December so soon?

Christmas family

This is our family tradition. Every year, we go to the same lot with our dog(s) and pose in front of our tree(s) before Rob chops them down. We get two trees: one for the house and one for the martial arts studio. We’ve been going to the same lot since before we had dogs, but I think we went to a different one the first Christmas we had Isis.

We call this Isis's "Muppet Baby" phase.

Christmas 2006. We call this Isis’s “Muppet Baby” phase.

We’ve really gotten it down to a science. For the family portraits, we use a tripod and set the camera’s timer to take 10 pictures in a row.


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Movies that make you believe in God

My people like our Christmases dark, especially when it comes to the movie portion of our celebration.

An all-time favorite Christmas Day screening was Quills, starring Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade. Two years ago, Black Swan was my favorite Christmas movie.

During the past week at my mom’s, I read Gone Girl (Marriage can be a real killer) and watched the entire last season of Dexter (America’s Favorite Serial Killer).

So I consider The Life of Pi to have been a rather mainstream choice of Christmas movie. After all, its premise is that Pi’s life story “will make you believe in God.”

Life-of-Pi-Richard-Parker

Warning: I am not about to spoil the ending of the movie as much as this interesting post, but if you haven’t read the book and want to remain spoiler-free, skip the next couple of grafs. I don’t think what I’m about to write will actually ruin the MOVIE for anyone, but I’m more sensitive to spoilers in books, it seems.

I didn’t like the ending of The Life of Pi when I read it. It felt like an “it was all a dream” cop out. Armed with this information when I saw the movie, I saw an early clue that Pi might not be a completely reliable narrator.

Our hero describes the day he got his classmates to start calling him by the nickname Pi. We see him writing the decimal out to a bazillion places on a chalkboard. I thought to myself, “No way he memorized ALL those places. He’s exaggerating.”

Which might lead one to believe that he exaggerated other parts of his tale.

Cut to the ending, when Pi asks his listener which version of a story he prefers: the whimsical and improbable one, or the more likely, sadder one.

Everyone likes the improbable one better, right?

Pi says, “And so it goes with God.”

Interesting. Both stories tell of overcoming incredible adversity, but the improbable one goes down better. Like all those stories in the Bible? Like, probably Noah didn’t really have an ark with two of every animal on it? Is that what Pi is saying?

In any case, Pi’s story didn’t make me believe in God. (It’s a really good movie though. Friends of mine worked on it. You should see it.) I said to my mother, “I don’t think there’s any story that can make a person believe in God. People who already believe in God already believe in him.”

The next day, we saw Les Miserables and as the credits rolled, I whispered, “That story kind of makes me believe in God.”

les-miserables-hugh-jackman-anne-hathaway-new

Warning: For some reason, I assume that anyone who wants to see Les Miserables already knows who lives and dies, so there be spoilers ahead. 

Consider the following lyrics:

“My soul belongs to God I know, I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on.”

I mean, wow. That’s powerful. So we know that Valjean believes in God, and without that belief, he never would have overcome his horrible adversity. For sure I believe in Valjean’s belief… but does that make me believe in God?

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Again. Wow. GoodReads tells me that’s straight from the source material.

But really, here’s what does it. As miserables as their lives are, people’s prayers come true!

Fantine tells Valjean, “My daughter’s close to dying. If there’s a god above, he’d let me die instead.”

Guess what happens?

Then, Valjean sings of Marius, “If I die, let me die. Let him live. Bring him home.”

Guess what happens?

(It’s a really good movie. You should see it. I like Hugh Jackman as Valjean as much as I like him as Wolverine. Anne Hathaway is breathtaking in closeup singing I Dreamed a Dream in one take. Amanda Seyfried sings like a Disney princess.)

You know what else these movies have in common, besides God? Yep. Tigers.

Give doggies the gift of mental stimulation

I celebrated Christmas with my babies this weekend because I leave tomorrow for my traditional Los Angeles festivities.

the tree

I showed a lot of restraint by only buying the kids one present. To Share. Am I stingy or what?

Since it’s so dark, wet and cold around here, I’ve had to find creative ways to keep the dogs entertained. I’ve been feeding them their evening meal in puzzle toys. Based on the concept that our dogs’ ancestors used to spend a lot more time hunting for their meals, food puzzles make domesticated doggies work for their food.

