Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's about time

I've been wanting to write about this for a long time.

But I never seemed to have time.

So this morning I'm going to make time to do it.

Timing. Along with patience and clear criteria, having good timing is one of the keys to successful training, especially in obedience where there are a dozen separate skills packed into each individual "exercise" and many of those exercises are not intrinsically rewarding to the dog (like racing through a tunnel or flying over jumps). The dog needs feedback to know if he's right, since just doing the behavior (heeling especially) is probably not going to be a reward in itself.

Over the last few weeks, I've had the chance to watch trainers and their dogs in group practice sessions, in classes and at matches. It really made me aware of the importance of timing (in terms of both reward and correction) and how critical it is in helping your dog learn what you want him to do.

I noticed people are very quick to tell their dogs they were wrong. I heard lots of "No!" "Stop it!" "Wrong!" and the accompanying leash pops and human facial expressions of frustration, exasperation and temper (resulting in canine body language of confusion, stress, boredom and general unhappiness).

Yet these same handlers missed opportunity after opportunity to reward and reinforce when their dogs did desirable things. When their dogs gave attention, they did nothing. When their dogs made a clear decision between a distraction and their job, it was ignored. I think the dogs were trying hard to find out what their crazy humans wanted them to do, but the crazy humans weren't making it very easy.

People often say "My timing sucks" or "I have terrible timing." Yeah, been there. Nobody is born with pinpoint accuracy for giving dogs feedback. It takes effort on the trainer's part to develop good timing. It's not something that happens over night but it's totally worth making the conscious effort to improve. I believe that the top trainers in any sport have gotten there due in part to the fact they have excellent timing skills which allow them to communicate clearly (and thus successfully) with their dogs.

I've had students who I had to tell repeatedly, "That was perfect! Give him a cookie!" If I didn't tell them to do it, they never rewarded their dog. Of course, by the time the dog did the behavior, I told the student to treat the dog and the student actually delivered the treat, the moment was probably lost.

Sometimes when you are teaching your dog something new, especially if you are a beginning trainer yourself, it can be difficult to to see that critical point where you need to reward and it's helpful to have a training partner or instructor help you pin point it (kind of like a clicker for humans).

But you can't rely on someone else to do that for your dog's entire career. Good timing skills are something each handler needs to develop on their own. If you rely on other people to tell you when you should reinforce your dog's behavior, you're missing a big link in your relationship.

Timing isn't just about giving rewards. Timing comes into play when setting your dog up for an exercise, cuing your dog for what comes next, releasing to celebrate a job well done at a critical point while training an exercise and staying connected when moving from one exercise to another, both in training and in the ring. Timing and attention/focus are very much woven together. Dogs who have wonderful attention usually have trainers with good timing and vice versa.

Developing good timing is a challenge. You'll make mistakes. You'll miss opportunities. But if you're making the effort, you'll improve. It will gradually become like second nature and not something you have to make a conscious effort to do.

Happy training!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Winter morning

Not sure where spring went. It snowed over night and looked (and felt!) like winter again on my way to work. This is the Iowa River between Amana and Homestead, running high and fast but not in flood stage.

National Weather Service outlook for April is for below normal temps and above normal precip. I'm firmly in denial and looking forward to warm, sunny spring days for gardening and outdoor training!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dinner with the Farmer

The Farmer and I went out for dinner Friday night. We went to the Iowa River Power Restaurant in Iowa City. It's the sort of trendy, spendy place that, left to our own devices, we would probably never go. But we had a gift certificate, courtesy of the neighbor's daughter, who can't tell north from south.

Back in February, when we had that big blizzard, the Farmer went over to the neighbor's to plow out their lane. The neighbor's daughter was convinced, in the way of teen-age girls, that she just HAD to go to work that day or the world would end.

The Farmer (whose wife was sensibly staying home that day, knowing full well the world would NOT end if she didn't show up at work) told her if she went north to the highway, she'd make it okay. Do not go south, he said. Go north.

Katey went south. And got stuck. And called the Farmer to pull her out. Which he did. Then she gave him a $50 gift certificate to this quasi fancy-schmancy restaurant.

So there we were.

The view is stunning, since the restaurant literally sits right on the riverbank. The food, sorry to say, was adequate. It was good but we could have gone to Texas Road House (our absolutest favoritest restaurant) and gotten more for our buck.

