A Guest comments on the Miniature Village

This is a confusing time of year for me and Lucille Bell. For instance, someone brought a tree INDOORS and nobody has gotten in trouble over it yet. Today a miniature village appeared, as it does every year like Brigadoon, and Lucille Bell packs up her bags and moves in until it goes away. She only leaves it to eat or use her litter box.I don’t know what is going on so I have asked in a guest speaker, Patti, the woman who lives in my house to comment.

Patti: thank you Gracie. The tree is a hard one to explain as is the fact had we celebrate two major holidays by believing strangers break into our house in the middle of the night and one of them is a giant rabbit. I’m going to let explanations of those go by for the moment, but there is another thing on my mind. The miniature village.

I don’t know what this tradition is all about, but I can tell you this time of year you will find miniature villages everywhere. These feature happy little winter scenes from a bygone era with little people throwing snowballs and attending church.

I, too, have a miniature village. I inherited it from my grandparents. I think they gave it to me because of all the grandchildren I liked to play with it the most. I would sit in front of it for hours playing with it and rearranging the houses.  There is an ice pond that my grandpa made from an old mirror and carefully etched its shape into a stryofoam base and then grandma would spray fake snow around the edge. To make the village look more realistic grandma would bring in twigs to stick around the village like trees. All the houses are wooden blocks with cardboard wrapped around them.  There is a smaller church, a gas station, a diner, and numerous houses.  A larger plastic church would light up the scene with a soft glow when you plugged it in.

What made this village unique was except for one lady on skis, there are no people in the village. My grandparents were big animal lovers, so instead animals are what you find in my village. Some of the animals defy explanation as to why they would exist in a winter scene like the alligators, frogs and turtles; but there are also bears, deers, skunks, chipmunks, ducks and various birds.

After I inherited the village I was a little embarrassed by the alligators in particular, but I would never think of leaving them out. I would, however, hide them under a tree. The first time I plugged in the church, I came into the room to find it on fire. I used the wrong wattage bulb. Still I will not replace the church with its melted roof.

Over the years the village has suffered a lot of wear and tear. As Gracie says, Lucy likes to encamp in the middle of it, and though you might not think sleeping on top of steeples and pine trees is comfortable, she perseveres. Unfortunately, she moves and as a result there has been some damage when things get knocked to the ground.  The deer family in particular have suffers with their long delicate legs, so now only one of them has a full set.

At some point my own family decided that giving me new houses to add to my village would be a good present for me.  So, now I have fancy ceramic houses that light up without conflagration and a whole set of happy villagers doing happy things.

This week, I found I was a little resistant to setting up the village and we are only days away from Christmas. Honestly, I would say crabby would be a better description. What was wrong with me?

Today I forced myself to set up the village if only for Lucy’s sake, and then it all became clear. Although, I love my family’s thoughtfulness in trying to add to the scene, because they know how much I value my village, I want my old village back.  The village I remember from my childhood. I left all the ceramic houses and happy villagers in the box and only put out what my grandparents gave me. I did put in a ceramic bridge from the new set, so the turtle would have a place to hide from the bears and alligators, but everything else is from the original village. I even put the baffling alligators front and center for the first time this year.

I look at my village and feel happy. To others my village might look a bit menacing with the bears, skunks, legless deers laying on their sides, alligators in the ice skating pond and fire damaged church, but to me it is joyous. I love that the pond still fits into the styrofoam and that the styrofoam itself is so pock marked with holes from places grandma stuck twigs into it that there is no level surface left for a bear to stand.

I was having trouble finding my holiday spirit this year. Today I found it.

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Napping IS an activity

Being a dog, I have limited ways to communicate. I can bang on my bowl when I am hungry, wag my tail to indicate happiness, or stand at the back door when I want to go out, but when it comes to more complex thoughts sometimes I have to lead by example. One example I try to set is taking frequent naps.

I am pretty likely sleeping more than I am awake, and this is one thing the cat, Lucille Bell, and I have in common. We sometimes get criticized for this and told we are lazy. I like to sleep on the couch during the day. The cat never naps in the same spot. Not sticking to a routine is part of her strategy I think. Her finding strange spots to nap, causes the humans to panic sometimes. “Has anyone seen Lucy today? Do you think she got out of the house?”. they say, and I think “oh, please, oh please”. But then they find her in a box of old tax returns in the basement or in someone’s dresser drawer. I like that they always know where I am. Again, I try and set an example.

The humans it seems sleep only at night.  I am not allowed to sleep with them, though I notice Lucille Bell is. She not only sleeps in bed with them, she sleeps on top of them. She acts like a feline gyroscope shifting easily with them. They turn over on their backs and she is on top. They turn on their side and she is again on top, perched on a hip. Sometimes I sleep with the boy, but I am not allowed in the girl’s room because I eat her belongings, which is wrong, but if she will insist on leaving her things on the floor, I’m going to eat them.

