again....when my gifts were made out of popsicle sticks and colored yarn, but were bursting with love and hope and joy. Just like I was...just like I am.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

learning to fly

On Monday nights, we dabble in the sport of agility. By dabble, I mean, we practice and train with spirit, but with lightheartedness....and never with the intensity or drive of actually competing. And do we ever have fun! Sophie is enthusiastic, fast and brilliant....and I am always slightly awe-struck.

It's amazing to teach a dog something as complicated as agility and to observe her thought see her work it through. It's even more amazing to see her "get it" and to realize the connection you have just built with her. I think any sport or activity...agility, flyball, herding, tricks.....that you work at with your dog takes your relationship to a different level. You learn to appreciate what they are capable of...and what you are capable of.

There are some tough lessons along they way....lessons on patience, on communication, on perseverance, on limits and on love. And it's worth it....because one day, after all of those lessons, you will get to see your dog fly...and your own heart will soar.

Monday, November 24, 2008

picture points of view

"Take my picture! Take my picture! Is this pose okay? Should I try something different? Wait...what's that over there? Did you see my stick? Are we done yet? Are we done yet?"

"Sigh. Of course you want to take my picture....I am beautiful. I suppose I will permit one photo. Make it quick. Okay. Enough. Get that camera out of my face."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

i listened today

On our walk today, I listened. I closed my eyes and really listened. I heard the chirping songs of small, sweet birds as they flew from tree to tree and the cold rush of a babbling creek. I heard the work of a woodpecker and, dashing through the forest, made a vain attempt to find the busy bird and capture him in a photograph. However, he remained an elusive, phantom creature. I think now that it's better, more charming, that my memory of him be one of sound and melody, rather than in a picture.

I heard the winter wind sweeping across the evergreen treetops and the soft crunch of Sophie's paws leaving tracks in the leaves and snow. I could almost hear the footsteps of those who walked before us....strangers rambling through the trails an hour ago, a day ago, a year ago...footsteps through every season and almost always accompanied by joyful, spirited paw prints.

I listened today...and I heard a little piece of this life.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

time to breathe

Hiked with Sophie today around Webster's stomping ground for us and it did not disappoint. The morning was crisp and the walk was feels right being outside and physical on the weekends after spending so much of the week cramped and confined within cubicle walls. During our hike we came upon the small Webster family cemetery that dated back over a century. Most of the graves marked a life that ended far too soon....thirty-three was the age of one of oldest ones, if I recall correctly....two years younger than the age I am now.

The little cemetery got me thinking about time...about how people spend theirs, about how I spend mine. Too often I find myself thinking 6,7,8 steps ahead....even today during our hike. I had a family dinner later in the day that I was looking forward to and as I was walking with Sophie, I was mentally counting backwards on the clock to determine how much more time we had for our hike; I was trying to decide which store I would stop at to purchase a few things I needed to bring to the dinner; I was debating which sweater to wear and calculating if I would have enough time to do a load of laundry before we left. And then I realized I was missing it. I was missing my beautiful morning with Sophie.

I'm getting better at being in the moment...lessons from Sophie have brought me a long way. But there are still times when my thoughts, my consciousness jumps so far ahead, that I barely brush up against the now...and then it's gone. So I took a moment on our hike to just watch the sunlight glitter off the snow, to laugh out loud at Sophie scrambling in the leaves for a stick, to just be....exactly where I was.

Friday, November 21, 2008

a winter moment

Today was all frosty cold and sunshine. It was the kind of cold that knocks the breath out of you.... the kind that makes you snuggle down into cable-knit sweaters and thick socks; the kind that makes you reach for that second cup of steaming hot coffee in the morning. I have always been a summer and fall girl.....but there is something so fresh and so alive about bright sunshine on an icy morning that it simply demands pause for a moment of appreciation.

waiting for breakfast

She appeared to be waiting for eggs, bacon, homefries and toast...and was quick to throw an icy stare my way when all that was on the breakfast menu was kibble.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

eyes wide open

A friend reminded me the other day that I used to abhor bringing my camera with me anywhere. If I did remember to pack it, the camera rarely made it out of my suitcase. And, more often than not, it didn't even make it into the suitcase in the first place. Now that I've become a bit of a picture-taking who's enthusiasm outweighs the quality of her photos for now....I took a moment to consider what the catalyst was for that transformation.

There isn't any one event that I can pinpoint the change on. It just began to matter to me that I captured some of the moments, people and animals that bring so much meaning to my life. I'm not necessarily talking about the big, important weddings, graduations, etc. You remember that kind of stuff with perfect clarity. But I yearned to capture the seemingly smaller things....the last sun filled day on the dock at the cottage when the drinks were ice cold and my brother executed a flawless cannonball, Sophie's first joyful romp in newly fallen snow, a perfect fire at the end of a perfect day on a perfect camping trip.

