Merry Chrismoose

If you look around at what you have, you may find yourself amused by what you keep with you.  What gives the most pleasure may be something simple because of the memories attached to the item.  An item of that sort of sentimentality may be worthless otherwise, but you have a life enriched by having them.

Of all of the things we collected in our life, I found myself looking at this scrap of cloth, deeply worn by use, and smiling.  The improbability that what is now a rag would have made it this far over the decades is something quite surprising.  More surprising is that I had given it this much thought.

We had boxed everything we wanted to save.  The basement of our almost 2000 square foot house on top of the hill in the Greene Countrye Towne of William Penn was full.  It became our Box Farm.  First we emptied the basement.  Then we cleaned it for the first time in years, properly.  Raising so much debris that we had had to put an exhaust fan on full blast to draw the air out of it, we swept, vacuumed, and dusted.

The North side of the basement filled.  Boxes collected there and under the stairs, as well as finally on the South side.  More than 200 boxes to be moved to Florida.

Somehow this scrap of cloth made it.

It is half of a towel that we kept for the holidays.  A dish towel in reality, it was never really notable, but it gave me a smile.  A gift from my sister, she knew that I’d be amused by it.  My attraction to Moose was always a source of amusement to me and my friends, despite never having actually met one.  I’m given figurines, statues, plush animals, and this towel.

It got a tear in it along the way and at some point it ended up getting sliced in two.  I may actually have that other piece somewhere, wadded up in a ball most likely. 

Who knows?  But there it was that laundry day.  Sorted out from the socks and towels and sheets on the Hot Wash Load, I separated it out and left it on the big green chair.  Taking the rest of the load up in my hands, I looked back at it and smoothed it out on the chair.

Stopping and staring at it, I thought of my sister, her family – husband and son, still in their home in New Jersey, living their own suburban life.  The green prairies of South Jersey are carved up into small plots with their Wonder Years homes, neat and tidy, in the land of Nice White People, 2.3 kids, and two cars.  Warm and comforting life in one of the ten best cities of the country to live in, and it always has been for as long as anyone can remember, Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  When the survey said you could pick it or any of the neighboring towns as number one, I understood why.

It made it all the way here, improbably, to my chair in the little house, on the quirky little island, in the Florida sun, to remind me of the journey and that all that wander are not lost.

We all have our own collections.  Things that make us happy.  Things that make others scratch their heads and wonder why.  Usually they are quite worthless, perhaps worn down or worn out.  They’ll be tossed away by someone with the detritus of life when the time comes.  They are the definition of ephemera, something that is designed to fade away with time.

But for now, enjoy what they mean to you, and enjoy the secret smile that comes from having a life worth remembering.

Rearranging the Furniture to Confuse the Dog

You know the old saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”?

Yeah, grizzly.  I don’t get it either.  I don’t see the point in skinning cats.

But.

There are more than one way to train a dog.

Certain breeds have the reputation of not being very bright to put it kindly.

Not pointing at a breed, I’d say that comes more from the one holding the leash than the one at the other end of it.

They can all be trained.  Some will take to it faster than others.  How about that?

Again, a lot of it has to do with the human and their techniques.  It also comes from how well the person doing the training “learns” the cues that the dogs are giving them.  Bulldogs are well known to be more stubborn, Herding Breeds like the McNab Dog are well known to be easier to train than others.   But the wrong technique will end up with a shut down dog or a rebellious one.

When you have a fearful dog, the rule book should be flipped upside down on its ear.

Negative Training techniques just are not effective.  They tend to create more problems than they solve.  That’s my belief so I do concentrate on Positive Training – reward for good behavior, and Neutral Training.

What I mean by Neutral Training could also be called Passive-Aggressive I suspect.  You aren’t going to be able to do something because I simply won’t allow you the opportunity.

Rack hides.  Constantly.  If I am home and not going in and out of the house, I may not see my dog for hours.  Not that he’s sleeping, he’s just curled up in a ball behind a piece of furniture.