But it was a free meal and we enjoyed it and drank a toast to the directionally challenged Katey. It was the "Pulling the neighbor's daughter out of the snowdrift meal." Several years ago, we had the "Burying the neighbor's dead horse" meal. Different neighbor. Same idea. See what happens when you own a backhoe?

As it turned out, I was doing math in my head (that's frightening) and I knew we were close to spending the gift certificate but weren't going to use up the whole thing. So I did the sensible thing - I asked to see a dessert tray.

I ordered triple layer chocolate mousse cake and two forks.

I never order dessert when the Farmer and I go out. Never. Ever. It's a secret indulgence I hold in reserve for dinner out with the girls or when splurging on agility and obedience trial weekends. There's a whole ritual involved - the requisite ooh-ing and ahh-ing when the waitress brings the dessert, the distribution of forks, the passing and sampling, then the slow and seductive savoring and enjoying every morsel. Restaurant desserts are dang near a religious experience.

I was savoring my first delicate bite, letting the dark chocolate melt blissfully in my mouth, when I realized the Farmer was chomping his "half" down in huge bites, like he was shoveling in his mom's apple pie and was late for a fire.

Holy crap! At this rate, I'd only get one or two forkfuls!

Thankfully, the Farmer does not have a highly developed sweet tooth and abandoned the cake after a couple of bites. Or maybe it was the Hairy Stink Eye I fixed on him. (Oh dear, does that mean I'm resource guarding?) Either way, he put his fork down and I enjoyed the rest of the cake at a more refined pace. I didn't lick the chocolate syrup off the plate. I thought that showed great restraint. That cake was unarguably the best part of the meal.

Friday, March 25, 2011

R2 re-do

Okay, seriously, I've only had R2 for two weeks and I've already rearranged things. Granted, it's pretty hard to do much differently with the size of crates I've got in there, but after last weekend's agility trial, I knew I had some wasted space.

The long 2x4s under Jamie's crate did a fine job of holding it up but also blocked off the empty space underneath. Dog folks know that any available space in a vehicle is good for having something stuffed into it. Wasted space is sacrilege.

It was time to recruit the Farmer to find more lumber. I wanted a sheet of plywood to put under the crates, so they could be blocked up, making the gap under Jamie's crate available for storage. Yeah, I could have gone to the lumber store and got it but I figured the Farmer had a sheet of relatively clean plywood someone around here. We have an entire building full of lumber from tiny little scraps to beams from the barn we lost in '98.

He went to the lumber store and bought it. Go figure. It's very clean. I'm not complaining. Here's the result.

There's room to slide a tent crate underneath. I can also slide my peg-board topper for the tent crate in there, too. I'm getting better at this less-is-more, downsizing, don't-take-the-kitchen-sink approach. The true test will be packing for mal nationals in less than a month.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Things I learned yesterday

Yesterday afternoon I went to the National Weather Service storm spotter training. They throw a lot of information at you in a short amount of time but I was happy to have remembered most of it from the first time.

One of the first things the presenter did was show a county map with red dots representing the location of each trained storm spotter. I had a dot!

Storm spotters are important to the National Weather Service because we are their "reality check," so to speak. Radar and other technologies give meteorologists a lot of information during a severe weather outbreak but spotters are the only ones who can tell them what's actually happening. Assuming we're not hiding in the basement.

The class was good to review the basics of severe thunderstorm structure. This year I was better at quickly identifying the updraft and downdraft areas, determining rotation, being able to tell which way a storm was moving and identifying "falsies" - things that are not what they appear to be. Of course, I think the pictures they chose for the training session were pretty obvious. From my limited experience in reality, it's not always that clear.

Here are some things I learned:

• We are currently in a La Niña weather pattern and can expect an active and intense severe weather year.

• Iowa ranks 4th in the nation in terms of the number of violent (EF4 and 5) tornadoes each year. (Holy crap. I'm going to the basement now.)

• As a rule, thunderstorms in Iowa move across the state from the west/southwest to the east/northeast. (Okay, I kinda already knew this.)

• The best place for spotter positioning is on the south/southeast side of storm.

• Supercell thunderstorms do not move in a straight line and tend to turn right about 30 degrees as they strengthen. (So if you're sitting south/southeast of one, PAY ATTENTION!)

• A bow echo on radar indicates the area of strongest wind on the leading edge of a storm.

• A hook echo on radar indicates a spot where tornado formation is likely.

• I should have called in to report the hail from Tuesday night's storm. I thought we were only supposed to report large hail but apparently the NWS wants to know about ANY hail as that helps them judge the storm's strength.

