Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Things dog people obsess about

 At the risk of sounding like a minister standing in front of a couple at the altar, the act of naming a dog is not a commitment to be entered into lightly. 

 It has to be original. Clever. Creative. Something that speaks to your heart, reflects the imagine you want your dog to project and captures the vision of the future you plan to share with them.




Drama much?


But seriously, naming a dog is like that! You can’t just grab any old name out of the ether and call it good. You’re going to spend the next 15 years yelling it in the back yard, calling it out in the show ring and typing it on hundreds of entry forms. If you reach the top of your chosen sport, it may be announced over a loudspeaker at a national venue. At the very least, you’re going to say it about a million times over your dog's lifespan. The pressure is on.


Ideas are endless. Colors. Literary icons. Sports teams. Movies. Wine, beer and spirits. Mythological creatures. Pop culture. TV characters. Music. Motor vehicles. Trees. States. Natural phenomena. 


If you have kids, you get a free pass. You can name your dog any damn thing you—or they—want (which is your absolute right to do anyway) because when your adult friends raise their eyebrows at your black and white border collie named Oreo, you can shrug and say, “The kids named him.” And that’s absolutely fine and we’ll all go on with our lives because kids can get away with stuff that would just be dumb if adults did it.


Ditto for chocolate Labs named Hershey and Samoyeds named Snowflake but if you’re a grown-ass woman and can’t aspire to a higher aesthetic—well, whatever. It’s your dog. Name it what you want. Honestly, I don’t judge (well, maybe just a little) but naming each dog that has come into my life as an adult has meant obsessing to a degree of fanaticism that borders on lunacy.

It's not that dog people don't have anything better to do with our spare time - it's that THIS is what we do with our spare time. Normal people don't get it. When The Farmer and I got married, our elderly neighbors had two mixed breed farm dogs. One was black, one was white. They were named . . . wait for it . . . Blackie and Whitey. Oh, if only it was that simple.

But wait. Maybe it is. A college friend's grandparents had a succession of American Eskimos, each named Fluffy, followed by the appropriate number. Fluffy 4, Fluffy 5 and so on. 

No. Just no.


My dog friends keep a running list of names that appeal to them. Some of them are so good at it, they could open a consulting business. In 1995, they were naming dogs they wouldn’t get until the new millennium. 


This name game comes with unwritten rules. Let’s review a few of them.


Can you use the name of a friend’s dog? If the dog A) lives nearby and B) is still alive and being actively shown, no. There’s an unwritten rule there can only be one Cider or Rhett per 100 square miles. Occasionally, you run with your chosen name, only to find out later someone else in your showing circle just named their puppy the same thing. Then you grit your teeth and laugh and hope you don’t spend the next 10 years messing with stewards who perpetually confuse Phoenix the duck tolling retriever with Phoenix the Belgian Malinois.


Can you use the name if the dog passed? Maybe. Diplomacy is needed. How long has the dog been gone? Less than five years—no. 


More than five years—maybe. If it's a close friend in your training circle, ask how she feels about it. 


Does the name rhyme with another word? Proceed with caution. As God is my witness, I am not responsible enough to name a dog Tucker.


Is it the name of a family member, either living or dead? Um . . . I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say no . . . but that’s your call. Depends on your family’s sense of humor. Or lack thereof.


How about famous fictional dogs? Lassie? Snoopy? Buck? Again, if you have kids or grandkids, there’s something charming about it. Kids have absolute license to do transfer the mystique or grandeur of a fictional canine to the clumsy little puppy falling over its feet. More power to them. 


Most adults would hesitate to borrow the mojo that accompanies the exploits of established canine personas. Plus, there’s that whole “I want my dog’s name to be sparklingly original but at the same time evoke both an element of whimsy, unlimited potential, mystery and untouchable power” vibe. Slapping an already established persona on them from the start seems to restrict them to a box of pre-determined expectations.


Okay, what about famous real dogs? For me, this is a big fat no. Dogs whose names are etched in the archives of a sport enjoy a degree of untouchable-ness for generations to come. You don’t see any other Man O’ War or Secretariats out there, do you? Same for the canine scene.


