The Envelope, please! (this morning’s entry cont’d)

March 31, 2008

The Envelope, Please; digital watercolour by aka Lavenderbay

Poochie’s daddy. Georgie’s mummy. Three members of the family-run hardware store. An executive director. The crossing guard. The co-op office manager. The health food store owner. The dollar store owner. My barber. Niall’s mum. My mum. The neighbours three flights up. I knocked on doors, I bought light bulbs and organic chocolate bars, I stopped acquaintances in the street. Because it’s raining today, the dogs aren’t out for more than a moment, so a number of dog parents that I’d been counting on didn’t show up. A few other possible contest judges weren’t around either, for one reason or another.

Nevertheless, everyone I did manage to catch — twenty people in all — were good sports. Some chuckled at the idea, some asked if I wanted a donation, some told me turtle tales of their own. One dogparent remembered a snapping turtle the size of a footstool that lived under the cottage dock when he was a kid. One of the hardware store owners said that his childhood chums would take a small painted turtle from the Riverdale pond, care for it for a year, and return it the next summer. Someone said that in Indonesia, people pat a carved wooden turtle to leave their worries outside with it before entering a home.

Many people had automatic favourites when they viewed the ballot sheet. “It’s gotta be ‘Tiny Tim’!” “It has to be ‘Seamus’!” Often they said why they chose a name.  “‘Spike’ will give it some protection.” “I think ‘Shelley’ is a sweet name.” “‘Myrtle the turtle’ rings a bell somehow.” “Ha, ‘Sandy’ like a beach!” “I like ‘Micmac’; do you know the aboriginal legend that the world was built on a turtle’s back?”

Seven entries; twenty judges; not a single entry that wasn’t chosen by someone. At first, in fact, with each ballot a different name was chosen, and I wondered if I would end up with three votes for each name. Finally, however, there emerged a winner:

It’s a boy! His name is Seamus.

Please let me know, Livingisdetail, what topic you would like me to write about. I owe you 500 words.

For everyone else, I’m willing to award a second-place prize: give me a word, e.g. “Checkers”, and I’ll compose a limerick for you. I think everyone deserves a prize for participating. Thank you all! It was a lot of fun.

The Entrants

March 31, 2008

Fanciful ballot

Four more minutes…three more minutes…two…one…okay! 

I have waited until 7 am March 31 Eastern Standard Time, to ensure that all the readers in Apia, Samoa had until midnight of March 30 to enter the contest. I have printed up 27 2″ x 3″ ballots, and this morning I’ll distribute them among non-blog acquaintances, and tally up their choices. Back this aft (this aft-thirty in Newfoundland) to announce the winner!

(N.B. the ballots don’t include the Painter Essentials III illustration above.)

What’s So Funny?

March 30, 2008

copy of a Robert Campin; pencil crayons, 2007, by aka Lavenderbay

Sober Flemish guy in turban

When I was trying to learn French comme il faut, I found the hardest thing to understand was the humour. Prose is usually pretty straightforward: it tries to say what it means to say, and if you don’t get the meaning, the writer or speaker may have failed. But humour tries to say two things at once, and you must understand both of those things to think it funny; if you don’t get both meanings, then maybe you have failed.

For example, some of my fellow dogbloggers have been recently participating in something called the Pugbowl. The humour here is based on (at least) two elements. The first is the word “Pugbowl”, a pun in that it evokes the Superbowl American football championship, but in this case refers to a food dish, not stadium. The second element is that of inappropriate behaviour: it is questionable etiquette to sit in one’s chinaware, yet here are photos of doggies, large and small, with paws or tails in their kibble bowls. It’s not what you were expecting. It’s funny.

A few months ago, I wrote “An Art History Lesson” which reads like a vague encyclopedia article until the end. If you’re acquainted with Julie Andrews films, and are North American, you might think it funny. If you have a smattering of education in Church History, you might think it even funnier. If you’re British, one of the key words in the punchline won’t make sense. And now that you know that the story is supposed to be a joke, and you’re expecting it to be funny, it probably won’t be nearly as funny as it was to my friends who weren’t expecting it to be funny. Funny, isn’t it?

An Art History Lesson

The renown of Flemish artists of the 15th and 16th centuries attracted many later artists to Flanders, hoping to gain thereby either an increase in talent or a market selling to tourists. In most cases, these mediocre artists achieved little of either.

In the late 17th century, a monastery in Bruges decided to start purchasing these second-rate works of art. It was felt that by collecting and displaying the works for a small admission charge, the religious community could at once provide charity to the starving artists, showcase their work collectively in hopes of attracting patrons for those artists, and generate a small income from the museum fees.  

