Kitsch

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Its Holiday Time! Break out the little winter world!

Kitsch.

According to Wikipedia, it denotes “art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art.”

Frasier Crane and his brother, Niles would be repulsed by kitsch.

Kitsch is velvet Elvis but, hey, some people like velvet Elvis. Who am I to say someone’s opinion or taste is better or worse than my own?

Back in the day, brightly colored bold Hawaiian flowers pasted all over men’s shirts were considered kitschy when tacky tourists wore them on the islands. Its a completely different ball game now! Coffee table books have been published on the history of Aloha wear and clothing companies are making waves in the fashion industry with it!

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some of Alistair’s Aloha wear… I love it!

I love finding new Aloha shirts in colors and patterns that Alistair likes and the clothing itself makes me smile because it transports me to a warm, tropical paradise with trade winds, mai tais and a never-ending golf season.

Maybe that was part of the problem with kitschy things. They make people smile or feel good because they are simple.

Unlike complicated art that begs for comprehension amidst confusing words or designs. Writings that lament the human condition or an individual’s inability to grasp the meaning of life.

Frasier and Niles love art and poetry or writings like that.

But this blog isn’t about Aloha wear.

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One of the tanks in the Fish Room

Its about waiting over 20 years for a kitschy fish tank.

Alistair had fish and small mammals growing up and he bred and sold fish to pet stores for years. His tanks always were (are) clean, healthy, tasteful and well designed. They contain a normal substrate you would find in nature, like brown or tan rocks and gravel with real wood, pieces of slate and large rocks throughout.

His plants are green or a version of that and some are living and some are plastic. They look like the real plants you would see in a pond, creek or lake and they offer hiding places or they provide discreet areas to deposit eggs.

 

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Fish Room tank #2. Goldfish is very swirly!

He will add some fun variety like these broken clay pots and his fish communities thrive for years. And they are lovely!

Some of our little ecosystems (well, not so little when you consider the 150 gallon Texas or Convict Cichlid tanks!) have been with us since we moved to Montana from Bismarck in 2007. They had breeding pairs and lots of fry over the years and their DNA lives on.

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Guest room tank. Very natural-looking environment.

We like to sit and watch the tanks at night, feeding them every couple of days or so. We have a couch facing the tanks in the fish room and you can just feel your heart rate and blood pressure going down when you sit and watch. And listen to the bubbles.

On his last trip here Alistair combined fish from 3 less populated tanks for larger communities as fish had gradually died off from some of them.

This gave us a couple of empty tanks along with substrate and hoods… it was the ultimate time for The Dream Tank….. Kitsch!

For whatever reason I have always wanted a fairy-tale, princess type of tank with vibrant colors, a bubbling clam shell, buried sparkly treasure and pink gravel or rocks. I wanted pink plants and clear, shiny marbles on the ground because, as simple as it was, I knew it would always make me smile.

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The Kitschy Tank!

And Alistair gave me my little land of fantasy.

We used some items from our consolidated tanks and found some other fabulous, colored things at PetSmart in Missoula. My step-daughter, Whitney had bought me the sunken pirate ship, the oversized pirate and the missing jewels years ago knowing I yearned for my silly tank.

The colors aren’t real- they aren’t what you would find in nature but they are bright and fun and funky and they really do make me smile.

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Bubbling clam shell!

Alistair even found a bubbling clam shell and dropped marble-like pink glass shells all throughout the tank.

And bubbles are everywhere, providing such a relaxing sound as well as the visual to go along with it.

Now we just need fish!

We are going to go with African Cichlids again but it has been a few years. They are a more challenging fish species to care for because of their pH requirements but they are usually absolutely stunning fish as far as their own color spectrums go.

I will keep you all updated…

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Decidedly essential and non-kitschy.

For now, though, this is today’s reality.

We have been fortunate enough to have had a snow-free November but Mother Nature is more than making up for it today. We already have a foot of it out there and its still coming down. It started blowing about an hour ago, too, and the temperature is predicted to plummet into the night.

