Sunday, January 29, 2012

A dog's tale... and a book review.

J'aime les chiens, les toutous, les cabots, les clebs. I like dogs. 

Always have and  - I reckon - always will. This won't surprise my faithful readers who are used to seeing dogs pop up here and there in my stories.

I did not grow up with dogs, but I was one of these children obsessed with all animals and who will, at any opportunity, adopt them. 

As I was growing up, I rescued, and mothered a never-ending succession of small creatures. The obvious ones: gold fish, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs. Less obvious choices too: Des escargots. That's right, snails. I carefully hand-picked them in the neighborhood for the interesting colors and patterns on their shells, then housed them in a perforated show box (to provide some light.) They were fed fresh lettuce daily and were sometimes allowed to "sit" at the table next to me during lunch (merci, maman!) 

I was heartbroken after the box I had carefully placed on the windowsill (so my friends could enjoy some fresh air,) was blown away by a gust of wind. It went flying seven floors below where it crashed, all contents turned into a mushy mess. It was a sad time when Mom and I went down in the street and recovered some of the shattered shells. Most did not survive, in spite of my best efforts.

Adieu, mes petits amis!

There was also a frog (found during a family picnic,) that turned out to be a toad when we discovered it, foaming at the mouth, tucked behind the kitchen fridge, after it escaped its makeshift house.

My parents were understanding, stoic even, through all this. To a certain point.

Like a majority of my countrymen, we lived in cities and in apartment buildings, and my father never allowed my brother and I to have a dog. I begged, pleaded, threatened, on a regular basis. To no avail. Apartment living was not suited to dogs, Dad said. It would not be fair to the animal, or my mother (who would have to take care of it while we were at school.) I also realize that my father who was busy during the day and came home late at night, knew he would be the one taking the dog outside in the cold every evening.

I could be quite creative and persistent when making an argument, and I am sure I must have suggested Dad to install one of these red things in the middle of the living room.

(unknown photographer)
And the years went by, but the longing remained. My favorite TV shows and movies were the ones featuring animals. Most took place in mysterious and fascinating far away lands...

Like millions of French children, I watched all the episodes in the French "Belle et Sébastien" series. Faithful "Belle" (I credit her for inspiring my life-long love story with large breed dogs,) and cute and daring Sébastien became my best friends.

There were amazing books, of course, like Jack London's White Fang or The Call of the Wild. And let's not forget three illustrious dogs all European children grew up with: 

Idefix (Dogmatix in the US) with his friends Asterix and Obelix
Milou (Snowy in the US) and his owner Tintin, the Belgian detective

Rantanplan, aka "the stupidest dog in the Wild Wild West"
(the Lucky Luke series)

Once I was old enough to live independently and make my own decisions, I did not rush to get a dog. I lived in downtown Paris where I rented a 260 square foot apartment and worked long hours at American Express, on business trips several days a month. Like Dad before me, I had to admit - reluctantly - that I was not ready for dog ownership.

To get my "dog fix," I would turn around in the street when I saw a pooch and its owner walking by [I still do;] pet the dog if I was lucky; visit the pet stores on quai de la Mégisserie, by the Seine river, on a regular basis.

Quai de la Mégisserie: A special place in the city
Plants, flowers, and animals too.

(unknown photographer)

Then, one day, I moved to the United States, when Le Husband was transferred to Seattle. After a few months here, our rental house was broken into. That was the only excuse I needed to visit the local shelter and adopt my first dog, at long last. Her name was Shadow. She was an American mutt, a "Chewfie" (Chow/Newfoundland mix.) She was 3 years old and had been there for several months, on death row because her big hairy black face scared many children when they visited the shelter with their parents. Le Husband and I fell in love, and as luck would have it, Shadow did too.

Beautiful Shadow (1993-2007)
On a cold winter day at the local dog park:
A French girl and... a bear?
The Chewfie loved snow!

Over the years, I taught Shadow a few tricks, and she taught me about dog ownership and responsibility. She lived with us for 11 years, through several homes, many field trips, daily walks, and a child (she always maintained a respectful distance when Junior started to walk.) She left us on a beautiful fall day, a few months shy of her 15th birthday. Shadow, tu me manques (I miss you.) 

Meanwhile, like many families, we had already adopted our "back-up dog," a wise decision since Shadow, as a typical Chow, had been primarily my dog. Junior (he was 3 at the time,) needed a special friend too. Few things pain me more in life than meeting children who are afraid of dogs because they have never been around them. I decided early on that Junior would not be one of them, and he isn't. Like his mother, he has never met a dog he did not like, and he is wonderful with all our pets.  

