Thursday, February 09, 2012

Of Pets Gone Bye

Following the fantastic critical reception and blockbuster commercial success of my previous post, and at the personal request of notable fashion designer Shannon Armstrong, I have decided to write a follow-up that addresses the pets I/we have had, or at least those I can recall. I warn you in advance that the times, locations, names, and other details mentioned in this post are likely to be subject to correction.

In Innisfail, the first pet I can remember having was a dog (we’re dog people; only my brother has recently crossed over to feline fascination) named Buttons. For some reason this dog eventually ended up with our uncle who kept him for many years. Next came Herby, a smaller, short haired dog. One of my earliest memories is visiting the puppy farm where we acquired him with my dad. I remember watching this small but energetic pup running about and knowing that he was the one I wanted. Herby proved to be a loveable enough pet that I did, occasionally and for purely scientific purposes, drop from our deck. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Our move to Red Deer saw an expanding of our house pet related horizons as we branched out to hamsters and birds. I remember two hamsters, a smaller short haired one named Hammy (original, no?) and a larger long haired one named Goldie (in reference to it’s blonde coloring). I’m pretty sure all three children treated these poor creatures less than excellently (fuzzy memories of bouncing them on tennis rackets) and I imagine they died at some point in our “care.” The birds, on the other hand, budgies named Pepper and Salt, lived a life generally free from concern, high in their gilded cage. They too died eventually, but from what I recall was natural causes. We buried them in the back yard where their remains were later dug up by a neighbour’s sacrilegious cat.

The next pet I can remember was another dog, Kuma by name. A terrier of some sort with thick, curly, black hair. I remember how early on in our ownership of him he demonstrated his fondness for eating his own feces (see: Coprophagia). I seem to recall our family passing him off to someone else at some point, which also happened to the next dog, Sandy (aka Snoop), which my dad brought home from work one day. We only had her a short time before her proper owner was found. I also remember another pair of birds named Peep and Sky. Apparently Sky starved to death because Peep horded the food. I was never a big fan of keeping birds as pets.

In Swan Hills we briefly adopted a Doberman Pincer (was it a mixed breed?) named Dandy. The poor dog was put down not long after as it bit someone. This would be the last animal we would take in from the SPCA. During this time Jeremy had some fish (Big Mamma & Little Baby), a turtle (Tarzan), a newt, and some more hamsters (Smoky and the Bandit, I am not kidding). Shannon had a rabbit named Dilbert. I had to be reminded of these last few as I really don’t remember them at all. Molly was another dog we had briefly before giving it to our aunt for reasons I don't recall. Our next furry friend, however, 
would herald the pinnacle of our pet ownership experience. 

We acquired a new puppy, an incredibly cute Miniature Schnauzer that we named Becky. This dog was adorable, affectionate (perhaps too much so at times), and smart as a whip. We all loved Becky a great deal and she was a part of our family for several years. She was especially close to our dad, often waiting anxiously at the window for his return from work. Tragically, one winter (we lived in Airdrie by then) she was hit by a car and critically injured. We were with her in the animal hospital when she was put down. I remember hearing her horrible moans from the back when she recognized dad's voice. I remember 
petting her, feeling her body grow cold and rigid after the deadly injection. I sobbed uncontrollably for several minutes and we were all somewhat depressed for days afterward. Becky was a tremendous pet and I hope my first dog will be a Miniature Schnauzer as well.

Other pets in Airdrie included a chinchilla that Jeremy eventually released into the wild, and an albino gerbil named Snowball. 
Since then we’ve all grown up and moved away from home. Jeremy has gone through one dog (Tyson) and, as I said, is now into cats (Mocha and Latte). After a long hiatus (which I believe was, at least in part, a testament to his love of Becky), dad recently got another dog (Cocoa – maybe he stole the beverage theme from Jeremy). As for me, traveling off and on as I have been hasn’t been particularly conducive to pet ownership. But shortly after getting married in Osaka, my wife and I decided that we needed a furry friend in our lives. 

Technically we were not allowed to have pets in our apartment so we wanted to go with something small that could stay inside. We considered hamsters (too small and impersonal) and rabbits (too big and messy). Ultimately we decided to go with a guinea pig, which bring us to Dori. 
I had never owned a guinea pig and they didn’t seem to be widely available in Japan. We visited several pet shops but Takako wasn’t really drawn to the few that we did see. On the verge of giving up, I suggested one more visit to a pet store. Literally before we even made it through the door, Takako saw the guinea pig that captured both our hearts, a long haired Abyssinian with rare triple tone coloring.

We made the purchase and brought him home where, traumatized from the relocation experience, Dori sat pretty much still and silent for the better part of a week, barely eating or drinking. We were quite worried at first but a quick bit of research showed such behaviour to be normal and by the second week he was making himself at home. Guinea pigs make excellent indoor pets. They are relatively clean and quiet while being inexpensive to maintain. We were pleasantly surprised at how affectionate and personable Dori could be, and we both fell very much in love with him. 
Of course there was the one, small problem, when Dori accidentally scratched my eye leaving me completely blind for the better part of a week, but I try not to think about that.

As I said, guinea pigs are somewhat rare in Japan and Dori proved to be somewhat of a celebrity wherever we took him. Moreover, Dori must surely hold the world record for most traveled guinea pig. He has accompanied us around Japan (including a flight to Okinawa) and has now gone intercontinental in joining us here in Israel. Of course, he will also be going with us to Canada where we look forward to introducing our "son" to the rest of the family. In the meantime, he's enjoying his time here at beautiful Yad Hashmona in the Judean hills outside Jerusalem.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Of Childhood Homes

I was reminiscing this morning on the homes (i.e. houses) in which I had lived with my family throughout my childhood. I don’t recall many of the details of our first house, in Innisfail. I do remember our large playhouse and the fact that we lived next door to the deJongs, a family with which we remain close friends to this day. We lived in Innisfail until I was almost seven years old.

