Saturday, October 31, 2009


Happy Halloween! 

Phoenix and I showed at the 4RK9s UKC trial this morning. It was pretty scary. More on that later.

Tonight I'm off to a Halloween party at SueAnn's, thrown by Tammy (and Bill? No, Bill probably won't claim any responsibility for this shindig. But he'll be there. Because there's food.) It's a Harry Potter theme again. I have my Hogwarts robe, hat and wand ready. The cauldron cakes turned out well. The treacle fudge? Well, not so much. It is now treacle dip for graham crackers. (Really, how can you go wrong with cream, brown sugar, molasses and chocolate? So it didn't set up? So what?!) The polyjuice potion ingredients are ready to be brewed.

Okay, the obedience trial. Phoenix has two U-CDX legs and it looks like that's what he may end the year with. He has decided he cannot possibly do the long sit. He gives it about a minute and then trots out of the ring. He is not a happy dog about this exercise, which means I am not a happy handler. Not sure what's going on. Both of us are very confused! Really glad we only have tomorrow's trial left, then a long stretch of trainin' with no trials until spring. Cuz we need a long stretch of trainin.'

I'm not sure where this problem came from. Since he broke at the K9 Sport trials a month ago, we've spent a lot of time working sit/stays in some pretty odd contexts. I sat Phoenix on the patio, got in the van and drove down the lane. He stayed. I put him on a sit in the living room and vacuumed around him. He stayed. (That one is major, he is the self-appointed vacuum killer at our house. My Dyson has the tooth-marks to prove it.) I put him on a sit three rooms away while I fix dog meals and tell Jamie very loudly HOW GOOD THIS BREAKFAST/SUPPER IS GOING TO TASTE. He stays.

But put him in a lineup of dogs and go out of sight and it's too much. I think he understands what he is supposed to do but he is just so mentally uncomfortable - for whatever reason - that he can't do it. So we will work on it. The rest of this fall. All winter. Next spring. Fortunately, everyone always wants to work group stays so it shouldn't be hard to find friends to help us work through this.

On the bright side, DeeDee, Peggy S.'s malinois girl, was sitting next to Phoenix on the long sit, at least for the whole minute he bothered to stay there. The two of them did not do anything inappropriate. They had spotted each other earlier in the morning and never has the phrase "their eyes met across a crowded room" held so much meaning. Nix gets so excited to see DeeDee, I don't know what I'll do with him when we go to Mal nationals next May and he's surrounded by "his kind." Of course, DeeDee has her SCH1 so she may have just told him to back off, buster.

Ran to Petsmart after the trial to get Phoenix a new travel collar. His collar with his name and my phone number embroidered on it broke last night. The snap, well, snapped. So I grabbed the first available extra collar this morning, which happened to be Connor's martingale collar that was still hanging on the hook by the door even though he's been gone two months today. (Miss you, Skunk Dog. You always liked dressing up for Halloween.)

I let it out and it fit Phoenix fine but there was just something about my live Malinois wearing my dead Sheltie's collar that just didn't work. Collars are kind of a sacred thing. So Phoenix got a new one and Connor's collar is now hanging off the edge of the frame of his OTCh. certificate. That's better.

Have a great evening of trick or treating! I'm off to brew a potion!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trips down puppy memory lane

Susan Garrett has done several recent posts on her blog ( about how she picked her puppies and all the mental turmoil involved. It made me laugh because we all know people who have studied pedigrees and lines and obsessed to the nth degree about getting the perfect puppy to excel in their chosen sport, then done something crazy like pick a puppy based solely on its markings.

I’ve been blessed with six dogs in my life. I’ve gotten to pick exactly two of them.

My first dog was a beagle. I was 3 years old when she came into my life in 1968. My grandfather gave my parents $25 and said, “Melinda needs a dog. Get her one.” I wonder if he had any clue what he was starting with that $25 beagle. Pokey (obviously named by my 3-year-old self, what can I say, the Little Golden Book “The Pokey Little Puppy” was hot among the preschool set that year) was the first dog I ever showed in an AKC obedience trial. I was 9, she was 7. As they say, the rest is history.

Next came my first tervuren, in 1978 when I was 13. Gypsy was, in a way, the puppy no one else wanted. She was the puppy the stud dog owner agreed to take back for stud services but she really didn’t want to keep her and was happy to sell the “too small” bitch to a 4-H kid. The 4-H kid decided to show her in the breed ring because no one told her she was too small to finish and Gypsy became my first (and only) owner-handled champion.

