Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's been a year

It’s a year today since I said good-bye to Connor. I still think about him every day, which probably sounds weird after a whole year has passed but he was such a presence in my life that I can’t help it. I know other people who feel the same way about dogs they have lost so maybe it’s not weird. Maybe I’m perfectly normal. Yeah. I'll go with that.

I’ve lost dogs before and each one of them broke my heart but Connor was different. I don’t know why exactly but I don’t think it had anything to do with being my first OTCh. or anything specifically connected to trials or obedience stuff. I think it was more his approach to life.

He never said never. If I wanted him to do it, he did it.

Finishing his MX, 2002, DMOTC trial at Indianola, IA
(Photo by Tien Tran)


Connor did not have very good structure. His front was very straight and he was a truly awful jumper. I’m sure my training methods back then didn’t help things any but in spite of ourselves he got his MX/MXJ and his OTCh. He was the dog who taught me that if you want something badly enough and believe you can do it, you can.

That was his biggest gift to me and that’s probably the reason I think about him so much. Whenever I need a mental dose of “you can do it” I think of Connor and his goofy Sheltie grin, the one he had before he started barking at something. And spinning. And barking.

First UD leg, Marshalltown, IA
April 1998

I thought maybe this summer I’d set out a new plant in one of my perennial flower beds in his memory. I Googled plants with “Black Diamond” in their name, since that was Connor’s registered name, OTCh., U-OTCh. Sunazie’s Black Diamond, UDX5, MX, MXJ. Apparently, there are black diamond varieties of ficus, watermelon, blackberry and helleborus. Can’t say any of those were what I was looking for.

Then it hit me, the perfect plant for Connor is a stargazer lily. Connor was my “shooting star” dog. The day he finished his OTCh., I got up in the middle of the night to drive to a one-day trial in the middle of nowhere in Illinois. I almost didn’t go. I thought about just going back to bed. I was loading the van and looked up at the sky and saw a shooting star. Just one. It was huge and silver and beautiful and I made a wish on it because I always wish on shooting stars. Seven hours later, we won a huge Utility B class for 24 points, exactly one more than we needed to finish.


I miss you, Skunk Dog.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard

There is one more thing I need to add to my “things I really hate doing” list. It might even surpass the number one entry, going to the dentist. It definitely trumps ob/gyn visits, mammograms and shopping for bras.

It’s moving furniture.

I don’t mean moving the kitchen chairs so I can mop the floor. I mean heavy lifting of large and unwieldy pieces of furniture that have sat in one place for 45 years and do not want to be moved.

Flashback: A couple of years ago, we got new carpet in our bedroom, living room and dining room. The Farmer and I moved all of the furniture from those three rooms into the downstairs spare bedroom, the kitchen and porch. As doG as my witness, I will not do that again. Ever. Never. Ever. No. Period. Do NOT even think about it.

But we’re still married. Nineteen years last week.

Smile.

Flash forward: Yesterday’s furniture moving escapade was worse. Not only did it involve moving stuff, it involved moving stuff up and down stairs and in and out of a trailer. Antique heirloom stuff. With a lot of glass.

My aunt is cleaning out her house and wanted me to have some things that belonged to her and my grandparents. This is very wonderful and I am happy to have them. She was happy. I was happy. The Farmer took one look at the list of things that needed to be carried out of her house and into ours. I don’t think he was very happy.

The list included a china cabinet (lots of glass), two dressers (with mirrors, more glass), a rocking chair, a chest of drawers, a book case with a glass front, a Hoosier-style kitchen cupboard and a partridge in a pear tree.

My mother and aunt recruited a neighbor to help with the heavy lifting. Now we had two farmers on the job. This was excellent. I planned to do a lot of directing and very little actual lifting. I was very happy.

The problem with antique furniture is that it’s solid. No flimsy veneers or compressed particle board crap. It’s real wood. Solid wood. Very freaking heavy wood. With very fragile, antique glass. Did I mention it was 90 degrees yesterday? And humid? What FUN!

The men lifted and hauled and calculated and measured and sweated. I wrapped things in quilts and said helpful things like “Be careful!” and “Don’t hurt yourself!” And if anything got bumped or banged or dropped, I gave them The Look.

My aunt provided a bunch of old quilts for wrapping around things in the trailer. They were old and definitely worn but they were made of pretty colorful fabrics. She said she didn’t want them back and I could burn them when we got home. Then she said my grandmother made them out of old feed sacks in the 1930s. I don’t think I’ll be burning them.

When we got home, the Farmer called his bro-in-law who lives down the road to see if he could help unload the trailer. Why didn’t you call him earlier, I asked, what if he has plans and can’t help and we have to unload all this by ourselves and I have a heart attack?

The Farmer gave me The Look. The brother-in-law wasn’t doing anything and was happy to help. He’s a great guy.

The dressers went upstairs. The rocking chair went upstairs. The bookcase went upstairs. The china cabinet went into the dining room. The chest of drawers went into our bedroom, although it may come right back out because I plan to strip and refinish it. It’s been awhile since my 4-H furniture refinishing days but I think it will come back to me. The kitchen cabinet went on the back porch. It is a perfect fit and will be home to all the miscellaneous gardening and dog stuff that seems to collect on the porch and is always in the way.

