As Young as you Feel

Master Class is mixing things up, and doing a somewhat elaborate month-long challenge in which you get to pick and choose from a variety of challenges that will update regularly.  The one-word challenge of the first week is:

Hooligan

It’s such a great word, how could I resist?  click on the link below to go to the page and read the other submissions or post your own!

“Mildred!  If anyone asks, I been out here with you all day!”  Ernie cackled delightedly and pushed the screen door shut with his cane.  He had a newspaper under his arm and two beers.

His wife of sixty-three years was weeding the vegetable garden.  It was a strange garden, with stout banisters  running between the rows.  Their son had patronizingly explained wireless technology to his poor backwards mam when she’d asked how he liked his provider, and, since getting her set up with the device, had received  cellphone calls from across town to ‘help his poor old mamma up from her gardening’. Mysteriously, and entirely unconnected to the fact that he had accidentally made his Outlook Calendar public to his contacts, he was always on his way in for a massage when she called.  He built the fences so that Mildred could pull herself up, and she had thanked him profusely, eyes twinkling.  They made excellent trellises.

Mildred joined Ernie in the shade of their porch.

“Heya toots,” Ernie deposited a sound kiss on her lips and offered up the bottles, “Give us a hand?”

“Your damned arthritis, what good are you anymore?” she chortled, popping the caps off the two beers with a sharp tap to the edge of their cinder-block table.  “What have you really been up to, you old hooligan?”

“Me?  Why, I’m just a feeble old codger.” Ernie took a swig of his beer.  “Not much could get up to, is there?  But might be that the dog walker who called you an ugly old witch and doesn’t pick up after his dogs left his van windows cracked.  And on a completely unrelated note, I cleaned up our front lawn and all down the street, kindly soul that I am.”

“Kind indeed – cheers to being so old that we couldn’t possible have done anything wrong!”

Children

I recently had an experience that reminded me how important it is to be a parent.  I am not a parent, just to be clear.  I just spend a lot of time in parks, and in the neighbourhood so I have plenty of opportunity to judge them.

You (in general), as a parent, are responsible for teaching a brand new person the ins and outs of life, and interacting with the world.  That’s a big thing!

Scene 1:

I was walking Gwynn through High Park after he’d gotten his spring hair cut this year.  Right out of his haircut, he looks like the most delightful teddy bear on earth to cuddle and squeeze and pet.  Beautiful day, tons of people around, and I was on my way to the dog off-leash area to let him run around a bit (and, as is inevitable, get some mud on the wheels, as it were.).

With that many people around I pay a lot of attention – make sure to keep Gwynn close when walking past that person who is looking nervous of him, or that kid holding an ice cream cone at dog-level, etc.

So I noticed when a girl – probably about 10 – locked on to Gwynn and began speed-walking away from her mother and directly towards Gwynn (from behind him), hands already outstretched.

Gwynn is friendly.  But He. Is. A. Dog.  And coming up behind a strange animal and surprising him with a random pet from a stranger?  Nuh uh.  And this is where I judge the kid’s mom, and intercede in the teaching of life-interactions.

Placing myself between Gwynn and the little girl, I told/asked her, “You know you always need to ask permission before going near a strange dog?  Right?*

I got a blank look in response to this, but at least she’d stopped moving forward.

“You have to ask, because the dog might be scared of people, or mean, or sick, or not like kids or surprises, but if you ask, I might say yes,” I add, when it becomes clear that Mom isn’t taking advantage of this teachable moment.

I get through to her.  “Can I pet your dog?” she asks.

“Absolutely!  He’s very friendly.”

End scene.  I really hope I got through to her, but frankly, I. Am. Not. Her. Parent.  or friend, or relative, or teacher/person of authority in her life.  There is just as much chance that she will go off and complain with her mom about that weird rude (possibly even that B word) who tried to lecture her about dogs, when her dog isn’t even not-friendly, so why? why?  And if her parents aren’t bothering with agreeing with me on this, then why would she?

