Culminations

The beginning of December marked the first day of a photographic advent calendar I’d done for the refuge with the help of about twenty walkers and biscuit holders who were patient enough to jockey the dogs into position.

Ufo was dog number 1, yesterday. He’s a twelve-year-old labrador who is still a big puppy at heart. He’s been at the refuge six years. High time he found a home. He’s a magnificent dog – quite sure he would have slotted in here just as Ralf did.

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I did 28 photos – some just in case ones – and I’m glad because a couple of dogs on my list have already gone, Artiste and Toupie, who made their way up to Germany, and Dalton who I taxiied up to his new family on Friday. That left me with 25 photos.

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Dalton is doing very well – new family are very happy with him and so far, he has been behaving himself. After five years at the refuge, he obviously realises what side his bread is buttered on. I was sad, however, to see scarring on his neck – old scars on the collarline from his life before the refuge. Sad too because I’ve walked him dozens of times and never noticed. He doesn’t look very happy on this photo, but he really was. It was fantastic to see how excited he was on the journey. I’m sure those dogs know that when they get to hop in a car, it’s the beginning of something magnificent!

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Anna has hopefully been adopted this afternoon, which means four of the oldies or long-termers on my photos have now found homes. That is quite something. I know it’s too much to hope for all 28 to find homes, but I can wish.

I’ve also started my sponsored knit to raise money for these little babies found in a bread oven. So far, I’ve raised 500€ in pledges and donations, which should cover vaccinations, chipping and sterilisation which can then be recuperated when the cats are adopted. She says. Finding homes for kittens is becoming tougher and tougher. Seems like everyone has four or five cats already, at least!

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I’m knitting 31 baubles in 31 days… they do say the devil makes work for idle fingers! Honestly, it’s forcing me to sit down and catch up with films and television. Forced passivity in front of a fire is no bad thing in winter. I’m sending the baubles out to people who have supported me in a random draw.

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This takes the place of the writing I’ve been doing for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, which I’ve participated in for the last three years.

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Yeah, I don’t know how I managed it either, between the doggie advent calendar and the refuge stuff and working and walking. Sometimes I amaze myself.

Busy Thursdays

Yesterday was the anniversary of the first Woofer Walk at the refuge, and after hurtling around the French countryside delivering magazines, I shot off to the refuge with a speedily-made coffee and walnut cake, a couple of slip leads, my camera, a kagool, a bootful of Hope Association calendars and all the cutlery I possessed.

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Well, in the end about fifty people of various nationalities turned up to walk the dogs – by three p.m. all but seven enclosures had been walked. That there were no accidents and no scraps between all the dogs is a testament to the calm organisation of all the volunteers – even though at least two-thirds hadn’t done it before. It was just great to see so many people I have come to know well in the last four years, as well as meeting lots of other lovely, big-hearted dog-loving new faces as well.

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I thought it was just amazing to se so many people come together to celebrate something that has gained a lot of traction in the last year. It’s hard to believe that LAARF – the volunteer network supporting refuges across France – has only been born for one year. That’s Christa in the blue bodywarmer at the front who keeps us all motivated. To see volunteers like Jane, who bravely took on the photographer role yesterday and snapped over 80 dogs (and now has the dubious joy of editing 80 sets of photos!) and Vera, who runs things like a tight battle-plan just makes it even nicer. Tracey and Linda came all the way over from Limoges as well. I hope we Mornackers all get to return the favour some day, though I know not all refuges are as open and welcoming as Mornac. Sometimes, I think Nanou, the directrice, must think we are all insane. It’s always a big risk to let so many people run riot in your refuge!

I’ve also set up a campaign to raise some money for four kittens taken in by a friend – will share tomorrow.

Today, I am taking the magnificent Dalton to his new family in Haute Vienne.

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He had a tidy-up and a beard trim yesterday and hopefully his adoption will go well. It’s at this point I hold my breath and cross my fingers.

I’ve also nearly finished my 50,000 November National Novel Writing Month book – can I do 7,000 words in 2 days? Why ever not??

Oh November

Where are you disappearing to?

