Friday, December 20, 2019

Adventures in adulting

The Gypsy has been remiss in posting. I know they say if you want something done, give it to a busy person but this autumn truly got away from me. Harvest season was a nightmare, work was insane, Banner and I were showing a lot and I launched into a serious manuscript re-write after a thorough and thought-provoking critique of my novel. During all of this, the Gypsy sat around, tapping her toe impatiently and making rude remarks about priorities and writer's discipline while I ignored her blog.

But now she’s back with a rollicking tale of high adventure she cleverly wanted to title “How to Barf on the Shoulder of Interstate 80 and Live to Tell About It.” I made her shorten that.

This happened about a month ago. It’s taken me that long to find any shred of humor in the situation. 

Like so many things in my life – good or bad - it started at a dog show. I doubt it had anything to do with the dog show but I’ll never know. I could have contracted the Horrible Virus of Doom before I ever went to the dog show. I could have picked it up at the motel that weekend, from a restaurant server or off the handle of a gas pump. I’d like to think I’m a tidy hand-washer but one cannot expect to escape all manner of germs and this one got its teeth in me and wouldn't let go.

It had been years since I threw up.


Seriously. As an adult, that’s one of the odd things you remember. The last time you cried. The last time you threw up. The last time you got out of bed in the morning without something hurting for no good reason.

But there I was, in the bathroom at the show site, heaving my guts out and thinking, this club has an excellent cleaning crew. If I had to barf in a toilet that was not in my own house, at least it was a spotless one.

As is so often the case, I felt marvelous afterward. Simply fantastic. Wondrous. I blamed a bad breakfast biscuit for the digestive derailment and was willing to let bygones be bygones. My poor tormented stomach had found peace and all was good with the world.

Until it wasn’t.

After loading up for the 1 ½ hour drive home, I made it exactly 15 minutes before That Feeling started to creep up on me again. You know That Feeling. It’s accompanied by frantic denial. I am not going to barf. I am NOT going to barf. Oh, sweet mother of God, I’m going to barf.

I was still within the city limits and wheeled into a gas station with bathrooms conveniently located close enough to the door I didn’t have to run the length of the store with my hand clamped over my mouth. Thank God the women’s was not in use although at that point, I would have commandeered the men’s room without hesitation.

Again, a few minutes of intense upheaval brought up the remaining dregs of everything I’d eaten that day, which after the breakfast biscuit, had been nothing. Surely, this would remedy the problem. There was nothing left in my gut to escape.

Oh, the dearly deluded . . .

I hopped in my car, got on Interstate 80 and made it about 30 minutes before That Feeling returned. There was no convenience store in sight. There was no exit in sight. A sign cheerfully promised me the next exit was in two miles. I wasn’t going to make it two miles. I wasn’t going to make it a hundred yards.

There is nothing like the feeling of volcanic doom rising in your stomach to make you capable of things you never imagined. I went from 75 mph to 0, all while managing to signal my intent to exit the traveled portion of the roadway, watch my mirrors, hit my emergency flashers and calculate my trajectory if something went horribly wrong and I ended up in the ditch. I was doing all this single handedly because my other hand was over my mouth because. Oh. Dear. God. I was NOT going to barf in my car.

It was Sunday afternoon - did I mention there was a shit ton of traffic? For a horrible moment I thought I was going to have to crawl across the console and tumble out of the passenger door. A break in traffic allowed me to bolt out the driver's door and around the front of my car, where I clung to the fender and barfed. And barfed. And barfed.

Miraculously, my stomach found yet more food to reject. While contemplating this phenomenon, I was intensely grateful for Iowa’s “pull over” law, which requires motorists to pull into the left lane if any motor vehicle is on the shoulder. Since it was Sunday afternoon and everyone in the United States was traveling on Interstate 80, that wasn’t always possible. Did you know how hard a Chevy Traverse rocks when an 18-wheeler flies by six feet away at interstate speed? I threw up again, just for good measure.

