Thursday, 6 June 2013

Places, puppies and a book


Somehow it's over two weeks since I've written anything here and I'm now receiving complaints from my sister about a lack of posts (and an email of concern from Mary - thank you, Mary!). I don't have any finished sewing to share with you, but my sister said 'and don't write about sewing' when putting in her request for a blog post, so I'll share what the fabrics at the top of this post are intended for another time. Instead I thought I'd tell you about the things that I was mulling over during the busy (but lovely) half-term week we've just had.

sand dunes at Camber
A friend, Katy, had asked if she could make a recorded interview about places that are special to me for a paper she is writing as a part of her psychology degree. I wasn't sure what Katy's hypothesis might be, so it was fairly open-ended as to what kind of special places I should talk about - I was unsure if it should be that the place itself was special or whether it should be the memory of a time there, but once I started thinking about it I wondered if the two are inextricably linked for me. The only stipulation was that it shouldn't be somewhere in my own house (which meant that my sewing desk was unfortunately eliminated).


After pondering over it in the days before we met, I eventually narrowed it down to three places. The first was my grandmother's old house: a tiny and very tidy terraced house in a run-down part of Macclesfield that felt entirely magical because of the person that she was to me and my sister during our early childhoods. I told Katy about the enormous, soft powder puffs that my grandmother kept in her bathroom that my sister and I would use to create huge talcum powder clouds with; the Chesterfield sofa, which for years was a horse in our games (in the photo above I'm sitting on top of the Chesterfield above my grandmother and sister, who alarmingly looks slightly stuffed, she never actually looked like this*); the maracas and castanets that she kept by her huge bed which we would use for raucous renditions of Doris Day songs or rowdy hymns, inspired by accompanying our grandmother to her pentecostal church where people would suddenly shout 'hallelujah' from the pews, seemingly apropos of nothing other than a need to openly rejoice. Sometimes our grandmother would shock us by doing this too. It wasn't the kind of reserved worship that my sister and I saw in our school's church, so it felt particularly delightful in its eccentricity, despite it failing to sway either of us into believing anything we heard there.


My grandmother's house was not a shrine to good taste and I think that was why we loved it so much there - it was decorated with all the things a child would probably covet (but be refused) if they knew they existed: garden gnomes outside, pink bulbs in the wall lights, a trolley to take the plates through to the dining room (which we tended to 'drive' rather than push. I served dinner onto the carpet on more than one occasion), Toby jugs lined up on shelves and a carpet so thick that the vacuum cleaner left track marks in it. We made the beautiful gnome gardens in the photo above with her. I've wanted to do this with my own children but have never found such tiny gnomes. Katy wanted to know whether any of the places I talked about had changed me as a person. The others, not really, but I really think this one did. Not least because it was in that house that I was presented with my very first sewing basket. It was wicker with red satin lining and my grandmother filled it with beautiful threads and shiny-headed pins for me. She taught me how to embroider things that Christmas...I've never been terribly good at embroidery, but it's nice to remember being taught some needlework. We actually called our grandmother, Nannie, as that was what she preferred, but 'grandmother' seems a less personal word when talking about her to other people. When I was talking to a taxi driver I once referred to as Nannie accidentally, to which he replied: Jesus Christ, you sound more like someone off Downton Abbey every minute. I think he'd misunderstood and thought I was referring to a live-in nanny, but as we were near my home I enjoyed replying 'you may set me down here then, driver'. To which he burst out laughing, so I think he must have realised that I was joking.

Photo credit: Pat Bravo
I am cringing slightly to say that my second place is Liberty. But it's not just because it's home to lovely fabrics or because the wood panelling and quiet halls create a feeling of serenity and calm (although if sewing is at the heart of my life in many ways then is it so very odd to choose somewhere fabric related?). It's also where I chose my engagement and wedding ring with my husband when I was 23; it has rooms that, for me, echo with the laughter of happy visits made there with Jo, Helen & Lisa; its chocolate room is the first place my husband visits when we go into London; and after visiting with my daughter for the first time this Spring, I also have happy memories of seeing her delight and love for it - so in many ways it feels very much a family and friends shop for me. I've borrowed a photo from Pat Bravo above, as my only photo of this amazing bathtub has my daughter in. Do go and have a look at Pat's photos from her visit to Liberty - they are stunning, particularly the sewing related ones which start half-way down her post.


