Friday, July 25, 2014

Banner: Day 2

Day 2: trip to the vet for a well-puppy exam, visit to the newspaper office, ride in the Gator to check cows (cows are VERY exciting, if you didn't know), practicing quiet time in a crate and lots of playing outdoors once it quit raining.

Toys are a big hit. Any toy. Any time.

Dog trainers' mad skills mean they can tug with one hand and take pics with the other. 
Method not recommended for dogs weighing more than 10 pounds.

For the record, he CAN fit a full-size tennis ball in his mouth.

A little soft focus here but that's what you get when 
a 10-pound projectile is launching itself at your head.

And finally, Phoenix is notably absent from these photos. He is trying so hard to ignore Banner it's almost pathetic. Okay, he's not just trying, he's SUCCEEDING and it IS pathetic. Phoenix likes Banner - when he's in a crate or an x-pen. But when "it" is loose, he finds somewhere else to be. Banner is fascinated by Phoenix but has absolutely no idea that jumping on someone's head is neither appropriate nor appreciated. I'm keeping the two carefully separated until Phoenix starts to show genuinely friendly - or at least tolerant - interest. There's no rush.

Until then, Phoenix is pretty sure Banner's only redeeming social value is that he has a lot of cool new toys that Phoenix is allowed to play with and also, when Banner has a yowling fit (LEMME OUTTA HERE RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE DO YOU HEAR ME!!!!), Phoenix gets cookies.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Introducing . . .

CedarWoods Once Upon a Time

Banner came home to Iowa yesterday.

The cats are horrified. Seriously. Totally appalled.

Weezel is pretty much the only one who will have anything to do with him.

The beginning of a bad idea.

Mutual fascination.

Collars? We don't need no stinkin' itchy collars.

There will be more pics coming. Right now we're trying to get a handle on the simple stuff, like mastering the step at the back door, the concept of being quiet in a crate and not jumping on Phoenix's head. You know - the stuff that will keep you alive.

Already this morning he has met my teenage niece (much gushing, cooing and cuddling), met my brother-in-law (who asked "Are you going to try to train this one, too?"), 4 cats (3 of whom looked at him like "WTH?" and one who had an absolute hissy fit meltdown), watched a tractor, went for a little walk, tried to make friends with Phoenix (hard to make friends with someone who ignores you) and is now having a nap.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Eight days and counting

I am absurdly, ridiculously, wildly excited about the prospect of a summer puppy. Taking a walk down the frozen, ice-slick memory lane of Phoenix’s arrival explains a lot.  He was not a summer puppy. He was a February puppy.

I took a week off from work for puppy bonding after he arrived. I got puppy bonding all right, along with a major ice storm that hit within hours of getting home from the airport with him. It knocked out power in eastern Iowa for the better part of a week. We were off the grid for six days. No lights. No heat. No computer. No TV. That was the week I cooked a pizza on a gas grill. You haven’t lived until you’ve grilled a pizza by lantern light and eaten it with a malinois puppy stuffed inside your coat in a house where you can see your breath in the air. Good times.

During the day, I sat on the living room floor, wearing a parka over insulated Carhartt bib-overalls, a stocking cap and gloves and played with Phoenix. In the evening, I sat in my recliner and read by lantern light with him snuggled under a blanket on my lap while the Farmer listened to Iowa Hawkeye basketball on the radio.

Then we went to bed and crawled under every blanket we owned, topped by my sleeping bag, with Phoenix wedged comfortably (for him) under my arm. If anyone had to pee in the middle of the night, we crawled out of our snug nest, shoved feet into cold boots, made our way through the cold house by flashlight and found the human toilet (I was hauling water from the cattle tanks so we could flush) or went outdoors into the black infinity that is Iowa in February at 2 a.m. The average temp outdoors that week was between 30 and 32 degrees. The average temp in the house that week was about 40 degrees.

