Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Dogs Got Wednesdays?

SUMMARY: How do they know what night it is?

I don't get it. It's 7:30 Wednesday evening, when we have been leaving for agility class in recent months. BUT.

We haven't been to class in 2 weeks. (Anyway we're supposed to be going on Tuesdays but have been rained out.)

We went for a long walk to the park and some frisbee in the rain instead.

They got a full dinner instead of the usual quick snack before class.

I don't do ANYTHING DIFFERENT on Wednesdays than any other day, and in fact did stuff LESS like an agility class night tonight than I would on a normal class night. Why are they in here nudging me and pestering me and telling me it's time to get going? What do dogs know from Wednesdays?

Renter says it must be because he always brings home Chinese food (and always the same Chinese food) on Wednesdays and they always get the same little Chinese food treat (a single bite) from him. Is that really it?
Dogs are amazing. And I can see it's going to be a long evening. They've stopped nudging but are lying there staring at me.

NO CLASS TONIGHT, YOU HEAR ME? If you can identify WEDNESDAYS, you're certainly clever enought to READ MY LIPS: "NO class tonight!!"
Looking to my left:

Looking to my right:

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bark! Bark! Tika Fell Down A Well!

SUMMARY: In which Boost saves the day.

Boost: Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause.

Me, on computer: Stop it! [goes back to work]

Boost: Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause.

Me: Cut it out, I can't think! [continues typing]

Boost: Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause. Whine. Pause. Whine. Whine. WHINE.

Me: THERE IS NO NEED FOR WHINING, CUT IT OUT! [tears hair, tries to focus on technical document.]

Boost. WHINE. Whine. WHINE WHINE Whine. Whine.

[Repeat for about 30 minutes.]

Me [finally standing up to go look]: Why are you standing next to the garage door whining?

Boost: [Puts ears back, wags tail, looks at the garage door.]

Me: [Notices Tika isn't anywhere in sight. Which she should be, normally. Especially when Me stands up from working at desk.]

Me: [Remembers that half an hour ago Me opened the garage door long enough to lean in, grab a can of Coke, and close the door again immediately so the dogs don't go into the garage.]

Me: [Opens door.]

Tika: [Comes into house] Thanks, human mom. You must play with me now.

Boost: [Kissy kissy on Tika who ignores her]

Ah, unrequited love.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Thank Goodness For--

SUMMARY: --many diverse things--

  • Nieces who go to Colorado and bring me back entertaining magnets like this one!  (Thanks, Elizabeth and Katie.)
  • Agility friends who are stealth blog readers who have bought a new camera so we have arranged for me to get her barely used Canon 40D! Tomorrow! Yay! (Thanks, Cheryl.)
  • Pet Club store near me, which doesn't take credit cards, but when I am horrified that they charge $33 a bag for my dogfood, I just have to walk into PetSmart and see the same bag for $54 to be grateful for the discount.
  • Fanatical agility friends who have brought Sylvia Trkman to Silicon Valley in December so we can do her seminars! (Thanks, Ashley.)
  • Disneyland-o-phile sisters who arrange trips to Disneyland so I can just go along for the ride! Yay! Just a month away! (Hence the push now to get the camera--) (Thanks, Linda.)
  • Dogs who let me sleep in in the morning! Even to 9:00! What good girls! (Thanks, Tika and Boost.)
  • Mild California autumn days,  not too hot, not too cold, everything still in bloom, grass growing-- (Thanks --uh-- whoever's responsible.)
  • Expert Apple friends who not only arrange for me to borrow a cable that Apple didn't think to send with their new equipment, but also drive out of their way to deliver it! (Thanks, Steph.)

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Head for the Hills

SUMMARY: Short hike with the dogs instead of agility
We're taking this weekend off from agility. There's a CPE trial going on, at which Boost's younger half-sister Quas ("kass") just finished her C-ATCH (championship). We're not going much CPE these days, as much as I enjoy my CPE weekends. I am working hard at cutting back on agility, and on enjoying my weekends reclaiming the life I used to have.

So, in that vein, when today broke sunny, clear, and cool, I scooted around doing various chores and errands (recycling: check! bank: check! (bank--check--ha ha?) flu shot: check! (H1N1 shot not available yet) basic blood test: check!) and then headed for Santa Teresa County Park again.

This time around, instead of starting out close to sea level and climbing 1000 feet, I drove up to the parking area in the middle of the park and we did a couple of loops for about 4 miles with cumulative elevation gain (and drop) of maybe 700 feet.

The weather was gorgeous, this park is basically right in the middle of our urban area with gorgeous views, and yet the trails were nearly abandoned. In our 2 hours there, I saw exactly 3 other hikers (and they all had dogs! what does that tell you about dog owners?) and maybe a dozen bikers. The parking lot with MUTT MVR is virtually empty.

Admittedly, climbing 200 feet up a trail in the direct sun was pretty warm, and everyone wanted a drink when we came to a good resting point. Me, of course, using my Salinas/Monterey Agility Racing Team agility water bottle.

Most of the hillsides were monochromatic golden, summer-dry mostly nonnative grasses and thistles. But that just made the splashes of color more brilliant and the seedheads more attractive.

Dogs had to be on leashes, and for a lot of our hike, this diagram was a pretty accurate depiction.

We had a lovely hike, which tired out the merle girls for approximately the 30 minutes (with stops) that it took to get home again. Ah, well. 

And since I don't want to upload and describe all the photos twice, go here to see the complete set of photos from today.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009


SUMMARY: Random things from the treat jar of dog thoughts and lifestyle issues that have been piling up, gathering dust.
  • The Secrets Inside Your Dog's Mind -- Time magazine article about dogs following pointing fingers, recognizing words, sharing, and altogether acting more human than wolf, and why. Thanks Wishy The Writer for the link.

  • This lady (OK, me) walks into a Postal Annex (no, really!) with the merle girls, tells them to "down" and they do (and stay, I might add), and commences her transaction with the clerk, who, after a couple of minutes of business, says, "Pretty dogs. Are they trained?" Um...

  • Trying to cut back on agility events, and in particular avoid weekends of agility back-to-back... But wait (she says, remembering squillions of Gamblers briefings where everyone has to clarify the terminology--again--)--or is that weekends *in sequence*? Not sure how you'd do weekends back to back-- sat-sun then sun-sat of the same weekend? Nice trick if you can do it, and you should CERTAINLY get double points for it.

  • Johann the dog asked "What is your favorite toy?" Found it hard to answer. Varies from dog to dog. Sheba loved the floppy plastic left over from a beach ball. Amber liked hard plastic things or sticks. Remington liked his plush "flippy" and cardboard boxes. Jake was into nubby plastic squeakies. Boost likes her bone-shaped plush with a squeakie in the middle. Tika prefers nonplush things that we can play tug with, especially her Jolly Ball. Me? Hmm, maybe my Macintosh.

  • New Mac Mini arrived this week! Bought this old one in January 2001 (was a 2000-year model). Looking forward to getting the new one running. Have heard that the tools now for transferring everything are amazingly good. Or so "They" say. And you know how They are.

  • Even though USDAA has made the Performance program more like the regular Championship program--everything now the same for titling, but sometimes they shortchange awards and title names--and despite well-respected competitors' efforts to promote moving *over* to performance instead of *down* to performance, it still felt like I was giving something up to move Tika from 26" Ch to 22" Pf. But, I'll tell you, she is running so much more smoothly and comfortably at 22"--and winning and Qing a lot more, too--grins--that I'm beginning to like the change. Although I still find myself qualifying her successes by saying "in performance, of course."

  • Still haven't decided for sure on a camera. Do I go with the Rebel series (the XS or the new t1i)--or the midrange not-quite-pro series (40D, available only refurbished, or 50D)? Price *is* an object.  So many things going into the decision, though. Almost decided on XS this morning, then almost on 40D. Probably one of those two. Would love the 50D but not sure I can justify the extra, which I'd rather spend on a lens or two.