Looking at the world through the lens of a camera has also made me more aware on my walks with Sophie. I see details and beauty that I missed before when I was focused on the walk, on the route rather than on my surroundings. Now I walk with my eyes wide open...and not just on the trails with Sophie.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

good friend

I had lunch with a good friend, whom I haven't seen in some time, today. When we were working together, we used to see each other daily...we would have morning coffees, exchange recipes, share our thoughts on whatever book we were reading. I miss those daily rituals. I miss her. My friend is all green earth, witty and self-aware. Our conversations always leave me full, pensive and brimming with possibilities about who I am...who I could be.

And there is always, at least, a full thirty minutes of discussion dedicated to the dogs. :)

rain walk

I had big plans for Sophie and I yesterday morning. We were going to hunt down some lime kiln ruins at a local conservation area and check out the "Hole in the Wall" - a unique section of the Niagara Escarpment. But I woke up Saturday to rain. The kind of rain that has no intention of clearing up later. Not even interesting rain....just drizzle and discontent. So I mentally put aside our plans and began making a list of various house chores that needed to be done....laundry, dusting, etc. Then heard a noise....whump, whump, whump. I turned to see Sophie sitting at the front door, tail wagging and thumping on the hardwood floor.

And here's the thing. Since I started back to work, it means Sophie spends most of her time, Monday to Friday, alone in the house...waiting. Waiting for one of us to come home, waiting for the next adventure, waiting patiently....a very tough task for a Border Collie. But Sophie does it. And she does it without the protest of chewed up shoes or destroyed furniture or a terrorized, shell-shocked cat. In return, I give her the weekends.

So when I looked at her waiting by the front door, I realized that I owed her an adventure, even if it was going to be a soggy one. I'll be honest though...I did not want to go. But I found my waterproof boots, an old raincoat and a baseball hat. I suited up Sophie in her collar. I even threw my camera in my pack...although my mindset was not that of an enthusiastic photographer. And we headed out. I decided to leave my lime kiln plans for another day and I pointed the car in the direction of one our favorite rail trail walks.

As we started our walk, Sophie bounding happily through the trees and I, grimacing and repeating my mantra of "I owe it to the dog", I discovered an amazing thing: Forest rain is different from city rain. It smelled fresh and of the promise of second chances. It clung to branches and leaves, making the trees shimmer and move. And the sound of the drops landing on the earth's floor made me think of small forest creatures, pixies and woodland fairies, dancing to nature's song. And it was, in the end, a beautiful, wondrous walk.

Friday, November 14, 2008

inconvenient life

The dream is a little farm...maybe more of an "almost farm". A simple, natural, rustic existence. Less expectations, less consumption, less confinement....but more substance, more appreciation, more real. That dream sings to me...sings to me songs of escape from stifling cubicle walls, from the hum of florescent lights, even from convenience. Society has spent so much time and effort in the pursuit of more make everything faster, quicker, easier. A lot of the time, instant gratification is the name of game. It's a game that many people don't even know they are playing or that they would think to least I didn't.

When it comes to dogs, and Sophie is no exception, there is no such thing as instant gratification. Taking an 8 week old puppy and working with her to help her become the kind of dog that you want in your life is anything but convenient, easy or quick. It is hard work that is time consuming, challenging, frustrating and also one of the most rewarding experience you can be a part of. Some of the greatest moments and proudest achievement in my life have been spent learning to walk in this world with this little dog by my side. Once I felt that sensation, that kind of fulfillment, I began to seek it out in other aspects of my life and I realized that some things will need to change. And I began to dream.

As time goes on and I look back over my life, I can think of many words that I hope I will be able to use to describe it: joyful, meaningful, worthwhile, authentic, full of love - the people kind and the dog kind....and anything. but. convenient.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I heard from a friend today that he had lost his job and my heart went out to him. In a time when people are losing jobs, losing savings and security...losing a lot, I think it’s important to hang onto the smaller things. The things that cannot be taken away by forces beyond my the faint sound of a bird's song during my sister's wedding; the weight of my nephew in my arms; the vision of Sophie running with the wind as she herds sheep. These are the things that make me authentic.

I have been thinking a lot about authenticity...about how I can bring more of it into my life. It was a concept I had not even known existed until Sophie came into my life. A dog made me see differently and taught me to appreciate much of this life that I had taken for granted....the beauty of the world around me, having meaningful connections with people, the importance of living in the moment. A dog. Imagine that. A Bachelor degree, a Masters degree and my most valuable lessons have come from Sophie....the most authentic dog I know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

gentle soul

Sophie, as a puppy, was known every now and then for throwing around some attitude. In typical Border Collie fashion, she could be stubborn, willful, overly excited and, sometimes, just down right impossible to deal with. Once in a training class, when she was about 7 months old, acting like a crazed beast and my patience had reached a breaking point, an instructor came over having witnessed our circus act. She knelt down in front of Sophie, held her head in her hands and peered into her eyes. After a minute, she stood up and said to me: "No both just need some practice. She is a gentle soul." She was right.

Sophie and I have come a long way since that day...a day when I was starting to question the true nature of my dog, as well as my ability to train her. Those words from the instructor made all the difference. There are still days when Sophie is overly rambunctious and inattentive, still days when I start to question my training abilities....but there has never been another day when I have questioned her nature. I look in her eyes and know her soul. And she knows mine.