I think this might be Old Mother Hubbard's original cupboard. My grandma and grandpa used it throughout their marriage. It has always been painted so I'm not feeling ambitious enough to strip it because I'm not sure the quality of wood underneath would be worth it. I'm very happy with the primitive look.

This is the flour canister inside the kitchen cupboard. You put the flour in at the top, then turned the handle at the bottom and voilรก - all the sifted flour you could ask for. Important when you're baking all your bread, biscuits, cakes, etc. from scratch.

When my grandma was expecting her first child, she told my grandpa she needed something to put "baby things" in, so my grandpa bought this chest of drawers at a farm sale. So it was second-hand already in the 1930s. It's going to be my first major stripping and refinishing project later this fall.

The crystal knobs were on it when Grandpa Mills bought it but they're not original. There are double holes for handle-type drawer pulls so I'll probably end up buying some reproductions and taking the crystal knobs off. They are kind of delicate. I've had them on other pieces of furniture and if you have one break in your hand once, well, you won't want to do it again.

After they got married, my grandparents bought this china cupboard brand new. That was almost unheard of for them. It was during the Great Depression and they didn't have any money. Nobody had any money. But this was the one new thing they bought as they started out together. It has been moved from Colorado to Missouri and now to our house. And it's still in one piece. Thank doG!

Feed sack quilts. Still pretty after 80 years.

Closeup of the feed sack prints.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Back to school

I love teaching.

That is a really odd statement, coming from someone who grew up as a teacher’s daughter and swore she would NEVER become a teacher.

You still could not pay me enough to spend eight hours a day teaching other people’s children nine months of the year but I love teaching people and dogs one night a week. I taught my first obedience class 15 years ago and I was scared to death. What if people thought I was an idiot? Well, if so I was an idiot with their money in my pocket so figure that one out.

My favorite classes to teach are Open and Utility and an occasional attention and heeling class. Tonight I’m starting a new session of Utility. Most of the dogs are pretty much beginners at this level (not ring-ready or showing yet) and for many of the handlers, this will be their first UD.

I’m really looking forward to it. Working with other people’s dogs gives me a new perspective on my own training. Of course, it’s always easier to solve other people’s problems and sometimes in the process I realize, DUH, I should be doing that with Phoenix, too!

This teaching business isn’t easy. It’s a fine balance between what the students want to learn and what I want the students to learn. It isn’t always the same thing.

Each person in a class has different dreams and goals for their dog. They range from “just want to qualify” to “want scores above 190” to “want to win in the B classes.” With all those different levels of ambition under one roof, I think it must be like teaching in a one room country school house.

I love to see people succeed and even surpass their expectations with their dogs, but too much pressure from an instructor can unfortunately alienate students who love training and showing but have zero interest in extreme levels of achievement. If someone wants to solid working, happy dog who can qualify in Open and Utility but I keep pestering them to clean up their fronts and finishes and correct every tiny heeling fault, they’re going to get discouraged because those things just aren’t important in their world view. Chances are, my time with them could be better spent helping them create a confident, animated dog who loves playing obedience games. You never know where that might lead.

I enjoy watching students in the ring and being a little part of the successes they achieve. I will cajole, encourage, nudge, support, problem-solve and brainstorm so students can grow as trainers and have a better relationship with their dogs but it’s up to them to actually do the training.

That might be the best part - spending an evening helping people enjoy their dogs, then sending them home to do all the work.

Another good part is that someone is always bringing treats to class to celebrate something!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Armed and dangerous

There's never a dull moment at our house.

Last night, the Farmer and I were getting ready for bed when the Farmer's brother called and said there was a fugitive (not Harrison Ford, darn it) on the loose in our area and the police said he was armed and dangerous.

Apparently, earlier in the day, police in Cedar Rapids had attempted to arrest a guy for armed robbery. He got away. To make a long story short, he stole a mini van, then a pickup truck and they found the pickup truck wrecked in a ditch just a few miles away from our house, so they figured the guy was still running around in the area.

Thank doG I'd already taken the dogs out for their bedtime pee. I didn't want to go outside in the dark again!

We locked up the house and went to bed. Of course, it was the first night in what seems like six months that it was cool enough to have the AC off and all the windows open. Phoenix and Jamie were patrolling the windows and growling at every little thing that moved — cats, raccoons, skunks, possums, owls . . . good grief, do you know how many nocturnal critters go parading around our house at night?

But no armed and dangerous fugitive presented himself.

Unless he's hiding in the hay loft of the barn.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dealing with stress

I noticed Phoenix doing some things at the state fair dog show last weekend that made me realize I need to work on his “stress-proofing” more. The mistakes he was making were due, in part, to distraction but there was an element of stress there as well.

What’s the difference? A distracted dog is one who works happily, then a shiny object catches his eye and he forgets what he’s doing. A stressed dog is one who may be working adequately but his performance is littered with stress yawns, sniffing, slow responses, etc., or possibly stressing “up” with behaviors that are nearly out of control.

As trainers we may try to avoid deliberately causing stress during training because we don’t want our dogs “to hate obedience.” I’ve learned that exposing your dog to stress in the course of training BEFORE you go in the ring and learning how to work through it positively will pay off big time. Of course I learned this the hard way. That seems to be how I usually do things.

Deliberately adding stress is different from proofing the exercises. Instead, you're proofing the dog's attitude, his ability to focus and be a bright, happy worker under conditions that he may find less than ideal.