Since we're back into a below normal weather pattern (it's going to freaking SNOW tomorrow) for the next week, I don't think I'll get a chance to practice any time soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NOW it's officially spring

We had our first round of severe spring weather last night - hail, high wind, lightning, tornado warnings, all that good stuff.

I thought it was very exciting.

Jamie had a mid-level meltdown.

Phoenix and the Farmer slept through it.

I watched the 9 p.m. news and could see the big red blob on radar headed straight for us. This is always good for an adrenaline surge. This is bad when it's dark out and there may be things lurking in the big red blob that you can't see.

Since this was the first severe weather outbreak of the season and several tornadoes had already touched down near Des Moines, the TV meteorologist was clearly having a moment of rapture. I love those guys. (A few years ago we had the most awesome local TV meteorologist. He called himself Captain Tornado. He also got fired for problems with drinking, which may have explained some of his crazier on-screen antics.)

At that point, Jamie was sound asleep on his sheepskin pad by the bed. I know his hearing has decreased and I was happy that maybe this year's severe weather season wouldn't be as traumatic for him if he couldn't hear the thunder.

There weren't any warnings out for Iowa County, which was sort of disappointing, so I turned the TV off and went to bed. About 2 minutes after I fell asleep, my weather radio went off, blasting out a severe thunderstorm warning for Iowa County.

Lightning was flashing, thunder was shaking the house and Jamie was stuck to my leg like a big furry trembling appendage. So much for being deaf.

We stood and watched the storm out the dining room window for awhile. Pea-sized hail was bouncing off the patio like insane little popcorn kernels. The ground was white in no time. I'd hate to be caught in a hail storm where the stones are bigger. These tiny little ones still sounded like someone was firing marbles out of a shotgun at the house.

The storm passed within 20 minutes. Jamie was still sure doom and destruction were pending. I stuck him in Phoenix's big crate in the bedroom and he settled. He's weird that way. Left to his own devices, he'll pace, pant, tremble and try to climb on your head. Put him in a crate and he gets over it.

This afternoon I'm going to take storm spotter training again, to re-certify my spotter status with the National Weather Service. Really looking forward to it, since the first time I took the training, they threw so much stuff at us it was a little overwhelming. It's the sort of knowledge that is cool to have but at the same time, it's the sort of thing I hope I never have to use.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Close encounters of the feline kind

We stayed in a motel for last weekend's agility trials (of which I will post video if I ever get it downloaded from my camera to my computer, uploaded to YouTube and downloaded to this blog. Seriously, did anyone ever use the words download and upload until about 5 years ago? I think not.)

Anyway, Saturday night I took Phoenix out to potty and as we were going back to the motel, I saw a lady carrying a VariKennel across the parking lot. It looked very heavy and awkward and I wondered why she didn't just take the dog out and let it walk instead.

Since we arrived at the door at the same time, I held the door for her since she obviously had her hands full.

Phoenix went on full alert. Uh-oh.

There were CATS in the VariKennel!

We got through the door with a minimum of mayhem. I crossed the lobby and punched the elevator button. Hey, give me a break. My room was on the third floor and you know how exhausted you are after running agility all day. Yeah . . . um . . . two runs, each under 60 seconds . . . yeah . . . really makes a body tired.

So anyway, I'm waiting for the elevator and Phoenix is dancing around behind me, scoping out the cats and making squeaking sounds. The cat lady's friend is asking what her cats think about dogs and she is saying something like, "Oh, they've met a dog before." And I'm thinking, what, a chihuahua? Because they're not looking very happy in that VariKennel even though I've got Phoenix on a tight leash and am not letting him get any closer.

The cat in the front of the crate was kind of smushed up against the wire door. I think the one behind it was shoving it forward, probably hopeful if the crazy-looking dog ate him first, maybe he wouldn't still be hungry for the cat in the back, too.

The elevator comes and we get on and holy smoke - the cat lady starts to get on, too. Phoenix is on total Over The Top Red Cat Alert by now. Everything on that dog that could be standing straight up is - his tail, his hackles, his whiskers. His ears were crossing at the tips and that is NEVER a good sign. The squeaking sounds had stopped and he was licking his chops.

Fortunately, the cat lady's friend noticed this (and possibly the fact I had a white knuckle death grip on his leash) and cleverly deduced that it might be in everyone's best interest if they waited for the next elevator. The cat lady herself seemed oblivious. The cats didn't look happy about any of it but I suspect they weren't happy about being in a box in the first place and the additional threat of a dog in their faces didn't help.