Monday, November 10, 2008

summer tribute (3)

some favorite summer things:
(and why....)

patios filled with friends and great conversations;
(truth and sincerity revealed through laughter)

brave sophie learns to swim;
(finding the courage to try....and never looking back)

family cottage.
(always feels like coming home)

snow and starbucks

The first real snow gust through on cold November winds today. And Starbucks started serving their caffeinated creations, laced with cinnamon and nutmeg, in holiday themed cups. These two events always mark the true beginning of the winter season for me....and both of them make my heart dance, for just a minute, to the faint tune of jingle bells, ice skating and holidays past.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

morning raindrops

running with ghosts

It is said that all Border Collies trace back to Old Hemp (born in 1893) and Old Kep (born in 1901). These words that I read once about Old Hemp have stayed with me: "Hemp flashed liked a meteor across the sheepdog horizon...". Old Kep was known as much for his kindness as he was for his working ability.

While it is true that Sophie has the blood of both these great dogs in her veins, I am more touched by the notion that there are times, when she is running wild and free and spirited, that I almost catch a glimpse of the ghosts of Old Hemp and Old Kep running along side of her.

proud red leaves (3)

i hope that, years
from now,when i am
near the end
of my time...

...that i, too, have
the courage to be....

...bold, daring and proud.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

november colours

It was dark and rainy and gloomy today. The drizzle of November kept us inside where it was warm and cozy...even Sophie seemed content to curl up on the couch, munching on some rawhide while the day all but slipped away. I was watching the rain through my front window and suddenly noticed a shock of pink amidst all the gray....a rose in my garden had not yet given up the fight and was boldly defying the bleakness of the day.

Stumbling upon unexpected, brilliant hues has made for some of my favorite moments on my walks with Sophie. Nature flirts with us through their tiny, and often out of place, if to say: "Yes...I dare."

quiet rest

I have noticed that just before Sophie settles into a deep slumber she lets out a heavy sigh that seems to be filled with contentment, with satisfaction from a busy day...a final decompression before succumbing to quiet rest. As I walked through the forests with her during the final fall days, with camera in hand in an attempt to capture some of the surrounding beauty, many of the shots I took made me think of those deep sighs.

The few paper thin leaves, weathered and cracked, that were left on trees had begun falling to the ground as the wind blew around the last soft, fuzzy seedlings, leaving behind empty stems that were once green and full of blossoms.

And it felt as though the forest was sighing, letting out a deep peaceful breath filled with memories of summer, before it settled in for a winter rest.

Friday, November 7, 2008

wcb - a joyful heart

A song came on the radio today that was light and fun and uplifting. I felt compelled to dance....right there alone in my kitchen. As I cranked up the volume and spun around, I saw Sophie and my cat, Elora, watching me intently with curious looks on their face.

I do not know if animals understand what it means to dance. But I have spied on Sophie, alone in the backyard, and caught her running, lightning fast, in wide figure eight loops, eyes gleaming, tail catching in the wind. And I have seen Elora bound, quickly and effortlessly, with silent grace over furniture and around corners chasing some invisible prey.

So, while they may not understand what it means to dance, I do believe they understand what it means to have joy in your heart....sometimes so much that you need to let it spill out in random, happy movement.

submission for weekend cat blogging, hosted by mind of mog

Thursday, November 6, 2008

the other side

I am enchanted by the doorways, walkways, and windows in architecture that I find on my walks with Sophie....especially those that appear in unexpected places. I like to imagine what it is like on the other side....what would I be like on the other side if I were to pass through....

off the path

Sophie and I had our last weekday road trip for a while today. It was warm and sunshine spilled over the remaining fall colours. We headed up to Belwood Lake Conservation Area, where the two of us walked through the forest quiet, our footsteps crunching softly on the beds of fallen pine needles and I thought about our last three months together....three months of unexpected time and uncertainty after falling victim to the downsizing at my company mid-August. It was the first time I had ever lost my job....the first time I didn't have sure footing on the path I had planned out for myself. It was the first time I had to define myself without the cloak of a position, of a career....and I had no idea how to do that or even if I could. There were days, especially early on, when I cried. When it felt easier, safer to just fold up into myself, stay on the couch, lose myself in a movie marathon and pretend there wasn't a world going on outside without me.

What saved me....what brought me back was Sophie. She had to be walked, so one brisk fall day I decided to take her on what would become the first in our series of "weekday road trips". That first trip was to Forks of the Credit Conservation area. As I was walking with her that day, I watched her run with wild abandon, darting off the path to explore some secret nook and then dart back over again. I thought about how she ran: happiest off the path, thrilled to be chasing a butterfly in random flight or finding something new and interesting in unchartered territory. And I realized that I now had that opportunity as well and I should grab it and run with it....just like Sophie. Not just for a new job, a different career...but to embrace this time off and make the most of it. And for the first time, in a long time, I genuinely smiled and my heart felt glad again.

I start a new job on Monday...our road trips have come to an end. I am embarking on a new path but I now know that it's still important to take the time, every now and then, to chase butterflies.