Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Love Thy Neighbor

The horrific events of Sandy Hook Elementary are understandably on all our minds.  From the moment I’ve woke in the morning until late, in the darkness of the night, I’ve wondered what has gone wrong with our nation, with our people, with our children.

I’ll tell you now that I have no answers.  I’m not going to end this with “all we have to do is….      Oh, but I wish it were that easy.   But I will tell you some of the things I have pondered when I wondered what has changed and where I have ended up with the things that have stayed the same.

I know that many of you will not like this, but I cannot blame guns.  Guns are no more readily available today than they were when I was a kid.  Or when my mom was a kid.  In fact, they are less available today.  When I went to school, many of the boys drove pickups when they were old enough, and most of those pickups had guns in the racks. On the school property.  And almost all of us passed a loaded shotgun on our way out the door on the way to school.  Yet there were no gun problems at my school, or the surrounding communities.  So if guns haven’t changed, what has?  The following is a list of things that I have thought of… certainly not exhaustive, and certainly not particularly politically correct or in any order.  But these are my thoughts, and I’m not trying to convince you that these things are responsible for this type of tragedy, only that these things are different from when we were kids.


1.       Boys were boys.  They got into fistfights on the playground and the teachers dusted them off and sent them back to class.  They learned when it was appropriate to use their fists, and when it wasn’t.  I wonder if boys today are a bottled up pressure of anger and hormones with no place to release until they hit 20 and then it blows.

2.      Violent TV, movies, and video games.  Sure, Matt Dillon shot guys, but it wasn’t hour after hour of gratuitous violence, and it wasn’t so realistic that it made you sick.  Have we made our kids numb to violence and killing?  Have they spent so many hours in front of make-believe that they have lost touch with reality?

3.      Mom stayed home.  I know that this will bring up a sore spot with many, but this is something that changed.  I wonder if we felt guilty leaving our kids to go to work, so we made up for it by buying them things and giving them stuff instead of time.

4.      Political correctness.  Today we take the kids that are different and pretend that they are not.  We used to put kids with behavior disorders in different classrooms and keep a closer eye on them. Today, we mainstream them, but we don’t fool the kids or their classmates and I wonder, do we just frustrate these kids by placing them alongside the other kids?  (again, I’m just saying this is different, not right or wrong)

5.      The media.  We are bombarded by media, and increasing amounts of emotional reporting, pictures, sounds- etc.  We are also a society very focused on celebrities.  Do some kids look for a ways to make it to the evening news?  To be a celebrity? 

6.      Suicide attacks.  This is something that was almost unheard of until fairly recently.  In fact, in our country (and most of the world), a person willing to die while committing a crime is almost impossible to stop.  A person willing to die could do damage and probably kill people in almost any neighborhood, any home, any business, or any school in our country.   And this is what made me start thinking about this problem from another side. 


So there are tens of thousands of schools in this country.  There are roughly 75 MILLION children in the US.  And while even one crime against one child is too many, the fact is that MOST of our children and most of our schools are safe.  In fact, the chances are probably extremely small that any of us would ever have any contact with a situation like this except through the media.


In my lifetime, I have been some pretty rough places.  At age 10-15, I used to walk about a mile from my grandmother’s through the woods, without a flashlight.  I remember hearing wild animals, and stepping off the path in the dark.  But I was never really afraid.  I drive through “bad” neighborhoods, I’ve driven alone across the country, I’ve traveled alone to countries that were at war, and I’ve been to countries where I didn’t speak the language- including ones that didn’t much care for women traveling alone.  But I was never really afraid.    Nevertheless, following last week’s tragedy, I began to consider for the first time, getting a concealed carry permit to carry a weapon.  Not that I’m really frightened, but I began to wonder if I needed to carry the protection of a gun, BECAUSE OF WHAT I’VE HEARD ON THE NEWS AND SEEN ON TV.  Not because of something I have experienced myself.   And if watching that on the news makes ME a little afraid, makes me a little apprehensive, makes me think about getting a gun, what does it do to someone who is already afraid? To someone who is mentally unstable?  To someone who is carrying years of anger? To someone who doesn’t know how to relate to other people?  What happens to the kid that never fit in?