Phoenix was terribly disappointed. He was pretty sure the two cats in a box were his prize for getting a JWW leg that day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Comfort food

Today started out really good. I had a great night's sleep. I was pretty happy with the way Phoenix and I ran over the weekend. He did some great stuff. I got up and did my treadmill for 30 minutes. Phoenix did his treadmill for 20 minutes. We had breakfast.

I had time before leaving for work to catch up with all those piddly-diddly little chores that frequently escape me in the morning: dishes, laundry, making the bed, cleaning off the kitchen counter (again - where does all that junk come from!). Stopped at the vet and refilled Jamie's prednisone. He's on target to lower the dosage again this week - down to 10 mg every other day.

So I was feeling pretty optimistic when I got to the office . . .

. . . and found out both our town editor and sports editor have resigned. Both are effective April 1. Rox is taking a new position in a marketing firm. Doug is leaving for personal reasons and to get his life back together. They're good moves for both of them and I wish them all the luck in the world.

This leaves me in the sole editorial staff position in our office.

Not sure where this is going. The trend around here in the last few years has been if someone leaves voluntarily or is downsized, their position is eliminated and the work is spread out among the remaining employees in that department. Believe me, I've "inherited" two other people's jobs that way. Their jobs, yes. Their salaries, no.

Our HR gal is optimistic these positions will actually be filled this time. Probably because there's no freaking way I could absorb them, too. The town editor is a 60 hour per week, nights and weekends job. They offered it to me. No thanks. I have a life. I'd like to keep it. And me as the sports editor? Don't pee your pants laughing. (Well, they didn't offer me that position.)

I'm hoping there are some crazy young j-school graduates this spring who would think working 60 hours per week, nights and weekends is just the coolest thing they've ever heard of. There aren't that many journalism jobs out there, trust me, I've looked from time to time. So hopefully these positions will be snapped up and our writing staff will soon be, well, staffed.

I'd planned on taking a week's vacation in April to go to malinois nationals. That seems up in the air right now in light of 2/3 of the editorial staff resigning. Frustrating but that's life. Fingers crossed. Everything happens for a reason and although it is clichéd, everything will work out.

So in light of unsettling news, I do what I usually do: look for something to eat. Here's one of my favorites that accompanied me to the agility trials over the weekend. It's like an orange pound cake, very yummy. Sorry, no picture. It's um . . . well . . . orange.

1 pkg. orange cake mix
3.4 oz. box vanilla instant pudding mix
4 large eggs
8 oz. sour cream
1/3 C. oil

Preheat oven to 350. Grease/spray two 9x5x3 loaf pans. Combine ingredients in large mixer bowl and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool briefly in pans and turn onto wire racks to cool completely.

Freezes well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I need time off to pack

It's a good thing I don't have to groom dogs before this weekend's agility trials. I'm leaving in 24 hours and haven't packed a thing.

Not one single thing. Not one sock. Not one treat. Phoenix is very concerned.

Nothing. Nada. Zippo.

I've barely moved into R2 and this weekend will be the first official agility trial road trip of his career.

I'm woefully unprepared.

I'm usually a very organized person. I get things done ahead of time. I meet deadlines. I never leave things to the last minute. I was born this way. Seriously. I was the annoying kid in school who always turned in papers or projects on time. No wonder I ended up at a newspaper where days are defined by deadlines.

But I don't have a freaking clue what clothes to take for this weekend, let alone have them actually put in a bag along with dog food, bowls, extra shoes, a sheet for the bed at the motel, toys to keep Phoenix amused at the motel (his main toy, Jamie, is staying home), a book to keep me amused at the motel, medicine, bottled water, snacks, more snacks and 101 other things that are vital for an agility weekend.

It's that awkward time of year when it's not really cold but it's not really warm either. Looks like it's going to rain almost every day. The arena is basically unheated and it's often colder inside than it is outside. I'll be chilly sitting in the bleachers and sweaty when I come off the course. This means taking multiple layers to be shed and added at will.

I tried packing last weekend. That didn't work. The forecast changed. Then it changed again. I got tired of shuffling clothes from Pile A to Pile B and back again.

In the past, I would remedy this situation by taking enough stuff for every possible weather contingency: short sleeves, long sleeves, thermal sleeves, turtlenecks, wind pants, long underwear, jeans, vests, rain coat, parka, light jacket, fleece jacket, ear muffs, scarves, gloves, etc. This is the easiest answer.

