Thursday, April 30, 2009

Road trip!

The Belgian boys, the Lab girls, Michele and I are off to Kansas City tomorrow for a Linda Koutsky obedience seminar. This will be the first obedience seminar I've gone to with Phoenix since he's been in the ring and I definitely have a list of things we need help with.

Seminars are great. Two solid days with dog friends, learning how to improve as a trainer and handler and team. It will be so GOOD to focus on working my dog for an entire weekend and get some new ideas. Not to mention the food . . . breakfast, snacks, lunch, going out for dinner . . . yeah, you can tell where my priorities are!

It's done nothing but rain all week and the Farmer is getting a bit edgy. Tomorrow is May 1 and he's only got 100 acres of corn in the ground. They keep reporting Iowa is "ahead of average" in corn planting progress. They're obviously not interviewing any farmers around here.

Now if we can just get to KC and back without contracting swine flu . . .

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ABMC '09 Nationals

Congratulations to ALL the Carousel Malinois for their wonderful showing at the American Belgian Malinois Club national specialty last week! It was in California, so we sat this one out.

A few of the highlights were Promise (Phoenix's mom) taking BOS in Veterans Sweeps, best veteran bitch in the regular show and earning an Award of Merit, all as she celebrated her 10th birthday; Cayenne (Phoenix's litter sister) taking BOS and Joker (Phoenix's litter brother) going HIT! (I think I got this right, someone please correct me if I screwed it up.) Plus I know there were lots of other Carousel dogs who were brilliant in herding, agility, obedience and the breed ring.

I'm sure Catherine will post everyone's achievements soon on her Web site. Check it out at

I'm already making plans for the '10 national at Purina Farms near St. Louis. Can't wait to meet all the Carousel folk who are already planning to come from the west coast and sounds like there might be a Wild Litter reunion.

Monday, April 27, 2009

No more orange water!

Oh glory be, the Poweshiek Water Association is finally a-fixin' to run rural water to our farm! After 18 years of scrubbing rust out of the bathroom fixtures, buying drinking water in town and not owning white clothes because they quickly became orange-tinted, we is gittin' GOOD WATER!

I'm excited. Can you tell? Sorry, Tammy and Bill, I'm a firm supporter of Team Orange but there's only so far I'm willing to go and living with orange water is just too much.

Okay, our well water wasn't toxic. It was a good well, deep and reliable and all that. It was just full of a lot of stuff that made it taste bad. And stain things. Lots of things. If you poured water into a Thermos jug with a white interior, the water was, well, yellow. If you filled the jug often enough, the white interior quickly turned orange. Ditto for the toilet, bathtub, sinks, etc. I wonder how many gallons of Whink rust remover I bought over the last 18 years?

The Farmer grew up on this water. He doesn't think there is a problem. (He wasn't the one scrubbing rust off everything in the house, either.) I grew up on a farm with a sandpoint well. The water was clear and sweet and didn't come loaded with minerals, especially iron, which pretty much ruins the taste.

We don't know exactly when we'll get hooked up but the rumor is within a month. I think I'll go buy something white to celebrate. I'll probably have to start paying my stylist to color my hair, now that I won't have the "rust rinse" to keep these lovely red-brown highlights anymore. And possibly the coolest thing? When our power goes out, we'll still have indoor plumbing because our toilet won't rely on the electric well pump to fill the tank. (I'm still in therapy after that week w/o power back in February '07.)

I think this must be how our grandparents felt when the first rural electric cooperatives strung power lines to outlying homesteads. What new fangled thing will they come up with next?

Here are the water lines leading from the road to our house.

Poweshiek Water rocks!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday fun

This plant is called Pig Squeak. Seriously. I totally bought it for the name (it's also called bergenia but that's not nearly as much fun as Pig Squeak.) I wonder if there are plants called Cat Yowl or Sheltie Bark?

I am Connor, King of the Skunk Dogs. You will do my bidding.

You annoy me, peasant. Away with you.

I will use an old Jedi mind trick. Bring me the cookies.

Totally barking mad.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rainy Saturday at home

Let me tell you right now, staying home on the weekend is more work than getting up at 4 a.m. and driving to an obedience or agility trial. I'm exhausted, beat, wiped out, worn to a frazzle and really, really, REALLY want a Mt. Dew right now. But no. I will be strong. No caffeine. How about a nice caffeine free Diet Coke instead?

It was cold, windy and spitting rain when I got up this morning. I trained Phoenix in the hoop building after breakfast. Important stuff first. I think he has the beginning of a nice drop on recall. Yippee, if we can master it by June, we'll do Graduate Novice at the Fort Dodge trials. 

He's learned to retrieve a food tube (one of those View-Tainer things from Mennards that normal people would use to store nails or bolts or whatever. I put dog crunchies in mine. It's perfect.) So when we're training on a dirt floor like the hoop building, I can still throw food as a reward for a fast recall and it doesn't get all gross. Not that gross, dirt-covered food bothers Phoenix but it bothers me. So the food goes in the food tube, I throw the tube, he fetches it back and I give him a cookie out of it. No, he has not figured out that he could crunch down on it really hard and have all the cookies at once. And I'm not telling him.

Then the big chore of the day: cleaning out the garage. I cannot remember the last time I cleaned it out. I may never have cleaned it out (which is pretty much what it looked like). It looked like it had a dirt floor, too, and it has really nice cement floor. Which I found 3 hours later.

