The Puppy

It feels like things are just starting to get back to normal since we brought the puppy home just over two months ago. Pepper turns 18 weeks old today and I’m just now able to keep up on orders, make new designs for the shop and create content for the blog like I did before, all while giving her the care and attention she needs. I’ve typed a lot of weird, desperate and frantic questions into google these past two months but the one I searched for the most, and never really found an answer to, was, when do puppies learn to chill.

The Puppy | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I knew bringing a puppy home, especially when I work full time from home, would be a lot of hard work. I did plenty of research leading up to the day – and I’ve raised one puppy and one difficult rescue dog before with my family – but I was not prepared for just how physically and emotionally taxing the first couple of weeks and months can be when you are the adult in charge. I felt like I’d given up my entire life to care for this rambunctious puppy that did nothing but pee on the floor and bite me. I could feel myself falling in love with her, and her bonding with me too, but the emotional strain of working doubly hard all day to get half as much work done and then not being able to relax and unwind at the end of it because she’s still here and still needs me was overwhelming at times. Add to that the constant fear that I’m doing everything wrong and will raise a bad dog and you can see why I really needed to know when this puppy would learn to sit still long enough for me to catch my breath.

I read many discouraging non-answers to this important question, most being:

  1. Small dogs mature more quickly than big dogs. – ok, thanks
  2. The puppy phase generally lasts one year but can vary by size and breed, lasting anywhere from around eight months, to two years. – surely, there has to be some difference between a ten weeks old and ten months old!
  3. Dogs don’t “chill out” until they are one year old; three years old; seven years old; some never do. – I don’t expect a stuffed animal, I just need to know when I can have a second to myself

These answers were very unreassuring to the new owners of an Australian Shepherd, a breed known to be difficult due to it’s high intelligence and high energy levels. I understand where they are coming from, it’s a hard question to answer when every breed, even every dog, is going to be different and you want people to be prepared for the realities of dog ownership before they take it on, but come on! Giving these types of non-answers to such a frantic question can make a person in a normal situation feel hopeless. I desperately needed to know when I would have time to sit down again. I just wanted to know when this puppy would stop needing 100% of me, 100% of the time. When she would sit on the floor and calmly chew a toy instead of trying to bite me all the time. When she could go for a walk without going crazy and having a meltdown in the middle of the street. When she would stop tearing across the yard just to rip my clothes. When my husband could greet her after being at work all day and not have her demand a blood sacrifice. Most importantly, when would life with a dog be at least a little more joyful than it was miserable.

So here’s my answer.

For my dog, who is a medium sized herding breed, spends nap times behind a baby gate but has at least one owner at home 90% of the time, takes three walks a day, and has had consistent, positive reinforcement, “tough love” style training since day one, she has just started to “chill” at four and a half months. What I mean by this is, she still needs constant supervision but is now able to entertain herself with an appropriate activity for a few minutes at a time, she can cuddle on the couch without immediately getting mouthy and we are able to control and deescalate her meltdowns when they happen. She is still very much a puppy and her training is nowhere near over, but she is now a silly, polite and charming puppy more often than she is mean, frustrating and destructive hell-beast. She still has bratty moments and can struggle to control her emotions when she’s tired, but she is starting to become a good dog.

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Necklace Craft Arts Market / Emery & Opal

All photos by me.

Boozy Chai Tea & Baileys Ice Cream

Chai Tea & Baileys Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I bought an ice cream maker last week and got experimenting right away! While trying to come up with the perfect fall flavour to bring to Friendsgiving potluck this weekend, one that wasn’t too obvious (looking at you, pumpkin spice), couldn’t be found at the store, and wouldn’t be out of place next to a slice of pie, I eventually landed on chai tea & Baileys. I’m glad I waited for the perfect idea, because this one’s a real winner! It tastes just like the holidays.

Chai Tea & Baileys Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog Chai Tea & Baileys Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog Chai Tea & Baileys Ice Cream | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ½ cup loose leaf chai tea
    • fairly inexpensive at Bulk Barn
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup Baileys Irish Cream
  • 1-2/3 cup heavy cream

Method

  1. Add milk, sugar and salt to a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar while bringing to a simmer.
  2. Remove mixture from heat and stir in the tea leaves. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes.
  3. Strain mixture into a clean, medium sized saucepan, making sure to press the tea leaves to get every bit of liquid out.
  4. Bring back to a simmer.
  5. Beat the egg yolks in small bowl and temper with the milk mixture. (Slowly stir about ½ cup of milk mixture into the egg yolks, then add the egg mixture back to the milk to slowly bring the eggs up to temperature and not curdle them. Don’t worry if some curdles, we’ll strain again later.)
  6.  Cook over low heat, stirring almost constantly, until you have a nice custard thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (or until it reaches 175○F). Do not allow custard to come to a boil. Strain into a medium bowl and chill in the fridge until cold.
  7. Stir in the Baileys and heavy cream.
  8. Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. (I got my ice cream maker here.)
  9. You can eat it now but it will be better if you freeze it overnight. Scoop into a suitable container and press cling wrap down onto the surface.
  10. Optional: garnish with cinnamon.