Somebody asked me what had happened to me recently… well… this!

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And this…

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Let me tell you something for nothing… after you’ve knitted a bauble on five 1.5mm double pointed needles, using two colours and increases and decreases, knitting a scarf in cable stitch on 5mm needles feels like weird child’s play. It’s like writing with those super-large pencils. It feels weird.

And a bit of this…

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And an awful lot of NaNoWriMo… that’s National Novel Writing Month to the uninitiated.

Yes, November is where I get my craft on and get creative. Sorry you lost me in the world of fabric and wool for a while.

I’ve been doing a lot of photographs too, in preparation for Christmas. I’m quite sure by now that the refuge staff think I am full-on insane.

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Five oldies have already been adopted and we’re almost down to less than 20 oldies – though there have been an inordinate number of abandoned dogs. I did fifteen sets of dog photos on Friday!

There’s also been a bit of this…

beaAnd in between all of that has been a lot of work, a few walks in the rain and quite a lot of mud.

And a bit of this

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Never a moment of peace!

Hopefully normal service will now be resumed!

A year in the life of my camera: 400 and 500

Just continuing my photographic yearbook – shots 400 and 500. I wasn’t very active with my camera for the early months of January and February – the world is cold and still during those months and I did little other than work and walk. The snowdrops are always very significant to me – those first colours and signs that winter is on its way out. But it is so much more than that, and these snowdrops are too.

Photo 400

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Not a sign of spring for me any longer, but a symbol of young lives cut short in the dead of winter. Think Seamus Heaney is with me on that one.

Photo 500

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Then the floods began – four years and three floods. I do like the water on the fields though. Plus, the sound of a joyous Heston romping through the water is just one of life’s little treasured moments – even if I do have to clean him up afterwards.

It’s nice looking through all these photos from the year though – it all seems like such a long time ago and my memory is very bad; that’s why I love my camera.

A year in the life of my camera: 200 and 300

Yesterday, I realised I’d had my camera for a year, and I thought it would be nice to run through every 100 shots to see what my year in the life of a camera has looked like. I have no doubt I’ll be up to 6000 shots by the end of the day as I’m doing a doggie Christmas photoshoot this afternoon.

Shot 200

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A craft project that I haven’t yet finished. Shame on me. When I finish this pair of socks I’m knitting, I’m going to get back on and finish these hearts. I planned on sticking a back on them, stuffing them and making a chain of them for Christmas – you can see I went kind of Christmassy with the sequins. The denim was getting pretty hard to sew – think that was the problem. I quit so easily in the face of difficulty!

Shot 300

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If I’m not mistaken, this is the beginning of my 52 Mondays project in January. Amazing how much that landscape changes in a year. All the winter wheat is now in, as well as the rapeseed. It looked like this on Monday.

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Funny to think that by Christmas I’d taken only 300 photos – and then it took off like a rocket. To be fair, that is because I end up deleting about 75% of the dog shots I take. Dogs are not easy to photograph!

Also, though, winter is not pretty like the other seasons. Poor winter. I promise to take more shots of you this year!

52 Mondays #43

Yes, I know it isn’t Monday! I’m trying to catch up before it is too late!

52 Mondays43I love this time of year. It’s all about crisp mornings and warm fires, hot soup and days where you go from needing your winter thermals to feeling like you are being boiled alive by mid-afternoon. It’s like the year is giving you one last shot at being warm before the winter arrives. It is without compare my favourite season – when the clocks go back I have an extra hour in the morning and the day feels more relaxed.

I don’t mind the dark evenings – just an excuse to break out the knitting. I’m still on a pair of socks I started in about April. Oh well. The heel is turned and it’s all easy from here on in. I confess I need something other than socks though, for a little while. I’ve been getting busy on Ravelry trying to find things I want to knit next. I have been knitting a new scarf every year, which is something I’ll probably get round to later on – I am probably going to go back to knitting Carlos and Arne’s Christmas baubles as they are relatively quick and keep me from getting bored and putting them to one side.