Use caution when using a high-energy descriptor as a name because the dog may A) live up to it or B) not live up to it. It’s not pretty to watch Racer doing a death march in on a recall and naming a dog Crash is just tempting fate.


Crafting the registered name is another quest guaranteed to bring sleepless nights and a great deal of soul searching which may or may not involve alcohol. You’re tasked with incorporating the breeder’s kennel name with your own need to express your dog’s incredible individuality as well as possibly honoring the sire and dam’s names and reflecting a litter theme on top of it all. No wonder so many of us are scribbling a list of names for puppies that haven’t even been conceived yet.


The final rule in call names, however, is this: can you stand on the back step and bellow it at the top of your lungs without sounding like a complete idiot? Partial idiocy is acceptable because without it, none of us would be dog owners anyway.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The careful curation of a professional wardrobe. Or not.

Back to what I started last week before the dead mice took over. (Which is one of the weirdest openings I’ve ever written but welcome to my life.)

 Closet cleaning is a seasonal ritual involving the single closet on the first floor of our old farmhouse. I move the summer clothes to the back and the winter clothes to the front in the fall, then move the winter clothes to the back and the summer clothes to the front in the spring.


During these migrations, I thin the herd. I’ve never been much of a fashionista, probably because I don’t have the closet space to encourage that kind of behavior. If you constantly bring in new clothes without downsizing old clothes, your house will eventually explode. Or so I'm told.

Plus, I don’t need power suits for my job. I started work-from-home in 2018 so when the pandemic hit, I was already in tune with an uber casual dress code (i.e., pajamas) and was a pro at keeping the camera off for Zoom staff meetings. But the world was still spinning normally in 2018 and 2019, which meant I routinely had to put on real clothes and venture out among the public to do newspaper stuff. 




Overnight, not only did I not have an office to go to, I didn’t have anywhere else to go, either. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve downsized at least 50 percent of my wardrobe in the last 14 months. I went Marie Kondo on my clothes. Did it spark joy? If not, off to Goodwill it went. Even as we approach a return to normal, life’s too short to wear clothes that are uncomfortable, no matter how good they look.

 When I think of the things that spark joy in my life, clothes aren’t at the top of the list but hey – I can’t run around nakey. I live in Iowa so it would be more than naked and afraid. More like naked and frostbit.


When culling clothing, I have simple standards. Can I wear the garment in question in the obedience ring? Does the color complement my dog? Does the fabric and cut allow for comfortable range of movement during heeling, signals and throwing of dumbbells? Do dog hair, mud, paw prints, spilled soda and fast-foot stains easily launder out? Yes? It’s a keeper! 


Beyond that, hoodies, jeans, cargo pants, flannels and fleece rule the closet. If a garment doesn’t show dog hair, that’s a bonus but I have a lint roller drawer in the kitchen so that's not a deal breaker. Some people have junk drawers. I have a lint roller drawer. Don't judge.

Fortunately, I can add a few strategic accessories to my show ring outfits, grab the lint roller and I’m good to go for church, holiday gatherings or the random funeral. My black show ring pants are my black funeral pants. My dog showing friends are laughing now. I can hear you. You know this is true.

 If the occasion ever arises that I would need a dress, I am screwed. I don’t own a dress. I do own several skirts. I like the idea of long, swishy skirts that can be paired with boots but actually wearing them remains a fantasy. Every six months I take them out of the closet, admire them, sigh and put them back in. 


During the spring of 2020 and fall of 2020 closet cleanings, I used the technique of turning all the hangers backwards. When it was time to switch out for the next season’s clothes, I could tell what had hung there for six months without being worn and knew it was time for that piece to move along to a new home. This might have been more effective if I’d found a way to employ it to the folded garments on shelves as well (my vast collection of hoodies and fleece) but it did allow me to eliminate some things without feeling guilty.