But my theme for this year is downsizing and my goal is to pack what I realistically might need and quit taking everything dang thing I own when I travel. Makes hauling in and out of the motel and show site a lot easier. Besides, Michele is going to be at this trial so I feel confident if there's anything I need but forgot, she'll have it.

If not, there's always Wal-Mart.

Monday, March 14, 2011


My dogs need baths.

At least I feel like they do, simply because I know they haven't been bathed since last fall. Whether they are actually dirty is another matter.

They are probably dirty. It's springtime. There is mud everywhere. They run through it. They have to be dirty.

They don't look dirty.

They don't smell dirty.

They don't feel dirty.

If you ask them, they would fiercely deny being dirty.

They would tell you they had baths yesterday.

Then they would tell you they don't need no stinkin' baths.

Then Jamie would try to hide behind the couch and Phoenix would go jump in the tub because SOMEONE thought it would be cute to clicker train the puppy to jump in the bathtub. Now the puppy is 4 years old and obsessed with getting in the bathtub. Whether it's already occupied or not.

Ahem. But I digress.

The part of me that equates cleanliness with all being right with the world says it is almost springtime and thus time to bathe the dogs, especially with a gazillion shows coming up soon. Baths would make them run faster and score higher. Right?

But I'm not going to do it this week because Phoenix and I are headed for 3 days of agility in a dirt horse arena that is probably going to be surrounded by a mud swamp parking lot this weekend. It would be a waste of time to bathe him.

Jamie is staying home with the Farmer. No need to bathe a dog who is staying home, either.

See? Excuses. I'm good at it.

It's the dogs' fault. They are very good at not needing baths. Belgians, like many herding breeds, have wonderful fur that while not exactly self-cleaning, tends to shed mud, etc. as it dries.

Phoenix looks exactly the same after a bath as he did before, so bathing him for any sensory value is pretty much a waste of time. He's wonderfully low maintenance. Other than clipping nails (which are the approximate consistency of the rebar that the roads department puts down before pouring concrete) I spend embarassingly little time grooming him. It's awesome.

I spend all my free time vacuuming.

I vacuum so much, I had to take my vacuum to the repair shop this morning. It made horrible noises - like someone throwing marbles down a metal heating duct. No good could come of this. I made it clear to the vacuum repair dude that I needed it back ASAP. It was not to loiter in the backroom of his shop for several weeks while tumbleweeds of malin-fur drifted about my kitchen, clogging heat ducts and ending up in the butter.

Ahem. But I digress again.

Dog baths were simple when I had my Shelties. Shelties have white paws. If one does not bathe white-pawed dogs who live in a farm environment, they start to look grungy. So I bathed the Shelties regularly. There was never any question of whether they needed it, I just did it.

Then I got Jamie and began my descent into becoming a lazy groomer. Admittedly, giving Jamie a bath and blow dry is a wonderful sensory experience. He looks, smells and feels wonderful. It's very rewarding. But I can accomplish basically the same thing with a spray bottle and 30 minutes of line brushing. No cleanup required.

Bathing Phoenix is kind of a disappointment. His coat does not hold the scent of any shampoo I've tried. Within 12 hours, he is back to smelling very neutral. Nice, but neutral. Can't tell I've done a thing. So totally not worth the amount of time it takes to bath him: 15 minutes to bathe and rinse; 1 hour to clean up the mal fur that is stuck to all four walls of the bathroom and the ceiling, too.

The following weekend, I'm busy with a training group and a club activity.

The next 4 weekends after that I have trials and/or seminars and/or nationals.

So see, there is no time to bathe the dogs.

Nope, no time at all.

Weekends are too busy.

Nights after work are out of the question, too busy with classes and packing and getting ready to go to trials.

Maybe they can have a summertime bath. Yeah. That's it. A summertime bath will be fine.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fun with 2x4s

When I was shopping for an Equinox, the obvious question was, "Does it have enough room for the Belgians' crates?" As you can see, the back seats fold over but they don't fold flat, which really impacts cargo room. This could have been a deal breaker.

Our local Chevy dealer let me take an Equinox home to make sure my crates fit. In order for this to work, one crate would open out the driver's side back door and one would open out the hatch, so I needed a crate with a door on the end, like normal, and a side door crate. 