Instead of always going to train in a "comfortable" place, occasionally make it a point to take your dog to a slightly stressful environment, ask for some basic behaviors and see how he reacts. You, as the brains of the team, need to address this before you get into the ring and your dog has a meltdown.

When stress-proofing, forget about making corrections and don’t expect a perfect performance. That's not the point of the exercise. If your dog is truly coming unglued about something (a new smell, a real or imagined threat, etc.), corrections are only going to make things worse. Move a distance away from the stressor, find a marginally stressful zone and build from there, even if you end up just standing still and feeding your dog for giving you eye contact or performing something basic like a sit.

When your dog shows signs of relaxing and working comfortably, you can end the session or move closer and start again. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t overcome environmental stress in one or two training sessions. This needs to be a regular part of training, as much as teaching any specific skill.

For Phoenix, training around our farm buildings is incredibly stressful. I can tell because his ears go flat, his tail goes down and he gets a frantic look in his eyes. Sure, we’re still training at home but the problem is cats. There are cats around the buildings. (For Phoenix, cats are Evil Incarnate.) He doesn’t know when a cat might appear. Maybe a cat is looking at him. Maybe two cats are looking at him. Being asked to focus on me and work heeling around invisible cats creates a great deal of stress in his mind. For him, I think cat stress might trump the noisiest, most congested show site we’ve ever been in.

I’ve been lax in working this "stress-proofing" and it showed at the state fair. Granted, the show pavilion wasn’t awash in cats but the mental muscles that allow him to shrug off stressors were out of shape and his performances did not sparkle like I want them to.

So last night we went out for a brief training session around the farm buildings. After a bit of gentle insistence, he would fetch a toy, tug, touch, bounce and give me short heeling sequences with happy attitude, even though I frequently had to call him back from attempted cat pursuit (of invisible cats, nonetheless, I swear this dog is going to make me insane). His body language gradually relaxed and I could see him start to mentally shift from obsessing about cats to thinking about how to get more steak. (Yep, last week’s leftovers were last night’s treats.)

My long-term goal is to eventually be able to take Phoenix into ground zero of the “cat zone” and have him work through several exercises with joy and focus without food or toys. He gets a little better each time we train around the farm buildings. My short-term goal is to show him he can overcome mental stress and be rewarded for behaviors I want (versus getting nothing for attempted pursuit of cats that might or might not even be there.) I am hoping this “cat therapy” will transfer to obedience trials where I am asking for higher levels of performance in more demanding classes.

Happy training!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Iowa State Fair

Phoenix and I went to the open show at the Iowa State Fair today. It was held in the show pavilion, which looks like this:

This is where they hold all the cattle shows at the state fair. Did I mention it was air conditioned? Awesome! I was pretty much the first person there. Imagine that. That's Earl and Shirlee at the table. They were the second and third people there. They were in charge, helped by a lot of members of the Des Moines OTC.

Phoenix actually did better in his Utility run than he did in Open. He found his go-out spot although he was a little tentative. We need to do about 10,000 more go-outs in different places to build that confidence. Directed jumping was solid. His articles and gloves were lovely, the moving stand for exam was great (the stand and exam were great, the return, well, not so much) and the flies got the better of him on signals. Apparently it's not possible to do signals if you have a fly on your paw. The farm dog has never seen a fly before.

Our Open run was just OK. We were both a little hot and grumpy by then and I had a chance to work through a couple of heeling and attitude things. The 4-H dog show was going on in the same arena and getting into the ring was a little hairy since 4-H kids are not known for paying attention to their dogs (not all of them, just the ones whose dogs want to eat/party with a malinois). So it was a lot like a real trial in that respect.

Renee and her husband Steve came all the way from KC for the dog show. When we were done, we all walked around and looked at a few things. It was too stinkin' hot to really "do" the fair. We gave up after checking out a few exhibit buildings. Did I mention they were not air conditioned? Only in Iowa will you find the livestock exhibition buildings that have AC but "cultural" buildings that don't.

Here's some of the culture, a sand sculpture with the theme "Star Boars." I thought it was hysterical - Obi Wan, Luke, Vader and Chewie as little pigs.


And you can't have Star Boars without Jabba the Hutt. He's piggy enough when he's the authentic version.

The state fair is a photographer's paradise. Unfortunately, today it was a crowded, steaming tropical paradise. Emphasis on tropical. I would have loved to take pictures of the butter cow and the biggest pumpkin (over 1,500 pounds, holy buckets, we have steers that weigh less!) but it was just too dang hot and crowded.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Preachin' to the choir

Who knew so many of you felt the same way about bra shopping?!

What a relief to know that I'm not the only woman at obedience and agility trials running around in a worn, tattered, gnawed bra that may have been a tug toy at some point, because we all A) HATE shopping for the darn things B) HATE paying good money for something that's rarely seen and C) HATE trying to find a new style because our old favorites have been clearanced out.

Amen, sister!

In other news, I spent yesterday helping my aunt clean out her house. Another house purge! She's downsizing and wanted me to have some things. I came home with boxes of Depression glass and antique kitchenware, all with a story - like the beautiful cream-colored china plates with a floral pattern my grandmother bought at the "dime store" because the (grain) threshing crew was coming and she wanted the men to have "big" plates to eat from. And the many, many, many Depression glass cups, bowls and saucers that came free in bags of "cereal." I asked if she meant Cheerios or Frosted Flakes. My aunt said, no, oatmeal. They must have eaten a lot of oatmeal. I hope I can remember all the stories.