So rather than getting a concealed carry, today I am making a commitment to love my neighbor.  I don’t know what pain that stranger is suffering, but perhaps if we show a little kindness, we show them an alternative reality.  A reality that doesn’t include violence, and killing, and TV cameras.  And though I will never know if it has made a difference, it certainly will never hurt.  


And THIS is something that has never changed.  Something that St. Francis knew long ago.


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Hand-Wash Nazi

I continue to be utterly shocked at the number of people that do not wash their hands after using the restroom.  And being the 'bold' person that I am, I never fail to say something when I see it happening.  One lady we see pretty regularly said "I have hand sanitizer at my crate" when I mentioned that she didn't wash.  "Well that's great for you, but you are putting your potty hands on the door handle as you leave and the rest of us have to touch it."  (actually, I used more vulgar language than potty hands... which really wasn't very nice of me so I won't repeat it verbatim).   She shrugged and left.
A few weeks ago we were at a trial that had both obedience and agility and the lady in the next stall had explosive diarrhea.  When she left without washing, and I 'reminded' her, she said "Oh, I can't wash my hands- I'm competing in Utility."*   I said "so you don't care if your articles are covered in bacteria?" and she said again, "I can't wash my hands..."  I think my last comment was"wow.. e coli... that should make for a zesty weekend!"  I could not help but think it was no wonder that she had diarrhea.
But at a recent show, someone mentioned that they were in the ladies room when they overheard someone say "I wouldn't normally wash my hands, but I got my butt chewed out the last time, so now I HAVE to"
I'm thinking that was me responsible for the butt chewing.  And at least one less pair of bacteria-riddled hands touching all the stuff at the show site.  You can high-five me later.  But first, make sure you wash your hands.

*Utility is the obedience event where the dog has to find the item that his handler touched.  Her excuse is that if she washes her hands, it will wash all the smell of 'her' off of her hands and she will not leave enough of her smell on the item for the dog to find it. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Positive Thinking

We've been pretty busy the last few weeks with trials and other stuff.  Okay 99.9% trials and a little other stuff. 
Ever since we saw Maggie's name in the top 5 for Invitationals*, we've gotten a little crazy.  There is another dog nipping at our heels (pardon the pun) and they bump us off the list every so often, and we get all crazy entering shows and cranking out the points.  We missed three weeks in a row in March and it ate me up thinking I was losing our foothold.  Then I get a momentary jolt back to reality and think... whatever... it isn't like we would really GO to Florida in December if we made it to Invitationals... right?  Wait, let me check the mileage... I'll be right back.

Hmmm... maybe we would after all.  Here is a map of where we've been for trials and the light blue is for planned trials.  Colorado is for USDAA Nationals in September, Wisconsin is the Border Collie Nationals in October.  And like I've learned in all the positive thinking seminars, I've colored in Florida, too.  Just in case.  It's not THAT far, right?

*The top 5 scoring dogs of every breed are invited to compete in the AKC Invitational tournament held in Florida each December.  The point tally is from July 1 to June 30.   It is quite prestigious to make it to the top 5 for any breed, but in the super-competitive world of Border Collies, it is pretty unbelievable.  Especially for a rescue dog and a handler with troll legs. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

AKC Nationals Envy

Several of our friends have made the journey to Reno this week to compete in the AKC Nationals. Though we qualified for Nationals in the first few months, I decided that the trip was just too far of a drive (1850 miles, each way). And while I still think that was the right decision, I cannot help but look with longing at the photos and stories our friends are posting. There is an energy level at Nationals that you just don't get at a regular trial.
Meanwhile, we have been having great weather, so we have started "unpacking" the dog's favorite toy- the swimming pool. Sure, it is still too cold for humans, but the dogs don't seem to care, so this weekend they should be back in swimming heaven.
And if I don't fill up the entire weekend with backyard projects, I hope to get my camera out and play with my new lens. I've only had a few opportunities to use it so far and have been very happy with the results.