Of course I had both (remember my crate to dog ratio is 12:2).Yes, I could get 2 26" tall General Cage crates in one. But I couldn't get the door open on the one behind the driver's seat! See how the door frame slopes down? Crap!

So I went shopping on line and found a 25" tall metal crate made by Mid West Crates. Phoenix doesn't really need a 26" crate. He has an inch to spare and that inch made all the difference. Whew. (Now my crate to dog ratio is 13:2.)

When we bought R2, I told the Farmer I needed him to build me a crate-holder-upper thingy to level out Phoenix's crate and keep him from riding at a slant. I'm the first one to admit both Phoenix and I may be a half bubble off center at times but let's not encourage that sort of behavior.

The Farmer gave me The Look. He had no concept of what a crate-holder-upper thingy was, having never been asked to make one before. All my previous vehicles had back seats that either came out or politely folded flat.

While I was originally thinking of some kind of platform or shelf, it turned out that strategically placed 2x4s did the job. The first one balanced Phoenix's crate.

The second two balanced Jamie's crate. Yes, Jamie's crate could have just ridden flat in the back but that would have left a lot of wasted space between the two crates.

Then I hooked the crates together with these handy-dandy little metal attachy gadgets. (Yes, that's another highly technical term - attachy gadgets).

The hardest part of the whole construction process was finding clean 2x4s. We have a lot of scrap lumber around the place but the Farmer and I do not share the same definition of clean.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Inverness, 1945

That's how "Outlander" begins, launching a love story that spans 200 years, multiple continents, political intrigue, murder, mayhem, farming, war, sex, thugs, bizarre characters, do-it-yourself penicillin, settling the American colonies and what to do with an 18" sausage in a whorehouse (not what you might think).

If you've read this blog very long, you know I'm a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series. My Jamie is named after James "Jamie" Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser, one of the two main characters in the saga.

The books are huge and incredibly detailed but if you love Celtic lore, Scottish and American history and the concept of time travel, they are worth every single word. The amount of research Gabaldon puts into each one is staggering. I've learned about contraception in the 18th century, how to properly (and improperly) hang someone, how to use maggots to treat an infected wound and how to make whiskey. Apparently these were very useful skill sets to have in the 1700s.

It takes Gabaldon about 2-3 years to write a "Jamie and Claire book" and the next installment is rumored to be released in 2012. I've decided to re-read the whole series to be ready. These are definitely the sort of books you can read and re-read and pick up something new every time.

"Outlander" came out in 1991 and as I worked my way through the early editions of the series, I was content to wait for them to come out in paperback. By the time the last two books were released, I was past the point of waiting patiently and pre-ordered the hardbacks with as much anticipation as I had for the final segments of Harry Potter.

While each book works well enough as a stand alone story, to appreciate the full impact of the saga it's probably best to read them in order. Going back for the re-read has been fun, since I already know where it's going (I admit I've forgotten some parts) and it's fascinating to see Gabaldon's skillful foreshadowing. This woman's mind is amazing, I mean really, to have all this in her head and keep it organized and put it down on paper.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A very important question

Do you like your Peeps fresh or stale?

By stale, I mean do you open the package and let them sit in the cupboard for a couple of days until the marshmallow starts to get a little dry and chewy? Or do you like them all fresh and soft right out of the package?

I suppose another very important question might be do you even like Peeps to start with?

I'm an addict. And I like them stale. I have a package "processessing" in my kitchen cupboard as we speak.

I love this time of year.


Cadbury eggs.

Jelly beans.

Black jelly beans.

Brach's Chicks and Rabbits.

Chocolate covered marshmallow eggs.

What's not to like?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Introducing . . .

Will explain the name in just a minute.

He kinda looks like a baby Acadia.

No more solid black interior!
And it's leather!
With heated seats!
The Farmer and I went a little crazy.

Yes, that's the grungy floor mat/rug out of C3P0. I threw it in there because I needed a floor mat fast. There is mud as far as the eye can see around our place these days.

Okay, about the name/gender issue.

I never named my vehicles until we got the first mini van. We got the van because of Jamie. Jamie was named after the character in Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series. (Highly recommend reading them. Highly recommend reading them in order or you won't know WTF is going on. You might not anyway.)

So, it was Tammy's idea to name my van Claire, after Jamie's wife. After all, I got Claire because of Jamie.

It was all good.

When we got the next van, she was Claire II or C2.

When we got the Acadia, which was Claire III or C3, I couldn't help myself and started calling her C3PO. 3PO was a girl because technically, she was Claire III.