After college, I got my first sheltie in 1989. I picked Jess out of the litter at 4 weeks. I chose him based on the extremely scientific criteria that he was the only puppy in the litter who did not have a full white collar. I did not want a puppy who looked like he was wearing a neck brace!

Sheltie Connor followed in 1994. I was not looking for a puppy when he walked into my life. He picked me. End of story. (You can read more about Connor at If that link doesn’t work, it’s the Aug. 31 post from this year).

Terv Jamie was a bit of a project. I wanted a girl, not a boy. There were no girl terv puppies to be had in the summer of 1999. After several breedings missed or litters that produced only one or two puppies, when Jamie’s litter arrived, his breeder told me I could choose between the two boys. I’ll never forget that trip to southern Ohio and my carefully thought out puppy testing, which was pretty much a total trainwreck and a story all in itself. In the end, it was a no-brainer. Even as a puppy, Jamie was long-legged, lean and graceful. His brother was cobby and stub-legged with no apparent neck. Jamie came home with me, screaming and howling all the way.

Phoenix was the first puppy a breeder truly chose for me, based on about a million e-mails. I should write a post about how I found Catherine and Carousel Malinois because I have no doubt Divine Intervention was involved. I flew to Oregon from the Midwest to get Phoenix in February of 2007. Arriving at Catherine’s house, she handed over a wiggling, squirming, gnawing bundle of fur and teeth who looked me straight in the eye as if to say, “Who are you and what are you bringing to the table?” It was the dawn of a whole new relationship.

I have several friends who have gotten new puppies this year. It’s been fun to experience all their anticipation as the blessed day approaches. Puppies are so darn much fun! I’ll write more soon about my puppy-picking experiences, especially with the Belgians. Truth is stranger than fiction. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween fun

Since our last name is frequently (mis)pronounced "Witch-man," it's no surprise we received a visit from a relative over the weekend. Elphaba, the green-skinned and very misunderstood witch from the book and musical "Wicked" stopped to say hi during a break from doing her show in Des Moines.

She helped the Farmer unload some corncobs.
Apparently there was a communication problem.

Then she helped me with agility training.
We had trouble with the 2-on, 2-off concept.

She helped me repot a few plants, too,
but was careful not to mess up her manicure.

Elphaba and the Farmer compared fashion sense.

She made a new friend.

She helped me do some obedience work, too.
She throws the dumbbell worse than I do.

And finally, she played with the Belgians.
Phoenix! Give cousin Elphaba back her hand!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Food for thought

I have another recipe to share. Yeah, it's one of those girly salad things and you're right, the Farmer wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. In fact, a number of you have expressed concern that the Farmer is not getting the meat and potatoes meals he requires. 

Thanks for caring but let me assure you, no one on this farm, including the humans, the Belgians, the cats and 400 head of feeder cattle is malnourished in the least little bit. In fact, have you seen the Farmer and me lately? We are obviously not missing any meals.

In case you are still worried, here is a sample of what I have cooked for him in the last week: meatloaf, baked potatoes, corn; hamburgers on the grill, french fries; pork roast with soy sauce and brown sugar in the Crock Pot (it was nearly a religious experience), mashed potatoes and cinnamon streusel muffins. These meals were all followed by homemade chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes they were preceded by them, too.

This is in addition to a couple of on-the-go meals of "beans and rice" (that's what the Farmer calls any meal without meat) for me on class nights. The day I made my impromptu trip to the hospital last spring, when the Farmer arrived at the clinic just in time to see me being loaded into the ambulance, he told the nurse in charge, "There can't be anything wrong with her heart, all she eats is beans and rice." Obviously not true.

And don't you worry your pretty little heads about the status of Team Orange's Iowa version of Martha Stewart. It doesn't matter what you call me, the cookies, cakes, bars, breads, etc. will keep coming. My list for the Halloween party Saturday night includes Team Orange Special cauldron cakes, treacle fudge and polyjuice potion (aka, Swamp Water). It'll blow that witch's hat right off your head.

So here's the new recipe. Again, it's a take-to-work-for-lunch sort of thing.