  •  Hand touches: Taught Boost a hand touch to my palm very thoroughly and then realized to my dismay that this prevented teaching “shake”/”high 5"/”wave” etc. This year I decided to  change the Touch to only the back of my hand when held straight down, and Shake to the palm held level.  Maybe will post on how I converted, if anyone's interested. Taught Tika the new touch, too; she already had the Shake. Now both dogs know the distinction. Although sometimes in the heat of the food moment, Boost touches and shakes simultaneously. Overachiever.

  • OK, I admit it: I go places without my dogs. Lots of places. Hiking. Traveling. I see them all day every day and work or play or walk with them several times a day and I'm often ready to just not do dogs.  If more hiking around here were off-leash legal, I'd probably take them more often. But, unlike so many of my agility friends, I need lots of vacation from my dogs! Perfectly happy leaving them behind. Sorry, merle girls, life's hard.

  • But now, I retire for the night to my king-sized bed. WITH the merle girls. Life's not so hard after all, is it, me pretties!

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nothing Is Happening Here

SUMMARY: Here we are. Yes. [Twiddles thumbs.]

There is a USDAA trial this weekend and it's within my limit of 2 hours from home, but we are not going. Part of my program to cut back on agility and reclaim my Real Life, which I can barely even remember preagility, it was so long ago. I am doing more hiking. I like it. I am doing crossword puzzle tourneys. Well--one, anyway. I liked it. I am even thinking about doing some yardwork this weekend. After all, I've been in this house 9 years this month and it's probably about time.

I will be home to celebrate my dad's birthday with the family. How weird is that, that I should be not at agility on a family celebration day?

Around me, the world is full of happiness and light, darkness and sorrow.

Just before the last trial, Knack the Border Collie, a really nice, fast Border Collie, who had been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma--same thing that killed Remington--crossed the rainbow bridge. Knack was not that old. Maybe Remington's age, but I think younger? (Rem was 9 and a half.)

Radar the Rodent Pointer, who was in our class many years ago, suddenly became really ill last week. He went to the vet and they discovered a huge hemangiosarcoma tumor on his spleen, which ruptured catastrophically while he was at the animal hospital. Just like that, Radar is gone. He was 12 and a half, but the day before, he was a healthy and active dog.

Last week, Tika's Nationals DAM team teammate from last year, Apache the Terv, had found himself a totally awesome team, because among other reasons I am not going to Nationals this year. His Human Dad didn't really want to go last year, but I twisted his arm and they went and had a great time and Apache did so well that if we had all done that well, we'd have been in the finals. This year he had a team to make that happen.

A few days ago, Apache suddenly became really ill. He went to the vet and they discovered a huge hemangiosarcoma tumor on his spleen, which had ruptured but not quite catastrophically but has metastasized into other organs. I visited him Wednesday night and his Human Dad and I talked a lot about everything related to losing dogs and getting dogs and life with dogs and disappointments and successes, and we ate ribs and I took a bag of freeze-dried liver treats and fed most of them to Apache.

They are not going to the Nationals. Apache is ten and a half and was still running great Masters USDAA agility at 26".

We are all hugging our dogs tighter and tighter every day. I cannot lie that it is a downer, especially because it so strongly brings back Remington's illness.

But, OK, all is not despair. Apache's and Tika's classmate, Luka, is off in Austria at the FCI World Championships, with two other very local dogs, the amazing Bay Team border collie Icon and the steady-under-fire sheltie Wave. And our instructor is the coach and it's very exciting to have so many people we know out there.

Tika and Boost are healthy and happy. They both ran well in class this week. They are running well in the yard, but we're still doing a lot of simple things just to have fun, mostly running from one tunnel to the next and over some jumps in between. Because we don't have another trial until, oh, say, NEXT weekend.

The lawn is growing in a spurt of autumn enthusiasm. The local fresh fruit at the grocery seems particularly wonderful right now--nectarines, pears, strawberries. Yum. Eating lots of it.

I am going now to hug my nonhuggy dogs again and go to bed with them alongside.

We are here, with not much to report about our own lives.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

No Cross Words at Crossword Tournament

SUMMARY: Different kind of Saturday competition.

ADDITIONS: After original posting time/date--scroll to bottom.

I'd never entered a crossword-puzzle tournament before, but I do a lot of crosswords, so I thought I might give one a try. Summary: It was fun, and I don't yet know how I did, but I didn't win. Now--compare and contrast to dog agility.

Dog agility: Spend up to two hours on Friday packing MUTT MVR. Another half hour to an hour printing the running orders, making sure I've got copies of my confirmations, directions to the trials, etc.

Crossword tourney: On Friday, find the registration form that has the address on it.

Dog agility: Go to bed Friday at 8. Get up at 4 a.m. Don't feel like eating yet. Take the dogs into the yard, no matter the weather, to potty them, & load them into MUTTMVR. Load cold drinks & refrigerable snacks into the cooler. Make sure I have my banana holders to protect my bananas from all the brouhaha. Drive 2 hours in the dark to the agility site.

Crossword tourney: Go to bed at usual time Friday. Get up at 8 a.m. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and do the crossword puzzle in the paper. Give dogs breakfast. Grab a soda and a banana. Drive an hour to Alameda. (It's the first rain of the new rainfall year, but I don't have to be out in it.)

Dog agility: Spend an hour hauling my gear, setting up my canopy and such, walking and exercising the dogs. Sometimes stand in line to check in or get dogs measured. Find course maps wherever they're located.

Crossword tourney: Park across the street. Walk up the stairs--

-- and through the door, into the room, pick up my name tag, and sit down anywhere.

Dog agility: Negotiate the day's schedule covering hundreds of dogs and more hundreds of runs in 3 rings, keeping track of how far down the running order the dogs in my current ring are so that I can be there on time and not too early, keeping track of whether a ring is delayed or going faster than planned, check back with the gate steward regularly, refer frequently to my multipage catalog to see what class is next and which of my dogs is in first, etc.

Crossword tourney: Refer to hand-written schedule on wall. From my chair.

Dog agility: Work my buns off all day, probably at the score table, but also tracking down equipment, people, answers, and so on. No time to browse the vendors.

Crossword tourney: Finish a puzzle way early. Go for a stroll and see that the high school woodshop makes and sells dog houses!

Dog agility: Get my dogs out regularly to stretch their legs and/or potty them. Play hard before each run, run with them in the ring, cool them down and reward them afterwards. Check their water. Check whether the sun has moved around and their crates need shade. Apply covers to avert (a) Tika barking at passing dogs or (b) Boost throwing herself at crate sides at active dogs.

Crossword tourney: Browse the students' hallway art looking for pictures of dogs. Here's a painting of a hand painted to look like a doghead.

Dog agility: Admire and pet many other people's dogs as the day goes on.

Crossword tourney: During one break, stroll around the building and discuss this woman's rescue dogs. And admire them and pet them.

Dog agility: Fight my way through the crowd around the accumulator sheets and wait my turn to look at the results for the class I'm interested in (typically 4-5 classes each day for each dog). Find my dog somewhere on the *#(!&# accumulator sheet. Figure out our placement (if it's not obvious). Copy down our time & faults & points & the SCT & the yards & the winning dog's score & ... what?...yes of COURSE that's all important!... When I get home, spend 30-40 minutes typing it all into my database.

Crossword tourney: Wait for them to announce the top 3 finishers. It's not me. Wait for them to post my single numeric score on the web site, sometime in the next few days.

Dog agility: Repeat everything for a 2nd full day. Then finish up around 5 or 6 in the evening on Sunday. Potty dogs. Potty myself. Change my shoes and maybe my shirt. Tear down my canopy and everything and repack the car. Put away all the score table gear. Help tear down and move all the equipment and tables and ring ropes and so on and so on. On the road maybe 7 p.m., exhausted. Maybe take a nap on the roadside on the way. Crash in bed as soon as I get home.

Crossword tourney: Finish at 3 right on schedule. Potty myself. Drive home. Spend the rest of the day doing fun things. Update blog and photos.

