A long, tough goodbye

I don’t normally become attached to “things.”

Things are disposable. They’re replaceable. They don’t hold your memories; your heart, your head and your blog preserve those special moments.

For a long time then, “things” were easy to toss out.

Until recently.
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Photo gallery: Camping at Chatcolet

We just spent our third weekend camping!

That’s three times already this year, doubling the amount of times we’ve been camping with My American since we started dating in 2010.

We’ve done two trips to Bumblebee near Kingston, Idaho, and our most recent  was to our regular Memorial Day haunt, Chatcolet at the southern trip of Coeur d’Alene Lake. It’s in Heyburn State Park, the oldest state park in the Pacific Northwest.

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From the archives: I’m hip to the Great Plains

Almost three years ago, we were cruising down a dusty South Dakota highway.

It was hot as hell in early July and the three of us — me, Shep and My American — were bound for Nova Scotia and M.A.’s first opportunity to meet my family.

He and Shep were about to be exposed to a town bathed in tartan and the skirl of the bagpipe.

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It’s a girl

Yes, it was a quick decision.

Maybe too quick.

I’m still not sure.

Here’s what I am sure of:

  • My heart remains shattered
  • I cry every day … several times
  • I still look for his goofy grin and listen for the click-click-click of his toenails across the laminate floor
  • I tell My American I’m fine but I’m not fine
  • I’m sure I will be fine but it won’t be tomorrow or the next day

Shep was my best friend. When he died almost two weeks ago, a part of me died, too.

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A farewell to my best friend

I dreamed of a covered wooden bridge this weekend.

Shep was on the other side with his big goofy smile and his tail wagging. He stood in front of mountains, blooming with alpine flowers.

Neither one of us could cross the bridge for one last hug.

But he let me know he was happy, healthy and free.

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The patience to go long

I’ve never had a good tripod.

Our American has one he never uses. So you know what I did. That’s right, I heisted it.

I’ve freehanded waterfalls but never quite got the practice I need to get long exposure right.

Sunset skies always had a bit of shake to them.

With sturdy tripod and remote shutter release in hand, I set out to masterattempt long-exposure photography.

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A most perfect escape

It had been coming for months.

Some of you might say years, at least a couple.

Our American and I decided in May it was time to move forward with our relationship. And last Tuesday — a sweltering hot Tuesday in Spokane, Wash. — we put our heads together and filled out all the forms necessary to start an I-129F visa application.

All the forms necessary for me to become an American.

All the forms necessary for me to become his wife.

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Happy anniversary!

It’s been nine years.

Almost a decade since this idiot hairbag came into my life.

And I say that with love.

On the May long weekend in 2004, I made the drive from Calgary to Carstairs to pick up a homeless dog. He was the abandoned child of a pending divorce, a marriage that wasn’t ending amicably.

He was stressed. I was nervous to be taking on the task of caring for another being.

I bought the wrong food. Or he was just so stubborn that he refused to eat.

It took us a while to bond. This is our first picture together, taken in Fall 2004, and I think you can see we were still learning to trust each other.

Shep the Maremma sheepdog and That Angela

Our first family picture

Two years later, I realized he was changing my lifestyle.

I wanted to do fun stuff with him, like explore and hike and see wonderful mountains and lakes.

So, I trade in my beautiful red Mustang and bought my truck.

This is his first time in the truck.

Maremma sheepdog in his truck

In my truck

The two of us, in our little truck, have traveled many miles together.

We’ve covered most of southern Alberta, seen a lot of B.C. and wound our way through Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Maremma sheepdog

At the Drumheller hoodoos

Maremma sheepdog at Koocanusa Lake

At Koocanusa Lake, Montana

Maremma sheepdog in autumn grass

At Big Hill Springs

In late 2010, we added a third member to the family. Our American is one of those shy guys who appreciates his privacy, so his name and face rarely show up on my social media profiles. Our little family made a cross-country trek last summer and Shep dipped his nose in the Atlantic Ocean.

He wasn’t a fan of salt water, growling at it every time he tried to take a big gulp. After a few times, though, he learned his lesson and just laid in the water, letting the waves run over him.

Shep and I make many trips to Spokane and now we’ve started to explore this area, getting to know its history, landmarks and scenery.

Maremma sheepdog on a highway

En route to Spokane … highly skilled driver, do not try this at home

Our little truck is soon due to roll past 200,000 kilometres (stay tuned for that sentimental post!) and Shep is heading into his twilight years.