After a calculated race to get back into my car, I headed down the road again, foolishly thinking what’s done was done and it would be smooth sailing the rest of the way home.

It was.

Between stops to vomit.

My sincere and heartfelt apologies to anyone at the truck stop at an exit in Poweshiek County who may have looked out the window to see me hugging the trash can by the door. By then I was heaving up stuff I’d eaten three days ago. I genuinely intended to make it into the restroom inside but that was not to be. I’m glad I didn’t try because when I went inside to wash my hands and rinse my mouth, the women’s restroom was so cleverly concealed, if I’d tried to find it earlier, there would have been an unfortunate incident in the aisle by the jumper cables and motor oil.

The Horrible Virus of Doom wasn’t done with me yet. I stopped again at a rest area, whipped into the first available parking spot and repeated a scenario I was becoming all too familiar with. Dear God in Heaven, when was this going to stop?

Apparently not any time soon.

I managed to drive the entire length of the rest area parking lot before having to stop again. This was truly the highlight of what turned into a two-hour trip home. I was pretty sure I was throwing up my toenails by that point.

It took one more demonstration of 75 mph to 0 in six seconds driving skills on I-80 before I got home. By then, death was looking like a viable and practical option.

I parked the car, took Banner inside and the rest of the evening is a blur. I spent most of it in the bathroom.

I’m not sure how many calories you burn while dry-heaving into the toilet and praying for Jesus to take you home but apparently it’s a lot. I lost five pounds in three days and before you tell me it was just water weight, it wasn’t. It stayed off.

The second day of the Horrible Virus of Doom, I advanced to drinking water in tiny sips in spite of a raging thirst. The Farmer told me “You’ll feel better if you eat something.” I appreciated his concern but was not convinced. He was insistent. I ate a cracker. Singular. One cracker. I did not feel one bit better. I was cold. I ached like I had indeed, been hit by a truck.

The third day, I advanced to 7-Up, the universal cure-all for all things gastric. I ate three crackers.  Death receded into the background.

On the fourth day, my missing appetite came raging back with gusto. My mid-section felt like I’d done about 5,000 sit-ups. Consultation with the Medical School of Google and a number of on-line friends confirmed I had a raging case of norovirus.

The damn stuff is highly contagious and after my recovery, I spent the next 72 hours in a state of sheer terror, hoping The Farmer didn’t contract this dread disease. By some stroke of luck, he didn’t.

May your holidays be merry and bright and remember, wash your hands, bleach your bathrooms and to all, a good night.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Wonky fur: the struggle is real

The joy of working from home is that I can, within reason, say to hell with it and go do something else from time to time during the day. I still have to return to the workload that accumulates regardless of whether I'm at my desk from 9 to 5 or not. It's not like anyone else is going to do it for me. That would imply I have co-workers. Ha-ha. I remember having them . . . years ago . . .

Anyway, today's to hell with it moment happened when I checked the weather forecast and realized the next 36 hours may be positively liquified, followed by seasonal (i.e., chilly) weather to follow. While I'm delighted at the prospect of October feeling like October, not August, this is a Bad Thing on several levels, one of them being it interferes with my need to bathe Banner for a weekend show.

Folks who show Dobermans or Boxers or any other sleekit (yes, that's a word, look it up) breeds don't have to survey the calendar, consult the weather forecast, check the stage of the moon and invoke the Goddess when it's time to bathe their dogs. They don't have to deal with Wonky Fur.

People with furry breeds are nodding their heads sagely. All you Aussie and Sheltie and Terv folks, can I get an amen? Wonky Fur is real.

Remember that time you washed your hair and went to bed with it wet? Remember how you looked the next morning? Like half of your skull had been detached and reattached backward?

I'm talking about the canine equivalent. Once shampooed, rinsed and blown dry, dog fur is no less susceptible to bizarre flights of fancy. It does things that will not put the dog wearing it at any advantage in the show ring, be it breed or obedience.