I’ve never had a summer puppy before. Never. Ever. Jess came in March (cold, dark, wet, fog, snow), Connor in November (cold, dark, wet, fog, trying to snow), Jamie in late September and Phoenix in February. Jamie was the closest thing I ever had to a summer puppy but his arrival at the end of September coincided with quickly diminishing daylight hours that restricted outdoor activity and dropping temps made middle-of-the-night trips outdoors a goosebumpy affair.

The idea of bringing a puppy home when there are warm temps and long hours of evening sunshine fills my heart with such paroxysms of joy I can barely stand it. Really. You have no idea. Bottom line, I’m looking forward to being able to make outdoor potty runs in the middle of the night in a T-shirt and flip-flops and not get frostbite or get clunked on the head by an ice-coated tree limb crashing down.

No, I don’t know which puppy is coming to Iowa. Yes, it’s driving me crazy. Yes, that’s a short trip. No, I don’t have a problem with it. The breeder is doing all she can to help me decide. I’ve seen the puppies exactly once, for five wonderful hours earlier this month. She has lived with them for nearly 8 weeks, watched them grow and change. Although any given puppy might be “the one” on any given day, I trust her judgement to help me choose the right one based on two months of interacting with them daily. Honestly, the day I visited the litter, I often found it difficult to look beyond the forest to study the individual trees - the presence of nine bouncy, outgoing, fuzzy puppies made it hard to focus on a single one for very long. Sitting on the grass with puppies tumbling in and out of my lap pretty much reduced my brain to oxytocin-saturated mush.

Even worse, after years of Belgian-blinded vision, it was damn near impossible to tell the five blue merle boys apart and think I only identified the four black tri’s correctly about half of the time. Unless the puppy in question was facing me and held still for longer than 2 seconds, I had a really hard time identifying the little beasts (smallest tri girl, wild tri girl, dilute blue boy, full white collar blue boy, solo tri boy, etc., etc.) and remembering what their puppy call names were so the breeder and I could have a sensible conversation about them.

My puppy-picking skills have never been based on scientific approach or strict behavior evaluations. I picked Jess out of his litter when he was five or six weeks old. I chose him because he was the only puppy who did not have a full white collar. Connor picked me. Truly. He was an accident - the puppy I wasn’t looking for and didn’t need but met by chance and suddenly desperately wanted. I picked Jamie - it was a simple choice between him (already showing promise of grace and elegance at 8 weeks) and his brother (who was a short-legged, lumpy sort of pup). Phoenix’s breeder picked him for me.

My current quandary is not which of nine puppies to choose but which of two puppies to choose. Or maybe three. But probably two. One is a boy. One is a girl. When I saw them at 6 weeks, they were both lovely - animated, tuggy, follow-y (is that a word? it is now), kissy and engaging. Social. Bold. Lovely structure. Pretty markings. Over the top stinkin' adorable.

Friends who always have boy dogs tell me to get the boy. Friends who always have girl dogs tell me to get the girl. Friends who have had both tell me to pick the one that I feel is right. I’ve always had boys. I thought I wanted another boy. Now I’m not so sure. But a girl is an unknown quantity. A boy is a known quantity. Sort of. I thought Phoenix was a known quantity. He was only too happy to prove me wrong. I don’t want the boy vs. girl debate to cloud my decision. I need to pick the puppy who is right for me, never mind if it has outdoor plumbing or indoor plumbing.

The Farmer is no help. He rolls his eyes and says, "Get the one that makes you happy." Phoenix is no help. He just fixes me with that Malinois/Jedi stare and I can hear him thinking, "Cat. In the house. You want a cat. In. The. House."

Since I’m already making a drastic switch in appearance, maybe it’s time to really switch it up and bring a girl home. A little estrogen in the house would be a fine thing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Puppy-proofing the house

I was thinking I needed to puppy-proof our house before the new little critter arrives later this month. Then I looked around and realized the military grade puppy-proofing I inflicted on our home following Phoenix’s arrival 7 1/2 years ago is still in effect. Seriously. After you’ve mali-proofed your home once, there’s really not much else you can do to it.