Three of the monks volunteered immediately to be guides to the new museum. Their friendly eagerness brought in many visitors, and the increase in revenues enabled the monks to buy more tableaux. Thus it went for five years, until it became obvious that a larger museum would be necessary.

Since the community didn’t have enough land for a bigger building, they appealed to their brothers in the abbey at Ghent, who offered to provide more spacious quarters to house and display the works. The abbot at Bruges further instructed the enthusiastic guides to transfer to the Ghent community and continue their vocation there. Overjoyed, the three monks soon followed the canvases down the road to the newer, larger museum.

And that is the story of the super-tacky Jansenistic expedited docents.

Lights out!

March 29, 2008

stormy night

In a few hours, our lights are going out. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe that’s a perverse sort of anticipation, like chasing fire trucks or attending hangings. Light is usually associated with good, dark with bad.

Or maybe it’s sociological enquiry. How many people really will turn out their lights, or have already, as the earth turns enough to bring eight pm to their doorstep? What will be the effect on our social awareness of this experiment, the second annual Earth Hour?

Or maybe it’s the memory of that summer day, a couple of years ago, when all the lights went out. My partner and I were in Kingston Ontario, getting ready for the long drive home, and trying to order a pair of iced cappuccinos to go. We were disappointed that the machine had just stopped working. Before we could leave the shop, someone stuck their head in to tell the counter workers that the hydro trouble was all the way up the street. Fine, we shrugged, let’s get in the car.

As we made our way out of the small city, we noticed that the streetlights were out — all the way to the 401. So we turned west onto the highway, switched on the radio, and  tuned in to CBC. The power was out on both sides of the Lake.

It was 10 pm by the time we rolled into our own parking space. The streets of the neighbourhood were hot, black, and full of life. People sat on their stoops, steps, and balconies, chatting, drinking, enjoying the night with the glee of children let out of school on a snow day.

Five minutes to go! Turn off computer.


Cuca and I stayed in while the rest of the family headed outside to observe Earth Hour. I  turned off the hall light after them. The sky was still denim blue; I felt unsettled. I took the cordless phone off its base to quell its annoying green light. I unplugged the microwave. I nearly reached up to take the battery out of the clock — if it was going to be dark, it was bloody well going to be quiet!

But quiet it was not to be, with two planes and a chopper circling the downtown, buzzing by the window every five or ten minutes. I boiled some water and made licorice tisane. With the dog out on the spree, I had the papasan chair to myself. I curled up in it with the warm cup and no book and buzzing surveillance and some fresh unsettling family knowledge that I may write about sometime or maybe not. The meditation gods were definitely against me.

I turned on the stove light long enough to dial the number, then switched it off again. Mum was home, sitting in the dark. I settled back into the papasan, and she told me some family history so I could better understand the family present, and after a while I forgot about the droning aircraft and the ticking clock.

When Fancy is Turning

March 29, 2008

cowbird courting
I read someplace once that February 14 was chosen as a celebratory day for lovers because it was observed that in mid-February, songbirds start exhibiting mating behaviour. And indeed, on February 11 I saw, on one end of the fallen log that lies just inside the fence on the far side of the parkette in front of our building to the north, a bird. A male house sparrow he was, looking pretty small on that log, but proudly shaking his fanned tailfeathers like a peacock on espresso. “Here I am, ladies! Your chick magnet has arrived! Take a number!” I can vouch that in mid-February, the sight of that much cheery sex appeal brought a smile to more than one species.

Six weeks later, the filthy old snow is still ebbing from parks and soccer fields and front yards. The sidewalks are mostly clear, though, and poggles — oops, I mean Cai — and I can go walkies at a good clip now.

Since his leg owie, when he was limping from a pulled ligament, Cai has been learning to walk nicely on leash. That’s because Mummy dislikes pratfalls. So we’ve been going up street and through alley and along river, noting gradual changes as Spring comes to the city.

Some of these changes are happening throughout the province: the Red-winged Blackbirds, for example, are returning to the still-frozen ponds. (And now, thanks to the March 12 and March 24 entries of The Marvellous in Nature, I know what they’re eating!)

Other changes are distinctly urban. We’ve seen people hacking at the ice in their backyards and banishing winter over the fence. The other day, the storm sewers were full, flowing merrily merrily down the street. Bundle-buggies are out again in  full force.

