Studio Dog

Studio Dog
Studio Dog, a photo by Red Tail Designs on Flickr.

Indiana when he was a wee pup, taking a nap in the studio.

Let me set the scene

for you: It’s December, the wind is swirling snow around my numb fingers as I braid horse hair out in my cold backyard. Why would I endure the nasty weather outside when I have a perfectly good studio inside? Because I was housebreaking the newest member of our family, Indiana.

Treat bags to hold all of Indiana's training treats.

At the time, Indiana was not yet a studio dog. He ate my craft supplies, stole my horse hair and generally got into a lot of trouble in when we made our way to the third floor. In short, I got nothing done when he was up there because it was like having a 2-year-old roaming around my studio. He also couldn’t keep out of the food or the litter box of the cat who maintains the penthouse suite, not to mention chasing the cat across my craft table was great fun.

Fast forward 5 months and Indiana (as in Indiana Jones, not the state) has become a certified Studio Dog. He’s housebroken (and even rings a bell to go out) and understands the studio time is my time. He’ll comfortably sit at my feet and chew a bone while I craft. The cat food and litter box are still tempting, and chasing cats really is great fun when you’re a dog.

The snap on the drawstrings lets me snap it onto my belt when we're out.

I put my crafty skills to work to make some treat bags for Indiana to hold all his training treats. They’re simple little sacks with drawstring closures and snaps so I can snap them on my belt when we’re out for a walk. I made them of my most favorite fabric ever, the dog fabric by Heather Ross. I wish she’d bring it back, as this fabric is now out of print.

After the rough run with pets we had in 2010–our 13-year-old Labrador retriever and our 10-year-old cat went to pet heaven–Indiana is a nice reprieve. He’s a super dog that is easily trainable and loves the kids. He’s sure my 4-year-old is just another puppy and probably better trained for the studio than my kids.



A few weeks ago I got a call from a woman who wanted a horse hair bracelet made for her daughter. She spelled out the specifics and wanted it done in time for her daughter’s birthday. Her daughter’s horse had just died, a horse she’d had nearly 15 years. I could hear the woman’s voice crackle and her breath suck in hard as she tried to hold back her tears all the way across the country.

This is nothing new to me. As a person who makes horse hair jewelry, I hear all kinds of stories of horses, of their heroic efforts, their special friendships, their sad departures. I listen, knowing it’s hard, yet necessary, for these people to talk about friends who sometimes have been with them for half of their lives. I make jewelry to honor these horses. Sometimes I joke that I should charge for the therapy rather than the jewelry.

Now it’s time for therapy for me. It’s unfortunately time for me to share my story.

My beloved German Shepherd, Saint, died yesterday. He would have been 12 or 13 this year. We’re not sure exactly how old he was because we got him “used” when he was approximately 3 years old.  At that time we already had a pure bred Labrador Retriever. I wanted a dog who needed a home, not a pure bred anything.  I imagined a mutt of small stature, black body and brown markings like a doberman and maybe tipped or floppy ears.

What I got was 92 pounds of tall, lean dog. Someone somewhere knew my dream as a kid to have a German Shepherd.

The only papers we had on him were scribblings on a fax from his previous vet, but he was certainly purebred. Not just in his looks, but in his heart. He had all the characteristics of German Shepherd: loyal, graceful, not easily confined and, oh, that exceedingly annoying Shepherd whine.

He loved his pack of people. If they were our peeps, they were his peeps, and he didn’t like us to split up or stray too far. When we came home late, he checked the kids’ rooms to see if they were in their beds. And nights the kidlets stayed at Grandma’s he was a bit worried about them, camping out in their rooms.

A younger Saint, celebrating 4th of July

A younger Saint, celebrating 4th of July

His grace came through when he hopped over our back fence to take himself for a walk because we hadn’t given him enough exercise. He visited a few neighbors and then returned, or was escorted, back home.

His deep bark kept unwanted salespeople off our porch and let us know the mail had arrived.

What truly made us know he was a German Shepherd, though, was his quirkiness.

He was absolutely sure cats were hatching a plot to take over the world. He did his part in subduing these plots, chasing off all outside offenders and pinning the cats in our house with his massive jaws.