It is a full year since I picked up my lovely Canon camera, my 40th birthday present from my family – and oh, how I have enjoyed it! Can you believe I have taken five thousand five hundred photos? I was going to post every 100th photo, but that still would be 55 photos! Perhaps I will do that over the next month? I’ll see! My camera goes everywhere with me and I am totally in love with it. I hope to be able to pick up a couple of second-hand lenses over the next year or so, so that I can get even better shots. Still, I love the way so many of these have turned out!

First shot

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The first I took was this shot, this time last year. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t start with a photo of my dogs. I suspect there are an awful lot of dog shots in here! Two more dogs later and I’ve still got similar photos to share.

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Except now there isn’t much room for me between all of the beasts. Oh well.

Shot 102

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A hundred photos later and it is the first frosts. This is the lake at La Côte du Boeuf in Verneuil. I’m guessing it was my magazine run, and it was obviously a frosty one! Last winter was so mild – I do wonder if this one will be horribly cold. I hope not.

I’m out in the garden today, then a couple of classes this evening. Still got a fairly sizeable translation project to finish off which I am enjoying immensely – love it when work is fun!

52 Mondays #42

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Well, I missed a week that I didn’t think I’d missed. Ho hum. It’s been busy as anything though things are settling down a little. The main busy-ness in my two-week hiatus has been the whopping Hope Association Booksale, which raised 20,433€ this year – another record-breaker. All the money is split between refuges and associations, helping animals in need across the region.

IMG_5285Verity, Jocelyn and I ran a stand for the Refuge de l’Angoumois, where we walk dogs. Well, I say we walk dogs. Jocelyn is apprentice-in-training to Nicky, the dog groomer, and I take photos. This is recently becoming videos – you’ll understand how far things have come when you know that most dogs had a face shot and a body shot on arrival and then not much else – the staff have more than enough to do besides trying to take appealing photos – and so often, the dogs are gone before a photo has made an impact.

Our stand was very busy – often busy enough to warrant needing three or four people talking to interested individuals. Fingers crossed, but two dogs have found a home off the back of the event, and hundreds of people now know there is a refuge when they didn’t before. I spent the week before printing off the prettiest pictures along with a bit of info about the dogs. Ralf earned over 100€ with his ‘Euro-A-Pet’ booth.

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He even found a girlfriend, bless him. He had a lovely time and met lots of doggies. He seems to get very upset if dogs don’t come over and say hello to him, and is fascinated by the little dogs and the kittens. Both Frank and Harry found a home (yes!) and I am very glad to have been able to find homes for all five kitties. To be surrounded by such a caring community makes all the difference – and so many people said that about the booksale – it’s the people who make the event magnificent.

Last week was a tough refuge week. Two dogs died – unusual I know – but one of them was Lou, the Leonberg cross. He was coming up to ten years old, so he was old for a big dog, but that is beside the point. He had been at the refuge for four years. Sadly, so few people want a big dogs.

LouLou had a stomach torsion on Thursday – something big dogs can be prone to – and even though it was operated on quickly, he didn’t make it. It’s beyond sad to me that such a handsome and marvellous dog can spend four years waiting for a home. He was gentle and sweet. I had lots of kisses from him this time last week when I was doing his video montage.

The other dog was a mistreatment case that had come in – the second from the same guy – and the dog died from secondary infections. That’s the second dog this year that has died at the refuge as a result of the actions of their previous owners. You really do get to see the best and the worst of people. Saturday wasn’t much better. Verity and I went to help out in the morning as they were short-staffed and I ended up transporting three kittens to the vet to be put to sleep – two suspected to have feline typhus. Between coryza, cat flu and typhus, many of the kittens this year have been finished off before they have even started life and it makes me really angry that people just let their cats breed with no forethought or care. Every litter takes a year off the life of the mother and it’s just another form of cruelty if you ask me. Fox and Bird, my two beautiful males, born with feline HIV; Clint, left to die with cat flu at less than four weeks old. It makes me so angry that people are so thoughtless – all for the sake of a few quid savings in not getting their cats sterilised. The people who drop these litters off at the refuge are little better. They wash their hands and it becomes someone else’s problem. They subject these kittens to a short, miserable and painful life, mitigated only somewhat by the fact they are cared for and looked after in their final days.

