Friday, December 31, 2010

2011, here we come!

Time to put my training goals for the new year in writing. What fun! I love this time of year, everything is new and fresh and possible and wonderful and dreams are just around the corner. 

I tend to set goals in terms of earning titles because title goals create a wonderful sub-set of training goals, which for me are a whole lot more fun, motivating, etc. than just saying “I want to get a UD”or whatever.

In order to get that UD, I need to thoroughly train and proof each exercise, train with friends who can help me with the proofing, train in a number of different sites to make sure Phoenix is generalizing the exercises and constantly evaluate his performances and figure out how to improve our teamwork while balancing precision with the element of “more funner.” (That's 2011's theme, MORE FUNNER!)

So these are my title goals for the new year:

• UD. I’ve picked the DeWitt, Iowa, obedience trial the first weekend of April as Phoenix and my Utility debut. Thank doG, the date is April 2. There would be something very wrong with debuting your green Utility dog on April 1. I mean, really, that’s just asking for trouble.

• UDX. This is a lofty goal to complete in 2011 and I’m not obsessed with it. It took my previous boys about a year or so to finish their UDXs. Except Jesse, who was my FIRST UDX, and he did it in 4 months/14 trials. (Jess was the exception to a lot of rules. He was mental. I miss him.) I don’t show in obedience every single weekend of my life (in spite of what the Farmer thinks) so we’ll get there when we get there.

I remember showing back in the days before the UDX existed. (Wow, I’m THAT old.) When you finished your UD and didn’t care about pursuing an OTCh., you just kept showing in Open and Utility for kicks as long as you wanted to. That's still what I do.

• OTCh. Same as above. Whenever. The joy is in the doing, not in the completing. To me, an OTCh. is a lifetime achievement, not something I expect to achieve in the first couple of years of showing.

• MXJ. We need a couple of legs. A couple 3? Maybe a couple 2? Maybe I need to go count ribbons? Maybe I need to not think about it and just wait until I find a certificate from the AKC totally mangled by the USPS in our mailbox. I swear, the Postal Service has something against my AKC title certificates. Mine arrived through 2010 in incredible states of mangled-ness.

• MACH. Same as the OTCh. I’ve never MACH’d a dog before so this is a brand new journey toward a lifetime achievement. I suspect it’s very much like an OTCh. in the respect that once you set your mind to it and believe it can happen, it’s not a matter of “if” but of “when.” So this probably isn’t an actual title goal for this year because I realistically doubt we can get 18 DQs in the next 12 months. I just don’t trial that much. So my goal would be better stated as “continue pursuing the MACH.”

Other odds and ends for 2011:

I’m very much looking forward to Malinois nationals in April in Valparaiso, Ind. My obedience club is hosting Joanne (sp?) Brettschneider for an obedience seminar this spring. And then there all the wonderful obedience and agility trials I always look forward to being a part of.

Given that gas prices go up another nickel or dime every time I turn around (so quit turning around), I’ll be choosing activities carefully this spring. Maybe more quality, less quantity.

My other non-resolution is better meal planning and more organized grocery shopping so I'm not stopping at the grocery store every single night just because I drive right by it on the way home from work. I spend entirely too much time thinking about what's for supper, so there's no excuse for always being out of something and needing to stop at the store.

Wishing you all a very happy and safe New Year's Eve!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quote of the week

Yesterday I took the Belgians to see their chiropractor.

Dr. Fred worked on Phoenix's neck for quite a while. Then he said, "There. I put his head back on straight."

That would certainly explain a lot.

Phoenix's neck is routinely "out." Dr. Fred thought it was due to the heads-up style of heeling I teach. I thought about that for awhile. Then I thought about Nix's tugging style. He grabs the tug and whips his head back and forth in the "maligator death roll" while I hold on for dear life.

I'm thinking THAT would be more conducive to putting one's neck and spine out of alignment than a few minutes of trotting around with one's head tipped up. It's not like I ask him to heel for hours without any breaks.

Goal for 2011: keep tug sessions focused on TUGGING instead of THRASHING.