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Why yes, he is friendly… but I’m friendly too until a stranger surprise-touches my butt

Scene 2:

Gwynn and I are walking through the park near me last weekend, on a pretty high traffic multi-use trail.  Enter a little boy on a bicycle going the opposite direction to us.  I moved off to the side, but that wasn’t necessary, because he came to a stop, dropped his bike and says, “Hi,  my name is (Let’s call him Timmy), can I pet your dog?”

Delighted, I said, “Yes!  And thank you for asking!  His name is Gwynn.”  And we spent the next few minutes talking about Gwynn, and bicycles.

Younger brother caught up, asked the same question, and, getting another enthusiastic YES-and-thank-you, started walking with his bike towards Gwynn.  Mom shows up on her bike at this point, and immediately says, “Stop and put your bike down, you’ll make the dog nervous.”

Brilliant.  As I walked away, I overheard the older kid telling his mom about how “That lady with the dog thanked me for asking if I could pet him!”

It warms the cockles of my heart, it does indeed.

directly after grooming

directly after grooming… everyone wants to touch him

In conclusion:

Parents: teach your kids proper animal etiquette.  Always ask, and always be gentle with animals are the rules they need the most.  And try not to pass your own fears of animals on to them.  Also, you are doing a fantastic job, in general (not that my opinion matters, here, but still.), at raising children and handling the screaming and the constant energy and the many MANY ‘Why?’ questions, and oh god, it just seems exhausting.

People with dogs: also educate kids if they don’t seem to know about the ask rule… and if they do know – make sure to let them know that them doing the right thing is AWESOME.  Because sometimes hearing something from a stranger can reinforce good behaviours that parents are teaching.

*Blog readers – you know this, yes?  If you didn’t before, you know now.  “Is your dog friendly?”, “Can/May I pet your dog?”… “Is it ok for my (child too young to speak coherently especially to strangers) to say hello to your dog?” And, regardless of what size a dog is, how happy he seems to be to see you, and how experienced you are with dogs, if the owner says ‘no’, then give them space!

It was just like “Pretty in Pink”

You guys! I got asked to prom.

It gave me all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings, it’s really a boost to my ego.

It was a very classy proposal.  He was in a shiny black SUV with PROM? taped to the sides in giant pink cardboard.  I can only assume he and his cohorts (someone needs to hold the reins) are artists, it was so skillfully done.  Let us also hope they are as skillful in paint touch-ups.

My suitor in particular leaned out the window when he saw me standing with my dog outside the drugstore.   “Wanna go to Prom?” he waxed poetic.

It warmed the cockles of my heart.  Me, in my sweaty gym clothes, hair in disarray, looking a hot mess, asked to prom!  And by someone strong and fast enough to claim a front seat!

I shook my head sadly ‘no’, to a chorus of teenage-boys going ‘Awwww’,  before my suitor was swept off with the light’s change to green.  Though Canada’s age of consent is 16, I’d still rather – at 27 – date one of his teachers.

but, oh, if I were still in highschool, you can bet your britches that I'd have... awkwardly and embarassedly said no, because teenage me would have assumed it was some kind of weird joke... I had some issues

but, oh, if I were still in highschool, you can bet your britches that I’d have… awkwardly and embarassedly said no, because teenage me would have assumed it was some kind of weird joke… I had some issues

 

Skunked or Bamboozled

With the warm weather, the skunks in my neck of the woods are emerging from their winter sleep.

The other week, my coworker got sprayed just outside the front door of our office – this led to the entire office reeking of skunk for the next two days, as a blast of skunky air swept through every time someone opened that damn door.  It’s not his fault, though, I blame immigration for failing to alert non-North-Americans of the key difference between Pepe and Penelope upon entry into Canada.  He’s Scottish, and they don’t have skunks.  If my nose weren’t so angry with him, I’d suggest that it’s kind of sweet that he was going out to find out what was wrong with the cat hanging out beside our front entrance.

Poor guy thought he was safe even if the cat were mean, since it had its back to him.

