Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Things I Liked in 2012

I'm sorry to say that 2012 wasn't such a good year. The first few months I was still suffering a great deal from my concussion from the previous summer and I also managed to sprain my dominant hand in January and one of my ribs in February. While I started feeling like a human being again in March, when I began hanging out with horses, I was still very adversely impacted by bad weather. Unfortunately, we had a long, wet, miserable spring that just wouldn't quit--2012 is going down as the 7th wettest year in Seattle on record! When the sun finally came out at the end of July, I felt so much better and stronger! I felt so good, in fact, that I went swimming in the lake with Mr. Gorgeous, hurt my back, and spent the next five weeks on crutches. I had a great trip to Florida at the very end of September, but there was the inevitable backlash from the exertions of the trip that meant a week in bed. Then, shortly after I was finally recovered enough from my injury and my trip to have, at last, another riding lesson, I came down with a virus that eventually led to a stomach infection and I ended up spending two months in bed and only just barely escaped being sick on Christmas! While there were good days scattered throughout the year, 2012 was not a winner.

Syd: A handsome hunk of horseflesh!

The single best thing that happened in 2012 was my decision to get involved with horses. Spending time with horses has been an incredibly positive experience. When I'm with Drifter, especially when I'm grooming him, I forget about all my health issues. My mind goes quiet, I cease to be a migrainuer, all the difficulties presented by my disabilities melt away, and I'm just a human soul communing with a horse soul, spreading love through touch. I'm proud of the fact that I also have some natural ability in the saddle and am excited about being able to resume riding soon. But the riding is really a bonus; the true medicine is in the sensory pleasures of the stable: the sweet smell of hay and horse manure; the snorts and bumps and knickerings of the horses in their stalls; the sound of rain on the metal room; the warmth of the large, solid bulk of my drowsing horse in the cross-ties; the sweep of my arms as I run the currycomb over my horse's body; massaging Drifter's face as he presses his nose against my chest and closes his eyes with contentment.


Dogs, of course, were also a postive part of 2012. I acquired two new dog-sitting clients in addition to my longtime collie friend, Mr. Gorgeous. Lady the Golden Retriever was lovely, but Sweetheart the German Shepherd has been very special! I love her cheerful, goofy, playful personality and, of course, she's very handsome. Dog-sitting other wonderful dogs has also served to make me appreciate my own dog even more. She is absolutely the perfect size, the perfect energy level, and has the perfect personality for my needs! Abbey has been a considerable source of comfort all year long and makes me smile every day.

Mr. Gorgeous looking, well, gorgeous.

I love how much fun Lady still gets out of life despite being old and arthritic!

A (rare) serious portrait of Sweetheart. It wasn't easy to get her to sit still and just look at the camera because she kept wanting to bring me toys!

My own dog at play...

...and at rest.

It wasn't just dogs I met in person that brought me pleasure this year; I also enjoyed following the exploits of a number of dogs on the web. Some of my favorites:

Love and a Six Foot Leash
The handsome fellows in this photo are Snickerdoodle a.k.a. Doodlebug a.k.a. The Dude and his brother, Chick, of Love and a Six Foot Leash, a blog and Facebook page. The blog used to be largely devoted to the tales of Chick (who takes over the blog on Fridays) and the various foster dogs that came through his house, but then along came the Dude. Everyone loved the Dude, including Chick, and so now he's what they call a foster failure: home for keeps! So the blog is no longer focused on fostering, but there are lots of well-written updates about dog training, dog sports, and the adventures (mostly napping) of Chick and Doodlebug, all accompanied by beautiful photographs.

Bah Humpug
Most of the dog blogs and Facebook pages I follow are devoted to pit bulls and pit bull advocacy groups, but I also have a soft spot for pugs and the corgis. I was delighted, then, to come across this lovely little blog devoted to pug drawings! Charming, simple, and updated several times a week, these delightful doodles always make me smile.

Maddie the Coonhound
Maddie is a coonhound. She gets photographed standing on things. It's a simple concept, but the results are strangely elegant, funny, and poignant. Maddie, of course, is very handsome, and her standing-on-things skills are quite amazing (a coonhound balancing on the top of a tomato cage!), but the artistry of the photography is impressive, too. It reminds me, in many ways, of William Wegman's photos of his Weimaraners. I know she's only standing on the floor in the photo above, but it's a fabulous image. Big kudos to Maddie for standing so nicely and to her owner for capturing her in the act!

Betsy & Pups
I love the "Betsy & Pups" Facebook page. It all started back in January when a massively pregnant pit bull was brought into an Atlanta-area shelter just days before she was due to give birth. The foster parent who took Betsy in started up a Facebook page to chronicle the birth and growth of Betsy's ELEVEN puppies. The puppy photos and updates and live streaming video were all great, but I've been extremely happy that while Betsy and Betsy's puppies have all since been adopted, the foster mom has continued to post photos and updates of the foster dogs, many with medical needs, that come through her house. The photo above is of two of her own dogs spooning with a recent foster and is quite typical of the beauty, charm, and "awww!" factor of the images posted! Current foster pup Billie has brought many a smile to my face in recent months!

