The Curse of Caffeine Addiction

There is, within me, a person who is very unlike my usual self.  I enjoy nature, and try to be eco-conscious, but I do drive my car to work each day, because that 15 minute drive up the highway would take over an hour and a half each way by bus, and I have better things to do with my time.  Inside my generally laid-back self there is an angry environmentalist with a chip on her shoulder, and a whole lot of self-restraint. 

I don’t drink coffee… no high and mighty morals or ideals to this statement, I just don’t like the taste.  And, seeing as how it isn’t all that healthy for you, I see no reason to acquire the taste – I get enough caffeine out of the rest of the things I ingest.  And, I really don’t care if you do drink it or not.  What bothers me (and makes my A.E. want to sharpen her machete and go mutilate the nearest Tim Hortons) is the paraphenelia of most urban coffee drinkers.  It isn’t even really the paraphenelia… it’s what you do with it.  Hm, that does seem vague.  Coffee Mugs.  Not the reusable ones, of course – people who own and use them, pat yourselves on the back – what I have an issue with is the paper cups.  The paper cups aren’t limited to coffee drinkers, either – if you are using a paper cup, I have issue with what you might do with it.

The term ‘paper cup’ seems to give people the impression that it must be recyclable, which, in turn, leads people to the greater misconception that it is, like a banana peel, compostable.  And, like a banana peel or apple core, something you can literally toss in the bushes when you are done with it. 

Depending on the coffee shop you go to, the area in which you live (different types of recycling facilities) and the type of cup they use, the paper cup you have just bought, full of the beverage of your choice, might be compostable, or recyclable, or just plain garbage (a lot of places can’t recycle the cups that have a waxy or plastic type lining that lets you keep your beverage in it for a long time without leaks).  Fine, good, throw it in the appropriate receptacle once it is empty.  My A.E. would prefer it if you used a multiple-use type mug, but I don’t always do it either – sometimes it is hard to predict when I might feel a sudden craving for hot chocolate or whatever, and I don’t always want to carry a mug around with me.

The issue I have with these cups goes back to the fact that people treat them the same way I might treat an apple core. 

Scene 1 – the side of the highway through Lake Superior Provincial Park.  While doing work that takes me near the highway, I could barely take two steps without running into a tim-hortons cup, or, more rarely, cups from other brands.  Though, to be fair, there aren’t that many varieties of coffee shop in that area, so it makes sense that most of the cups are from the brand most likely to be available.  There is other stuff that people have felt ought to be expelled from the vehicle via window (and since it is only staff that spend any time walking along the highway, the detritus is from cars), but cups are the most common.  The verge of highways is not a hospitable site – it would not be the ideal composting location at the best of times, but, when the item left there is paper coated with wax, that object is going to be sitting there getting slowly bleached by the sun for a very very long time.  Coffee cups are not compostable like vegetation, and they could not possibly be impacting your personal comfort in the car so much that you couldn’t wait until the next parking-lot (because nearly all the parking lots in provincial parks have regularly emptied garbage bins) or rest-stop or gas-station to get rid of them.

Situation two – hiking along the shore of Lake Superior, deep inside Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, doing waterfront cleanup.  A quick bit of information on Lake Superior – it is the biggest of the Great Lakes, and deep enough that, if it were emptied, then filled with the water of the rest of the lakes, they could not fill it.  It is so big that the weather boats can experience on it can be terrible – rough water can come up so quickly that you might find yourself in a canoe, half-way home from a perfectly blue-sky day of paddling, and desperate to get to shore before you get tipped.  And yet, old coffee cups (and yes, mostly Timmy’s) alone could have filled at least one full large garbage bag, as we walked about 8 km of inhospitable and nearly inaccessible shoreline.  With a beach consisting of smooth rocks the size of your fist or foot, with large rocks scattered sometimes just under the surface of the water, it isn’t an easy or fun hike, and it wouldn’t be somewhere I’d want to pull into in a boat.  All the garbage we found there was washed ashore after having found its way into Lake Superior.  And there, in the middle of nowhere, we found that many paper cups.  Further proof that just chucking it anywhere will not ensure that your coffee cup will decompose – not even leaving it in water for however long it took to travel to a deserted stretch of coastline will break it down even enough that it becomes unrecognisable for what it is. 