4 C. cooked and cooled pasta (whatever kind you like, whole grain blend recommended)
2 C. shredded cooked chicken breast
1/4 C. finely chopped sweet onion or green onions
1 1/2 C. sugar snap peas, cut in half (I used regular frozen peas, cooked, bad me)
1/4 C. light mayo
1/4 C. fat-free sour cream
1 T. low-fat milk
2 T. chopped, sun-dried tomatoes, in olive oil, drained
seasoning to taste; I used garlic salt and black pepper

Mix cooked pasta, chicken, onions and peas in a large bowl. In separate, smaller bowl, mix mayo, sour cream, milk and tomatoes. Mix well and drizzle over pasta and chicken mix. Stir lightly to coat.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fast food

After spending entirely too much time the last few months shouting into speakers at fast food drive-throughs, I'm working to break that habit and eat at home before going to teach my class on Thursday night. Trust me, I still spend plenty of time shouting into speakers on trial weekends and am in no danger of losing that skill.

Like so many things in life, the decision to eat at home is easier said than done but my jeans have recently pointed out that I am value-sizing more than just my supper. At the newspaper office, we're also struggling to watch calories and portion sizes (believe me, stress eating has never been more popular) so I'm always looking for new ideas of things to take for lunch. Yes, the local bowling alley has awesome lunch specials but that brings us right back to the oh-my-god-why-are-my-pants-so-tight-they-must-have-shrunk issue.

Let me say up front, these are not five star gourmet meals but they are hot, fresh, tasty, relatively nutritious and not loaded with calories and saturated fat. They take less than 10 minutes to fix, can be easily zapped in the microwave and create very few dirty dishes. All this is a bonus when you're eating standing over the sink with one eye on the clock and one foot out the door and a dog bouncing off your head.

Recipe 1: Birds Eye Steamfresh Brown Rice (they make white rice, too, if you prefer that) and Birds Eye Steamfresh Singles veggies (peas work well, I haven't tried any of the other ones). Nuke the rice. Nuke two packs of veggies. Mix it all in a bowl. Add a couple splashes of soy sauce or plain ol' butter and salt. Add chicken (see Recipe 2) or any other meat if you want, although I think it's fine without. Divide into two servings, one for now, one for tomorrow. This makes a lot and it's very filling.

Recipe 2: Green Giant Steamers Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower and Cheese blend and Tyson Oven Roasted Diced Chicken Breast. To be honest, a friend introduced me to the chicken — which is a little pricey but totally a convenience item and so worth it — as dog treats. I decided it made excellent people treats as well.

Nuke the veggies and cheese (they cook in the bag), then nuke however much chicken you want. The chicken is precooked so all you have to do is heat it up. Mix the chicken with the veggies, divide into two servings, one for now, one for tomorrow. Green Giant also makes a veggie and pasta frozen combo that would be good with the chicken, too.

This doesn't make quite as much as Recipe #1 so you might need a piece of fruit or some whole grain bread to fill out the meal. Or some chocolate chip cookies and a bowl of ice cream.

Or I suppose you could just eat chocolate chip cookies for supper and forget about cooking anything. I'm pretty sure some of you already do. You know who you are. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dare to be different

Ever have one of those days when there are so many ideas rattling around in your skull you have to get them out before your head explodes? I usually don't editorialize in this space but can't help myself today. Don't worry, it's not a negative rant. Just some observations about dogs, training and human nature.

The new issue of Front & Finish arrived yesterday and there’s a great column by Chapel Taylor titled “This Obedience Life: Why Method Matters.” She explores her journey through different methods of training and concludes that the training method itself isn’t nearly as important as finding a method that suits you and your dog. At the conclusion, she writes, “It could be that finding that right path is the thing that keeps someone working with their dog when they might otherwise have given up.”

After 30-plus years in the sport of dog obedience, I have decided the only safe generalization to make about training methods is that there are at least 100 different ways to train anything and no matter which one you choose, somebody will tell you why it won’t work. Then they will tell you how wonderful THEIR method is. Sometimes this is a friendly and open exchange of ideas with both sides gaining knowledge for the benefit of their dogs. Other times it becomes an ego-driven one way street of “My method is the only way to train and if you don’t do things MY way you will never get another qualifying score again” battle. Sometimes the person bashing another person’s training method has never even tried that method themselves. Or perhaps they did try it but it didn’t work for them, therefore they generalize it is a worthless method.

