We’re once again in the throes of a re-training regime for both our dogs. This is mostly because one of them recently developed a liking for adventuring when off lead at the park. No biggie in and of itself, except that she sometimes chooses not to come back. Apparently it’s much more fun to turn the whole exercise into a game. Much sigh.

Fortunately we know some great people at the local Dobermann Club. They all know MissMolly (she has something of a reputation as a super bouncy Dobe) and one of them kindly agreed to help out with some one-on-one. This new training regime started a few weeks ago and we’ve had some great results with MissM (aka the runawaydog) so far. It’s involved going back to basics with recalls, impulse inhibition and so forth.

Cassie’s been having some fun with training as well. But since most of it’s really aimed at the runawaydog, she needs to be kept occupied whilst the high intensity focused training sessions take place.

Enter the snuffle mat. This is essentially a rubber door mat that has had a whole lot of fleece fabric strips tied to it to create a densely packed, soft and fluffy adventure mat. The idea is that it acts like a puzzle for the dog, allowing it to sniff out and hunt around for little treats in a fun way. This provides mental stimulation, slows down their eating, encourages natural foraging instincts and works to decrease their stress levels.

It was a really simple rainy day craft project to undertake and very rewarding, although it used a good deal more fabric than I expected. It also involved a lot of knot tying! My reward was to see Cassie take to it with great gusto during training time this week. She hunted and foraged, snuffled and searched for her morning kibble in amongst the fleece-forrest, tail going like crazy. Very cute. And afterwards? A delightfully calm pup – which was a real bonus as she’s usually hyper if separated from her buddy for any reason.

Snuffle mat - Cassie

If you think you’d like to make one yourself, the instructions are on my craft page. Enjoy!

ps. For heaps of other good ideas to keep your dogs occupied, you might like to have a look at this canine enrichment site.

I can’t remember exactly when I was introduced to the works of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Looking back, it seems like they were always part of the landscape of my life. My mother had a complete set of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s recordings of the G&S comic operas and these were played often enough to be seem like an always-already-there family tradition.

By the time I actually saw my first live production, the patter-songs were an accepted part of life. We all got to know the words and my older brother in particular could reel them off with remarkable accuracy and speed. One of the outcomes is that  ‘I am the very model of a modern major general…’ was where I first hear of quadratic equations and also where I learned the difference between a mauser and a javelin! 

Our family habit of making reference to G&S with comments such as ‘..a policeman’s lot is not a happy one...’ sometimes got us funny looks from more mundane individuals. This eventually alerted me to the fact that not all families sat around listening to – and singing along with – light opera 🙂

Much to my delight the G&S Society of WA  scheduled two productions for this year. The first of these was The Gondoliers – and  what a hoot it was! Although I’d heard a recording of the Gondoliers many times, I’d never seen it performed – and the two simply don’t compare. The costuming was spectacular (I want a dress like that!), the orchestra outstanding and the interplay between the characters hilarious – particularly the Trumpesque Duke of Plaza-Toro 🙂

All round it was a most entertaining evening and we’re all looking forward to the September production of Patience. Bookings open in June – don’t miss it!

Life got busy over the past few months. Really silly, mind-numbingly busy. It crept up, tasks and commitments snowballing over us and gathering us up in their wake. It’s the kind of crazy downhill slalom that I find tends not provide much in the line of personal satisfaction, even if I know that the end result will be worth it.

Then, this evening, two things happened: I noticed we still had a giant pumpkin in the fridge – and a friend sent me a link to this video.

Ignoring the pumpkin, I sat down to watch the video. The take-home message for me was that being super busy can end up being isolating.

But we all need to eat – and eating together is more fun. And I have a giant pumpkin…

So, busy or not, the giant pumpkin’s been cut up and vat of soup is underway. Sourdough bread mix goes on next – and will be baked tomorrow when we randomly open our very sandy, discombobulated home to whoever feels like sharing a spontaneous pot luck meal.

Hope you can make it 🙂

pop up choirThis week our local library organised a pop-choir event as part of Adult Learners Week. About a dozen of us congregated in the meeting area at the back of the building, keen to give singing in the library – rather than just borrowing books (etc.) – a whirl.

The branch librarian greeted us all with her usual bubbly enthusiasm, then handed us over to another of the choir master. Brian – a librarian by profession, was wearing his musicians’ hat for the morning. He  was an enthusiastic and gentle instructor, and we set about rocking the library for the next hour or so under his very capable guidance.

We sang what might seem like an odd selection of music, but it was all aimed at being accessible to any level of vocal ability. First up was a simple African spiritual, presumably because none of us would have any preconceptions as to what it would sound like. Brian took us through the verse and the chorus one line at a time, putting the bits together as we gained confidence in the pronunciation, cadence and tune. Then he introduced a second part, a rhythmic dum-dum-da-dum, for the deeper voices, and brought all that together. All enormously good fun.

After that we had a go at Silent Night, The 12 Days of Xmas, a hymn of unknown name (I’ve misplaced the songsheet) and, finally, Take me Home Country Road (John Denver) to end on a jolly note. It was all done A Cappella and, despite the wide variation in voice types and strengths, it sounded great – from where I was sitting at least. I it certainly brought a large number of curious library users down to the back of the library to listen.

On the way home I wondered why I don’t sing more often. I used to… but somewhere along the line I think I may have stopped actively engaging with music. But the act of singing is exhilarating and something that I now realise I’ve missed. My brief session in the library certainly left me feeling happy, with a smile that lasted pretty much all day. I guess that’d be the singing-induced endorphins zipping around in my system.

Whatever it was, I definitely felt more engaged and enthusiastic in general – and was pleased to hear that are plans afoot to run more events of this sort, culminating in a small Xmas concert in the library. In the meantime, the house is once again being subjected to my exceedingly eclectic assortment of music – my more or less tuneful warbling – and my increased happiness-factor 🙂

Our voices have been silent, and it’s not doing us any goodTania de Jong AM.

Two bridges rideAfter a week of rain, my cycling excursion now seems a little like a delicious dream rather than a reality. But it definitely happened! Last weekend was sunny and I really did go on my first bike ride in absolutely ages. I even got a bit of a tan!

It was a glorious almost-spring afternoon, perfect for a ride around the two bridges. It’s only a 7.4km loop – although the extra 6.3km (each way) to and from the bridge turned it into a 20km round trip. Not an epic ride, certainly, but a personal best for some time.

As I started down the first hill and started to pick up speed, I felt indescribably free. For no clear reason, the mental soundtrack to my ride was  I’m Free – from the Pete Townshend musical, Tommy.  The opening lines encapsulated the moment perfectly: I’m free… I’m free… / And freedom tastes of reality!

Freedom is generally understood to be the ability to think or act as one wishes, whether an individual, group or nation state. In a world where so many people have so few personal freedoms – where they are denied freedom of movement, religious belief, political outlook and expression – my taste of reality may seem exceedingly superficial.

However, in the particular, freedom has specific connotations for every individual – and I’m very conscious of my good fortune. The freedom to do something like hop on my bike and go for a ride – just because I feel like it – is a gift beyond compare.

        If I told you what it takes / To reach the highest high, / You’d laugh and say, “Nothing’s that simple”.

But, for me, it is. Those two hours on my bike and on the river bank provided me with a mindful appreciation of my environment – which included seeing a small group of dolphins frolicking in the river, exercise, time to think, and renewal. Time well spent.