Finally Rye. It's our short break or day trip destination that never fails to offer a feeling of having been completely revived. We seem to set off with the intention to have fun there and always do. We wander around the cobbled streets, eat ice-creams, sit on benches and chat and time seems to slow down. We then potter off to the beach at Camber or go for cakes at the tea shop in Winchelsea village and if we're staying overnight we enjoy going back to our room at The George. I thought we may be alone in our love of Rye and how perfect things feel while we're there, but I spotted a Rob Ryan tea towel in one of the shops and when I read the words he'd cut, I realised that Rye seems to inspire a universal feeling of contentment in everyone who visits. My husband would love to live there, but I don't want to break the spell of its loveliness by having it as part of our everyday lives.



Last week we went again, but this time with Nell. I was worried that it would feel different with her there and that her presence would alter the dynamic of the four of us being there together (because it feels like she's altered it in so many other unexpected areas, not all bad, but with that same repositioning that takes place when you add a new baby to the house. I hadn't expected a dog to be capable of creating that feeling of all the pieces having been thrown up in the air and having to wait patiently for them to land in harmonious new positions). But actually, she added to, rather than detracted from our time at the beach.


She ran with such joyful enthusiasm (ears flapping wildly, tongue hanging out) in the sea with the children. It was her first time off the lead and to our surprise she didn't seem to want to run away, but ran excitedly between each of us until she'd got used to the sensation of being completely free, at which point she dug a very large hole, which she then sat in to watch the kites and other dogs.


Nell is generally a complete delight, but I'm struggling with how 'different' she feels from us in some ways - she has none of the sweet reserve that my children have always had that's made me feel I can take them anywhere. Her doggish spirit which makes her so warm, friendly and fun to be around, is also what makes her excited by everything and so difficult to control. Her size belies how young she still is, so I often feel mortified by her behaviour and find myself having to hold her lead just a few inches from her collar to stop her from jumping up at people. I worry over becoming an awful dog owner who lets her dog run riot while looking on with a beatific 'what more can I do?' smile on her face. Never having had a dog before it's difficult to tell whether we're expecting too much of her and this is fairly normal for a five month old puppy or if we we're missing something fundamental in our training of her. Answers, reassurance, suggestions? I would love them. As I write this she's off at a training class with my husband that takes place in a lovely orchard - when they return I always ask hopefully: is she good now? But really, training seems to be a minute-by-minute thing that can't be undertaken in an hour a week. Every time I unload the dishwasher or sort the washing it's an exercise in getting her to 'sit' and 'stay', leaving the dishes and socks undisturbed. Often she does this perfectly, wagging her tail in anticipation of the treat she'll get in reward. Other times she'll lurch forward without warning and her wet nose will suddenly push in insistently and she will make off with stolen socks hanging from her mouth (she does actually look adorable when she does this, but when I'm in a hurry to try and get something done then it becomes frustrating). Part of the problem is that she has a huge amount of energy to burn off but, because golden retrievers are a breed prone to hip problems, she is limited in the amount of time we can walk her for in the first year while her bones are still developing.


Several places were on my list but didn't quite make it: one of which is our greenhouse, which emerges as a new room to our house each year and where in the chill of spring we sit and chat on the sleeper-edged beds, before being ousted by plant growth as summer arrives. The fact that it is a room that only exists for us for a few months makes it even more special. Sometimes all four of us gather in there, other times my husband and I arrange to meet there if we want to discuss possible plans for the day without the children overhearing...or if everyone is in a bickery mood and we need to escape for a few minutes. But there is something lovely about being discovered there too: hearing the sound of feet trotting down the garden path and the door being flung open and the humid air being mixed with the freshness of outdoors again. The children seem to love being in the greenhouse too. It's a place that forces me to stop and notice new growth where it may pass me by elsewhere.

