Fayston, Vermont. Have you been out yet? Golden girl Lucy and I attended our first public event on the Fourth of July, a dog parade at Sugarbush Resort to benefit the Mad River Valley’s PAWSitive Pantry.
Before the event, I was nervous at the idea of being around a lot of people. Yes, I’m vaccinated, but still I’m wary. I worried that most people at the event would be people I don’t know from places not nearby, thus a risk of exposure to COVID. But I told myself that the dog parade would be a fitting homecoming. I worked at Sugarbush for almost ten years. Over a year had passed since I had been to the base area because I didn’t ski last season.
I was concerned for Lucy, too. I wasn’t sure how she’d react to a crowd after our confinement. Like her humans, she has been sequestered from other people – and other dogs – during the pandemic. However, Sugarbush’s New Year’s Eve dog parade was her first public outing as a puppy all those years ago. That year, my boss allowed me to leave work early to take her. He even made her a “staff” name tag.
I needn’t have worried. Lucy, true to her nature, loved every minute! Hands of all sizes reached out to pet her. Dogs sniffed their greetings and made her acquaintance without incident. She wagged enthusiastically the entire time. I loosened my grip on her leash and exhaled as small children gathered around her because Queen Lucy soaked up their adoration with gentleness and mutual affection. I swear she hugged them back. As we made our way over the parade route around the base lodge, I could feel my shoulders relax. My nervous smile became genuine.
After we came home, Lucy drank a bowl of water then fell asleep, snoring loudly.
With Lucy as my guide, I learned that it’s o.k. to come out now. It’s time to celebrate each other and our community. Hugs feel good. When I returned to one of my favorite places, surrounded by dogs and a few familiar faces, I experienced a restorative homecoming.
Fayston, Vermont (May 16, 2021)Although not yet coming out in tufts, my dogs Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus have begun their seasonal coat shedding. Like me swapping out the heavy down coat for a lighter one, then the puffy vest, then trading that for a sweatshirt for our morning walk as spring temperatures (finally) warm, the dogs blow coat progressively. They begin to shed on their backside first, then up to the neck, then clumps and tufts everywhere. I use a “furminator” brush to remove their winter undercoat. Linus’ expelled short blonde hair sticks to everything, and I take care to dress for work in my dark suit only moments before I leave the house, pulling the belt of my trench coat tight against airborne dog glitter.
Charlie and Lucy are extra fluffy right now. Along with their winter hair, these two need to shed a couple of pounds gained from not as much exercise and an abundance of cookies during the winter months. We took our morning walk, and often an evening walk (totaling three to four miles a day) but still the cookies won. Soon, my work schedule will change and we can all play outside together more often. I don’t know that I gained any weight, but I definitely feel that my fitness level has dropped from sitting at a desk all day. So, another layer will be shed.
A couple of days ago, I shed one more thing: My mask. Our governor in Vermont lifted the mask wearing protocol for fully vaccinated people, following the newest CDC guidelines. I still carry a mask in my pocket. To be walking around without wearing a coat or a mask makes me feel lighter, yet exposed. I’m not worried about germs as I still keep my distance from others, but every wrinkle and spot on my face are now outed. I can’t wait to have bangs cut back into my hair so at least I’ll have some hair curtains to hide behind. My mask-less reentry into the world will be progressive like the dogs’ shedding – a little bit at first, then a bit more, until, eventually, I’ll feel comfortable hugging again. Well, maybe. I’ve never been much of a hugger. But, I’ll shed my social anxiety in increments of puffy layers as I blink in the warm sunshine, out for a walk with my less fluffy companions.
Fayston, Vermont. The title “Fifty Shades of Grey” first belonged to Vermont winters, and the only thing steamy about them is a mug of hot tea held in both hands. By March, I escape to golf on TV and my toes long to be free of wool socks: In my dreams, I am putting barefoot wherever the PGA Tour is playing this week. I also recently dreamt about a squirrel who insisted on riding in my car as I was driving with all three dogs along. I’m pretty sure that was labby Linus’ dream that popped into my head because we’re all spending so much time together in our COVID confinement that our thoughts are intertwined.