Which means I need to plug all of the rigs in and just get used to dragging my warm, heavy, huge boots through thick snow, and keep a piddle path plowed for Loki and gloves or mittens near every door in the house while not forgetting to stoke the fire and keep tabs on how the wood pile at the house is looking and just get used to wearing a toque and 3 layers of clothes with leggings and ski pants whenever I’m outside.

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Lovely orange glow! Ahhhhhh….

We weren’t sure last year (or the year before that) if Loki would make it to another winter. November was fabulous for our little grand-dog, though, even if she is becoming more clingy and set in her ways.

Loki needs her couch time at night, particularly when Alistair isn’t here. She was banging on the French doors to the living room repeatedly 2 nights ago, the day Gampy left to go in or come out because I was eating my supper at the kitchen table enjoying my veterinary journals.

She got completely worked up about it and ended up having  a wake-up seizure early yesterday morning.

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Enjoying the mild weather last month.

It wasn’t a bad or unusual seizure but it was the 2nd one we have witnessed when she had been asleep. I don’t know the pathology behind that or even if its significant. She did piddle, though, and was pretty tired afterwards.

Since then she has been great and even toughed out the snow better than her younger brother, UB this morning. Poor Loki was high-centering on the snow and trying to do her business, grunting and “chibbering” at the same time while UB ran to the barn to climb up onto the hay bales with the barn kitties.

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Front pathway after some shoveling this afternoon.

She eats with wild abandon (ground beef added to the kibble, morning and night), does her business when she has to (with occasional “I’m-pissed-at-you-Step-Gammy” moist notifications on the tile floor if I’m gone from the house too long), pin-balls her way around the house (particularly if she realizes I am in another room and she comes to find me) and cuddles into my legs or lap during couch time at night (where she snores and sometimes toots and also breaks my heart because she’s so damned adorable and endearing and I know to treasure each night we have together because each day is a gift.)

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Conked out on the bathmat by the shower I had just got out of.

Loving and caring for our little old friend is a big part of our lives right now but we aren’t willing to stop unless she indicates that she’s not having any fun anymore. But you all know that.

Which is why the kitschy tank is even more special to me right now. Its a boat load of Happy with glass shells and a silly pirate (“Arrrrrgh!”) and a shiny clam shell that burps out its own bubbles and pink, blue, orange and teal plants.

I didn’t get my pastel pink gravel because the cheapskate in me agreed with my Scotsman husband that we should re-purpose the gravel from the tanks he had shut down.

But I’m happy. And even Alistair admits that its a pretty cool tank.

And Loki is sleeping on my feet right now.

I will leave you all with a fun video we shared from our Aloha hot tub to Facebook-land the other night. Just like the sunny new fish tank in our wintery world, the tiki torches and Aloha music station help make anything dreary bright again. Its kitschy, no doubt, and Frasier and Niles wouldn’t want much to do with it.

Which is fine by us. We’re kind of private people up here anyhow.

 

 

 

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Not quite the same today.

 

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The front of the house this afternoon.

 

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Convict Cichlid tank in the Bling Emporium! (Note the natural-looking gravel, rockery and plant-life)

 

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Hiking out back last week before the snow fell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Script… for Harry and hubby

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Alistair and “the kids” enjoying the beauty of Montana last winter

In my self absorbed grief and sadness last week I didn’t put any pictures of Alistair and Harry on my blog.

I had meant to.

I had uploaded several.

It was an oversight rather than a conscious act.

Grief can do that to a person.

In thinking about it I also realized that I didn’t highlight Alistair’s unique relationship with Harry and the other dogs.

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Harry and his Dad

When I used to work full time and Alistair came here for his 2 week stretches, he often would hike, snowshoe or go horseback riding with the dogs.

Harry would silently sneak up on Dad on the trail and follow or herd him (if he wasn’t watching after UB or Casey).

The 2 of them developed this “man” thing that I never could appreciate… for obvious reasons.

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“Its a guy-thing, Mummy”

Alistair would stop for a pee break and Harry would come up right next to him.

He would look up at Alistair and then down at the ground.