Today, I am taking video footage of six old-timers, dogs who have racked up an enormous amount of time between them for no good reason than they are big and they are male. Ufo, Wolf, Paulo, Nichmann and Artiste are up first. Then hopefully the three brothers, Usty, Tino and Edge. Hopefully it will help them find a home before it is too late for them to enjoy it.

Yesterday, I had my first day off in ages – lit a fire, went for a walk with the dogs and came back to a warm house and a lot of admin. Though it’s the holidays, I’m still running about 75% of my lessons, so I’m not being too hard on myself for not getting more done.

Time to get the cleaning started and get on with the day’s tasks I think!

52 Mondays #40

First grey week for a while and the first rain we’ve had for a while.

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That’s next year’s rape seed in the field on the left – coming on great guns.

It’s not just a problem to navigate the rain showers this week, but the hunters too. Thursdays and Sundays are the busy hunt days, so we go off up to the forest on those days where the paths are quiet and the hunts are more organised. Nobody goes off-lead if they can’t stay within 10 metres of me.

It’s been a busy Dames kind of a week this week. I ran a course on blogging on Monday (this is not my only blog, or even my most successful blog, but it is my favourite blog to write). Don’t feel cheated on, I beg you. Though it was wet and misty, it was still a fabulous morning. Village halls in rural France on a Monday morning might not strike you as the most vibrant and idea-packed kind of places, but ours was. I love sessions like that. We stopped for lunch at the local restaurant and I listened to other women describe perfectly the kind of life I lead too. We all moved over here to renovation projects (minor) and bigger gardens, to spend more time in the garden and a bit of time prettying up the decor, only to end up a few years later in a mad swirl of work and social lives and family life and every single one of us had put our potager plans for 2014 on hold this year.

I’ve also been writing a mini self-evaluation pack for the ladies (and myself of course!) and their businesses – and having done the time assessment this week, I am pretty sure where I need to make changes in 2015. I need to be more productive and less busy! Time for some serious rethinks and shake-ups. It really was a wake-up call. Perhaps now is the time to say that I started a pair of socks in March and I am STILL knitting them. That’s how busy my life has been. It has been a fury!

The self-evaluation pack sounds like a rigorous and frightening wake-up call, but it is pretty gentle and upbeat. I’m hoping it will be useful for lots of ladies in business out there. I’m pleased with it – though of course, typically, it is unfinished. That’s a tomorrow job. I need to find a more gentle name for it though. At the moment it sounds like the colonic irrigation of the business world.

Next week, I get to wear several hats all at once, because it is the enormous Hope Association booksale. A few of us are running a stand for the refuge we volunteer at. I’ve got 150+ dog posters to print out – so that’s my doggie weekend set out. I saw a cute photo of a dog in a kissing booth, so I’m going to rent out Amigo and Ralf for dog snogs. All proceeds to the refuge. I’m sincerely hoping the two little cats in my bathroom get to find a family – they sit looking out of the window all sad and forlorn. Life in a laundry is no fun. Sadly, with the dogs and the main road and the particularly cat-unfriendly wildlife round these parts, being an outdoor cat in my neighbourhood is a job with a short lifespan. They are cuties though. I just can’t spend any time with them, and that’s sad.

Hopefully, we’ll raise a bit more awareness of the refuge and maybe even find some dogs some homes! So many returns at the moment for absolutely pathetic reasons. Last week, someone brought a dog back because he digs. Honestly, if that’s a refundable situation, I need to take mine back. I’ve just decided their holes are where I should plant trees. I know it is impossible to live with a dog that just isn’t fitting in to your lifestyle though. I just wish people would be honest. There are teething problems you know you can cope with, and teething problems that deprive you of sleep and rest and safety. And there are homes for all dogs, I believe that.