The toilet paper went into hiding under the bathroom sink when Phoenix arrived and hasn’t come back out since. Over the last 7 1/2 years, when people came to visit I’ve occasionally had to yell through the bathroom door to inform the occupant where to find the potty paper. People who visit frequently know where to find it. Chances are, they are dog friends and could figure it out themselves because that's where they keep theirs, too.

The hand-woven baskets and dried floral arrangements went out the door (often in a trash bag) after Phoenix arrived. Ditto for throw pillows. Fabric rabbits. Lace-edged doilies. Home decorating magazines touting creative ways to display hand-woven baskets with dried floral arrangements, throw pillows, fabric rabbits and lace-edged doilies. I waved good-bye to the days of having rooms that looked like Better Homes and Gardens photo shoots. Okay, so they weren’t exactly BH&G material but still . . . I liked my dried flowers. As it turned out, so did Phoenix. Nice to know we shared the same aesthetics, although for totally different reasons.

And it wasn’t like Phoenix was allowed to run amuck in the house without supervision. The casualties happened when I WAS watching him. He was THAT fast. God forbid I ever turned my back on him. The house would have come crashing down over our heads while he happily chewed through a supporting wall.

Phoenix actually may have done me a colossal favor when it came to keeping our house neat and tidy. He made it clear that if an object was important, you put it away where it belonged - in cupboard, filing cabinet, dresser drawer, closet or on top of the refrigerator. Or out in the machine shed.

As a puppy, he believed anything not red hot or nailed down was fair game for a spontaneous tournament of keep away. I called them tournaments because they involved a great deal of time and skill by both parties before a winner could be declared. And frequently that winner was not me.

Initially, these tournaments did not end well for the object Phoenix possessed. Later, when he learned purloined items could be exchanged for a treat, the snatch and grab habits continued, but by then I had wised up and the number of things that could be subjected to his petty thievery had been greatly reduced.

Mundane everyday stuff that might be found casually laying about on counter tops, night stands or end tables — like note pads, pencils, drink coasters, boxes of tissues, tubes of hand lotion, coffee mugs, paper napkins, spatulas, dish cloths, the day’s mail, jewelry, scissors, glasses cases, yesterday’s mail, hot pan holders, boxes of crackers, mugs holding ink pens, loaves of bread, bottles of honey (the honey, omg, the honey), keys, cell phones, TV remotes, DVR remotes, computer mice, weather radios (yeah, seriously) and any number of other household miscellany including potted plants — found its way into Phoenix’s mouth before I enacted Malinois Rule #7: if you don’t want him to get it, PUT IT AWAY. This was a difficult concept for the Farmer to grasp. My previous dogs all went through chewy stages as puppies but they paled in comparison to Phoenix’s reign of terror.

The items he took weren’t consumed . . .  just . . .  re-purposed. Okay, they were ripped, shredded and mangled, with the pieces cheerfully strewn about the house. But to his credit, he never ate any of them.

Over the last 7 1/2 years, I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping the house much tidier than I ever did pre-Phoenix. Whoever penned "A place for everything and everything in its place" must have had a malinois. Although I’m not an obsessive neat-nik, in a couple of weeks, the puppy will come into a house where there entertainment potential of available inanimate objects is fairly low.

But there are still the cats. I haven’t told the cats about the puppy. I think I’ll let that be a surprise.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The tapestry of life with dogs

It’s been 7 years and 4 months since Phoenix arrived in my life. Seven years and 4 months since I’ve had a little baby creature in the house.

By the time Aussie-puppy-with-no-name arrives, it will have been 7 years and 5 months. I am going to see the litter next week and am nearly beside myself with anticipation. The breeder has been excellent about sending pictures and video, which quite frankly is only making matters worse. While photos of human babies leave me fumbling for something polite to say, pictures of puppies send me into paroxysms of maternal bliss. The puppy-induced endorphin rush has nearly rendered me dysfunctional. (The Farmer made a smart comment about this but I deleted it. Editorial privilege.)

