I’ve actually been working on this post for a while, because every sentence that I write brings up all kinds of other conversations and thoughts and I have to go make lists. So forgive me for posting it on the 21st.
Here’s how we’ve decided to make this year a real “inflection point” as they say on the political talking-heads shows. We’re trying our hardest to make the craziness and trauma of this year a way to turn a corner to a place where we really want to be.
I hope to revisit this in December and see if we’ve succeeded, or are at least somewhat on our way.
1. HOSPITALITY: Doug and I have been together for a long time, and that period can be roughly divided in thirds: During the first third we were poor but had a hilarious time all the time, and during the second third we were poor and had babies, and during the last third we were poorer and had even more babies, which led to bad habits like not getting out of my pajamas for days at a time.
We are ready for that to end. So we are going to force ourselves to get up and get haircuts and dust off the air hockey table. We WILL be the fun couple again, by the sheer force of will if we have to! We’ve been drowning under work, diapers, more work, homeschooling, houses that were perpetually being renovated, and nursing bras for over a decade. As traumatic as the change has been and will be, the house fire, necessitating as it does the replacement of walls, repainting, new carpet, new furniture etc. will leave behind a more finished home than we’ve ever had before, and it gives us the chance to think and plan and buy things all at once. We need to put some oil on the creaking joints and remember what it’s like to have people over all the time, and then actually DO it.
2. POSSESSIONS: Everybody always says that you spend your twenties wishing you could get stuff and your thirties actually getting stuff. I thought that was nonsense–we never have any money for ANYTHING. But, you know, I had to do an exhaustive inventory of the house, and had to label all the ages of the items. I’m 35, and every single thing in that house was under five years old. It turns out that we were, in fact, buying like gangbusters; it’s just that we were buying what we could tolerate or afford, but rarely liked.
Each and every item in that list was either burned up or will go to the dumpster. We brought out of the house exactly ONE small crate full of miscellaneous files and papers (our file cabinet with every important household record was burned up completely), a couple of stuffed animals that later had to be thrown away because even after three launderings they made Honour wheeze, and half a dozen Christmas ornaments. Some hard furniture (dining room table, a few chairs; the kids’ bedframes, a metal desk) and our plates and silverware was salvageable. Everything else in the ENTIRE HOUSE, including stuff that was in rooms that were not directly fire-damaged, must be thrown out.
We will be replacing only a small fraction of what we lost, because we’ve made the decision to put every scrap of contents money we can possibly squeeze out toward the house construction. We’ve also decided to put a moratorium on spending for one full year after we replace what we’ve decided to replace. The rule will be that we spend no more than $100 in any one place at any time (and no cheating and going back for a second trip the next day) except for the weekly food shopping. Since a typical Target run for paper towels and laundry baskets usually morphs into $150 by the time we grab the stuff we “need” but hadn’t written down, this really will represent a big change for us.
In short, we’re going to re-think the whole way we own “stuff.” Less clutter, more creative space. Fewer toys, more “pretend.” Less isolation, more group play.
2: KENNEL. When a careless candle threw us out of our house, it didn’t just displace our dogs. We’re the dog hotel and “daycare” (unpaid, of course) for half a dozen dogs in addition to ours. Some come once a month; some three times a week. When we have family get-togethers, everyone stops at our house to drop off dogs before going to the bigger parental house for the actual event.
Having no opportunity to let dogs play is causing tension and bad behavior all around, and that’s just the humans! The extended-family dogs are pretty literally climbing the walls, and there’s no relief in sight.
So when we rebuild, we’re putting in a real kennel. No, nothing so glamorous as an addition or a dedicated room, but half the basement (where we’ve had crates and some little “stalls” for separating in-heat females and new rescues) will get a major facelift. Around the edge of the area I’m picturing three permanent 3×4 kennels, two permanent 3×8 puppy pens or large-dog spaces, and a “lid” on the kennels to make a platform for crates so we can accommodate smaller and lighter dogs on in temporary housing on top. The center area will be group play with beds and toys and ramps, and there will be a door to a small pea-graveled area for peeing. When we’re home, the dogs can be out in the big exercise area, but even when we’re gone they’ll be able to run out and do their business. I’m planning on using solid fencing for the little graveled area so they can’t see out; that will cut down a huge amount on barking.
The major area of the basement, which must be torn out and replaced anyway because thousands of gallons of water spilling on all the electrical and communications systems is not a great thing, will stay pretty much the same but will have one wall set aside for grooming. I need a dog tub big enough to fit a Rottweiler, and a permanent table and lights. Nothing fancy or glamorous, but hopefully functional and at least minimally attractive.
3: MAJOR REEXAMINATION OF BREEDING PRIORITIES: This one is the only one not necessitated by the fire–it’s something that’s been on the long-term calendar for a while. I knew I wouldn’t even begin to know what I wanted in Cardigans before I’d owned them for several years. This summer is Clue’s third birthday and I can feel the puzzle pieces in my brain beginning to fit together. The really great thing is that at the end of this process I know I started with the right breeder and I am absolutely thrilled with the dogs I ended up with. So now I need to decide whether, after this forced hiatus, to stick with what I have and figure that I’ll breed my own stuff from now on, or to buy another puppy, and if so from whom, and so on.
Three years ago I described what I wanted in a dog to a breeder who SO kindly told me to look at Betty Ann’s dogs. That worked out better than I could have ever imagined. So my first thought is always to go back to her for anything new, but I want to make sure I am adding a relatively unrelated dog or dogs so I’m making the most of my limited space. So that’s a big question mark.
I’m also finally getting to the point where I can look at a dog and “see” him. It takes me ten minutes every time, to go “feet: check; turn-out: check; bone: check” and so on, and I know that it’ll be another decade before I can take in the whole dog at a glance and make a judgment that’s close to accurate, but at least I’m finally able to describe what I feel to be valuable. So there is a (very) short list of dogs and bitches that I would like to investigate buying an offspring of.
My other big anticipated change in breeding (and showing) is that I’ve always done that small-hobby-breeder thing of putting all your eggs in one basket. You buy one nice puppy, raise it, show it, pray like heck that it finishes, breed it as carefully as you can, have the one keeper puppy, raise it, show it, pray like heck that it finishes, lather rinse repeat. Never more than three dogs in the house except when you have a litter of puppies, and most litters you don’t keep anything from. That was the ONLY right way to do it for a lot of years; I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and still maintaining proper care.
I think I’m a different person now, in a different place mentally. I am more willing to put in the time, more mature about giving up when the dog plainly isn’t turning out. I am more critical of the dogs in my house and I know I’m also a lot less intimidated by the process of showing.
I am not talking about buying a rig and painting “Cardigan Corgis of the World” on it, but I’m not willing to wait four years between litters either. My vague idea is to have, say, two or three breedable bitches around the place that are doing performance events, maybe running on a couple of puppies a year, getting very serious about keeping only the very best. I’d love to have ONE drop-dead gorgeous boy around the place, maybe play around with specialing him while I’m showing those puppies. And of course that means a couple of old dogs on the couch (I’m totally in favor of retirement homes for dogs, but there will be a few that I don’t want to ever leave).
As time goes on I’ll be asking for specific advice and for the names of dogs or bitches you’re really loving, but for now I’m just dreaming and planning.
So there you go–check back with me in December ’09 to see if I succeeded!