Seven Tips from a Winter Dog Walker

dogs, humor
Lucy catches a snowball after a recent walk. The snow bank is almost as tall as our shed!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. Know what day the garbage collectors come. Garbage men carry dog treats. They come on our street on Mondays.
  5. Squirrels do NOT hibernate. See Tip #3; choose wisely.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Lucy loves snowballs!

Chain Reaction

dog training, Wellness
May you greet every day with Christmas morning excitement.

Fayston, Vermont. The holiday season’s wishes of peace and goodwill have a different spin during a pandemic: How we treat others and how they feel as a result is highly contagious. I’ve found that the same holds true for my dogs.

Charlie Brown, my spanador foster fail, was never particularly brave, but he is always wagging and is super affectionate with just about everybody. However, in the last several months, he has become more fearful of other dogs that display reactive behavior. I trace this to my neighbors’ golden retrievers. Those dogs are never leashed and bark and snarl at us when we go by. They often follow us into the street. The youngest one has lunged at us. Hubs has spoken to their people; I’ve heard yelling at both dogs and humans by other neighbors out for a walk.

The neighbors with the reactive dogs are second homeowners, but with the pandemic, they have been here more often than not. Their dogs are not the only ones who raise their hair at us: The pandemic has brought more people and their dogs to my usually quiet street as folks move to the country.

Charlie starts barking when he sees unfriendly behavior from another dog. So far, he waits for the other dog to display before reacting. To break this chain, I have been redirecting him. I walk him out of view of the oncoming nasty encounter. We duck down a driveway or into the trees. I have Charlie and Lucy sit as I shower them with treats or dry dog food until the snappy passes. I’m teaching them “touch” where they must tap my hand to earn a treat. Distraction is working! I can now have them focus on me and my kibble pocket while in distant view of the passing would-be antagonist.

To paraphrase a tv preacher, Charlie let go of the conflict to find his peace and cookies. I haven’t been sleeping much lately, and “release your conflict to find your peace” was the phrase I first heard when I absently turned on the TV just before 4 am last Sunday. I don’t think I’ve ever watched tv church before, but this phrase made me sit down and listen. Like Charlie, I have been feeling anxious. I am bundled stiff in layers of sadness, loss, and frustration, topped off with an itchy cap of feelings that I been deceived and pushed around.

One of my anxiety layers is caused by common COVID confinement that keeps me from my family and from doing many things I enjoy. But underneath that, I am grieving for a friend who entered hospice care last month. She passed away earlier this week. Additionally, my office is undergoing a reorganization. Although I have been offered a spot while others will be unemployed come January, I have been demoted and must learn a new job, my third in five years, while finishing up my duties in my current position with a smile on my face.

I don’t think I can tell doggo Charlie to turn his troubles over to God, but we are breaking the negativity chain by redirecting his attention to allow good thoughts to fill the space between his floppy ears. Focusing on positive interaction with me keeps him from reacting to another dog’s anxiety. Plus, I’ve met a neighbor who has offered friendly socialization with her happy young Labrador. Maybe we will start a new chain by inspiring local dog owners to work on training and socializing their dogs, but I’m realistic.

As for my emotional conflict, I mindfully attempt to let go of the negative thoughts. Like Charlie, I’ve found that cookies are a wonderful distraction tool, especially when paired with brisk long walks to work off the extra cookies. Talking to my family and friends also helps me release some of the negative emotions even though I can’t be with them. I know that my family members are healthy, and I look forward to seeing them in the new year, once we’re all vaccinated and travel is safe.

Further, I will honor my friend’s memory with the care I take to do my work, whatever that becomes. Memories of her sass will keep a smile on my face, or at least a bemused smirk. I know that I must also allow myself to miss her and feel sad sometimes. As for the recent office changes, I’d be worried about me if I wasn’t bothered. I am navigating the transition with practicality and some semblance of grace and humor.

Walking – literally putting one foot in front of the other – helps me focus on the present. By doing so, I won’t slip on the metaphorical or real ice as I wander back to peace, enabling me to radiate my calm vibes forward.

I highly recommend pocket cookies while embarking on a moving meditation with your dog. Take deep breaths; listen to the trees. Or, in my neck of the woods, hear the hum of snowmaking that vibrates across the valley and sing along.

 I wish you peace this holiday season and throughout the New Year.