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All photos by me.

East Coast Charm

East Coast Charm | Sophster-Toaster Blog

During the last weekend of September, and in the middle of an unseasonable heat wave, I was lucky enough to tag along on a work trip with my husband to Fredericton, New Brunswick. We spent every moment we could, between his professional engagements, exploring and getting to know the city. We sat in beautiful restaurants, ate amazing and very reasonably priced local food, drank unique craft beer, listened to live Celtic music, visited farmers’ markets, toured a small local history museum and met all those polite and friendly Canadians I’ve heard so much about but have never met at home in Ontario.

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Let me start with the food, because that’s always my favourite. All of the catered and chain restaurant meals we had as part of my husband’s work actives were someone strange to my Ontario palate. It seems like they have two main flavours out east: sweet and salty. Everything we had in the hotel, at the country club work dinner, etc was liberally seasoned with one of these too flavours – to the point where some of it was hard to eat for this girl who prefers sour, bitter or savoury flavours. All the local restaurant, food truck and home cooked meals we had were completely different and completely amazing! We were able to eat fresh, in season, local foods for way under budget when we ate downtown and at farmers’ markets. We ate fishcakes, donair and samosas along the banks of the Saint John River and felt like we were getting a crash course in East Coast food culture. I was worried, travelling as a new pescatarian, but it was very easy to find delicious, healthy, protein rich vegetarian and pescatarian meals in the more trendy parts of the city.

We did a local brewery hop with some of my husbands co-workers to pass the time between morning checkout at the hotel and our evening flight back home. We hit Grimross Brewing, Picaroons Traditional AlesTrailway Brewing Co and Greystone Brewing. Picaroons was very good and had a beautiful space but Greystone was my favourite! East Coast craft beer is much smoother, creamier and more mellow than it is here in Ontario. It’s also a little more expensive, but well worth the price.

East Coast Charm | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Being of Irish-Canadian heritage, I’ve always dreamed of experiencing live Celtic music in a cozy East Coast pub. I was finally able to achieve this goal in Fredericton. We had to rush across town from a work commitment to catch the end of their session but it was so worth it to drink great local beer, eat fishcakes and take in the sorrowful, yet comforting, kind of Celtic storytelling, poetry and music that gives me goosebumps.

We visited two farmers’ markets on opposing sides of the river over two days. The south side market was bursting with lovely local produce, crafts, food trucks and something Ontario is sorely lacking: craft cider. This is where we found the Fredericton food culture quirk that is samosas. The north side market was less impressive but contained many of the food truck type foods that locals repeatedly told us were the best in the city. We had our first-ever donair at this market.

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The Fredericton Region Museum, seen in the pictures, was a quaint little non-profit museum all about the history of the area. It was only $6 to enter and didn’t look like much at first but was actually very interesting for two people who didn’t know much more about the area than what we learn in elementary school. The best part was getting to explore the inside of such a beautiful and historical building.

Now the part that sticks with me the most since being home: the people. The people in Fredericton are some of the nicest, most upsettingly friendly people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. You can’t pass by someone without them greeting you. Strangers will ask you how your day is going and be genuinely interested in your answer. I made the mistake of wearing a shirt that said “weekends are for waffles” to a busy market and had to change after because I couldn’t handle any more conversations about waffles! All of my husband’s East Coast office co-workers that I met were touchingly warm and welcoming; one of them even invited all of us Ontarians to her home to experience an authentic East Coast corn boil while we were there. I like to think of myself as an extroverted introvert, or an ambivert, but these very social people tired me out every time I left the hotel room. I had a small talk conversation with a member of the hotel staff while getting tea in the lobby that went on so long my husband asked if I somehow knew her from somewhere else. One person I met told me that she had a problem of not understanding “stranger danger” until it’s too late. These people are the Canadians we all want to be.

This trip, although only a few days long and only a two hour plane ride away, has affected me in so many ways. I will never forget the food, the beautiful buildings or the wonderful people in the capital of New Brunswick.

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Sunglasses The Bay

All photos by me and Matt.

August Light

August Light | Sophster-Toaster Blog

August always has a certain magic to it. July slips away unnoticed when the weather is perfect and the weekends are filled with adventure. You look up one day and notice that everything has changed and summer is almost over. The nights aren’t as hot as they used to be, a summer storm can break the humidity for longer than a few hours, gardens are lush with full grown flowers and ripe vegetables, and the light turns golden.

August Light | Sophster-Toaster Blog

It’s hard to notice this shift, and even harder to appreciate it, when the end of summer means the beginning of the school year routine. When I was a kid, I barely noticed a difference between July and August, now I find myself telling anyone who will listen, just how much I love this time of year. The weather is warm but not too hot, just right for spending hours outdoors. The trees are still full and green but that distinct smell and feel of the fall air has started to work its way in. The nights are cool enough for sleeping under the covers, but not too cold to sleep with the window open and listen to the crickets. There is a bittersweet feeling to the waning summer and creeping fall. It can too easily sneak by when you can’t take the time to stop and soak up the last few perfect days of summer.

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Photos by me and Matt Harrison.