Last week, he was assessed with Stage 2, possibly 3, arthritis in his hips. This is no shock when you have an extra large breed dog who’s 10 years old. It adds some stress and some worry … and some expensive medication to keep him moving and happy.

But if he’s ready to move on from this lifetime, I sure don’t see it in his eyes.

Besides, we haven’t seen Oregon or the Pacific Ocean together.

Is that trip in our near future? Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, we’re spending the U.S. Memorial Day weekend at a campground in Idaho. Hopefully, we’ll have lots of cool pictures to share next week.

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The cooling vest: a summer exploring necessity

In memory of Rufus, the St. Bernard

He was a lovely, old fellow.

Rufus would rumble along the path at Tom Campbell park in Calgary, far behind the chihuahua, the two Maremmas and their humans. He was 15 or so, this St. Bernard gentleman, and his back was covered with benign tumours and lumps of fat deposits.

One warm spring day, he wore a bright blue jacket and I asked his human, Cindy, about it.

It was a cooling vest, she said, and it helps old Rufus bear the heat from the rays of the sun.

“You should get one for Shep,” she said. “With all that fur, I bet he’d really appreciate it.”

I looked around Calgary pet shops but found far less expensive models online. The Ruffwear Swamp Cooler was at Dick’s Sporting Goods for super cheap (and  I could ship the vest to My American’s house, so I saved a bundle on shipping.)

The cooling vest blocks harmful UV rays and works on evaporative technology:

evaporative technology for dogs

From Ruffwear’s blog

Help your dog beat the heat with this innovative cooling vest.

Just soak it in cold water, wring it out, and fasten around your dog. Evaporative cooling (like an actual swamp cooler) exchanges the dog’s heat with the coolness of the stored water in the coat to keep them comfortable and ready to run that extra mile.

Shep doesn’t run miles anymore. As my 11-year-old BFF heads toward his twilight years, he’s starting to lumber along like Rufus, who passed away last fall.

The Swamp Cooler vest has been one of our best purchases yet. It especially came in handy last summer when the three of us embarked on our cross-country road trip to Nova Scotia.

Maremma sheepdog wearing a cooling vest

The heat, complicated by intense humidity, was suffocating through the midwest states. We survived by blasting the air conditioning in the Escape, while Shep doubled up with cooling vest.

We’d stop occasionally for a jump in the lake, and we kept a spray bottle full of water to spritz Shep when we thought the vest might be getting dry.

I think — I hope — the vest helped Shep deal with the hot, hot weather a little better than he might have without it.

When I pulled it out of the closet yesterday for his daily walk, I thought saw his head dip a little, as if he was saying ‘oh no, not this again.’ After all, he wore it for almost four weeks straight last summer and the chest clasp rubbed his fur right off.

The bald spots have grown back in and I don’t imagine we’ll be doing a three-week road trip this summer.

But living and exploring in Kamloops, which is located in a semi-arid belt, makes the vest a necessity. We’ve already faced a handful of 32 C days (so not complaining) and Shep isn’t really inclined to spend much time outside.

He does love a good road trip, though, and I can’t imagine one without him.

So there he’ll be, my trusty co-pilot, all decked out in his Ruffwear.

Cooler than Joe Cool.

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We have a logo!

You’ll be seeing some changes around here.

I know what you’re thinking: What? You’ve only been up and running for a couple of weeks!

Yep, that’s true. However, I’m attending a conference called Bloggers and Brands at the end of April and I’m learning about ways to monetize my blog.

Maybe I’ll find a dog-food supplier who wants me to pump their wares.

Maybe I’ll hook up with a car dealership who wants to learn more about how blogging can spread their message and help customer service.

Or maybe Shep and I will just keep wandering around on our own, looking for cool and old things to write about.

There will be some tweaks coming to the website. In the meantime, I want to tell you about Nate Schmold. Nate owns and operates 80bit.com.

I put out a word on Twitter, asking if anyone knew a cartoonist. My pal, James Callsen, turned me over to Nate.

In an email, I wrote something like: me and Shep on the road in my truck, me holding my camera. Within an hour, Nate had a next-to-perfect mockup. We mashed over a few details and late last night, Nate sent me the final product.

I couldn’t be happier. It’s like he read my mind. Nate is an incredible talent, plus he’s open to suggestions and is very responsive and communicative. I highly recommend using Nate if you have a cartoon logo in mind.

And now, without further adieu, I give you the new logo for Our Great Escape:

OurGreatEscape-HiRes