Too often, the bewildered trainer — who is totally overwhelmed by the avalanche of information being given by instructors, classmates, seminar presenters, DVDs, training buddies and e-mail obedience lists — uses the lemming method and just does what everyone else is doing. Through the years, I’ve watched trainers doggedly (sorry, couldn’t help myself) pursue training methods that not only didn’t yield results but seemed to find them locked in a constant battle with their dog, yet they were reluctant to try a different method. When asked why they continued to train that way, they proudly say, “That’s the way (insert Big Name Trainer here) does it.”

Experience has taught me that any given method will work ONLY if you are totally comfortable with it. In other words, you have to believe in what you’re doing and enjoy doing it. If you’re just going through the motions because last weekend’s seminar giver said that’s the way to do it, chances are you’re not going to stick with a method long enough to be happy with the results. I’ve tried forcing myself to conform to another trainer’s style and it didn’t work. I was demoralized and my dog was demotivated. Fortunately, I realized fairly quickly this was not the path for me and sought another approach.

This is where trainers who have been around the ring a few times have an advantage over newbies. Our previous dogs have not only taught us what kind of trainers we are, they have shown us what kind of trainers we are striving to be and what kind of methods we can employ correctly, humanely, with accurate timing and a minimum of clumsiness to yield a training process that is enjoyable for both dog and handler while at the same time creating the desired results. That’s never an excuse for not trying anything new but if we were paying attention, we’ve already got a pretty good road map of what works for us and what doesn’t. With every new dog, that map will become more detailed, with more roads, bridges, trails, detours and scenic overlooks being added during the journey. Treasure that map.

Trainers who are new to the scene have it much harder, since they don’t have much point of reference about what might be best for them and their partner. I cannot stress enough that if an instructor wants you to do something you are not comfortable with, let your feelings be known. Ask if there is an alternative method. Or look for an alternative instructor. Life is too short for bad dog training.

It’s been said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is going to look like a nail. Don’t fall into the rut of thinking there is only one way to train. Chances are there are dozens of approaches (really, it’s a wonder dog trainers don’t go stark raving mad with the sheer vastness of options), and it’s up to YOU to pick the one you feel most comfortable with. If you are comfortable with and believe in a training method, chances are you will transmit that to your dog as you train and you’ll get results you both enjoy vs. conflict or frustration.

Be creative. Be confident. Be happy. Train like you mean it. Believe in your dog. Listen to others’ advice. Dare to be different. Experiment to find out what works for you. Train for fun.

Hug your dog. Enjoy your training.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Combining soybeans

When I got home last night, the Farmer and Co. were combining soybeans in the field south of our house. It is dusty business. Corn moisture is still too high and corn can stay in the field longer with less yield loss, so the beans are coming out first.

Phoenix and I did some training in the front yard across the lane from the field while the combine was going back and forth. This wasn't as extreme as it might sound. My dogs are used to tractors, wagons, balers and other big, loud farm implements clattering around. They would probably be more distracted in a suburban setting with kids on bicycles or skateboards.

Beans are being dumped out of the combine hopper into a grain cart. From here, they will be augered (is that a word? Must be, I just used it) into a bin for storage.

I didn't take a picture of the 10 bazillion Asian beetles swarming around on the warm and sunny south exposure of our house. Those $#@! things were EVERYWHERE. I think they lived in the bean field and were very disturbed by their loss of habitat. However that does not mean they are welcome in MY habitat. At least they weren't as bad as several years ago when they were an absolute PLAGUE and we were still vacuuming them off the walls and ceilings in December.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Random Monday musings

At the trials over the weekend, I watched a lot of different handlers interact with their dogs both inside the ring and out. It was obvious each person had their own agenda and the success or failure of it was reflected on their faces and in their body language as they left the ring and in how they treated their dogs.

It got me thinking (not always a good idea!) about what I really want when I show my dog. The obvious answers are “To Q,” “To get a leg,” “Win my class,” "Get points," etc. but we all know there’s more to dog sports than that. At least there is for me and my friends. That’s why they’re my friends. We think alike. (That is scary but really, we're basically harmless.)

In no particular order, these are the things I want from any obedience or agility run with Phoenix:

• To be a confident team (no uncertainty or confusion about exercises or skills.)

• To be a happy team (however this doesn’t mean my dog has to be in an insane frenzy the entire time we are in the ring.)

• To be a focused team (outside distractions do not faze us; we are totally in the zone and living in the moment.)

• To trust that my dog knows how to do whatever I ask him so I do not have to over-handle.

• To perform with as little stress as possible.

• To have the same dog in the ring that I have in the back yard.