Here are two photos of friend's dogs that I took at last weekend's agility trial- just point and shoot- no special setting or editing (except to compress the image size for the web). Overall, I'm pretty happy with it and can't wait to play more!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New toy

Many of you that know me know that I like to play with photography. Despite what many say, I am not a good photographer, I just take a LOT of photos and throw away the bad ones. : ) When I do take pictures, I much prefer natural light over flash- it feels softer and more natural, and you don't get nasty shadow or devil eyes. But unless there is a LOT of light around, your camera lens must stay open a long time to get the photo, and any amount of motion (of the subject or the camera) makes a mess of things. Unless of course, you have a fast lens.
So today I made the splurge and bought myself a good (not pro, but not beginner) fast lens and I am so excited to play with it. Fortunately, I have a whole pack of dogs that are used to me taking pictures of them and they play along.
So here, for you to see are my first two photos, no retouching with the new lens. I'm like a kid in a candy shop.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Crating Space

What is it about crating space that turns normal people into crazies? For the uninitiated, when you go to an agility trial, there is space set aside for "crating," meaning that this is where you set your dog crate, chair and other junk. At some trials, it can be very roomy and people bring tables for snacks, or chairs that recline. At others, crating is very tight and your dog's crate is butted up against the next... and sometimes the club members will "police" the crating space, moving stuff down to ensure that you have not wasted space.
But whether the crating is spacious or tight, every trial has a handful (or more) of people that get there way before the allotted time to get the "prime" crating space. Now granted, there are some people who need a space for a reason. If you have a reactive dog, you don't want to have to climb over everyone to get out. But for most of us, it DOESN'T REALLY MATTER. (ahhh, I can hear the rumbles of disdain as I say that). Nevertheless, there is tension, and anger, and anxiety over who sits where and how much space they are using and who is saving space for someone else. I swear, it feels like high school.
I wish that there were a better way... if someone knows a club that has a good way of dealing with crating space issues, I'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Neither wind nor rain...

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed ...

Agility show.

We went to Davenport Iowa this weekend (yes, in February- why would I be surprised at snow!) Anyway, it was bitterly cold with whipping winds and swirling snow. BUT, this was one of the best trials we have been to in a long time. What makes a good trial for us? Certainly running well helps, but there are a lot of more important features.
1) The facility. Quad City Dog Training Center (or something like that) is a really nice facility. Despite the cold and winds, the building was heated well with nice turf. The crating space was a little tight, but certainly not the worst we've seen. Though if you have a dog with issues, you might want to set up early to avoid a long walk through crowded aisles.
2) The equipment. Again, this facility was great. Some of the very best equipment we've ever used. Even the ring gating was nice.
3) No delays. There were plenty of volunteers and course changes happened in minutes. Plus, the club ran all Excellent before open and novice all three days, so we got our runs done and got out of the way.
4) Friendly. Very friendly group of people and we met a lot of new friends.
5) Other- From little things like a balcony to video tape from to wonderful catered breakfast and lunch... I just can't say enough nice about this venue.

I was a little lukewarm on our hotel choice (LaQuinta-Moline) because it had very little grass. But it was pretty inexpensive, so I can't really complain.

Anyway, as I type this, I'm thinking... perhaps we should all get together and create a website that rates agility venues and associated lodging... thoughts?

Monday, February 20, 2012

the face I love

While it is Maggie's tremendous bursts of speed, and her extraordinarily long strides that bring us the first place ribbons, it is this face, waiting for my command, that most touches my heart.
This weekend, Maggie earned her third agility champion title (MACH) and at times like this, I always like to take some time to think about her and why we do what we do. Clearly, she loves this sport, but even more than that, she loves to do what I ask of her. Sometimes I think about how much she trusts me and would take any jump I pointed at, or climb anything I asked her to without regard for her own safety. It is humbling to think how much she will do for me, and the responsibility that level of trust and devotion carries with it.
She is my first performance dog, my first rescue dog, and the dog that has made more impact on my life than any other.
Thank you Maggie, for changing my life.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What I believe about dog training...