Situation three– walking through my neighbourhood.  I do, since acquiring the companionship of Dog, walk an awful lot more than I used to.  Also, without as much purpose to my walking, I look around a fair bit more than I used to, which is great, really gives me new appreciation for the area.  Because of Dog, I also have to pay a great deal more attention to the less pleasant things in my neighbourhood – because he will try to eat it if it is even slightly interesting.  The sheer number of coffee cups that have been discarded onto peoples’ lawns, the sidewalk, and the road in general, is staggering.  Some of them aren’t even empty!  They are treated like vegetable matter – for some strange reason, coffee cups don’t seem to fall into the ‘put it in the garbage when I get home’ category, and, instead, have been bundled in with apple cores and banana peels.  Much as I don’t like it when my dog picks up a blackened and gross old banana peel (try chucking it into a bush, not just on the sidewalk, come on now!), I see those much less often than coffee cups.  Probably because the banana peel breaks down over time – the coffee cup just sits there, getting flattened or faded slightly, for the entire winter.  Coffee cups are probably one of the least awful things my dog has picked up (old flat dead rat, anyone?), but they are the thing he most often picks up, sometimes with little frozen pucks of coffee still in them (not good for him at all!), sometimes with the (often) recyclable lid still on, and, in general, making a mess of the neighbourhood.  This is one of the easiest things to shove into a winter-coat pocket, or into an outside pocket of a bag.  It can be folded down and flattened, and, if you’re done with the beverage inside, you can dump it out on the grass, to avoid leakage into your pocket after folding.  It is lightweight and easily disposed of.  There are garbage and recycling bins at every street corner on the main street the coffee bearer might be headed to on their way out of the neighbourhood, and garbage cans sitting strategically outside in the school yard, in the parks, in front of apartment buildings, and, on garbage days, in front of every house in sight.  Even if it isn’t garbage day, there are still garbage bins out front, or clearly visible just near the front of a person’s house (and I bet they’d rather you used their bin than their lawn).  If I can carry a bag of Dog’s fecal matter long enough to find a garbage can, surely you can take your empty or half-empty coffee cup that same distance.  I’m not even asking you to recycle – anything’s better than strewn-across-the-lawn.

Now I Know I Knew so Little

When I went into this whole thing – the dog ownership thing – I really thought I was prepared.  And I probably was, to some extent.  After all – experience taking care of dogs, check!  Experience giving dogs pills (and it was definitely the unhappy taking pills type dog, too)– check!  Experience with dog-aggressive dogs – check!  Experience with dog pulling on leash (and helping to train it out of the dog) – check!  Before even ever having owned a dog, I had already scooped poop, picked burrs out of paws, done some unholy-early-morning-walking, and trained a dog to sit, lie down, and come back to me.  I did the research – what breed should I get, what should I look for in a breeder, where the nearest dog obedience class was, which veterinary clinic I wanted to use (IE – NOT the one where we had our cat put down – there are people in this world who shouldn’t be allowed near animals.  But that is a different story).  When it comes to big commitments – of the time and money type, I’m not about to jump first and ask questions later.  I’ll be the first to admit, however, that there are HUGE differences between doing these things for someone elses dog, and doing them for your own dog.  There are also some very critical steps in the ownership process that someone pet-sitting skips entirely.  I had some idea of what was necessary – I wasn’t completely unaware of the things that people had to get for their dogs.  And, in talking with my many dog-owner neighbours, I tried to sort through the many lists of “What you absolutely positively must buy for your dog or it will be miserable, violent, and a poop-eater”, to cull out the things that really won’t affect future-dog’s welfare.  A quick note – I’ll be referring to my dog as ‘Dog’ most of the time… and, because he’s a boy, I’ll probably refer to dogs in general as ‘he’ the entire time. 

A crate – I’ll admit, when I first started dog-sitting, I thought the idea was barbaric, possibly abusive, and something I’d never every consider.  Why I thought, would I EVER consider locking up my beloved fido at night or when I’m out of the house?  Well, because putting him in a crate every night means I know exactly where he’s been all night, and what things he had access to.  And, if he did decide to defecate all over everything he can reach, it will be contained.  For the same reason as people put their toddlers in playpens – it ensures that they aren’t wandering around with their newly discovered freedom of movement and destroying things or hurting themselves.  One neighbour laughed when I said my plan was to keep Fido (no, I really didn’t name him that, it’s just a vague name for the nameless, faceless dog I hadn’t bought yet) in a crate at night.  His dog grew out of the crate before reaching the 6 month mark, and the crate he could have fit in was bigger than a table for 6 – then again, I wasn’t planning on getting a newfie, or anything else quite that massive.  I did make some mistakes with the crate, however.  I got a size up from what I should have gotten.  Dog would have been just as happy with the slightly shorter, much narrower crate that wouldn’t have come to take over the room it is kept in.  However, I saw the height that Dog was predicted to reach(I’m pretty sure he’s full height now, and definitely not as tall as I was expecting), saw how it matched the height of this small-medium crate, and returned it, to get the much much more massive next-size-up.  Dog has a spine like a snake, so the extra width of this crate is entirely unnecessary for his ability to turn around.  He isn’t nearly as big as I thought he’d be, and likes fitting into small spaces anyways.  He really doesn’t need all that space. 