• To be the same handler in the ring that I am in the back yard.

• To be able to read my dog’s body language from minute to minute (or second to second as the case may be) and determine what he needs from me, as the handler, to perform to the best of his ability.

• To perform with obvious joy in whatever venue we are participating in.

• To be able to analyze our performance afterward and figure out, within reason, why things (both good and bad) happened the way they did.

• To come away from the event knowing what skills need work.

• To come away from the event with ideas of how we can improve those skills.

• To find positive elements of our performance, even if it did not go as planned.

• To look into my dog’s eyes and see reflected there the same love, enthusiasm and joy I want him to see in mine.

There are probably dozens more things I could come up with if I had the time but it all comes down to one thing: it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most.

Oh, by the way, there are TWO Seekers in Phoenix’s world: his litter bro Seeker and his border collie friend Seeker. Seeker the malinois recently got his CD with some very nice work and also thinks he’s had enough when it comes to Novice obedience. Seeker the border collie is thinking outside the box (or maybe he’s hiding inside the box or stealing the box, who knows) to find ways to eliminate any further entries in Novice obedience on Phoenix’s part.

Thank you, Promise (Phoenix and Seeker’s mom) for straightening out ALL the boys and reminding them how lucky they are to be OUR dogs. But I am never telling Phoenix that his mom has her own personal cat. Honestly, there would be no living with him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stick a fork in us . . . we're done

Seriously. I mean it this time. We are done with Novice. (Phoenix says he would like that it writing.)

'Nix and I showed at the Quad Cities Dog Obedience Club trials this weekend. We were back in Novice since we're not ready for Open yet. This was truly the end of his Novice career.

Saturday I had my good dog: lovely attention and animation. The only thing missing was the first sit on heeling. Oops. We won the class with 195 and a 3 point deduction for the no sit. High In Trial was 198. Go figure.

Sunday, I had my "Let me make it clear I am just going through the motions" dog. Ugh. Actually, he wasn't terribly naughty, just clearly ho-hum about the whole affair, including the first halt on heeling again. Not sure where THAT came from. We won the class again, with a 192. It's always nice to say "My dog won" but to be honest, I would have traded the ribbon for better attitude in the ring. Oh well, there's always something that needs fixing!

On the bright side, he gave me nice solid group exercises both days in spite of dogs doing directed jumping right behind him. That's ALWAYS good to see.

Now we have 5 months to train for AKC Open in the spring. Wow, that sounds like a long time but I know it will fly by. We're going to do a couple of UKC trials the next two weekends and give UKC Open another shot. Having the stays separated is much less stressful for both of us!

After the show today, we stopped at West Lake Park to take potential a Christmas card picture. It was super windy and almost too sunny for good pics, so we didn't stay long. Here's one of the out-takes. Jamie would like a little more actual cheese and a little less "saying cheese," please.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Echo" review

Finally. Three weeks and 814 pages later, I’ve finished “An Echo in the Bone,” the latest installment of the Jamie and Claire (“Outlander”) series by Diana Gabaldon. I admit it usually does not take me three weeks to read anything, but this book is exceptionally huge and lately I’ve not found myself with lots of long, empty hours in which to do nothing but sit and read.

The book was both a delight and a frustration. It has all the classic elements I’ve come to expect and enjoy from the “Outlander” series: fascinating characters, unthinkable situations, moral dilemmas, historical detail, gruesome medical conditions, passion, philosophy, humor, whiskey, blood, sex and a never-ending roller-coaster of adventure during the Revolutionary War.

Having said that, the ending left me thinking, “What the . . .?!?!” Hope it doesn’t take her another four years to write the next installment. I need to know what happened to these people! After seven novels, I have a relationship with them. For heaven’s sake, who do you think my Jamie is named after? And my van(s) haven’t been named Claire, Claire II and Claire III by accident!

In other words, the book raises more questions than it answers. And it’s slightly disorienting - just slightly - in the way it jumps back and forth between at least four different story lines. It doesn’t focus solely on Jamie and Claire the way previous novels have. Brianna and Roger have their own adventures going on back in the 20th century, as do young Ian, Lord John Gray and William Ellesmere (Jamie’s illegitimate son, who eventually finds out who his real father is and well, nobody dies).

I have every confidence Gabaldon knows where she is going with all this but my only criticism is that the overall story doesn’t seem to reach a gratifying ending like the previous novels where things were wrapped up fairly neatly. It just ends. Period. Like they ran out of paper. If you can’t deal with cliff hangers and loose ends, better take a Prozac before you launch into the last 100 pages.

