Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Transient yet Evergreen Phenomenon of Dog and Cat Friends

Sid, Boz and Lolo in the Bluebell Wood

I've just returned from today's walk into the woods and fields with our three Sussex charges — Boz the border collie, Sid the long-legged Parson Russell terrier, and Boo, another Jack Russell, of the short-legged variety. And as often happens, Lolo the cat tagged along for a bit of today's walk, having met us at that place where the footpath leads from the rolling green fields into the wood with the ancient iron-red stream.

Lolo caught up with us just as we were very nearly home. But she was so happy to be with us, rubbing up against me as well as the terriers, and meowing, that I decided to extend our walk for her sake. And so back up the hill we trooped, Lolo characteristically chatting from behind until, all of a sudden, I could hear her galloping from behind into view, bunny hopping past me to join up with the dogs with her tail all bushed up.

On days like this I feel like Christopher Robin, and the world is good and full of cheer and birdsong. And it's as if these dogs, and Lolo — as well as the two cats back home, Colin and Tigger — are my Pooh Bear, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit and Roo and, well, Tigger.

We only arrived at this house- and pet-sit last Wednesday evening, and yet they seem, already, like old friends. I love them. We walk together, explore curiosities, and lie restfully amongst the bluebells and the swaying green grasses of spring. And we wrestle, or pretend to fight over sticks, Boo growling ferociously but harmless as a butterfly, the other dogs barking or grabbing hold of the stick in a four-way tug of war.


In just a few short days we've become a pack and know each other inside and out. In truth it seems we were always so, that our meeting was really a homecoming, that we'd trekked through these woods before, long before there was internet or even electricity wired into our homes.

But in a week's time, our hosts here will have returned home, and Mufidah and I will be gone, on our way to our next house/pet-sit in Essex, where we'll be caring for two more dogs, two more cats, and a pondful of fish. And we'll no doubt fit right into that pack as well, picking up where we left off with Boz and Co.

In a way it's tragic, this continual parting with dear friends whom we may or may not ever see again. They've become part of us, and we a part of them.

But we go on embedding ourselves into the lives of others knowing we'll soon be off into the wild blue.

What's the alternative but to harden one's heart, to become a social worker of sorts with a certain remove, a caretaker paid to service a patient, or in our case a pet. That's not us. We go right in, assume our place amongst the animal folk we befriend, love them with all we've got, and then say goodbye, at least for now.

That said, we know we'll go on talking about them, remembering each of them to one another as we go through our day-to-day. Mufidah, do you remember the time Indie came home with that Daniel Boone hat-like thing that stunk to high heaven? Remember how she proudly carried it straight into her bed in the living room, not understanding our own lack of enthusiasm? Sean, remember how Fudge used to snuggle under the covers with us, or how Tillie used to do that funny thing where she'd pull herself along the driveway, legs out behind her, lurching herself forward and barking in a state of glee and abandon?

And we'll smile, feel the tug at our hearts, that tinge of sadness that can't really be expressed, and go on.

Photo: Sean M. Madden Sean M. Madden is a writer, photographer and slow-traveling digital nomad. He's also Co-Founder & CEO of CreativeThunder.co, working with businesses and individuals, worldwide, to build tribes of loyal customers via strategic websites and visual storytelling. Interested? Click here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Boz in the Bluebell Wood

It's been a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Sussex. Fortunately, I took the time to take our three charges here — two Jack Russell terriers and an incredibly mellow border collie named Boz — for two walks today, one this morning and another from which we've just returned.

While finishing the above sentence, I looked up from where I'm writing, outside, to see Boz looking peacefully into my eyes. As a younger border collie he was undoubtedly less mellow. But from my vantage point as a house- and pet-sitter, Boz seems to have acquired wisdom over the course of his 12 years, along with the arthritis that makes him somewhat less active than when in his prime.

