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When Your Relative is a Pig April 10, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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In her Easter bonnet...

My sister-in-law Jane called from Idaho to tell how her seven year-old twins, Izzy and Kate, told their teacher they didn’t eat pork. When their teacher asked why, they replied, “Because our cousin Maisie is a pig.”  The teacher thought this was so imaginative, she shared it with Jane, who looked at her and with a straight face and replied, “Their cousin IS a pig.”

Of course, Jane then asked if we could dress Maisie up in some clothes and send a picture so the twins could take it for Show and Tell.  Yes, an outfit for a pig.  I added that to my very long “To Do” list.

By chance, our friend Nora was visiting from Chicago.  She’s hopelessly artsy and prone to flights of fancy. When she heard this story, I swear I saw her ears prick up.  “Maisie needs a hat,” Nora announced, as though this was the most sensible idea in the world.

With all the frills upon it.

The next day, Nora was “on it” though she returned home midday to measure the distance between Maisie’s ears.  Two days later, I found her sitting outside fashioning a hat from crepe paper and all the trimmings she’d purchased at Zinnia. There was a chill in the air, but compared to the the weather back in Chicago, it was downright balmy. While Nora fussed over the details, Maisie snoozed in the sun nearby. Every artist needs a muse.

Last week, I finally decided we had to get a shot of Maisie wearing THE hat. Working with a Plus Size model with an attitude is no walk in the park, but Maisie sees Project Runway in her future.  And I finally got to cross THAT off my “To Do” list.

Ultimately, this “project” made me thankful for all the crazy creative people in my life.  Those people, who without hesitation said,  “Their cousin IS a pig!” and “Maisie needs a hat.”  My hat’s off to them.

Pardon My Pig – Part 2 December 28, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Pets.
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Feel free to make a pig of yourself and read “Pardon My Pig – Part 1” and “Halloween for Queen Porcine” first.  You’ll find these in Tags under Pets and Pigs.    

What’s that you say?  Keep in mind that’s my daughter you’re talking about. Okay, I admit that in “Pardon My Pig – Part 1,”  I used a picture of an adorable piglet, who Maisie once bore (boar?) a passing resemblance to.  But as you can see, she’s one big-boned gal.   

I tried to walk Maisie around the block once, but she doesn’t really walk – she ambles.  I took my eye off her for just a second and when I looked back, she had uprooted a neighbor’s mid-sized shrub and was carrying it her mouth.  First walk – last walk.

Maisie has since been confined to the backyard where she’s happy to lounge under the fig tree (waiting for a ripe fig to drop into her mouth, especially after she gives the tree a good nudge).  On a summer day you’ll find her lying out on the patio basking in the sun.  Sometimes my neighbor Stella, who’s originally from Greece, leaves a bag of fruit hanging over the fence for “the pork,” as she refers to Maisie.  I’m sure it’s just a language thing, but I did keep a watchful eye on “the pork” when I saw the Greeks had rented a large electric spit last Easter.  

Maisie escaped once.  I’d gone out for lunch with my friend Eunice and as we walked home we saw a small crowd gathered next to the power company’s right-of-way.  And what were they looking at?  My pig of course, who was nibbling tall grass and acting oh so nonchalant.  Eunice and I spent the next half hour “herding” Maisie down the alley with a big stick. Where’s a coolie hat when you need one?

When Maisie hit 100 pounds, the local vet would no longer see her (weight discrimination!) so we called Chris, the Mobile Vet, who’s way cool and makes house calls.  I know when he’s arrived because I can hear the whooshing sound of money flying out of our bank account.  The first time Chris came for a visit, he actually looked at us straight-faced and asked what kind of toys we had to keep Maisie intellectually stimulated.  I half expected him to tell us we needed to buy her a chess set.  I took notes. Chris suggested we plant strawberries so she could graze on them.  But after having seen the way she took that shrub out, roots and all, I opted to plant them above her grazing level.  

Chris also noted that Maisie’s hooves turned inward due to a genetic deformity, and said she could benefit from wearing some sort of orthopedic shoes.  And where would we buy orthopedic pig shoes?  Chris suggested that I could design them! I bought  a pair of  toddler’s sandals at Target and tried my best – really!   I’m afraid I’m no cobbler, so Maisie’s destined to be a hobbler. 

The visits from Chris to trim Maisie’s hooves (her “pig pedicure”) every six months were pricey.   Really, how hard could it be?  We’re real do-it-yourselfers, so I purchased some harrier clippers. (Think hedge clippers for horses.)  Now, to cut a pig’s hooves, you’ve got to first take them by surprise, then grab them by the back legs and flip them over on their back. One person holds them steady while they scream and moan, while the other does the clipping.  (You should know they’ve measured the decibel level of a pig squealing, and it’s right up there with the sound of a jet engine at take-off.) Chris and his assistant had made it look so easy.  Oh, the money we’d save!