Since I was feeling ambitious, I decided to take everything out of C3 and clean her out, too. I tried just rolling down all the windows and going down the interstate at 75 mph but all the dog fur did was blow around in a little tornado and I don't think any of it went out the windows. I vacuumed everything, washed the crate fuzzies, scrubbed the water buckets, dusted the interior and washed the inside of the windshield. Does a vehicle really NEED to be this clean?

I switched out Phoenix's "skinny" SUV crate for a bigger 26" General Cage like Jamie's. Here is proof you CAN fit two 24-inch-wide, 26-inch-tall General Cage crates side-by-side in a 2008 GMC Acadia. I may never get them out again but they do fit. 

The Farmer and Co. started planting corn Thursday but since it rained today, he wasn't in the field. I talked him into putting up my official National Weather Service rain gauge. Okay, it's a $1.75 Wal-Mart rain gauge. But it looks very official, even if it is a bit "farmered up," mounted on scrap lumber attached to the front fence with zip ties. We're supposed to get heavy rain tomorrow, so this is just in time. See that nice big building on the right side of the pic? The one that would make a gorgeous training building? Forget it. That's full of farm equipment too. Where is that man's sense of priority!

About 100 years ago when I was in 4-H, I absolutely HATED sewing. Guess what? That hasn't changed. So there is no telling why I thought I needed to sew a crate cover for Phoenix. It must be caffeine-deprivation making me do stupid things. I'm using two beach towels so there is a minimum of sewing. Since I'm doing it by hand, that's a darn good thing! I want to get it done by next weekend. The Belgians and I and Michele and the Labby girls are going to an obedience seminar in KC. Jamie does fine with just the sides of his crate covered but Phoenix is a little higher maintenance. His cover will have a "crabby flap" on the front and back.

The dogs all got a pedicure and a good brushing out this afternoon. Connor gets a bath tomorrow. He's going to stay with Jen, Spencer, Katie and Bo next weekend while I am at the seminar. God help them, Katie and Connor in the same house, they are both Fun Police Control Freak I'm In Charge and Don't You Forget It shelties.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Places I train, Part 1

This is our hoop building where I train at home when it's too rainy or windy to be outdoors, which has been a lot this spring. It would be an awesome building if the Farmer didn't insist on filling it up with big round bales of hay and random pieces of equipment. Right now, it's only about half full of bales, leaving a perfect space to train.

Our cats hang out in the hoop building. That is Winnie in the foreground and Beauty in the background. Winnie is friendly, Beauty is a psycho cat.
The cats make Phoenix a little crazy. They sit up on the bales and watch us train and are great distractions. Raccoons hang out there, too, although I never see them. They are always mucking up the cats' water bowl and/or carrying it off. Seriously, I never know where I'll find the water bowl. Apparently this is great fun if you are a raccoon.

During the winter, I train in this upstairs bedroom at our house. There's room to do lots of stuff. I use the plank and the cinder blocks along the wall to make a shelf for geraniums and any other flowers I bring in before it frosts in the fall. The bedroom isn't heated but the plants do great up there and its wonderful to train in February with a lot of blooming flowers.

The upstairs hallway works great for heeling as long as we "think thin." Believe me, I keep my elbows in! It's a good thing this photo doesn't show all the chips in the woodwork from having dumbbells bounced off it. At least I haven't bounced one off the hallway window. Yet.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

People treats

As a friend of mine at work is fond of saying, “If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like.” If you’re a fan of oatmeal cookies, these are delicious and a lot faster to make than individual cookies. And your house will smell wonderful while they’re baking. They’re great for breakfast, much better than those dry breakfast cookie-wannabees in the cereal aisle at the grocery store.

3 C. oatmeal
1 C. brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 C. milk
1/2 C. butter (can substitute peanut butter or apple sauce)
2 eggs

Combine all ingredients and place in 9-inch-square pan sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes. Add dried fruits if you want. I added about 1 C. of chopped dried apricots because I LOVE dried apricots. Fresh apricots, not so much. Go figure.

I baked mine in an 8-inch-square pan for 45 minutes. I’m sure at some point in my life I owned a 9-inch-square pan but I have no idea where it is. The bars looked nice and brown on top when I took them out but were a little sticky on the bottom. If I’d put them in the right size of pan, they probably would have baked just fine.

When I make them again, I might experiment with using peanut butter in place of the butter to reduce the fat content. They’re slightly crumbly, very filling and would be awesome served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Oh yeah, that's got breakfast food written all over it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We CAN go slow

My goal for our second day at the Waterloo trials was to improve our heelwork from the first day. And we did! Not only did Phoenix really work his normal-slow-normal transitions during his run - he CAN watch me and go slow at the same time - he did an even better job when we got called back for a run-off for first. We lost the run-off but I am REALLY HAPPY with the way he worked today. I'm still grinning like someone handed us the HIT ribbon. The show site was just as cold, noisy and dark as yesterday and I felt like Phoenix was more focussed and less bothered by all the distractions. We scored a 197.5 for second place. Good puppy!

I'm not kidding myself, I don't think he still totally understands what I want on speed transitions so we still need a lot more work there. And we got a lot of bumps today. Apparently I need to get out of the way! Heeling is a dance and I think we're both trying to lead.

So, where do we go from here? We'll do some more Novice trials through the end of June. I really want Phoenix to be confident and understand his job before I start making that job harder by moving him into Open, or even Grad Novice, which will probably our next new adventure.