Now, in keeping with tradition, the Equinox should be C4 — but I absolutely refuse to drive something named after plastic explosive! So he is R2D2. And he's a he because the Claire theme has ended.

Will try to take some interior pics soon. Yes, I can fit two big-dog crates in the back but the Farmer is going to have to build a platform/shelf/crate-holder-upper thing first. I'm hoping he'll do that tonight.

And I am NOT putting all the crap I hauled out of 3PO back in. Seriously. Downsizing is my theme for the year.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Is there such a thing as the perfect vehicle for dog people?

Wait, let me amend that. Is there such a thing as the perfect vehicle for dog people who don't want to spend the big bucks having a Canine Traveler custom built? I suppose it all depends on how many dogs you have and how big they are.

My first dog vehicle as an adult was a Mustang hatchback. It was an awesome little car for one gal and one sheltie. I could fold the back seats down and put Jess's crate in. A set of 4-foot J&J Practijumps just fit. That Mustang got excellent mileage before I ever cared about mileage.

When the Farmer and I got married, we traded my Mustang for a GMC Jimmy. That was about the time I got Connor. The Jimmy was a great car for two shelties. Back then, I faintly remember actually having back seats that people could sit in.

Our next vehicle was a Chevy Blazer. It was my all-time absolute most favoritest vehicle ever. It was a powerhouse and would go through anything - snow, mud, sand, standing water, you name it. It was the car I had when the straight-line windstorm of 1998 hit the town where I worked and I had to drive on sidewalks and partially through people's lawns (sorry about that, really, I am) to get out of town that day because there were so many power poles, power lines, tree limbs and debris blocking the streets.

I would have driven it forever if it hadn't been for the arrival of Jamie. Yes, you CAN get crates for two shelties and a terv in a Blazer . . . but you can't get anything else in one. I began campaigning for a mini van.

The Farmer would rather have died than been seen driving a mini van so this was a slow and painful process. He was very good at avoiding the whole subject and found many different things that needed to be done immediately - usually at a distance from me - whenever I brought it up.

Finally, when we were headed to the 2001 National Obedience Invitational in St. Louis with Connor, I said to him, "We're going to be in the same car for the next 5 hours. We're going to talk about getting a mini van." Later that summer, we got a Chevy Venture, which was my second most favoritest vehicle ever. The back seats came out and didn't go back in until it was time to trade. It was the first of several seven- or eight-passenger vehicles that had room for two people.

Another Venture followed a number of years later. By then, the Farmer was resigned to being seen in a van. But he still had his Chevy Silverado pickup for a testosterone boost so I don't think he was suffering too much.

I loved my vans. They had tons of room and I used every inch of it. Forget packing light - I took everything I might ever need for trial weekends and more. The dogs and I camped in the vans, friends traveled with us and life was good. I lost Jess and gained Phoenix. Still had more room than I knew what to do with. I knew every possible crate configuration to accommodate crates, jumps, luggage, ring gates, coolers and camping gear.

Then the mini van era began to wane. Both GM and Ford discontinued their van lines. Cross-over utility vehicles began to grow in popularity. We got our GMC Acadia. I think the Farmer breathed a sigh of relief that he no longer went places with the wife in her mini van. The Acadia at least looked a little tougher, even though it wasn't.

Within 24 hours, when we pick up the Equinox, I'll be driving an SUV again. Can't wait!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Good-bye, C3PO

After two years, nine months, 71,000 miles, one rebuilt engine, two recalls (one for airbags, one for an engine thingy) and one suicidal deer, the Farmer and I are trading in our GMC Acadia, C3PO. We pick up our new Chevy Equinox on Tuesday.

I've had a love/hate relationship with 3PO. She was marketed as CUV, a cross-over utility vehicle, a blend of van and SUV as GM faded their mini van line. For me, she replaced C2, a Chevy Venture that I adored. On the surface, 3PO was a great vehicle: spacious, sharp to look at, smooth ride. She had room for both Belgians and Connor. She started every time, all the time, in the worst below zero weather.

But below that, she was high maintenance. It seemed like something was always wrong. Even when nothing was mechanically wrong, which it frequently was, she had a number of odd little quirks. And if anything needed to be replaced, it was never cheap. She was, as the body shop guy said after my deer accident, "spendy."

It was mostly the small stuff that left me wanted to switch to a different type of vehicle, even one with less room (but with lots of fun new options).