Part of our morning routine is a walk, except in the foulest of weather. During winter, I swear suiting up to go outside takes longer than the walk. In the mountains of Vermont, we still have several more weeks of snowy weather before Winter finally packs her bags and heads to the Southern Hemisphere. Here are a few of my tips to make it through to shorts weather:
No sleeping in. Ever. Morning walk time is carefully choreographed in an unspoken understanding between neighbors to avoid reactive encounters. Stick to your assigned time or risk having to turn around.
Save time and skip the morning dressing chills by sleeping in your long underwear. This also saves laundry water, especially if the same layers are worn multiple days. If you follow Tip #1, no one will see you or smell you anyway.
Watch the weather forecast for footwear choice assistance. Choose footwear based on greater need for warmth or traction. Ice calls for the slightly insulated spiked hikers, but stupid cold requires the pack boots. (Removeable traction devices have broken by this point in the season.)
Know what day the garbage collectors come. Garbage men carry dog treats. They come on our street on Mondays.
Squirrels do NOT hibernate. See Tip #3; choose wisely.
Clean muddy dogs with a round of snowball “fetch” when back at home. Keep towels by the door, too. You’re wearing Gore-Tex gloves anyway.
Develop flexibility and core strength with de-booting yoga: Stand on one foot while trying to pull off a boot without stepping in a puddle of melting snow and while reaching for your slipper. Repeat with other side. Bonus move: Pull off one leg of snow pants while standing on one foot; repeat on other side. The entryway bench is covered with leashes, mittens, etc., thus providing yoga motivation.
Spring will be here soon. But first, we will have mud season, that glorious time when my blonde dogs turn spotted and brown and my brown dog smells like roses. After washing the dirty dogs, a mug of hot tea is bliss.
Fayston, Vermont. As the Christmas decorations push out Halloween, I begin to work on my photo calendar gift that’s become a family tradition. When my son was young, the calendar featured twelve months of him. The grandparents loved it. The images not only chronicled his growth but also sparked memories of all the things we did the previous year. As he grew older, sometimes I added a baby picture: I did the “How It Started” and “How It’s Going” thing long before it became a social media thing, even before social media was a thing.
I thought I was finished with crafting calendars when my son graduated from high school, but, at the request of family, the tradition continues with my dogs as calendar subjects. Now my son receives a calendar, too.
The customized flip calendar is an appreciated and practical gift, especially for family members that I don’t see often, which is everybody this year. Even though I keep my personal calendar on my phone, the paper version hangs in the kitchen with car appointments and other goings-on that perhaps my household should be aware.
What follows are my tips for tackling the photo calendar project in time for gift-giving this year:
Gather your photo files. I begin this project by going through my photos from the past year and pulling potential images into a “calendar” folder on my computer. Some years I’ve been organized enough to create this folder in January, but not this year. I start with my “favorites” folder in iPhoto and also go through my Instagram feed, then find and copy the source file of the image – the unedited one – to the calendar folder. Sometimes I go back more than a year to mark a “gotcha” day or other memory.
Cull those favorites. Most printed calendars feature a horizontal or “landscape” orientated image, so vertical images that can’t be cropped to fit are out unless I leave a lot of white space on the sides of the page. I have learned the hard way that a single image for each month makes my life much easier, so in the end I’m looking for 12 photos. Cell photo photos work for calendars unless they are cropped too much. I’m looking for sharp focus, bright eyes, and a mood for the month. January doesn’t have to look like January in your calendar, but in mine, it does.
If I still don’t have a shot for a specific month, I found it helpful to search my photo files by month and year, then if still nothing, search by month alone. The month alone search is a diversionary memory trip that may induce watery eyes: When searching “May”, my results included a gazillion lacrosse games, two graduations, and generations of muddy dogs.