P.S. Thanks, Kathy, for the promise to bring Phoenix a cat. You are his new best friend.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dashing through the snow

This video is very cute when accompanied by an instrumental arrangement of Jingle Bells.

You'll have to trust me on this one.

Because YouTube does NOT want me to post it that way. I don't know why. There are many mysteries in life. This is one of them.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy birthday, Skinny Little Dog!

Today is Phoenix’s 4th birthday! He sends happy birthday air snaps to his bros and sisters: Cayenne, Seeker, Joker, Ryder and Ida, who all live on the West Coast, and Passion, in Ohio.

Nix’s top 10 birthday present list, would be, in order:

1) a cat

2) a cat

3) a cat

4) a cat wearing a bitesuit

5) the Farmer wearing a bitesuit

6) for our UPS guy to stay and visit and quit running away so fast

7) dried and smoked ears from any variety of farm animals, including but not limited to pigs and cows

8) a pig in a bitesuit (oh dear, someone has drunk too many post-Christmas margaritas)

9) for my nephew Chase to stay longer and THROW THE BALL AGAIN

10) the elimination of group exercises from obedience trials

Where the heck did 4 years go? Seems like I just brought him home before the Ice Storm of the Century and he slept in bed with me and the Farmer because it was about 40 degrees in the house because the power was out for a week.

Here are some pictures of the Skinny Little Dog.

7 weeks old
(Photo by Catherine Shields)

10 weeks old
(Photo by Sheryl McCormick)

2 years old
(Photo by Marsha Kingsley)

3 1/2 years old
Summer of 2010
(Photo by me)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas delayed

Thanks to the weather, my mom and I decided to postpone our family Christmas until tomorrow. She and her sister are coming up to our place and since it's a 100 mile drive, we decided to give the road crews one more day to clean up the Christmas Eve snow. We ended up with 7-8 inches, which made a nice mess of our hilly roads.

The Farmer and I have had a quiet Christmas Day. I decided to bake myself a present -  a pecan pie. That is my absolute favorite-est pie. French silk comes in a close second.

You can't go wrong with a pecan pie: butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, corn syrup and pecans. What's not to love?

I'd been planning this pie for a while. The crust posed an ethical question. Homemade or store bought? I learned how to bake pies when I was in 4-H and I made an awesome pie crust. I also hated every every frickin' minute of it. Nothing raises your blood pressure like mixing and rolling out a crust that is so tender and flaky it disintegrates when you try to transfer it from the pastry cloth to the pie pan. So it really wasn't that much of a dilemma.

Although my mother might disown me. She takes great pride in her pie crusts. Of course, she learned to make them back in the day when lard was the main ingredient. I stood in the grocery store and thought about buying lard so I could make a homemade crust. I thought about it for exactly three seconds. I already have a heart condition. Buying a big ol' chunk of lard for a pie crust I didn't want to make in the first place sounded like a really unhealthy idea.

So I went to the freezer section and bought a two-pack of frozen pie crusts. As far as I'm concerned, the crust is just there to keep the filling from getting away. As long as it does that, who cares about anything else.

I felt vindicated when we were at the Farmer's folks' house last night for Christmas and while I was putting food away in their fridge, I spotted a box of store-bought pie crusts. Since the Farmer's mom is an absolutely wonderful cook, I decided anything that was good enough for her was good enough for me.

Ahh, pecan nirvana. Ignore the broken chunk of crust. It was so delicate and flaky it crumbled when I put my big fat thumb on it. Yeah. Something like that.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Let it snow!

We're having a very snowy Christmas Eve day. The initial prediction of 1 to 3 inches quickly mushroomed to 6 to 9 inches. The Belgians thought it was great fun.

An invitation to play.
Much running amuck ensued.

What are you lookin' at?
Never seen an abominable snow Tervuren before?


I'm worried Santa won't be able 
to bring my Christmas cat.
(Phoenix, darling, sweetheart, baby dog, 
you are so NOT getting a Christmas cat.)


Jamie settled down for a long winter's nap.
At 11:30 a.m.
But who's counting.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Evil psycho killer bunny

One evening last winter, Phoenix was looking out the living room window and pitching a fit. He was bouncing up and down with his front paws on the sill. His hackles were up. His tail was stiff. His ears were crossing (that’s never good). He was making snarly little yodeling noises. He was having an absolute Malinois meltdown.