Sometimes I wonder if vehicle designers ever actually DRIVE the cars they create. 3PO has a lot of chrome trim on the dashboard. This sounds pretty and it is. But on bright sunny days, sunshine on that chrome was totally blinding to the driver. There were times in the summer when I would have happily thrown a blanket over the dash to cover it up. Unfortunately, that would have also covered the A/C vents, so I wore sunglasses and squinted a lot. Yeah, it was a cosmetic problem but one that made me crazy.

Then there were the blind spots. They might not have bothered me as much if I was 6 foot tall. But at 5 foot, 5 (on a good day) it seemed like no matter where I looked, I couldn't see where I was going. Why did I not notice this when I test drove an Acadia? Maybe because I never backed up. Whatever. Lesson learned.

In spite of her big tires, high clearance and front wheel drive, she did not handle snowy roads well. After slipping, spinning and swearing through three winters, I was on a mission to buy an AWD vehicle. I seriously think my mini vans handled the snow better than 3PO.

I won't even go into mileage. We spent a lot of time at the pump. A good average was 18-20 mpg, which takes a big chomp out a budget when you drive as much as I do.

We get attached to our cars on a very personal level. I think dog people have an even deeper attachment since our cars are more than just transportation. Sometimes we literally LIVE in them.

I've started "moving out" of 3PO and getting her cleaned out. Holy cow, how did I get so much stuff in there? It's like a clown car, the more stuff I pull out, the more stuff I find. It's time for me to seriously re-evaluate how much stuff I need to take with me all the time. Downsizing is a good thing! 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Furlough finished

My week off is over. Sigh. What a beautiful thing it was. Except for not getting paid, furloughs rock. 

I thought I'd have tons of time but I was busy every stinkin' minute. Caught up on lots of household chores (including replacing the telephone cord Phoenix ripped out of the wall while chasing a ball — long story — did I mention it was behind the headboard of our bed?), had some great training sessions, spent a day with my mom, tried some new recipes and went car shopping (stay tuned for more details).

Today, I capped off this lovely week with a three hour nap. Yes. A nap. I'm usually not a nap person. I talk about it a lot but I never do it. A nap is one of those elusive things that always seems to be just out of reach. But today it was cold, windy, raining and I was definitely a quart low after not sleeping well the previous night (no idea why, since I can usually sleep anywhere, anytime.) So after lunch I crashed and woke up three hours later. It was awesome. The dogs crashed with me. They thought the whole nap thing was an excellent idea.

This weekend, I'd originally planned to go to an agility trial at either St. Louis or near Chicago but when it came down to crunch time on making entries and committing to travel plans and motels with a friend, Jamie was still really sick and I wasn't sure where things were headed with him, so decided it might be wiser to stay home instead.

Tomorrow I'm going to the Nancy Reyes attention seminar at 4RK9s. Can't beat a day spent with dog friends and that club always serves the BEST food!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Beer bread

I  love trying new recipes. Our circulation manager brought beer bread to an office snack day recently. It was awesome. 

What's even more awesome is that it only has three ingredients.

Yep. Self-rising flour, beer and sugar. If you're inclined to drink one of the ingredients, you'll need more than one can of beer. 

Dump everything into a 
mixing bowl and stir it up. 
It looks seriously weird.

Then plop it in a greased loaf pan. None of this waiting around for it to rise and then having to smack it around and let it rise again. Nosiree. Just slap it in the plan and stick it in a 350 degree oven for an hour. I baked mine 1:05 cuz I didn't think the top had gotten brown enough. And next time I'll bake it in a smaller loaf pan so it rises more and has a little better shape.

And this is what you get. Not sure if that crack is supposed to be there or not. I know quick breads traditionally have a crack in the top and believe me, this is VERY quick bread.

After it cools a little, rub some butter all over it or else the crust is very, um, crusty. Like in, really hard. But if you give it a butter massage, well, you can imagine what YOU would feel like if someone gave you a butter massage.

Make no mistake, this is not light and fluffy bread. This is heavy duty he-man bread. The Farmer liked it. He even said so. Usually, if he likes something, he doesn't say so, he just eats 10 servings of it. But this time he SAID he liked it. And ate 10 servings.

3 C. self-rising flour
1 can warm beer (don't think it matters what kind)
4 T. sugar
dash of salt

Mix all together and pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until nicely browned. 

Turn out of pan and cool slightly. Rub with a stick of butter while still warm.