Banner's post-bath fur sticks up in tufts and whorls. He looks a bit like a hungover possum for the first 24 hours after his bath. He also gets the Dreaded Back Part which creates an optical illusion that will have every obedience judge on the planet squinting and twisting their head while they try to decide if the front is actually straight in spite of the crooked line zig-zagging down his back. I do not want to make the judge think. Ever. About anything.

I suppose if I approached the blow-drying portion of his grooming with a bit more finesse, this could possibly be avoided right off the bat. But I don't. I tend to dry his hair with the same approach I use on my own.

Turn the dryer on.

Blast the hair until it's dry.

Turn the dryer off.

This yields better results on the human head. And probably explains a lot if you've seen my hair lately.

After 24 hours and some astute attention with a spray bottle and slicker, his Dreaded Back Part will be vanquished and all will be well.

If you're into dogs, you know an entire industry has sprung up around defeating Wonky Fur. There are coats and creams and sprays and grooming tools, all designed to flatten the fluff. Well, not flatten it totally, just tame it into acceptable lines. I'm fortunate a bit of time is all Banner needs to get his fur behaving.

But for my entire life with fluffy dogs, standard operating procedure has dictated no dog bathing the night before a show unless there's been an unfortunate digestive incident or an encounter involving a skunk. Don't laugh unless you've been there. You're all laughing. You've all been there. I knew it. Amen, sister.

So this afternoon I hung the hypothetical "Back Later" sign on my office door and gave Bann a bath.

Damn dog is waterproof.

Do you know how much spraying it takes just to get him wet to the skin? The degree of water repellancy (that's a word, too, even though this program refuses to like it no matter how I spell it) is fascinating. And annoying. I spend more time trying to get him soaked, then rinsed, that actually shampooing him.

He's the most wonderfully tolerant beast when it comes to baths. I wouldn't say he likes it but I think he's willing to trade in-the-tub cooperation for being allowed to get the post-bath bat-shit crazy zoomies.

Canine nuttery after being toweled off is nothing new but Banner takes it to new heights. He face plants on the bathroom rug, sticks his butt in the air and gyrates like a stripper five minutes before closing time.

I've discovered this is his go-to behavior, regardless of what part of him has been bathed. If I wash his paws? Face plant and butt wiggle. If I wash his butt and undercarriage? Face plant and butt wiggle.

That degree of cuteness is probably illegal in 17 states.

From the bathroom, it's outdoors to the grooming table. After the requisite blasting with the dryer, it's time for paw scissoring. In addition to being waterproof, Banner's second super power is growing paw hair. We haven't shown for three weeks and apparently he spent the whole time growing foot fur Sasquatch would be proud of. Either that or he knows something about the coming winter that I don't.

My guideline for trimming paws and ears is basic: showing this weekend? Start grooming last weekend.

That allows for errant scissor marks to grow out, which I am assured is a much bigger deal in the breed ring than on the obedience mats. Still, I've had my share of WTF scissoring moments when I realize my professional trim job looks instead like I'd perpetrated it in the dark with a pair of garden shears.

So, it's now late Tuesday afternoon. My clean, dry, wildly fluffy, precisely scissored (yeah, I'm going with that) dog is curled up on the chair in my office, napping, while I watch radar and wonder how I'm going to keep him anything resembing clean for the next three days.

Get a dog with white paws, they said. It'll be fun, they said.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Of ink and ribbons

I went to a writers’ conference last weekend and wouldn’t you know, you can draw a lot of parallels between training a dog and writing a book.

Several of the speakers noted the first book you write may be the easiest because at that point, you don’t have any idea what you’re doing. You’re doing it for fun and have no idea what to expect.

Once you’ve managed to publish, every successive book becomes more difficult to write because you understand not only the demands of your audience but also the expectations of the people who are going to help you build those second, third, etc. books into a success.

Compare and contrast that with dog training.