Which reminds me: See a lot of other photos, with a brief story narrative, about my day in Alameda including Victorian homes & other old buildings, cool student artwork, and like that, here at my usual photo site.

ADDITION: Added the next day (Sept 13, 2:00p.m. PDT)
Dog agility: (Typical)
* Organization hosting the trial: The Bay Team.
* Held under rules of sanctioning organization: USDAA
* Benefits: Bay Team is a not-for-profit corporation. Most profits go back into maintaining our equipment for hosting trials. But we also sometimes do demos for other charitable orgs doing fundraisers, and every year we donate money to one or more dog-related charitable org's.

Crossword tourney:
* Organization hosting: Bay Area Crosswords
* Held under rules of sanctioning organization: ACPT
* Benefits: All profits go to The California Dictionary Project, whose goal is to supply every 3rd grader with a dictionary.

Dog agility: Regular celebrity appearances at local USDAA: Greg Louganis, perhaps the greatest Olympic diver of all time, competing with his JRTs and now Border Collie. And doing fairly well, I might add.

Crossword tourney: Celebrity appearance: Tyler Hinman, youngest-ever winner of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, featured in the film Wordplay, and now an unprecedented 5-time champion. Helped run this event and contributed the final puzzle, which will also be next week's New York Times Sunday puzzle.

ADDITION: Added about 30 minutes after original post:
Oh, yeah, one more thing:

Cost to enter 2-day agility trial with 2 dogs: $300.

Quality time spent with dogs: priceless.

Cost to enter one-day crossword tournament: $20

Relaxing time doing something fun and different by myself: Priceless.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Antithistle Crusaders Strike Again

SUMMARY: What I do on nonagility weekends, number 33.

The native grasses in California were predominantly perennial bunch grasses, which were less inclined to flame on. Today, hillsides and meadows everywhere are predominantly tall, dry, highly flammable annual grasses such as oats and foxtails. Various groups make heroic efforts to try to preserve some of the few remaining bunch grass meadows. One effort is in yanking out the nasty invasive yellow star thistle from Los Trancos Open Space Preserve.

I've heard about these efforts for years but never tried it before; this year, I volunteered for the project and, so, got up to the alarm at 7:30 on this Saturday. OK, sure, that's better than 4:30 for dog agility, but the operative phrase here is "got up to the alarm." Bleaaaahhrrrr.

Dogs were excited, though, because 98% of the time when I get up to the alarm, it means DOG AGILITY YAYYYYY!!!! My goal was to be out the door by 8:30, showered, dressed, breakfasted, with lunch and supplies in hand. And, according to the official Taj MuttHall clock, yay!, I made it!

Had my official TMH purple leather gloves, knee pads, and my official Salinas/Monterey Agility Racing Team water bottle ready to go, so it would be almost exactly like being at an agility trial, at least as far as water bottles are concerned.

Dogs drooped miserably when I left them at home. Poor babies. But thistle would not go well with dogulouses.

...But wait--! MUTT MVR's official clock says that is is 8:41! Where did those 10 minutes vanish?

Ha ha, I always set MUTT MVR's clock ahead by 5 to 10 minutes to help me make sure to get places on time. Maybe it works. There have been no scientific studies to prove it.

I get to the open space place on time after just under an hour's drive, and we spend nearly 4 hours pulling the nasty stuff.

Now I'm home, dogs inform me that they're bored, I have photos photos photos backlogged everywhere plus am a little sleepy from getting up to the alarm bleaaaahrrrrr. So if you'd like to see more photos (about 20 total) and commentary, you will have to pop over here.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

It Was Like a Fairy Tale Come True

SUMMARY: ...except the magic was the power of space flight and each hero's success was in coming back alive.

When I was born, no manmade object--let alone a human--had ever gone up into space. It wasn't until I was nearly two that the first satellite, Russia's Sputnik, woke the world to the realization that we had crossed a threshold: Before, we were a species locked to the ground, to a single planet, with the universe beyond our thin layer of atmosphere forbidden to us. And then, now, we stepped into a reality in which Infinity and Beyond were suddenly within our reach.

(Telstar was about the size of one of those inflatable exercise balls--34 inches across. Wikipedia photo source.)

My first recollections of our conquest of The Darkness Beyond were twofold: First, standing in the darkened driveway of our apartment complex with my parents and the neighbors, standing, eager, waiting, eyes heavenward, straining to see the tiny speck of light of Telstar on its scheduled pass across the heavens. I was six, and I knew from the excitement around me that something magical had happened.

(Wikipedia photo source.)
And, second, we knew all about the Mercury capsules, tiny tin cans barely big enough for a human, barely popping into space and dropping back to the sea, whence they were plucked by helicopter from the waters and deposited on the deck of a military vessel nearby. These were always suspenseful--would they burn up on reentry? Would they find that tiny speck in the ocean? The first American into space reached that goal for a mere 15 minutes the year I turned 5. Nine months later, the first American ever--and almost the first human ever--orbited Earth...a mere 3 times over a four-hour period. We must have seen these on TV (we had a TV in our house by then), because when my parents gifted me with a tiny plastic Mercury space capsule and bright orange helicopter with a skyhook dangling from a string, I knew all about how they were used. I loved that toy.(Wikimedia image source.)

This was my world as a child: Space travel was a miracle and our first steps into space were tiny, halting, fragile, risky things.

We watched every rocket launch on TV--and every one played out on TV for hours, broadcast live. We watched the countdown-- "T minus two hours and counting" said the man in the background--and sometimes you could see activity on the ground or watch the astronaut (with Gemini, two astronauts; with Apollo, finally, three) make his way into the tiny capsule. "T minus 10 seconds...9...8...7..." and I'd feel my heart rise with the rocket as it ponderously rose, ever so slowly, amazingly slowly for the tremendous power and fury of the fires and smoke erupting from its base, finally, magically, into the air, and the cameras watched it, the light of its rocket flickering, flickering, growing ever smaller, until it was out of sight.

A miracle. Every flight had simulations broadcast so that you could see what the rocket stages were doing as they separated, how the capsule maneuvered in space. And then, always at the end, that terrifying, burning, racing plunge into the sea, with no control; they dropped from orbit and fell, a flaming stone, through the atmosphere to the water below.

Forty years ago today--I was thirteen--men walked on the moon. Everyone talked about it. Everyone watched the broadcasts coming back live--Live!--from another planet. Astounding, just...astounding. The solar system now seemed within our reach, it felt like there was nowhere we couldn't go, places we couldn't explore, resources we couldn't find: Now--we could do it all! And yet, for all that we could land on the moon under control, and leave its surface again, back home to Earth and there was still that uncontrolled plummet to the vast, cold sea. (Wikipedia image source.)

I was fully an adult--out of college, married, owned my first home and then my second, before that changed. We watched the launch of the first space shuttle on TV, all of us, waiting to see whether it would even fly. And then, two days later, the suspenseful time as it descended from orbit back through the atmosphere and those dreadful minutes of silence where communication was impossible--

And, by all the Gods, it came through! We might have cheered when we heard the astronaut's voices as radio contact was reestablished. And then we waited with bated breath, begging silently, fists clenched, waiting to see whether it was possible for it to actually land again, under control, on the ground, safely and predictably. Then Lo!, it did! And I cried from the joy of it.

(Wikipedia photo source)

Not long after that, as we who remembered how it had been sat around the TV for yet another blast-off, still as astounding as it had always been, my youngest sister (9 years younger), wandered into the living room, said, "Oh, another rocket launch," and wandered out again. And that was the first I truly realized that the magic of it all was lost to those who hadn't grown up with it, for whom space flight was a matter of fact, shuttles landing under a pilot's control an everyday occurrence.

I hope that, within my lifetime, we will find the magic again and find our way out to our moon, our neighboring planets, and their moons. Because it seems so sad that we should be imprisoned here, on a single planet, our little castle with nowhere to go if it should burn, when we have had the magic in our hands and shown that we could use it. I hope.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Groaning In So Many Ways

SUMMARY: Waking up to dogs, groceries, and death, and groaning in a major way at the very end.