For future reference of people who’ve never seen a skunk.  If it’s between late evening and mid-morning, and it’s got white markings on it – even if it isn’t a skunk, it’s a skunk. Skedaddle.  If you want more particular details, they kind of look like a long haired black and white cat from a distance, but they waddle.  They stamp their feet when they’re angry/anxious, and the end you should fear most is the tail end.

I’ve had a few close encounters with skunks and their smell, but have not yet been skunked myself.  I’ve got a dog, though, and nearly everyone I know who owns a dog has, at one point or another (or, in the case of my neighbour with a beagle, 5+ times) gotten skunked, or at least had to deal with a skunked dog.  And, if your dog gets sprayed – there isn’t a chance in hell that you’re getting him clean without long exposure and contamination.

I know it’ll happen, though I do my best to fight the odds.

With all of this in mind, when I was out in my back yard this morning getting ready for a dog walk, and heard a strange watery spritzing noise right beside me, it’s no surprise that my response was a low wail of “Nooooooooooooo” and a Mr. Bean-esque retreat.

Adrenaline pumping, I ran right out of the  yard, unleashed dog close on my tail, with the sole purpose of getting out of the line of fire.  Panting and wild eyed in my front yard, I, bloodhound, I sniffed suspiciously at the air… the dog… my knees… before throwing the leash around Gwynn and quick-stepping out into the road.

From the safety of the middle of the road, I more securely fastened the dog and acknowledged that skunks probably don’t make a noise like someone charging a water gun before or during their spray.  And that, if our sump pump pipe had frozen almost solid, it would probably make just that kind of gurgling hiss.

If you see this view of a skunk then, well… it’s probably already too late. “Image by Ken Bosma under Creative Commons license

SciFriday – Salt

Post-apocalyptic City, by Peter Siegl, on DeviantArt. Follow the picture to see more of his work!

In the hunt for immortality, there are always fads – the ‘real’ way to stay healthy would sweep the nation, be disproved, discarded and replaced.

Some things stick, though, to the point that the government takes it to heart.  The connection between sodium intake and blood pressure was clear.  Heart attacks were nearly eliminated, along with fast food chains.

Too bad our civilization’s salt addiction was all that had kept the snails off our backs.

The remaining officials strongly encourage the surviving populace to relocate to the coast – and remember that a high-sodium diet is a healthy diet!

***

This is a piece in response to Chris White Writes’ new SciFriday posts – he provides a piece of art, you provide about 100 words of sci fi.  win-win.  Head over to read the other submissions and submit your own piece!

Red Dress Club – A New Road

You can see the prompt from Write on Edge and submit your own by clicking the image below.

I’d also like to mention – I mean no disrespect by using the word Gypsy.  But not using it would kind of take away any level of authenticity from my MC.  After all… what farm boy ‘way back when’ would have known that ‘they prefer Romani’?
  Sam stumbled down the rutted road, shaking in the cold night wind off the plains.

Icy fingers clutched tight at the thin cloth of his coat.  Teeth chattering, he looked longingly back down the road, his entire world out of sight.

The girls would be snug in bed, he knew, their dolls tucked under their arms.  Who’d take care of them now?

He scrubbed at the tears coursing down his cheek and steeled himself.

No going back.  Pa’d always done right by the girls, at least.  They’d be fine.

Sam blew on his hands and broke into a clumsy jog, pain stabbing him with each jarring step.

The moon was nearly set when he saw the fire.  Exhausted and aching, he didn’t try to hide.  They could be murderers as long as they let him die by the fire.

He passed a tree strung up with charms, and even in the thin moonlight, the wagon was brightly coloured and intricately patterned.  Gypsies.

Thieves and murderers, the lot of them, his memory growled in his father’s voice, fetch my gun, boy, don’t dawdle.

Sam shook his head.  Pa’s opinion of good and bad wasn’t very trustworthy.

A branch snapped under his foot and the murmur of conversation around the fire died. One man called out cheerfully,”Ye’re late, lad – what took ye?”

The others around the fire laughed as though the man had made a joke.  Sam sidled forward and smiled cautiously.