I wouldn’t say I didn’t know what I was doing when I earned my first OTCh. but I’d never earned one before and hadn’t even set out with that goal in mind. Connor (industrial-sized sheltie) was fun to train and show and that’s what we did. I can honestly say Conn had all his wins and probably more than half his points before I realized, holy crap, I think I can make this happen. (One of the most vivid memories of the day he finished was plunking quarters into a pay phone on the show grounds to call home and share the news. Yeah. It was THAT long ago.)

Since then, the following OTChs. have been incrementally more difficult. Jamie wasn’t the smooth sailing I expected. Phoenix, who brought everything to the table in terms of physical ability and mental drives, was the hardest dog I’ve ever trained. Banner’s career, to date, has been a slow and careful exploration of things I think I know and things I still need to learn. It’s a fluid experience.

And so it is with writing, the conference presenters confirmed. It’s not just writing. It’s any craft. Dog training. Equestrian sports. You name it and the people who have risen to the highest echelons of success will tell you, the better you get at something, the more you realize how little you know about it and how much you need to improve.

A presenter at an obedience seminar years ago mentioned the stages trainers go through. I believe they were as follows:

The Unconscious Incompetent: is awful but doesn’t know it.

 The Conscious Incompetent: is awful and knows it.

The Conscious Competent: has achieved mastery but has to think about her actions constantly in order to maintain competency.

The Unconscious Competent: has achieved mastery and no longer has to think about what she’s doing because the skill has become automatic and natural.

Occasionally I find myself in the latter category, usually when a student asks, “How do you get your dog to do that?” and I struggle to explain because it’s just something we DO without any conscious thought process on my behalf. It's a heady feeling to realize I understand a concept to the extent it has become ingrained in my psyche.

More often, however, I vacillate between the second and third levels. This applies to both dog training and writing, with frequent descents into the first level and - much less frequent - rises to the fourth.

Another parallel between dogs and writing is time. Both take an inordinately stupid amount of time to produce a finished product of merit. 

When I announced I was starting to shop my completed manuscript to agents, someone jokingly asked if it would be available by Christmas. (At least I think she was joking.) Yes. Yes it will. But not this Christmas. And possibly not next Christmas, either. 

Speed and the book publishing industry do not go hand it hand, skipping through the daisies. When compared to the world of newspapers, where news cycles peak and vanish in a manner of days, it’s like stepping off a roller coaster and onto a covered wagon. We’ll get there when we get there.

I’ve decided publishing a book is like bringing your young dog out in Novice and someone asking how soon he’ll have his OTCh. This engenders many WTF looks and acceptance of many hours of work ahead.

Writing and training are labors of love. Much of the work is done alone. The initial attempts may blunder and falter but progress is achieved over time. Get professional help as needed. Don’t be afraid to start over. Listen to people who’ve done what you’re trying to do. Hang on to your vision.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Of ghosts and literary agents

Earlier this month, I took a huge step toward the realization of a long-sought dream.

It felt like stepping off a cliff into nothingness. No safety net. No surety of anything but the fact I'd finally done it.

I started sending queries to literary agents to find representation for my completed manuscript.

In other words, I’m looking for a professional who can sell The Book.

That’s what I’ve been calling it. Definitely upper case. The Book is an entity that practically occupies a seat at the table at our house. The Farmer calls it That Book. As in, "Aren't you done writing That Book yet?" or "When are you going to publish That Book?"

Many questions. Few answers.

The Book has occupied more of my waking (and sleeping) thoughts for the last few years than is probably healthy.

The Book is the paper and ink equivalent of a living, breathing dream.

I’ve always been a story teller. I was the weird kid in elementary school who wrote stories and read them to the class. My teachers humored me. They probably wondered what was wrong with me. I grew up and kept writing stories, only now they're called weekly newspaper columns. There's still probably something wrong with me.

We didn’t have a television at our house until I was in junior high. My parents weren’t against television – they just never bothered to get one.