I was appalled to find myself fleetingly considering Waitrose, a shop where my sister and I agree such a sense of calm prevails as you push your trolley around its aisles that it's capable of also inspiring the sense that, for the time you are surrounded by this order, space and abundance of wholesome food, nothing bad can ever happen there. In my defence, I realised that when I go to Waitrose it tends to be that I go there with other people when we're feeling the need to have nicer-than-usual-food and will enjoy choosing things from the shelves together, as opposed to Sainsburys where I'd do our regular weekly shop alone (if I was organised enough to do a regular weekly shop) with none of the same feeling of frivolity. So perhaps I could consider it so well liked because of the people and mood that I go there with.

So that's a rather long and rambling post around my discussion with Katy, with some dog worries in between. Which places are special to you? Do you think a place is special because of what it is, or because of the people you're there with. Or would one of your favourite places be somewhere where you tend to be entirely alone?


While we're off topic (sewing being on-topic), I thought I might tell you about a book that I'm currently reading. My sister lent it to me when I went to stay with her a few weekends ago. The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves was originally read on Radio 4, but I missed that, so I'm now reading a little each morning as I dry my hair. It's divided into bite-sized case studies of Stephen Grosz' own patients, often featuring the moment where after years of psychoanalysis they grasp what's been underpinning their troubles and finally make sense of some of the patterns to their behaviour. It's fascinating and insightful and I'm now not wanting it to end because Stephen Grosz seems so lovely and as though his understanding of people comes with a complete kindness that makes the book relaxing to read, no matter how challenging the subject matter. It's not a self-help book, more a book about understanding the human psyche. I remember reading a book by Oliver Sacks at university, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, that had a similar impact on me - I think it's a real skill to be able to write about the human mind in a way that makes it fascinating and accessible to laypeople and this is what both these writers manage to do so well.

Anyway, I'd love to hear about your own special places, your what-you-can-realistically-expect-from-a-five-month-old-puppy thoughts or any good books you might be reading.

Florence x

* That my be the last time she'll ask for a non-sewing related post.


36 comments:

  1. Oh, you've never been in our local Waitrose which is full of ladies with loud braying voices either commanding bewildered husbands, or calling out to friends with whom they then have long conversations blocking the aisles - sorry, rant over. Love liberty's and Rye too, but they're too far away for us now. I'd have to say Cardiff, where we lived happily for 15 years, and Bristol which was my childhood home and where all my aunts, uncles and cousins were. I think possibly Harrogate would be our absolute favourite place - especially Bettys.
    Think of the puppy at 5 months as an early teenager finding her feet(paws). She'll go through so many stages before she settles down. The larger the breed the longer it takes, but she sounds delightful, willing and good natured which are the basics, the rest will come in time.

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  2. Oh no! That sounds like a very different sort of Waitrose to the one I know and love. I have heard no braying in my local one, but I do know exactly what you mean by that. Mine tends to be very, very peaceful!

    I've never been to Cardiff, but I did love Bristol when I spent a new year's eve there one year.

    Thank you for the puppy reassurance. x

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  3. I don't know if it's a northern thing as your Nannie lived n Macclesfield, but my grandmother was also Nanny to me and my mum is Nanny to my children! It's lovely to hear somebody else using the name! x

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    1. I think it may be a northern thing, although we always called our other northern grandmother, Grandma, so its use is obviously limited. That's nice that you've continued with the tradition with your own children.

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  4. I had the same problem with my dog when she was a puppy - she was so over excited to see anyone human she would jump all over them in delight, which not everyone likes or welcomes! She did calm down a lot as she grew up though, and she is now 2 years old and I can take her anywhere as she is well behaved. Don't give up, keep going with the puppy training & Nell will calm down! x

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    1. That's a relief to hear - thank you for the encouragement! x

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  5. I have similar formative memories of my grandmother's house. She used to watch me and my two cousins while our mothers worked, and every afternoon she would write the names of the three bedrooms on slips of paper, fold them up and put them in her silver sugar bowl for us to draw from, to see where we would be taking our naps. We called her "Grandmother", which was utterly natural but seems very formal to me now, although she was not a formal kind of woman.

