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Many Happy Returns to a best friend

It’s birthday season in my world it seems. I just wrote a post remembering my Dad’s birthday. Now I have another day of note worth mentioning, so I hope you’ll indulge me, and my loved ones.

Today is Simon’s birthday. He is 10 years old today. Everyone deserves to be celebrated on their birthday, even someone as egocentric as Simon. You see, Simon is my husband’s German Short Haired Pointer.He is a well-trained and handsome dog, but he loves me for my throwing arm. ImageSo, any tribute I make in this article is directed much more towards MY best friend, Ella, the Chocolate Labrador you see gracing my photos in this blog. She is the one who nurses me through my sinus infections in winter, and watches over me when I garden in the summer, and always looks back when we walk to make sure I am still there. (Simon, on the other hand, could care less till it’s dinner time where I am.)

In honour of all four-legged best friends, I am contributing a recipe for healthy dog treats to my archives. You can just feed your dog popcorn as a natural treat, or slow roasted sweet potato slices (cook them in the oven at 200F, or a dehydrator, for about 6 hours). This is a fun recipe to do with kids, and it gives them great practice at kitchen skills. It’s also a great gift to give a fellow dog owner. I once even hosted a canine birthday party at the local park where we walked our dogs, and gave out homemade dog treats as a take-away. Dog owners tend to be really sociable people; it was a fun party!

Of course, if you’re not a dog owner, your best friend would likely enjoy a more decadent birthday treat. For this kind of celebration, I suggest chocolate. One of my favourite special desserts is my husband’s Chocolate Souffle. ImageIf your friends are more into simple fare that is not so decadent, how about Pavlova? It’s even gluten-free, for those who don’t eat wheat.

Whether your friends are two-legged or four, you could hold a party with just balloons and still elicit many smiles. But I am a firm believer that birthdays deserve a cherry on top, if you know what I mean. Gathering people together to share a taste of something special makes for a great memory.

Here’s to doing back flips for birthdays!

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Changing of the Guard

Spring has definitely sprung in our part of the world, and every day there is a new reminder of the splendor to come as the sun shines longer and the air warms on our cheeks. New blades of grass poke through the mulch of last year, and shoots that promise daffodils and tulips show braver every day. It also seems to be a time however, when we are reminded of the circle of life and how sometimes we must honour the changing of the guard. It is a good reminder of the value of true friendship, which is indeed a precious commodity. If you will grant me a little poetic license this week, I would like to explain. This column is not so much about food, although that certainly anchored the friendship I will recount, but it is of great importance so I hope you will read on.

This week is the fifth anniversary of the death of a very old friend, Riley, someone who was close to another friend I lost around the same time – my Brown Girl, Satchmo. Some of you will shake your heads at my sentimentality perhaps, but the loss of four-legged friends is a blow that strikes a special place in your heart. I feel the need to honour this friend because of the significance of his friendship and also the timeliness of his passing. You see, he was Irish, and so it seems only fair that he be remembered on the most famous of Irish days. And besides, that was also Mo’s birthday, and he was one of her favourite birthday pals. Allow me to paint you a picture if I can…

It is an early misty morning at Kits Point in Vancouver, with the sun just barely brightening the sky and only a few joggers out on the path. The park is alive however, with the sounds of happy snuffling in the grass and low voices chatting amongst the trees.

It is the dog owners of Kitsilano, and they are out with their four-legged friends for their daily constitutional. For many, this means more of a pilgrimage to the top of the Point, where a certain fellow named John waits in his yellow rain jacket with his pal close by – a staunch and dapper Irish Terrier named Riley, who knows he is King of the Hill.