I love waking up in the morning with my dogs. It's one of the few times of the day when they'll snuggle, and they're [mostly] so gentle at that time. Boost might stretch out while I'm stroking her face or her tummy, eyes closing blissfully. Tika for some reason will curl up right against my body until I'm fully awake, then move to where I can barely reach her with my fingertips and glare at me reproachfully if I don't pet her. She particularly likes having her face rubbed--I put my palm over her eyes, one thumb near one ear, middle finger near the other, and push and rub, and she presses her head into my hand and moves it around to get everything rubbed--or she wants her ears massaged, and leans into it, groaning. Ahhhh! That's the life.

Today was Michael Jackson's memorial service. Apparently millions of people, literally, tried to get tickets to be in the actual stadium for the 2-hour performance/service, and the whole thing was broadcast live over TV and radio. I groaned. Sad celebrity death, very talented but very odd man. Only 50. There have been four major untimely deaths in my lifetime that I remember clearly as being media circuses during and after, with worldwide outpouring of grief and dismay and coverage that went on for weeks afterward: John F. Kennedy (at 46), Elvis Presley (only 42), Princess Di (a mere 36), and now Michael Jackson, the old man in the crowd at 50, which, darn it, is younger than I am, and I still think of myself as young. Well--young enough.

I decided to hit the grocery stores, since there seemed to be a huge number of people (judging by their FaceBook entries) glued to the TV for the service. I tried to be efficient in 2 ways:

(1) First, I tried to pay to get my groceries delivered so I wouldn't have to drive 5 minutes to the store, go up and down the aisles, stand in line, and drive back. Would've probably taken 45 minutes for this trip. My past experience has been that it takes as long or longer to order online as to just find the stuff in the store, but every year or 2 I decide to try it again.

First, the interface wouldn't work with my browser. Took a while to figure that out, let's say 10 minutes. Switched to another browser.

Search for dairy. There, search for nonfat milk. There, scroll through the choices, of which there are a couple dozen, to find mine. Faster than going directly to the shelf where I always get my milk and popping it into the cart? Maybe not. AND I can't check the "use by date" but have to rely on their shopper to get me the freshest bottle. Search for "whole wheat sourdough bread". Only one choice comes up, no photo. Not sure it's the one I usually get. Waffle about whether to select it, but OK. Want some small bananas. Have to choose between regular and organic. have to type a note in a separate window saying "please choose really really small ones" except I apparently have only about 20 characters for "custom order info," so have to experiment with phrasing.

Am I saving time? OK, half an hour into this event, I've got 7 things in my shopping cart and I'm not done yet. Groaannnnn! Abandon ship!

(2) Drive to the store--Lucky's is next to my bank, so that's where I end up. Fill my cart halfway within about 10 minutes. There's only one checkout line open with 3 people standing in it, so I go to the self-checkout lanes, all of which are open. Figure it'll be faster, right?

To ensure that you aren't cheating, you swipe the item and then MUST put it onto the bagging area shelf, where it weighs it to be sure you're not sneaking in some unpaid extras. So what happens when I put my own shopping bag onto the shelf? Error! Clerk has to come clear it. I foolishly don't put all 4 bags onto the shelf to sit there and wait, so the clerk has to clear it again and then again when I add more of my own bags. Doh!

Next, you have to put each item onto the shelf before swiping the next one. So, sure, you can pick up 4 small items, but you must swipe, set it down, wait for acknowledgment, swipe, set it down, wait, etc. Not efficient. And you can't just put the big items like boxes of soda back into your cart; it won't progress until they're on the shelf with everything else.

Thirdly, for produce, you have to find the info in the database. Bananas are easy, they come up as "common items" on the first screen. But the cantaloupe? The clerk has to come tell me that it's under "melon", not under "cantaloupe." I have to search for Kiwi, then type in how many I've got. And so on.

Then I have to rearrange everything in the bags because I couldn't bag them in the most effective combinations while scanning them. Then into the cart. Not efficient. I groaned when the clerk had to come over to do special processing when I wanted to write a check; OK, I said to her, I guess this wasn't the wisest thing to do with this many items.

By the time I'm done with my 30 items or so, the one open checkout lane has processed probably 4 or 5 people. OK, I love the self-checkout for half a dozen or fewer items, but from now on, with more than that, it's the regular check-out lane.

Usually I take the merle girls with me when I go to the bank or shopping, and then we walk for 10 or 15 minutes in that area for something new to scratch and sniff. Today I didn't because it was a tad warm and I wasn't sure there'd be shade. There wasn't, and it took me long enough that I'm glad they stayed home. Dogs were happy to see me; annoyed that I then sat down at my computer again.

And now, I just wanted to share with you what some dogs have to put up with to get their four square meals a day, because it made my morning when I read it in the paper: Don't say I didn't warn you about the groaning.(Source: July 7 2009 strip at

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Are Some Things More Important Than Agility?

SUMMARY: Weddings? Graduations? Death's Door? Amusement parks? Hmm.

Update: 6/6/09 3p.m.: Two parenthetical observations in [square brackets].

Team Small Dog today got me going on the observation that they attended a wedding this weekend "because some things are more important than agility." I found that I had lots to say, hence this yere post.

I'd agree that some things are more important than agility, but what if I am already entered in an agility trial and I have paid my money and I am all ready to go? Hmmmm.

So I started thinking about me and some things that might be more important than agility.

I once missed a wedding for an agility trial, but it was a stealth wedding. My cousin sneaked off to Las Vegas or Morocco or somewhere and got married with no one there, and then came home and told us very quietly. A while later, they invited us to a BBQ at their place, and I said, sorry, already entered in an agility trial for that weekend, because BBQs are definitely not on the list of things more important than agility, even though free food is involved.

Well, it turned out that they invited all family members from all around the universe and actually did a real wedding ceremony and had a cake and everything. So I missed it. But I'd have blown off at least half a day of agility to go if they had bothered to tell me what it was for! Because wedding cake is definitely more important than agility.

I once missed one whole run in agility to go to my nephew's graduation, because he had the courtesy to graduate from a college in Turlock first thing in the morning on a weekend where there was agility in Turlock. What a considerate nephew. Turns out that I was almost the only one in the family who got there in time to take photos. Because I was already there for agility. What a considerate agility show.

So there are some things more important than agility, but we get back to agility as quickly as we can, like in time for the 2nd walk-through.

Conversely, there was the time I *didn't* do agility because it was wayyy to far to drive in the remote mountains past Lake Tahoe, and some agility friends got married at the agility trial and so I missed it, although I knew about it in advance. But they didn't promise wedding cake, so what could I do? [And besides, some things are more important than agility, like not driving 5 hours each way on mountain roads for a basic weekend agility trial.]

And one other time when I *didn't* do agility at a fairly local trial, maybe for some odd reason didn't want to do 6 straight weekends of agility, and some agility friends hosted their huge wedding reception AT the trial, with white tablecloths and a huge banquet and dancing and everything, and I missed that. But that was also a stealth reception, in that I never heard about it until afterwards, or you can be sure I'd have gone. [And besides, some things are more important than agility, like not exhausting myself, my dogs, and my checkbook.]

Then there was the time--twice actually--when my mom went into the hospital right immediately before an agility trial, and I fretted tremendously and the angst flowing from my brain could have filled the Metrodome, but my #1 sister was being a superb mom-hospital-health-manager plus I had 2 additional emergency backup sisters right there in the area, and I was providing no useful services whatsoever except periodically sending emails to all known relatives. So I said I guess I'd go to agility anyway, if they thought they could manage without me, since it was only 2 hours away and I actually do own a cell phone although I try not to admit it. One of the very few times in known history when I carried a turned-on cell phone with me for 2 days, even at the score table, and my excellent #1 sister called me periodically to give me cheery updates so that I could indulge my agility fantasy unencumbered by family worries.

So you can see that, of all the things that are more important than agility, in fact I have no photos of because I wasn't there. Hrm. I have SEEN photos, but can't now find the links to them. Ah, well.

