Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Il bel far niente...

Il bel far niente means "the beauty of doing nothing" in Italian. That is where I am trying to find beauty this summer, in doing nothing. I am reading the book Eat Pray Love right now, and while I am slightly embarassed to admit that I am reading this, the author summed up what I am trying to accomplish in those four Italian words. The book really is not that bad; it is just not what I usually read, and the book seems a little too self-serving for me at times. At other times I whole-heartedly agree with things the author is saying.

I spent the past few days in my garden, not with a mission like usual, to get this done and that planted, but simply puttering around, enjoying the flowers, and the plants, the breeze and the sun. My garden this year is not as abundant, and my flowers not so riotous, but that is ok. I am trying to teach myself how to relax, little by little. Penny and Maggie certainly know how to relax, they are both currently napping in their spots- Maggie on the dining room chair, Penny on the couch. They do not have agendas or lists, they just live in the beauty of the moment, in the beauty of doing nothing. That the simple things are sometimes the best.

Yesterday I took Penny for a walk, eating a plum for my breakfast. It was a gorgeous day, a gorgeous moment, one of the pleasures of summer. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables everywhere, so many my refrigerator is bursting with them. Chrissy and I went to a farmers market Sunday morning, and bought a few of everything it seems. But Billy and I will eat well this week, I am actually excited to make dinners when we have these sort of ingredients. Tonight is one of my nights for the pound, so I am making a simple dinner, but a good dinner. We are having Panzanella, or Italian Bread Salad, with a fruit salad of nectarine, peach and blueberry. The basil in the salad will be from my very own basil plants. My favorite recipe is from Tuscan Recipes, it is the perfect summer dish. We will drink the rest of my gypsy wine, and follow it up with a few truffles. Tomorrow night we will have ratatouille, because I love Aubergines. (My friend Erik always calls eggplants aubergines, I like the way it sounds so much better than eggplant. Which would you rather eat, an aubergine or an eggplant?) We will have the leftover crusty bread that I did not use in the Panzanella to eat with our ratatouille - I am looking forward to dinner the next couple of nights!

These are the simple things that make me happy this summer - fresh food, nice weather with gentle breezes, good books, sweet wines and red wines, nights by a fire, time with my husband, my family, my Penny and Maggie.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Aliens, English Setters, and walking in the rain

Penny has the biggest, most expressive eyes. Large, brown, soulful- someone recently said they are like people eyes. Sometimes when she looks at you, she is looking at you so adoringly you can't help but reach down and pet her, which is something she works to her advantage, because when she does something she shouldn't do, she looks up at you the same way, and it is as if she is trying to hypnotize you into forgetting what she did. You did not see me try to eat that nail, that wasn't me who knocked over the garbage... Billy and I have read this is a breed trait, that English Setters have giant eyes that are meant to mesmerize their prey, and keep them in place until the hunter arrives. Although with Penny, they are most often meant to manipulate any humans around her.

At times, mainly in the middle of the night, around 3 AM, I wonder if she is a tiny part alien. I stumble into the living room, awake for who knows what reason, and she pops her head up from where she is sleeping on the couch, and her big brown soulful eyes reflect the light from the streetlights in such a way that they are transformed into shiny, black, buggish alien eyes. I have to go over and pet her to make sure it is really her, and not some alien dog.

Lately Penny and I have been going for a walk in the mornings, somewhere between coffee and the rest of my day. She knows this too, and will begin her aquatic dolphin sounds as soon as I take my final glug of coffee, and reaches full cresendo as I pull on my shoes. This morning it was gently raining, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go, but Penny made me. I grabbed my umbrella, rolled up my pant legs so I wasn't dragging in puddles, and linked her to her leash and we were out the door.

