Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lost Without You - remembering our dog Cricket

After all my New Year resolutions to blog more regularly, something happened last week and I knew I wouldn't be able to write about anything until I had written about this, and it's taken me a week to have the fortitude to do it.

In the last of the afternoon sun, lying in his favourite, shady spot at our family beach house, our dog refused to get up. We were heading down to the beach for a late afternoon swim and Cricket our 12 year old dog, loved his swims. Just a few days before, he was surfing in the low tidal waves, swimming out for his stick and swimming back, shaking the water from his black coat. He loved the water, our dog. He was a Labrador, after all. Food and water and people are what they live for.

He was getting old though, even while trying to pretend he wasn't. He didn't grey much at all in his later years, just a little tuft under his chin, but he still liked to think he was a young dog. It wasn't until this summer that I really noticed him starting to slow down for the first time. He wouldn't run down the steps to the beach like he used to, and due to the gradual onset of his degenerative myelopathy, couldn't walk very far, for very long.

But Cricket refused to get up. He turned his head and looked at all of us. We were all there on the deck waiting for him. This was so unusual for him to not get up and come with us, that my instincts kicked in and I ran for the phone to call a vet. But Cricket being Cricket had it his way. There would be no vet clinic for him, and no long goodbyes. He just died.

The beach property was always his favourite place to go. He was free here to swim, to rummage around in the bush and even the weekend before he died baled up a Possum who dared to come onto our deck. So we buried him there. High on the hill, overlooking the house, under the shade of the trees, with the sound of the ocean below.

I've always been a dog girl. Some people are cat people and some are dog people. I'm a dog person.

But this dog got under my skin. More so even, than my childhood dog Prince, who I loved so much he slept on my bed every night. I even wrote a book about him. But Cricket was a special dog to me, and I think it was because he loved my children so much. I know that he would have protected them with his life, if he had to.

We bought Cricket from a Labrador breeder in Dunedin in 2003. He was a purebred with a long lineage of beautiful, celebrated ancestors. We picked him out from a visit to the kennel when he came running towards us out of a large litter of little black and golden puppies. My oldest son, Hugh, who was 3 years old at the time took an instant liking to him. He seemed perfect for us.

One of our first jobs as his owner was to give him his pedigree name. We must have been in our Jane Austen era at the time, because we eventually named him Knightly of Prior Hill. Prior Hill was the name of our house and 20 acres that we had just recently completed building in Earnscleugh,  Central Otago.  We  lived in the foothills of the Old Man mountain range, and the name seemed apt for this little dog.

There are a few memories that stand out for me about Cricket.

Our vet has always called him a 'real dog'. And that is the truth. Cricket loved the outdoors. As he got older we would bring him inside at night because we thought he would prefer it, but we should have known better. We should have remembered how he was when he was younger, for 2 hours into the night, he'd be scratching at the door and whining and wouldn't stop until we had let him outside again.

One of Cricket's last swims. 

That happened last winter, and I remember laughing about it because when he was a young dog, and we still lived in Otago, where we would have very severe winters, we set Cricket up with a lovely warm kennel under the eaves of our house, along the porch outside the kitchen. I bought hot water bottles and would fill it with warm water every night to tuck under his blankets when he went to bed, but we went through so many hot water bottles before we gave up, for every morning we'd come out to find the hot water bottle shredded to pieces, scattered all over the frost or snow, and Cricket lying in the snow a few feet from his kennel. Oh that dog!

He was loved by so many people. Sometimes, when we were going away and weren't able to take him with us, we would have to book him in for a holiday at the kennels. Every single kennel he ever went to, the owners ended up falling in love with him.

Just a few days before he died, the kids dressed him up as a super hero.

Another enduring memory that I will never forget, and one that made me love him even more, is of a cold winter in Christchurch when we were renovating an old house. I was homeschooling at the time, and one day had all the children sitting around the dining room table, with Cricket lying under the table on our feet. Our builder, who we liked and who really liked Cricket (he was a dog person too), came into the room and asked if he could use our bathroom. As he passed us, he leaned over in his friendly way, to pat my oldest son on his head. As his arm came out, Cricket shot out from under the table and gave the most terrifying bark, jumping up at the builder as he did so. As if to say, "don't you dare to touch my boy."

We all were rather shocked, but the builder understood dogs and knew Cricket was just defending his 'pack', and fortunately Cricket only gave him a warning and did nothing to harm him. But that was when I really knew that Cricket would truly defend us if he had to.

I saw that instinct to protect so many times. Even last summer when our younger son was learning to kayak in the shallows of our bay. Cricket, faithful as ever, followed along behind him as he did laps up and down the beach in the kayak.

