Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A very Happy Hogmanay to you all

Here's to a very Happy Hogmanay and a wonderful new year!

While I take a break from watching Batman and getting everything ready for seeing the new year in this evening, I thought I'd do a quick post (and celebrate the fact that I finally found the charger for my camera, which I "put somewhere safe" after we got back from Ireland in July and hadn't seen since. I tried buying a new one, which never arrived, and finding another one proved difficult, so I'm glad it turned up. For future reference, behind the bedroom mirror is apparently a "safe place." Who knew).

I'm feeling rather introspective and thankful as the year comes to a close. As years go, 2014 hasn't been a terrible one at all, especially now that we're finally getting back on our feet, financially, after Mr Seren lost his job in 2012 (and let's hope that continues). As years go, that one pretty much sucked donkeys, but we got through it I guess.

But it's certainly not all been sunshine and roses this year - not least for the fact that Eddie finally popped his clogs. As these things go I guess it could've been worse, but a new addition to the family takes some of the sting away:

This is Oscar, a "border collie" puppy (honest) who's probably only a wee bit sheep dog all in all... We think there's a good chance he has a fair bit of Jack Russell in him, and Mr Seren's convinced there's a bit of husky in there too. His fur is very soft and fluffy like that and his tail does curl up like a husky-type dog, but I think it's wishful thinking on Mr Seren's part there. Either way, we think he's going to end up about sheep dog sized, but aside from the markings on his head there's not much that's typically "sheep dog" about him, aside from the boundless energy, maybe.

We weren't planning on getting another dog so soon after Eddie, but as it happened looking at cute puppies helped cheer me up and I saw that Oscar needed a home only a few days after Eddie died. With the kids so young it's difficult to get a dog through rescue centres, since they tend to be very cautious about rehoming older dogs and puppies are few and far between. We'd prefer to get a rescue, but if that wasn't going to happen we didn't want to go out and just buy a puppy. As it happened, Oscar had been with a family for three weeks, but one of the kids, who's autistic, wasn't coping with the change. They'd previously had a sheep dog so thought he'd be OK with it, but as with any puppy, Oscar's pretty full on at times and it proved too much for the kid. He started locking himself away and self-harming, and eventually the parents decided that it was better if Oscar was rehomed before something terrible happened. So I emailed the family and introduced myself, and they got in touch straight away. Two days later, after a couple of chats on the phone, we went to see him and brought him home with all of the bits and pieces they'd bought for him.

He was eleven weeks when we got him - he's just coming up 15 weeks now, and a bit bigger than he is in the photo there - and he's obviously been well looked after. He came from a farm - friends of the family, who gave him to them after their old dog died - and he's a very confident and outgoing little dog, and he's picking up commands and cues quickly. Though he often has a bad case of selective deafness... Hobbies include chewing, chewing, and more chewing.

Mungo's taken to him well and they've become good friends, and Mungo's a lot happier having someone to play with. With Eddie being as he was towards the end, he wasn't up for running around the garden play-fighting, and so on, so it's nice to see Mungo feeling a lot perkier these days. He was a little nervous of Oscar at first but Oscar's not exactly shy and Mungo was attempting to sit on his head and show him who's boss in no time.

Redding the house with a puppy to keep occupied has been an interesting challenge, to say the least. Tonight the kids are staying up to see the bells in, if they're good, and we'll be going to the in-laws for the usual steak pie tomorrow (probably with Oscar in tow). We have the candles lit and there's shortbread ready to go out as offerings after the bells have rung. Then we'll sweep out the old year and welcome in the new, and in the morning the house will be sained after a good breakfast.

If you check out the Hogmanay tag here on the blog you'll find some blessings and saining prayers I've posted over the years, if you're looking for inspiration. One of my favourites is:

Mor-phiseach air an taigh,
Piseach air an teaghlach,
Piseach air gach cabar.
Is air gach ni saoghalt' ann.

Piseach air eich a's crodh,
Piseach air na caoraich,
Piseach air na h-uile ni,
'S piseach air ar maoin uil'.

Piseach air beann an taighe,
Piseach air na paistean,
Piseach air each caraide,
Mor-phiseach agus slaint dhuibh.
Great good luck to the house,
Good luck to the family,
Good luck to every rafter of it,
And to every wordly thing in it.

Good luck to horses and cattle,
Good luck to the sheep.
Good luck to every thing,
And good luck to all your means.

Luck to the good-wife.
Good luck to the children,
Good luck to every friend.
Great fortune and health to all.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Yet more videos...

With the year drawing to a close it seemed apt to finish off our series on the festivals, and so in good time for the solstice and Hogmanay, Gaol Naofa has released two new videos (conveniently dealing with the solstice and Hogmanay respectively), which complete the festival year in the Gaelic calendar.