It is very peaceful to walk in the rain in the morning, I never realized. It was so quiet, I could hear sounds that usually on our walks are obliterated by noise pollution, like lawn mowers and edgers, and trucks and kids shouting. (Sorry, I guess kids really don't count as noise pollution, although sometimes they should- I work in a school library, I should know). I could hear my Converse squishing on the pavement, the light backpack looped over my shoulder whooshing against my jeans, the clicking of Penny's tags, and the light tapping of the rain on my umbrella. I was just beginning to find the sense of quiet and calm within myself that I find in yoga, when Penny stopped to check out a lawn. She does this occasionally, she is a hunting dog, and smelling things is like reading a newspaper or checking the internet to see who has emailed. (Oh a rabbit passed this way where did it go where did it go) I usually let her do this for a few seconds, to catch up on neighborhood gossip. While she was sniffing around this morning, I closed my eyes to really experience the scent of the rain, the sound of the rain, the hushed morning - and realized Penny was doing more than reading the newspaper, it was more like she was reading the newspaper in the bathroom. She chose to relieve herself of last night's large dinner on someone's front lawn, right in front of their statue of Mary, just to further embarass me. As I pulled the currently empty soon to be filled purple, lavender scented doggy waste disposal bag from my back pocket, I thought about what I was doing - I was about to pick up after my dog like a good citizen, but it made me wonder who is more trained here? Me or Penny? She doesn't perform this task for me, and it seems rather demeaning, if you think about it. Then I thought, not only do I clean this up after her, but I clean up after Maggie too! In a past life, were they royalty and was I the servant who cleaned their chamber pots? If so, why haven't I moved up in the scenario? My next thought was, as Penny looked at me with her big undecipherable eyes, if aliens did exist, and were to land next to me at just this moment, who would they think was in charge?

I am not sure I want to know.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A little bit about zoos

Zoos are always hard to reconcile your conscience with if you are involved with animal rights. They often use animals to their advantage financially, by breeding animals and selling them, sometimes to places of not very good repute; some zoos do not take care of their animals, and neglect them, while other zoos have the best of intentions in designing their habitats, yet do not take into account that the animals they are placing in the exhibits are wild animals, wired to be free and roaming, making the animals neurotic from being enclosed. Finally, the worst of all in my opinion, is how visitors to the zoo treat the animals.

You see stories all the time on the news where someone was attacked by an animal in the zoo- a polar bear, an elephant, a tiger. Everytime this happens, the animal was first provoked by the person, had been teased, had rocks thrown at it, had just not been respected in general. The purpose of zoos is to educate people and bring them face to face with animals they may never get to see, and to learn about the animal, and why the animal is endangered. But most of the time people stop and look for a second before moving on, or worse, they mess with the animal. And the animal always pays the ultimate price for man's stupidity and disrespect.

So it is hard to know these facts and still patronize zoos. I feel lucky that the zoo closest to me, the Detroit Zoo, is a progressive zoo. They were one of the first to no longer keep elephants on exhibit, understanding that these great beasts were used to walking hundreds of miles a day, and it caused enormous distress to the animals to be penned up in an enclosure. Also, the polar bears they have on exhibit are rescued polar bears, who had been part of a tropical circus. So I am proud that my city's zoo is taking steps to be more animal friendly, as you would expect a zoo to be.