We’d procrastinated long enough. We had to do IT.  Richard and I sat on the den floor with Maisie, who was already suspicious about our newfound interest in sitting on the floor beside her.   Every time Richard casually made a move to grab her, Maisie sprinted out of reach.  

Exasperated, I finally said, “Let’s just DO this!” at which point Richard lunged across the room and grabbed hold of Maisie’s hind legs.  How can I begin to describe what happened next?  For two minutes, Maisie ran figure eights around the den dragging Richard behind her as though he were some rodeo clown.  Richard finally let go and Maisie made a quick exit.  Richard was dazed and had a nasty rug burn on his face, but he couldn’t feel a thing cause we were both laughing so hard.  After that, we couldn’t call Chris fast enough.  Sometimes us do-it-yourselfers need to learn to delegate so we can focus on the really important stuff – like the strawberries.

Halloween for Queen Porcine October 7, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Pets.
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Never fail, the first trick-or-treaters arrive while we’re still eating dinner. Our dogs bark wildly and have to be herded into the den.  They’re convinced each time the doorbell rings, it’s just the mailman wearing a different disguise.  But our pig, Maisie, springs to her feet (okay, technically they’re hooves) and actually trots over to the front door. She’s been waiting for this night all year. For Maisie, Halloween is tantamount to a walk down the red carpet on Oscar night. The pig paparazzi – dads with video cameras – vie for the best angle to capture a shot of their little princess/Transformer with a REAL pig.

Did I mention that this real pig is wearing an orange witch’s hat with a purple moon and stars on it?  Yes, I’ve become one of THOSE people. People who dress their pets in costumes. The minute I strap on her hat, Maisie knows it’s show time. This will be her 12th year greeting trick-or-treaters.

You should know that our neighborhood is a throw back to times gone by, so come Halloween, busloads of extended families arrive from the Other Side of the freeway (aka barrio). Three generations holding outstretched pillow cases. There is always an adult who holds one out while motioning that it’s for the baby, who’s all of two weeks old.  Yeah, right.

The first year, we had over 300 trick-or-treaters descend on our house. They chewed through the candy like a swarm of locusts in a field of spring corn. Since then, I’ve beefed up the inventory and I’ve developed a smooth slight of hand move so I can drop a lone jawbreaker into a plastic pail in such a way, that they actually think I gave them an entire handful of candy!

The first Halloween we had Maisie, she stood out on the front porch “in costume.” People walking by would suddenly stop. “What IS that?” they’d ask. We enjoyed telling people it was a dog in a pig costume. “Good costume, huh?” we’d say, relishing their confused reaction. They’d edge closer. ” Holy sh*t!”

For 11 years people have returned each Halloween asking, “Is this the house with the pig?” Maisie’s got the routine down. All I have to do is say, “Trick or Treat!” and she ambles (when you’re as big as Maisie, ambling is your peak speed) out onto the front porch, makes a very wide U-turn, plops down, and then opens her mouth.  She looks like those oh-so-cute dolphins waiting to be rewarded with a fish. Maisie, though, is happy to feast on miniature Tootsie-Rolls or Now and Laters, paper and all.  She hasn’t met a candy yet that she doesn’t love.  Halloween means lots of photo ops and photo ops mean lots of treats.   Pigs are smart – diabolically so – and this pig knows how to work a crowd.

One year it was growing late and it was obvious the trick-or-treaters had moved two blocks south to where the houses are bigger and people pass out full-sized brand name candy. Maisie had called it a night and retired to the den.

The doorbell rang and I was tempted not to answer, but I looked outside and saw a father and his little boy. I opened the door.  “My little boy really just wanted to see the pig,” the father explained.  When I told them Maisie was asleep, they both looked heartbroken. Sucker that I am, I offered to usher the little boy back to the den, so he could take a quick peek at the pig. His father nodded approvingly.

But when I opened the den door, there was our fox terrier, Wily, wildly humping Maisie, who was laying sound asleep with a big grin on her face. The little boy’s eyes grew large as I mumbled something about them “playing.” I grabbed the boy’s hand and took him back to his father.  “Did you see the pig?” his dad asked.  I didn’t wait for the kid to answer.  I dumped all the remaining candy in his bucket and cheerily waved them off.  “Happy Halloween!”  Once they’d stepped off the front porch, I quickly locked the front door and turned off all the lights. Only then did I burst out laughing. Geez!

Last weekend, I lugged down the box of Halloween decorations and unpacked the plug-in foam jack-o-lantern that we set next to the front door. Maisie’s ears twitched and she stuck her nose into the air and snorted. She knows it won’t be long now.  Halloween is in the air. She can almost smell the Tootsie Rolls.