Oh, one more story. My aunt gave me a small blue salt-glazed crock and said it's what my grandmother used to "color" their margarine in. Huh? I guess when margarine was first "invented" it was pure white and looked like lard. Who wanted to put lard on your biscuits? So when you bought it, you got a little package of orange coloring. You came home and pounded the coloring into the margarine until it turned yellow and looked like butter. Who knew?

(Phoenix just brought me a flip-flop. I have no idea why.)

Soon I'm off to Wally-world (is that the 2010 version of going to the dime store during the 1930s?) to get mulch for all the places in my flowerbeds I've torn up when transplanting things. The transplanting is going well, although I haven't ventured into the "telephone cable bed of doom" yet. 

Then cleaning out the van and getting ready for tomorrow, when Phoenix and I are going to the open dog show at the Iowa State Fair. It's really just a glorified fun match but how often can you get funnel cakes, cotton candy, corn dogs and all that wonderful stuff at a match!

(And here's the other flip-flop. What a good boy.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

We've all been here

GUY WARNING - this is a very girly post. Proceed at your own risk. (Actually I don't know if there are any/many guys who read this but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.)

There are a few things in life that I absolutely hate. Going to the dentist is #1. Going to the gynecologist is #2. Getting a mammogram is #3. Buying bras is #4. Since insurance covers Numbers 1 through 3, at least I don’t have to pay out of pocket as well as enduring the annoyance of it all. But Number 4 means annoyance with a price.

If you haven’t bought a bra lately (or, if you are of the male persuasion and have never bought a bra - and if you have bought one, I don’t want to hear about it) let me assure you they are not cheap. I’m not talking about anything fancy, just your garden variety boob-holders. Starting price, $20 minimum. And that’s just the basics at the local outlet mall. If you shop in a department store, $30 or more isn’t unrealistic for a single bra. Or you can go to Wal-mart and get a three-pack of cotton cheapies for about $11. Which I have been known to do from time to time. Not being . . . um . . . heavily endowed . . . has its advantages.

I could buy a lot of things for $30: a partial tank of gas, one day’s entries at an obedience or agility trial (well, almost), a pair of jeans, dinner for me and the Farmer at our favorite steakhouse, a fun new sweatshirt . . . need I go on? Spending $30 for something that essentially no one will ever see is just wrong.

So it was with a great deal of dismay I realized after doing a load of laundry recently that the much-dreaded need-to-go-bra-shopping day was upon me. My current collection looked like it had been chewed on by a pack of rabid badgers. Or a malinois. I think they're about the same thing. Let’s just say it was time for some new ones.

It seems to be my luck that when I find a style that fits well and is comfortable, the manufacturer immediately discontinues it. This phenomenon is not limited to women’s undergarments. It also applies to lip balm, cake mix and mini vans. Seems like the simple fact of me liking something probably means it won’t be around much longer. It’s a wonder I still have friends.

First, I decided to get a couple of new sports bras for agility class nights and trial weekends. I like sports bras because you never find yourself at the pause table, fumbling for a strap that is somewhere it shouldn’t be and praying the judge counts slower because he’s already on “. . . and two and . . .” while your right hand is buried up to the elbow of your left sleeve, trying to haul that damned strap back into place.

I wanted something that was not cotton. Cotton is great but when you get sweaty, you stay sweaty with cotton as a base layer. So I ordered a couple sports bras from one of my favorite on-line clothing sources. They were even sort of fancy-schmancy ones, with moisture-wicking fabric and all that good stuff. When they were delivered, I immediately had to try them on. The dogs watched. I know, that’s weird but I think it was their entertainment for the day.

The first bra was apparently made from recycled steel-belted radials. I couldn’t even get it over my head. Seriously. And I’m pretty sure it was the right size. I had it around my neck and one arm and I was stuck. That baby wasn’t going anywhere. I think the canvas tarp that goes over our grain truck would have been more pliable.

Apparently, just putting that thing on would meet my exercise goal for the day. If I ever got it completely on, the Farmer would have had to use a crow bar to help me take it off. After some reverse contortions (the dogs were rolling around on the bed, wagging their tails with laughter), I finally got the thing off. I was sweaty and think I’d pulled a muscle.

The second one went on easier but gave me the dreaded uni-boob. The girls aren’t enormous, heck they aren’t even large, but I would prefer them to look like two individuals and not one squished together lump. That bra went back, too. The dogs were still laughing.

I went to the bra shop at the local outlet mall on my way home from work yesterday. Nothing fit. Ugh. I wonder if there is a certain time of the day that is best for bra shopping? They say you should try on shoes at the end of the day because your feet swell and might actually be bigger at 6 p.m. then they were at 6 a.m. I’m pretty sure the girls are the same size all day long.

So I’m back to square one. Guess I’ll stick with what I’ve got for now or at least until they fall apart in the washer or Phoenix steals them out of the laundry basket one too many times.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fun on a Wednesday

It appears Exercise Finished has been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Kelsa, a black Lab, and Riva, a baby Dobe, and their human at UrbanCanines.blogspot.com. Thank you! You have unknowingly saved the blog-reading regulars from a very weird post today. (Don’t worry, you’ll get it tomorrow.)