A lot has happened since February of 2007 when Phoenix marched into my life, looked around and took over. I’ve sat with a parent in hospice care, said good-bye to that parent, attended four national specialties, said good-bye to two wonderful dogs, found out my heart doesn't work right, avoided being downsized at work at least nine times, had my job “reorganized” 10 times, buried a parent-in-law, became a storm spotter for the National Weather Service, had surgery and added cats to a household that contained a dog who thought cats were demon spawn to be scourged from the earth.

Through all of that, there’s been the never-ending roller coaster of Phoenix’s obedience career. Not a day has passed when at least some portion of my waking hours have not been occupied by thoughts about training that crazy dog. One of his best gifts has been giving me something else to focus on when normal life was just too toxic to embrace. Granted, that wasn’t just Phoenix. Jess, Connor and Jamie did it, too. I have endured the stress of "there will be lay-offs" staff meetings, the uncertainty of doctor’s appointments and the emotional drain of funerals while thinking about ways to clean up a drop on recall or fix a stay problem.

Dogs have always been such an integral part of my life that I tend to remember events through the years by connecting them to what my dogs were doing at the time.

Wedding planning in the spring of 1991? I was showing Jess for his UD. My mom kept wanting to do wedding stuff and I kept telling her I couldn’t because “I have a show that weekend.”

The straight-line windstorm that decimated our farm in the summer of 1998? I was just starting to show Connor for his OTCh. I remember dragging my jumps out from under the twisted wreckage of an evergreen tree in the back yard and thinking, “Crap, cleaning up this mess is going to cut into my training time.” It did.

Painting the house in the autumn of 1999? (The Farmer and I painted it by ourselves. Every. Single. Fricking. Board.) I remember finishing “my” portion (everything below the fourth rung of the extension ladder) the weekend before driving to Ohio to pick up baby Jamie in September.

The ice storm of February 2007? It hit the night I got home from the airport with Phoenix. One week without heat, lights or running water and a crazy baby malinois sleeping in the bed with us. Good times.

Putting vinyl siding on the house in 2007? I remember Phoenix grabbing big sheets of loose Tyvek house-wrap and running around the yard with them. I’m probably lucky he didn’t pull it off the house.

I wonder what non-dog memories I will attach to this puppy? What will happen in its lifetime that will leave me remembering, “Oh yeah, that was the year we . . .”?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A stitch in time

I am sewing.

I did not like sewing when I was a wee lass in 4-H and after 30 years of avoiding sewing like some kind of Third World plague, I've found I do not like it any better now.

Sewing involves needles, pins and scissors - pointy, sharp things capable of drawing blood. As far as I am concerned, this is just asking for trouble.

But I am sewing because A) I am subject to spurts of creative energy and B) I am trying to save money.

I am not sewing a new wardrobe. God made LL Bean and Christopher and Banks and outlet malls so women do not have to sit, hunched over and squinting and sticking out their tongues, trying to make their own clothes. (Am I the only one who sews like that? I suspect I am not alone.)

I have great respect for anyone who can make their own clothes. Hell, at this point, I have great respect for anyone who can thread a needle on the first try.

I grew up in an era when it was commonplace to go play at a friend's house and find tissue paper patterns from McCall's or Butterick spread across the dining room table and the sewing machine whirring away while her mother created a new blouse or skirt on a Saturday afternoon, casual as making toast.

My best friend's mom in high school made my friend's prom dress. I was still struggling to master a straight seam and she made an entire freaking prom dress. And it looked better than most of the stuff that came off the rack. That was back in the day when girls went to JCPenney and bought their prom dresses, they didn't go to a bridal store and order one and get fitted for it and register it so no other girl in any school in the surrounding six counties could buy the same one because imagine the HORROR and DEGRADATION you might experience if someone else showed up at prom wearing YOUR dress.