Sarge Wolf-Stringer
Another Facebook page devoted to dogs that made me smile this year was the one belonging to Sarge Wolf-Stringer. Sarge himself has passed on, but Mary Todd Lincoln, Martha Washington, Nancy Reagan, Junior, Fannie, and El Capitan remain devoted to reducing prejudice about pit bulls. Well, that is, when they can fit it in between searching for Mary Todd Lincoln's neck, band practice with Axis of Weevil, exorcising Cappy's demons, Martha's work as a therapy dog, Air Out Your Pug Days, cheering on UF, listening to rap music, and cultivating charming personalities. One of the highlights of my year was actually getting to MEET the pack in person while I was in Florida! That's me in the photo with Mary Todd and Martha, very happy that the internet and my love of dogs has, in fact, expanded my world and my friendships.

Dog Shaming
And finally, when I had exhausted all of my dog blogs and Facebook sources and I still needed a laugh, I could turn to the weird wonderfulness that is Dog Shaming.

* * *

I'm not able to read as much as I used to, but I suppose I still pack away more of the printed word than most folks even though I can no longer whiz through books at pre-migraine speed. These are a few of the books that mattered most in 2012:

Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" has showed up on a lot of "Best Books of 2012" lists--deservedly so! I gobbled this book up in one day, pausing only for meals, and the moment I finished it, I flipped right back to the beginning and started it again! There's a big twist in the middle, one that I didn't see coming, so once I knew how everything turned out, I had to go back and read it again, this time knowing that one of the narrators was unreliable! I received Gillian Flynn's two previous novels, "Sharp Objects" and "Dark Places," for Christmas and can report that they are also page-turners. I read "Sharp Objects" in a single sitting, not even pausing for meals, because I was so committed to finding out what was going to happen. I'm usually the sort of reader that prefers character development to a lot of plot, but I found her fast-paced mysteries to be highly engaging. I would add that the sophistication of Flynn's stories have evolved which each book, from the crude violence and somewhat clumsy characterization in "Sharp Objects" to the much more subtle psychological evil of the characters in "Gone Girl." I'd definitely recommend her work, and not just for fans of mysteries and thrillers!

Annie Proulx has been one of my favorite authors since I first read "The Shipping News" back when I was in high school, but I've felt that her work has gotten more caustic in recent years and that maybe she needs an editor to say "no" to her from time to time: some of the short stories in recent collections have seemed self-indulgent to me. I wasn't in the mood, therefore, to read Proulx's work when I received "That Old Ace in the Hole" last Christmas. It wasn't until this summer when I finally got around to it, but I'm glad I did, because it's one of her wry, quirky, but loving looks at a seemingly unlovely region, in this case, the Oklahoma Panhandle. (The book was published in 2002, perhaps accounting for the less bitter tone than some of her more recent work.) I love the vividness of Proulx's writing, her utterly original similes, and her manner of capturing the nuances of character, dialect, and place through lively language. This is not a fast-paced book, being much more about creating a portrait of a place and its people than plot, but I found it so satisfying that I started it again from the beginning the moment I finished it. Fans of "The Shipping News" should definitely check it out.

I may have reread both "Gone Girl" and "That Old Ace in the Hole" immediately upon finishing them, but that's nothing compared to the half dozen times AT LEAST that I read "The Plague and I" this year. "The Plague and I" is Betty MacDonald's account of her year spent in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the late 1930's. Earlier generations may know Betty MacDonald's book "The Egg and I," while younger readers may have enjoyed her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children's series. I grew up loving "Nancy and Plum," her romantic children's story about two orphaned sisters and their escape from evil Mrs. Monday's boarding home, so I was familiar with her name, if not her adult writing. I found myself picking up "The Plague and I" on long, dismal, discouraging afternoons when I was feeling too sick with fatigue and migraines to get out of bed and I found myself longing for an old-fashioned "rest cure" in a silent, spotless, dimly-lit nursing home where the bed would always be the right temperature, the pillows always the right degree of plumpness, and quiet and kindly nurses would massage my temples and be able to intuit exactly what delicacy might tempt my poor appetite. I find Betty MacDonald's humorous account of her months on bed-rest in the frigid sanatorium with the equally frigid nurses to be nearly as soothing as the my fantasy rest cure, despite the fact that she was always cold, had many bizarre and unpleasant roommates, desperately missed her children, and was faced with the terrifying possibility of death. "The Plague and I" has helped brighten many of my worst days and I'm thankful to have it by my bedside for when I'm feeling my sickest.

* * *

Because I haven't felt well for much of this year and reading can be difficult for me when I'm not feeling well, I've ended up watching rather a lot of TV. Since we have no television in my house, I get my TV shows through the internet, either on Netflix or Hulu, which is nice, since I means I can watch older shows. The downside, of course, is that you can gobble up a series in just a few days if you get really hooked on it!