I’ll also be touting the Hope Association calendars, which I was very happy to collate. I REALLY hope there aren’t any errors or spelling mistakes, though there are bound to be. It all ended up a bit of a rush on my behalf, but next year will be better. Sneak preview of the front cover for you all…

front pageAnd yes, those are my four at the bottom. I figure they’ve all been helped by HOPE to some degree. Tilly came to me via the Hope Association. Amigo and Ralf both came from Mornac SPA which is supported by Hope. Heston, well, he’s the most tenuous of links, but he is just so very handsome! I’ve put lots of the Hope volunteers adopted dogs on the inside pages, though. It was really nice to do – collecting all those photos of happy endings. So many people who work so very hard for the animals in their care as well. So many associations and refuges benefit from Hope’s support that it means the booksale weekend has become a lifeline. Such a mammoth organisational and voluntary task for so many people as well – I promise to give you photos – normally, I just get bogged down with books.

It’s also a Dame-tastic weekend as well, and I’ve got lunch planned with a few of the ladies up in Deux-Sèvres. Might as well multi-task whilst I can.

I’m pretty sure that by Tuesday the 21st, when it is the holidays and when I have my first day off in three weeks, I will be quite ready for a rest! I said earlier this week though, if I wanted to slow down, I could. It would be very easy not to do any of it. I just love each of my different lives here so very much indeed.

Have a lovely weekend, whatever you have got planned.

52 Mondays #39

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How can it be that the year is so full with photos? How quickly things change!

Last week was another epic busy one (when are they not??!) and I hurried from work to errands to dog walks. I got to spend a good Friday afternoon at the refuge and had forgotten the memory stick from my camera, so spent the afternoon walking dogs I know and love. Just waiting for someone to help me walk the big dogs. Much as I love the littlies, it is the bigguns who have my heart. Lots more dogs went off to Germany to be adopted from German refuges. The hounds which are so hard to find homes for here (even Breton spaniels, believe it or not!) quickly find homes in Germany. The oldies go too, and the ones who need medical treatments. I have to say, I know how they feel. I’d adopt a hound (beagle please) and an oldie or one who needs a bit of TLC. Those are my favourites too.

Sunday, I spent most of the day in the garden trying to prepare the garden for winter – mostly clearing suckers it has to be said. The fruit trees in my garden are not in great shape and they really could do with a big clear out and some better stock putting in. A job for half term I think.

Then we went for a long walk in the forest – it has to be said it is not easy walking four dogs in the forest when you are a single girl – usually at least two on a lead if not three. Amigo is generally trustworthy, but he has been known to trot off from time to time. Ralf knows many things, but his recall is z-e-r-o and although it would be no effort to catch him if he ran off, he’s better by my side. I love Ralf, but he isn’t blessed with brains. He is like a funny super-sized puppy. Heston doesn’t go off lead in the forest. He does come back when he runs off, but that walk is entirely on his own terms and it’s happy coincidence that he stays fairly near. Just far too many exciting things for a teenager to smell! He’s always on the 10m training lead so he can smell stuff, but he enjoys the stimulation of new stuff to see. After endless socialisation in La Rochefoucauld, he is now less barky when we are out in public. I don’t care that he’s barky if people park outside my house. My Heston is a super dog and he is so smart. I wish I could spend all day training him. I know he’d never get bored.

After a long summer of no forest (it’s too full of people who don’t have their dogs on a lead and don’t have good control of their dogs, sadly) it is nice to get back there. It’s definitely my home from home. On the days where the hunters are out in the fields and woods around me, it’s usually quiet and gun-free. There is a lot of deer and boar damage to the paths and woodland, so it seems it hasn’t just been a bumper kitty year. That mild winter has meant bumper litters for the foxes as well and there is so much fox spore around on our usual walks – rabbits too. Rabbits are Amigo’s thing. He spends his walks with his nose down holes and comes home with muddy chops.

Today, I’ve got a planning meeting for Les Dames de FER, the association I am part of, for local business owners of the female persuasion. Days like this make me miss the conviviality of office work and make me miss my Anne Pilling and remind me how much fun it is to work together. It must be said, I am surrounded by talented, vivacious, dedicated and enthusiastic souls and I very much enjoy their company. I have a feeling 2015 will be a wonderful year for Les Dames.

From 4pm, it is heads-down through to Sunday morning – and I’m hoping for sun and warmth to get outside once again.