According to Marty Becker, DVM, “Eating out of food puzzles takes memory, skill and manipulation, all of which help our dogs find healthier, less-destructive ways to release pent-up energy.”

Nina Ottosson’s are highly regarded. The plastic ones are durable and easy to clean. I consider $30 to $50 to be pretty expensive for a “dog toy,” but my judgment may be clouded by the fact that regular toys don’t last very long in German shepherd mouths. We’ve had the Tornado and the Brick for a few years now, and I consider them well worth the price.

Recently, we acquired the less expensive, but equally durable and easy-to-clean Dog It Mind Games, which can be played three different ways. The spin-a-whirl version seems to exercise my dogs’ minds the best.

After a few weeks of feeding them in the same three puzzles, I worried that the novelty had worn off and my kids weren’t reaping the same stimulating benefits. So I bought them a brand new puzzle for Christmas. Made by Aikiou, it’s shaped like a paw! I picked it up at our local PetStop, and was so excited about it, I told the salesgirl that I might even give it to the dogs that night. “They don’t know when Christmas is,” I explained.

Again, I showed restraint, wrapping it and putting it under the tree. This is the first Christmas that Leo’s had free roam of the house. Could he be trusted not to mess with wrapped presents under the tree? After all, he’s been surprisingly tolerant of all our decorations. He only pulls ornaments off the tree when I’m sitting right there and he wants my attention.

Turns out, no, he can’t be trusted. How could I have thought otherwise? Within two minutes he had a corner of wrapping paper and the cardboard box underneath torn open. I confiscated the present and waiting patiently until tonight, when I gave him permission to tear it open tonight. He sniffed it and wandered away.

Typical. Last night he proved that he only wants what he’s not supposed to have when Grandma gave both doggies Crunchkins edible cards. Mia enjoyed hers immediately.

mia crunchkins

Leo wasn’t sure what to do with his, and abandoned it in search of some dirty dishes to lick. Later, he pawed through the cardboard box of used wrapping paper to find the plastic wrap that the rawhide card came in, because that’s what he wanted to chew. When we got the dogs home, Leo took a renewed interest in the edible card, running around the house, looking for a place to hide it so that Mia couldn’t take it from him.

“Leo, just eat it! That’s the only way to keep it safe!”

In the middle of the night, Mia got a hold of it and noisily ate it on the bedroom floor.

So. After I unwrapped my dogs’ gift myself, and filled it and the other puzzles with their dinner, they enjoyed their shared Christmas gift. I especially like this one, because, like the Dog Tornado, it holds a lot of food.

Leo puzzleChristmas really is all about the children, don’t you think?

Leo

Is it December yet?

Happy to see we weren’t the only ones getting our Christmas trees last weekend, even though Thanksgiving came a little early this year.

Also tickled to find a dog blogger across the country who has the same tradition as we do: Taking the dogs to the tree farm.

Our tradition goes back to 2006, when Isis was a mere Muppet Baby.

9-week-old Isis, 2006

Our visits to Red Mountain Tree Farm in Everson grew more complicated after Isis became reactive, but in front of the camera, she was a supermodel. Look carefully at the two photos to see my technique for getting her to smile.

Same tree farm, but in 2008, they had inflatable snowmen.

Christmas 2009

As devastatingly handsome as Leo is, he was camera shy during his first visit to the tree farm. I tried to encourage him by smooshing my face against his.

Leo’s first Christmas, 2010. He’s 9 months old.

My heart breaks over Christmas 2010 because we couldn’t have both dogs in the same photo. And it was Isis’s last Christmas.

Christmas 2010

A year later, we had Mia, and could photograph the doggies together.

Christmas 2011

This year, we didn’t have Rob’s mom with us to take our picture, and hardly anyone was at the tree farm when we were there, except an unattended black Lab who likes to pee on the trees. (Leo only peed on one tree, and we bought that one for the martial arts studio). So we have photos of each of us with the dogs, but none of us together.

Christmas 2012, beside the tree Leo didn’t pee on.

Leo’s still very handsome, still a little blank behind the eyes. Maybe by next year we’ll have him “smizing.”