This award comes with a few rules. Fortunately, they are not too complicated.

First, I need to thank the dog(s) who passed this award on to me. Thanks Kelsa and Riva!

Next, I am to share 7 things about the Exercise Finished dogs:

• Jamie smiles when he’s happy to see someone. Full dentition, baby!
• Phoenix is the first dog I’ve ever had who will play tug in public.
• Jamie likes to poke people in the butt to get their attention.
• Phoenix will chase (and catch) his tail on command.
• Jamie likes to have a "digging layer" atop the pad in his crate so he can make a nest.
• Phoenix loves to shove his Orbee balls under furniture then try to get them back out.
• Both Belgians will do underwater retrieves for toys.

Finally, I have the honor to pass on this award to 15 other bloggers. Here are my choices. Not all of them post frequently but they all have something interesting to talk about when they do. There are so many great blogs that I follow and in the process of listing 15, I found even more! It’s fun to get other people’s insights on their dogs, dog training and all the fun it brings to our lives.

Here are my 15 choices, do you know how hard this was?

http://weaselsinflight.blogspot.com
http://gotsyzygy.blogspot.com
http://4dogcraziness.blogspot.com
http://youareexcused.blogspot.com
http://ourfalkor.blogspot.com
http://lovelyladylayla.blogspot.com
http://cruzanborders.blogspot.com
http://jillscreatures.blogspot.com
http://3dogdays.blogspot.com
http://manymuddypaws.blogspot.com
http://saralovesdogs.blogspot.com
http://keeponsledding.blogspot.com
http://rickyitsadogslife.blogspot.com
http://kathy-agilityadventures.blogspot.com
http://lifewithbigdogs.blogspot.com

Monday, August 16, 2010

As a matter of fact . . .

. . . I don't have anything better to do than sit in the grass and blow bubbles for the dogs to chase.



Our agility trial weekend was a bit of a train wreck. Phoenix ran wonderfully. Alas, the same could not be said for my handling which was apparently non-existent. Thank doG there was birthday cake and a MACH cake at the trials because that was pretty much the highlight of the weekend! Last night I got down the bottle of bubbles from Auntie Rilda and entertained all three of us for awhile. Laughing is a good way to get rid of frustration and disappointment.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to blow bubbles and run a video camera at the same time? There's a definite learning curve. Turn up your volume so you can appreciate the malinois tooth clacks.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Splash!

One more day of this stinkin' evil heat and then temps are supposed to moderate. Nix and I went out to train last night about 8 p.m. The heat index was only 95. Only.

We didn't do anything too strenuous and the baby pool was close so he could splash in it. We also worked some underwater dumbbell retrieves because you just never know when you might need that skill. Underwater retrieves are part of the "more funner" summer training program.



This weekend we're off to play agility and Phoenix's weekend social calendar starts to pick up again with "dog stuff" eight of the next 10 weekends. Does this mean summer vacation is over?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shooting stars

(Graphic courtesy of KCRG TV, Cedar Rapids)

It was a hot summer night and the beach was burning
There was fog crawling over the sand
When I listen to your heart I hear the whole world turning
I see the shooting stars
Falling through your trembling hands
“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth,” Meatloaf

Substitute “hay field” for “beach” and that’s pretty much how my morning started. I got up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the Perseid meteor shower. It peaks in the pre-dawn hours tomorrow, Aug. 13, but tomorrow’s forecast is for clouds and rain, so I thought I’d go meteor watching this morning. It’s something I do every summer and I had high hopes for this year since the moon phase was dark, providing great spotting conditions.

It was 72 degrees at 4:30 (which is just wrong . . . but getting up at 4:30 a.m. is just wrong, too) and there was a layer of ground fog but the sky overhead was dark and clear. The Belgians and I walked out to the hay field north of the house and climbed up on a hay rack the Farmer had conveniently parked there.

Jamie snuggled up next to me and went to sleep but Phoenix was on level red critter alert and kept patrolling the hay rack perimeter. I’m sure there were raccoons running amuck nearby even though I couldn’t see them. Thought I smelled a skunk once and was really glad the dogs were on leash. Getting to go on an adventure in the middle of the night is a big treat for them but I would prefer they not turn it into a hunting expedition.

I love watching meteors. I’m one of those people who likes to wish on “shooting stars” and always feel like I’ve witnessed something special that no one else in the world knows about when I see one. Suppose I have, since most sane people are still sound asleep at that time.

I like the Perseids because you won’t freeze to death watching them, like some of the other showers. I’ve gone out for the Leonids (November) and Geminids (December) and by comparison, the Perseids are definitely the most user friendly. The Draconids and Orionids in October can be fun, too, although they’re kind of “low producers” and if I’m going to get up in the middle of the night and sit outside in the dark, I need frequent reinforcement.

The Perseid meteors are most visible right before dawn. I saw probably half a dozen, including a couple of beautiful “skimmers” that burned low and bright along the horizon. At the shower’s peak, you can see up to 100 meteors in an hour, or so they say. I didn’t get to find out because just when things were starting to pick up, the fog started to roll in. Pretty soon the horizon was blanketed with fog and my window of clear sky above was growing smaller and smaller.

Bummer. The mosquitos had found me, Phoenix was getting a little too interested in something rustling in the fence line and I could smell a skunk again so we walked through the fog and heat and humidity back to the house.