Collar – this one is an obvious ‘need to have’ for getting a dog, however, the sizing on them is not.  The nice collar and leash I picked up for Dog (bear in mind, he was already 6 months, so basically full-grown) seemed practical – they were a nice color, durable, the collar was adjustable, and the buckle was easy to use and felt solid.  My stumbling block in this instance was that, apparently, somewhere in my mind, I had decided I was getting a bulldog the size of a Great Dane.  I could have leash-walked a dragon with the collar I bought to bring with me to pick up my lab-sized 6 month old dog.  Even on the smallest setting, I could probably have fit it around Dog’s waist.  Perhaps my Bull-dragon (designer breeds are all the rage right now) would have found the crate I settled on to be a bit tight.

Time – While imagining my new pet bull-dragon, I also made the assumption that house-sitting for someone was harder, and more time-consuming, than actually owning the dog on your own.  Why?  Clearly I was delusional – I was buying a dragon-bulldog mix, after all.  If anything, having my own dog takes up more of my time.  For one thing – training!  Yes, all the dogs I have house-sat for before now were fully or at least partially trained (and, in any event, if I’m taking care of them for a week, I really don’t care if they behave well or if they jump up all the time), house-trained and able to sit and stay on command.  Also, things I might have shifted to another week when house-sitting, really can’t be shifted.  I can’t decide to not go for a check-up, or to a dental appointment until after I don’t have the dog – I have to make sure that things that don’t relate to the dog at all still happen.  And on top of that, a new type of appointment – visiting the vet.  So… owning my own dog = more walking, less time to fit in appointments, and more appointments.  I guess the Giant bull-dog I bought a collar for was also lazy (or able to walk and entertain itself), and possibly came with an off-button.

The first two weeks of owning a dog (and keep in mind – he was already 6 months old, and I had 4 other people to help me!), I was exhausted all the time.  I was waking up earlier, to incorporate a walk into my morning routine.  I was staying up later, because the dog wouldn’t go into his crate for anyone except me, and would cry loudly and pitifully if he was put in the crate before everyone had gone to bed.  I was the only person he would get off the porch with (ie, if Dog has to ‘go’, I need to go outside).  This meant I was driving home from work at lunch to let the dog out, because my sister (who was already home) couldn’t even get him to go out the back door with her.  I was walking more, and constantly on high alert, even when in the house.  I still am far less likely to fully immerse myself in any task, because the minute I do, Dog will rip a toggle off someone’s boot (not anymore, though… all the toggles have already been ripped off), or start positioning himself to do his business on a backpack someone foolishly left on the floor, or any number of things that are not allowed.  Dog was also the most timid creature I’ve ever witnessed, scared of everything from car-rides to fire-hydrants, which certainly didn’t help to convince me I hadn’t somehow gotten a lemon.  Every time I turned around, someone was giving me new advice, most of which rapidly eliminated all of the treats I had bought for him from his diet (rawhide can swell and clog their intestines, and will kill him, pig’s ears are high in salt and fat, and therefore not healthy for him, don’t give him rib-bones, those will splinter and kill him.).

Owning a dog is stressful – the struggle to give affection, but at the same time, raise him to be obedient and relaxed, feels like an epic journey through the jungle, with a nail file instead of a machete.  What the hell was I thinking?!

Clearly, I was thinking of all those other things, even the ones I didn’t really know were coming.  Or at least, that’s what I’d like to think. 

Man’s best friend – From day 1 – from bringing him home in the car – Dog has known exactly who ‘the Boss’ is.  He is friendly as can be, and affectionate towards everyone in my family(he has seriously come out of his shell since his scared of life phase), but there has never been a doubt in his mind or anyone elses as to where his loyalties lie.  He has an eerie sense of timing, according to my sister, and will abandon his nap, a tummy rub, or anything else he’s in the middle of about 5 minutes before I get home, to wait at the door. 

Training – It is amazing just how pleased I was with myself and my fiendishly intelligent pooch (clearly he is!) when he learned the art of SIT, and DOWN so quickly.  I was squealing in delight when he mastered ‘shake a paw’ with me, and I proceeded to go through the house making everyone else use the command and give him a treat. 