And what the heck, I'm going to start teaching the Drop On Recall now. I don't think it will mess up our Novice recall and may even make it stronger by making it clearer what his job is.

We had DQ again on the way home. Is it wrong to be running the heater in the van and eating ice cream at the same time? I don't think so either.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who let the WILD DOG out?

Carousel's Call of the Wild, CD, RN, AX, OAJ

Phoenix was a complete NUT today, but in a very good way. He finished his CD with 1st place and . . . . he went High In Trial! I was stunned. Amazed. In fact, I still have this stupid grin on my face that won't go away. I look like I'm on drugs. (Okay, so I AM on drugs, what's your point?!)

Our score was 196.5, which quite honestly around these parts would not normally be HIT material. But first in Utility B was a 195 and first in Open B was 196 so there you have it. I'm not complaining! I am totally proud of my wild baby boy.

The show site was A) cold B) noisy C) had funny lighting and D) was cold. Did I mention it was cold? Phoenix loved it. He bounced and capered and had a grand old time. Overall, I think our heelwork showed improvement. Fast transitions were delightful. Slow transitions? Not so much. In fact he didn't even bother to do a slow on the heel free. I did a lovely slow. Phoenix did not. I just caught up with him when the judge called normal. That left a mark!

We had a few bumps and bangs otherwise but a pretty good running recall - YEAH! - and he really had to think about holding his down stay because he was totally fascinated by a guy in a cowboy hat at ringside and I thought he was going to get up and go introduce himself. Apparently he needs to see men wearing headgear other than seed corn caps.

We celebrated with Dairy Queen on the way home, an Oreo Blizzard for me and a baby cone for Phoenix. He shared it with Jamie, who thought this was a great plan: go for a ride, don't do any work, get ice cream anyway.

We'll go back and do it again tomorrow. Supposed to be colder tomorrow. I have to go find my long underwear now. Doesn't Mother Nature know it's the middle of April!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Going back for more

This weekend, Phoenix and I are off to Waterloo, Iowa, for an obedience trial. Jamie will go along for the ride. Connor will stay home and bark at things that are not there. (Or maybe they are there and I just can't see them. Yikes.)

This weekend's venue is going to be a lot different than the lovely, quiet ICDOC trial where Nix made his Novice debut a couple of weeks ago. It's all-breed conformation, rally and obedience under one roof. It's a small show but it will still be busy and noisy, a definite change in environment. I was getting kind of wigged out about this, then remembered we'd shown in Pre-Novice at the Des Moines cluster last fall and he did just fine. Now THAT was a chaotic show site, not to mention the peregrine falcon who had flown into the building via the massive overhead doors and spent the whole weekend swooping around in the rafters, making the chihuahua handlers nervous.

After a super nice start in Novice, we've spent the last two weeks working on heel position and the Maligator and I are in better agreement now about where it is. I suspect we will continue to negotiate on this subject for some time yet. We've had a couple of good workouts at the local outlet mall (their sidewalks are awesome and love their reflective windows), the park and one shopping center, plus at several local training buildings. Speed transitions continue to be a high priority. About turns have improved and recalls are faster, although admittedly not the finished product I really want yet.

Am I being too demanding about a Novice dog's performance? No. It's all about criteria. I know what I want. Whether or not I get it this weekend isn't really the point. I know it will come with more training and trialing experience. But if I don't establish criteria now and insist on it in training, I'll find myself down the road in Utility with a dog who drops his head on the slow or bumps (okay, this is Phoenix, CRASHES) me on the left turns and I'll think, "This is making me crazy. Why didn't I fix it back in Novice?" THANK YOU to Tammy E. and Susan Garret for making me realize how important criteria is!

No training tonight, just ball in the front yard and a nice long walk after supper. It's daylight until 8 p.m., well, kinda, sorta, if you know where to look. After 1/2 inch of rain Monday, the Farmer is back in the field. Had a mishap with an anhydrous rig yesterday that probably would have called out a HAZMAT team and evacuated the area if it had happened in town. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Soil temps are still too cold for planting.

I got a new toy today! The CD of malinois clip art I ordered from arrived. She doesn't have every breed but the ones she has are very nice, check it out. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Questions, questions

If you’ve ever been admitted to a hospital, you know the drill: endless questions from the minute you wake up until the minute you go to sleep. Sometimes they even wake you up to ask questions. And the big joke about waking you up to ask how you’re sleeping? Not a joke. Seriously. They do that. I was not amused.

Granted, the nurse had woken me up to take vitals so it wasn’t like she did it out of the blue but that didn’t change the fact it was 2:45 a.m. and I had just managed to fall asleep in the first place. And I was hooked up to a heart monitor so if anything had been amiss, it would have set off all sorts of bells and alarms at the nurses’ station. But she woke me up anyway to take my blood pressure. Then she asked me how I was sleeping. I wonder how accurate that reading was.

Medical folks are much like journalists in the respect they must gather information in order to do their job. Journalists, however, do not continue to ask the same question over and over unless they are Ed Bradley on “60 Minutes” and suspect the person they are questioning is a big fat liar.

Hospitals have favorite questions. I think the top three were “How do you feel?” “How is your pain?” and “Are you allergic to latex?”

