Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Agility Quilt

wow.  Has it really been almost a year since I've made a post?  Perhaps I should delete my Facebook account and get back to my blog.  Much more fun, right?  Anyway....

the quilt.


     The other day I stumbled across a quilt I had made in High School, which was tucked into the back of the basement cedar closet.  As I looked at the stitches, patches, and blocks, I was thinking about how much doing agility is like making that quilt.
      The first time you try it, you will likely use the supplies you have on hand, just to give it a go.  And at first you will struggle with even the simple pieces, trying and trying again.  You generally have no plans, and no picture in your mind of where you are going. It is just for fun, right? And if you are lucky, you will have an expert to help show you the way to success and make you want to continue.  But even then, you struggle.  Some will quit; you will persevere. 
      Before long, the pieces begin going together and soon you have a block, and then two; patterns emerge and you will marvel at how far you’ve come.  Sometimes a mistake in the early days will mar your quilt. Some will rip out the seams and go back to the beginning to make corrections.  Fixing things like start line stays or contacts. Others will continue on, knowing that their quilt will never be perfect, but taking joy from the fact that they are still building a quilt and seeing where they have improved.  And no one can tell you what is right and what is wrong… this is YOUR quilt after all!
      From the beginning, many of us dream of a special block or two.  Something that shows how hard you have worked and what you have achieved.  And whether that block is a MACH, a NAC, a world-team tryout, or even if there is no special block, it matters not.  Because just one block does not make a quilt. The quilt is no less warm, no less useful, no less loved without a special block.
      It is our greatest hope, though, that we can finish this quilt.  That our teammate will be at our side throughout, and until the day we put in the last stitch and say “it is done.”  Sadly, too many will be interrupted and the quilt will go unfinished, with the raw edges of the quilt and  the raw edges of our hearts, serving as a constant reminder of what ‘could have been’.
      But despite the challenges, the mistakes, the rips, the repairs, and the unfinished blocks that go into our agility quilts, in the end we are always a winner.  We end with a beautiful patchwork of love and memories, of trials, of challenges, of triumphs, and of course, in the end, heartache.
      But we hold that lovely quilt against our hearts, and we use it to dry our tears and the stitches that hold the patches seem to bind our wounds, and the warmth lays upon our being.  And it gives us the strength...to begin again. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A gift from my mom


My mom is 89 years old.

For the past 10 years, her memory has slowly deteriorated until she had to move into a nursing home. Physically, she is still very fit, but her short term memory is completely nonfunctional, and over time she has lost other memories as well.  The really bad part is that she lost it so slowly that we didn't take the time to capture the things she knew... like her favorite recipes, or stories of times before we were born. By the time we realized that it wasn't just a mistake or a bad day, poof... the memories were gone.

Today she was at my house and we talked about her German potato salad. A staple at every picnic, family gathering, or trip to the river bank (alongside hot dogs), everyone loved her potato salad and she would make massive batches so that everyone could take home a bowl. About five years ago when I knew that her memory was failing, I tried to get her to give me the recipe, but she got angry that she couldn't remember and the whole day was a dismal failure. But for some reason, today was different.

Today I got out most of the ingredients that I knew were included and just acted like I was merely giving her a hand. Before you know it, she was slicing and dicing and measuring... and much to my suprise, with no difficulty or indecision, the potato salad was complete.

I have mixed emotions about this... I'm happy to have this memory with my mom, and I'm glad to have the recipe. But why now? And what strange quirk is it that she can now remember how to make potato salad, but still can't remember that her own mother passed away 20 years ago? Despite that, it was good to see her hands once again acting like the determined and strong hands that I remember. The time robbed her of that so slowly, that I had forgotten how capable she was and  how quickly she could move- slicing, peeling, and throwing it all together.