Select a printerand calendar design. Options abound. I’ve tried several print sites, but I’ve used Nation’s Photo Lab most recently. Last year, they messed up my order, but reprinted for free in plenty of time for me to ship for Christmas delivery. In the early years, I used Snapfish and Shutterfly because their tools for creating are easy to use and their prices are low, but I found that the photo quality wasn’t as high. Even drugstore chains and Staples will print calendars, so look online for promotions and coupons. Do a web search for “photo calendar” for websites for printers and reviews.
All the companies offer a variety of designs where most of the design decisions are made for you, so all that’s needed is a photo upload. Read the site’s directions, tips, and specifications before you choose your calendar design. Browse through the site’s styles to find one you like and make note of its title and color scheme, if it has one.
One year I chose a scrap book theme, but I found myself swapping many of the pre-fab backgrounds and trims. Each month required multiple photos. This project took me weeks to complete. I was up late. Many nights. I don’t have that much time, so I now opt for one image per month and a simple, clean layout – no backgrounds, frames, or clutter. The end result puts the emphasis on my images, not the design.
Edit photos. Now that the shell is chosen, I know what size my photos need to be and what color scheme works best in the image with the calendar design. Most of the print companies let you crop and resize photos as you create your calendar, but I like to do this ahead of time to minimize surprises when the calendar is printed. The print site’s programs will even tell you if your image file size is too small to print well. That said, I will adjust lighting and shadows before I upload into the calendar product. Even hitting “enhance” or the magic wand on your iPhone will improve the results. I use Photoshop, but the editing can be done on your smartphone. (Scroll back through my blog to see my previous posts about photographing dogs and editing photos!)
Before and After cropping for an 8.5 x 11 inch calendar (I cropped out Mt. Ellen, but don’t worry, she appears in other months):
Upload photos into print site and choose calendar product. Before I begin customizing my selected calendar design, I create a new gallery on the printer’s site by uploading images to a new gallery (folder), then pull the images from my calendar gallery as I create the calendar product, rather than uploading one image at a time into the calendar product, month by month. Creating a gallery folder saves some time. That said, sometimes I change my mind after I’ve added an image onto the calendar page, and must I return to my original folder on my computer to find a different image.
Begin calendar assembly. After all photos are loaded in my gallery folder, I select my calendar product, its size (my mom likes it to fit inside her cupboard door), and double check to make sure I’m creating something for the coming – not current – year. Then, and only then, do I begin customizing my calendar by pulling images from the gallery folder into the calendar pages. If you want to add birthdays, anniversaries, or other celebrations (I add silly holidays like “Squirrel Appreciation Day”), type those in on the appropriate days.
Ready to customize!
Review, edit, save, repeat. I save my project, then I let it sit. I review my work, make changes, then save. I revert to my editor role and check my work again, looking for typos, incorrect dates for events I’ve added, and photo alignment issues. When I’m done tinkering, and I have received a good promo code, I add the calendar to my cart. I usually complete the order in November so I have plenty of time to ship – and to bake cookies.
Be sure to check your printed calendar before you send it off to its recipients. If something’s not right, ask the printer for a reprint. The printer wants you to be happy, but if it’s your fault (a typo on a family birthday you added), you likely have to pay for it to be reprinted.
Please let me know how your calendar turned out! If a calendar seems like too big of a project, the photo printers offer many other gift products, from the ubiquitous mug to ornaments and home products. Or perhaps have a print made of your favorite fur-iend to give as a gift to yourself.
Fayston, Vermont. When I want the dogs to stop barking, I use the “Enough” command. Lucy generally obeys, but Linus and Charlie also need to “Come” and “Sit”. Lately, I’ve found I’ve been telling myself “Enough,” too.
I’ve been feeling a lack of motivation, no mojo, burn out. I’m taking fewer photographs and deleting most of what I shoot. When it comes to cooking dinner, I can’t even. The news of wildfires, hurricanes, civil unrest, unemployment, bleak economic numbers, and the recent report of RGB’s death have me turning off the news and away from social media. The pandemic has me staying away from people I love and places I want to go.
I’ve had enough.
I realize that I write this from a place of privilege. My family members are safe and healthy; my house and my car are paid for and not under threat of natural disaster; I have plenty of food; and I have a job that pays well enough – there’s that word again – and provides health care benefits.