Walking – spending so much more time in the park, seeing all the pretty gardens in my area, and the leaves change, and talking to so many more people I wouldn’t have ever run into.  I feel like I’ve been missing a huge part of my neighbourhood just because I haven’t spent enough time in it.  Walking around with Dog is like walking with new eyes – because, no matter how often we go down the street, he’s still excited to be seeing everything.

This went on faaar longer than I had planned for it to go.  Basically, what I have learned about owning a dog is that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I did before getting him, and I doubt I know nearly as much as I think I do now.

Starting the walk

My first blog – in fact, my first ‘published’ writing – the first writing I present to the world that is not a school report, structural design report, or essay.  I am feeling pretty impressed with myself right now, I gotta say.

Gone for a Walk – this was not a name I came upon lightly, nor was it the first name I toyed around with.  I wanted something to represent everything going on in my life at this point in my life, and this really is a good descriptor for that.

In the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking ‘I should write this down’ for months – since sometime in October, in fact.  Since I started living with a wolf.

the wolf

Yes, yes, I know… clearly this is a dog.  And not even one of those very tough and wolf-ish looking ones – He’s an Aussiedoodle, very near the opposite end of the ‘toughness’ spectrum.  But a wolf is much closer to a dog than a dog is to a person.  Given the choice, he’d spend an awful lot more time roaming the frozen tundra (aka, the park down the road from my house), eating dead and rotted things, and doing other wolf-ish things.  He has no interest in the television, or sleeping in on weekends or skipping the walk on days when the temperature sinks down to -30˚C with freezing rain and a chance of blizzard. Before getting him, I did some dog walking, and a fair bit of pet-sitting.  Long before getting him, I had cats.  Taking care of someone elses dog for a week is not the same as taking care of your own from now until the unforeseeable future.  A large portion of this blog will be dedicated to my attempts at first-time-dog-ownership.  Right now all you people who grew up with dogs, have had dogs your whole lives… you’re probably settling in at your computer chuckling a bit and prepared to browse to something more interesting.  After all – it isn’t brain surgery – it is dog ownership.  However, I’m sure that somewhere in all this, you’ll find some stories to laugh at, or go ‘Awwww’ about, commiserate with me about, or maybe even be able to post a comment that will help me immensely in my attempts at taming my fluffy wolf. 

I’m sure it is fairly obvious from the previous paragraphs that I am obsessed with my dog.  Another thing I’m obsessed with is my dehydrator, and most other things related to food.  There will definitely be mention of recipes for the dehydrator, both for human and dog consumption.  I’m sure there will also be stories of what I’ve found does NOT work.  Why on earth did I buy a dehydrator?  Half the people who own one will be thinking, ‘because it’s awesome!’, while I’m sure another portion of the dehydrator owners will be thinking ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’.  Getting a dehydrator is rather like getting a pasta-maker, or a bread machine.  Some people find it amazing and handy and brilliant to have in their house – with a bread maker, you can have fresh bread whenever you want, whole wheat, multi-grain, cinnamon raisin, French stick bread, warm buns with dinner – it will go great with that hearty stew you made in the slow cooker you get so much use out of.  Wow!  I should get a bread maker! And for other people, that bread machine just takes up space in their kitchen… or in the closet… or the basement, or eventually the garage (ours hasn’t quite made it to the garage – it seems content to collect dust in our basement for now).  The bread maker was not a success in my house – if I’m going to make bread, I kind of want to go through the entire process, and I want it to turn out not as a tall, kind of useless giant-muffin-shape with a dough hook baked into the bottom.  Giant round sandwich, anyone?  I feel so much more accomplished when my next batch of bread doesn’t turn out like the little briquettes I made the last time.  The dehydrator, however, has not been relegated to the far reaches of equipment storage.  It is in the basement, but that’s only because it makes a whooshing noise when it is on, and because we have clear counter space down there, which isn’t present in our actual kitchen.  And the snacks that I make with it are delicious, mostly healthy (or at least, with fewer chemical additives than their grocery store counterparts), and lightweight (which will have an enormous impact on my next menu for camping). 

Oh yes… my other obsession… camping.  This year, I’m getting back into interior camping, something I haven’t done since I stopped working on the interior crew for provincial parks.  And I’ll be taking the dog, added pressure to get it right!

So – welcome to my blog – dogs, dehydrators, camping and other things I encounter while out and about.  I don’t foresee a lot of comments on this slightly haphazard introduction, but, if you’re anxious to post, tell me what your most useless household purchase is (ie, for me, it would definitely be a breadmaker), and what you were thinking when you bought it!