My whole life I wanted to visit the San Diego Zoo. When I was a kid, I saw a television show about it, and heard that it was the best one in the country, and since then it had always been on my list of places to visit. So of course when I visited San Diego, we went. And the zoo is gorgeous, and huge at 100 acres. I have to confess, I loved seeing the cute little koalas and zebras, two of my favorites. And the pandas. And riding the double decker bus through the park, and then taking the skytrain over the park. And finally visiting the elephants, a source of mixed emotions.
In 2003 the San Diego Zoo was protested for removing seven African Elephants from Swaziland. The zoo's statement was that these animals were going to be killed if they did not take them in. I hope that this is the truth, and that the San Diego zoo is not ripping off wildlife for its habitat. Which is beautiful - it is around 2 acres of land for about 7 elephants, with what look to be quite a few enrichments, including a few pools of water, tall tree things with stuff hanging from them to play with, and different puzzles. The zoo also keeps an exhibit of dung beetles, that you can watch rolling the elephants dung into little balls, which was strangely interesting. There is an open sided Elephant Care Center, where they wash the elephants and perform other routine cares for the elephants while visitors can watch. The exhibit was fascinating. I did feel terrible for the lions however - I feel they were not exhibited the way the king of beasts should be. They were in a small enclosure, in my opinion, as part of the elephant odyssey, and seemed more like an afterthought. I know that male lions sleep during the day, but this lion looked so bored, and so tired, that when Chrissy took a picture of him, she had to delete it because he just looked dead. He was lying against the glass, with 15 or so tourists around the glass, talking, pointing, knocking, and he did not even open his eyes. I feel horrible that this is what one of the most majestic beasts in the animal kingdom had been reduced to. So my opinion of the zoo falls a bit when it comes to the lions.
Interestingly, the zoo left a line of empty cages along one road, that had been used in the 1940s. These cages were tiny, and looked exactly like the ones you see depicted in old cartoons or pictures of carnivals. The zoo has certainly come a long way from that era, with its huge acreage and more animal friendly exhibits. I have to confess, I am still up in the air about my visit to this popular and much talked about zoo; I feel the need to do more research on it. I am glad however, that I did not pass up the chance to go- when deciding how I feel about something, I like to experience things for myself, as much as I can. I am hoping in my research I find that the San Diego zoo is a progressive zoo, one that is striving to make changes for the animals for the better, and not just for animals in the zoo, but for their wild brethern as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

California Dreaming

I knew when I sat down to type this blog, I wanted to talk about California, while the images, and scents, and sounds were still fresh in my head. But there were just so many experiences, I feel like I am still processing it all myself. I saw the Pacific, and stepped in its waves; I trekked up the Sierra Nevadas, and hugged giant Sequoia trees, that were possibly the largest things I have ever seen; I visited a vineyard, that was absolutely gorgeous with the mountains in the background; I ate at a great restaurant in Little Italy, San Diego, and I saw the San Diego Zoo. I feel like I saw a sampling of all California has to offer, but didn't get the chance to really delve into its flavors. Don't get me wrong, the trip was fantastic and magical and wonderful. I could just have stayed longer, much longer. Chrissy and I said all we needed were our pets sent to us, and the four of us could have stayed forever.

The restaurant in Little Italy was one of my favorite stops- as a confirmed foodie, albeit a veggie foodie, I love to dine out in different cities. Billy and I always try to eke out the local neighborhood pizza places in a city, and try their pizza on every trip. This time we went to Fillipi's Pizza Grotto, and it was awesome! From the storefront, you almost could not tell that there was a restaurant, it was a small Italian grocery and deli with a line out the door. (a very deserved line I might add) We waited in this line about 15 minutes, exclaiming over all the various products for sale around us, and finally we were led to our table, in the back of the store. It felt like we were underground, the lights were all of a sudden dim, like we were in a grotto, hence the name I suppose. Hanging from the ceiling were hundreds of Chianti bottles, the kind with the raffia basket wrapped around the bottom, with the names and dates of people who had eaten at the restaurant before us. Of course, we had to follow suit and order the large Chianti bottle to add our names to the ceiling as well. Each couple ordered a pizza, and it was possibly one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. The cheese was the right temperature, the crust was that perfect blend of crunchy and doughy- and the tomatoes were cut into bite sizes. I like my pizza with olives and tomatoes, and this was pizza perfection. On the way out, Chrissy and I each bought a bottle of the house Chianti. I am still debated whether or not I want to drink ours, or keep it for posterity.

Another little place I really enjoyed was Ocean Beach. It had this laid back, hippie kind of feel to it, and it is very dog friendly! Everywhere you looked there was a dog hanging out somewhere, enjoying the sun and the beach and the salt air. We walked along the beach, soaking up the atmosphere, just relaxing and enjoying the sights. We went into the cutest store there too, called Bone Appetit. They had rescue cats within the store, so of course I had to patronize them. I bought a watercolor of a cat sailing away in a pea pod boat, I am going to hang it on my wall of cat art. Another tradition Billy and I have is to buy local artwork when on vacation- it is usually inexpensive, beautiful, and reminds us of the places we have visited together. The proceeds of our purchase went directly to the rescue that works with the store. I wanted to bring a cat home with me too, but Billy told me no. Maybe next time. If I lived in San Diego, I think this is the neighborhood I would want to live in. Either here, or Little Italy.