And yet I feel overwhelmed. Lately I’ve been working long hours, and that adds to my fatigue. To re-center, I express gratitude for all that I have, every day. I take time for yoga breathing and stretching. Movement helps shake me out of my stupor, and I have ready walking companions in my dogs. Even a short walk does us all good.
The problem is that Charlie Brown is a sniffer, not a walker. Charlie doesn’t just stop and smell the roses, he interrogates each petal. His deep sniff everything approach is annoyingly slow when I want to move. To him, however, simply walking is boring. His analytical sniffing shows me that if I slow down and focus on the details, routine tasks become more interesting. Instead of counting how many miles we walk, I listen for the different bird songs I hear. I note the progression of foliage color.
I’ve applied this detail-centric lesson to my photography by taking out my macro lens and stalking butterflies. I also returned to a back-to-basics approach and shot in full manual mode. I blew through several rolls of film. Let’s hope I have a few good shots.
Lucy photobombs my kitten shots… When I give Lucy extra attention, Charlie sulks. Linus just snores.
Further, I have a new subject in the form of kitten Alice. Sleeping kitty photos are adorable. Doggo Lucy is jealous. Lucy photobombs my kitten shots. She becomes upset if I bring Linus or Charlie outside for a few snaps without her. When I give Lucy extra attention, Charlie sulks. Linus just snores.
Even with a fresh subject, still I am shooting less. I am working a lot, so I have less time. But I also question the relevance of my pet and butterfly photos when so much of the world is ill, angry, hungry, and broke. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing enough.
Applying Charlie’s sniff-the-small-stuff approach, success for me is now measured in tiny victories: Did I press the shutter today? “Yes” is a win. Did I eat a meal and not a Clif bar? “Yes” is a win.
Last weekend, I drove 50 minutes to South Burlington to drop off a couple of rolls of film for developing, then, masked up, I went next door into Michael’s for a picture frame. I immediately became sidetracked by the Halloween displays. I bought a bright purple wig for Linus. I forgot the frame. But I did find a spark of creativity. Probably not what the Michael’s marketing team had in mind, but I had been thinking about photographing my dogs in silly wigs for months.
Driving to the store was a win. Bringing home the wig was winning the tournament quarterfinals. The next day, I coasted through the semifinals by photographing Linus in the wig. He will do anything for a cookie. I need to find a black Joan Jett wig for Lucy to take home the trophy. But even if I only have silly photos of Linus, it will be enough.
“What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” – John Updike
FAYSTON, VERMONT. The “wait” command is a struggle for Linus, my lab/hound mix. He should be named “Hoover” as he quickly sucks up any crumb that drops on the floor. At feeding time, I have him sit. We are working on the “wait” command so that I can put the bowl down before he inhales his meal.
Charlie the spanador learned “wait” almost immediately. Goldie Lucy is not as patient as Charlie, but she has learned to wait, begrudgingly. Linus continues to make slow progress.
Vermont’s “stay home” order is posing a “wait” challenge to my household. Our change to grocery shopping for the week instead of on a whim was an adjustment, and it means that sometimes we are out of bananas as we accumulate a list.
Sugarbush’s abrupt closure then ban on uphill travel grounded – like a privileged but nonetheless punished teenager kind of grounded – my husband. His metaphorical keys were taken away because he was found guilty by association. He now divides his time between restless puttering and Netflix. He and his coworkers have exchanged many texts about when they can return to work. With some restrictions on outdoor construction just lifted, his wait is over soon.
I am 110% an introvert, so the stay home order has been highly restorative. I have been going into the office a few hours each week and done some work from home, but I’ve had more free time. It’s been glorious.
Since the start of the self-confinement order about a month ago, I read several books, started and finished knitting a sweater, and took so many long walks with the dogs that my resting heartrate has dropped 9 bpm. (It was in the high 50’s; now in the high 40’s, so I’m basically dead. The dogs are happy-tired.) I also cooked enough food to feed the entire neighborhood. In our first week of confinement, hubby banned me from the kitchen for 24 hours after I cooked a huge casserole of baked ziti that we ate for days.