I was afeared to look out the window. The way he was carrying on, Freddy Kruger, Jason and any number of Steven King’s demons might be staring back at me.

I put a hand on Phoenix’s withers. He was vibrating. Between snarly yodels, he smashed his nose to the window glass and showed his teeth. The next step was spontaneous combustion.

I looked out the window.

The snow had drifted almost up to the base of the window. There, perched atop the drift, sitting silently in the winter moonlight was . . .

. . . a furry little bunny. Just sitting there. Wiggling its nose. Not knowing it was separated from Malinois doom by only inches.

Thus began Phoenix’s rabbit obsession.

It’s worse than his cat obsession. Which is saying quite a lot.

The cat obsession is getting somewhat better due to Winnie The Cat’s move into the machine shed by the house for the winter and Phoenix’s near daily cat therapy sessions. More on that later.

So here comes Christmas and Liz gives Phoenix one of those Skineez toys, the kind without any stuffing. It's a rabbit.


Darling. Or not.

It looks kind of stoned.

I suppose if you spent a lot of time dangling out of Malinois jaws you might look so good either.

Phoenix loves his bunny. The bunny is an excellent indoor exercise program since simply the sight of it causes spinning, bouncing, leaping and tooth clacking. Humans should wear protective gear when Phoenix and bunny are united. It might be safer just to leave the house.

The Squeaky Ball From Hell is in the box next to the bunny. The box is atop the fridge.

It's all good.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Answering a tough question

One of the comments on yesterday’s post brought up an interesting question: how long do you keep working a dog who doesn’t show much enjoyment in training for a particular activity?

That’s a hard question to answer without knowing a lot of specifics but here are some thoughts. These are all assuming, of course, that you’ve been able to train with a knowledgeable instructor who recognizes how your dog feels about things and that you’ve sincerely tried some different training methods to build a good working relationship.

It’s really hard when your partner doesn’t share your enthusiasm for the activity, no matter how hard you try. Although I’d like to believe most mentally and physically sound dogs could achieve at least basic novice titles in either obedience or agility, the fact remains there are some dogs who are just not cut out to be performance dogs at any level. For whatever reasons, these dogs would truly be happier at home on the couch or playing ball in the back yard without the demands of remembering anything more important than when supper is served.

It’s a tough call. Your journey with your dog is yours and yours alone. It’s not something you can let another person decide for you. Given that an instructor told me my first OTCh. dog would “never amount to anything,” I learned to rely on my own sense of what is the right thing to do and what is not. It comes down to how much time and effort you are willing to put into building a training relationship and how many resources you have available to help with this.

Some things to consider:

Is the dog’s quality of life being improved by the training interaction? This might be the most important consideration. Kind of like the Hipocratic Oath, first, do no harm . . .

Is your goal to show in whatever venue you are training for or are you happy taking classes and playing around at the park?

If you want to show, what level of achievement would you like to reach (just go in the ring, qualify and get titles, get class placements, get High In Trials, be on the World Team?)

Are you in a position (financially, family support, time, etc.) where you can add another dog to your family? Then maybe the uninterested dog could be retired to happy pet status and you could find a more engaged partner if you really want to compete in dog sports.

Thoughts, anyone?

Coming tomorrow: the tale of the Evil Psycho Killer Bunny.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy winter solstice!

Today is the “shortest” day of the year, with the least amount of daylight hours. Starting tomorrow, the daylight hours gradually lengthen. Can’t wait until June when it’s daylight until almost 9 p.m.!

In the meantime, the Celtic people called twilight “the time between times” and that’s sort of how I feel about late December. It’s the twilight of the old year, a time between times. For me, it’s time to think about what I’ve learned while training and trialing Phoenix this year.

The thing that comes to mind over and over is training with joy.

A simple concept, right? Since we do this dog stuff for fun, shouldn’t the element of joy always be present? Then little things start sneaking up and undermining our joyful foundation. Pressure to achieve. Ring stress. Failure to get a certain score or title. Anxiety. Disappointment. Worry we’re not doing it “right.” Ugh. Tons of things to squish the joy right out of you and your dog.