            So here… for all of you… especially those of you that take the time to send her cards and letters, here is a gift from my mom-the thing that is most precious to her these days-a memory:
 


Virginia’s German Potato Salad:

3 lbs small red potatoes.  Boiled in their “jackets” peeled and sliced when cold

4 hardboiled eggs

1 lb bacon, diced and fried crisp

dice:

                1/2 green pepper

                1/2 red pepper

                1 bunch green onions

                (add celery too if you want but "It's just filler, I really hate that shit")

 mix these is a very large bowl with room to stir without breaking the potatoes

Meanwhile, heat in a skillet:

1/4 cup of bacon drippings

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/2 teas celery seed

salt/pepper to taste                      

 
poor warm dressing over potatoes.  Will seem too wet at first, but potatoes will soak it up.  If  it seems dry, make a little more dressing. 


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dogs and Heat. It's that time again.

As the temperature began warming up at the dog show, I once again saw all the people dragging out the fans for their crates.  And once again I become frustrated about this situation and want to lecture everyone on fans, dogs, and physics.  So I will take out my frustration on you.   I'll start with the physics.

First fact.  Fans do not cool.  What fans do is create a “wind chill”  By blowing air around, the fan makes it easier for water to evaporate into the air, carrying energy with it.  On people, the moving air evaporates sweat, and eliminates body heat.  The more evaporation, the cooler you feel. 

Second fact.  Unlike people, dogs do not really sweat.  They cool themselves through panting, blowing air across their wet tongue which evaporates moisture into the air, carrying energy with it.  However, there is little to no moisture on the rest of their body to cause heat loss due to blowing air.

1 + 2=hot dog.  Unlike people, blowing air across a dry dog does almost nothing to cool it off.  If you want to cool your dog off, you have to either wet the dogs fur (to create evaporation which will remove energy/heat) or, you have to place something cooler against them (like a chill blanket or ice pack).  Simply blowing the same temperature air across the dog does not have the same cooling effect that it does on a person.

Teeny tiny disclaimers.  There is a very small amount of heat that will be lost through convection alone if the air is cooler than the dog’s body temperature, and the air is blowing on their skin (not fur). However, this is so small, it is almost not worth mentioning.   Also, if the dog is in an enclosed area, like a crate that is completely covered, and their own body heat raises the temperature inside above the air temperature outside, then there is some benefit to moving the outside air into the inside.  But still, this is not cooling the dog.
If you want to test the concept, try this.  Get out a clean dry towel.  Feel the temperature of the towel against your hands/face.  Now twirl that towel above your head for 20 seconds and feel it again.  The temperature should be about the same.  Now take the towel and get it wet with room temperature water.  Wring it out good and then do the twirl.  Compare the temperature of the wet towel before and after.  It will have cooled significantly.  This is how a fan cools you (you're the wet towel) and doesn't cool your dog (he's the dry towel).
But there is a very easy solution to cool your dog-turn him into a wet towel!  When you turn on your fan, add a source of moisture to your dog.  You can mist him with a squirt bottle, or wipe him down with a wet towel.  If it is super hot, wet down his entire body.  There are even fans available that have a source of moisture built in.  Just remember, that the fan alone does not cool him!

 

Monday, June 17, 2013

God Bless the Old Dogs

Chris and Madison listen to Madison's
story before she takes the first jump
on her 'Glory run'
We had the pleasure of an agility trial in Paducah KY this past weekend.  And I really do mean pleasure.  Some agility trials are just about your runs, but the Paducah club puts on such a nice event that it almost feels like a family reunion.  They are always nice and you constantly hear club members say things like "do you need some help bringing in your crates?"  and "we are so glad you could come."   Just little things, but it is the little things that cause us to FedEx our entries to ensure that we get into this trial every time.
This weekend they held a fund raiser for Canine Cancer called a "Glory Run."  Retired agility dogs had a chance to run a course and hear the cheers of the crowd once again.  Some were recently retired, and some were long retired and were a little unsteady on their feet. 
The handler could choose their jump height
McMatt’s Hidden Treasure
AKC/ASCA UD RN MX MXJ MJP
RS-E JS-E GS-O and certified therapy dog
with Champ assistance dogs
age: 13
 from on-the-ground on up.  They got to select a song that they felt matched their partnership, and an announcer read a bio on the dog while they waited at the start line.  We heard about accomplishments, about partnerships, about love.  When the music started and the run began, we saw heart.  Almost every one of these dogs, even those long retired, came to life in the ring.  Though the jumps were set very low, they kicked their feet up like young dogs.  They raced through the tunnel like they did in the days of old.  And when they finished the last jump, they met their teammate for the ritual petting and leash-up.   While some had more difficulty than others, they all clearly enjoyed being a part of the excitement again, and we all cheered extra loud, just in case they had trouble hearing.  And through the cloudy eyes, you could still see the dog in his/her prime-the strength, the joy, the heart.  God Bless the old dogs for what they teach us.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Agility Second Chances