If you are thinking “why is he bothered by that?” you aren’t looking at the whole picture.  Dogs are social.  They WANT to be with you and that is why we keep them in our homes.  But if they’re so shut down by fear that they feel that they need to be away from you, they won’t grow.

So I moved the couch.

There’s a corner, more of a dead spot, in my living room.  It has a tall square table with an inlaid chess board.  Nice thing, it was hand made and given to us a while back.  But it creates a dead zone for the dog to hide.  Next to that is the Big Green Chair, my own recliner.  What Rack was doing was to first hide under the chess table.  That wasn’t enough cover apparently because we found him hiding behind the recliner.

If you sit on a recliner, it will change position.  Put a dog’s paw in the wrong spot and … YELP!

You get the picture.  It’s a safety hazard.

So I put boxes back there and it helped me hide the Hurricane Food as well as the overshopping we do to “catch the deals”.  He can’t get behind the chair.

Next we filled the area under the chess table.  That pushed him forward to next to the big green chair, but it still was mostly out of sight and not very social.  When I am sitting in the big green chair, that’s fine.  I drape my arm over the side and I can reach Rack and give him the tummy rubs he wants.  When I am not sitting there, we found other ways to manage his hiding.

The routine first thing in the morning is to slide the couch next to the chair to close off the area.  Since he isn’t allowed on the furniture, he is forced to be out in the room.  His mats and his bedding are in the middle of the living room and his crate is in there with him.  He has “dog” places to be where he can escape to when he needs to.

At least now I know I have a dog who isn’t stuffed inside a spot where he could get hurt.

He’s adjusting.  Intelligent dogs, herding breeds especially, need mental stimulation and challenges.  Now he’s getting them by actually being out in the open when that big bad trash truck comes by on Tuesday and Friday mornings.  He’s getting challenged by being out there in the open living room when the neighbors are getting the grass cut and there are teams of workers on the street.

He may not like it but this is the way it is until it is time to use the chair ourselves at night after dinner.  When we’re in the chairs, the couch gets moved away from them and Rack dives back into the corner next to the Big Green Chair and the chess table.   The key is to get him used to what he doesn’t like, but in small doses like those allergy shots you got when you were a kid.

The shots may have worked, they built up an immunity to whatever it was, but it did take time.

In his own way, Rack is slowly adjusting.

When I had my previous dog, Lettie, she had a similar problem with any loud vehicle.  I lived a block from a very busy shopping district.  On weekends I would take her there and sit and wait for the 23 Bus to go up or down Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.

For a while, we were a fixture near Highland and Germantown.  There was a pair of benches.  One near Kilian’s Hardware was my favorite, another was a half block down the hill right next to the entry to the parking lot.  I would sit and watch traffic, meet the neighbors, and watch for busses.  Lettie would love to meet the people, but hated the cars and trucks. She stayed with me where she belonged.

Eventually we realized this wasn’t necessary.  She would still cast an evil eye at the 23 Bus when we were out for walks.  She’d watch the trash truck or the semi delivering food to the restaurants, but she didn’t try to run from the noise.  She was cured.

It simply took time.  Fear in dogs simply takes time – most likely longer than you might think is appropriate.  Just like in a human, you have to get used to new and scary.  You may just learn to like it.  Lettie did.  She became “bulletproof” in those situations.  When we moved her here to South Florida, she became the “Canine Ambassador to Snowbirds” on Wilton Drive despite traffic.

Rack will learn too.  I may just have to bring a lawn chair and sit with him out on The Drive, but we’ll get there.  I’ll do my Positive Training best to make sure of it.

Just bring cookies.  Dogs love the right kind of cookies.

Prey Drive, Play, and the Gate in Dogs

When I got Rack home from the rescue, I had a very different dog than my Lettie was.  Rack was terrified of his own shadow.

The key would be finding something he liked in order to draw him out of his shell.  I thought he’d be safe with toys, and sometimes he will play with them.  Mostly he is indifferent towards his toys.  He’ll take them to another room and herd them to a spot, then he’s done.