But here's the thing: I am blowing off an actual Bay Team agility trial in November to go to Disneyland. Because some things just ARE more important than dog agility.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Crisis of Conscience

SUMMARY: I don't know what I'll do next time. Rats.

First Story

Cursed vermin! A plague of rodents invaded my attic sometime last winter and I didn't deal with them right away this time. The vile things could be heard gnawing inside my expensive-to-maintain real estate and it seemed like only a matter of time until they'd gnaw a hole in my roof, or through my electrical wiring, or even into my living quarters or cabinets in my kitchen.

Gross horrible beasts, peeing and defecating profusely everywhere in my attic, tearing up the insulation for nesting, and if you don't think that replacing that is miserably uncomfortable--and expensive--work, then you've never been in a 100-degree attic covered with protective clothing and gear and breathing through a filter mask, hunkering down beneath the low roof, balancing on the beams and trying not to fall through the ceiling into your living room. S**t.

Hate them. Why can't they stay out in the fields where they belong? Tika will hunt them down in my yard between episodes of agility training; the problem is that she tears apart everything that stands in her way--flower beds, hot tubs, you name it. More destruction to blame on the rodents.

They are just bad news. As the Santa Clara County web site says, "these rodents can infect humans directly with diseases such as tularemia, leptospirosis, arenavirus, Hantavirus, ratbite fever, lymphocytic choriomeningitis and salmonellosis (food poisoning). They also may serve as reservoirs for diseases transmitted by ectoparasites, such as tick-borne relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, plague, murine typhus, rickettsial pox, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and tularemia." Jeez, you don't want to be breathing their waste or having it come anywhere near you, and heaven forfend they don't have plague-carrying fleas. Remember the Black Death? Rats with fleas. Gah.

Damned things are too smart for their own good, too. Put up traps with bait. Caught nothing. Called rat guy and paid him money to set traps in a professional manner. Set several; caught one. One afternoon I counted 8--eight!--damned rats scrambling to escape when I opened the attic door. And those are only the ones I saw. So they're breeding like--rats--and I hope they don't run at me when I open the door. Gah, yuck, awful, I suppose they could carry rabies, too.

Put in poison bait blocks. Not my favorite method because I worry about the dogs getting poisoned rats, although I've never known any of my dogs to eat dead rodents. Carry them around, yes; eat, no. Still. Anyway, they nibbled at them some and then left the bait alone. The hellspawned creatures learn about traps and become trap shy, and they'll sample bait, wait a while, get sick, and never go near it again. Curse them all!

But finally we thought we were making progress. Saw many fewer rats. Rat guy came back again to close up the hole in the roof they were going through (I suspected as much) and we didn't see any rats at all beforehand, so hopefully they were all already dead or had scrammed when we started mucking around in the attic.

But at least one was still in there, curse it! Gnawing away. Finally got caught in a trap. Had to clean out the mess. Good riddance.

Second Story

I had hamsters when I was a kid. And various friends all my life have had rats as pets. They're very smart, very curious. So warm and delicate, sitting in your hand, their teeny little toenails skittering around. The way they sit up and look at you with cute little faces, bright eyes-- And smart, too. Can learn tricks. You can start seeing different personalities, just like you can with any other pets--cat, dogs, whatever.

And I hate killing things if I see an alternative. I'll carry spiders outside and let them go. Rats--challenging. If I catch them live and turn them loose outside, they'll be back in my house or someone else's house or breeding like crazy to spawn more invaders. Dead is probably better. The thing I always preferred about snap traps is that it's really quick. Usually. So I set out a bunch of traps.

I crawled up into the attic a few weeks back to check the traps, and my perspective made a 90-degree turn: I pulled back a massed-up mess of insulation--and there was a nest of baby rats, still mostly pinkish, barely any fur, just innocent, tiny, living infants, all clambering around on top of each other to get away from the light, nowhere to go, not understanding what was happening to them, probably frightened half to death.

Which meant that somewhere there was a mother taking care of them. Mother dies, babies starve slowly to death. Or ther rats will kill them and/or eat them. OK, rats might be cute, but this isn't so much. Of course, male lions do that to other male's cubs and we still like lions.

But, anyway, all of a sudden they were no longer foul vermin. They were like my pet hamsters, like my friends' pet rats, like my dogs. They were families of smart, soft, cute, active, feeling animals.

I felt like crying. What was I doing? How could I contribute to this? Could I scoop up the nest and do the whole litter in? How, for crying out loud, drown them? Given that that's one of my phobias (possiblity of drowning), how could I do that to another critter? Stomp on them? You've got to be kidding. Wring their little necks? I'm afraid I'd just hurt the hell out of them long before dispatching them.

I still felt like crying. I backed out of the attic and called the rat guy. He said, "Awww, babies, gee, I hate doing that! But that's what I do for a living, I guess I have to deal with it." He came over, but we couldn't find the babies again. They were moved or dead. I didn't ask what he'd have done with them if he had found them.

A week or so later, I went up to check the traps again. Pulled aside another lump of insulation, and there were the babies--still really too small to be leaving their nest, still struggling against the light, but now definitely furry with that soft, downy fur common to all young mammals--puppies, kittens, rats.


I backout out of there again really fast.

The rats just weren't going for the traps. As i understand it, if one gets caught in a trap, the others figure out that traps are bad and just stay away. Traps worked for me in the past, but apparently these were geniuses among rats. Nothing. And still a half dozen or more rats every time I went up there. And gnawing away at my house still.

I finally put up a bunch of rat bait, seeing no other alternative. You don't want to close up the holes in the house until the rats are taken care of, or then you have rats inside looking for other ways out. So we have to make sure there are no rats.

The rats barely touched the bait. I kept checking. And the traps were getting set off but not catching anything. How do they do that? But eventually there were fewer and fewer rats and then I didn't hear any for a couple of days, and so called the rat guy to close up the hole in the roof. It was a bear to do--way down at the base of the roof, very difficult to get to. But I hoped that meant no more rats coming in, so I wouldn't have to kill any more.

And then--the final sea change in my emotions. Because there was apparently at least one rat left, maybe two, because that evening when he woke up and tried to get out, he became frantic. I sat in my kitchen and listened to him overhead, smashing and thrashing and banging and grabbing and gnawing and clawing to get out. I thought he was going to come down through the light fixtures or dig or gnaw right through the drywall ceiling. I'd never heard activity so desperate.

And that's what I heard--the desperate attempts of a living being, shut off from food, shut off from water. Maybe shut off from family. Do rats have a sense of family? I don't know--certainly the young rats huddling together in the nest and the mother caring for them have strong affinity for each other. And how would I feel, trapped, no food, no water, not understanding what had happened, wanting desperately to get out?

I hardly slept that night. I heard him all night long, trying everything everywhere to find a way out. Desperate. Scared. Frantic. Gnawing at anything, even the solid wire mesh sealing the old entryway, I could hear the metal reverberate. And it wasn't the noise so much as the guilt--what have I done? What have I done?

It continued well into the morning, then silent as the day brightened and things warmed up.

Midmorning, I stepped out into the garage for some reason, and a movement caught my eye. I turned and looked. A young rat--not an infant, maybe half grown--hesitated in the walkspace near the back door, sat up, paws tucked in, and looked up at me, nose twitching to catch my scent. Just like the little guy in the photo. "Are you my mother? Are you a friend? I can't get into my home and now I'm here and I'm alone and not sure what I'm doing." Jeez, how can a damned rat break my heart like that?

Then I moved towards him, and he moved briskly, not terrified, matter-of factly, back behind some boxes. I peered back there. I had left a mouse trap set from a mouse infestation, oh, maybe 3 years ago, and there was another young rat, same size, probably a sibling, dead with his head caught in the trap. I could hear the other one hovering nearby. Were they companions in this strange world that they'd been forced into, and one had been caught and the other hanging nearby, not knowing what to do, alone for maybe the first time in his life?

Am I anthropomorphizing?

After dark the noise in the attic started in again; not so desperate, but now determined and with a plan. Gnawing very very hard, very persistently, not in random places and small occasional bits like normal, but solid, determined, constant, very hard, very loud gnawing in one place.

