A simple story for Christmas

It has been a while, hasn’t it? Christmas Eve is a splendid time to revisit the blog community, after two years of not writing a blog!

As you may know from my old blogs, my precious Chocolate Labrador, Heidi, died three years ago after a tremendously naughty and nice lifetime of 15 years.  After all, she was a Labrador and all they are capable of is naughty. There wasn’t a nasty bone in her body.

As fate would have it, my children love animals and dogs in particular. Two of my handsome boys have Chocolate Labradors, Bella and Jersey.  There is an open invitation to Bella and Jersey for doggy sitting, sleep overs and occasionally to stay as company when I am alone. I was unbelievably lucky to have a week this past November with Jersey as my companion.  Jersey’s owners run in marathons, so they needed a sitter to run in a Texas marathon. I love doggy sitting and besides it would ‘up the ante’ on my daily physical fitness routine.

The week was everything you might imagine.  We jumped in bed early, curled up with my book and snuggled into the lengthening winter nights.  Jersey adapts well to her surroundings, so by day two she was under the blankets on my husband’s side of the bed with her head and right paw on his pillow.  I have to admit I let her!  I prayed madly to the patron saint of animals, Saint Francis of Assisi, that my son and his girlfriend provided Jersey with regular flea and tick treatments. (It worked!  No fleas!!! Thank you Saint Francis!)

By all measures, it was a fantastic week.  My biggest regret was how quickly the time went. It was already day 7 and I enjoyed my Jersey time like it was a vacation. So, what better way to cap it off but with a nice lengthy walk, not a marathon, but an indicator that I was a suitable sitter for the dog of a marathon runner, who finished her race in under 4 hours.

I live in the country, on a farm. We walked through the farm everyday that week.  We walked in our local park practically everyday. But for as long as I have lived here, which is now 33 years, I have never walked from one end of our road to the other.  It is approximately 5 miles either way, so that would be a round trip of 10 miles; not 26.2 miles that comprise a marathon, but not bad.

It was a cold and crisp day, but we had been spared any snow. Not even a puddle had begun to freeze up yet.  I put on two sweaters, my thick hiking socks, my new skinny jeans, followed by my relatively new Helly Hansen Newport jacket.  Finally, I donned my very lovely new Asics Fluidride Dynamic Duomax GT 2000 sneakers …and out the door we went!!!  We would make our mark that day as distance strollers of the senior citizen variety. In truth, we were fake senior citizens, Jersey is a mere 7 years old and it is really none of your business knowing how young I am.  Agreed?

Jersey didn’t have her regular collar that week, as she lost it hiking with her owners the week previous. Christmas was only a month away and opportunity for enhancing Jersey’s closet was beckoning! I made a mental note to look into colour coordinating collars with my wardrobe for her next visit on Christmas Eve.  Instead, on that November day she was sporting a lovely blue body harness with a red lead clipped onto to the body harness. The colours of the harness and lead didn’t match, but being a dog, I didn’t think she would mind.

I willfully abandoned a colour matching opportunity. My son had instructed me to use the gentle lead (red) when taking Jersey walking. A gentle lead is a fabulous product that is just as it is described, gentle. It effectively signals walking commands to the dog. I also must compliment the designer on the multitude of colours! The gentle lead is also referred to as a head collar which goes around her nose but is not a muzzle. Regrettably, I did not pay enough attention to the demonstration and couldn’t figure out how to loop the gizmo properly. Our other strolls went charmingly with this mismatched body harness ensemble. I gently wrapped the lead around my left hand and we took off as colourfully as a maple tree in autumn.

As we walked, I soaked in the impact of a picture perfect day.  Very little traffic.  The skies were a little grey, but the cloud cover was high, leaving the impression of an endless sky. As we got comfortable with our pace, I unwrapped the lead from my hand to give Jersey more freedom. We went up hills and down again. My Fitbit was just clocking off steps to beat the band!!!! Ah, now I must admit I am competitive.  I regularly complain about my husband’s fitbit giving him more steps than I get with mine. He usually wins hands down on a daily basis. My husband wasn’t about to catch me this day, 10 miles would amount to a clear win on a work day!  Oh, the benefits of dog sitting abound.

Having a wee bit of a safety background, I was alert to the road conditions. Country roads have their own hazards.  The shoulders of this road were very narrow.  This couldn’t meet city codes, surely.  As we crested our last hill, I noticed how deep the drainage ditches were and I tested the shoulder of the road only to find it was soft. Safety first! Spot the hazard, assess the risk, find a safer way, every day! We were already 5 miles down our road.  I decided that at the first opportunity, we would cross to the other side of the road and test the shoulder of the road there.

Out of no where, we spotted a black swarm of birds rising from the field across the street.  I recognized this as Starling Murmuration.  It is well known in the United Kingdom, but less noted in our Canadian neighbourhood. Essentially, it appears as a black sphere that changes its shape as it swirls across the sky above you.  A mesmerizing spectacle.  I instinctively wrapped the lead around my left hand to make sure Jersey would stay by my side.