Let’s start with “How do you feel?” This appeared to be a largely rhetorical question because the fact I felt absolutely fine did not seem to matter to anyone but me. (Sorry, the staff at St. Luke’s in CR was really great and I’m sorry I was such a cranky patient.) After arriving in the ER, I spent a lot of time telling anyone who would listen how fine I felt. Honestly, after Sara the paramedic gave me a chemical defibrillation (I LOVE that term, thanks Kira, for adding it to my vocabulary) in the ambulance, I really did feel fine. By the time we arrived in the ER, my heart rate and rhythm were normal, my blood pressure was normal and I was feeling like this had all been a giant misunderstanding. Could I just go home now? I’ve got an attention and heeling class to teach tonight!

I didn’t have anything to complain about (now there’s a first). No dizziness, no shortness of breath, no difficulty breathing, no faintness, no pain in my arm or jaw, no nausea, no sweating. No nothing. See? I’m fine. Lemme go.

Not a chance.

The pain issue was clearly one the hospital staff took very seriously. They were constantly questioning me about pain. Never mind that I didn’t have any. “How was my pain?” “Was my pain better or worse?” “How would I rate my pain on a scale of 0 to 10?” They were so concerned about my pain that I soon started feeling guilty that I didn’t have any. Given that I am a total and absolute weenie when it comes to pain in any form, I found this nothing short of miraculous. (I learned later that many atrial fibrillation patients DO have a lot of pain. Leave it to me to be abnormal.)

Running in third place behind “How do you feel?” and “How is your pain?” was “Are you allergic to latex?” No. I’m not. But that didn’t stop them from asking about every two hours, possibly in anticipation my answer might change. I wasn’t allergic to latex when you asked me at 6 p.m. so chances are I am not allergic to it now at 8 p.m., nor will I become allergic to it by 10 p.m. Sigh.

In a previous post I mentioned the inane question, “Do you live at home?” I never did figure that one out. Where did they think I lived? Under a bridge? In a barn? If I did live there, wouldn’t that technically be “home”? Granted, I do live in a tent occasionally and I’ve been known to sleep in my van sometimes at trials but I wasn’t even going to go there. I’d already tried to explain agility and obedience training while discussing my “lifestyle” and “exercise habits” and the nurses and doctor clearly didn’t get it.

The strangest question, however, was “Do you feel safe in your home?” It’s a sad commentary on our society that medical professionals have to ask that. Apparently it’s limited to women. None of the guys I’ve talked to who have been hospitalized or seen doctors for any kind of treatment had ever been asked that. I assured the nurse, yes, barring an F5 tornado or a rabid skunk or any large hairy spiders, I feel safe in my home.

Now here’s the kicker. The night before I went to the hospital, I’d been playing tug with Phoenix during agility class. Phoenix is a wonderful boy but he plays rough. So at class, I released his tug (“Let the Malinois win . . .”) and he jammed it back at me for more, hitting me on the inner thigh. When I didn’t grab the tug fast enough, he grabbed it . . . only he grabbed more than just the rope attached to the tennis ball . . . his teeth went right through my jeans.

So 24 hours later when the nurse taking the fourth medical history of the night asked, “Do you feel safe in your home?” I subtly crossed my legs under the blankets and made it my number one goal for the remainder of my stay in the hospital not to let anyone see the pretty purple bruise with neat little incisor marks that had blossomed on my inner thigh. There was no way I was going to be able to explain THAT. “Safe” is largely a matter of interpretation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Springtime silliness

The first outdoor agility class of the spring was last week. It feels SO GOOD to be training outdoors again with friends, even though it's usually windy and cold for at least the first month. Who cares! (Yeah, I ended up in the hospital the next day but the doctors assured me there was no connection.) Getting ready to go to class is a big deal at our house; you can see I have a lot of help.


Mom, we're gonna need more cookies than this.

Whattaya mean, I can only take ONE toy?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I KNOW I'm retired.
But I still get to go along for the ride, right?

Don't forget your scarf and earmuffs.
Do I have to do remind you of EVERYTHING?

For the love of pete, hurry up and get over here
with your opposable thumbs!
I don't want to be late!
If you don't open this gate, I'll just jump it. You know I will.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A walk in the woods

Since the last 24 hours of my life were rather stressful, and since the doctors told me I could "resume normal activities" (I wonder if they really have any clue what they are okaying people to do when they say this), I decided to take the dogs to the nature trail this afternoon. It was a beautiful sunny spring day, in the mid-50s and no howling wind, for once.

I really like this trail. It winds through native timber and you have a choice of four different trail lengths. I usually do the 3.5 mile trail that leads back to the Iowa River. They opened this trail in 1988, the same year I moved to the area. Unfortunately, they've done practically NO maintenance on it since then, so parts are pretty primitive.

Unless you're the lead dog, the scenery never changes. Jamie is wearing his dog-pack he got from his Auntie Michele several Christmases ago. He likes being a pack Belgian and carries water, a bowl, cookies and this time, I even trusted him with my keys.

Here's a view of the Iowa River, looking north. There used to be an Indian fish dam, made from stones, located right below this bluff. The Indians used to "herd" fish into it for easy catching. In 1988, a serious drought year in the Midwest, the river was so low the fish dam was very visible. The flood of 1993 washed it out.

Native wildlife. They've had a drink and a cookie and now we're ready to head back to the van. It takes about an hour to do the 3.5 mile trail.

They call the area of timber this trail runs through an "oak savannah." That probably means something if you have a degree in forestry but I don't have a clue. There are all sorts of wildlife in this timber and we frequently see deer, gray squirrels, wild turkeys and eagles near the river. Who knows what the Belgians have spotted here. I didn't see anything. But I'm a human and obviously sensory-impaired.