I won’t give any spoilers except to say none of the main characters die, although there is maiming of various body parts. Ian’s dog Rollo is alive and well and featured on the last page. This is important because whenever there’s a dog in any novel, I spend a lot of time worrying that it is going to get killed for some stupid reason.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rat in the house

Meet Rat. He arrived Saturday.
How much fun can you have with a remote-controlled rat?

Malinois vs. rat. Personally, I know who my money's on.
Notice Jamie's paws. He is keeping a safe distance.

And the tension builds.

Malinois vs. rat, Round II
Rat's eyes glow red when he's running. It's very cool.

Caught ya, you furry little vermin!
The winner indulges in rat plucking.
Rat may need Rogaine before long.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Soup du jour

One of the best things about cold weather is soup. I am a great fan of "stone soup," the "throw whatever you have in the Crock Pot" type of non-recipe recipe. The following has a specific list of ingredients but they're pretty flexible and just begging to be experimented with.

This is taco soup. It is delicious. Actually it's just hyped-up chili but if it wants to put on airs and give itself a fancy name, I do not care. Just gimme another bowl.

1 lb. hamburger, browned and drained
1 medium onion, chopped (optional)
1 small jar salsa
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
1 large can tomato juice
2 packages taco seasoning 
shredded cheddar cheese
Doritos, crunched up
sour cream

Mix meat, onion, salsa, drained beans and corn, tomato juice and taco seasoning in Crock Pot. Cook on low 6-8 hour or on high 4 hours, or until hot. Serve topped with cheddar cheese, Doritos and sour cream.

This was very yummy and made about 12 one cup servings.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shepherds 101

Some year, I'm going to get a dog that I won't have to constantly correct non-dog people about the breed. Near as I can figure, it'll probably have to be a Lab. Everyone recognizes a Lab.

My first sheltie, Jess was a sable and white and everyone said, "Oh, a miniature collie!" When I was showing Jamie, it was, "Oh, a long haired German shepherd!" And now they look at Phoenix and say, "What a beautiful German shepherd." 

So here's a crash course in shepherds. On the left, Jamie, a Belgian Tervuren (Belgian shepherd); in the middle, a rose between two thorns, Chance, a long haired German Shepherd Dog; on the right, Phoenix, a Belgian malinois (Belgian shepherd).

To put things in perspective, Jamie is 25.5 inches at the withers. Phoenix is just under 24 inches. Chance is 27 inches. She is one big, pretty girl!

Thanks, Pam, for letting Chance model for me after we trained this morning. We probably could have taken a nicer picture outside but it was SNOWING!


P.S. Lynn, Taz is the Tervuren poet laureate! His poem was great! I am a Robert Frost fan and enjoyed it immensely.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dog haiku & training odds and ends

Remember writing haiku in the third grade? This is so much better than anything I ever came up with then back then. (Thanks, RS, for sharing)

I am your best friend,

Now, always, and especially
When you are eating.
— Author unknown

Phoenix and I have been working hard on stays. One afternoon, I parked the van in front of our house after work, got Phoenix, put him on a sit/stay on the patio, put myself back in the van and drove off (okay, just around to the garage). I was sure he would break to run the fenceline after me but he didn't.

Then I put him on a down/stay and played tug with Jamie. THAT broke him. We worked through it.

He's done some sits on the bed while I ran around the house (literally) squealing and clapping with Jamie chasing me. It is truly a good thing we do not have super close neighbors.

We worked heeling along the edge of the bean field by the house. He was obsessed with looking for cats in the beans. There weren't any but that didn't stop him from looking. Great, our training session was being derailed by phantom cats. We worked through that, too.

Tonight on the way to teaching my Utility class, I hope to stop and work heeling in front of Kohl's. They have wonderful wide sidewalks and a fair amount of after-work foot traffic. And it's Iowa City, for heaven's sake, so nobody gets too excited about another person doing something weird in public.

I just won't go back to Coralridge Mall where they DID ask me and Jamie to leave a couple of years ago. The security guy was very polite about it but I wonder if I'd been training a pomeranian if he would have even bothered. Still, that's the ONLY place I've ever been kicked out of. The outlet mall at Williamsburg is great and one of our frequent training haunts. Oh sure, they notice us, but the store managers just come out to watch and then ask if I can train their kids and husbands.