Considering the fact that a number of the festivals we've covered aren't Gaelic or pre-Christian in origin, it's no surprise to find that not every Gaelic Polytheist celebrates every single one. Each of them is significant in some way, when considered as being part of the bigger picture, as part of the continuum, but that doesn't necessarily mean all of them mean something to us on a personal, individual level. In the case of this particular festive period, I tend to pay more mind to Hogmanay than the solstice itself, because of the fact that it's a huge deal here in Scotland. Though with the kids finishing school today, and Mr Seren being on holiday as well, we'll inevitably end up having a whole festive thing, of sorts, until they get back to school come January...

Kathryn has a great post over on her blog that goes into some details about the traditions surrounding Hogmanay, and the Hogmanay video itself gives some details as well as a bit of context and history:

The music is by Clanadonia, who are good friends of my husband, so please support them! (This particular song is used in the first episode of Outlander, and at least one of the band members is in it as an extra. Just so you know...).

Anyway. Our video on the solstice has an overview of the origins and influences of the celebrations, and some things that you can do if you want to:

As Kathryn noted, I've used some of the photos I took during my visit to Ireland earlier this year (although I can assure you, the really good ones like the preview pic above aren't mine!).

Here, at home, we might indulge somewhat in a squidgy chocolate Yule log over the next few days (a family tradition I grew up with), and then there will be the usual cleaning and tidying - redding the house for the new year - and the lighting of many candles, which will fall to Rosie as her duty. The old year will be swept out, and the new year welcomed in, and then house will be sained, along with all of us in it. There will probably be the usual steak pie on New Years' Day at the in-laws (as is traditional in these parts), so we'll do some baking so we can take something with us as a gift. Tom loves baking, so he can take point on that. And we have a new puppy! So there will be a good opportunity to brave a trip to the beach and some other spots around the village so we can make some offerings and collect some water from the dead and living ford (there's one not far from here). All in all, there's plenty of things for us to be doing.

As always, I hope you enjoy the videos as much as I've enjoyed making them. While these two videos finish off our series on the festivals - thirteen videos in total - we intend to carry on with more, tackling some other topics in due course. We've had some requests for videos that people would like to see, and any more ideas are very welcome.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Saying goodbye

One of the first things I think I wrote about at the start of this year was about our old and ailing dog Eddie:

My dog, really, since I've had him since he was a pup. 

Although he'd begun to slow down and seemed to be struggling with hills at the start of the year, a change of food seemed to bring something of a revival. For how long that would last we didn't know, but as long as he was happy we decided to carry on.

This last month or so he'd begun having trouble with his eyes constantly gunking and then crusting up, which he wouldn't let me clean no matter what I did. In spite of a healthy appetite he was losing a lot of weight, as well, and his back legs were becoming a lot weaker. The pads of his feet seemed to have lost any kind of traction on smooth surfaces so unless he was in his bed or on carpet he'd get himself stranded if he lay anywhere else - usually in the kitchen, where the floor is tile or wood, so too slippery for him. A couple of times I had to rescue him at 4am or so and put him back to bed.

We had him checked over at the vet and she gave him antibiotics for his eyes, and noticed that there was a growth or mass of some sort near his back end. It was clearly painful and he wouldn't let her take a close look, but the writing was on the wall. Presumably that had a lot to do with his sudden decline. With the weightloss he was heading towards becoming dangerously underweight, and given his age and condition he wasn't going to survive any kind of surgery, whatever the problem was. I wouldn't want to put him through that, anyway. 

So he came home with antibiotics and strong painkillers, with instructions for us to bring him back the next week. For the first few days he perked up a lot, and seemed to have a lot more energy, but we didn't kid ourselves - it was never going to be for long. The aim was to make him more comfortable, and that was it. It wasn't clear how long he had, but at least we could hope that he wouldn't be suffering.

The antibiotics helped improve his eyes, but it wasn't enough to cure it. The next week the vet decided not to continue with them, because it was only going to end up leading to a resistant infection, which would make the situation a whole lot worse. In spite of our best efforts, he'd lost yet more weight and was now at the point where he was borderline. The vet said we could try giving him some puppy food, but while it would be high in calories, it was also high in protein and that would put a strain on his liver and kidneys. If we wanted to try it, we could, but either way with the infection and the mass... it was time to have the conversation and think about what we wanted to do for him. If he lost any more weight then he'd be dangerously thin. She tried having another look at the mass and said it was likely his prostate, but by this point there could be other things involved. Without further tests it was hard to say.

We brought Eddie home again, with more painkillers for the next couple of weeks before we had to take him back. And I thought about what to do. My main worry was his weight, because at a certain point his body would basically be unable to support itself, and I didn't really have any way of knowing where that point was, I just knew it was close. If the weighloss continued at the rate it had been, he wouldn't last a week. Another worry was the mass, and the obvious discomfort it was starting to give him. Even with the strong painkillers he'd started to randomly yelp out in pain when he moved. It wasn't long, once he was off the antibiotics, that his eyes started to gunk up again, which was making him miserable. I decided I couldn't let him suffer. I couldn't watch him decline even further just for the sake of a few more weeks, if that. As much as he still loved to go out for walks, as much as he still liked to sit out in the rain for hours on end, it was obvious he was tired. So, so tired. 