This was the only wildlife I saw on today's hike. He was sunbathing and the dogs walked right over him. I thought some early wildflowers might be blooming but no luck. It's just been too cold.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wasn't THAT fun!

A heart rate of 161 beats per minute is acceptable if you are running a marathon or working as a lumber jack. It is not acceptable if you are sitting in a chair, doing nothing but thinking about that evening's obedience class.

I'd made an appointment at the local medical clinic Thursday when my heart rate accelerated during the day and showed no signs of dropping back to normal. It has done this from time to time over the years but always regulates itself within a few minutes. Only this time it didn't.

So they did an EKG at the clinic. I'd never had one before (that was to be the first of a LOT of things I'd never had before) and it was kind of interesting but not too eventful except for the fact my heart was jitterbugging around like crazy.

The physician's assistant looked at the EKG readout and said, "You need to go to the hospital. NOW." I got over the, "No way, I really don't have time for this" mentality very quickly when I saw how serious everyone was. And I really didn't feel very good anyway. Then they all got a little excited when they found out I'd driven myself to the clinic and was there alone. "Call someone to drive you to the hospital," they said, "We'll call ahead so they know you're coming." Then the hospital got a little excited and said, "NO! Don't send her by private vehicle, she needs to be transported in an ambulance." Well, this was just getting more exciting by the minute.

I called the Farmer, who was at the bottom of a five-foot hole, installing field tile. For once, he didn't argue with me. He got to the clinic within 20 minutes, just in time to see me getting loaded into the ambulance. Off we went. No lights, no sirens. Guess I wasn't THAT exciting.

The ambulance driver's name was Rowdy. Seriously. All I could think of was the Alaskan Malamute in Susan Connant's murder/mystery series. The paramedic who rode in the back with me was Sarah. God bless Sarah. She got an IV started in the back of a rolling ambulance like we were sitting still. I should have insisted she stay with me in the ER because the gal there couldn't find a vein if it was jumping up and down on her head. Sarah was assisted by Roy who was new to the paramedic scene, just having completed his training after losing his job as - get this - an accountant. There's a career change for ya.

The ambulance crew was super, absolutely first rate. I've never ridden in the back of an ambulance before (or the front either) but I think these guys would get top marks anywhere. Some of you know how well I tolerate riding in the back of a vehicle and I figured the only way this could get worse was if I threw up. As it was, that turned out to be the least of my problems. My heart rate peaked at about 181 beats per minute and Sarah decided enough was enough. A dose of adenosine brought it down to a normal 60-70 range. It also made throwing up sound absolutely charming by comparison. I have no idea how this drug works but its most immediate effect is the feeling of being kicked hard in the chest by a large, angry horse. Once my vision cleared and I could draw a breath, it was wonderful to realize the racing, pounding in my chest had stopped. Well, not stopped completely. That would be bad.

I was supposed to be admitted directly to a room in the cardiac critical care unit but they took me to the ER instead. Oops. It didn't seem very busy. There was one poor little kid who was screaming bloody murder. At least someone was having a worse day than I was. Although when they hooked a defibrilator to the side of my bed, I started to second guess that.

By now I'd had an EKG at the clinic, one in the ambulance and guess what, they did another one in the ER. The novelty was quickly wearing off. Those sticky pads are cold and they put at least 30 of them on you. Maybe it wasn't that many. Maybe it was 50. And then they rip them off so they can put new ones on the next time.

My doctor showed up, dressed like she was ready to go clubbing. Tall, slender, probably in her late 50s, she looked like a fashion model. No boring white lab coats here. English was not her first language. I'm thinking Russian?

Finally they got me up to a room. What's the first thing I see? DOGS! It's pet therapy night. Some of St. Luke's volunteers have their pets registered with the Delta Society. I wave in the first dog I see walk past the door. Hey, it's not like I had anything else to do. Annie the black lab came in and I got a good dog fix. She leaves and there's dog hair everywhere. I felt right at home.

Time to go have a chest X-ray. Gavin the X-ray tech and I have the same birthday, only 15 years apart. I know this because every time they do a "procedure," they ask your birthday before they start so they know they've got the right person. Chest X-rays are a breeze. Gavin kept asking me if I was okay. I told him compared to a mammogram, this was a cake walk. He gave me the hairy eyeball and said he wouldn't know anything about that.

Back to the room. They've taken away my dog-hairy blanket. But they brought supper! A fair trade. It's 7:30 p.m. and way past my feeding time. Baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, soup, ice cream, milk and . . . coffee! Let's give the patient with atrial fibrilation some caffeine! Just as I take the cover off the food, here comes someone to "draw labs." I soon hated these people with every ounce of my being. Is there a vampire colony in CR we don't know about? I was being sucked dry.

Bye-bye, vampire tech. Now, supper! No, wait! Here comes another nurse. Guess what she wants to do? Take a medical history. Did I mention I'd given full disclosure medical histories at the clinic, in the ambulance and in the ER? There is NOTHING these people don't know about me. But now we're going to do it again. Is this some kind of memory test?

Finally, I get to eat my supper. Which is now cold. The Farmer leaves to go home and dog wrangle. I have instructions clearly written for him. I think he may have thrown them in the nearest wastebasket once he left the room and just given all three boys a big ol' bowl of crunchies topped with whatever was in the fridge. The dogs do love their Dad.