“I-you-um…” he stared, wide-eyed, at the motley group and swallowed. “Wha’?”

“She told us to keep dinner.”  a hulking man leaned forward, a wicked scar cutting his face in two, gold teeth gleaming with fire.

A boy about his own age grinned less ominously and added, “Yeah, Shuv’ni shoulda said t’make ye breakfast!”  He nudged the girl beside him, who snorted sourly.

“What do you expect, me reading in a moving wagon?”

Sam blinked at that – Readin’s fer the rich, Pa said.  But what did reading have to do with predicting his arrival?  Magic, his imagination hissed.  He shuddered.

“Come closer, boy, warm ye’self,” an ancient woman with bright birdlike eyes commanded from her rocking chair.

Sam  stepped forward, blushing at the Gypsies’ gasps of dismay.  A woman made a low pained noise, like a kicked dog.  He had a good idea of what he looked like.  Pa never bothered avoiding the face.

The old woman pursed her lips disapprovingly, “Shuv’ni didn’t warn o’ that neither.”

The girl darted forward, grabbing him by the face.  She prodded him everywhere it hurt, making him yelp.

“I need to read the bones,” she muttered, turning away.  Before she disappeared into the wagon she added, “By the by, your ribs’r cracked.  Gran’ll do for ye”

Gran rolled her eyes and said, “Come sit by me, boy.”

“Why… why are you all being so nice?”

The gold-toothed man laughed, tugging a woman out of the shadows.  “We do right by family, don’t we, luv?”

Sam gaped as a ghost from his memories stepped into the firelight.  Wordlessly, the woman hugged him tight.

“Ma?”

This is a pastel and ink drawing by my sister, Doodle. You can see more of her work by clicking the image (it’ll take you to her DeviantArt page). She also blogs over at DrawninandQuartered. I do love having an in-house artist for my stories!

Master Class – Rewired

Last week on Master class, the following was given for a first line of a story.  Click through to add your own piece or read the rest of the submissions!

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. I was on the fast track to any school I wanted – my fastball was clocked at 106 MPH.  A motorcycle accident, two weeks in a coma and three surgeries to straighten my leg out, and I found myself with an awful lot of time doing not much of anything, with no-one around to keep me company.  Turns out, the people who hang around with popular-you aren’t always the ones who stick with you through the tough times.  My extraordinary life plan was as out of reach as the sun. Laid up in hospital with my life in shambles, I wasn’t much in the mood to read my usual sports mags.  Reading was a great escape, though, and I went through the hospital library pretty quickly.  My brother rolled his eyes when I asked him to hit up the public library for me.  But since my accident, he’d hung up his helmet – the star quarterback learned his lesson from the has-been pitcher’s accident – so use of my parents’ van was granted in return for ‘helping your brother out’.  Not one to go above and beyond, he’d swing by the library once a week, check out a shelf of books at random and return the ones I’d read. His lazy library visits did one good thing – they brought me the book that would change my life. Programming Your Life, by Franko Brunne, had an overly cheerful picture of the man himself giving two thumbs up on the cover.  I know what you’re thinking… so this is what hitting rock bottom sounds like. I didn’t even have a laptop, but reading this book, I just had to try it out.  Franko’s shtick was that writing the computer code for things you wanted to come true would “rewire your world”.  It sounds lame, but hey, rock-bottom-jock, here.  I was willing to try anything. His coding wasn’t quite like any programming language I’d already read about.  And, with my brother working his way through the ‘computer’ section of the library, I’d read a lot. My first attempt was to write a code for my brother to bring me a coke.  Easy enough, right?  It could even happen, theoretically, without the code.  If Jon weren’t such a tool. Nada.  He didn’t even come into my room with a coke of his own.  I found where I went wrong – no time requirements – and rewrote it. It was the most refreshing soda ever, and little bro didn’t even know it wasn’t his own idea. I practised on small things.  Jon’d moved into the sci-fi and fantasy shelves, which definitely gave me some ideas. I fixed my leg – a miraculous recovery, my doctors said – but I never did get that sports scholarship.  My leg wasn’t even my biggest accomplishment so far.  Making things that already existed change wasn’t nearly as impressive as what I could create from nothing but a bit of led and lined paper.

