Own Your Weirdness – Good for the Dog, Good for You

Golden Retriever Weirdness

I had never lived with a swimming dog before. When Honey came home with us, I could hardly wait for the weather to warm up so we could see her in action.

I just knew she’d love the water. Even as a little puppy, she’d swerve out of her way to walk through a puddle.

Honey the golden retriever goes swimming as a puppy.

Wow, this is one deep puddle. What do you call it again? The Delaware Bay?

By the time summer came, Honey was nearly five months old. She waded into the lake until the tops of her feet were wet. Then she stopped.

Honey would go no farther no matter how we coaxed. This was no swimming dog. This was a weird dog.

Human Weirdness

If Fox News knew the town of Ithaca existed, they’d say it was filled with smug, granola-eating, vegetarian eco-Nazis. I should fit right in. But somehow I feel like a misfit here.

Sure, both my husband and I have had strangers come up to us when we’re riding our bikes in the winter to tell us we’re heroes. But I don’t want admiring environmentalists to worship me. I want them to join me.

Mike ties the Christmas tree down to the bike cart for the trip home.

How do you get a Christmas tree home when you don’t own a car? Watch and learn, my friends. Watch and learn.

And everyone talked a good game about supporting a new family owned grocery store in the downtown. But the grocery store is struggling to survive. Most people would rather drive across town to buy their favorite brand of non-GMO sandwich cookie than walk to buy fresh, local produce from a store in their own neighborhood.

Our community has plans for dozens of miles of bike trails in recreational areas. But the poor condition of the city streets makes a ride over them in my skinny-tire bike with nothing but a thin bit of padding between my nether-lands and the pot holes uncomfortable at best. And dangerous at worst.

We’ve gotten so good at generating less trash that when we do put a bag out every few months, the collectors fail to pick it up in the dark. They’re not used to looking for trash in front of our house.

And don’t get me started on the local car share program that chides us for not having a cell phone. You’d think it would occur to someone that if owning a car is bad for the environment, so is owning a cell phone.

Do I sound bitter and self-pitying? You betcha. Until I realized something.

The reason I don’t identify with the local eco-culture (and I’m not talking about everyone; just the prevalent “If I buy a Prius I’m saving the environment” crowd), is because I’m not an environmentalist. Not really.

The reason I hang my laundry on a clothes line, walk or ride my bike to buy groceries, or use rags to clean puppy accidents instead of paper towels is not because I’m a 21st century eco-warrior. It’s because I’m an early 20th century, urban grandma.

I should have realized it when my neighbor pointed out that her elderly Italian mother admired me for hanging laundry—even the rags. (I never got a chance to tell my fan that those “rags” were probably our clothes.)

And yes, I do have one of those wheeled shopping carts to bring groceries home. I also grow a few vegetables in my front yard, like a Victory Garden. I take the old buttons off clothing that’s being cut into rags so I have them if a lose one on another shirt.

My square foot garden with spinach seedlings.

My square foot garden. Looks like the spinach seedlings are the first to sprout.

I’m married to a grandpa too. Mike inherited from his grandfather the ability to save all kinds of little things he’ll need later. He saves old plugs, pieces of wire, string, lumber, etc. And when we need it, he has an amazing ability to scrounge up a home repair solution using items around the house.

It’s time for me to recognize that I’m out of time, out of step, and need to own my weirdness. It will make me much happier.

Honey and I Own Our Weirdness

I’ve worked to make Honey a swimmer.

I’ve coaxed her out into deeper water with liverwurst. I’ve taken her to play with dogs who love to swim. I’ve gone swimming myself, hoping she’d join me on her own.

It ain’t happening. Honey has embraced her inner weirdness. She a non-swimming retriever.

I’m okay with that. I’ve confirmed for myself that Honey can swim, if she has to. She’s not going to sink to the bottom if she falls off a dock because she can’t paddle to safety.

She’s happy frolicking in the water, as long as it doesn’t get deeper than her chest.

Honey the Golden Retriever is a kayaking dog.

Now this is living.

I’m happier when I recognize that although some of my outward actions make me look like one kind of person, I’m actually an old-fashioned, frugal, grandma at heart. Recognizing that, I feel less “betrayed” by people who share my values but make different life choices.

Honey owns her weirdness every time she wades without swimming. It’s time for me to own mine. After all, if it’s good for the dog, it’s probably good for me.