A friend of mine showed several dogs in obedience. It was always fun to watch her in the ring because both she and her dogs were obviously having fun. When those dogs retired, she began showing another dog. She wanted “more” from this dog. She took lessons from a Big Name Trainer. This new dog was a very good obedience dog but lacked the flair and enthusiasm of her previous dogs. “He hates obedience,” my friend often said. “This is my obedience dog who hates obedience.”

I always wanted to ask her why she didn’t change her training methods since her dog obviously disliked it. Surely there was a different approach that would allow them to find joy in the work together. The dog worked with a great deal of accuracy but without much joy. They got very high scores and eventually, she finished the dog’s OTCh. and even got a 200 in the process.

I think about them often when I train. Many trainers are so focused on the technicalities of the methods that teach the dog how to perform a required skill that they totally ignore how the dog feels about it.

For me, the bottom line is joy. I want my dog to WANT to work with me, no matter whether we are by ourselves at the club building or in the ring at a trial. If I get a mechanically perfect performance with no joy, it’s an empty achievement. As a trainer, it is my job to make training (and performing) rewarding to the dog. That doesn’t mean cookies every two steps and it doesn’t mean I’ll never make a correction. Neither are fair to my dog’s expectations or understanding.

But it does mean I will make my dog’s happiness a very high priority when we train. I’ve stumbled around in that no-man’s land of “This is how I will train my dog because So-And-So said ‘Do it this way’ and her dogs are brilliant and she’s got a bazillion titles so I’ll shut off my brain and mindlessly do everything she says and never have an original thought of my own.”

Experience has taught me this is not a good idea. I will keep an open mind. I will try new things. I will experiment. Then I will decide what is right for me and my dog.

This means constantly evaluating how we are working together and tweaking the details to improve our performances AND make them “more funner.” Believe me, Phoenix is all about the “more funner.”

As 2010 slips into the twilight, the image of the year I have in my mind is Phoenix giving me that goofy mal smile while he tries to steal the dumbbell or glove out of my hand when he thinks I’m not looking.

Here’s to much joy and even more funner training in 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chomp

I need to take more pictures of my dogs playing and being silly. These are the moments I remember, the goofy, ridiculous stuff they do that makes me laugh out loud.

Here's one of Jamie very carefully dismantling a cow. He is very serious about his toy dismemberment. It is his mission in life.

One of the biggest differences between Jamie and Phoenix is the way they respond to toys. They both love them but the similarity ends there. If I give Jamie a toy, it's b'bye and he goes off into a corner to tear the hell out of it. Seriously. He can't field dress it fast enough.

Phoenix is the total opposite. He'll grab whatever is offered, then immediately shove it back at me. Here! You play! Tug! Tug harder! Chase me! Here! You have it! I will chase you! Chomp! Now I have it! This is so cool! Play! Play! Play!

His toys are all very well loved but they don't last much longer than Jamie's.

And thank you, Tammy, for the Squeaky Ball From Hell in our Christmas bag! And Liz, for the Evil Psycho Killer Bunny.

Coming soon: the story of Phoenix and the Evil Psycho Killer Bunny.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday funny

My friend Renee found this charming sticker for me. It's absolutely perfect.

Phoenix "paints" the windows in the house during his never-ending cat-watching episodes. I guess he figures if he pushes hard enough, he might be able to get that cat. Sometimes he squeaks while he nose-paints. He's artistic AND musical.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gingerbread dogs

Last night I baked gingerbread dogs. I'm not crazy about gingerbread but I like it once a year at Christmas and this is a really easy recipe. Plus it makes the house smell good.

These are gingerbread Tervuren. They could be Shelties or collies if you're feeling ambitious and want to use white frosting on their paws and tail tips and to give them collars. I'm not that ambitious so they are Tervs.




GINGERBREAD CUT-OUTS
1/2 C. shortening (Crisco)
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 C. molasses
1 egg
2 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Beat shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg. Beat well. Mix dry ingredients and add gradually to shortening, sugar, molasses and egg.

