Monday, January 2, 2012

Holiday Treats

Baby Alf
     Trying to survive the holidays while a puppy the size of a small horse gallops through your house renders a whole new meaning to the mantra "seasonal stress". I shouldn't complain, since this stress was of my own doing. I was the culprit who bought the puppy last May. I was the unthinking adult that insisted on surprising my unsuspecting husband with a new member of our poodle triumvirate. Unfortunately, I had neglected to do the math and forgot to realize that the precious little bundle of soft red fluff that I so adored in the spring would be a teething trojan termite by December.
     Ah yes, that delightful, docile  heap of burnished wool had morphed into a red headed hellion that romped through my holiday house, an impish elf that was quickly eating its way through our overly-decorated home,  a vixen destroying garland and tinsel and goodies and packages at an alarming rate. Our dear little Alf,  our previously precious pup, our sweet little baby, had evolved into the canine consumer of all things not nailed down; the red-headed, curly coated,  cookie thievin', ornament eatin', present unwrapping, decoration destroying poodle problem that kept the holidays hopping in a whole new style, that kept me running through rooms with a broom and a dustpan yelling "Put That Down!" more times than I ever had in my life, and that drove me to dive into the eggnog on more than one occasion .
      I had forgotten what life with a puppy was like, especially since Sissey and I have been in SC for most of the time that Alf has resided in the Daly household, but it didn't take long to relearn;  and  let me tell you one thing, puppies chew, and puppies gnaw, and puppies think anything that doesn't eat them first is fair game.  

Let the baking begin.....
      It all began when we first arrived home in Richmond for the holidays.  Holiday baking is a much anticipated tradition, and we quickly dived head first into a  production line of sugar cookies and fruitcake, gingerbread men and rum balls.  Sissey had enlisted a regiment of her friends to spend an afternoon on the sugar cookie squad.  They mixed, rolled,  and carefully cut the dough into candy canes, Christmas trees, gingerbread men,wreaths and bells.  The cookies were baked, cooled, iced and laughingly decorated in a mess of piping and sprinkles, glossy pearl  beads and crystallized sugar. The festive goodies were prudently packed into Tupperware, each full box stacked on the counter, ready to be piled onto plates that would soon be delivered to neighbors and friends.
     It must not have taken long for Alf's highly sensitive nose to sniff  out the tantalizing aroma of vanilla and sugar, for not long after we had washed the last pan and put away the last bowl, I heard a crash in the kitchen. Running towards the sound, I dashed into the room and gasped at the sight before me.  Alf was sprawled across the floor and innocently grinning up at me, his muzzle suspiciously covered in frosting, an empty Tupperware container resting in his paws.  All that remained of our afternoon baking was a few crumbs and a smear of icing. It was early in the game at this point, so I shooed him into the yard with a gentle scold and grabbed the broom, unaware that we were on a fast track to disaster. 
"Who, me?"
      From that point on, the destruction of my holiday house progressed at an alarming speed.  Ornaments on the tree? Fair game. "Yup, think I'll take a little nibble of a sheep," Alf thought, as he munched on the hand spun Irish woolen lamb that had symbolized the purity of the Christ child before it became a doggie snack. The toy soldiers didn't stand a fighting chance against his big snout and canine incisors, and the drummer boy disappeared without a single rat-a-tat-tat.  The paper maiche nutcracker was a particularly tasty treat, floury and salty with a hint of New York Times.  Nativity scene? "Bet that tastes good too," Alf realized, as he nibbled the ear of hand painted Italian donkey.  Baby Jesus was a snack on Tuesday, the wise men went down on Wednesday, and as for the host of angels, well let me just say that Alf loves a good angel, especially after scarfing down a camel. 
     I wrapped packages under the tree only for the amusement of Alf, who seemed to think that ribbons and bows were created purely for his enjoyment.  My coveted holiday needlepoint pillows were secretly devoured during a midnight raid, which left me wondering once again why poodles had such an affinity for my needlepoint. In a final act of holiday desecration, in fact, as I sat here tonight composing my thoughts on my faithful laptop, Alf  crept into the kitchen and consumed the remains of the New Year's roast lamb with mint jelly and rosemary infusion. I discovered his latest consumption upon strolling into the room to add a few ice cubes to my glass of tea. As I pressed the ice dispenser on the refrigerator, Alf casually walked past me suspiciously licking his chops. I glanced at the counter and immediately saw tell-tale slivers of meat scattered across it, a greasy stain spreading on the floor, and an empty roasting pan resting beside a curiously gnawed leg of lamb. I knew what had happened, I knew who was the culprit, and I was officially at the end of my rope.
   I wanted to ring his neck; I wanted to throttle him;  yet when he gazed up at me with those gentle brown eyes, when he thumped that fluffy banana-shaped tale against the floor, when he lifted that monstrous paw for a gentle handshake, when he slathered my angry face with sloppy, sweet kisses, the spirit of Christmas pervaded my soul and I loved him in spite of myself. "He couldn't help himself," I rationalized, remembering my own midnight raids of the fruitcake box, my own pawing at the cookies and sweets that tempted me from the counter. 
     So once again, with a somewhat firmer than previously mentioned scold, I shooed the varmint out the door and  grabbed the broom, dustpan, and mop. Yes, he was making a mess of my holiday plans, ruining my decorations, destroying my baking, and adding an extra layer of work to an overly-taxed schedule; but at the end of the day, when I sank to the couch in exhaustion, it was pure joy to be surrounded by the unfiltered love of a family dog and to share my space with a pile of sweet poodles.

Sugar Pie, Mr. Big, and Alf

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