I have been sitting through a beginning obedience class the last few weeks because there are several people I know that are in the class. As I watch the class and the one before it, there are some things that I've noticed that perhaps new or non-doggy people don't see or understand.
#1 You dog WANTS to understand what you are asking. Most dogs are born people-pleasers. You can bait them with treats and such, but most of them want to do stuff that makes you happy.
#2 People that can communicate to their dog when they are happy about what the dog is doing- without sounding fake- have greater success in training.
#3 Being absolutely consistant is absolutely essential. If you want to say "sit" four times before you dog sits, don't expect him to sit on the third time. Don't ask him to do something you can't enforce. Don't be fuzzy or wishy washy on criteria.
#4 Being inconsistant creates a dog that stops trying to please you. If he tries his best to understand and can't, he will quit. Can't blame him either.
#5 Everyone feels stupid when they begin. It is a lot to learn. But imagine how your dog feels... he has the same stuff to learn, but in a foreign language. Stick to it, it gets better.
#6 A trained, socialized dog is a happier dog and handler, and it is well worth the effort.
#7 You can't make a dog happy just by giving it treats. Teach him to walk on a lead and take him for a walk. Teach him to do a trick that makes an elderly person laugh. Teach him to stand still for a small hand to stroke him. Teach him to be your partner, not just an accessory, and you will both be better for the experience.
Okay, off my soapbox.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Alarm clock

I get up every day at 4:05. While that alone is crazy enough, that isn't the point of today's post.

I get up early because I like to have some time around the house and with the dogs before I go to work. Even on agility trial days, I get up at the same time... it gives the dogs time to digest their breakfast and take a long potty walk before they have to run. But on the rare occasion that I neither go to work or a trial, I don't set an alarm and look forward to sleeping in. Nevertheless, I have a "backup alarm" that always wakes me.

[wet nose] "Mom. It's 4:10. Your alarm didn't go off." [tail thump thump] "You need to wake up... it is 4:12" "Mommmmm..[insert whine and then lick here]. Like an alarm clock that gets louder, she gets increasingly annoying until I get up. So much for sleeping in. : (

I don't know how she does it, but she knows when it is 4:05. And don't say that my alarm clicks or something, because she even does it out of town or when there is no alarm around. She is a mystery.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Obedience vs Agility

I've been toying with the idea of training one of my dogs for the obedience ring. Probably Jake since his hips won't support an agility career and he deserves a chance to do something. But this weekend has really put a damper on that idea.
We are in Nashville at a show that have both agility and obedience. And the difference between the two is striking.
At the agility ring, people are laughing and talking. Someone leaves the ring after a particularly nice run and people clap with genuine happiness for them. "Good run!" "Wow, what a great front cross after [obstacle] six!" And for the people that didn't do so well "Sorry about the bar, but wow, was that a great run otherwise!" or, "dang him for popping those weaves... especially when you had such a good run going!" The participants (both human and canine) are having fun, visiting, laughing and cheering one another on. Sure, there is competition, but it isn't mean spirited.
But the last two days, I've passed through the obedience area, and it is like there is an evil spell around them. The people are stressed and no one was cheering others on. The tension level was palpable. All during the day as we walked from the agility ring or outdoors back to the crating area, people were practicing their obedience work in the middle of the aisles-all with very stern expressions. Even at the hotel, we were rudely interrupted by the sound of someone tossing their dumbell down the hallway at 6am to get ready for today's show. AND, it might be my imagination, but I think that there is WAY more poop than normal being left behind, and I'm blaming it all on the obedience people (even though I have no evidence to support that).
Anyway, these last few days have made me change my mind about obedience- I just don't have it in me. One of two things would happen... either I would start being rude back to all the cranky folks, OR, I would turn it into a big joke and say/do something entirely wacky.
Either way, it wouldn't be pretty.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Christmas in July

Due to everyone's busy schedule, our doggy-friends could not find a time for our Christmas party until last week. Then, when the day arrived, we were snowed and iced-out. So when the day finally arrived (last night) it seemed like Christmas had been months ago. Nevertheless, we kicked up our feet and partied like it was... Christmas! And no one knows us like our doggy friends- almost every gift was dog oriented, or was something we could use at a trial or trip to a trial.