As much fun as we all had on vacation, it was nice to be home. Penny and Maggie were very glad to see us, especially Penny it seemed. I missed them too, so it was nice to come home and cuddle with my Penny and Maggie again. Maggie spent the week at Chrissy and Devin's house, hanging out with their cat Maila. I think she misses Maila now though, sometimes she walks through the house with an inquisitive meow, like she is trying to find her. Penny spent the week at a boarding facility. I hated her being in one, but I had no other option. She seems to be ok, although our first day back she did not want to get in her crate when I left the house. I guess this makes sense, but I had to do it. Today she was much better.

We also had great rescue news while I was gone!! Riley, a black lab mix, had been one of our rescue dogs. At a recent event, she was adopted, and as her new owners were putting her in their car, she escaped! We have been looking for her for three weeks, hoping against hope that she would be spotted. She is a very shy dog, so we were scared she would not surface around people. But persistence paid off, especially the persistence of one of our volunteers. She plastered the area with flyers, gave them to all local businesses and mailman, and one day, she received a call that Riley had been spotted. The volunteer set a live trap for her, and the next day we had Riley! She is now safe at home with another volunteer, no worse for the wear except a little skinnier. It turns out she had been living in a cemetary all that time. We are all very relieved and thankful to have this girl back- she has had a rough life, and hopefully it can only get better. She was brought into the pound after being fished out of the Detroit River in the winter, and after a few weeks of being terrified, started to come around with the volunteers at the pound. Shortly after that, a volunteer took her home to see how she would do, and Riley got so freaked out she jumped the fence and took off. She was missing about a week that time, before she got picked up by Animal Control again. But hopefully Riley's story has a happy ending, I know that we will try everything to make that happen, most especially the volunteer she is now living with.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Day of Divine Intervention and Bedlam

Yesterday was one of those days, where your heart sinks, the day that you dread as a volunteer for a shelter. Early in the morning, my phone rang, with my friend on the other end calling to tell me that the day had that we had all been anticipating with great sadness and anxiety, knowing it was out there on the horizon. We had finally been at more than capacity for too long, and three dogs were going to be put down. We only have 6 dog runs at our shelter, and we have been at 12-13 dogs for a long time now. We just double up on the runs, and put one dog in the makeshift run behind the shelter. And we had been doing this for a month and half now, scrambling like mad to get our dogs adopted before this day came.

Fourth of July weekend is a bad weekend for dogs. We get so many lost and stray dogs due to people having backyard parties and leaving gates and doors open, or the actual neighborhood fireworks scares dogs so badly they leap their fences to try to get away from the noises. Dog that were never fence jumpers or runners find themselves now on the run, lost, and disoriented by all the explosions going on around them, like all of a sudden being thrust into a war zone. This is a very traumatic day for a lot of animals, and even the local shelters who don't often have dogs fill up this weekend every year. Which brings us to our overcrowded pound, on a holiday weekend known for large numbers of intakes.

One dog scheduled for the short list has always been a volunteer favorite. He is a dalmation/great dane mix, whose owners gave him up to us three months ago because he got too big for them. Why they didn't think about this in the first place before they adopted him, I don't know. This is something that happens alot, as well as people giving up their animals because they are moving, or because after five years they develop allergies and don't want to take medication. But, I digress. The other two dogs have just as tragic back stories, including a 7 month old boxer-pitt mix who had lived her entire life in a crate in a basement, before being given up to us because the people were tired of her. She has absolutely no training, and is basically like a giant, friendly, wild dog. Her owners have ruined her, and it will take a great deal of love, patience and rehab to make her a pet, and unfortunately, those homes are hard to find.