Up.

Then down.

Not seconds after Alistair finished, Harry would then ‘mark’ it himself.

None of the other dogs ever did this or showed any interest. I think Cleo, like me, was kind of confused by the whole ‘marking’ thing.

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More Montana treks with the gang

That’s not the only type of bonding the 2 of them did.

I often caught Harry sneaking in for some one-on-one time with Alistair when nobody else was around.

And Alistair happily gave Harry every scritch he had time for before Casey would come bounding up to mow them both over.

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The pack, last fall

So its getting easier each day as all of us make sense of Harry not being here.

I’ve received so  many heartfelt comments and thoughts about our big boy.

Many of my veterinary classmates shared memories (usually of Harry spinning) as he was another member of the class way back in 3rd year.

Instead of crying this time I’m smiling as I write this thinking of the wonderful years we had after I brought him home from school.

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Harry and Mouse earlier this winter

And thankful that all of these fascinating spirits got to meet Harry and know him for his Woo Woos and his marking and his spinning and his inability to be house-trained and his little kisses and his trust and his inability to understand what ‘fetch’ was and his flopping over so you could scritch him and his harmonizing with the wolves and his gentle, quiet, big, kind ways.

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Happy Fyfe Dogs last winter

Alistair, in particular.

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2 special boys

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Harry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Harry goofing around

Harry is our Alaskan Husky. We think.

I mean, its quite obvious he is mostly a husky but there could be something else in there.

Something that makes him wary of people and shy around boisterous children.

Something that causes him to be stand-offish or run back into the dog kennel when there are loud noises or strange situations.

Something that makes him bend his head and move in the most unusual of canine ways.

Something that allows him to harmonize with the wolves who used to freely run the forest behind our house.

Like, maybe he’s got a bit of wolf in him?

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maybe just a little bit of wolf?

Whatever he is, he is part of our family thanks to a telephone call from one of the technicians at vet school at the very end of third year. I had the truck packed, the cats in their crates and was just about to embark on the 8 hour journey back to Bismarck when I answered the phone.

“Tanya…. its Robyn. Harry is scheduled to be euthanized at 11 o’clock this morning…”

I paused for a second.

“Can you change that to a neuter?”

“YES, YES, I’ll do everything I can. Give us until about 1 o’clock and you can come get him!”

All of the technicians and third year students knew Harry and 3 other dogs because they were our Medical Exercise dogs.

Which means we practiced on them.

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Harry and Mummy hiking the mountains of Montana

Not surgeries or painful things but generally every joint site was shaved and they all had circles on bare skin patches where allergy testing was done. 

You can certainly have your opinions on live-animal labs and I’m not saying it was ideal. These Med Ex dogs had it a lot better than some of the animals used for study purposes. We could choose to be conscientious observers and not handle particular animals for particular learning purposes. Lets just say the only hands-on lab I skipped was the chicken one where things didn’t end well for the chickens.

The Med Ex dogs did serve us all well, though. It is one thing to read about hitting a pulsating vein on a moving, fuzzy, warm target versus a plastic model.

I wouldn’t want to say to my first few clients, “yeah, I should be able to do this… I read about it a few times.”

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Our beautiful boy

How on Earth could I justify leaving Harry to be put to sleep after he gave us a year of his veins, his joints, his skin, his retinae, his ears, and pretty much every other body part you can imagine?

These Med Ex dogs were generally culled sled dogs… meaning their sled dog breeders didn’t want them. The school was somehow connected with some northern Canadian sled dog peeps and at the beginning of 3rd year, every year, a few students would head to the Greyhound station (how ironic) and wait for whatever and whoever to be unloaded in kennels.

Harry was one of ours that year.

The idea was that, out of 72 students, 4 would fall in love with the dogs and they would all be adopted out and live with their student owners, even by Christmas.

Lightning was lucky. So was Thelma. But Harry?

Not so much.

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Harry in his favorite environment- the Montana winterscape

It certainly wasn’t his looks. Harry is a gorgeous Husky with perky ears, kind eyes and a stunning, full coat.