Despite an entirely injury-free career, Maggie came up lame the Sunday before we left for Nationals.  She ran well on her first run of the day, but when I got her out for the second run, she was short-striding her left rear.  I hoped that it was a one-time thing, like a leg cramp, and I pulled her from the second run and gave her lots of rest that week.  We made the drive to Tulsa and I ran her on the warm up run where she ran very nice.  But on the long walk back to her crate, it began again.  Maggie was pulled from the rest of Nationals, and I held her and cried, thinking that I had hurt her, asking her to run. But also selfishly feeling sorry for myself that we were missing an opportunity.
Assuming that she was a victim of the oh-so-insideous iliopsoas injury, we made an appointment at the University of Missouri as soon as we returned home.  Fearing the worst, I tried to think of what Maggie and I would do with ourselves if her agility career were over.  But our worst fears were not realized when Dr. Cook told us that it was not an iliopsoas injury, but rather her back.   He sent us home with directions for 2 months of exercises and core conditioning, and a lecture about keeping her fit. (I had given her over two months of 'time off' over the winter- thinking that was a good thing).
Our first time on the line was nerve wracking.  I put her down to 20" preferred thinking it would be easier on her, but it just made her run faster, and slide more, so, uh, not good.  Nevertheless, she ran well and had no signs of pain or soreness.
We just finished our third trial back at our 24" full height, and she seems back to her game. I, on the other hand, am more out of shape than ever, and even my timing seems to be out of whack, but she saves me more often than not.
But the whole point of this post is that we got a second chance to run again.  Something I only hoped for back in March.  It has changed the way that we walk to the line and changed the way I feel about the results. A younger, very fast dog and handler took most of the blue ribbons this weekend and left us with mostly second place finishes.  A year ago, I would have been disappointed.  But now, I'm just glad to get out and back with a sound dog.  Don't get me wrong- when the day comes that Maggie is slowing down to the point that she is falling out of the placements entirely, then I will know that she is not feeling well and it will be time to find a new sport.  But until then, we are taking this second chance as far as we can and making a special effort to appreciate every trip to the start line.  Because all of us- even those with the youngest and fittest dogs- all of us have days that are numbered and you never know when that last run will be. 
So take a moment the next time you are out with your dog to savor the 'now' and forgive yourself in advance for the disappointment you will feel when they cannot participate in your favorite activities anymore.  And make them a promise that as much as they are giving you today, that you will give them this much back in their golden years.  For the time for all of us- even those lucky enough to get second chances- is much too short.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Top 5 Things I've Learned from Rescue Dogs


#1.   Really good things sometimes come in stinky packages.  Thursday night I picked up a puppy from a pound out in the country.  The kennels were so smelly that I gagged walking in.  The little pup came flying to the door of the kennel trying to get to me, but he was covered in dried urine and feces and smelled much like the kennel.  He jumped and jumped for me to pick him up, but he was SO gross.  And I wondered to myself, “how will I be able to give him the hands-on love that he needs?  Will I ever forget this smell?”   Several baths later, he was sitting on my lap and getting the petting and attention that he needs and deserves- and it has transformed us both.  He no longer carries the “stinky dog” with him.   And it makes me wonder… who in my life have I met or do I know that seems too ‘stinky’ for me to love? How many people in my life have I passed by without getting to know them because they seemed unlovable to me.  And how would our lives be transformed if we had loved them anyway?
 