When the children were at school, he was my companion. Always there. Always ready to give cuddles and licks. He let me know when the postie had been, and I felt safe in my home. He always alerted me to anyone on the property.

Cricket hated cats. At one of our houses, the neighbour's cat would taunt him, sitting high up on the terraced garden, where the cat knew Cricket couldn't get him. He'd walk up and down, looking over at our dog. When Cricket deigned to notice it, he would give one bark and the cat would be gone, but that cat liked tormenting him. Cats were evil incarnate to Cricket. The temptation of chasing a cat would sometimes be too great, if we were out on a walk and we came across one.

So many lovely memories of this dog. He has been a wonderful part of our family. He has loved us, protected us and given us so much joy. I hope we gave to him as much as he has given to us.

He has been known to dig up a rose bush belonging to a friend, in her own garden, no less, and spend hours digging through the dirt mound of our building site looking for rats or rabbits.
Going to the vet clinic was an adventure in itself. Not because Cricket was afraid of it, but because he was too enthusiastic once we got there. Oh the smells. Oh the other dogs to get to know - often terrifying them, because even in his old age he was boisterous and huge. At our last visit I remember the vet and I laughing at him sliding all over the room on the vinyl floor, poking his nose into as many corners he could find.

How do you grieve the passing of a loved pet? It's hard. I found it harder this time than I ever have before when I have lost a pet. I miss him! I don't want him to be dead. I want him to come back. I still find myself going to feed him every night after we have eaten. I still have his kennel and dog bowl outside, and it just doesn't feel the same anymore without him.

I know he did well to live to 12 years. The life span of a Labrador is on average, 11 years. I was hoping he would last another year until we moved into our new house because apart from his slow paralysis he was an otherwise healthy dog. We always kept him in good shape and had very little arthritis in his joints. I was hoping that we could have made the transition easier for our children and another year would have given us that. Now we have to wait 12-18 months before we think of getting another dog, and it's hard being without a dog. I don't like it. Not one little bit.

Because we are renting, we cannot get another dog until we are in our new home. But I did feel a little better today after emailing a local breeder to put our name on the waiting list. Not to replace Cricket, because he will always have a special place in our hearts and memories always. But life just doesn't feel right without a dog, and I know I'll be counting down the months and weeks until we can get another.

Farewell old friend. We loved you and we are thankful for you and for looking after us so well and being part of our lives.

Cricket - the week before he died.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Our Changeable Friendship with the Sea

Last night, my son and I stood on the deck high above our beach, and talked as we watched the rippling of the wind across the surface of the sea. It's easy for the light to play tricks on your eyes when you are gazing out to sea. A shadow on the curve of a wave can look like a fish. The splash of a gull, the ripple of a breeze.

But then, we really did see something. It broke the surface for a split second, and we both just happened to be looking at the right spot. The sun was just dipping down below the horizon, so there was a soft, glistening light, almost making the water luminescent for a few minutes. And we saw something small and black, whether it was stingray or a baby shark, or something else, dart very quickly, with a speed I've never seen before, down into the shallows, and then flick away back out to the depths of the ocean.

There have been a few sharks spotted around Auckland this summer, but we have never seen anything like that in our bay. Not even a sting ray. I don't know what that was that we saw last night, but it got me thinking about safety in and around the ocean.

I have always tried to teach my children a healthy respect of the ocean. Not to fear it, but to respect it. The sea can be a fun and frolicsome companion, but it can very quickly turn to a fearsome, all-conquering foe, which is why respect is more important than friendship when it comes to partnering with the ocean.

We saw a classic example of this earlier in our holiday, when a family walked around to our beach. There is no road to our beach, but you can walk around the rocks. Often people pass by our small beach to walk over to a much larger, beautiful beach over the hill, but this day, this family must have decided to set up their umbrella and picnic hamper on our beach. (Just to clarify, when I say 'our' beach, I only mean the beach we use in front of the family property. We don't own the beach. In New Zealand we have this truly wonderful Queens Chain law which means that the coast belongs to the Crown, or NZ government, and is therefore, 'owned' by all New Zealanders - just another reason why NZ is awesome).

We could hear their laughter all day, as we sat down the other end of the beach. They were clearly enjoying themselves, and they had lots of very little children having lots of fun playing in the safe, shallow waters of the little bay. So much so, that they forgot to keep an eye on the tide.
At about 3pm in the afternoon I watched them moving their little camp further to the back of the beach, and I remember thinking that they wouldn't be able to stay there for much longer.

A couple of hours later, we had a very distressed grandmother approach us asking for help. They had forgotten, in their mirth and fun, to keep an eye on the tide and had left it too late to walk back across the rocks. With daylight fading and so many little children, it would have made it very dangerous - probably impossible to attempt without someone getting into grave danger.