So, I was not looking forward to stopping by the pound yesterday afternoon. I had to stop in to drop off a key to my friend, and I was fully expecting sadness and grim expressions. Instead, I walked into a pound with an uplifted, joyous mood, the kind of feeling that you get when you escape something big and frightening by the seat of your pants. It was borderline euphoric, and everyone had giant smiles beaming from their faces. Three dogs had been adopted, including one of our death row dogs, the dalmation/great dane mix! This freed up cage space and left breathing room for our other dogs, at least for a little while. So, while the day had begun as the kind of day that you hate when you are a volunteer at a shelter, it ended as the type of day you love, the kind where the most needy dog finds a loving home.

My own home right now is chaos! We currently have Penny, our dog; Maggie, our cat; and Sassy, my brother and sister-in-law's dog. They all get along quite well, that is not the problem. The problems arise at feeding time, and at bedtime, believe it or not. Penny and Sassy both have special dietary needs, prissy little girls that they are, and have specific food to address these needs. Maggie is eating kitten chow, which is not that great for adult dogs, who usually get sick if they eat it due to the higher levels of fat and protein that is in food for young animals. And of course, they all want to eat each others food, and not their own. I have to chase Penny away from Maggie's bowl, and Sassy away from Penny's bowl, and Maggie away from Sassy's bowl! It is like a circus meets feeding time at the zoo around here at mealtimes. Added to this, Sassy does not want to eat really at all, because she is still getting used to our house, and is feeling a little bewildered. This morning I had to put Maggie and her food bowl on the ironing board, and close the door to that room; next I put Penny in the hallway with her bowl, and gated that off; and finally Sassy ate in the kitchen, after I added a tiny bit of Penny's bland wet food to her bowl to temp her into eating. But once they were all chomping away in unison throughout the house, I had to smile at the situation, and the fact that I absolutely love having a houseful of happy, loved animals.

Sleeping is another story- the past two nights Billy and I have gone to bed and woken up with two dogs and a cat in bed with us. Good thing we have a large bed, is all I have to say. Of course, Maggie has to sleep right on top of me, knowing somehow in her little cat way that I am allergic to her. She is too cute to push away though, so I just suffer slightly for her.

All in all, yesterday was a good day - dogs were adopted, my animals are doing well, and for one dog, who had been downtrodden and was at the end of his rope, he finally found freedom on Independence Day.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Baby Steps to a Greener Life

I am a little behind on the greening of my life. It is something I passionately care about, yet I find laziness gets in my way sometimes. I use my own cloth bags at stores about 50% of the time, I try to use eco friendly products, I am a vegetarian, which I believe is good for my health, the environment (it helps prevent pollution and waste of natural resources), and simply because I can't eat something that was once living, thinking, and feeling. But recycling has always been my achilles heel.

Last summer I decided that was going to be my summer project- Billy and I were going to start recycling. I bought bins to put the stuff in, and figured it would be easy, since the pound is right across the parking lot from the recycling center. I am there at least twice a week anyway, how hard could it be to make a drop off? Plenty hard for me, apparently. I started putting the stuff in the bins, and then let it sit there, full. Thank goodness the totes had lids! I didn't even start out recycling everything - just glass and plastic, thinking this would make it easier. It didn't.

So, this summer I made up my mind that I was absolutely going to do this - plus I still had all those empty wine bottles in my basement, and it was making me feel a bit like a closet alcholic to look at them. My mom even asked me once how much I drank, after she saw them. I told her they were collected over months, which they were. Nevertheless, I still felt my liver shrivel everytime I saw the box of bottles. They needed to go.

So I made four trips to my car - three with boxes of wine bottles, and one with plastic stuff. I was really hoping that my neighbors weren't watching! I felt so proud throwing my leftover garbage into the big recycling dumpsters, like I was really doing my part in helping to save the planet. I also could not get over all the bottles, magazines, mugs, plastic, and newspapers inside the dumpsters! I kept sticking my head into them all and exclaiming to Billy to look at all of it! I was absolutely fascinated by the piles. I am definitely going to start recycling more often.

Hopefully, though, I will make my second trip a little sooner than next summer.