I like to think my Harry Potter closet under the stairs reflects a deliberately curated professional wardrobe—it’s just that my profession is a stay-at-home dog mom/farm wife who juggles four community newspapers and writes fiction in her spare time. Not a lot of call for high heels and coordinated separates when you're running out to watch gates or ferry pickups from Farm A to Farm B.


A good closet purge is a refreshing feeling and in the process of, I’ve learned some things.

Number one: anything worth having one of, is worth having three of. In my case, it was four zip-front fleece jackets, all in minisculely (MS Word says this is not a word. I say it is.) different shades of teal.


Number two: no one really needs four pair of Taos, Bjorn and Ariat boots but—oh screw that, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. Keep the boots. (I’m justifying this by getting rid of three of the teal fleeces.)


Number three: cleaning out your closet will reveal your favorite colors. Mine are blue. Navy, royal, sky, periwinkle, slate, mallard and turquoise. Also teal, which is a subset of blue. And what a friend calls peach-y/coral-y/salmon.

I think it all comes down to what a former co-worker once said regarding work-from-home. 

"As long as you remember to put on pants before you leave the house, it's all good."



Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Of mice and closets

I cleaned out the bedroom closet last week. On the surface, this sounds like a mundane domestic chore but like so many things in life—including this post—it had the potential to be more complicated than it needed to be. But when you live in a century-old house with limited storage, it doesn't pay to let things get out of hand.

 There is only one closet on the first floor of our house and I think its design owes more to accident than intention. The guy who built our house did a great job with the woodwork and built-ins but not so much with the closets. The one in question was made by walling off the space under the stairs to the second floor.


Our house was built in 1919 by a guy named Pete Maas. Peat Moss. Get it? Gardener humor. Never mind.


Anyway, I am pretty sure Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs was bigger than this closet. It has about twenty square feet of usable space. Unfortunately, it’s all vertical. There’s room for a few clothes bars in the middle, then each end tapers down to the floor, rendering the space usable only by people who like to crawl around on their knees. For the record, I am not one of those people. It resembles Harry’s cupboard in a lot of ways, although there aren’t any spiders. There are occasionally mice.


When Phoenix was alive, one of his greatest gifts was telling me when there was a mouse in the mousetrap. I don’t know about the rest of you, but of all the things that need to get done in the course of the day, checking mousetraps doesn’t always make my top 10.


It should. 


If you have a mousetrap set anywhere in your house, it is in your best interests to check it regularly. 


If you do not, one day you will open your closet and the nauseating waves of dead mouse stink that come rolling out will knock you into next week. It will take every ounce of fortitude you possess to venture into the closet, one arm clenching a flashlight and one hand clamped firmly over your mouth and nose because if you inhale you might barf and there is no way on God’s earth you want to spend any more time in this confined space with this tiny dead thing that stinks like a freaking week-dead 1,200 pound steer laying in the sun at high noon in Iowa in July. (Brief aside – I DO know what that smells like, thanks to the derecho of 1998. But I digress.)


Mice do not go gentle into that good night. In the process, they drag the trap about two feet from where you set it, usually behind or under something. And this is where they will proceed to get a stink on.


Phoenix always told me before that happened. For almost 11 wonderful years, I did not have to check the bedroom closet mousetrap because Phoenix would tell me when there was a mouse in it. He would bounce up and down in front of the door, an expression of absolute delight on his face, like he’d just done the most wonderful ever in the existence of wonderful things.


Banner does not share the same enthusiasm for rodent patrol unless the trap is in plain sight. If he and I get a visual at the same time, it’s game on and a mad rush to see who can get there first. It’s winner, winner, mouse for dinner if he beats me.


But traps behind a closet door? Meh.


As a result I occasionally find myself getting knocked on my butt when I open the closet and get a reminder that A) this house is over 100 years old B) the foundation is not mouse-tight and C) for the love of God, check the damned mousetrap. Meanwhile, Banner looks at me like, “Ewww, gross, that stinks. Can I eat it?”


And now I’m out of time for this week. See what I mean? A closet-cleaning post shouldn’t be complicated but here I’ve written one and the whole thing was about dogs and dead mice. I’ll try to finish it next week.