Pardon My Pig – Part 1 June 24, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Pets.
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After living with a pig for 12 years, I’ve come to think of it as almost normal. In the same way that having webbed toes is normal.  So, sometimes I forget to mention we have a pig for a pet.  This failure to forewarn visitors to our house of what’s in store, carries its own “shock and awe” factor.

One day the new neighbors stopped by.  As we stood talking in the kitchen, the back door flew open with such force, you’d have thought a bomb had detonated. There in the doorway stood…I could see from the startled looks on my neighbors’ faces that they were straining to make out just what “it” was.  The silhouette of this creature was backlit by blinding sunlight.  I watched as their eyes strained to adjust.  Dust was rising from this beast in swirls and the sunlight grew hazy. The visitors stood frozen, like ancient inhabitants of Pompeii, blanketed in the ash.   “Oh,” I said,  trying to sound casual.  “I forgot to tell you we have a pig.” Maisie, yes the beast has a name, strode into the kitchen like Gary Cooper entering the saloon in “High Noon.”  She looked like she was gunning for trouble. 

“Whatever made you want to get a pig for a pet?” I’ve been asked.  What a dumb question! Dumb questions are questions that I don’t have answers for.  I do remember thinking the little talking pig in “Babe” was adorable.  We’d also just bid on our first house.  The offer was insultingly low, so no one was more surprised than we were when it was actually accepted.  A celebration was in order.   What better way to celebrate acquiring the yoke of a mortgage, than by buying a farm animal!  This has got to be a sanctified ritual somewhere in the world.

The person at the pet store was convincing.  This “miniature” pot-bellied pig would grow to 33, maybe 44 pounds max.  So we acquired Maisie at the tender (no, not that type of tender!) age of 12 weeks.  She weighed in at a whopping 11 pounds with one brown eye and one blue one.  No sooner had we moved into our new house then Maisie began to grow.  And grow.  I used a Weight Watchers scale to monitor her food intake.  Carrots, Cheerios, celery, and a few protein pellets.  If I lived on that diet, I’d look anorexic.  But Maisie kept packing on the pounds.  We bought a larger pet door.

Richard stopped by the pet store to inform them that the pig they’d sold us was growing at an exponential rate.  “You must be feeding her too much,” the pet store owner scolded.  My husband mentioned that we’d measured her and she was now 41 inches long.  Silence.  “Wow, she must just be big-boned!” was the reply. The owner had a sudden urge to help other customers.

So we settled into the routine of having a pig for a pet.  This routine included breakfast anytime after 4:30 a.m.  We took to locking Maisie out of the bedroom, and then the den.  But it’s hard to just roll over and go back to sleep when you can hear the doors straining on the jams as she used her body as a battering ram. Our dogs followed her lead and joined in the charge. There’s a reason that when George Orwell wrote “Animal Farm,” he made pigs the ones in charge.

Someone once said that cats look down on humans, dogs look up to them, but pigs look at them as equals. This person knew a pig.  We thought it was adorable when Maisie was still small enough to climb into our son Ian’s, bed. It wasn’t long though until we’d come in and find Ian sleeping on the floor while Maisie snoozed with a contended smile, her head laying on Ian’s pillow.  Turned out she waited till he dozed off then gave him the heave ho.

Then there was the problem with the kitchen cupboards.  I know those clever Swiss got the idea for that nifty Swiss Army Knife by watching a pig’s nose in action.  There’s a swinging door between the kitchen and our dining room, and we could always tell when Maisie was up to no good because she’d shut the door.  We once caught her enjoying a 12-pack of beer.  She’d puncture each can with her hoof, then guzzle the beer as it spurted out.  I thought we’d finally seen the last of the child safety locks, but back on they went.  It took Maisie less than half an hour to figure those out.  Next I strung a large nylon cord through all the cabinet handles and secured it tightly at one end. Maisie gave it one tug and one of the cabinet doors popped off its hinges. Pigs don’t have time for finesse,  

The final straw came when a client of my husband’s stopped by.  We walked into the kitchen to find Maisie standing in a sea of brown mud.  No wait, it was chocolate!  She’d gotten into a huge box of hot cocoa packets and was mixing up a batch on the kitchen floor.  Exasperated, Richard spent the next day at the local hardware store coming up with a makeshift latch more befitting a submarine hatch.  I took to moving everything higher up, like you do when you’re camping and don’t want to put out the welcome mat to bears.  We’d underestimated out opponent.  It was Garry Kasparov facing Deep Blue and my money was on Deep Blue.

To be Continued in “Pardon My Pig” – Part 2