Ahem. But I digress.

I am making a belt pouch. If you have ever attended a Renaissance festival, you know what I'm talking about. Well, if you attended one and paid attention to the costuming. And could get past the wood nymphs, Goths, harem girls, faeries and pirates to the folks who were dressed as simple peasants, which is what I aspire to. Apparently the concept of pockets eluded folks back in the day. Or maybe their pockets were full of other things. But most folks have at least one belt pouch attached to their, um, well, belt. This was the forerunner of the modern handbag.

A group of friends and I have been tossing around the possibility of attending a Renaissance festival "in garb" at some point in the future. Said "garb" is not to be taken lightly and I'm taking my time to assemble something that is passably "peasant-ish" without being "wench-ish." However, I have learned that "wench" is simply another term for "woman" so perhaps I need to clarify that I hope to avoid the "slutty wench" look. If you've been to a Ren faire, you know what I'm talking about.

If you want to dive into another world entirely, Google "Renaissance Festival Clothing." Pretty much anything you want is available and I mean anything. Just whip out the MasterCard and click "add to cart." And be prepared to give up your firstborn child and several random body parts to pay for it.

To date, I have refrained admirably. A skirt from Amazon has been the high end of my spending, at $14. A $5 peasant blouse from a thrift store will do for a chemise. I suspect if I get into this sort of thing (like I NEED another thing to get into), I will upgrade my wardrobe but for now, I'm taking the cheapest route. Precision authenticity is not a goal. Trust me, if you've been to a Ren faire, there's a whole lot going on that has little to do with authenticity.

But I did buy a belt. One needs a good belt to hang things from. I do not anticipate buying a dagger or a drinking mug to hang from my belt but in the grand scheme of things, I will need somewhere to stash the 21st century conveniences like my keys, cell phone, lip balm and cash while at the faire. Hence the pouch. I do not anticipate tucking them into my bodice. The bodice is a whole other post entirely.

I tried hard not to buy a belt. I thought I certainly had a belt that would suffice.Wrong. My belts were woefully inadequate for doing that fancy loopy knot thing. They barely went around my waist once, let alone left any room for loopy knotty things. Okay. Fine.  I would use one of the Farmer's cast-off belts. Then I realized there is reason they are cast off. They are beat to hell. It's hard to do loopy-knotty with something that is fally-aparty. Sigh. Click "add to cart."

Which is why I am playing Scarlett O'Hara and sewing a belt pouch out of an old shirt. A pouch is a pretty simple thing to sew. Which is good, because I've nearly lost my religion already. Trust me when I tell you I will not be opening an Etsy store featuring hand-sewn items any time in the future.

If I were a good blogger, I would insert a picture of my pouch here. But I'm not going to. It's not done. It may never get done. I may grab my MasterCard and with tail between my legs, crawl off to one of the 15,839 web sites that sell Ren faire garb made by people who can actually wield a needle and thread without sewing their finger to the cloth. Not that I did that.

I'll admit this experience in hand sewing simple seams has been kind of fun. Even if my stitches are crooked and the thread is abominable demon spawn that tangles just to spite me. The longer I worked at it, the better I got. That's not to say I got good at it, just better.

Come to think of it, I don't think Scarlett O'Hara actually sewed that gown from the old drapes herself. She probably made Mammy do it. Hmmmph. Since I am decidedly Mammy-less, I will have to soldier on.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Conversation with a malinois

Me: Phoenix? C’mere, I’ve got something exciting to tell you.

Phoenix: Is it suppertime?

Me: No, it’s not suppertime.

Phoenix: Wanna play ball? Can I have a cat in the house? Is that steak in the fridge for me? When’s Papa coming back? Can we go for a walk?

Me: No. Not a chance. How did you know there was steak in the fridge? I don’t know. Yes, later.