Cover and chill dough for 3 hours or until easy to handle. (I chilled mine overnight and that was actually too long. It was very stiff and brittle until it warmed a little. Most "chill the dough" recipes really mean "chill the dough overnight" but not this one.)

Roll out dough on floured surface and cut out cookies. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 for 5-6 minutes or until edges are firm.

Ice with powdered sugar icing if desired:
1 C. powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 T. milk (more as needed)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Video from ICDOC

Here are three of our runs from the weekend. I had fun putting them to music this time, never done that before.

The music for the first run is "Gator Drive."

Seriously.

How fun is that.



The second one is "Dance of the Clowns." If I do this again, I really need to just let YouTube pick the music for me. I could spend waaaaaaay too much time doing it myself.



I can't remember what this one was called but I spent entirely too much time picking it out.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The blizzard trial is over

First, let me say how eternally grateful I am we did not get the 10 or 18 or 22+ inches of snow our neighbors in northern Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota received. There should be a law against that sort of thing.

The entire state of Iowa was under a blizzard warning this morning. I wasn't too excited about getting up before the butt crack of dawn and driving 30 miles in the dark through a blizzard, so slept a little later, waited until sunrise, added a couple of extra layers of clothes and drove 30 miles in the daylight through a blizzard. 

It wasn't all that bad. I had the highways pretty much to myself, so I drove right down the middle of them, equal distance from both ditches that way.

We only got a couple of inches of snow and even though the wind was screaming with up to 40 mph gusts, it didn't have much material to work with. The roads were snow packed and no doubt slick. I never went fast enough to find out. Got to the trial just as my Standard walk through was starting.

Many folks clearly had chosen to cut their losses and went home last night. Even some of our local exhibitors didn't come back today either. Can't blame them at all. Thanks to all the wonderful folks who jumped in to fill empty worker spaces. Agility people are the best. Or maybe they just wanted a job to keep their minds off the drive home. The blizzard warning was replaced by a windchill advisory around noon. That means windchills at minus 20 or lower. That is seriously unnecessary if you ask me but no one did.

Phoenix ran wonderfully all three days. I was an idiot handler here and there (so what's new) but Phoenix didn't seem to mind. One thing I've learned from him at agility trials is that he never, EVER, thinks he's wrong. He is quite sure that whatever he does on the course is exactly what he was supposed to do. That's one of things that makes him so much fun. I'll post video in the next few days. 

No Qs for us today but I feel like we ended the year on a really good note this weekend. Of course Phoenix doesn't know the agility year is over but human nature being what it is, I have to look at the calendar and mentally wrap up this year before launching into 2011.

Right now, it sure feels good to be home, safe and warm, my dogs sleeping by my chair, the Farmer watching football on TV and the wind howling around the house. This cold spell has settled in to stay for awhile.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Men in pink, and other stuff

I'll get to the men in pink in a second.

Today was the second day of the ICDOC agility trials in  Cedar Rapids. True to form, we had a mix of rain, freezing rain and snow throughout the day with the promise of a blizzard warning beginning at 9 p.m. tonight and lasting through 6 p.m. tomorrow. I made it home okay on dicey roads this afternoon, the jury is out about the return trip in the a.m. 

Club members and lots of other exhibitors wore pink today to honor a member who was diagnosed with breast cancer this fall. She's doing great. We had a raffle of weave poles and jumps with proceeds going to the Susan B. Komen Foundation. 

Real men wear pink as evidenced below. From left, Bill, Jeff, Terry (now known as Saint Terry), another Bill, Vern, Don and another Terry. I've never seen any of them wear pink before. I'm pretty sure I won't see any of them wear pink again.

Phoenix has had a great weekend so far. Friday he ran great in Std. and finished his MX. Dropped a bar in JWW but otherwise had an amazing, beautiful run. Today was a repeat: great run to Q in Std. and great run but dropped one bar in JWW.

Since I know everyone is fascinated by other people's dogs' personal quirks, I'll share this little treat. Phoenix rarely throws up. Like never since he was a puppy. Seriously. In the last almost 4 years, I think he's tossed his cookies twice.