Okay, that Meatloaf song is supposedly about a couple of teenagers making out on a beach, not a middle-aged woman sitting on a hay rack, watching meteors with her dogs but what the heck. Life’s short. Be happy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fast food

I haven't done any recipes in a long time so here's a quickie. It's not very original but it is very convenient.

FREEZER TACOS
1 lb. ground beef
1 can refried beans
1 package dry taco seasoning mix
shredded cheese
diced tomatoes
sour cream
lettuce
salsa
taco shells or tortilla chips

Brown and drain ground beef. Mix in refried beans and taco seasoning. Using a monster-cookie sized cookie scoop (or a half-cup measure), place scoops of meat mixture on cookie tray lined with waxed paper. Freeze.

When meat balls are frozen, remove from tray and place in gallon zip-top freezer bag. Return to freezer.

When you're hungry, defrost/zap meat ball(s) in the microwave and add cheese, tomatoes, etc. to make a taco or taco salad.

Our south of the border weather continues. At least we didn't get 6" of rain overnight like Des Moines did. Still, we've had 3" of rain in 3 days. With the extreme heat and humidity plus the abnormally high rainfall, it's like being boiled alive!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My lost shaker of salt

Even with our central air on, the hateful tropical humidity keeps sneaking into the kitchen and mucking up my salt shaker. You can shake it over food to your heart's desire and nothing comes out because all the little holes are clogged.

This annoys me.

I am not one of those people who salt their entire plate of food before even tasting it but when I want salt on my tomatoes, I want it NOW! I do not want to have to dink around with a toothpick, trying to poke open the little holes to remove soggy salt.

Since things were gummed up, I decided to stick the salt shaker in the oven to dry it out. We did this all the time when I was a little kid and it worked like a charm. So one day after doing some baking, I turned the oven off, let it cool slightly and stuck the sticky salt shaker right in there on the rack.

There, take that.

Later that day, I opened the oven, took the shaker out . . . and watched salt pour out across the oven door, the kitchen floor and my foot.

The stupid little plastic plug in the bottom of the shaker had melted like a Shrinky Dink (Remember those? How fun were they!) and popped right out. The salt was indeed wonderfully dried out now, but since it was also scattered all over the floor, that was pretty much a moot point.

I said a lot of bad words.

Today I went to the Dollar General store and bought new salt and pepper shakers. They are glass. They have metal screw on caps. They cost $1 each. There is absolutely the plainest things you've ever seen. But they won't melt if I want to stick them in the oven.

Jimmy Buffet would be proud.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Great House Purge


(Thanks to Kathy Kail of Charwin Curlies for
sharing this amusing little graphic.
It pretty much sums up life in the Midwest right now.)

It's too bloody hot to do anything outside without the risk of spontaneous combustion so over the weekend, I started my annual late summer project known as the Great House Purge.

I did this three years ago and enjoyed it so much, in a very sick and twisted sort of way, that I've done it every year since.

Basically, I go through our house, room by room, and clean out every drawer, cabinet, cupboard, closet, chest, cubby hole, etc.

I get rid of stuff we don't use anymore, clothes that don't fit, meds that have expired, stuff we've saved for no apparent reason except we were too d*mn lazy to carry it out of the house. It's a wonderful feeling! It's addicting! It's like a drug! It's so nice to open closets and cupboards and not have things fall on my head! I'm not a super fussy housekeeper (want proof? walk barefoot through our house in black socks) but I hate clutter.

The first time I did a house purge, it took me five months to go through the first and second floors of our house. We've lived there for 19 years and it's amazing the amount of stuff we've accumulated. It's not like we constantly get a lot of new stuff, it's more like we think we have to keep everything that has ever come through the door, whether we're still using it or not. My initial inspiration was the fact that if I didn't do something, I was not going to be able to get the door to the downstairs spare bedroom shut again.

Some stuff goes to Goodwill. Some stuff goes to the burn barrel. Some stuff goes right back where I found it because even though I am pretty sure I will never ever have a use for six boxes of trophies from 4-H dog shows in the mid-1980s, I am going to keep them for sentimental reasons.

This year, the third year of the annual house purge, I got through four good-sized rooms in three days. Yeah, it gets easier after the first time. One thing that makes it easier to de-clutter is the realization that over the last two years, I have never once regretted throwing something out. I also pay more attention to stuff during the year because if I just shove it in a drawer or closet, I know it will be there to haunt me and I will eventually have to deal with it.

Here are the House Purge rules:

1) Do one room at a time. You can't start on a new room until the first room is completely cleaned. You're on the honor system. Don't cheat.

2) Everything has to come out of every closet, drawer, etc. EVERYTHING.

3) You are not allowed to put it all back in. You have to get rid of something.

4) It's not a timed event. There's no rush. Start small and work steadily.

I've found stuff I forgot I had. (Hey, there's that leash I lost five years ago!) I've found stuff I wondered why in the world I ever kept in the first place. (Seriously, do I still need 15 years of vaccine and health records for a dog who died in 2004?) I've found storage space I never thought I'd see again. (Oh, THAT'S what the floor in this closet looks like!)

It's also fun because you can do it indoors with the AC blasting and a fan running and a ice cold Diet Coke at hand.