Junior and a buddy making friends at the dog park

The year I turned 40, we adopted our next dog, Hailey, the Yellow DogLike Shadow, she came from the local shelter, a Lab/Boxer mix, another corniaud (mutt,) 18 months old at the time, 65 lbs of boisterousness and limitless energy. She and the boy hit it off immediately.

Nine years later, Junior and the Yellow Dog are still going strong and fall asleep together every night. Even though I am in charge of exercising the beast and handle most walks (she needs a firm hand,) Junior feeds her, and plays with his favorite girl in the backyard most days after school. I am fully aware that Hailey is his dog. I just happen to take care of her.

I wonder how many miles we have already walked together?

The good news is that she is finally slowing down and has turned into a fine sailing dog.

Cover your ears, Yellow Dog. I do not want you to hear what follows...
Lately, I have been thinking about my next dog. This time, I would really like to adopt a puppy, and maybe choose a smaller, slightly less energetic breed. The comical, amiable, and monkey-faced French Bulldog has tickled my fancy for years. I love all bulldogs, but the Frenchie stands out as a worthy candidate.

I am always so thrilled to see a French bulldog in the street, but that does not happen often in our neck of the woods. Fortunately, celebrities and the media love them, and I can get my fix on the Internet any time...

Tough guys carry small dogs

Will his heart go on?

Meet Martha's Sharkey and Francesca
(Psst! Martha! Not sure Francesca approves of your fashion sense!)

I may find a French bulldog puppy in a year or two; or I may stop at the local shelter again, where another mutt will steal my heart. Either way, there will always be dogs in my life. My friends get it. Most of them are dog lovers too. 

What about you, is there a special dog in your heart?

Aldous Huxley once said: "To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs." 

He may have been right. Your dog will always stand by you and look up to you even when others don't. There are times in life when this kind of love is hard to turn away. 

Bill [Clinton] and Buddy

George [Bush] and Spot

François [Mitterand] and Baltique

Richard [Nixon] and Checkers

After reading all this, it will not come as a surprise to you that when the author of a book about a dog named Chula offered me to review it on the blog, I accepted. Meet Chula the Sheltie, a traveling dog if there ever was one. 

Chula and her owners, Sheron and Bob, traveled from California to France where they had the best time visiting Provence and Paris. The story is told by Chula, bien sûr, so this would make a wonderful book to read with children. The humorous illustrations highlight some of the dog's adventures as she discovers the French way of life. French restaurants? Check. Riding the TGV? Check. Visiting local boulangeries and outdoor markets? Check. Chula the Sheltie did it all.

I can't blame you, Chula!

It's a lot more fun to be a dog in France, Chula!

There are also some beautiful photographs that capture the colors, scents and flavors of iconic Provence, as well as cultural tidbits and useful travel tips for pet owners. 

Chula loves the scent of irises...
(copyright 2011 by OIC Books)
"Do I smell lamb?"
(copyright 2011 by OIC books)

Chula loves the big water bowls France left out for her!
(in Sault, Provence)

(copyright 2011 by OIC books)

I am happy to recommend this lively, entertaining book to all my readers. It would make a great gift for your dog loving friends, or for any francophile. Interested? Paper and digital editions are available here, here or here (ebook editions include a bonus: videos recorded in France.)

Thank you for visiting today!

-- Ouah-ouah! (*)

(*) A bientôt!

*** NEW! ***
Follow French Girl in Seattle on Facebook
 for news, travel tips, and tidbits about the French culture.
Simply "Like" my page to receive updates! 

Damian Dovarganes/AP

Sunday, January 22, 2012

When the White Stuff hits the fan...

Snow'pocalypse. Snow'mageddon. Snow'locaust. Catast'snow'phe... There has been a lot of talking about the weather this week in the Seattle Metro area. When snow comes, Seattleites can be un peu dramatiques. You expect this in Atlanta, GA where I once was a college student, but not so much in the great Pacific Northwest.

Truth be told, Seattle does not do snow. We get a couple of inches now and then; life stops; kids get out in the street and play; the snow melts; it turns to slush; there is major flooding ; then life returns to normal... usually rain

Snow in Seattle
(D. Horsey - Seattle P.I.)

Still, there is no telling what a Seattle winter will bring. Things can go downhill quickly around here. Winter 2006: A major wind storm causes massive power outages. It lasts four days in our area; even longer in other parts of the county. Neighbors flee the boonies to stay in local hotels. A giant tree almost crashes our back deck and part of the house. Le Husband invests in a generator and a chain saw. Oh, and my city-loving parents are visiting. They can't  believe their eyes. Good news for me: no snow in the yard that winter.

Wind: 1
French Girl: 0

The Yellow Dog thinks: "Do I get to pee on that giant bush too?"

December 2008. My parents are coaxed into returning for the Holidays. This time, a massive snow storm lands in the neighborhood. We lose power again. We get stuck at home and can't drive down the hill for a few days. My parents have not been back since. I can't say I blame them.