Documenting the murmuration on my Samsung 4, I felt very fortunate to have witnessed the dance up above.  Realizing the shoulder of the road was soft, Jersey and I decided to cross the the opposite side of the road.  We were practically at the end of the road with 5 miles under our feet!  I was feeling one with nature, gazing once more across the farmer’s field.  This was sheep country, lush green fields with enough for the sheep and the starlings to be well fed before the winter.  There we stood facing the field, toes to ditch, mesmerized.

A sheep moved!

Jersey is a dog, a sheep was scampering away, a dog must respond!  With my left hand, attached to the lead, no ground ahead of me, I had a split second to respond.  That second is quiet detailed, so forgive me for taking sometime to explain.

Jersey’s instinct was to take command of the situation and perhaps corral the sheep. My instinct was to hold  Jersey back.  These are incompatible instincts. She leapt forward to cross the ditch, but gravity being what it is, she went across and down.  My arm attached to this movement sent me forward and down, head first toward muddy, slimy looking ditch water, rocks etc. At some point in that split second, my left fist stopped hanging on to the lead and Jersey was free to scale the opposite side of the ditch and run along the fencing.  I don’t even think she barked. I remembered I had one hand free to protect me and extended the right hand in an attempt to escape the ditch.  As no doubt you are anticipating, my wrist and hand took the first impact, followed by my face sliding over the rocky bottom of the ditch.  My legs were still splayed over the wall of ditch and my Asics super sneakers were dug into the bank.  I remember thinking, this can’t be good. Spitting the mud out of my mouth, I wasted no time getting up. With brown dripping hair, mud caked jeans and soaked coat, I emerged from the ditch. A colour coordinated being that suitably matched the dog!

I had to get control of the situation!  I commanded Jersey to come back,  the way a high pitched whining maniac might try to do.  It was met with the response such maniacs have come to expect. I was ignored.  Jersey paced back and forth on the opposite side of the ditch, wondering how to command the sheep on the other side of the fence.  Sputtering and trying to wipe the mud away from my eyes and nose, I thought of throwing a temper tantrum, but reminded myself instead that one must be dignified and in control. Even so, Jersey remained unimpressed with my command to come back. Resigned to my place in the world, I scrambled down the ditch, retrieved my Samsung 4 and crossed the ditch, remaining upright this time. Jersey responds well when you are next to her, so I did eventually take control.

Several split seconds had passed and there we were back on the roadside of the ditch, facing down another 5 miles.  I guess school must have been over for the day, because suddenly there was lots of traffic.  Some folks even slowed down to have a good look. My hair, my coat, my jeans were a spectacle. My hair had no other choice but to lie flat across the left side of my face, dripping. I had been at the hairdressers that morning.  The back of my head was perfect, the hairspray should be commended. But the spray and the style were unable to withstand the drenching of the ditch!

All was not lost.  Dignity is not just what you look like on the surface, it is the person you are inside! My left hand was in command of a very muddy lead, wrapped tightly around my hand once again.  Jersey walked in step with me, instinctively keeping her eyes to the path below her. My right wrist was throbbing, as if to the beat of our feet.  I looked at the miles ahead and the friendly passerby’s who must have thought I was a bit of mess to be outdoors and in public, but they just didn’t know the inner dignified me. We continued to plod on a little ways.  I occasionally wiped my face, the way windshield wipers wipe the car’s windshield.  I was able to assess how lucky I was, my face was merely chipped in a few places, nothing major.

I remembered my phone.  I called my husband.  He was gone out! Fortunately, he is a twin and his twin was at work and available!

One and half miles of walking later, my brother-in-law rescued me.  He drove Jersey and I back the remaining 3.5 miles to my home. By this point I realized my right wrist had enough for the day, so in a pathetic sort of way, I asked if my rescuer could continue his service. Graciously, he opened the truck door, unlocked the door to my house, unzipped my coat, and unbuttoned my outer sweater that had big metal designer buttons suitable for dignified me.  He then bid me adieu and took off liked a scald cat.

Well, I am happy to report that my son and his girlfriend came home that evening and Jersey went home with them.  My clothes actually came out of the wash in great shape. My glasses were not broken or chipped. My phone has a wonderful video of the murmuration. My wrist is almost as good as new. Jersey has been back for a sleep over.  We have not attempted my 10 mile jaunt, but we will. I promise to be: a) dignified, b) in control and c) colour coordinated, d) stay out of ditches and other nasty places, and, e) use the gentle lead which would have saved the day!

Until now, I did not share this story beyond my immediate family. I thought it would make a good story and consequently be a reason to recommence writing my blog. I offer this as a simple present, a Christmas chuckle in particular, to my friends and all those who liked to read my blog.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and/ or Seasons Greeting to you from Mo!

Vanessa, I don’t want a map!