The only bad thing about this time of year is the cold and dark are nibbling away at my "go someplace new every week" after work outdoor training sessions. Pretty soon, I'll need gloves and earmuffs and then my nose will start running and that's when I'll call it quits for the winter and we'll hibernate and train indoors.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I LOVE this time of year!

Without a doubt, this is my favorite time of year. I LOVE AUTUMN! I love frosty mornings, changing leaves, wearing sweatshirts again and - this may be the most important - Halloween candy.

I’m not real excited about it getting dark earlier and earlier but I can deal. To be honest, I’m kind of looking forward to slowing down a little and hibernating. Right now between work and classes, I’m gone three nights a week and showing nearly every weekend through mid-November. Sitting on my butt in my recliner with a dog and a book on my lap is starting to sound really good. Remind me I said that when I’m bouncing off the walls with cabin fever in January.

Some people don’t like this time of year because it means winter is coming and in the upper Midwest, we’ve had absolutely wicked winters the last few years. I’m not exactly looking forward to winter but won’t let guilt-by-association spoil the enjoyment of autumn.

Here are signs of autumn at our house:

• Flannel sheets on the bed.

• An extra blanket on the bed. Phoenix thinks there should be an extra dog on the bed, too. Technically, this is Jamie's blanket but he lets the humans use it.

• Grain harvest and the Farmer working very long hours.

• Seeing how long we can wait before turning the furnace on for the first time. This year, we made it until Friday, Oct. 2. When I got home from work that afternoon it was 56 degrees in the living room. It was time to flip the switch but we carefully set it at 60 degrees. That will be fine until “real” cold weather gets here. Hey, you’re talking to the people who lived for a week with 42 degree INDOOR temps a few years ago when our power went out during an ice storm. I don’t know if we’re tough or just crazy.

• Poop patrol gets serious. The dogs’ fenced yard is surrounded by trees and this time of year, that means poop disappears really fast under leaves if it’s not picked up promptly. From now until the leaves quit falling and all the raking gets done, I am the Official Poop Nazi.

• Cutting back my potted geraniums and hauling them inside to winter over in an upstairs bedroom. And you thought cinderblock furniture wasn't stylish any more. The plant on the right end is a lantana. I tried over-wintering one a couple of years ago and it didn't work very well. Maybe this time I'll have more success. The geraniums are virtually foolproof, by the way. This bedroom is unheated and I water them about once a month. They hibernate, too.

• Cleaning off the perennial beds and tucking them under a thick layer of mulch for the winter.

• Vacuuming and cleaning up the “training room.” This just happens to be the same upstairs bedroom where the geraniums live during the winter. It’s fun to train around blooming plants in January.

• The first official mug of hot cocoa on a chilly autumn night. With lots of miniature marshmallows. The dogs love marshmallows, too. I think we could skip the cocoa and just eat marshmallows.

• The thrill of the first hard freeze. I have NO IDEA why this is so exciting. But it is. Even though I'll miss my flowers. This yarrow hasn't noticed not much else is still blooming.

• Taking cuttings off my lava rose coleus for next spring. This is the most amazing plant. Last fall, I took three stem cuttings, rooted them in water, stuck them in dirt in a small pot, spent all winter cutting them back so they didn't take over the house, potted them in a big pot in May and put them outside. The resulting plant is about four feet in diameter.

I have to go find my witch's hat and broom now . . . shouldn't be too hard . . . I've been flying around on it a lot lately at work.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Conversation with a malinois

Here's the scene: I’m sitting at the kitchen table, filling out obedience trial entries. Phoenix trots into the room, puts his front feet in my lap and stares me in the face.

Phoenix: You are a liar.

Me: What?

Phoenix: You lie.

Me: What are you talking about?

Phoenix: I saw the entry form for the QCDOC trials. You entered us in Novice. You said we were DONE with Novice after the Five Seasons shows.

Me: Oh . . . umm . . . ooops.

Phoenix: See. Liar.

Me: I am not a liar.

Phoenix: Are too.

Me: Am not!

Phoenix: Are too!

Me: Am —Oh for heaven’s sake. I am NOT arguing with you about this. I’m the superior species here, opposable thumbs and all that. If I want to change my mind and show in Novice again, I can.

Phoenix: I want to do Open.

Me: You're not ready to do Open.

Phoenix: Am too.

Me: Are not - oh stop it!

