A long time ago, I made a commitment to avoid holiday overwhelm. In one sense, I can thank my parents for that—wonderful people who welcomed the Christmas season with angry fights over the placement of the Christmas tree and tears generated by present-wrapping-exhaustion in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve.
Oh no, not me, I declared! I shall be above it all, I said, my wise benevolence shining from the halo over my head. Well, yes, I will admit, I have done relatively well with the whole holiday thing, managing to spend most of my energy savoring family and friendship and the joys of living that are available to all of us, regardless of our credit card balances. But last year I seemed to fall into the abyss, wrapping present after present late into the night, rewriting my To Do list over and over again. (Do you write things on your To Do list AFTER you’ve done them just so you can check them off? I do. Oh my.) The holidays began to feel more like a burden than a blessing. So this year, I have re-committed to making this a time to slow down rather than ramp up.
However, she says, scuffing her feet, I do LOVE giving presents! What is more fun than giving people you love something that makes them happy? The trick for me is to make the entire process fun, rather than turning “finding the perfect present” into a stress test. Here, then, are some of my thoughts about giving presents to the dog lovers on my list, and enjoying every minute of it. I’ve focused on my two favorite things (the kinds without paws, hooves or feet), food and books.
FOOD I mean, really, what is better than food? Everyone needs it, it’s yummy, and it can be super nutritious. Besides, because we eat it, it doesn’t add to the amount of “stuff” that clogs up most of our houses. (Yes, I did read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It has indeed inspired me to get rid of half of my clothes, but I also suspect that the author doesn’t have any children or pets. (By the end of the book I began to wonder if she had any friends, but that sounds snarky so let’s pretend I didn’t say it.)
Because I love to cook, food for all my two-legged friends is actually at the top of my list. The freezer is already filling up with mini-loaves of carrot bread, soup and baguettes for my friends and neighbors. All the dog lovers will also receive treats for their dog. Here’s the question: Will I make them myself, or buy them? Ah, that depends. If I have time and it feels fun, I’ll make them. My favorite dog treat cookbook is The Ultimate Dog Treat Cookbook by Liz Palika.
Here’s my favorite recipe for dog treats: Chunk Chicken and Sweet Potato Treats (page 6). Preheat oven to 350, mix 1 ¼ cups of ½ inch chunks of cooked chicken, ½ cup of chunks of cooked sweet potato, 2 cups all purpose whole wheat flour, 1 cup evaporated low fat milk, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp baking powder and 2 large eggs. You can do all kinds of riffs on this recipe—I use left over chicken from our dinner, or scraps of pork, beef or even canned meat. You can use regular potatoes, or squash, regular flour, etc., etc. It’s written as a drop cookie recipe, but I’ve saved time by just smushing it all into a pan and baking it like a casserole, then cutting it up as if it was a dish of baby brownies. Cook, cool, cut up and freeze. A perfect treat for your doggie friends.
Here’s another treat book that I haven’t read yet but am going to purchase the eBook: Baked Treat Recipes – For Healthy and Special Needs Dogs by Monica Segal. You can find it on Dogwise; it looks especially interesting for dogs who need carefully monitored diets.
But what if you don’t want to cook? Will your friend’s dog care if you cooked the treats yourself? Ha! I’m thinking not. If I get too busy, I’m happily heading down to my favorite pet store and buying high quality commercial dog treats. Or how about a gift certificate to a great, local pet store for a friend who could use the help for anything pet-related, be it dog food or a new dog bed? Or a gift certificate to a good groomer, or offering to walk her dog on a day that she is especially busy? And here’s a silly idea: Teach someone’s dog a new trick! My favorite is “Are You Ashamed? It’s easy to teach and people howl with amusement when a dog does it. What gift could be better than laughter?
BOOKS Most importantly, books from Dogwise or a local bookseller. Yes, I use Amazon when I need a book extra fast, I’m the first to admit, and have linked to Amazon on the blog if Dogwise doesn’t carry a book. But I love bookstores, LOVE THEM, and it’s important to support them as much as we can. It’s true that they might not be able to get us a book as fast, or as cheaply as Amazon, but after reading what their workers go through to get out orders in such a ridiculously brief period of time, I use it sparingly. Not to mention the importance of supporting our local bookstores. My favorite local bookstore is the amazing Arcadia Books in Spring Green, Wisconsin. It has everything a book store should: Great books and people who love them, know them and love to talk about them, a charmingly comfy café, and lots of live events with authors talking about what they’ve written. At least twice a year I walk out with a stack of books almost too heavy to carry, some for me, some for friends. Here are some great books that I saw there just yesterday or one could order from Arcadia Books or a local bookstore.
Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman. The book is an exquisite homage to her own beloved dog, full of whimsical art and lovely text. Kalman is an artist and illustrator (for Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, EB White’s The Elements of Style, New Yorker covers… she has one impressive resume, believe me!).
Wet Dog by Sophie Gamand. Ms. Gamand is a French photographer deeply involved in rescue, who realized that one of the first things that happen to dogs at a shelter or rescue is getting a bath. She says “[Looking at wet dogs] … makes me laugh, but most importantly, they make me feel guilt, compassion and immense empathy.” Those words struck a cord with me, as did the photos in an accompanying article in Bark Magazine (another great gift idea!). Granted, these photos aren’t going to change anyone’s life, but eliciting laughter and compassion sounds like a great thing to do any time of the year.
Dog Years by Amanda Jones. Ms. Jones is one of America’s finest canine photographers, and she has a new book out that pairs photos of a dog in his or her youth and later when mature, or even elderly. Yet another way to increase the oxytocin levels (read it yourself before wrapping and let it do double duty?)
Dogs As I See Them by Lucy Dawson. (Also noted in Bark, thanks for the reminder!) Originally published in 1936, Dawson’s book of pen and ink drawings illustrated her remarkable ability to capture the personality of every dog she worked with. An original print of this book is considered a treasure in my family; as a matter of fact it is the only thing that I can remember my sister’s and I fighting for after my mother died—we compromised on mutual ownership—that’s how much we value it. Some of Dawson’s prints are also available on Amazon; I’d call them the perfect present for many dogs lovers.
THE CLASSICS: Not to bury the lead, but probably the best books to give the dog lovers on your list are the classics that improve the relationship between the animals at both ends of the leash. Books that can inspire your doggy friends include Bones Would Rain From the Sky by Suzanne Clothier, Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson, Excel-erated Learning by Pamela Reid and the Dog Trainer’s Resource series from the APDT Chronicle. All are available from Dogwise, or could be ordered quickly from your local bookstores. Speaking of improving relationships, and with apologies if this sounds self serving, my list also includes The Other End of the Leash, For the Love of a Dog and Tales of Two Species.
One last category — Three wonderful books that I recommend for animal lovers: The Horse by Paragon Books. Without doubt the most beautiful photography I’ve ever seen of horses (surely the world’s most beautiful animal). I bought two for friends just yesterday from Arcadia Books. I also just purchased another book of the same title, The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion by Wendy Williams. I can’t wait to read it, it has gotten rave reviews and looks wonderful.
For cat lovers, something humorous? Fat Cat Art: Famous Masterpieces Improved by a Ginger Cat with Attitude by Svetliana Petrova. I know, we shouldn’t celebrate cats who are morbidly obese, but I simply couldn’t help laughing out loud when I saw this book yesterday at Arcadia Books.
One more–no dogs in this book but it is getting rave reviews and is highly recommended to animal lovers: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. It is suggested that you just dive in without knowing too much about the plot (no spoiler alerts here). Here is what one reviewer Ruth Ozeki wrote about it: “It’s been years since I’ve felt so passionate about a book. When I finished at 3 a.m., I wept, then I woke up the next morning, reread the ending, and cried all over again.”
And, last but not least... EEPS, big news! My memoir will be published by Atria Books (Simon and Shuster) in early 2017. I’ll know the exact month it will be out by the end of this January and will keep you posted. I’ve been working on this book for five years, and can’t tell you how happy I am that it landed at Atria, with my editor from The Other End of the Leash, the incomparable Leslie Meredith. That’s the best Christmas present ever!
What About You? What are your ideas for a loving and peaceful holiday season for animal lovers?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Good cooking weather—cloudy, rainy, grey and dull. Mud everywhere. But where is winter? We even have dandelions in the lawn. Lawn? In December? This is all so wrong.
But at least we can still work sheep. The ground is sloppy as a stew, but Maggie and I got out for a brief period this afternoon. The sun (finally!) came out and the sky got all poetic on us. Maggie, of course, came back as if dipped in chocolate. I rinsed her off and as I write she is cleaning herself up like a cat. May you enjoy some beautiful skies soon too.