This is a photomanipulation type piece of artwork by FictionChick on DeviantArt. Click the image to go to her site and check out more of her work. It’s all wicked, and I love the surreal landscapes she creates. Every one of her pieces looks like it’s got its own story, and, if we’re judging books by their covers, I would totally read them all.

 

Algonquin in Winter

This past long weekend, I finally made it out skiing.  Not just any old skiing, but a trip to Algonquin.  I love Algonquin – not even just the park… the whole area.  Anywhere from Algonquin to Northern Ontario (anyone who’s been to Sioux Lookout knows Algonquin Park isn’t in ‘Northern Ontario’… not really), give me wilderness.  The woods, the trails, the lakes the rivers, the rustling of the leaves.  If I could live in the woods and commute a reasonable distance to my work (or just not work at all), I wouldn’t even hesitate.  If I could live up there, but couldn’t take technology with me, you all might just be lucky enough to get a brief final note from me.  “Gone forever to woods, bye”, maybe.  

My hermit-type habits are a discussion for another day, though, because I wasn’t solo on this trip.  I didn’t even sleep in a tent!

My friend S (my friend who does cross-country skiing too), Gwynn, and I stayed at the Motel 6 in Huntsville.  If you’re looking for a dog-friendly place to stay in that area, I cannot recommend them enough.  They don’t charge extra for (or make a fuss about) dogs, they actually welcome them!  They might have really weird motel-6 sheets, but just look at what they gave Gwynn when we got there!

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poop bags (gentle reminder, I’ll take it), a ball, and an assortment of cookies. The last place I’d stayed at with Gwynn before this tried to claim that they had no ‘pet friendly’ rooms available, and that their records didn’t show that we’d called and booked and said we were bringing the dog. it’s a nice change

We drove up Saturday morning at some unholy hour, stopping on our way up at Henrietta’s – this amazing bakery between Huntsville and Algonquin.  Try their Muskoka Clouds, or their bread… or anything, really.

We spent our morning attempting to ski one of the ungroomed trails.  It was a learning experience, and what I learned was simple:  A trail I remember as being flat-ish in summer is not necessarily a good trail for skiing!  It was lovely, though.

When we stopped by the front gate to get a day-permit to the park, we were told of three spots where the trails were groomed.  And no-dogs-allowed.  Well that’s just no fun, though I could understand it.  It put a bit of a cramp in our plan until I remembered the Rail Trail.  For those of you not often in Algonquin, it’s a bicycle trail (in summer) that runs along where there used to be a lumber train through the park.  Even ungroomed, that trail would be guaranteed to be flat!

My suspicion about why this trail isn’t advertised as groomed is that, having an access right in Mew Lake Campground (one of the few that remains open in the winter), they expected the trail to get at least partly ruined by all the people walking on it.  I feel no guilt about bringing the dog out on that trail, especially not after witnessing the number of walking groups that came out and almost on purpose walked directly on the ski lines.  For those of you who don’t cross-country ski – if you see those perfectly spaced ski-trail lines?  Don’t walk on them!

I also had a chance to take out a coworker’s snowshoes.  Gwynn was unimpressed at my ability to completely block the trail when he was trying to get through, but I definitely appreciated them on the steep parts of the trail – they had a lot more grip than my boots would have, and I didn’t need to slide down on my bum or clamber up hoisting myself from tree to tree.

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We also had pie and deep fried foods and were asleep before 10pm, so you just know it was a good time.

SciFriday 1 – Commute

This piece is called Tracks, by Sandara. Click the image to go and check out more of her work.

Travelling the abandoned byways of this, the ancient home of our foolish godly ancestors, I curse my own foolishness.  The ghostly silence groans with concrete and steel losing to gravity and time.  

The rumbling coo of pigeons  is nerve-wracking.  Massive and wily as they are, my best chance is to take advantage of their poor eyesight – move slowly, steadily.   