He'll still endlessly chase his ball or a stick, but our hosts here tell us he suffers with stiffness the following day if he goes on too long. And he quite willingly relinquishes his ball or stick when the youngest of our charges, a three-year-old Jack Russell named Boo, tries to steal it from him. It's not that Boz is submissive towards Boo; rather, you sense he's quite happy to fetch whatever's thrown for him, to play tug of war for a bit, but then to let Boo have her way.

It seems a gentle act of resignation.

And this act of resignation is what I've had an opportunity to practice this afternoon, just before going for that second walk with the dogs. I needed a break, and know there's no better way for me to rest and to regain my inspiration than to go for a good long walk in the woods and fields, and to bring the dogs with me.

What was it that I was resigning from? you might ask.


Or more specifically, trying to push the 80-percent solution asymptotically closer to perfection. More specifically yet, trying to get our respective MailChimp templates (which we recently began using to distribute posts from our various blogs) to be fully mobile responsive. In other words, so that folk can easily read our posts from their laptops, tablets or smart phones.

No effort is ever a waste; I know that. But, that having been said, Mufidah and I have spent days trying to get our templates set up just the way we want them. I thought I'd finally cracked the nut late last week when we then realized that the text isn't wrapping properly on smaller devices like our iPhones.

So instead of seizing the inspiration to write at various points over the past few days, I've felt obliged, instead, to try to get the MailChimp templates to work as they should. We've emailed the MailChimp folk, but as yet they've not gotten back with us.

Ultimately, this is something we need to nail. And I apologize to all of the readers of our various blogs should you be finding it difficult to read our posts on your mobile devices. For now, you can click on the post title in our mailings to read posts via the web, as all of our websites are, contrary to the MailChimp templates, fully responsive for various devices.

But after an incredibly frustrating time this afternoon — a continuation of several days of frustration over this technical issue — I finally came to my senses and resigned myself to the fact that what we have is good enough for now. It's not the perfect outcome, but it's good enough.

And so I took a few minutes to wrap things up tidily, the underlying problem still unresolved, put on my hiking boots and called the dogs to join me for a walk into the late afternoon sunshine. I had a good feeling that I'd be inspired once again to write upon our return home. And so I was.

That said, I'm quite certain that faced with a similar problem dear ol' Boz, now lying in his bed beside me, would have come to his senses far more quickly than I.

The wisdom that comes of a dog's age.

Photo: Sean M. Madden Sean M. Madden is a writer, photographer and slow-traveling digital nomad. He's also Co-Founder & CEO of CreativeThunder.co, working with businesses and individuals, worldwide, to build tribes of loyal customers via strategic websites and visual storytelling. Interested? Click here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Travel Update from Italy: What a Year It's Been

Travel Update from Italy:
What a Year It's Been
From Gaillac, France to San Casciano, Italy via the Côte d’Azur

A brief post to let you know that Mufidah and I arrived in Italy a week ago today. And we've each written new travel essays on our respective websites.

The two blog posts are beautifully complementary, as I covered the whole sweep of the past year including our travels to San Casciano in Tuscany, while Mufidah focused her piece on the two-day drive which carried us from South West France, along the Côte d’Azur, to the France/Italian border to where we are now.

Both essays are full of our photographs of this past week. And I've included a photo gallery, as well, of the pet folk we've cared for during our 2013 house-sitting gigs.

My essay is entitled, What a Year It's Been, while Mufidah called hers, From Gaillac, France to San Casciano, Italy via the Côte d’Azur.

We hope you enjoy reading them as well as looking through the photographs. You can click on any of the clustered photographs within each blog post to open the photo gallery. From there you'll be able to view the full-sized image for each photograph, and scroll from left to right, or vice versa, to see the rest of the photo gallery.

We'd love to hear from you in the comments below each post if you'd like to write. Or feel free to send us an email if you prefer. We'd very much like to hear the latest from you, what important events transpired in your life in 2013, and what your inspirations and intentions might be for the year ahead.

In closing, we both wish you a most splendiferous 2014!

With love and warm regards,

Sean & Mufidah