    Nell sounds like a very typical 5 month old. She is still very young and learning about the world, making lots of mistakes as she tries to sort it all out. We have had four golden retrievers (two at a time, twice), and it seems to me that they all eventually reached a point where they understood that life is actually more enjoyable when they operate within our parameters rather than charging off impulsively all the time. She wants to be good, but her attention and willpower are limited. Partly it's because everything is still new to her; in a little bit she will become blase and more able to focus on your expectations and pleasing you. What she is going through now can be frustrating, I know, but she will never be as funny and madcap as she is now. It's a journey!

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    1. That sounds like an adorable thing to do - I'd love to know what the names of the rooms were.

      I wonder if two at a time helps them to get used to being around other dogs more and makes them calmer when they go out...although in every other way that sounds like much more of a handful! What you've said makes perfect sense, as well as your nudge to just enjoy her current loopy phase for what it is - than you.

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  6. The very north west coast of Scotland where the beaches are sublime even when it's chilly!! A place called Durness has the most fantastic boutique hotel called McKays that is a real indulgent treat - well worth the 2 days it takes to get there!! It is an incredibly rugged landscape and very dramatic.
    Yes Harrogate ticks many boxes too but the RHS Gardens at Harlow Carr ( 10 mins out of Harrogate) also has a Betty's so you get the best of both worlds. Filey on the east coast is a proper seaside town and has a wonderful chocolate shop called Sterchi's!
    I'm not a dog owner (yet!) but a friend of mine who has been involved with rescue dogs for many years always talks about the need for dogs to understand who is in charge and that the family they join is like any pack and as long as the humans maintain the position of pack leader then the dog does fine and knows it's place.

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    1. Durness sounds like an amazing place - I'll make a note of that as it sounds like a place my husband would particularly love too. I've also noted down the chocolate shop. We love going to Rye as there's an amazing fudge shop there, so a place often has a food-related pull!

      We've often read about the pack aspect and you're right - at first Nell saw my son as being lower in the pack than her and was particularly badly behaved around him and would nip at his ankles, try and play-wrestle him to the floor and wouldn't listen to any of his requests for her to do things. We managed to solve it by getting him to pretend to eat some of her food before we served it to her, as apparently that sends a clear message to a dog about the ranking of things! Nell wasn't to know that he was nearly gagging as he pretended to gobble up her meaty biscuits.

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  7. Our Labrador knows her place - on the settee beside my husband!! She has calmed down a bit over the years but still reverts to puppyhood on many occasions. Mostly this is when she feels she is being ignored e.g. if we laugh at the telly instead of her, or indulge in a good old family chin-wag. She is not lacking in attention but I fear it is us humans who are responsible for any behaviour issues. 'Stop winding the dog up!' is a regular cry in our house!
    My Scottish Grandmother was 'Nanny' as is my Mum (now known as 'THE Nanny' - said in dramatic voice - after a particular episode of Dr. Who, lol!)

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    1. I haven't seen Dr Who, but I can imagine it.

      It sounds like you're saying a dog will become more like the family it's surrounded by then?

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  8. WAITROSE?! My sister said something when she was little that's become a family saying, about being in there, "trying to shop and trying to shop" - and never finding what you need. One of the most enraging places I can think of!

    My grandparents built a house in a beautiful valley in upstate New York, with a steep garden leading down to a stream and woods on the other side. Not a place we could visit very frequently but so special, and it's now sadly being sold because my grandfather died in 2011 and my grandmother can't use the house on her own. It's one of the places that I sometimes like to take a little mental tour of, imagining the smells and sounds as well as the sights.

    No advice on dogs but Nell sounds mainly lovely and I'm sure you'll all settle in together eventually! x

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    1. I had no idea there were so few lovers of Waitrose in the world! But not only is it not loved, it seems to inspire rage. It almost feels like we are talking about different shops!