Despite being content at home, I’m also struggling with “wait.” I long to see color return to the landscape, to see yellow flowers and green grass and blue sky and (distant) black bear cubs and orange efts … I’m waiting for spring.
Fayston, Vermont. Happy National Puppy Day! It’s also wagmorevt’s 5th anniversary. My dogs and I are a bit grayer, but I am grateful for their puppy enthusiasm and their mature affection.
In my last post, I shared a dog cookie recipe that my dogs enjoy. One of my readers wrote that her dog doesn’t like peanut butter, so I went back to my files and found the pumpkin biscuit recipe I previously shared waaay back when. The recipe is adaptable: mash in some banana or applesauce for more fruit. So, for Rhodie:
Pumpkin Dog Treats
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 tablespoons powdered milk
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/2 cups brown rice flour or whole wheat flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together eggs and pumpkin; mix in dry ingredients.
Roll out dough and cut with your favorite shape. Bake 20 minutes, then flip over each cookie. Continue baking 20 minutes more. Watch carefully, though – if you make the cookies thin then they will cook faster.
I have been working from home most days, so I’m in my kitchen a lot lately. My “coworkers” are a big help with the dishes.
Five years is a long time in dog years
I learned that two friends lost their dogs last week. One of them, Nina, was featured in one of my earliest posts. The other, Milo, belonged to my friend who owns Product Think Tank, a shop here in Waitsfield where my greeting cards were first sold. My heart aches for their people. Hugs to you.
On this National Puppy Day, I’m thinking of all the dogs who wagged my way.
For the one who leaves paw prints on your heart (and your newly washed floor and your clean pants), Valentine’s Day becomes a wonderful opportunity to spoil your dog (more), avoid crowded restaurants, and skip the expensive roses.
I know my pack would really like a nice dinner in and a movie. They won’t care what movie, as all three are guaranteed to sleep through it, curled up around me on the couch. Before it’s movie time, we’ll take a long walk. I’ll strap on the snowshoes and we’ll go into our woods.
We’ll also celebrate with special treats that I made before we head outside. I call these treats “Elvis Cookies” but my dogs just call them delicious. Here’s the recipe:
Ready for the oven
1 egg, plus 1 egg white
1/2 cup good peanut butter*
1 ripe banana, mashed (about a 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup whole wheat flour or rice flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
Optional: 1 strip cooked bacon, crumbled
Olive oil or coconut oil cooking spray for baking sheet
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Spray baking sheet with non-stick oil. Stir together wet ingredients, except for 1 egg white. Mix in dry ingredients.
Roll dough to 1/4 inch thick. If the dough is super sticky, add a little more flour. Cut rolled dough with a cookie cutter. (Hearts, bones, whatever you like!) Brush top of each cookie with the egg white.
Bake 20-30 minutes or until cookies are golden. Time will vary depending on the shapes you cut, so watch them: Bigger and thicker cookies will take longer; small shapes will bake more quickly. Store baked cookies in an airtight container then in the refrigerator if you add bacon.
* Read the peanut butter label for xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. Most peanut butter doesn’t contain it, but to be sure, check the ingredients.
Taste testers abound in my house
Other ways to celebrate your dog:
Find a new trail to explore with your dog. Search online for dog-friendly areas near you. Be mindful of local leash laws.
Create a piece of artwork of your dog. Draw, paint, sculpt, or photograph your pooch to remember your outing.
Indulge your dog with a trip to your home “spa.” If your pup likes a bath, take out the old towels and rub-a-dub in the tub. Lucy would be in heaven if I gave her a brushing followed by a bubble bath. Linus and Charlie would just take a massage, hold the bath.
Buy a new toy for your dog. Fix or toss any old ones that are coming apart.
Donate to your favorite rescue or local shelter. Spread that love around!