There is not a dog who has been to the park more than twice who does not remember this man, as he has pockets that contain an endless supply of biscuits. Owners who are otherwise strict go to pieces when in John’s vicinity, for he is renowned at his ability to convey pet owner’s guilt… He recounts their pet’s supposed commentary on just how hard-done-by they would be if they were left out of the gift-giving. Everyone ends the visit by realizing that the odd cookie never hurt anyone, and a little attention goes a long way. As the group parts company for each to carry on with their day, there is always a smile on each face – two-legged and four – that helps them start the day right.

this caricature cover from an old Vancouver law magazine shows John, with Riley in front, and Satchmo first in line for biscuits (where any Chocolate Lab worth her salt would be)_

Many of those folks grew older together, and eventually we even learned the names of the other owners! There was a special camaraderie that developed in those early mornings. Even after my girl Satchmo went blind, one of the few times she would run was when she heard John’s familiar voice on that hilltop calling her name. She and Riley continued to wrestle and taunt each other even when he started to go blind too, and we all got a bit greyer. When we moved away from Vancouver and would return for a visit, we always made it back for a morning hello. Over the years many faces have come and gone, and generations of owners and dogs have now been a part of things. Riley and Satchmo passed the torch onto future furry pals who would show their owners the benefits of enjoying morning moments and other pastimes. Riley and John set a standard for friendship and generosity that needs to be practiced in today’s world more than ever, reminding us that we will be handsomely rewarded for taking the time to stop and enjoy a biscuit or a sweet-smelling spot in the grass.

Here is Satchmo, happily caught next to the carrots in the garden - she loved poaching carrots as much as she loved John's biscuits.

So, Riley, here’s to you. Thank you for all the memories; it was truly a pleasure to be in your company. I hope you and Satchmo are having a good old romp in the spring sunshine. I shall drink to you this St. Patrick’s Day, with this adapted toast in mind:

May the smells rise to meet you

And the wind be always past your nose;

May the sun shine warm upon your coat

And the biscuits fall gently from a hand.

And until we meet again,

May the Lord hold you safe in his Land.

Winter’s here! Enjoy the snow, then warm up the hot cocoa and get cozy.

It snowed here on Tuesday. Big fluffy flakes that just floated down all day long, like someone was dusting us with Frosted Flakes. The world beyond our yard disappeared, and all the sounds stopped – no birds, no wind, no more leaves rustling, that’s for sure. The pile on the front railing just grew higher and higher. Inside, the dogs got fluffier. That may sound odd, but if you have a dog you know they are great barometers. When it gets colder and less friendly outside, they get more cuddly when they are inside. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to go outside, though. Ella, my Chocolate Labrador, LOVES the snow. She is a happy creature by nature, but I swear the snow makes her brain come loose, and she just goes loopy! She is a wonderful motivator; how can you not smile and want to join in the fun when you see someone scoot around and kick up the snow and make snow angels? Even Simon, our older German Short-Haired Pointer, who has shorter hair and is not so keen to be out in the cold anymore, will romp with her when they go out together.

It snowed more on Wednesday, and again on Wednesday night, so this morning we all bounded out the door at top speed to make fresh tracks. No pristine winter wonderland at Rabbit Hollow – I have enough little footy-prints in the snow to create a labyrinth pattern worthy of M.K. Escher. “The troops”, as they are affectionately known, amuse themselves by eating snow as I shovel the driveway (Simon likes to catch it off the shovel – what can I say? Some of us are easily amused…). Then it’s off to the orchard to follow the coyote tracks or snow-doze between the trees in search of any other good scents. Once we have secured the perimeter (meaning the whole orchard, the vegetable garden, the pumpkin patch and the neighbour’s yard), then we have time for a bit of “Wild Kingdom”. (the Canadian version of “Wild Kingdom”, with Lorne Greene hosting – remember this?) Simon chases Ella through the field as fast as he can, and she outmanoevres him by doing a wonderful tuck-and-roll that lets her hop up and head out in a different direction. Simon always wins with a mock bite to her throat, but I think she enjoys the thrill before she finally puts her legs up in the air in defeat.  

Once this final bit of fun was complete, we could head inside – breakfast for them and me was in order. They enjoy the same old kibble with as much enthusiasm every day. For me this morning it was a delicious cup of steaming cocoa (made with a bit of cinnamon to add an exotic touch) and a bowl of Red River cereal. It made for a heartwarming way to start a cold day.

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