Inches or centimeters: It's a heck of a lotta snow!

Dad thinks: "Get me on that early Air France flight back to Paris!"
Mom thinks: "It's so pretty!" (because that's who she is.)

Dad had a point. 

Fast forward to this week, January 2012. I came back from lovely Portland on Sunday evening, and the view from my office window at home looked like this:

By Thursday afternoon, the view had turned into this, and the snow was still coming down...

Les Boys, who had been snowmobiling all weekend with friends, eased into it with no problem. On Martin Luther King day, it was obvious we would get to admire the White Stuff a bit longer than expected. Of course, the children spent the day outside doing a lot of this...

By 4:00pm, the school district had called it. There would be no school on Tuesday, and possibly on Wednesday due to a massive snowstorm headed our way. It turns out the ubiquitous yellow buses stayed away from the area the whole week. 

(not mine)

After all, nobody wanted to see this...

No doubt remembering the winter of 2008, the whole neighborhood switched into crisis mode. First things first, people rushed to the grocery store and the gas station, filled their tanks and their trunks with supplies. I suspect the Coffee aisle chez Costco looked a bit like this (God forbid locals should be stuck at home for days on end with no coffee!)

Snow'mageddon is on its way!

In our neighborhood, things happened pretty much as they always do. Dad went to work - slowly because of icy roads - and entrusted Mom to keep the fort. Mom understood and was not mad at Dad. Mom knew that Dad would have much rather stayed at home. After all, not being able to play in the snow with the kids was enough punishment for him. 

Still, Mom was no dummy, and as soon as the [dreaded] phone call arrived from the school district, Mom knew what to expect. Mom's plans for the week had just been thrown through the window. Mom would have to keep her very lively children busy, healthy and happy while dealing with potentially hazardous weather conditions. Still, work had to be done, on the computer, or around the house. 

Not to worry. Mom could handle it all. 

Organization was key. Special orders were placed and supplies secured. 

Or, at the very least...

Madame M.'s best friend

The rules of the game were clearly explained to the children, who rushed outside as soon as they fell out of bed and came back wet, ravenous and exhausted after a few hours. 

Mom kept smiling and relied heavily on her favorite support system: her girlfriends.

Some moms kindly fed the neighborhood children, cooking American delicacies such as Kraft Mac'n'Cheese, hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies. 

Other Moms - who were not as gifted - purchased cookies and other supplies. 

Still, Mom needed a chance to breathe and relax. At night, silhouettes were seen walking down our steep hill, holding flashlights and giggling, on their way to the nearby brewery. 

This was all done anonymously, of course, for what would the neighbors think?

Everyone was happy, fully enjoying this Winter Wonderland:

The children, who had so much fun they forgot to whine [most of the time...]

Neighborhood dogs, old and young...

Dads, who came home in the evening and sampled delicious home-cooked meals (the lucky ones even got a chance to sneak outside and play in the snow, too.)

This could be the end of our tongue-in-cheek story, but that means I would have to leave out severe power outages resulting in over 200,000 homes without power in neighboring counties; thousands of fallen trees; frozen pipes; roads closed to traffic; the local governor declaring a State of Emergency. And I am pretty sure some Seattleites were disappointed the Washington National Guard was NOT allowed to deliver free lattes!

I would also have to leave out serious good times with the "Usual Suspects" (because nothing brings people together like a snow storm, other than a half-yearly sale at Nordstrom's.) 

Pooling resources for an improvised Raclette party

It was never boring, c'est certain. Truth be told, by Thursday afternoon, many had had enough in the 'hood. Mainly grown-ups, and some kids too. On the other hand, Junior could not be talked into spending time indoors. He and his buddies were out there for hours every single day, determined to make the most of every second. 

I knew Junior had a point, and the Yellow Dog and I kept walking, even in the blizzard...

At times, outdoorsy friends joined us...

We walked along the deserted streets, eerily quiet in the cold winter air, focusing on the sound of our footsteps (paw steps) in the snow.

There were frequent reminders we live deep in the heart of the Pacific Northwest... 

We were aware wildlife lurked at ever corner. Hiding in the forest. Invisible. Watching us.

 We passed strange creatures on the side of the road...

Elephant Man? 


Later, we saw signs of civilization...

And finally, some sun, showing the way home.

A bientôt.


We all survived. As planned, the rain returned on Friday and by Saturday morning, it had all turned to mush. This created an even bigger mess, but at least the children will be returning to school tomorrow.

Laughter helps chase away winter blues. Here is a fun video of Seattleites attempting to drive in the snow. The clip has gone viral online this week, and has already been featured on several blogs. I had to show it to you. Enjoy!