By now I have abandoned any attempt at modesty. The one-size-fits-all gowns that accommodate a 220-pound man leave a lot to be desired. The heart monitor I am wearing has a battery pack conveniently tucked in the front pocket of the gown. It weighs about 5 pounds and drags the gown down even further in the front. This is not a good look. We won't even talk about the view from behind.

Did I mention the bed weighs me? It has a scale built in. The first time the nurse took a reading, she mistook my look of shock for dismay and quickly assured me the bed "weighs heavy" and I probably weigh even less. I was delighted with that first reading! I haven't been at that weight for years! They weighed me again a few hours later (just in case I'd snuck out and had a workout at the gym) and I was even lighter. Probably all the blood they kept sucking out of me.

By the way, don't believe what they say about wearing clean underwear in case you end up in the hospital. Forget about the underwear. Wear warm socks. They take your shoes away and your feet never get warm again.

About then, Tracy called. Don't worry, she assured me, if it was REALLY serious you'd be seeing your cardiologist tonight. (They told me I would see him in the morning). Someone knocked on the door. It was my cardiologist.

After prescribing more meds to make sure I got through the night without any further crisis, Mr. Cardiology left. The nurse told me to get some sleep. It is impossible to sleep in a hospital. Im-freaking-possible. They tell you to sleep, then do everything they can to make sure it doesn't happen. The bed's only redeeming quality proved to be that it weighed me 10 pounds lighter than any scale I'd been on in the last five years. It was hard. The pillow was flat. I had an IV in my left arm so couldn't sleep on my left side. The heart monitor was on my right side, so forget that. I rarely sleep on my back but that was the only option left. I finally drifted off, only to have a nurse wake me at 2:45 a.m. to take vitals. This was followed by a lab tech who arrived at 3 a.m. and announced she would be drawing blood for morning labs. Bloody Hell! Who are you people! Nobody in their right mind draws blood at 3 in the freaking morning! I was going to look like a junkie by the time I got out of there, with needle tracks in both arms and the back of my hand. I was seriously feeling like a pin cushion.

Did I mention the stupid questions? They get stupider at 3 a.m. I couldn't believe one nurse actually asked, "Are you sleeping well?" You just woke me up, what do you think! The nurse who took my fourth (and thankfully final) medical history the previous evening asked me to tell her in my own words why I had been admitted. I told her "irregular heartbeat/atrial fibrilation." Two minutes later she asked if I had any heart conditions.

The question that left me sitting there dumbly was, "Do you live at home?" What, with my parents? I still don't really know what she meant by that. And the question they're required to ask, "Do you feel safe in your home?" Lady, I live with a malinois. What do you think?

Today started with another ceremonial EKG, which I am now hating almost as much as the blood draws. They are convinced my heart rate is stable. It's still a little high 100-110 beats per minute, but the rhythm is regular. Oh happy day.

Breakfast came about 8 a.m.: scrambled egg, fried potatoes, bagel with cream cheese, cream of wheat, juice, milk and . . . COFFEE! Are these people trying to kill me?

Maybe they knew I'd never get a chance to eat it. My breakfast company included my Russian doctor, my American cardiologist, a nurse checking vitals (they really don't want anyone to die without their noticing it) and a lab vampire after more blood. Following on the heels of the breakfast club was the day's main event: an echocardiogram, basically an ultrasound of my heart.

Once this was done, my cardiologist tweaked my meds and said I could go home . . . in a few hours . . . providing I hadn't had any reactions to these new chemical delights. That was not terribly reassuring.

The Farmer showed up and we sat around, waiting for me to have a reaction or not. Nothing was forthcoming so they finally released me about 1:30 p.m. I picked up my prescriptions (yes, plural) and am now at risk of being one of those little old ladies who needs a pill organizer so I remember which ones to take at which times. This may be a long term situation so I'd better get organized.

I am fully authorized to return to "normal activities" and have two more cardio appointments in May to follow up. In the meantime, my big lifestyle change is (SHUDDER) caffeine restriction. Not total elimination but I'll save my allowed "little bit" (very technical term) for chocolate. Sadly, I was told alcohol may also make the problem worse so I have probably drunk my last margarita. These are serious lifestyle changes for me. Please bear with me during this time of adjustment, ha-ha.

Oh, the dogs apparently got along very well with Jeff (who does understand the power of a cookie), although he said every time he turned them out, they ran to the garage and looked for me to get out of the van. Awwww, isn't that sweet?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Welcome to my world

I don't usually write much about my job because, quite frankly, it's not a very happy place right now. After multiple rounds of layoffs in the last year and a half, two of our papers closing and the remaining four being "reorganized," not to mention the ongoing unpaid furloughs, well, you get the picture.

This cartoon was in the Des Moines Register (our Mother Ship) last week and even though it hit awfully close to home, it's definitely worth a laugh

Everybody say it with me . . . "I'm just happy to have my job!"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's official

I've always been a weather geek. Now I'm an official weather geek.

Last week I went to storm spotter training held by the National Weather Service. After two hours of watching videos and studying pictures, I probably know just enough to be dangerous. In other words, I need some thunderstorms to practice on!

As a spotter, the National Weather Service can call me to get real-time reports of what's going on if their radar indicates nasty weather in the area. Or I can call them. Honestly, if it's THAT nasty, I'll be hiding in the basement and won't have a clue.