One of the more popular gifts at my house was the Rabbit flavored treats. I know how popular rabbit is with my guys, and here was a whole bag of it that did not require catching, nor did it have hair! I'm sure Jake was marveling at the wonder as he scarfed them down.

Another item that I was particularly taken with was this pin:
It is handmade and (though you can't tell from my photo) it is dimensional. If you are interested, I tracked down the artist and she has a page on Etsy http://www.etsy.com/shop/jamieguevarra?ref=top_trail I guess they are pretty much one-of-a-kind, so if you see something you like, grab it while you can!
Anyway, I had so much fun with this group of friends, it reminds me that we should not wait for a special occasion to get together. Especially in winter we seem to get more housebound....Do yourself a favor... call a group of your friends and meet somewhere for dinner, or lunch... or something. But don't wait. You could be missing out on a whole lot of fun!

Monday, January 16, 2012

We're back...

This weekend, we attended our first AKC agility trial since Thanksgiving. It was in Chicago, and it was snowing, bitterly cold, and way too far to go for a 2 day trial. But like a junky without their 'fix', Maggie and I made the drive and broke our winter hiatus. The courses were not difficult, but had some unusual twists and turns which was a welcome change.
The trial was also attended by an AKC rep who shared some changes we should expect to see with AKC agility in the coming months. First, the new, shorter length chute is in effect... wow, do dogs pop out of that baby quickly. Next, beginning in July, AKC will be providing awards based on the number of Qs in a single event (taking away the all-or-nothing stigma associated with the double Q). Every 25 Q's in Exc B will be an additional "title"... bronze, silver, gold, and (I think) century (?) for 100 Exc B Qs. This was interesting to me, because I am one of those people that will leave on Sunday if the first run is an NQ- in the past, there has been no real reason to stay for a second run once the double Q is unattainable.
As a side note, it appears that there are still a few people very upset about the removal of the "multiplier" in AKC.* By removing the multiplier, there is more emphasis on consistancy and less on raw speed. And in my opinion, it was, for the most part, a good decision to get rid of it, as some people were pushing their dogs to the point that it was unsafe, just to take first place and get that multiplier. And besides, in many areas, the competition is so stiff that only a fraction of a second separates the top three dogs in a height class. Anyway, the point is that I am always in shock when people get so emotional about stuff like this and get rude- which at least one person did at this trial when the subject came up.
Finally, (and I have almost NO information about this) the AKC is discussing the addition of more new games besides the Time2Beat. The rep said that she knew of 2 that were being discussed- one that will be for the higher level dogs and another that will be open to everyone (like Time2Beat). Aside from that, she didn't share any information.
Meanwhile, our first weekend back was okay- Maggie ran great, I tried some new moves we have been training, which we are clearly not ready for, so we lost 2 Qs unneccesarily... but hey, it isn't about the Qs... it is about being out competing with my best friend.

*Previously, the AKC would 'multiply' your time points by 2 if you took first place, and 1.5 for second place. This was abolished in 2011.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Favorite Cup

It is funny how we get a special attachment to some things and they carry emotions far beyond what their physical presence would inspire. I'm that way with this cup.

I bought it at Herrod's department store in London, on the way home from a deployment. I had just spent months living and working in a tent and sleeping on a cot, so the fragile, graceful design and the gold accents seemed just the thing I needed. I don't remember what it cost... it was foreign money and I had not been able to shop for three months, so I didn't really care- though I doubt that it was expensive.

But it isn't the history of this cup that makes it my favorite. It is the thin bone china and the gold on the cup that really affects how I feel.

Because the china is so very thin, coffee does not stay warm for very long. And because there is so much gold, the cup cannot go in the microwave- so it never goes to the car with me, or sits on the counter while I am doing some task. Therefore, I only use this cup on days when I'm staying home and have a fresh pot of coffee brewed, that I intend to sit down and savor.

Today is one of those days. No work, no agility, just me and a hot pot of freshly ground Starbucks coffee. And my favorite cup. Ahhhhhh.....