      Your grandparents' home sounds absolutely amazing - I can imagine how sad you must be to let that go. I too still imagine some of the smells from my childhood house in Australia - it's a good way to preserve memories, isn't it. x

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  9. I enjoyed reading your whole post, and the dog training certainly struck a cord. We have a 5 month old Cairn terrier and she is very similar in behaviour. Two things have especially helped. We changed puppy class and the new trainer is much better with our particular challenges (!). Including recommending we use cheap frankfurter sausages cut up as treats. She will do anything for these. Organic principles are put to one side for now! So try lots of different things to see what works for her. And they do get better as they grow up.

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    1. That's so funny you've said that - that's exactly what my husband came home and said today - that everyone says how much more responsive a dog is for a meaty treat.

      I've been vegetarian since I was 4 and my husband since he was 19 and we've both become a little squeamish about handling meat so we've stuck to dry dog meaty biscuits which are easy to handle until now...but we're now considering attempting to overcome this if it might result in a well-behaved dog! Thank you for the advice.

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  10. I love Rye too, it's a wonderful place. And I feel the same about Waitrose too, but again, I only go there occasionally for the odd treat, so of course it feels special. That's a lot of dog you have there. No tips I'm afraid, I've never owned one. Golden retrievers are lovely though. Good luck, I am sure you will get her trained soon.

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    1. Your 'that's a lot of dog you have there' comment made me laugh out loud - thank you. She is indeed a lot of dog. Eep!

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  11. I had to chuckle at your taxi driver story, I had the exact same situation when talking about my Nanny at work some time ago. Everyone seemed to have come from a slightly different background to me and for the avoidance of further confusion I had to refer to my grandmother as 'mi Nan' ever after. Nanny is I think the most common form of Grandmother in the Midlands btw - and we're definitely not Northern!
    I really enjoyed this post - it has got me thinking about places that are special to me. Previously I would've said Hay-on-Wye as my most special spot as my father would always drive that way when bringing me home from University for holidays. I would scour the bookshops for second hand versions of the next term's books. Then we'd meet for tea and cake at a lovely traditional tea-shop. More recently the Ashdown Forest is really special and important to me now. We've had so many days of scrambling over hills and scrub, picnicking in special Pooh places.
    A lovely post Florence!

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    1. That sounds like a lovely memory of time with your father - there's something really cosy about doing things in the same way every time, isn't there.

      The Ashdown Forest reminds me of my father-in-law - we went for a picnic there once and I was troubled by the abundance of sheep droppings (we had clearly picked a spot where an entire herd had lived for several years and had only left just as we arrived, but this was my lasting impression of it, unfortunately). After that when thinking of places we could go my father-in-law would tactfully try and find places on the map that he knew would be devoid of sheep droppings, which must have been a big sacrifice for him as he was a botanist and loved scrubbling around! Your enjoyment of it makes me think that there must be areas which aren't covered over in this way - maybe I should try it again!

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  12. An interesting posts full of ideas, thankyou Florence. I have mixed feelings on Waitrose and find it a mix of irritability at some customers' behaviour and and pleasure at the selection of sushi and Korres body products. As for dogs, as you spend such a large part of your day with her, I would suggest you would benefit from going to the classes with Nell too. Much of dog training is about use of vocal tone, consistency and reward and that's where a good trainer will help you as an owner. Understanding a bit of dog psychology could help too, Cesar Milan (and others like him) - lots of insight, he has a website with some of free help on it (and some costly DVDs!).

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    1. I think I must be so absorbed by what's on the shelves that I don't notice the other customers. However, our nearest Waitrose is in the next town which has a very diverse population where I think there may be less likelihood of it being inhabited by the braying hoards which others have talked about. I haven't come across Korres before, but will now look out for it - is it very lovely?

      Cesar Milan seems to inspire Marmite-like reactions - with some saying a lot of what he says makes sense, but then others seem to claim his methods aren't dog friendly. I hadn't looked into him because of this, but my husband read an article by him the other day that he said it didn't seem to be based on cruel methods and just made sense, so I think at least some of this reputation is unfounded. I'll look into it now you've recommended him too - thank you, Kerry. x

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  13. Your words struck a cord with me I have a 1 year old larger dog and a small 15 week old pup. :) I have watched a lot of dog whisperer episodes to help me understand different dog training techniques. Cheese, popcorn or peanut butter are favorite training treats for my dogs. Write down the good moments with your pup and when your frustrated read about the small successes.