We then moved to Red Deer, a bigger city, a bigger school (first Oriole Park Elementary, which has since been converted to a French immersion school, then Red Deer Koinonia), and a much nicer house. I remember the odd pairing of vinyl siding and brickwork on the front exterior. I remember the small but beautifully appointed back yard. I remember the playground directly across from the house. I remember having a crush on Cassandra, my next door neighbour. I remember the large kitchen with the island and the two fireplaces. Upstairs belonged to the adults but the fully developed basement was all ours. I already mentioned the fireplace, but I also recall the wall-to-wall carpeting, the kitchenette, and the large open room so perfect for all kinds of fun. We lived in Red Deer (Ohio Close to be more precise) until I was almost 11 years old.

We then moved to Olds, back to a smaller town but a very interesting house. I remember that the basement was undeveloped but also had a large play room. I remember having my own bedroom for the first time in said basement. In contrast, the upstairs was almost luxurious – a separate family room (white carpet, we had to be very careful in this room) and sunken living room complete with a large fireplace. The hallway was bordered by faux stone arches and once again there was a large kitchen and dining room. More distinctly, I remember the absolutely massive backyard, which remained large even when we built a garage and fenced it off. Similarly, we built an incredible wooden deck which went 3/4 of the way around the house and made summer BBQs and lounging such a pleasure. Of course when I say “we,” I mean my dad. Finally, I remember sharing the house for a short time with the St. Cyr family (also close friends). 11 people in the house made for some less than comfortable experiences but it wasn’t all bad. We lived in Olds until I was almost 14 years old.

We then moved to Swan Hills, the smallest and most remote community in which we had yet lived. Oh! I forgot to mention that between Red Deer and Olds we spent a few months living in a duplex in the small town of Bowden. We were originally going to have a new house built but ultimately bought an existing one instead. I have fond memories of long summer days in Bowden. Anyway, Swan Hills was the first place in which we lived in two different homes. I don’t remember much of the first one except that it was quite close to what could be called downtown. The second house was much nicer but farther away from the center and from my junior high school. Swan Hills didn’t have a high school at the time so we bussed nearly an hour away to the town of Barrhead. We lived in Swan Hills until I was almost 16 years old.

We then actually moved to Barrhead and I don’t really remember why. I do remember that we lived in an older but exceedingly quaint house that had a basement built like a dungeon and something like an attic in which all the children had their bedrooms. I have fond memories of the brief time (a matter of months) we lived there before moving (just before my senior year) to Airdrie.

Even though it was the last home in which we all lived together as a family, I don’t remember much of the Airdrie house in detail. It was long rather than tall, on the inside curve of Aspen Cr, and pleasant enough. Once again I had my own room in the basement and, for a while at least, my own king-sized bed. We lived there into my early college days and then, following my first journeys abroad, I did what nearly every young adult from Airdrie does, I moved to Calgary. What a wonderful stroll down memory (sometimes less sharp than others) lane.

With Hope,


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Of New Beginnings

When making decisions, especially "major" or "significant" ones, I would think most of us are compelled, both internally and externally, to provide reasons for our choices, to defend or justify them to ourselves and those around us. When we do something that seems likely to change the course of our lives, we are often expected to have thought it through carefully, to have weighed our options, sought out wise counsel, done appropriate research, etc. in order to present a rational, logical explanation for our choices. We do this, not only to win the emotional or tangible support of others, but to make peace with ourselves. This is particularly true when we have little insight into the potential outcomes of a decision. Ironically, when discussing such decisions ahead of time, it's not uncommon to be asked questions like "what does your heart/gut/God tell you?" or "what are your instincts?"

I want to stress that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this seeming juxtaposition, nor with the process of coming to decisions described above. All of these expectations are reasonable and generally helpful. What I want to say, though, is that the process of coming to a decision is simply that - a process - it's the way we prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally to make a choice, even though in all likelihood we had already made it subconsciously sometime before. We usually need to understand our own choices to be comfortable with them and to make others (friends, family, etc.) comfortable as well. That said, sometimes we become too enamoured with the process and this has the potential for considerable damage. We can be gripped by fear in the absence of the "right" answers and feel immobilized by the possibility of not being understood when, quite simply, the issue is often one of time.

Why are we sometimes too afraid just to admit that it was "the right time" for something to be done? After all, "for everything there is a season..." I struggled with this most recently when deciding (somewhat suddenly, I'll admit) to get married and come to Japan just over two years ago. And now, here I am, having made another big decision, and while all those initial suggestions have been followed, if I'm most honest with myself and others in response to inevitable questions of "why," the answer will simply be that it was time, and so it is.

Of course, that lengthy philosophical explanation conveniently saves me from having to discuss the considerable list of influences on this particular decision, be they economic, paternal, environmental, or other. All that to say this: Takako and I will be leaving Japan in early February, at which time we will spend three months in Israel before returning to Canada where we intend to live for the indefinite future. We are presently quite busy with various tasks associated with preparing to leave – getting rid of/packing/shipping our earthly possessions, closing various accounts and handling other personal affairs. Speaking of time, it seems to be flying lately.

As always, we’re tremendously excited to be returning to Israel to continue our work promoting Yad Hashmona. In terms of returning to Canada, I outlined in a previous post what I would miss about Japan, and there are many things I look forward to in Canada, especially reconnecting with friends and family. There’s a great deal of uncertainty at the moment when it comes to work and such, but I am confident that, as has been the case ‘til now, each new stage of my life will be even better than the last.

With Hope,

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