My son and his cousin were playing out in the bay with a little outboard motor, so I offered the use of the boat to take the children around to safety in the next bay.

We raided the boat shed for life-jackets and loaded the children into the boat while Rob and the boys took them round. It took several trips and was rather an adventure for all of us.

But it was also a reminder of how quickly things can change when you're beside the sea.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Holiday Food

The lovely thing about being on holiday is that you can make the meals as simple as you want, or, as I am finding, flick through cookbooks at leisure and have the luxury of time to try out new recipes.

And as everyone knows, when your beside the seaside, you appetite is ravenous.

I brought two new books along with me on holiday.
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s (of River Cottage fame) Light and Easy book, and Chelsea Winter’s new book, Everyday Living. I also have the standby recipes I store on my ipad and there is an ancient (but good) cookbook in the bookshelf here.

For afternoon treats I brought along our traditional Christmas cake, which is a brandy-soaked fruit cake, layered with almond icing and topped with rich butter icing, laced with more….. Brandy. All of us like fruit cake, except I do find that the little children tend to eat the icing and leave the cake, or as I found here (sshhh – I think it was the teenage son),  snaffling off the end layer of icing.

My mother gave me her recipe for Chocolate Licorice Truffles, which were a little fussy to make, in that you had to melt and dip chocolate, but are so rich, we’re only eating about one a day, which is  a good thing, because they’ve lasted nearly a week.

My aunty and cousins are coming for the weekend, so I plan on making Chelsea Winter’s Fresh Mint Chocolate Slice.

I’ve really enjoyed Hugh’s book this year. His food is earthy and simple and easy.We eat our dinner late at the beach, usually in the twilight on the table outside, with the citronella candles burning and the barbeque sizzling. The beach is usually quiet at that time of day, so we are serenaded by the crashing or lapping of the ceaseless ocean tide.

We have also adopted the family tradition from Rob's eldest brother who introduced us to this lovely ritual, of cheese and wine... whatever you fancy ... something to drink late afternoon. When you eat so late at night, it's a little filler - quite a luxurious one - to keep the wolves away.

Hugh’s Roast Beetroot, Potato and Garlic dish was lovely to eat in the dim light. The colours are medieval and the taste earthy and delicious.

We also  loved his storehouse fishcakes for lunch.

Usually we just have sausages and steak as our staple meal, with fresh lettuce from the Caretaker’s garden. This year I’ve enjoyed adding creamy sauces to the steak. I like to marinade the meat for at least 12 hours with my Great Aunty Gwen’s Famous-In-The –Family recipe, which is a mixture of soya sauce, ginger, garlic and brown sugar.

The caretaker has hens in his garden, so we’ve been able to get fresh eggs everyday, which is a real treat.

The next thing I’m going to make out here is Chelsea’s Pavlova which is made from 8 eggs! My friend Kim made it for Christmas and said it turned out great!

I am enjoying the luxury of time to think about food, if I feel like it. And that’s the beauty of it.

What do you like to cook when you’re on holiday? Do you have any food traditions?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lofty Dreams and Prosaic Realities

While we are on holiday Rob and I are going to indulge in an afternoon of diary planning.

We have a lot going on this year, from weddings to house-building to school committees and book writing, and everything in between, and careful planning is sometimes needed and necessary to keep organised and on top of things.

But in the midst of all this prosaic practicality, I don't want to lose sight of what my soul needs, and what my dreams are. So in my traditional new year posting, I bring you a collection of my photographs from the past year with some of my favourite quotes that I hope to aspire to this year.

 This is what I hope for 2015.

It is the soul that shines.

I have many dreams, and thousands of realities. This year I hope to work on one of those dreams.

One thing I learned from 2014 is that nobody has a perfect life.

And 2014 was life-changing for me. I will never be the same again. I hope that helps me be stronger.

And if I fail, there's always tomorrow.

I think this is the best thing I have heard. Think about it. It's so true.

Since 1993, I have always thought the worst about everything. I convinced myself that if I did that there would be no surprises. No unexpected tragedies. It doesn't work.
This year, I'm holding this quote close to my heart.

and will look for the hidden places.

and be thankful for a God who cares about my soul.

It is not hard to forgive, if you have love first.

I am coming to terms with my acute autobiographical memory, and learning to live with it, and enjoy it.

Remembering that God is not a God of fear.

This year I will pursue my dreams. I am afraid of failure. Terribly, terribly afraid, so I will do my best to fly and not think of the fall.

I wish you all a wonderful 2015 full of peace and calm and faith and joy, the strength to climb the mountains of challenge that loom over your valleys.
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