So imagine my surprise when I was sitting here, typing away, and he trots up to me, arches his back, opens his mouth and hurfs up some very weird looking slimy stuff. No advance warning, no drama, no endless pre-launch noises . . . just, HURF. Here ya go. And then he trotted off.

Inspection revealed . . . drum roll please . . . a variety of toy parts. Well. Yuck.

Phoenix had indulged in some unauthorized toy consumption a few days ago. I'd been doing very thorough poop inspection since then, which revealed various furry little scraps of this and that. Honestly, the only thing more unpleasant than poking through poop is poking through poop in the pouring rain just a few degrees above freezing.

His deposit (on the dining room carpet, of course) revealed various furry BIG scraps of this and that. He ate more than I thought. I'm grateful they had been churning around in his tum, not trying to pass on through. Pretty scary, several friends have had dogs with bowel obstructions from eating inappropriate things and that's not an experience I want to have.

Time for supper and an up-date on the weather. And a hot shower, ibuprofen and mug of cocoa. Tomorrow morning and its decisions will come soon enough.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Still undecided

The meteorologists are still undecided about the track of this weekend's storm. That means we could see from 1" to 8" of snow on Saturday. I'm not holding my breath. The only thing they all seem to agree on is that it's going to get freaking cold and windy Saturday night and Sunday with air temps below zero, compounded by windchills.

You should see the stack of stuff I have piled up to take to the trials. How can one person and one dog need so much stuff for trials that don't even involve an overnight stay? Blankets, vests, crate covers, boots, my Carharrt bibs . . .

I even broke out Phoenix's coat, just in case. Yes, he has a coat. It's even been custom designed, since Phoenix removed what he felt was an extraneous buckle. He was right. It didn't do anything, was just there for looks. He thought his coat looked better without it. Who am I to argue with Malinois design principles.

The whole dogs-in-coats thing is new to me. After years of Shelties and Tervs, I was accustomed to furry dogs who loved the cold and snow. Then as Connor aged, he lost muscle mass and his fur thinned. I bought him a coat. He loved it. He always was my "dress up" dog. He loved to wear things and preened and pranced. Silly boy.

I figure Jamie would probably bite me if I tried to put him in a coat. (Actually, he wouldn't. He would just get that pathetic, woe-is-me look on his ever-patient face.) If ever there was a dog who didn't need a coat, it's him. At age 11 1/2, his thermostat is perpetually stuck on high. He pants in January. Good for him. Some days I am jealous!

Then Phoenix entered the picture: 53 pounds of solid muscle (and a very hard head) without an ounce of fat. It didn't seem right to ask the Skinny Little Dog to spend much time sitting in his crate in the van or semi-heated crating areas at winter trials when it was really cold. So I bought him a coat.

I'll have to take a picture of him in it. It's really quite stylish and I think he secretly enjoys wearing it.

Good luck to everyone who is running in our trials this weekend and safe travels to all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Snow? No-no-no!

Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't following you.

In my case, I'm paranoid about the weather.

Which is a total waste of time because I can't do a darn thing about it. Like the song writer said, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Just not this weekend.

The Iowa City Dog Obedience Club's agility trials are this weekend. Our trials have the questionable honor of being known as the Snow and Ice Trials.

With good reason. I think we've managed to have at least one day of seriously ugly winter weather each weekend for the last five years. It's not like we plan this sort of thing. We have our hands full planning and running the trials, let alone trying to orchestrate the weather. Although, if that were possible I would happily serve as Chief Weather Steward. Clear and safe travels for all!

Last year, a big snowstorm rolled in Sunday afternoon. The year before that, there was freezing rain on Saturday afternoon and evening and I didn't even try to drive home. The Belgians and Connor and I bunked with Marsha and Brian at their place just a few miles from the trial site.

Phoenix pooped behind their couch and Jamie very casually hiked his leg on a door frame. (Talk about the houseguests from hell. I swear my dogs are housebroken in spite of all indications to the contrary.) Connor just laid in front of the fireplace and didn't move. He was the perfect houseguest. Oh, and Phoenix chased Marsha's IGs around the kitchen. Did I mention Marsha and Brian moved to the other side of town the next year? Clearly, they weren't taking any chances with me coming back.