He also believed strongly in birth control. He wanted no more kids to look after and developed a tendency to bark whenever my husband and I kissed.

Saint thought fetch was a dumb game. Only a retriever was stupid enough to bring a ball back to someone who would just throw it again!

He wasn’t too sure of those little dogs that barked incessantly. They may have been cats in disguise (see cat plot, above).

Saint loved celery ends as much as he loved lambs ears and sheepskin toys.

He learned to tolerate water since our yellow lab loves the river.

Saint came with his name, but I couldn’t imagine a better name for such a wonderful dog. He patiently waited as strangers, from babies on up, pet him. People stopped their cars in the street to tell us how beautiful he was, and boy was he ever gorgeous.

Although the family dog, he was truly my dog. I think in his mind, he was the alpha male and I was the alpha female. On his last day of life, he conceded his alpha-dogness to my husband. He wouldn’t listen to me and followed my husband around. I think he was giving over trust of the family to my husband (although I’m hoping my husband will refrain from putting cats with his mouth).

Saint had been hiking, backpacking and canoeing with us. He went on an East Coast road trip in the back of a Jeep Wrangler with us. He went to Grandma’s for Christmas and Grandpa’s for 4th of July. He’d been to Easton Heritage Days and the Easton Farmer’s Market.

Saint was an important part of our family and we’re going to miss him dearly.

Let the celebrating begin!

Maddie and her good friend Red Ball.

Maddie and her good friend Red Ball.

Sigh. Yesterday I shipped out my last custom piece due for Christmas. What a relief! It’s been a busy few weeks of making lots of Christmas gifts for customers.

After the run to the post office, I treated myself to a celebratory cappuccino, then sunk into the sofa with Three Cups of Tea. Imagine that! Reading a book in the middle of the day! I intend to do it again today.

Up above my dog is celebrating her victory:  The beginning of Red Ball Season. What? You’ve never heard of Red Ball Season? It often coincides with the beginning of winter, during the first decent snow.

Red Ball was a gift from Maddie’s “grandparents” many years ago. The plastic is really hard so the dogs can’t pick it up in their mouths and the humans can’t kick it (very painful if you do). Maddie loves this ball. She pushes it around with her nose, eats the snow off of it, gets it stuck behind rose bushes. It’s the most fun any yellow Labrador retriever can have.

My German Shepherd finds the thing a nuisance since he can’t pick it; red ball makes him very angry.

Once upon a time, Red Ball Season was year-round. That lasted about 3 minutes. My single-minded Maddie bowled over every single flower, attacked rose bushes that “stole” red ball and dug up the yard because red ball escaped behind the grill (she’s not a digger).

So Red Ball has been relegated to winter, when snow and ice safely ensconce all manner of precious vegetation. Despite being 11 years old and ready for the geriatric ward, Maddie chases this ball like she’s a puppy.

Gluten-free Scandinavian Almond Bars

Gluten-free Scandinavian Almond Bars

The other tradition we love around here right now is lots o’ cookie making. I’ll leave you with a great cookie recipe that is a family tradition among my husband’s Swedish relatives: Scandinavian Almond Bars. These are incredible. Bake them just until the edges are brown and you get a very chewy cookie, which is out of this world. The icing is not necessary, but adds another almond kick. Even better, I was able to easily translate this recipe into a gluten-free version, courtesy of Bob and his Red Mill. Enjoy!

Scandinavian Almond Bars

  • 1 1/2 c. Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • milk (to brush dough)
  • 1/2 c. sliced almonds
  • Almond icing (below)

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large mixer bowl, beat butter until soft. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg and almond extract and beat well. Add flour mixture and beat well. Divide dough into fourths. Flour hands and then roll each lump of dough into 12-inch roll. Place 2 rolls, 4 to 5 inches, apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten to 3 inches wide. Repeat with the remaining rolls. Brush flattened rolls with milk and sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 325°F for 12 to 14 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. While cookies are still warm cut them cross wise at a diagonal into 1-inch strips. A pizza cutter works well for this job. Cool. Drizzle with almond icing. Makes approximately 48 cookies.

Almond Icing

Stir together 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and enough milk (3 or 4 teaspoons) to make icing of drizzling consistency.