This photo is from the June 29, 1998, straight line wind storm that leveled a lot of our farm. That's the Farmer on the far left and the Farmer's dad on the far right. They're walking on what's left of our cattle and hay barn. This was the event that really triggered my interest in severe weather. Until then, severe weather was something that happened somewhere else, to other people.
Here are a few ways to tell if you are a weather geek:
• You check the hazardous weather outlooks from the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., before you say good morning to your spouse.
• You have an all-hazards weather radio.
• You have more than one all-hazards weather radio.
• Your favorite TV meteorologist is the one who has the storm-tracking technology that produces the prettiest color graphics.
• You never, EVER complain when meteorologists interrupt a TV show for severe weather coverage. In fact, you like it. A lot.
• You know the difference between a wall cloud and a shelf cloud.
• You love watching Internet video of storm chasers who get a little too close to their goal, although you would never do such a damn fool thing.
• You get an adrenaline rush when you hear, "A tornado warning has been issued . . ."
• You have actually stood outside, watching the sky and muttering, "Rotation? No rotation?"
• Your copy of the NWS "Basic Spotter's Field Guide" is always close at hand.
• You know the difference between a funnel cloud and a tornado.
• You get a buzz when the hazardous weather outlook map has your part of the state outlined in red.
• You've ever "shushed" your spouse, boss, co-workers or friends for talking during a weather forecast.
• You have the NWS on speed dial for making storm spotter reports.
• You wish you'd taken Meteorology 101 during college. Maybe you would have pursued a different career path.
• You remember meteorologists have to take a lot of math and physics courses and decide you are happy with the career path you chose.
• You are disappointed when the weather isn't "doing" anything.
• You dream about actually seeing a tornado some day, but only one that isn't causing major damage or hurting anyone.
• You have packed an emergency kit in your basement, complete with water, medicine, batteries, flashlights, blankets and non-perishable food.
• You have eaten all the Snickers out of your emergency kit.
• When you talk in your sleep, you mumble things like "Squall line," "Supercells!" and "Take cover immediately."
• Your spouse thinks you are mildly insane (this is not the first time).
• You can't wait for spring to get here so you can enjoy the first good, old-fashioned thunderstorm of the season.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pics from the trial

Here we are on our very first "official" heeling pattern. Phoenix is a FAST sitter. Sometimes he is too fast. He can read my halt cue before I realize I'm giving it and his butt is on the floor before I've stopped. He's a tiny bit out of heel position here. Clearly, I stopped too slowly.

Figure 8: Love the attention! But 'Nix could get off my leg just a leeeeetle bit and we could be wrapping the post a bit closer. Many of our stewards at this trial were guys from the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC, not to be confused with the Iowa City Dog Obedience Club, ICDOC!) who needed to get community service hours. They were great! Imagine, standing and letting dogs walk around you for community service.

This is what I love to see when the judge says, "Are you ready?"

Is he a handsome feller or what?

Thanks Sheryl and Toni for these great pics! And Marsha, who took great ones, too!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Another successful ICDOC obedience trial weekend has wrapped up. Not only did Phoenix have a great Novice debut, it was a weekend full of new titles, UDX legs, run-offs, class placements, adorable junior handlers, run-offs, OTCh. points for club members and did I mention run-offs? It's always fun to spend the weekend with dog friends, no matter what happens in the ring. The weather even cooperated, sort of, by not getting totally crummy until we got the buildings cleaned and the trailer loaded. 

Aside from Phoenix's run-off in Novice on Saturday, there were entirely too many run-offs! The trophy chairman (that would be me) was getting gray hairs organizing multiple high scoring breed run-offs, a High In Trial run-off Saturday and a three-way High In Trial run-off today. Next year, if there are ties I'm just going to send them out behind the building to settle it themselves!

Jamie showed in Veterans today and he just sparkled. He was so happy to be in the ring. Actually, he was happy that he was with me and Phoenix was in his box. He was the only veteran so did his sit/down by himself and was sure everyone spent the whole time admiring him. He really thought he was all that.

Now Phoenix and I have two weeks before our next trial. We need to keep working speed transitions and come to an agreement on where he needs to be on about turns. We currently have two very different opinions about this. We'll keep working speed on recalls, too. He trots and that's fine, but I'd like to get a RUN. And of course, fronts and finishes. I have some ideas in mind and if we have to play them outdoors in the snow, well, guess I'll just have to use dark-colored cookies. Is spring ever going to get here?

The van is unloaded, dogs are fed, I've had a celebratory margarita with the Farmer and after a hot shower, am headed to bed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Our first run-off!

Another great day! I thought Phoenix was a little more distracted during heeling but he did an overall very nice job and I couldn't be happier with his work at his second trial. He did a good job of showing me the things he would like to spend some more training time on.

I remembered which class we were showing in when it came to the stand (Novice NOT Utility) and also handled the normal-to-fast transitions a lot better today, resulting in a dog who extended his trot nicely and stayed in heel, not went gallumphing off to the races! About turns remain a mystery to both of us but hey, it's always good to have a project to work on.

To top it all off, we were in a run-off! How exciting is that! Bonus heeling! Thankfully, Phoenix shared my enthusiasm for this adventure (well, more or less, he made the same mistakes he'd made on the regular heeling, the boy is consistent!) and we won the run-off to win the class with 197.5+ and his second CD leg. Good Maligator! Now we have a couple of weeks to train before our next trial.