Fayston, Vermont. With all the year in review images and best of the decade stories, I admit to feeling a bit less. We all know someone who asks how your weekend was only to tell you about how awesome his or hers was. Monday is synonymous with deflated.
I have a solution: Just add “Switzerland.” So when I say that I went shopping and skiing, I add “in Switzerland.” (If you’re already in Switzerland, your dinner and dancing was a pig roast luau and your hike was “in Hawaii.”) Photo editing apps make it easy to back up your story, so all you need is your smartphone to tell your tale.
Step one: Search for a stock photo of your dream destination. Save it. Just google “free stock photo Switzerland” or wherever to find one. I found the shot I used below on Pixabay.
Step two: Take a selfie. It doesn’t have to be good. But you should smile!
Step three: Open a photo editing and collage app like PicsArt or Photoshop Mix. Upload your selfie and follow the tutorial to remove the background. In PicsArt, you’ll be making a sticker; in Photoshop Mix, you’re working on a layer. Upload your destination photo as a background and there you are!
Lucy in Switzerland via Photoshop Mix
If you’re not feeling like jet-setting this weekend, then unplug. Literally. Close your device and put it down. Do not put it in your pocket – simply leave it on the counter. Grab the leash(es) and hook up your dog(s). Open the door. And go outside. See how the snow sparkles in the sunlight? So will you.
Here’s to a new year – and a new decade – of sparkle and magic.
Ps: If you create a layered shot, please send it to me. I’ll put it in my next post.
Charlie Brown makes himself comfortable on a recent snow day.
Fayston, Vermont. Santa, please don’t bring me a weighted blanket this year. I know I’ve been good and I’m always cold, but I already have a nice heavy blanket. It sheds like crazy but it’s toasty warm.
My morning routine goes like this: Let dogs out; let dogs in; feed dogs; fill dog water bowl; make coffee; then sit on the couch to watch the weather report as I wait for coffee magic. The couch is an old Pottery Barn sectional, the kind with micro fake suede slipcovers in color “light dog.” Sometimes I have to move a dog to sit down in the corner of the “L.” Always I have snuggles, with golden girl Lucy beside me on my right, holding my hand hostage for pets. Spaniel mix Charlie is at my feet, and labby Linus is wedged between the couch and my body, with his front paws thrown across my hips.
We do a similar configuration in the evening, except that maybe I have a glass of wine, Charlie is often a pillow for my husband on the other side of the couch, and Linus goes for the full body snuggle as he curls up on top of me. Sometimes Linus snores. It tickles when he snores.
Linus weighs about 75 pounds.
I’m giving thanks for my familiar, comfortable couch and my cozy home in the mountains. I’m giving thanks for all those folks who have given me support and encouragement this year – in my work, in my photography, and with my health. I’m giving thanks for my pack-mates, both four- and two-legged, who press upon me with their love every day.
My life is heavy with blessings. I hope the same is true for you.
P.s. I will be at the Waitsfield UCC’s Merry Market once again this year. Find me in the church’s undercroft with my photo cards and some matted prints on Saturday, December 7, from 9:30 am until about 3 pm. Admission to the Merry Market is free; cards are $4 each, with a Merry Market special of 6 cards for $20. I have several new card designs this year. The church is located at 4335 Main Street (Route 100), Waitsfield, Vermont. If you’re in Vermont, I hope you can stop by!
If you can’t make it to the Merry Market, find my cards and a few canvas prints at Artisans’ Gallery in Waitsfield. My work is in the front of the shop, to your left as you walk in the door. Cards are also available at Product Think Tank, also in Waitsfield. Product Think Tank sells locally designed natural fiber clothing for men and women. I guarantee you will check a few things off your gift list at these shops.
ICYMI: My pack is on the cover of the winter issue of Best of Burlington Magazine! Inside, a lovely article about Golden Huggs Rescue (GHR), its founder Brigitte Ritchie, and her connection to Oprah’s favorite thing, Spot The Dog Vermont. (All three of my dogs were adopted through GHR.) A few of my photos accompany the article. As of this writing, the magazine drop is imminent – look for it soon at locations throughout the Burlington area.