Which beats the heck out of having an atomic meltdown outdoors.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A matter of motivation

I keep having the same conversation with different people and it all comes back to the same topic: motivation. Guess everyone’s thinking about how to motivate themselves and their dogs when the heat index is 100 degrees and even when it isn’t. (We’re enjoying a reprieve of several “cool” days in the mid-80s before launching back into the tropical blast furnace. There’s that d*mned word again: tropical.)

What motivates your dog? How often do you reward? Do you use the same reward for everything? What if your dog decides he doesn’t want it? Then what do you do? Have you tried getting your dog excited about a new motivator? Did it work?

Whoa. That’s a lot of questions.

A motivator is a paycheck, it’s something of value and is worth working to get. You do THIS, you get THAT. Each individual being determines what motivates them. What if I said I would detail your van, inside and out, if you trained your dog for 15 minutes every day for the next week? That would be a fairly high value reward, right? (I’ve seen the inside of some of your vans!)

What if I said I would give you a tomato if you trained your dog for 15 minutes every day for the next week? Yeah, thought so. This time of year you could probably get a tomato from your neighbor without so much as even looking at your dog. Maybe you don’t even like tomatoes. Even if you love tomatoes with every ounce of your being, training for seven days is a lot of work for one stinkin’ tomato. Not much motivational value there.

It’s the same with dogs. They’re individuals. Give them something they want. It’s not much of a motivator if the dog doesn’t want it, no matter how cool you might think it is. At the same time, experiment with finding new things your dog thinks are fun or tasty.

You build the drives you use. If you constantly reinforce with food, your dog will expect cookies for a job well done. If you reward with the same toy over and over, your dog will start to engage only with that toy and not want anything else. I make it a point to use a different toy every time Phoenix and I train so he doesn’t get overly attached to any one of them at the expense of all the rest. Some days we play with tugs, some days he gets to chase a ball or a flippy. I have to admit that I have MY favorite toys but Phoenix doesn’t seem to care, which is great.

Sometimes the work itself is so reinforcing and the dog enjoys doing his job and being with his handler so much he truly doesn’t need anything else. That is the ultimate state of nirvana when it comes to training and one I’ve reached with certain dogs on certain exercises. Otherwise, I’m happy to bankroll our partnership and give tangible rewards when they are deserved. After all, NONE of this crazy behavior I ask my dogs for is "natural."

A motivator doesn’t even have to be a “thing.” Phoenix loves to chase me. He finds that highly motivating. Since he can run faster than me, he gets to “catch” me, which he also finds very motivating. This “catching” takes various forms. He hasn’t drawn blood in quite a while.

Is one type of motivator better than another? I don’t think so. It’s nice to have a dog who responds with equal enthusiasm to both food and toys. Some training skills lend themselves best to food rewards when you want to emphasize position or location, while others are perfect for a toy reward to build or release energy.

You can build toy drive in a “food dog” and you can build food drive in a “toy dog” but it takes time and you’ll need to be consistent and patient by pairing them together: if you’ll interact with the toy, you get a treat or if you’ll eat the cookie first, then you can play tug. That's a waaaaaay simplified explanation and if you've ever done it, you know it takes time and patience to build a drive that doesn't come naturally to your dog.

I like tugging because it allows you to physically interact with your dog — in other words, PLAY. A game of tug creates energy and makes the dog focus on you, since you control the game. Sure, you can pop a cookie in your dog’s mouth and that’s fine, too, especially if you want to get quick, multiple reps of a skill, but sometimes I want to do more than just “feed the meter” training.

I’ll admit, there are some days when I am just not up to tugging with Phoenix. He’s 53 pounds of solid muscle and he plays rough. My hands and wrists ache the next day after I’ve done a lot of tugging in a training session. Gimme the bottle of ibuprofen! So some days the rewards are going to be all food because physically, that’s all I’m up for. But no matter what reward I use, it’s accompanied by a genuine smile and sincere verbal praise. Never miss a chance to tell your dog how brilliant he is.

So what motivates your dog? And what motivates you to train when it’s so dang hot? For me, three words: final CDX leg. Followed by two more extremely motivating words: Utility debut.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Make it stop

Could it get any freakin’ hotter?

I mean, we are ABOVE the Mason/Dixon Line, right? “Tropical” is not a word I want to hear used to describe Iowa’s weather but the forecasters around here are using it with reckless abandon.

Tropical heat.

Tropical humidity.

Tropical dew points.

If this doesn’t quit, next thing you know we’ll be having tropical storms blowing across the state.

If I wanted to live in the tropics, I would move there.

Now I want a pina colada. Or a margarita. Sigh.

What really makes me cranky is that this hateful weather is interfering with dog training.

Oh, sure, you can train when it’s hot.

I do.

For about 5 minutes, then I’m done.

I have no idea if the heat bothers Phoenix because I haven’t managed to work him long enough to find out. It bothers me a lot. It’s hard to tell if your dog is in heel position when you have sweat pouring into your eyes and it's like breathing through a wet towel.


Chewing is a grand pastime when it's too hot to play outdoors.
The Belgians take their chewing very seriously.

Don’t the weather gods hear the clock ticking? Five weeks until we show for Nix’s last CDX leg. Five weeks until I have to decide if he’s ready to make the leap into Utility or if we should hang in Open for a while.

I need to train, people!

Okay, if you’re reading this, I’m preaching to the choir. We’re all in the same boat. Unless we have access to a training building with central air, we’re pretty much at the mercy of Mother Nature and she’s been a cranky old bat lately.

