Friday, April 29, 2011


Until yesterday, this was my large forsythia.

What? You aren't overwhelmed with it's beauty?? Me neither!

 Finally, yesterday morning I woke up to those cheery yellow blooms.  The rain has kept me from taking a photo, but they look much the same as last year (see photo below), although we've done some pruning to the bush.

Such a happy sign of spring.

Thanks to Jason and his data back to 1929, I know that the average date of forsythia bloom around here (well, a little South-West of me) is April 23.  The earliest bloom date he had recorded until last year was April 14 and the latest was May 4th. I never did find out what Jason's exact bloom date was at his Ontario home last year, but mine was in full bloom on April 3rd and had actually bloomed a few days before that.  I didn't think to record an exact date at the time but I'm sure I will record the forsythia bloom forever more! The continuation and spread of tradition :-)

So, although this year (my 2nd spring here),  felt extremely late to me, it is probably well within normal ranges. This does not help me much since my pepper seedlings are huge and NEED to go outside!! That's for the next garden  post.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

You know what they say about good fences...

...they make good neighbours. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. It's not that I don't like my neighbours, quite the contrary, actually. I just really value my privacy and the fences separate my little haven from the kid-chaos next door.

Most of the fencing was put in new just before we bought the house but there is one portion that is old. We've been cross-bracing some of the planks to keep them up. Well, with the high winds we've had lately, that section didn't stand a chance!

This is what we woke up to the other day.

So that will be the next improvement we make around here! I'm actually pretty happy about this because I want/need a new gate on that side of the yard and now I get one!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Snappy Anniversary!

Tonight I asked my husband Alex what title he would give to our dinner. He instantly responded, "Snappy Anniversary."  My original title was going to be something like "Wild Red Snapper Bathed in Herb Butter"...I went with his suggestion. Today is our 4-year wedding anniversary and it's also been 12 years since we first started dating!

It sounds like such a long time but really doesn't feel that long. While it feels like I've always known him - we met at 18 because we both rock climbed at the same gym. It wasn't until 2 years later that we got to know each other a little more and went on our first date. Timing was right and so was the fact that neither one of us were into the game-playing that was typical of our age group and past relationships.

So here we are, at 32, celebrating an adult life together that has undergone many changes. From undergraduates, to Masters and PhD students, to professionals. From living in 2 rooms of my Mom's house, to our first tiny apartment, to living in different cities, and finally buying our first (dream) house. It's been a good progression but you know what?? It still seems like we are in our early 20's. Sure, now we can afford to do many of the things we want to do but not much else has changed. We have more responsibilities but we are just as fun-loving and silly as ever. At least I like to think so!

The only down side is running into my husband's students in places like the liquor store while buying wine, or the retail store while I try on new work suits. I shop away from downtown just to avoid this!

Ok, so the business at hand --- dinner!  I am SO behind on food posts!! Tonight was simple fare because we had to pick up our locally-made rain barrel after work and it was a little ways away from us. I decided we should stop at a good fish monger that I know which is in between our rain barrel location and home.

So, we walked Hazel at a dog park closer to where we heading for the rain barrel. There, we ran into friends (canine and human) that I knew from my time in Guelph. I had just finished saying to Alex that the dog looked like so-and-so...when the dog's owner and I made eye contact! So cool! Hazel and her friend definitely recognized each other, even though it has been about 3 years!

After our reunion, we went to the fish monger and picked out some wild BC red snapper.

I mixed some softened butter with dill, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and a homemade dried blend of hot peppers, onions, garlic, and parsley (we call it "Sasha's blend" because Alex came up with it and "Sasha" is the nickname for Alexandre in Russian, so that's what I call him. I spread this over both fillets before baking. It wasn't much butter but made it like it was poached in herb-butter.

I also made a mayonnaise with lemon zest, dill, lemon juice, pepper, and our special blend of spices. Served with rice and steamed snap peas. Simple and delicious!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dominance and Aggression. State vs Trait.

I experienced a pretty significant canine loss a couple weeks ago. Hazel is fine, it is not her I’m referring to, thankfully. I feel guilty for feeling thankful for that but I am. It’s been hard. Especially since it was not the result of accident or injury, but rather behaviour and temperament.  Also because it ultimately wasn’t my call, although my opinion was sought. I’ve tried a few times to write about it but it is difficult because I want to say everything yet I have a confidentiality agreement to uphold. 