Vanessa and I are pretty close. We worked together, we go to book club together and we have several of the same friends. When we first met, I would visit her at her house in the next community. She shared her calamities with me and I commiserated in between giggles. Vanessa is a great cook and baker, but you don’t want to be with her when she boils Fussells thick cream. She boils the cream while it is still sealed in the can. Otherwise, Vanessa is a first pick for travel advice, to take on an adventure or to walk your Labrador with! But the biggest problem I have with Vanessa is that she moved to the other side of the City. We may not live in a Metropolis, but I need a map to get there.

I really dislike going to the east end of the City. It isn’t because it is unfriendly or dangerous, it is only because I don’t go there often and the labyrinth of streets and cul-de-sacs are difficult to navigate. Simply put, I have a habit of getting lost. I do not have my own internal compass. I routinely have been told by otherwise polite friends and colleagues, “No Mo, it’s your other left.” I am a hapless, map-less and dangerous traveller.

You would think that my objections to visiting people on the East Side would have all but stopped. My car is equipped with a GPS, my Samsung 4 has google maps and if all else fails I can make my way to our box store boulevard and ask for simple directions from there. With all the help available, I can still muck it up!

A year ago, my friend and fellow book club member, Vanessa, took her turn hosting our book club session. I never willingly miss book club, mainly because I enjoy reading, I like other people to figure out for me the best books to purchase, and the women in our club our unbelievably funny. As one of my friends would say, our book club nights are as good as a concert. My only regret is that Vanessa, the hostess with the flare to tantalize us with treats from her latest travel, lives on the East Side!

I am ashamed of my inability to drive to fixed destinations in a timely manner, so I was keeping it a secret. To complicate my life, I work late, so it impossible for me to car pool. This book club appointment required me to drive myself. I was confident that I could find the street buried somewhat inside of a new subdivision. I had my GPS. How hard could it be?

I knew the subdivision was four years old, because I remember buying our car about the same time as Vanessa and John built their house. The subdivision was just getting started then and even I could find it at that time. Since then, new streets and dead-end roads have been added. There are numerous ways to access the subdivision. They even have a Hotel there now. I can identify the hotel every time my husband drives us to Costco. It was a handy landmark for a trip to Vanessa’s.

I left work with about 30 minutes to spare. I programmed Vanessa’s address into my Toyota’s GPS. It occurred to me that a GPS must either come programmed with the maps in place at the time the car was manufactured or they regularly updated them from a satellite connection. The latter didn’t sound improbable but I wondered why I never noticed any messages on the console to that effect. I pulled out of the parking lot at the Southside of the city and headed North East.

This self-confessed travelling basket case did know enough to recognize that the GPS was guiding me past all the most likely turn offs. I trusted that soft spoken lady to know what she was doing. I began to notice I was driving at least ten minutes longer than I should have been and the console map did not have any sign of the expected right hand turn or any familiar destination. I presumed the GPS knew best. The subdivision was still growing and there was a big protest at City Council about vehicle congestion problems should Council approve a condo project there. Perhaps the residents built one of brick walls to contain their neighbour and make Council and developers go away? I had no idea where that subdivision had gone.

Sweat began to break out across my forehead as I followed the instruction to proceed down the highway along the City’s water supply. It was a very long road and for the life of me I couldn’t recall any right hand turns in that part of town. Eventually the street lights disappeared and I knew I was lost. Panic began to set in. My hands were clammy and my mind was slipping toward catastrophe. My temperature was rising and I was edgy. Suddenly I noticed a right hand turn.

I didn’t care if the right hand turn was correct or not, I had to take a turn that seemed to head south. The unfamiliar road began to look familiar, the way a trip to a new community in the country always looks a bit familiar. The darn road was twisting and I had no idea if I was headed South or North. I no longer felt embarrassed about being late, roughly 30 minutes at that point. I was just plain scared. The road finally intersected with a ramp that lead to a highway.

I was in the Twilight Zone. Where in the world did this highway come from? The encouraging part was that it was definitely pointing to the City. The road sign said as much. I drove for what seemed to be an eternity. I approached a new box store that I read about in the paper. I was near the box store boulevard. I wanted to pull off the road and do a happy dance, but I was too late and I was too nervous to do so. I soon made it to the intersection with Costco! I was back to concrete civilization.

I headed a little east and saw a second clue. The sign for the golf course was a sure giveaway. It was vital that I call for those directions, which even a child could follow. I stopped the car, retrieved my purse with my phone from the back seat. I called Vanessa.

Mo: “Vanessa, I’m lost.”

Vanessa: “Where are you?”

Mo: “ Next to the turn off for the Golf Course!”

Vanessa: “Well you are here then.”

Mo: “No! I may as well be in Albuquerque. I need you to lead me to your house.”

Well, Vanessa had a lot of patience with me as I located the hotel and drove down two winding roads until I saw her driveway. A real person with a kind voice and a bright light above her door will beat a GPS or a map any day!

I doubt I could drive to Vanessa’s without getting lost today. I believe in mental blocks and disorientation. I also believe my husband should always be the driver. But, sometimes you just have to take the steering wheel by its proverbial horns and drive until you get there.