Not only have I trapped a living creature in a sure-death situation, I have forced him into a position where he is destroying my property even more. But really foremost in my mind was a moving story I read years ago, "The House on Cemetery Street" by Cherry Wilder--in the attic, tiny scratchings and scratchings and tappings, trapped, slowly starving to death, running out of water, dying of thirst--

Again, I had trouble sleeping, listening to the persistent, determined, constant gnawing. Knowing that he did have things to eat in the attic: The bait blocks. The bait in the traps. And him knowing, knowing, KNOWING that those things were dangerous.

The next day, I inadvertently left the door to the garage open, and found that Tika had dispatched the other young rat.

The third night, persistent gnawing, still, but with breaks. As of desperate exhaustion. Must rest. Must keep going.

Sometime during the day, found another dead rat on the lawn, obviously had been dog-carried. Tika has been going overtime the last week or so as if the yard is suddenly full of rodents. Probably is, now that they can't get back into my attic.

The fourth night, very light, very weak gnawing. Not much at all. You could tell it was weak, weaker than all the normal gnawings and sounds from an attic full of vibrant mammalian life. Quiet. You could almost not hear it.

The next day, another young rat, even younger, dead on the lawn.

Then, that night, from the attic, nothing. And a day or two later, oh, a not so pleasant smell.

I donned my gear, hauled plastic bags and things up to the attic. Found a recently deceased rat in a trap. He had gotten desperate, needed to eat. Needed something. No matter how dangerous. Afloat in the ocean in a raft, desperate for something to drink. You know that if you drink the seawater, it will kill you. And yet--after a while--it seems like the only alternative.

I started hauling out the damaged insulation. Found another rat under the insulation. Poisoned? Don't know. Gone. Found a nest with two young, fully furred babies, curled up, so tiny, so sweet. Gone.

Don't cry into your filter mask. Harder to breathe.

Pulled out a lot of badly damaged insulation, but not nearly all of it. How many more families are up there, dead? Individuals, dead? Not dying cleanly.

How did I get to be this age, and dealt with invasive vermin several times through the decades, and only now have been so torn up by everything? If only I hadn't SEEN them alive and cute and close up.

Next time, it's live traps and I'm setting them loose in the field. I just don't care whether they come back. I'm still having trouble sleeping, thinking about it. I'm crying right now.

Damned rats.

Photo credits:
Evil rat, cute rat

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Knock Off That Bar Knocking and Check Out That View

SUMMARY: Working on Boost's main issue (of --um-- 2 or 3 main issues).

Spent an hour yesterday with WTC ("world team coach", yeah surely one of these days I'll make an extra page for all of my associate's aliases used here) with Boost analyzing some of her bar-knocking issues and coming up with ways to address them.

WTC watched her jump several times and she jumped nicely. Jumping when I'm moving out ahead of her, though? She's taking off early. I'd already identified that one of her bar-knocking issues (and refusals & runouts) is that she spends too much time looking at me rather than figuring out the course. Several things I've done on my own are devoted to getting her to look at obstacles instead of me. So this reinforces that issue.

We also identified that, when rewarded promptly and "punished" promptly--very promptly--after hitting the bar, she starts doing better, so she's at least somewhat aware of what she's doing with her back legs. The punishment is to immediately make her down (but in a gentle but firm voice, not scolding) and turn my back on her for at least a few seconds. That means that the instant she hits the bar--certainly by the time she's landing--I have to be telling her "lie down" or it's too long after hitting the bar for her to get it.

We also worked on ways to get her to think about the jump and looking forward instead of looking at me for a reward. We experimented with the treat-n-train for dispensing a reward after she's done a jump correctly. It's not bad, but there is a bit of a delay in dispensing the treat after the beep. I'll have to reaccustom her to that delay.

Mainly I'm going to be focusing on tossing high-value treats on the ground in front of her when she does jumps successfully. I could be standing, or sitting in a chair as motionless as possible so she's not looking at me so much for the reward. Which also means I have to be quick with the toss so she doesn't have time to look at me, but not so quick that I accidentally reward a ticked bar. Timing is everything!

So we're going to work on one jump for now with me sitting and tossing treats, or with treat-n-train at one end and a low table or phone book or something at the other end for me to toss the treat to, anything so she's looking ahead instead of at me. And no sit-stay or anything, just telling her "hup" from where she's picked up the last goodie. She was doing very very well at not touching the bar by the end of yesterday's session.

And we'll also work on 2-jump bounce jumps, full height (actually 26"; her competition height is 22"), 7' apart. And gradually adding me standing in different places, them me moving a little bit, then both of us running at them, and so on.

So for her--and the issue may be different for other dogs--the idea is to teach her that the JUMP is the important thing, not me, and that looking FORWARD is the important thing, not looking at me. And we'll see how that goes.

Meanwhile--Just going up to Power Paws is a pleasure. I mean, the company's good, but the view is ever-changing and always beautiful.

In this photo, I believe that PP is the level area just above the stoplight on the left side. (So hard to pick it out from down below.)

The downside to living up there is that you're always looking for smoke, always hypersensitive to the scent of burning. This is a bad thing to see in the foothills below you as the fire season begins.
But--back to the upside--look slightly more to your left at sunset, and this is what you might see:

And this is what class on Thursday evening is like--looking still further to your left-- (those are neighbors' houses you see):
Gazing out over San Jose:

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Browser Life is Complete

SUMMARY: Gotta love my browser's auto-completion feature: Easy access to all things dog agility! And--ahem, yes--important things like work.

Maybe all your browsers have this feature--autocompletion of a URL based on the the first character(s) you type and the frequency of your past accesses. So I can type:

"b" to get Bay Team, my local agility club (where I'm also webmaster).

"e" to get the english-language version of Wikipedia, where I initially signed on so that I could create an article on dog agility, which at the time was sadly absent.

"f" to get facebook, to which I was lured by a bunch of agility friends and bloggers, and where 60% of my FB friends are agility friends.

"fi" to get my own personal calendar of all my weekend plans for the next year or so, primarily agility.

"m" to get mapquest, which tells me how long it will take me to drive to whatever agility event I'm off to this next weekend.

"g" for Google. For everything! For Taj MuttHall, when I talk about how hot or cold it is, for my non-American friends I like to give the C as well as the F. So I can go to google, type "95F in C" in the search bar, and it tells me. Is that so totally rad or what?

"o" for Onelook dictionary search, which peruses a bunch of different dictionaries to find possible meanings for a word.

"p" for Power Paws, where I take agility classes with my dogs.

"r" for Google Reader, where I've subscribed to all my favorite blogs and can see any updates in one page; very convenient! At the moment, includes 13 agility-related blogs and 3 others. (I don't put my favorite LiveJournal blogs in here, although I could, because those I can sign up for permanent email notification as soon as someone posts something.)

"s" for Snopes, the urban legends reference page, which I check *constantly* to verify those emails about 20 beagle puppies who are about to be put to sleep because they can't find homes, or the parody of My Favorite Things sung by Julie Andrews, or a photo of a tsunami frozen to ice in an instant, or SO many things that come through the mail-- (Have used them for years, and they do display some advertising to pay for their site, which is fine; lately they seem to have some ads that open windows that do crappy things to my browser. Not always, but sometimes. But I haven't found a better reference site for this material.)

I type "t" to get Team Small Dog, my daily dose of dog-and-agility-related laughter or sober thought or brain-twisting set of analogies.

"ta" to get Taj MuttHall (here--although I don't have to type it often because it is also my home page).

"w" for Weatherbug, which is cool because you can see exactly where the station is that's reporting your time and temperature, and (if one is available) choose one closer to you or to the site of your agility trial this coming weekend.

"x" for the company that employs me so that I can do dog agility.

"y" for youtube. (Surprised me when I just checked it--I'd have thought Yahoo, which it was for a long time, but I guess all those agility videos have skewed it a bit...