I will be vague as to identity but as specific I can as to circumstance. Please don’t be offended if I can’t/won’t tell more. I will answer any questions as best I can. 

I can say that I eventually agreed with the decision to euthanize this particular dog due to aggression.I've been in that position before, though for different reasons. 

In psychology, we distinguish between characteristics that are traits; that is, a fundamental part of one’s character; as opposed to “states” which is how one might be in a particular circumstance. So I can be in an angry state, without having anger as a trait. In general, I would say responsibility is one of my traits, yet in certain states I can be downright frivolous (not really, but you get my point).

So the big issue was to determine if aggression was a trait of this dog, or a state brought on by the shelter environment etc.

I knew he would be a dominant dog from the time he was 5 weeks old. Rather early for such strong traits to emerge. He was the most persistently mouthy puppy I had ever dealt with, but he was learning. 

He learned everything fast. By 7 weeks, he knew several basic commands, was awesomely crate-trained and knew how to walk appropriately on and off leash. All of these things were taught through positive means and everyday life – not through drilling it into him. He was housetrained at 6 weeks. Although we still had to keep a watchful eye out, he would ask to go outside when he needed to, every time. We do tend to have an impressive track record with house training – it’s all about vigilance and I insist on it because lack of housetraining is one of the biggest reasons for owners surrendering their dogs to a shelter. Won’t happen to one of MY dogs, unless the new owner is an idiot. 

But none of this matters if the dog cannot adapt to the average life. This dog was never aggressive in my house. He displayed dominant tendencies but my husband and I quickly adjusted our own behaviour to make it clear to the puppy that humans were leaders, not him. This can sound rather ominous but really doesn’t require much difference in terms of how we handle the dog or conduct ourselves. 

I am sure to be consistent. With some dogs, you might have the luxury of being slow off the mark before your morning coffee, for example. With this guy, I made sure I behaved consistently no matter what. I carry my head a little higher, keep my back straighter, and keep my shoulders back. That is pretty much all that is needed to communicate that you are in charge. Of course, there is a projection of attitude beneath all that posturing, and it must be calm and confident. 

For two months, this dog made me laugh every day. He was tiring, to be sure, but so full of life (and mischief!). His mouthy behaviour improved by leaps and bounds and I was more confident than ever that he would find a great home, as long as the new owner had experience with dominant dogs. 

Unfortunately, this dog changed rapidly once outside our home. He became aggressive at every approach, especially during feeding. His behaviour assessments were re-done several times and he failed miserably. Perhaps more importantly, he began lunging at anyone who tried to correct his behaviour, no matter how they approached him. He bit hands and lunged at faces. 

He was only 14 weeks at this point but it became clear that his behaviour was more trait than state.  While I understand this is not a dog that a municipal shelter can allow to go free, it is hard to know that it didn’t necessarily have to be this way. He might have been fine in my household...but he might have also turned on someone else at some point. Hazel was never really comfortable with him and had to discipline him regularly – not something she does if the dog is stable. 

At the end of the day, practicality wins. There are more dogs that need homes than homes available. Especially knowledgeable homes. As much as it has hurt to lose one that was under my care, I far prefer euthanasia to many of the other fates this dog might have realized. I have never believed in a "no kill" approach as long as there are limited homes and funds.

Still, that dog touched my life and I have been grieving. I’ve gone through the “what if there was something I could have done different” to knowing that we gave him the best possible opportunity to be a good companion. I won’t ever be quite the same but I will be more knowledgeable and experienced myself, as a result.

So there. I’ve been grieving.

(comments welcome, including dissenting ones).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hazel and the Squirrel

I love my dog. She is a real dog's dog and I've always tried to support her doggyness from lots of good quality exercise to chewing good bones to fostering her hound desire to "hunt" other animals. Though I'm sure she would fail as an actual hunting dog, she loves to track and chase.

So it was odd when we slowly started to notice that she would happily sleep on the deck while squirrels, and even bunnies, came into the yard. Sometimes, while stalking a squirrel on a walk, she gets "sticky" or freezes in place. She is so zoned in and yet she won't go for it until the animal notices her and starts to run away. Still, I was surprised when she started doing the same thing in her own yard.

She will watch the animal intently, seemingly forever, without making a move.

That is, until she realizes that one of us is watching.

Today, I caught it on tape. She will sit there watching forever, but the second I touch the door knob and make it sound like I'm coming out? Well, watch for yourself!

You just gotta love my little under-achiever ;)