It was more his… quirks.

His unwillingness to be house-trained.

His incessant “woo woo’s” that can be deafening when he really wants to get your attention.

And his spinning.

Harry most likely was tethered at his sled dog kennel, which isn’t a bad thing. The dogs can get in and out of the dog boxes, on top of the boxes, and can run in full circles in their pen area.

Some huskies, like Harry, can be a bit neurotic about it and they will only spin in one direction.

In Harry’s case, its to the left.

Always.

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Taking a break from circling

It doesn’t matter if he is walking on a leash or squatting to take a poop, the boy has to circle to his left while doing it.

He even runs around the house to the left.

Once. Once he spun one circle to the right when he first moved to Montana. I figured he was trying to unwind but as soon as he did it he stopped and looked so terribly confused that I was relieved when he went back to pulling Louies.

He may not be a very good house dog but he’s an excellent hiking and snow-shoeing companion.

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Snow shoeing with the dogs- Harry loves wintertime!

He will follow little UB off on trails when UB needs some extra protection and he often will hike immediately behind me.

I always feel safe when he’s there. I don’t know if he’s doing it to watch me or herd me or if he just needs to know where I am.

If Casey isn’t around then he’s up for some individual loving.

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Harry getting some 1 on 1 loving from Dad

He will slowly walk up to us and close his eyes at half-mast as he leans in for some scritches and kisses.

These times with our old friend are pretty magical.

In the winter his warm coat is so nice to lean into and he looks at us with such loving, dewey eyes that our hearts just melt.

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Private cuddles with Mummy

Its a special feeling knowing that this maybe-part-wolf has allowed himself to be cuddly and sweet with us.

Its a strange feeling when he is howling with his brethren in the backcountry.

We don’t hear them much anymore but for the first several years I would hear Harry harmonizing with an incredible howl as he faced the forest.

Casey sits there and says ‘woof’ once or twice.

Cleo barks every now and then and then looks at Casey, as if to say, “What the heck are they saying to each other?”

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More cuddles in the mountains with Harry

Adding to the fact he is ‘different’, Harry is the only one who got caught in a leg-hold trap that was set illegally too close to our home a couple of winters ago.

It belonged to a neighbor who seemed to feel pretty bad about it.

I didn’t make a big deal about it because I got my big boy home. Casey, Cleo and UB all told me something was up, barking at me and then running to the trees… then racing back to bark at me some more and running to the trees again…and again… I was splitting wood when I finally realized they were trying to tell me something. And Harry wasn’t there.

Hiking in snow past my knees I called to Harry and he called back. He called me to him.

I found him lying still (thank goodness) with his forelimb caught in a trap.

My stomach fell.

We’re lovers, not fighters and I don’t know the first thing about traps. I don’t, personally think much of trapping and I think hunting would be more fair if you gave the deer a gun but its Montana and I don’t make waves unless I have to.

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Harry, Cleo and Mummy… hiking again

The only neighbors who were home rapidly came to Harry’s rescue (thank-you Sharon and Randy!) and our good boy didn’t struggle or resist at any time. He didn’t break anything and he has no lasting wounds. Luckily the other dogs alerted me and luckily we found him. Or, he told me where to find him.

Harry is getting older like the rest of us on the Fyfe Farm.

His knees aren’t so great but then neither are his Dad’s. Alistair has to have his torn medial meniscus taken care of next week.

I think we are privileged that this wolf-dog with strange mannerisms and a loud, non-stop WOO WOO that begins the minute he sees us and his circles to the left and his shedding and his inability to live indoors and his affection for Casey even though Casey mows him over half the time chooses to stay with us. Even with relatives so close by.

I worry hunters will think he’s a wolf. That’s difficult stuff to talk about in these parts. So Harry wears bright collars and thankfully doesn’t stray.

It was lucky for Harry when Robyn called me that morning before I left Saskatoon.

I think we are even luckier to be able to share his world…. and his Woo Woo’s.

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Harry having a bit of a chuckle with Dad in the sunshine