In keeping with our snow and ice tradition, something is brewing for this weekend. Here's the current forecast for Dec. 10, 11 and 12:

National Weather Service, Quad Cities, IL:

"A stronger storm system is then expected to follow for the weekend, bringing the potential for some accumulating snow to the region Saturday into Saturday night. At this time it appears mainly light to possibly some moderate accumulations over the region. However, there still remains uncertainty with the track and intensity of the storm, which will have an impact on precipitation type and amounts. As a result, be sure to stay tuned to later forecasts and statements regarding the potential for accumulating snow this weekend. Despite the uncertainty with the track of the storm, there is growing confidence that windy and bitterly cold conditions will settle in by late in the weekend and early next week. This is likely to be the coldest air of the season thus far."

Maybe they're wrong? Ya think? In Iowa? In December? Snow? Bitter cold? What are the chances?

And why is it that when you really wouldn't mind having a snow day, that's when the predicted storm system fizzles out into nothing, but when you have serious plans, that's the storm system that arrives as advertised?

Enough rhetorical questions. Stay tuned for further developments.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday musings

My mind is all over the place today. It's the sort of day where my biggest concern is deciding if I should eat Leftover Casserole A for dinner and Leftover Casserole B for supper or vice versa. The fact that I managed to pack up little boxes of both Leftover Casserole A and B this morning, then actually remembered to take them out of the fridge and bring them to work with me is nothing short of amazing.

Don't laugh. I KNOW you've packed lunches and left them at home before. Hate that.

It's deadline day at the newspaper and casserole really is the least of my concerns but food is, as always, a very high priority for me.

Another priority is staying warm. I abandoned my happy state of denial last night and reluctantly admitted that winter has really and truly arrived (the first below 0 windchills of the season) and I am really and truly screwed. It's the first week in December and I'm already pulling out the big guns: last night I went to bed wearing a long-sleeved T, flannel pajama pants (red, with little dogs on skis, really, they are adorable) and fuzzy socks. I had the heating pad on high so I could thaw my poor cold toes.

WTF am I going to do when it gets REALLY cold? We've got a good 4 months of cold weather left and I'm already reacting like it's already Threat Level Red when it comes to staying warm.

By February, I'll be waddling around like Nanook of the North, so swathed in layers of polar fleece and down I'll barely be able to move.

And Phoenix will probably think I'm wearing a bite suit. Game on!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cookies, cats & unemployed malinois

I love the holidays, really, I do but things are a little insane right now. My work hours are all over the place and it seems like the hands on the clock are spinning double time. Things should settle after this weekend, at least where work is concerned.

Phoenix is disgruntled. Poor little dog. He's not getting any attention.

No. I take that back. He's getting plenty of attention (Give me that $#@!-ing sock!) but he's not getting any work. Seriously. He's getting trained about once a week whether he needs it or not and believe me, that's not enough. He's starting to invent jobs for himself. Anyone who lives with creative, intelligent, high-drive, easily bored dogs, you know what I'm talking about.

This morning I baked sugar cookies. Phoenix helped. He was in charge of anything that fell on the floor. He was very bored. I take sugar cookie security very seriously. So did he.


He helped me frost them, too. He sat by my chair, put his head on my leg and drooled. For 45 minutes. Really, a little malinois fur in the frosting adds that special, festive touch, don't you think?

Later in the morning, I went on the Amana Christmas Haus Tour to take photos for the paper. It was kind of fun. It really made me appreciate our house, warts and all. And it made me want to come home and clean and de-clutter. Some of the homes were so filled with "decor" I wonder if the people who live there actually LIVE there?

This is Jenise and her cat Walter. They were on the haus tour. Well, their haus was, they were hosts. Jenise used to work at the newspaper office with me, about a million years ago. Then she got smart and left. Now she and her husband have a business in Amana. They live above their shop, which is located in the ground floor of a 150-year old "k├╝che haus" or "kitchen haus," from Amana's communal era.