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    1. Cheese and peanut butter we've tried, but not popcorn - that's a good tip! I'm guessing it needs to be unsalted?

      Thank you so much for the ideas & good luck with your own puppy. x

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  14. Oh don't worry - I am a Waitrose lover too - but it probably helps that I am invariably in there at 8.30 in the morning when there are few other shoppers. If I have to go on a Saturday, I feel quite differently about it. Very aggrieved that other people are cluttering up my aisles.

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    1. Ali, you have just gone up a notch in the perception I already had of you as being a very efficient sort of person!

      It's a Saturday afternoon that we often seem to arrive there - sorry - compared to Sainsburys the aisles seem almost empty though and even with lots of children it feels like a peaceful place . I'm guessing it varies from branch to branch.

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  15. My favourite place is in the pop up roof of our vw camper van wherever it happens to be, with our kids stuffed in underneath us - especially the time the "baby" slept in a big cardboard box because the travel cot wouldn't fit! Liberty is also very special to me - when I was fist married and lived in California, I used to go there with my mum whenever I was "home" in England (she lived in Oxford so we would have a day-trip). We were always on a tight budget and I would choose one yard of tana lawn each visit and spend all day about it - we liked patchwork. I could never bring myself to cut it up though and recently sold my "vintage" fabric. We would also sneak our own biscuits into the cafe to have with our cup of tea! We had such fun, it is a magical place.

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    1. I love the beds in those camper vans - lucky you - that must be so cosy.

      Your days at Liberty with your mum sound lovely, although I feel slightly heartbroken that you let your accumulated fabrics go!

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  16. I live in Macclesfield. It is a great place near to lovely countryside. It has a strong connection with textiles....especially silk.

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    1. How lovely - I have really fond memories of Macclesfield...although unfortunately not of the textiles and silk!

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  17. I think I have some eerily similar tiny gnomes - sent to me by Eurolush, whose blog is now sadly defunct. My children played with them for a little while but are now too old/ obsessed with fairies to want them.

    I can send them to you, if I can find them, and if you tell me where.

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    1. That would be so lovely. Let me know if you ever come across them and I'll send you my address. Thank you. x

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  18. I'm no expert dog-trainer, but I've found that the moment-to-moment approach you mention is very effective. I think classes are very important, but back at home it's tiny little efforts throughout the day that shape the dog for the rest of its life.
    My current dog had a terrible "childhood" so we did a lot of rehab. In the process, I learned two things that will help with any dog, I think: firstly, make it very difficult for the dog to "fail." If this means asking for a tiny thing and then making a big fuss when the dog succeeds, perfect! Each tiny step forward is a building block. And secondly, it's much better to do 3 minutes ten times daily than one half-hour "training session." Much easier to make things fun when they are tiny things scattered throughout a normal day, rather than a longer session when both dog and human can become frustrated and unhappy. And it's always important to end on a happy note, with a dog who feels pleased with herself.
    The term "play training" is used a lot these days, and I think the concept is a good one.
    Nell sounds like a lovely pup, and I think she has found a perfect family :)

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    1. Thank you for really helpful comment! I've forwrded it on to my husband.

      It sounds like you've done amazing things with your rescue dog - what a lucky thing to now have you in his life.

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  19. I'd been wondering where you'd vanished to! We used to have a rather lively black Labrador, who was totally adorable but also totally mad. We found The Dog Listener by Jan Fennell was really helpful and using her techniques calmed him down a lot. She is still very young too!

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  20. My mother started off as Nana to her grandchildren but gradually morphed into Nans over the years. One day my nephew was arranging a pick up from school with her and finished the call with "Thanks Nans" his friend, overhearing, asked him "how many Nans do you have?" My dad wanted to be called Poppa but the twins, who were almost 3 when he died, always called him Poppie.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x