"z" for my photo site on Smugmug--and the only way I can explain the "z" is because all the galleries are coded with random character-string names, and "z" must be pretty common. Lots of photos from dog agility trials and the nationals there, among other things.

Probably more with 2-letter combos that I'm not thinking of at the moment.

Do you detect certain themes? Perhaps themes starting with the letter "a" or "d"?

Perhaps it's time to get off the computer and go for a long hike with the dogs in Risk's memory.

Hug your dogs, your cats, your children, your siblings, your parents [parents--hope you're enjoying your 50th-anniversary oregon trip; here's your virtual hug: (( ))]. There might not be a tomorrow to do it in. And I don't have to browse the web to know that up close and personal.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

TaJ MuttHall Yard and Local Deities

SUMMARY: In which we take a camera tour in our very yard to prove that lacking an SLR doesn't mean that we can't take quick unartistic snapshots anyway. Plus an inventory of yard deities of many persuasions.

Visit here for a lot of fun photos like these, but with captions, to see what kinds of activities and lives go on in the Taj MuttHall yard.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Cutting Back On Agility

SUMMARY: Where to cut? How? Why? When?

I have vowed to cut back on my agility weekends.

My first thought was: I'll do only the Bay Team and SMART trials, because I'm a member and because they're fairly close to home--in theory meaning that I could sleep in my own bed on Saturday night and not have to get up at 4:00 a.m. to get there on Saturday. That would still be plenty of agility, because Bay Team is now doing eight (8!!) trials a year, and SMART now seems to be up to three a year. That's about one a month--sounds perfect!

There are two problems with this:

1) Four of the Bay Team's trials are now under cover up in Santa Rosa, which actually takes me as long to get to, or longer, than the VAST, NAF, Haute Dawgs, or TRACS trials in the central valley. Plus I have to go over a big bridge, and the traffic in the evening can be ugly. And I *do* have to get up at 4 on Saturday and I *do* have to stay overnight.

2) Those 11 trials aren't well spaced through the year. They actually run like this:
* One in late January.
* One in mid-March.
* One the last weekend in April and another the following weekend.
* Nothing for 6 weeks, then one every other weekend for from mid-June to mid-July.
* Nothing for 5 weeks, then one the last weekend in august and another the following weekend.
* Nothing for 3 months, then one in mid-December, which is really holiday time and I'm usually busy.

So I don't like the way it's laid out.

If I do only the ones where I can [reasonably] sleep in my own bed Saturday night, that drops me to only 7 a year. Not only am I not sure I'm ready for that drastic a cut [Yet, at any rate], that also drops all the trials from December through March, meaning that I'd have no agility from Labor Day until the last weekend in April. Ack! Can't be done, just can't.

But maybe.

The evolving schedule is a work in progress.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Old Age. It's Not for the Faint of Heart.

SUMMARY: A scare, sadness, and relief.

Over the last week, I've been talking to my first sister a bit about her 13-year old Lab mix who has been in declining health. But the dog still loved to go for walks, even if she could barely stand. Incontinent. Maybe a little senile, a little hard to tell. When was the right time to let her go? Would she make it easy by slipping away quietly some night in her bed?

No, she leaped down a couple of steps into the carpeted living room yesterday--the dog who could barely walk, needed a towel under her belly held by her human caretakers to help her stand, wanted to leap down the step--fell, and couldn't get up again. Her front legs were as strong as ever, but her back and hind legs had given up, couldn't hold her up. Had she damaged something, or was this just progressive deterioration? Could she feel anything in her rear legs? Could it be fixed? Guessing not--

My mother has had some serious health issues lately. She's still SO much "Mom"; no sign of the mental deterioration that she had so feared because all of her female relatives succumbed to it, but at 80, some other things have come up in rapid succession, landing her in the hospital or emergency room several times in the last half year. We've had some scares. I don't know whether she or we are more scared each time.

She's had some procedures last week to try to stabilize her heartbeat. Thought it was successful. Then problems, and to the emergency room. Then OK and home again. It's her heart, for goodness sakes; these aren't minor things. She's always been so strong, or seemed like it to me. Very active and healthy, mentally and physically and socially.

Last night I told my sister to call me if she decided to put the dog to sleep and needed company, someone other than her own daughters, whom she'd have to take care of more than they could take care of her at such a difficult time.

I've heard nothing all day. Headed out for an evening with my Master Composters group around 6:00. Home a bit after 9, and there are 4 messages blinking on my answering machine. Given that I usually have about one once or twice a week, and given the way things have been going, that couldn't be good.

The messages were from my dad, saying that he was taking mom to the emergency room again. From my first sister saying that she put the dog to sleep and shortly thereafter got the call about my mom and was now at the hospital with my parents. Two from my out-of-state fourth sister wanting reassurance, feeling outside of everything.

OK, that's not so bad--given that there were no additional follow-up calls.

I called my first sister for an update. Mom's back and legs seemed to be giving out, wouldn't hold her up, she fell or was afraid of falling (not clear on this), couldn't feel one leg. Couldn't get up. So they'd gone to the hospital.

The doctors had ruled out heart attack and stroke and were progressing through a variety of other tests. Mom was perfectly capable of chatting and being--well--just the same mom as always, just with a body that's not willing to play the same games the same way any more. Turns out that it's just a (probably) minor infection, and she'll spend the night there so they can keep an eye on her to be sure that the treatment is taking rapid effect.

I am greatly relieved.

But meanwhile the hospital can't find a copy of mom's Advance Directive. What does the directive say? If she falls down the steps into the living room and can't get up, what do we do? She's not a dog, not senile, still going to contribute a lot to her family and the world--we expect--and she's only 80, for crying out loud, that's not old enough to be frail. Is it? Isn't 80 the new 60? And 60's the new 40?

It's all so much really out of our control. We have to rely on the expertise of others, and we have no good way of knowing whether they actually have any idea of what they're talking about. We like to hope so. We have to hope so.

Because I expect mom and dad to still be around when I hit 100. That's just the way it's supposed to work. And by then, I'll have lost how many dogs to the Big Milkbone in the Sky? Four so far, two more on their way--Tika's 8, Boost's 4. Ten years from now, I don't expect that they'll still be with me. Some other young and bouncy and crazy and loving dog will most likely be in my life. It won't be the same as any of my previous dogs. It won't be as good as they were. And, in other ways, it will be better.

Not so easy to adopt a replacement parent from the local parent shelter; their screening requirements are REALLY tough. So I'll have to keep the ones I've got. And meanwhile my sister's dog is gone. In peace. But so hard for the ones left behind.

I have no clever line to wrap this up. Because the story really has no end. So I guess I'll go to bed.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Get Uncomfortable

SUMMARY: Thoughts on moving out of your comfort zone.

The last couple of weeks, I've been pondering my comfort zones--what they are, why they're comfortable, how to move out of them, and what it will get me. Started from a couple of workshops I'm taking that have nothing to do with agility.

The point is that moving out of comfort zones is the only way to improve. That's how you learn. That's how your body builds itself. That's how your income grows. For example, you didn't learn to walk by doing what was comfortable--crawling. You struggled to stand on both feet. You struggled to take a step. You fell. And fell. And fell again. And again and again. And then, a whole new world opened up to you...OK, maybe in the short term where you could pull fragile china from tabletops, reach hot pans on the stove, and other fascinating opportunities such as those, enabling you to learn even more. But where would you be today if you were still crawling? Front crosses are hard enough to do on two legs; managing one on all fours would be a trick.

When you want to build muscle, you don't keep doing things that you can do easily; you do exercises that break down the muscle fibers, make you tired and achey, and allow the muscles to rebuild themselves into something better.

Sometimes it's hard to identify one's comfort zones. OK, I do well at work, I get pretty good performance reviews most of the time. But I'm already pretty good at what I do, and it hasn't made me rich yet, for example. I'd have to step into something that I know much less about, and risk my investment of time (at the very least), and possibly ego, and possibly status, and possibly money, to do something very different.