I don’t nap because I am tired. What do I need to rest up for? Another day of napping? I nap because it is something to do. If there is nothing going on, then I am going to sleep. I don’t see that there is anything wrong with this. Napping is also an activity.

I notice the humans running around all day. Up and down the stairs. In and out of the house. Running out to the car often with balls. In my experience a car ride only ends trouble. It ends in a visit to the vet, which always involves being stuck with a needle or worse to a long visit to the Pet Hotel, which makes me anxious. So, I worry about them when they all run out to the car, and because they usually come home cranky, I can tell something bad happened.

Lately though they are coming around to my point of view. I am happy to see that more times than not someone is asleep on the couch. Sometimes when I sit on the couch with them and sense that someone is going to get up and run around, I lay on their lap. I make myself a dead weight and imagine my sleepiness working its way out of my body and into the lap below and then down into the cushions. Then the person will say “I can’t get up now. I’ll disturb the dog” and soon I will see their eyes close and feel their body relax.

They run around too much. I am happy to teach them to quiet down. Napping is one more activity and there’s nothing wrong with that. If there is nothing else going on, then close your eyes.Stop trying to invent open-eye activities. Maybe they’d sleep better at night if they didn’t have a cat on top of them.

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The When and Why of Showing Your Belly

This morning I ran into Julep as usual when I went out for my first pee of the day, which are two things I eagerly look forward to in the morning.  Julep, who is a beagle mix is my oldest friend. I love her so much that even the mention of her name makes me prick up my ears. But, now I am wondering why we always have to start out with a confrontation. She greets me with a lot of growling and mock biting until I roll over and show her my belly. I do nothing but signal my pleasure at seeing her, and yet she fights me until I show her my near hairless, eight nippled belly, my legs folded up harmlessly and my muzzle frozen sideways on the ground.

After I show her who is boss (that would be she), only then can we play. Except for this initial violent display, we are a good fit. I am a Puggle with a little Lab thrown in and I am the russet color of fallen leaves.  Julep is black like my sister, who I haven’t seen since we were weaned, and we are the same size and almost the same age. We like to stand together and hold the same pose and freeze like statues.  We also like to wrestle and chase each other, and maybe its the beagle in us, but nothing is more fun than sniffing things and digging holes. We have a lot in common.

So, why the charade? I think it is more a Julep issue than a Gracie May issue. Because we are such good friends, I let her have this little victory. It is no skin off my nose and in the balance, it is an acceptable trade. No friendship is without its faults, so I play along.

Sam is a dog I sometimes walk with. He is cranky, maybe on his last leg, and he has lived a long time.  He’s lived in the deserts of New Mexico and in the suburbs of Chicago without being eaten by a coyote or run down by a car, so there is much to learn from Sam. I didn’t even know squirrels were interesting until he showed me how to spot them.  He is not a friend. He is more of a mentor.  Sometimes I forget that and go a little puppy on him, and he will remind me we are not in the same place by snarling and biting me. I respond quickly by flipping over and showing him my underside by way of apology and to show him respect.

Talking of showing my belly reminds me of another time I have to do this, but I’m not very comfortable talking about this.  There are times you submit because you’re afraid not to, and I’m not proud of that. I live with, Lucille Bell, the tabby cat. I have to admit something a dog hates to admit, but I am completely kitty whipped.

Sure, she was here first and I get that, but I have tried to be friends, and failing that I just stay out of her way. Avoiding each other would be a workable solution, but there are times she seeks me out for no other reason than to be mean to me. Sometimes she’ll trap me in a room or worse a shower stall and stand glaring at me, ready to swipe at me if I try to escape. I have to wait for someone to rescue me. There are even times I am napping, minding my own business and she will sneak up on me and hit me a few times with her claws out. I am like “Lucille Belle, what the f..k, man?” Even more disturbing to me are the times when she acts like she wants to play with me and is all friendly, but as soon as I play along she gets mean again and hurts me. It is very confusing.

What is most painful to me is that everyone else loves Lucile Belle and they call her the perfect pet. Of course, she is the perfect pet to them.  She never gives anyone else any grief and is all sweetness and silky fluffiness. Its not like she’s even being sneaky about her attacks on me, carrying them out in the open, except nobody seems to hold it against her. If they were the object of her hostility, they’d feel differently. They have their own experience of her.

All I can do is roll over and show her my belly even though I know we don’t even speak the same language. Showing your belly to a cat is only giving them a better target. They don’t see it as a sign of submission, which is what it means in my language. I know this, but I have no other tools in my tool kit to work with. Even while I am rolling over and displaying my vulnerable underside, I know it is a stupid response, but I can’t stop myself. I am not a violent creature by nature, so I do the only thing I can think to do. Roll over. Roll over rather than risk going for a counter attack and being called a “bad dog” or getting scratched worse.

I will never be friends with the cat, I know that now. I think it is more a Lucille Bell issue than a Gracie May issue. I just wish I could think of a different way to handle it.

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