About my photos in this post: Red shed images taken with my old Canon 7d; other images shot on 35mm film with an even older Canon AE-1 Program. Linus in the chair is on Kodak Portra 400 film; black and white photos of Charlie Brown and Alice the Cat are on Lomography Lady Grey.

Rear View Mirror Facing Forward: Tips for Creating Calendar Gifts

dogs, Holiday Gifts, photography
Linus, Charlie Brown, and Lucy went as a punk band for Howloween this year

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 printer and 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.

Enough.

cats, dogs, Healthy Living, pets

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

WAIT

dogs, vermont

Linus, in the back, with Charlie Brown and Lucy

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.

You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound: Recipe for a Wagtastic Valentine’s Day

dogs, Valentines Day

Linus, my lab-mystery mutt mix.

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:

Elvis Cookies

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!

Full squad snap during a recent woods walk

Charlie Brown

Lucy catches a snowball

Sparkle and Magic

dogs, humor, photography

Reindogs at the ready

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.

Lap Dog Is Not A Size

dogs, humor, pets

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.

Happy Thanksgiving

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.

Howloween Fun: Tales from the Pet Photo Booth

dogs, How-to, pets, photography

Suze, Rumble, and Jen from Scallywags and Pawsitive Pantry

Fayston, Vermont. The only thing that snapped at my recent Howloween Photo booth was my shutter – thank you to everyone who came out for the event! Special thanks to Annemarie at Product Think Tank, and to Suze and Jen at Scallywags dog treats for their sponsorship. And, thank you to David for placing signs and trolling the Farmers Market for portrait subjects. The photo booth raised a little money for Golden Huggs Rescue and for PAWSitive Pantry.

This was my first time doing a photo booth using my cell phone, which I chose to do to speed up the process and ease of photo distribution at the sacrifice of quality. Next time, I’ll set up a “real” camera and give folks the option at a higher price point.

We held the event on a Friday afternoon, but performed an encore the next day, after the post office and Farmers’ Market closed. As we were cleaning up on Saturday, another shop owner asked if I’d return for Country Christmas, which is in December in the Mad River Valley. I’ll take that as a vote of support and my answer is maybe. I do think we’ll try this again next year, so think about costumes and practice sit-stay.

A good time was had by all, especially by a lab named Bear who enthusiastically licked my entire face and gobbled up multiple treats. I enjoyed meeting all the dogs and their people. Dog people really do mirror their dogs, if not in looks, then certainly in temperament! Scroll down for photos from the event, plus my crew.

If you missed my photo booth, check your local community calendar for dog events in your area.

Five take-aways from my photo booth experience:

  1. Bring a towel. Call this the “Watch Out for Bear” lesson.
  2. Relationships make great portraits. Don’t be shy – get in the picture! Most people just wanted a photo of their dog, but when the dog and the person are together, their interaction made for much more interesting and unique photos. We had so much fun when photographer Barrie Fisher stopped by with her dog and they struck a variety of poses together. Others who had been camera shy changed their mind about being in the picture when they watched Barrie. I re-snapped their portraits. Plus, having the dog owner in the picture makes it easier for the dog to slow down long enough for my shutter finger to catch up.
  3. Dress up isn’t for every dog. I knew this going in as my Charlie doesn’t like to wear things on his head. I have been practicing with hats and glasses on him, and his tolerance is improving. It’s taking time, however. Meanwhile, I put him in a pumpkin shirt for a photo, and he seemed to like the t-shirt – it was like putting on his Spot the Dog vest. Patience and practice are the keys if you want your dog to wear a costume.
  4. Socialization is important. A public event is challenging for most dogs because of all the new sounds, smells, and attention. Keep taking your dog on public outings!
  5. Practice Sit-Stay. Most dogs struggled to stay still. I doubt my dogs would ace this part given all the commotion, so this is certainly not a criticism but an observation. I took a lot of photos to get one or two decent shots, but the outtakes were hilarious! This is where my real camera would have been a better tool. That said, I’ll be practicing Sit-Stay with my pack more regularly.