Phoenix: I can do everything in Open.

Me: You can’t be still for three and five minutes.

Phoenix: Being still is overrated.

Me: AKC obedience regulations don’t think so.

Phoenix: Obedience regulations are overrated. I will chew them up.

Me, sighing: If only it were that easy . . .

Phoenix: Why can’t we do that Graduate Novice class instead?

Me: We can’t. You have your title. The AKC says we can’t show in it anymore.

Phoenix: AKC bites.

Me: You may have a point. But humor me. One more weekend in Novice, okay?

Phoenix: Then Open?

Me: Yes. Then Open. In the spring. After we work on being still all winter.

Phoenix: Boring. Don't wanna.

Me: Deal with it.

Phoenix: What’s in it for me?

Me: Lots of good things.

Phoenix: Cookies?

Me: Yes.

Phoenix: Toys?

Me: Yes.

Phoenix: Can I have a cat?

Me: No!

Phoenix: Get rid of the sit-box?

Me: No. Sorry.

Phoenix: I will bite the sit-box.

Me: Go right ahead.

Phoenix, launching at my face, licking madly: Here! I will give you kisses instead! I will kiss you now! I will bite your nose because I love you! And you will forget about stupid boring sits!

Me: Ack! Help! Pppphhhhbbbbbttt!

Stay tuned for Act II: working stays in the hay barn. Here, kitty, kitty, kitty . . .

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Hello, newspaper office, may I help you?"

There were a few glitches with having our papers printed in Des Moines this week, following the closure of our press room. The biggest glitch happened at the post office, and to make a long story short, many subscribers did not get their papers on time. So they called to tell us about it. We have approximately 8,400 newspaper subscribers. At last count, at least 8,300 of them have called to complain.

Since our reception (i.e., phone answering) staff doubles as our circulation department, they weren’t available to answer the phone because they were ON the phone with various post offices trying to get the mess straightened out. From what I could tell, this was a lot like trying to put toothpaste back in a tube.

For some reason, the editorial staff decided we would help answer phones. This wasn’t so much because we wanted to be helpful but because the non-stop ringing was making us crazy. Crazier. Whatever. More accurately, it was the sports editor and me, the family/events/obituaries/columnist/feature writer, who decided to answer the phones. It’s not a good thing to turn editors loose on the public.

After the 10th phone call from a cranked off subscriber, I was becoming dangerously tempted to say what was really on my mind. (Big thanks to Renee, who inspired today's post.)

“We’ll send you your paper when we’re damned good and ready.”

“Don’t you have anything better to do with your time than sit on your butt and read the paper?”

“You are the only person in the entire world who didn’t get their paper today and we did it on purpose.”

“Is someone going to die if you don’t get your paper on time?”

“Wow! Really? You didn’t get your paper? Gosh, I wonder what happened.”

“What the hell do you expect me to do about it?”

“It’s a small town for heaven’s sake, you’ve already heard all the news in the bank, grocery store, feed mill, gas station, etc.”

“We’re flattered, but I don’t think your paper being late is a tragedy of epic proportions.”

“I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout deliverin’ newspapers.”

“This is the obituary department. Unless you’re dead, I can’t help you.”

“Didn’t you call last week and complain there’s never anything in the paper?”

“Oh stop whining already.”

“Get a life.”

“Let me put you on hold until someone who knows what’s going on is available.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

New month, new pic

See what happens when I'm bored on a rainy day?

I took this new (sort of) header pic last October. We jokingly called it "Watching for Santa." Notice the Belgians are scanning the sky but Connor is staring right at the cookies . . . err . . . camera. He was nobody's fool. Let the big dogs keep an eye out for a fat man in a red suit, he wasn't taking any chances on losing track of the cheese.

Then I decided to dress things up a little bit after stumbling across It's like a little dose of scrapbooking in the middle of the day.

Seeing the pic of all three dogs made me realize I should start working on taking the Official Christmas Card Picture. Last year, one of the gals on the Carousel Malinois list took a hysterical Christmas card picture of herself and her furkids. The dogs were jumping out of the frame or had their butts to the camera, her eyes were closed and I think the whole thing was out of focus. Yeah. I could do that.

Theoretically, taking a pic of the dogs should be easier this year since Connor is gone. In his later years, I'd pose all three boys, tell them to stay, walk away, then turn around to find Connor had moved about six inches away from the Belgians. Ewww. Belgian cooties.