It's hard to do, and we don't LIKE moving out of our comfort zone. In fact, our brains fight against doing it, because in some ways it goes against the "rules" that we've built up for ourselves that say "this is how the world works, this is what's right, this is who you are." Like, "only really tall, long-legged people win the USDAA nationals" or "I am just not championship material."

Here are some everyday examples of what happens when I start to move out of my rule-based comfort zones:

  • Seatbelts. I always wear seatbelts in the car. Always. After agility class late in the evening, the last person out is supposed to close the gate to the driveway. It's a long driveway, maybe 500 feet? I have to remember ALLLLL the way down that I'm supposed to stop and close the gate, not just breeze on through like I usually do. So I leave my seatbelt off because it's a good reminder, and there is absolutely no safety or legal reason why I need it on during that time. But--it just about makes my body crawl out of my skin to leave the seatbelt off. Even as I'm sitting in my car thinking "Leave the seatbelt off," my hand is reaching for the seatbelt. Even after I've started moving and my hands are on the wheel, the back of my mind is yelling "Danger! Danger! Danger! Something's really wrong here! Wrong wrong wrong!" all the way down the driveway.
  • Sleeping. I can't sleep unless I have covers over me. I don't know why, but it makes me feel extraordinarily vulnerable. I become hyperconscious of the fact that there is nothing covering me. On very hot, sweaty nights, this is a bit of a problem. Through years of occasional hot, sweaty nights, I have gradually learned to sleep with a corner of the sheet draped over my hips. Then I am still secure and safe and can drift off. But if I roll over and the sheet falls off, boom, I'm wide awake, my mind yelling "Danger! Danger! Something's wrong here!"
  • Shaving in the shower. OK, not to gross anyone out, but through many decades of showering, I have inadvertently fallen into a pattern of what gets washed in what order, with a little shaving of the armpits and legs thrown in. If I switch anything for any reason, I suddenly can't figure out how, fer crying out loud, to finish cleaning myself! Maybe I want to check if the razor is still sharp enough, so I do a little shaving first. Now my habits say that I'm already done with what's normally done before the shaving, and I continue cleaning from that point. Making a conscious effort to back up and start at an earlier point of cleaning makes my brain scream "Wrong wrong wrong!"

I'm not talking about phobias or obsessions here. Just patterns that my mind has established as "normal" and that I feel uncomfortable about when I dare to breach the pattern. It's OK. I deal with it. I figure it out. I leave the seatbelt off. I get to sleep at night. I come out of the shower clean.

And in none of these cases is what I'm doing ACTUALLY wrong or dangerous or risky; it's just DIFFERENT, but it enables me to (a) remember to close the gate, (b) allows me to sleep on a hot night, and (c) lets me deal with things like an injured hand that has to be kept dry.

There are other things in life that are even less comfortable, and might indeed have some kind of increased risk, but have the potential for greater reward that are also not inherently wrong or actually dangerous. The trick is being able to identify when your mind is giving you incorrect information because it is out of its comfort zone and it doesn't know what to do next.

I mention all this here because I've also been thinking about it in terms of my agility training and competition. I'm not quite sure what it all means yet. Maybe you have similar minor experiences like mine in your own life, or have made great leaps forward in agility by finally doing something that you hadn't dared to do before. Stepping out of your comfort zone.

I'm just thinkin', it's time to get uncomfortable.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Random Things in April

SUMMARY: The mind wanders. The life wanders.

  • Last week it was so cold that I ran the space heater under my desk on several days. Yesterday we beat the all-time temp record for this date, which was set over100 years ago. Hey, people, this is supposed to be April! Dogs don't much care--still wnat me to Throw The Toy--except that when they fetch it, they run and drop it in the shade and wait for me to come get it. This weekend--when we're doing agility again finally, mind you--it's supposed to be cool and very rainy. Unsettled weather: Unsettling.
  • Last summer I bought a brand new purple Jolly Ball for the back yard. (Well, really, for the dogs, but it lives in the back yard.) The dogs love that toy. Shortly thereafter, it vanished. I looked everwhere, even underneath the miles of shrubbery lining my fence. Nada. Finally gave up and bought a new one.

    Last week I got to work finishing that trimming job I started...uh...a while back. Guess who's been overwintering 6 feet up in the shelter of the shrubbery? Yes! Mr. Jolly Ball!

    Reminds me of the time that Mr. Red Jolly Ball vanished from the yard and I gave up and bought a new one. Came autumn, fruit trees dropped their leaves--and there was Mr.RJB nestling in the branches of the apple tree 15 feet up. (Thought I had a post on this but can't find it. Sorry; know you're disappointed.)

    Now--*I* would notice if I tossed a JB into a tree or a shrub. Renter claims that he'd notice, too. OK, you guys, fess up: Who's been sneaking into my yard and tossing JBs into mysterious places?
  • Huh--this horrible nasty way overgrown privet, once stripped of its branches (my intention was to remove it entirely--maybe there's be more room for another tunnel?), has apparently self-grafted like crazy. He never listened to Mom Privet saying, "If you keep wrapping your branches around each other like that, they'll freeze that way!" Makes me want to stop sticking my elbow in my ear all the time. Fortunately it did not self-graft itself around Mr. JB. The real problem here is that now I think that this is so cool that I don't want to take it out after all. Sigh. The price one pays for one's art.
  • Naming dogs: I take forever to come up with dog names. That's why Jake stayed Jake as he was before i got him, and Remington stayed Remington as he was in his pre-TMH life. Keep threatening to name my next dog Spot or Fido or King or Queenie. come no one ever names their dog Kingie or Queen? Is this sexist?
  • Just lounging around in the yard, watching the Graf Agility Zeppelin float by.
  • Painted Ladies recently migrated northward through our area in massive quantities.

  • We're starting agility class again this Thursday, after a 9-week absence for R&R Woo hoo! Dogs will be much happier. We're just starting some practice again in the yard. Boost is still knocking bars. I've been perhaps less than faithful in doing everything that was recommended during our hiatus. But we did have a good time. Mostly.
  • Unemployment rate in Silicon Valley popped up to 11.2%. California overall 11%. Fourth highest in the country among all 50 states. Wasn't high tech supposed to be recession-proof? Agility trial entries are down. Is it the economy, stupid? Or the stupid economy?

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Monday, March 30, 2009


SUMMARY: Taxes, earthquake, agility dangers, necks, bugs, computers...

  • There was a 4.3 earthquake not far from here this morning. Wasn't home so don't know whether dogs noticed. But my guess is not. One quick shake and then a little rolling; nothing too disturbing.
  • I finally spent the time to get my papers together for the tax guy. I noticed once again that no agility-related or dog-related expenses seem to be tax deductible. Maybe if I were an agility instructor? Or an agility lecturer?
  • An agility friend and her dog collided this weekend at an agility trial, she fell and hit her head and was knocked unconscious. Scary. Spent the night in the hospital; she doesn't remember a thing about the incident.
  • What are those horrid sort of round bugs that are smaller than the head of a pin that have been infesting my kitchen cupboards now for probably a year? I think they came in in a batch of dog biscuits that weren't sealed up. Maybe 6 months ago, I emptied all the cupboards, threw out several things that had been infested, and put everything else in ziplock bags. But they've beeen increasing with a vengeance. Yesterday I went through the process again. Found 6 things in plastic bags that were infested; two I couldn't tell whether there was an opening in the bags--maybe they were infested when I put them in the bags. The others--they had eaten right through the bags! Another scary thing. Had to toss two supposedly sealed new dog treat things again that they somehow got through the bags.
  • Yet another agility friend apparently has a little cattledog with the same neck issues that Tika has. Apparently vet said it's from all the shaking of toys. Boost still shakes things like a 7.6 earthquake when we're tugging, but Tika doesn't much shake things any more (just pulls). Maybe that's because of her neck? The friend says no more shaking toys for her dog. How do you stop it? Argh.
  • I still haven't blogged my info from last weekend's trial. Tika did pretty good. But I took a few photos and I've been busy and now my computer's down, so I can't do anything with them. SOMEday I'll talk about last weekend. I took good notes!

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