Our team was awesome. The Women In Red (Julie, Toni, Tracy and me) rocked! We even got the drop on recall exercise done RIGHT without SOMEONE'S dog (that would be mine) refusing to wait his turn. Jamie, Drummer, Walcko and Sydney deserved more than their pink ribbons. Jamie made it very clear he would like a ribeye.

Again, hope to post pics soon. One more day at the trials, just doing Veterans with Jamie and there's a Winter Storm Watch posted for the area tomorrow, heavy snow, high winds, blah, blah, we know the drill by now.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Phoenix was awesome today! I am so proud of him!

He did a lovely job and gave me everything I asked for (and a few things I didn't). Attention was great, nice fast sits, he worked hard at staying in heel position (I'm not convinced he really understands exactly WHERE that is yet), gave me a pretty, prancy figure 8 and played bounce and touch games between exercises. 

I was a little too enthusiastic about accelerating into the fast on both heeling patterns and Phoenix thought, "It's a race! COOL!", so a bit gallop-y and forged but LOVED THE ATTITUDE! And I forgot you only need to go SIX feet away on the stand for exam and went about TEN feet (Utility stand, anyone?) We worked a 197.5 for 1st place and his first CD leg.

Big thanks to Tracy for video-ing and Marsha and Toni for shooting stills. I hope to have some pics to post before the weekend is over. I love the pawparazzi. Or is it pooperazzi?

We played at the match after the trial and got home about 7 p.m. Phoenix is really tired. I am glad I didn't enter all 3 days. We'll play again tomorrow morning, and then Jamie gets to do team in the afternoon. He's very excited about that. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thoughts on the eve of a trial

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined." Henry David Thoreau

I've always loved obedience training. As a little kid, that's why I wanted to join 4-H: so I could train my beagle "Pokey" in the dog project. That was more than 30 years and 5 dogs ago: Pokey, Gypsy, Jesse, Connor and Jamie.

Now it's Phoenix's turn. He's been running at agility trials for 6 months but tomorrow is our first venture into a "real" obedience ring. He's 2 years and 3 months old, still a baby, but I think this is a good place to start. It's my own club's trial, very close to home and lots of friends to give positive vibes. 

Phoenix is all groomed and gorgeous, or as groomed and gorgeous as a malinois ever gets. (He is a totally handsome devil and if he knew how good he looked, there'd be no living with him.) Actually, he looks pretty much the same after his bath and blow dry as he did before. He truly is a wonderfully low maintenance dog, at least in terms of fur. After Jamie and Connor, I groom him out of habit, whether he needs it or not.

What do I want from tomorrow? ATTITUDE! I'm not that hung up on scores right now. Yeah, hard to believe, coming from me, the Queen of Score Obsession. But scores without attitude aren't worth having and I'm totally focussed on building a ring foundation of joyful, driving attitude. We have it in training, I want it in the ring.

I have my clothes and gear all laid out for tomorrow morning and now I'm off to bed.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tornadoes and chocolate

In more than 40 years of living in the Midwest, I've gone to the basement during severe weather exactly twice. One of them wasn't even my own basement. I went underground with my Utility class at SueAnn's when the April 2006 tornado hit Iowa City. SueAnn's basement is a lot nicer than ours. I have basement envy.

Going to the basement is one of those things that sounds exciting until you actually do it. Then it's just scary. If we're in the basement, it means things are even scarier above ground. It would take a lot to be scarier than our basement. Then I think about the EF5 tornado that hit Parkersburg last spring and our basement looks downright cozy.

This is our basement stairway. Phoenix is sure this is the entrance to the bowels of Hell and he is having no part of it. Those are cans of paint from my kitchen painting project last spring. Apparently they are going to live forever on the basement landing.

Severe Weather Awareness Week in Iowa is April 6 to 10. I finally took the time to pack an emergency kit to put in the basement because quite frankly, if Mother Nature is trying to kill us, the only thing I'm going to care about is getting me, the dogs and the Farmer to the basement. There won't be time to grab anything on the way underground and besides, the Farmer is going to have his hands full carrying Phoenix because the silly animal will NOT go down the basement stairs. On top of the kitchen table, yes. Down the basement stairs, no. Jamie thinks the basement is great. Connor has forgotten we even have a basement.

Maybe it looks scarier from this angle. Yes, that is lathe-over-plaster . . . or more accurately, plaster falling off lathe. Someone should fix that. Where's a house elf when you need one? Apparently the Belgians think there is a house elf in the basement.

Here's what I put in our emergency kit:
• water: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. That's a lot of water. I confess I only put in a couple of gallons.
• people food: I put in dried fruit, granola bars and Snickers. It's not like we're going to live off this for weeks and weeks.
• dog food: my guys eat a varied diet of commercial frozen raw, homemade raw and kibble. I guess if our house gets blown away by a tornado, they can eat kibble for awhile.
• dog bowls: the Farmer asked why I put dog bowls in the emergency kit. I asked him if he was going to let Connor eat out of his hands. I got the hairy eyeball.
• medicine: people prescription meds and a month of HeartGuard and Frontline Plus for the dogs
• blankets
• flashlights and a camping lantern
• weather radio
• batteries for all of the above
• paper towels and toilet paper

It's a warm and fuzzy feeling to know there is a package of Snickers in the basement. I should probably rotate the inventory every couple of weeks to make sure they stay fresh. It would be a bad thing to be stuck in the basement with stale Snickers.