Finally, there are changes  that belong to the Little World — the world of little creatures, or personal significance, or both. For instance, earlier this week, I went out for walkies without needing either mittens or four layers of shirt-and-sweater under my parka. On the way back, Cai and I surprised a female sparrow bathing in a real live puddle. (Maybe she was getting ready for a date with Mr. Espresso Peacock, who knows?) Today, I saw a baby’s mitten placed on a fence picket, resembling a tiny pink cactus, and it looked out of place.

And yesterday, fresh in from walkies, we heard a familiar yipping in the back field. Cai looked up in barklove (thanks for the phrase, Aged Cat!), and I said sure, we’d go out again. It was his best friend, the little Jack Russell from the next building. With the combination of lousy weather and his play restrictions, Cai hadn’t seen her for a few weeks. We went out to say hello, and there was the JR, racing around all nudie, freed at last from her faux-sheepskin jacket.

Adam’s First Task

March 28, 2008

Since I’m no longer able to hide my pets’ names, I would like to explain how they acquired them. 

first night indoors

On March 18th (“A Cat Called Intrep-pawed”), when I explained our street kitty’s name, I was very close to telling the truth. It was a good story. The true story is just as good. The boy we babysit, Jack, wanted to call the fluffball not “The Cat Who Looks at Everything” but “The Curious Kitten.” And I, wanting both to respect the boy’s suggestion and to shorten the handle, abbreviated the name to Cuca, pronounced as in the first half of “kookaburra”, but standing for CUrious CAt. That is the true story of our cat’s name.

nap time

Our Cardigan Welsh Corgi’s name is shorter but his naming story is longer.

 We were still keeping the puppy plans a secret from Jack when his aunt and 12-year-old cousin Jon came from England for a visit. We all met in a cafe with Jack’s mum while Jack was in school.

At the time of Jon’s visit, we weren’t even sure whether we would be getting a girl or a boy puppy. To complicate matters, since our Cardi is a purebred, he or she would need both an everyday name and a registered name. We further learned that every litter has a theme. Our breeder required that the pup’s registered name, like those of its littermates, include some kind of gemstone — unless, of course, it came from the differently-themed other litter which was born a week later. And it was a good idea to have an alternate registered name suggestion, in case the one we wanted already existed for another dog somewhere else. That’s, lemme think, four registered and one common name for each sex — TEN NAMES?

Before the kaffeeklatsch, I had worked out all the necessary registered-name possibilities for a girl dog, and short-listed five or six Welsh everyday names for each sex. Jon’s mum suggested “Dyllis” as a girl’s name. I added it to the list, and we discussed whether to call the kibble “Dyllis filler” and other serious grownup topics while Jon sat in silence, thumbing the Minerals and Precious Stones book I had handed him. “Try and find a stone that would suit a boy puppy” were my instructions.

After several minutes of quiet contemplation, Jon presented a page in the book. It was a mineral I’d never heard of before, in a lovely shade of blue.

“Kyanite!” I beamed. “Well, that settles the boy’s name, then!”

On the boys’ side of my shortlist I had “Cai”, pronounced with a hard c, rhyming with sky, meaning “to rejoice”. A gemstone-litter male would be named Cai, then. Later we worked out his registered name, “[Kennel name] Kyanite so fair”, a pun on “Cai, a knight so fair.” Later still, our breeder informed us that we would indeed be given one of the gemstone boys. He would be Cai, then. And that is the true story of our dog’s name.

And speaking of namings, we now have six entries for the Name-and-genderize-the-sea-turtle-stuffy contest! Contest closes March 30th at midnight (Samoan time). No purchase necessary! See my blog of March 24 for details!

Stretch of the Turtle

March 27, 2008

the clearing

When I started this blog, I was afraid. Partly I was afraid that no one would read it. But I was also afraid of who might find it: a dognapper; a cat experimenter; a stalker; the nerdy guy from grade 10 who, three decades later, still plays trombone in his little church band. All scary in their own ways.

So far, though, I’ve gotten only positive feedback. No zero-hit days. No visible rise in creepy people in the parks. No high school hauntings.

I’ve also gone sidewisedly way more public than I’d meant to. My partner hinted the other day that, with her beautiful photos not linked to her Flickr site, invisible creepy people visiting my blog could pretend her intellectual property was theirs. So I fixed the photos. Now, with just a click of the white cartoon glove, you can glean all sorts of information about me, my partner, and our pets. The shriek of the turtle is heard in our land!

Hmmm. Maybe Turtle should stop panicking, and consider just how much personal damage has been caused by her partner’s three years of Flickring. And the answer is, None. No damage. Her partner has improved her photography and made friends from all over the world. She has basked in kind comments, and left kind comments for other photographers. She wears her Utata sweatshirt with pride. Harm? Not.

Maybe Turtle could stretch just a little farther.