Rewind back to Lettie.

She was afraid of storms, most dogs are.  She also had a very strong play/prey drive.  I was able to break her of hiding in a corner and barking at the sky when Thunderstorms would approach by “Making Storm Time Play Time”.

We learned how fun a tennis ball in an enclosed space could be with an overeager McNab Border Collie cross.

I’d bounce that ball around the room whenever the thunder would clap and she would be completely distracted.  Sure, she never completely got over the storms, but many dogs just don’t.  They either have no problem with it because they’re deaf, well really, disinterested, or they’re cowering in a corner in fear.

Get that tennis ball and you may take the edge off.

But we were fortunate.  We had a big house with lots of interesting things to look at.

The third floor of that house would let her look out onto a busy feeder street to the shopping district a block away.  She’d be able to see people come and go while simply standing there in the top floor of the house on the top of the hill over the tree line.

But the Kitchen was her entertainment center.

Actually we all enjoyed that room.  It was a massive area that was originally an outdoor space, then enclosed.  It had a giant hearth that had been enclosed into a fireplace to enjoy in the cold months.  It also was huge, 22 feet by 16 or so.  With plenty of windows to look out on our green and leafy yard, there was an air about it that made you want to be there.

I spent plenty of time sitting there, watching movies on the laptop while waiting for bread to rise, while watching the goings on in the backyard.

Where you had trees, you had visitors.  Where you had visitors, you had a herding dog who wanted to herd.

Lettie would sit by that door when I was there, absolutely riveted.  Tail wagging when she saw something off in the distance, she’d guard us from all comers.

When a visitor got too close, she’d lose her mind.

The back door led out to the deck that was fenced.  It was a double glass door so it gave you a panoramic view of the yard.  Step out onto the deck, make a 90 degree turn to the right.  Take two steps and you would be off the deck.  You then were at a T Intersection.  Left to the yard, right to the driveway and the gate.

One year after the driveway was in place, I figured out that I could use a piece of the fence that we had taken away as a gate to stop Lettie from going out into the great forest of Philadelphia.  Which is to say Chestnut Hill.  It was about waist high, made of wrought iron, and had been made of vertical wires held together by horizontal bars.  Each piece was about the thickness of your smallest finger.   If we needed access, we would simply pick it up and move it out of its way.  It wasn’t held up strongly by posts because it did not need to be.

I sat in the kitchen waiting for something to happen, maybe it was bread rising, it could have been marinading dinner, or I could just have been listening to the radio then.  But we got a visitor.

Squirrel.

Or rather SQUIRREL!

Lettie didn’t like them.  They were unruly and brought disorder to the yard.  They needed to be moved on.

There needed to be a lot of chaos to re-institute order to my yard.

Lettie would attack the door and the squirrel would vanish.

After a while the squirrels became more complacent and realized that she was inside and they could get away.  That’s where I got involved.  I had the bright idea to let my Lettie out the back door and see what she’d do.

If you have ever watched a herding dog, you know that they’re an intense beast.

Lettie would vibrate at the back door, whining.

I had opened the … OH HOLY CRAP!  She blasted out the door.

Navigating the first turn, she scrabbled to make the grip on the wood.  Gaining a purchase, she had lept onto the side yard turning to the left.  Bursting into the main part of the yard she was off like a shot.

The squirrel wasn’t completely stupid, it began to run off, zigging away from its approaching threat.  By the time it made it to the far corner of the yard, the squirrel was airborne climbing up the big tree that was there and to safety.

True to form, Lettie was standing paws up on the tree.   She realized that she couldn’t get to it, so she did what any dog would do.  She marked the territory, scratched the grass, and marched back to the house with an air of “That’ll Do!”.

One day we were out near that same tree.  The Jeep was parked far back on the driveway that day so there was clearance between the house and the gate.  I could see back to the street around the car, but more importantly so could Lettie.