One of the series that I got hooked on this year was "Battlestar Galactica." I'd heard friends rave about it, but I have rather nerdy friends and assumed that it was merely a sci-fi show, which is not a genre I'm particularly interested in. (I've found that I'm rather partial to spy shows.) I needed something to watch, though, and by then my sister, who is even less of a sci-fi fan than I am, was watching it and loving it, so I gave it a shot. And was hooked. It turns out that underneath the veneer of spaceships and the cyborgs, the show is really about people, about how we respond to crises, how governments respond to crises, and how we define our enemies. I finished all but the last two episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" months ago; I am still waiting for the perfect time when I'm not too sick or too tired to finally let the series come to an end. It's been riveting entertainment and a great way of filling many of my evenings this year!

It's absolutely no surprise that I enjoyed "Downton Abbey." I like any book or movie or TV series that gives me a sense of what it was like to live in a different time period and I often watch the marvelous 5-hour BBC "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries when I'm not feeling well. I'm also well-versed in British literature (not to mention Edith Wharton and Henry James), so this series wonderfully brings the world I know from books to life. (I also recommend the 2002 miniseries, "The Forsyte Saga," for its ability to make a bygone age seem real.) I liked everything about "Downton Abbey": the clothes, the houses, the way it clearly illustrated the roles people were forced to inhabit, the drama between the characters, and the way Anna said the name of Mr. Bates!

While looking for shows to watch, I stumbled on the British police drama, "Luther." I don't generally care for extremely dark and violent shows and I don't much care for suspense, either, but I was so impressed by Idris Elba as the title character that I was extremely disappointed that the show only ran for ten episodes. When Luther ran his hands over his head in stressed vexation, I felt like I was watching a real person, not an actor. I also love the way he pronounced the name "Alice"!

Somewhat less dark (or at least more humorous), and therefore even more to my liking, was the new British show, "Sherlock." Cleverly done and well-acted, I am eagerly awaiting more episodes! I haven't read any of the original "Sherlock Holmes" stories in ages, so all of the mysteries are fresh to me and I like the character development very much. The tie-in to the "Sherlock Holmes" stories series also has the benefit of enabling me to keep a sense that the show is fiction. Overly-realistic police/detective dramas can bother me (which is why my enjoyment of "Luther" was so unusual), so I appreciate that slight distance that allows me to enjoy how well-written and well-acted the show is!

* * *

While 2012 might not have been a great year in terms of my health, it was a fantastic year for photography. I continue to enjoy my DSLR, which I purchased in the fall of 2011; I have taken 10,4588 photographs so far! I've taken a great many photos of the plants and flowers that can be found near my home, so it was with delight that I discovered the power of my 100 mm macro lens to take photographs of insects and other animals. It started when I came across a bee on a cornflower. I was amazed by the results and began photographing bees whenever I found one. As fall came on and the local spiders grew larger, I turned my camera on them, too, and was excited to photograph banana spiders and yellow garden orbweavers in Florida. The spiders may have been more intriguing than attractive, but I was utterly mesmerized by the beauty of the blue and red betta at Sweetheart's house and took dozens of photos of sunlight shining through the fish's trailing fins. Getting the opportunity to photograph a shrew-mole in my lawn this spring and successfully staking out hummingbirds visiting our fuchsias were highlights, but I think my very favorite (non-bee) animal photo of the year is the one I snapped of a Florida soft shell turtle sunning itself on a road in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Florida panhandle!

You can find more bee photos here...

I've gotten rather obsessed with photographing spiders, but haven't gotten around to posting an album of those photos yet. Here's one of my photos of a banana spider.

I have more betta photos in this album...

This photograph of a Florida soft shell turtle is one of my favorite animal photos from 2012!

* * *

I was very fortunate in 2012 to be able to travel. Since the migraines began in 2009, my world had grown very small. Therefore, it was wonderful to have a chance to have an overnight excursion to San Juan Island and then, just weeks later, to travel all the way to Florida! I hadn't thought air travel would be possible with my sensitivity to pressure changes, but with medication I managed and therefore got to see some of my favorite people AND photograph some fantastic wildlife. I'm looking forward to getting to travel just a little bit in 2013!

You could hardly find two places less alike than these two extremes of the contiguous United States, but I enjoyed my visit to both!

* * *

Striped socks and a
striped dog can help
make things better!
So while 2012 won't go down in history as one of my favorite years, it still was a year full of dogs and horses, of internet entertainment of all kinds, of absorbing books, interesting travel, and lots of very cool photography. I'm hoping in 2013 to manage to be well enough to get back in the saddle and stay there; to travel to Los Angeles and, hopefully, to Arizona, too; to draw dogs and photograph dogs and dog-sit dogs; to learn all the ins and outs of my camera, continue building up my portfolio, and expand into the realm of stock photography; to be clear-headed enough to finish a number of blogs I have in draft form and to write down the many others that are floating around in my head (especially when I'm awake in the night); and, with luck, feel better more often than not!


  1. I think you and I must have a lot of similar tastes. Thanks for adding more books to my to-read list. :) Hope you have a wonderful 2013!

  2. It is wonderful that you look to the positives; I know it always helps me.

    2012 wasn't a great year for me either so I totally get it and because of our wet, wet Spring here in the PNW it was no fun at all.

    Here's to a lovely 2013 :)

    I Hope it will be a good one :) Cheers, T. :)