I’ve been doing most of my training from about 6 to 6:15 a.m. in the back yard. Not so great for getting to different places or setting up anything very complicated but hey, it’s training that wouldn’t get done otherwise.

We did train at a local park last week. The heat index was 102, a strange lab jumped in my van and some dudes launched a hot air balloon right next to us . . . so that was just weird.

And we’re doing some stuff in the living room, mostly fronts and finishes (the flip is progressing!) and glove turns.

This, too, shall pass. August is traditionally the month when daytime temps start to drop as autumn approaches. Yeah, still waiting for that.

Here’s the sunset from last night. Beautiful. Molten. Like standing on one of the outer rings of Hell.



P.S. The toilet is fixed! I knew you'd want to know that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Another night in paradise

A little background first: our toilet has had some issues lately, mostly that after you flush, the flapper thing didn’t seal so the tank didn’t fill so the water kept running. The Farmer put new innards in the tank and now the flapper thing seals just fine so the tank fills. Which you would think would solve the problem but apparently not.

Tuesday, 1:30 a.m., thunder and lightning roll in, weather radio goes off in the kitchen and starts blasting flood warnings, Jamie leaps onto the bed and wedges himself between me and the Farmer.

Me: Is this necessary? It’s just heavy rain, nothing severe.

Jamie: Thunder. Scared. Sleep with you.

Me: Okay, but you can’t pant and thrash and shake the bed.

Jamie: Nope. Quiet. See? Never know I’m here.

Weather radio: . . . THUNDERSTORM COMPLEX PRODUCING HEAVING RAIN MOVING THROUGH THE AREA. . .

Phoenix, flying onto the bed: WHEE! Here I come! Make room for me!

Me: Oooof! This is NOT necessary! Can’t you sleep on the floor like a dog?

Phoenix: No. HE sleeps on the bed, I sleep on the bed. Deal with it. Um, scared?

Me: You are NOT scared. Get off my stomach.

Jamie: Being quiet. See? Way quieter than him.

Phoenix, wiggling himself into a nest: Bite me.

Weather radio: . . . NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE QUAD CITIES HAS ISSUED FLASH FLOOD WARNINGS FOR THE FOLLOWING IOWA COUNTIES . . .

Farmer: Why are there so many dogs on the bed?

Me: Because you married me. Deal with it.

Farmer: If I get up to pee are they going to let me back in bed?

Me: Take your chances.

Farmer, leaving the room: %$#@!

Weather radio: . . . DEW POINTS IN THE UPPER 70S PRODUCING HEAT INDICES OF 100 TO 105 DEGREES FOR COUNTIES ALONG AND SOUTH OF INTERSTATE 80 . . .

Twenty minutes later, he hasn’t returned. I shove Phoenix out of the way and get up. Farmer is in the bathroom, lights on, lid off the toilet tank, poking at toilet innards. Miscellaneous tools are scattered around.

Me: What are you doing?

Farmer: Fixing the toilet.

Me: At 2 a.m.?

Farmer: It keeps running.

Me: I thought you fixed that.

Farmer: Thought I had, too.

Me (gift for the obvious): So what’s wrong?

Farmer: It keeps running.

(Well, I asked.)

Me, wondering why I didn’t just stay in bed: Can you fix it?

Farmer: Dunno.

Me, thinking This is a freaking insane conversation at 2 a.m.

Farmer: I’m shutting the water off. You’ll have one flush in the morning.

Me: Now there’s a happy thought.

Weather radio: A BAND OF HEAVY RAIN BETWEEN 3 AND 5 INCHES IS POSSIBLE BY THE TIME THE RAIN ENDS MID TO LATE MORNING TODAY.

Me, swatting radio off: Great, too much water everywhere.

Jamie, sprawled across the bed: You left. We took your spot. You weren’t using it.

Me: I can see that. Move over.

Jamie: Nooooooooo!

Me: For heaven’s sake, you don’t have to get off the bed, just let me in!

Jamie, moves 1 inch: Okay. You get in now.

Me: Nix, budge over.

Phoenix: Sleeping. Lemme ’lone.

Me: Sleeping, my arse. Move.

Phoenix: Can’t. Comfy. Sleeping. Go ’way.

Me: %$#@!

Both dogs fly off the bed. I get in. Both dogs fly back on.

I fall asleep, dreaming of going to work where I can use the toilet, flush and walk away without the need for further maintenance or flooding worries. Jamie falls asleep, dreaming of autumn, when thunderstorms are rare. Phoenix falls asleep, dreaming the humans buy a king-sized bed so he can have his very own spot on it every night. The Farmer returns, wedges himself into the leftover space and falls asleep, dreaming of what life might have been like if he’d married a cat lover.

Monday, August 2, 2010

This looks like fun!



Phoenix would LOVE to do this. It might even be relatively safe since he wouldn't be attached to me, like if we tried skijoring or carting. Still, there's the whole element of me on wheels, which probably isn't a good idea.

And I'd be so covered with protective gear (helmet, elbow pads, etc.), we'd lose some of the aesthetic appeal. (For my own safety, I should probably just be rolled up in bubble wrap before attempting anything like this.)

Still, it's a really fun video. I especially like the multiple roll-overs toward the end. Thanks, Sheryl, for passing this along. If it weren't for my Terv friends, this blog would be very dull lately. I'll try to come up with something original soon!