In came a visitor.   This particular squirrel was a more bold one.  Perhaps it had been chased up that tree before and thought that it could outrun my dog.

It was right but with a difference.

Lettie spotted the squirrel and was having nothing to do with it.   She leapt into action.  Charging the squirrel, it ran down the driveway, through the wires of the fence and down to the Jeep.   I couldn’t see it any longer.

However in the same instant that my mind realized that the squirrel was gone, I also realized that Lettie had done something colossally strange.

Running down the driveway she forgot the gate was there.  She ran headlong into the gate.

If you ever pushed your finger into a water balloon, you know they will bulge elsewhere to absorb the impact.  This was what it looked like from behind.

Lettie had slammed into that fence so hard that her head passed between the wires of the fence.   The impact of 45 pounds of dog running at nearly the speed of light had compressed her body into the fence and lifted her hind sections off the ground.

The fence didn’t have a chance.

The next thing I knew was the fence toppled over onto her.  Black dog, white feet were flailing in the air

trying to get a purchase.   I was running into the yard to her to help free her from this fence.

Silly mutt.

I lifted the fence up off the ground, Lettie’s head was crammed between the wires.   She looked up at me as if to say “Yeah, I know I screwed up, just get me outta here!”.

Grabbing onto her collar, I pulled her back through with a Pop!

Now, Lettie was a highly intelligent dog.  But as a K9 Police Officer once said to me, sure they’re smart, “But on their best day, they are still a dog”.

That is to say in my own Lettie’s case, she had to try that again the next time that she spotted a squirrel.   Same results.

Luckily that was the last time that she tried that particular stunt.   She finally learned that when the squirrel goes right, leave it be.

Silly mutt.

Now, if I could only get Rack interested in chasing something, I might have a chance at calming him down in a storm. 

Does anyone know of a good Radio Controlled Squirrel?

Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia July 2004 Picture

I had the fortune of living a block from where this picture was taken.   This is the corner of Highland and Germantown Avenues in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.   Taken July 2004.  Ok, I just repeated the title of the article.   I would walk through this intersection just about every day on the way to the train to work for 13 years.   Every time I walked through there, I looked around and thought how fortunate that I was to be in a neighborhood like this where people cared for things.

Interesting place though.  They were proud to say that this was like an English Country Town in the middle of one of the largest cities in the United States.   I’d say they’re right.   I’ve a British Ex-Pat friend who lives in Key West, David, who has said exactly that.  The place looks like a Traditional High Street from the Countryside.   The lay of the land when you get off of The Avenue and walk southwest toward Fairmount Park gets more wooded and eventually full forest in the Park.

I moved away April 2006, have been away ever since.   I’ve had reports that the business district is suffering Bush’s Depression much stronger than many other areas since this was a collection of One Off Shops that sold typically a superior level of goods.   Just before the crash, the place was invaded by Banks.   We all know what happened there, most of them had closed leaving their hulks squatting on prime real estate, and since they were modified to a Bank’s purpose, it leaves me wondering what will eventually go in when the Obama Boom comes.  Now I hear that Borders Books is closing their store at the Top of the Hill.  The problem isn’t that Chestnut Hill’s Germantown Avenue is a bad place to do business, the problem is that they are a collection of independent commercial shops rented from various people and as such you end up with no cohesiveness and no “flow”.
I hope it can go back to the One Off Shop era, it was a wonderful experience living that close to it.

Italian Peace Flag

No, this is not a Gay Pride Flag.   This is an Italian Peace Flag.   PACE is pronounced Pah-Chay and is Peace in Italian. 
It is an international symbol that I was unaware of.  That is, I was unaware of until my former neighbour, a 90 year old Quaker woman who terrorized the Utility Boards in Philadelphia had one put up.  I was driving home and nearly lost control of the car.  Was she “Coming Out”?  No, merely stating her Proud Quaker Heritage and wishing Peace to all. 
Ruth Miner, you were a fascinating woman and made my life in Chestnut Hill more interesting.  Thank you!