#2.  Leave your hurts behind before they become part of you.   Most of the dogs we rescue come with history- bad history.  At the worst end, some have been abused,  but almost all have been neglected in some way.  And almost all of them can forget about this history and move on.  When I got Jake, he was about a year old and had lived a rough life.  Apparently he had been penned or chained in too small of an area to allow him to build muscles, plus he had been shot with a pellet gun and has dozens of pellets lodged in his body to this day.  But rather than hold this against humans, Jake has put it all behind him and you would never know of his prior abuse.  Gentle and sweet… Jake will let kids pull on him and let all the foster pups that come through our house bite and pester him for hours.   Now I’m not saying all formerly abused dogs will do this… and that is the point.  Jake chose to leave that part of his life behind him and doesn’t let it define who he is today.   So I wonder, what old hurts do I carry and let define me?  How much more joy could I let into my life, if I let go of the past?
 
#3.  There may be great and wonderful opportunities out there for you if you will let go of your safety net.   Because I am the main caregiver for the rescue dogs, some of them really attach themselves to me.  They want to be near me all the time and won’t go where I don’t go. And even though Jake and Maggie would be happy to take them on exciting journeys-exploring to the far reaches of our yard, sometimes the pups won’t go because they are afraid to leave me.  What things do I hold onto for safety, without even realizing it?  What would I be able to do and accomplish if I could let go?

 #4.  It’s going to hurt- do it anyway.  A lot of people ask me  “how can you do that? Doesn’t it hurt to let them go?   Yes, it hurts.  It hurts bad.  It hurts every time.  But that hurt gets healed when I get pictures of them with their new families and when I hear about the good life they have now and it heals when the adoptive families remind me that I had a part in making their lives (and their dog’s life) better.  I’ve done it enough to know that each time I pick up a dog,  the pain is coming, but I’ve learned that the pain will be replaced by something better.  So why can’t I transfer this to other parts of my life?  Places where I have a short-term discomfort which will be replaced by a longer term advantage… how can I transfer that knowledge? 

 #5.  There are a lot of good people in the world who will bend over backwards to help if you will let them.  I am always amazed at the people that will arrive to help a dog in need. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is that is needed, someone, (or some group of someones) will rise to the occasion.  Frequently we see a dog in need in one state and a foster home all the way across the country.  Teams of volunteers will get together to move that dog- 100 miles at a time- across the country to save their life.  Complete strangers have contributed to help get a dog a needed surgery or expensive medical treatment.  People rearrange their home and their lives to take in, not only a single foster dog, but entire litters of puppies.  And I don’t ever recall anyone being asked, someone simply communicates the need, and someone, somewhere, steps up.   It is something that we should all try to remember, especially after listening to the horrible things we see and read in the news.  Those are the anomalies- the world is filled with REALLY GOOD people.  People just like you and me.  So go out today and do some good- it makes you happy.    Me? I have to go play with that puppy before he’s gone.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Elderly parents...

For those of you that know me, you know that my mom recently moved to a nursing home.  While she is physically very fit for 89, her short term memory is completely gone. So every moment is filled with the same questions and stories over, and over. 
This week I saw this post on Facebook and it seems like it was written to me.  I wanted to capture it somewhere so that I remember to read it often, and I wondered if maybe someone else out there could benefit as well, so here it is:

My dear girl, the day you see I'm getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I'm going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don't interrupt to say: "You said the same thing a minute ago"... Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep.


When I don't want to take a bath, don't be mad and don't embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl?

When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don't look at me that way ... remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life's issues every day... the day you see I'm getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I'm going through.

If I occasionally lose track of what we're talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can't, don't be nervous, impatient or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you.

And when my old, tired legs don't let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don't feel sad... just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I'll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I've always had for you, I just want to say, I love you ... my darling daughter.