If you want to try this for your next event, here’s what I brought for the photo booth:

  • A photo backdrop stand and a large piece of black cotton velour for a backdrop
  • Pumpkins (I bought real ones, but fake ones work, too) and a Trick or Treat sign from the crafts store for decor and props
  • A chair
  • Assorted costumes, hats, and a felt Halloween garland that I purchased at a craft store – the garland made a fun scarf
  • A pumpkin bucket for donations with a sign
  • Candy for people

We located the photo booth outside on a covered sidewalk. We had plenty of afternoon sun for light, but I brought a light wand and a second tripod just in case. I used my phone (an iPhone 7Plus) on portrait mode. I think next time I’ll go back to a camera on a tripod for an upcharge option.

Did I say we had fun? We sure did!

The Tomato Thief, and Other Stories

dog training, dogs, humor, pets, photography, vermont

Charlie, Lucy, and Linus

Fayston, Vermont. Something stole our tomatoes this year. After a wet June and a coolish July, the tomatoes struggled to produce fruit.  We only grow cherry tomatoes, which we plant in the sunniest and warmest spot in our backyard, hard by the dining room windows. It’s difficult enough to grow them at our 1,900 ft. elevation, but something was snatching the small fruit just before any ripened.

What critter could be doing this? Chipmunks are scarce, due to the vigilance of hound/lab mix Linus. Birds scatter with lab/spaniel mix Charlie as the flusher. And golden girl Lucy is too busy chasing butterflies to notice much else.

Or so we thought.

One day, I caught Linus chewing on a mystery something outside, then I saw him gently pull a tomato off a plant. Stop, Thief! It wasn’t long before the others met him at their living salad bar, all three lined up each at a plant, tails wagging.

Tomatoes are not toxic to dogs, but the plant itself can be. My pack plucked the sweet fruit and left the bitter stems. The tomato season is just about over. I’m glad that our blueberries are fenced.

I am also grateful for the Farmers’ Market.

Holiday Revelry

Please, please bring a leash with you when you walk with your unleashed dog. Yup, it happened again: A “very friendly” unleashed big black dog was running free over the Labor Day weekend and we encountered him during our morning walk. I had never seen him before. Lucy and Charlie were leashed.

At first, I didn’t see the unleashed dog’s person. The dog was running up the middle of our street, happy in his freedom, zig-zagging up the hill. I signaled to a passing car to slow down. Luckily, the driver saw the black dog despite the dark morning shadows and slowed down, nodding an “affirmative” to me as he passed by.

The dog ran into an adjacent field, and I assumed home. Nope. Farther down the street, he came bounding at us, with the owner’s “He’s very friendly” call hanging in the air. Before I could reply, Lucy, who is usually behind me, put herself between me and the incoming dog. I was moving slowly that morning because of some pain. With a vocalization from Lucy that was halfway between a bark and a growl, the black dog stopped its advance. I asked the owner to please leash her dog.

She didn’t have a leash with her.

In my town, dogs must be leashed unless under voice control. A dog’s friendliness does not negate the need for a leash or proper training. My heart skipped a beat when I saw a loose dog and an on-coming car that might not see the dog. Why do people forget their brains – and their good citizen manners – when they are on holiday?

WAGMOREVT Photo Booth, and more!

Save the date! On Friday, October 11,  from 3-6 PM, WAGMOREVT and Product Think Tank will host a Pet Photo Booth to benefit Pawsitive Pantry and Golden Huggs Rescue. Halloween costumes are encouraged! Suggested donation of $5 per photo/$10 if I take the photo so you can be in it, too. Product Think Tank, which sells locally designed natural fiber clothing for men and women, is located next to the Waitsfield, Vermont Post Office, in the Mad River Green Shopping Center, Route 100, Waitsfield.

I will also be in the shop with my greeting cards and photo prints for sale. Most prints will be matted and ready for your frame; a few will be framed. If you are in the Mad River Valley for the long weekend, I hope you will stop by. I look forward to seeing you.

Also, I plan to enter only dog photos in the Green Mountain Photo Show (GMPS) this year.  The GMPS opens September 13 and runs through October 6. It will be held in the barn at Lareau Farm – home of American Flatbread – on Route 100, Waitsfield, Vermont. The show is open Thursdays and Fridays from 4-9 PM; Saturdays-Sundays from noon-9. Admission is free. My entered photos will be framed and ready to go to their new home – yours!

You can also find my greeting cards at Artisans’ Gallery on Bridge Street, Waitsfield, Vermont, and in the Pro Shop at Sugarbush Resort Golf Club in Warren, Vermont.

Charlie hears someone in the kitchen

Linus in the daisies

Happy Lucy

 

Blueberries

Butterfly in our garden