Walter was very cool. He wore a Christmas tie for the occasion and thought he was all that. Check out his paws. He is a polydactyl cat. He has extra toes on each foot. Ernest Hemmingway had polydactyl cats. There. Now you've learned something new today. Walter is from northeast Iowa, however, not from the Florida Keys where Hemmingway's multi-toed cats are found. There's a story there, if Walter would ever like to tell it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Another annoyed animal

In addition to the angry 3-legged mouse, who hasn't been seen since Sunday night, I've managed to completely honk off Jamie.

It's not my fault.

Jamie spent most of last week throwing up, which earned him a trip to the vet yesterday. Of course, the minute I made the appointment, he quit throwing up. Go figure.

We kept the appointment anyway. After 45 minutes and $130 worth of blood work, the vet said he was totally normal, or as normal as Jamie ever gets. His temp was normal, there was no swelling, hardness, tenderness or pain in his abdomen, no diarrhea, normal stools, no parasites and his blood work was all totally within normal ranges except for his white cell count which was abnormally low but has been all his life.

She sent me home with some Pepcid and instructions to give him one 30 minutes before each meal. He may have some doggie version of acid reflux or it may just have been a weird thing that will go away on its own. If it doesn't, well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Things went well last night: pill, wait 30 minutes, supper. Evening meals at our house are a hit and miss affair, one never really knows when they will be served so the dogs have no great expectations.

This morning was another story.

Our morning routine is much more formulated: up at 5:30, dogs outside, dogs back in, dogs eat breakfast, bring me their bowls and I get on my treadmill for 30 minutes of bonding with the early news.

This morning, we got up at 5:30, dogs went out, dogs came in, Jamie got his Pepcid and I got on the treadmill.

Jamie: Hey, lady, what about my breakfast?

Me, firing up the treadmill: You have to wait.

Jamie: Starving. Can't wait.

Me: You can wait 30 minutes.

Jamie: Want breakfast NOW!

Me: Sorry. That's life. Deal.

Jamie: I'm going to eat a sock.

Phoenix: I'll get you one!

Me: You are such a drama king.

Jamie: You hate me.

Me: I do NOT hate you. Let the medicine work.

Phoenix: Here's a sock!

Me: Put that down!

Jamie: I will eat this sock. You'll be sorry.

Me: For the love of pete. Where did you get that sock?

Phoenix: Laundry hamper's open. There's more. I will get more.

Jamie: This sock stinks. You hate me. You won't feed me.

Me: I will feed you when I'm done walking.

Jamie: Walk faster.

Phoenix: Here's another sock, two gloves and some underwear.

Me: WTF?

Phoenix: You LIKE it when I bring you things. I can tell. I will bring more.

Jamie: I will sit here and stare at you with the Evil Belgian Eye of Doom until you get off that walky thing and get my breakfast. See? I am staring.

Me: You are both insane.

Jamie: Old Belgian mind trick. Get. Off. The. Treadmill. Feed. Me. Now.

Phoenix: Here's another sock, one house slipper, yesteday's paper and a TV remote.

Me: Oh dear Lord. I still have 15 minutes to go.

Jamie: Staring. Staring. Staring. Look at me. I am pathetic.

Me: Yes. You are.

Phoenix: Here's an LL Bean catalog, three socks, a bra and some long underwear.

Me: I bet other people's dogs don't do this.

Jamie: I bet other people don't starve their dogs.

Me: I am NOT starving you!

Jamie: I don't see YOU missing any meals.

Me: You are not missing a meal. It's just delayed.

Jamie: I want to talk to the manager. This place has lousy service.

Phoenix: Here's a boot, an Iowa Farmer Today, the towel off the stove and your weather radio.

Me: Seriously. Other people have NORMAL dogs.

Jamie: Dr. Walker says I'm normal. I heard her.

Me: Dr. Walker doesn't live with you.

Phoenix: Here's a bath towel, two coasters, a mouse pad, a bottle of honey and an ink pen.

Treadmill: BEEP!

Me: TG

Jamie: I'll be in the kitchen, hurry!

Phoenix: Wow. Sure is a mess in here. Just sayin'.