Your Turn: Are you a misfit? Is your dog? Have either of you “owned” your weirdness?



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  1. Hanging laundry out to dry is awesome. Mom did that a lot in Germany, that feel things have is nothing like the feel after the dryer. You should move to Europe, you would fit in perfectly there as they do things just as you do. Mom learned a lot about “eco” living while spending her ten years in Germany (not in the military, living as a real German in smaller towns). Here you would never see an eighty year old woman riding her bike to the store through the snow, but in so many parts of the world that is normal. Americans fear being different, good for you being who you are and sticking to it.

    • I think you hit the nail right on the head, Emma. Not bad for a dog without opposable thumbs. :)

      Years ago I read that in order for everyone on Earth to have an equal standard of living without destroying the planet, we’d all have to live like Europeans in the 1970s. That means small or no refrigerator, living clustored together in small towns or cities, taking publish transit, buying fresh and local food.

      It sounded terrific to me. Unfortunately, it’s probably not true any longer since the population keeps increasing.

      I remember in the mid 1980s seeing Austrian farmers bringing their vegetables to the Salzburg market in baskets. They came by train. Can you imagine ever seeing that in the U.S.?

      • Honestly, Mom says that living there felt like living here would have been in the 50’s. If you are not in a big city, things are slow, cars aren’t used as much, people walk and bike a lot, shop at the small markets, the farmer’s markets are awesome with tons of fresh healthy stuff. They have been using their own bags at the stores forever (Americans think they are so clever now that we are starting to do that), they respect their things, aren’t as apt to just throw away stuff, rather try to keep it running or useable. A very different way of thinking.

  2. Weirdness is a wonderful attribute!

  3. I fear I’ve become too lazy to be as frugal as I know I should be. Creature comforts have a way of sneaking up on you and taking over. Case in point – our dog Tino who we rescued from a wilderness area slept outside when we first got him. By the time he died, he had worked his way slowly but surely into our bed. It takes effort to hold yourself to the standard that you hold so I say kudos to you. It’s not weird, it’s admirable. But maybe I’ll try to take some baby steps in that direction. And don’t feel bad, my two retrievers don’t like to swim either.

    • I hope I didn’t leave the impression that I practice every frugal virtue. My inner frugal grandma cringes every time I turn on the space heater in my office instead of putting on the long underwear. If California hasn’t wiped out every memory you have of life in NY, I’m sure you understand. :)

      And what’s with these weird retrievers? Don’t they know how fun it is to swim?

  4. Eco-awareness or not, you guys are heroes for just riding a bike in Ithaca, period! That town is at the bottom of a whole lot of steep hills! We brought bikes with us as we love to tour a new town on bikes, but when we saw the non-stop hill from downtown Ithaca out to the La Tourelle…ah, no! Wasn’t gonna happen 😉

    • While I enjoy the bike ride from downtown to Taughannock State Park, I’m not in a big hurry to ride up Aurora Street/Danby Road to La Tourelle myself. And certainly not in the winter.

      But I can share my secret for the next time you visit: the buses have space for two bikes on the front. It’s fun to take the bus up hill and ride back down. I’m happy to show you how it works if you ever make a return visit. :)

  5. Living the life we do, ya some people think we’re weird. Others…think we are lucky. I don’t care either way. We are happy, poor, but happy. LOL And maybe weird too.

    • Count me with the ones who wouldn’t call you lucky–I appreciate the sacrifices you had to make to enjoy your traveling life–but definitely blessed.

      And weird. But in a good way. :)

  6. If you really want a water dog, get a Lab. I’ve never seen a dog love water so. My lab mix is like Honey – water is fine as long as it doesn’t touch his belly. 😉

    • We have actually sought out labs at the lake. We hoped their enthusiasm would be contagious.

      Apparently not. But your comment is making me think a belly band to keep Honey’s tummy from getting so cold might make a difference. :)

  7. Vlad & Barkly's Dee says:

    I’ve got baskets full of old antique buttons. My grandmothers used to save them. I inherited them since I was one of the few that still sews–not as much any longer because it’s ridiculously expensive now with patterns themselves being $10 or more, and I save buttons too. I’m saving plastic bags right now to start making my own recycled plastic grocery bags. I’m going to use this girl’s pattern: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SERA-c82Vmo There are no tie-ons or anything. Just loops looped together and crocheted. The canvas ones the stores have sold for so long are great, but I’ve found they wear a lot after about a year, and my older sewing machine doesn’t like trying to mend them (neither do my fingers). I’ve yet to find a use for the torn up canvas bags. We still have an old box-type tv that isn’t HD because it still works. We don’t throw away things that still work. I draw the line at a bike though. We live 8 miles from city limits, and the groceries are still a few more miles. No car = not happening.