Phoenix: Oh. Then hurry up. I’m busy. Things to do.

Me: We’re getting a puppy.

Phoenix: A what?

Me: A puppy. A baby dog.

Phoenix (doubtful): Why would you get one of those?

Me: Because I miss having 2 dogs. And so you can have a friend. I know you miss Jamie.

Phoenix: Yeah. Miss him.


Phoenix: Can I have a cat in the house instead?

Me: Um. No.

Phoenix: Why?

Me: Because I don't want to spend the rest of the year making homeowner's insurance claims.

Phoenix: This puppy thing - will it eat my food?

Me: No.

Phoenix: Will it sleep in my bed?

Me: No.

Phoenix: Will it sleep in your bed?

Me: Not at first.

Phoenix: Will it get my toys?

Me: It might. Do you think you could share some of your toys?

Phoenix: Do I have to?

Me: Yes. Some of them.

Silence. Phoenix contemplates toy sharing.

Phoenix: What will it look like?

Me: It will be a lot smaller than you. Probably tri-colored. And have a little tail nubbin. And tippy-over ears. And be very fuzzy.

Phoenix: Fuzzy? Like me?

Me: You’re not fuzzy. You’re sleekit.*

Phoenix: Papa calls me Fuzzball.

Me: Papa calls you a lot of things. You are sleekit. The puppy will be a fuzzball.

Phoenix: Will be a girl fuzzball or a boy fuzzball?

Me: I don’t know.

Phoenix: You can’t tell the difference?

Me: Yes, I can tell the difference. Smart ass. But I don’t know which one will come live with us yet.

Phoenix: Get a smart one. Don’t get a dumb one.

Me: Well, that’s the plan.

Phoenix: What will you do with it?

Me: Teach it things. You can help me.

Phoenix (gleam in eye): Really?

Me: Oh dear Lord, what am I saying? Do NOT teach it how open cupboard doors or un-pot plants or steal honey bottles off the table or that weird thing you do when you put your back legs on the edge of bed and your front legs on the window sill and bark at things out the window.

Phoenix: Every dog should know how to do that stuff. Seriously.

Me: Seriously not. Just remember that it will be very little and it won’t know anything and you’ll need to be very patient with it.

Phoenix: Will it pee in the house?

Me: Probably once or twice.

Phoenix: I never peed in the house.

Me: Um. Yes, you did.

Phoenix: I don’t remember that.

Me: I bet there’s a lot of things you don’t remember doing.

Phoenix: Papa says he likes how quiet it is with just one dog around.

Me: Papa is confused.

Phoenix: Will you take it to dog shows?

Me: Yes.

Phoenix: Will you take it instead of me?

Me: No. I will take you both.

Phoenix: Bet it won’t be as smart as me.

Me: Sweetheart, I am sure it will be nothing like you.

Phoenix (smugly): I’m one of a kind.

Me: Amen.

Phoenix: When will you get it?

Me: Later this summer, when it gets really hot.

Phoenix (thinking): Tomorrow? It will be really hot tomorrow.

Me: Not that soon. It has to live with its brothers and sisters for awhile longer.

Phoenix: You’re only getting one, right?

Me: Yes.

Phoenix: Is it a herding dog?

Me: Yes.

Phoenix: Not one of those birdy dogs or varmint dogs or hound dogs or fluffy dogs?

Me: Umm . . . sometimes you’re one of those varmint dogs. You get varmints.

Phoenix: That’s different. It needs to be a herding dog. They’re smart.

Me: It’s a herding dog.

Phoenix: Only one smaller-than-me, tri-colored, nubbin-tailed, tippy-over-eared boy or girl herding-dog smart fuzzball?

Me: Yep.

Phoenix: I suppose it’s okay. You should get it. Might be fun.

(* Sleekit is a Scottish word that means smooth and shiny, or sneaky. Phoenix is, by all accounts, very sleekit.)