My camel’s metal claw rings against buried rail and the birds hone in on the noise.

Next station’s in 2km.  I can see their evil red eyes gleaming.  Too far.

Ducking under the bot’s torso and pulling out my bow, I scan the horizon and pray.

When the first enormous rat bites into my calf, I’m ready with a knife.  Commuting downtown really is deadly.

***

Chris White Writes put out a photo prompt today, more specifically, a sci fi prompt.  I love reading sci fi, but I’ve got to say, it’s not my strong suit.  What better way to improve than by practising, though, eh?

Click the picture to check out the artist, or go to Chris White Writes to submit your own prompt response and read other submissions!

Unfocused

Gwynn and I have been working through some issues recently.  Despite being 4 (!), he’s apparently decided to try out that doggy-teen-angst thing that usually strikes sometime between turning 2 and 3.  He’s a late bloomer, I guess.

He’s started barking at people, and attempting to run towards them (fun! not.) on our walks, and is developing dog-park-bully tendencies (ditto).

I know pretty much everyone says you never just reach a point with your dog where you can stop training, but I kind of assumed that I’d be able to keep adding tricks, agility moves and general improvement on his recall and sit-stays and call it a day.  I wasn’t expecting new things.  Behavioural things.

New things like suddenly, other dogs are really really interesting – in a hard-eyes and rigid posture, jumps over the barrier separating us (mid-agility run) from another dog (ditto, but also with fear-of-dog-issues, of course) like it wasn’t a foot and a half taller than the jump height we’re working on, spend 10 minutes yipping hysterically until I just get the fuck out 20 minutes into class kind of way.

Awesome.

What does all this mean?  Well, apparently the bullying might be a mixture of the herding and poodling (poodles were originally hunting dogs, so I’m not quite sure what instinct it is here, other than… being bouncy) instincts kicking into high gear from his ancestry – lots of darting in and back, barking and general over-excited-not-listening-to-other-dog’s-discomfort-cues.

And his complete loss of interest in running the agility course with me when he could instead go cry and run the fenceline?  Lack of focus combined with the whole over-excited-at-dogs thing.  His groovy ‘do means that his eyes are a thing I don’t necessarily see when training focus-work, and apparently this is an issue, because it means that I’m rewarding the wrong thing.  He’s, more often than not, getting rewarded for face-pointing in my general direction, but actually looking at the treat in my hand/pocket/whatever it is I’m trying to get him to stop looking at.  Instead of actual eye-contact.  Yup, 100% luring, not actual training.  Mea culpa.

Yes, also I high-pitch my voice to try and make him more interested in me… but when that fails… well…

My agility instructor has recommended that I cut all the hair around his eyes, but he’s already got a bit of a mullet thing going on from the trimming I already do, and I love his hair, so I’m going to try out a few alternatives for the interim (until it’s warm enough out that I can get him fully groomed).  What are your thoughts on his style?

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She also said she thought we’d be fine continuing with agility and just adding a dog obedience class (one that focuses on, well, focus, and working on newly developed issues), but frankly, I don’t give a flying… rice-cake… about whether Gwynn and I succeed at doing 6/8/10/etc weave poles, I just want my friendly/happy/not crazy dog back.

All this over-excitement directed at people (barking/lunging), and dogs (bullying, and hard eyes/stiff posture), to my mind, means that Gwynn is not feeling safe, he’s not sure how to act in a given situation, and, for these reasons, not happy.  

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

On a deeper level, I mean.

He’s also on a bad track towards possibly developing aggression issues (if you don’t already call his occasional barking and bullying a form of aggression), and, well NO.  If you’ve got experience in this type of thing, feel free to link me to useful stuff on the web or leave your best tips.  I’ve already been trolling back through old posts at SUCCESS JUST CLICKS and other dog trainer blogs, but repeated information isn’t bad information.

So I’m going all Mr Miyagi on his poor confused self, and we are going to get focused, and get happy.

Wax on, Wax off.  Click, Treat.

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