    • That video for crocheting new plastic grocery bags is awesome! Thanks for sharing it.

      Every couple of years, I get a crochet hook out and try to teach myself. But this idea has me really excited so maybe I’ll accomplish something.

      I haven’t had plastic grocery bags around the house for years. But since we use flushable poop bags, the bread bags are adding up. I’m sure this idea could be adapted for them. Now to just each myself to crochet. :)

      BTW, I’m not telling you to bring groceries home 8 miles on the bike. But I remember when I had a car that I thought 8 miles was a pretty long distance to ride. Now that I ride all the time, it’s really not a long distance at all.

      Maybe when the weather is nice you can plan a recreational 8 mile trip and see how it feels. Yeah, I’m a missionary. Every other bicyclist out on the road makes me feel safer. :)

  8. Weirdness makes this world a whole lot more interesting! I think weirdness comes down to the stick you use to measure… My family thinks I’m weird for all the dog stuff, but my dog friends think it’s weird not to have a dog. Many of my college friends thought I was weird for staying in on Fridays to read a really good book, but my book club friends did the same thing. In Bloomington, the cashier glared at you for forgetting your reusable totes. Here? They’re amazed that you bring your own bags! Eye of the beholder and all that jazz… I have to say, I admire all the frugal grandma things that you do! We try to inch closer to a more “sustainable” way of life, but we have miles to go…

  9. Things have changed for me in terms of the environment. In the past I’ve recycled paper, cans and bottles when there was a place to bring them. Then they took away that place. When NYC recently became a recycling mecca (ha) and the sanitation department picks up the recycled stuff it’s easy to recycle. Why don’t others do the same?
    I rode my bike all over the city. Now it’s too dangerous; there are too many cars, car service cars, and the taxi cabs aim for you. I have some cloths for 20 years and they still look good and the size 8 still fit. I turn old t-shirts into rags and donate towels when I redecorate to the shelter. Is that weird? Like some of your blog friends, I save old buttons (have I used them, no), I repurpose things and save stuff just in case. I buy books from the Salvation Army and donate them back. I guess in my own way I am weird.

  10. Not weird, just unique. I think it is fantastic that you’d rather walk to the locally owned store than drive to the commercial store. It’s too bad that place is struggling. I do somewhat the same. I walk to our grocery store. It is a commercial store but we don’t have a close-by locally owned one. For pet food, I drive to the locally owned shop, Pawsh Wash. I don’t walk because carrying a 50lb back of dog food back home would kill me. I could ride my bike but I am definitely not in shape for that.

    Unlike Honey, my Lab Maya took to water immediately. The first time she saw a body of water, she ran into it so quickly that she quickly went under. I thought for a split second that I was going to have to jump in to save her. But she popped up as happy as could be and did it again. The only time Maya doesn’t come when she is called is when she is running towards water.

  11. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t hang washing out to dry – unless its raining?! Or am I missing something. Some of your day to day rituals inspire me and one thing I am really missing now I am back with my parents is having a composter right outside the back door.

    I think I need to hold onto this post to encourage me to move out on my own again!

  12. Ithica sounds a lot like Seattle :) I never thought about using car share being a challenge to those that choose to live a life unplugged and free of a cell phone.

  13. Our golden retriever Sheba LOVES to swim. If she sees water, she gravitates towards it. However, her late brother Moses would only walk in part way. As soon as he felt the bottom disappearing, he stopped. One of our beagles also loves to swim, the other won’t do any more than get his paws wet.
    I’ve often felt like a misfit myself….I am not a social person and I don’t have children of my own. I’d rather stay home than go out. Trying to be more social just makes me miserable. As I get older, I try to accept myself the way I am more, and worry less about what others think. Moses never cared what anyone thought about the fact that he didn’t swim, and he wasn’t going to do it just to make us happy. He was a smart guy.

  14. Puppy Honey pretty much melted my brain and I am unable to form any coherent thoughts. That photo…