And so I made the call. I booked him in for a few days later, when Mr Seren happened to be working from home, so he could take us to the vets. And those few days were awful. There were a lot of tears, and a lot of effort put in to try and keep the kids from knowing, because it seemed unfair to put them through that. Sometimes, just for a moment, I'd convince myself we could put it off, because look! He's all happy to go walkies! And then he'd yelp. He'd collapse down in his bed and look fed up as he nuzzled at the fabric of his bed to try and clean his eyes. As soon as I tried to clean them he'd just cry mournfully. 

The day before we took him in, I took him and Mungo for a long and final walk, through the woods and then down to the beach. More than anything, Eddie loved to swim. In his younger days he'd go out and rescue stick after stick, my little selkie dog:

His mass of fluff and fur would slick down and reveal his small frame and his skinny legs with his silly feet, tufts of tan fur that always stuck up between his toes no matter what. 

But rivers, canals, ponds, the sea - you name it, Eddie would swim in it. His first time swimming in the sea was when we were staying with my mum down in Suffolk, and my sister and her family had come down as well. We went for a trip to the beach and my brother-in-law spent hours with him in the sea. Eddie drank a little too much sea-water that day, and as we were going through an amusement arcade the sea-water came right back up with a full English breakfast my brother-in-law had snuck him that morning. Eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, mushrooms... Probably a bit of fried bread and tomatoes, too. Eddie must've inhaled it instead of chewing it, and no wonder he was so thirsty. But as the incriminating evidence lay on the floor for all to see Eddie just grinned and wagged his tail as I told my brother-in-law off. Dogs eat dog food for a reason, Jeremy. 

To be fair, though, Eddie never tried drinking the sea again. 

When Eddie wasn't colluding with my brother-in-law or rescuing sticks he would be singing the song of his people:

A proud and happy song of excitement and (probably) sticks that needed rescuing.

So I decided it was time for one more trip before the inevitable. He had a wee bit of a swim, but mostly doddered about while Mungo did Operation Rescue Stick. It's not that it's December now and he had a sudden burst of common sense about freezing his bits off in the water all of a sudden, he just wasn't up to much more than doddering around. Common sense has never been Eddie's forte. 

He sang his song one last time:

And chewed on a stick (the only way to stop him singing his song) before we took one last stroll over the rocks. I stopped for a while and said some prayers for him - to Manannán and Clota of the river and sea, and to Donn - and made some offerings to them before we came home. It was a thankfully quiet day so we weren't disturbed.

The next day, after the kids went to school, we took him in. The vet checked him over and shaved a bit of his foreleg, and then gave the injection while I stroked and fussed him. He went quickly, and peacefully, and a fair bit of my snot got blown into tissues as I said my goodbyes. And that was it. It was a moment I'd been dreading, being there as he died. Seeing his lifeless body. It's not how I wanted to remember him, but at the same time I felt I had to be there, as an honour to him. We'd been through so much together, how could I not? Mr Seren offered to go in with him, or else the vet would have done it without us. But I couldn't not be there. 

The house is strangely empty and quiet now. No more little snuffles and snorts, or incessant sneezing and snuffling as he's being fussed. No more happy noises as you find the tickly spot on his belly. Mungo's been subdued, wanting to be left alone in between reassuring cuddles; I'm not sure if he knows what's happened, really. Part of me wonders if he's sulking because Eddie's obviously having a really long walk, and it's not fair, or maybe he's worried he's going to be next. Grumble (the cat) is sulking because now there's one less dog to torment or steal food from. The kids have taken it well, though. I wasn't expecting Tom to be as upset as he was, but I think it's more because he knew how upset I was than he was feeling sad for himself that Eddie had gone. There were tears, and questions, but they'd known it was coming at some point soon so it wasn't a total surprise. 

He was 15 years old, a good age for a dog. Especially a dog like Eddie, who did his damnedest as a puppy to give himself as short a life as possible and may or may not have given himself mild brain damage after choking on a bead (twice). Before I took him on, I hasten to add. At the time, the vet said not to expect him to live beyond seven or so, given the neurological deficits. I think in the end it turned out he was just not the brightest dog this world has ever seen...

He's been with me longer than Mr Seren has, and he was with me through some particularly tough times. And I wish I could think of something deep to finish off with, but all I can think to say is that I miss him already. But at the same time I'm glad for him, because I know he's not in pain anymore. He's not suffering, or struggling, or wasting away before our eyes. As I said to the kids, it's just the way things go, isn't it? We live, we grow old, and sometimes we get to do the kind thing for our pets. 

I'm still pretty agnostic when it comes to the whole afterlife deal. I'm not keen on the whole eternity thing, really. On the one hand, I can get on board with the whole reincarnation idea, though. On the other, I kind of like the vagueness of just "going west," out across the waves to the House of Donn or wherever else it might be. It's certainly easier to think that Eddie would be out there, frolicking in the waves.

Maybe the next time we're down at the beach we'll hear an echo of his song. I do hope so. My little selkie dog.