So I read. I read a lot. I read anything I could get my hands on. And I dreamed that maybe someday I would write a book that others could read and find as much enjoyment as I did when I discovered a new title by a favorite author.

There were a lot of false starts, timid forays and retreats when confronted with too much white space and a defiantly blinking cursor on the screen. About five years ago (which oddly coincided with Banner’s arrival in my life, although I don’t think there’s a connection) I decided it was time to get serious about writing The Book. This was the same time the wheels started to fall off the newspaper industry. The bolts had been loose before but now the wheels were careening off with regularity. I had some vague notion of writing a best seller to escape from the drudgery of watching co-workers being eliminated, then having their workload land on my desk. I've achieved this, to a degree. Like fishing and catching, there's a great deal of difference between writing and publishing.

It was rough going at first.

It’s one thing to have a twisty plot, fascinatingly developed characters, edgy dialogue and heart-stopping action scenes in your head.

But open up a blank Word document, poise your fingers over the keys and what comes out sounds something like, “The ghost said boo.”

I kept at it. I had no idea what it took to write a novel. The best thing about being a newbie wannabe author is that since I had no idea if I was doing things wrong or right, I just charged ahead with little concern for literary convention.

I explored some other writing venues. I stumbled by pure accident into a group of wonderful writers who shared a common interest (obsession would be a better word) and I started writing and sharing with them. The subject had nothing to do with my dreams for The Book. It was pure escapism entertainment and I discovered I really liked writing that wasn’t school board stories or features about women who knitted scarves for trees. Writing became recreational, a hobby of sorts, which unlike my other hobbies, cost absolutely nothing except mental frustration.

I’d love to say the more I wrote, the better I got, but I’m not sure that’s true. I juggled multiple writing projects at once. I shared some with an online community of like-minded writers. I tried out a couple of different genres.

I developed a lot of writing habits, some good, some just plain odd. I wrote almost every day. Maybe for twenty minutes. Maybe for two hours. I carried a notebook with me everywhere because there was no telling when inspiration would appear. I occasionally got out of bed in the middle of the night to write down a bit of clever dialogue or plot twist when I woke with it running through my mind. There was no guarantee my scribbles would make sense in the morning but even cryptic notes are better than nothing.

I wrote the kind of book I want to read. The main genre is mystery. The sub-genre is a paranormal mystery. Yes, there is a ghost. No, it does not say boo. It does say a few other things. There’s a protagonist who feels like the universe is having a grand joke at her expense when her house blows up on the same day her divorce is finalized. She has a dog. Yes, it’s a Belgian Malinois. No, it’s not Phoenix. Although Phoenix was certainly a source of inspiration. There's a wonderful old farmstead, an assortment of eccentric friends, a tall, dark and intriguing neighbor and The Evil Villain. 

It’s set in Iowa. It's the first of a series. Yes, I know I haven't sold the first book yet. It never hurts to dream. And the second book is written, in any case.

Are you in it? Do you know me? Well, then there’s a substantial possibility that there is a character in The Book that might have been crafted to reflect just the tiniest bit of you. Don't lose sleep over it. Ha-ha.

So when can you read it?

Don’t rush to Barnes and Noble yet.

This agent-querying process is a painstaking, gut-wrenching, soul-baring marathon. Seriously, writing The Book was easier. I spent most of my spare time in July and August writing a query letter (Dear Ms. Literary Agent, here is why you should represent my brilliantly crafted book!) with help from a mentor through the Mystery Writers of America.

I also slogged through a synopsis (possibly the most hateful document in the world of publishing), a writer’s bio (surviving 30-plus years in print journalism hasn’t been for nothing) and a pitch.

I’m feeling a bit spiteful about the pitch. I spent days crafting it, reading it aloud and timing verbal delivery on my phone. Only one of 12 agents even requested it and that one had the audacity to request it in one sentence.

I know why Hemingway drank.

Now I wait.

If you just happen to be besties with a literary agent who represents paranormal mysteries, is looking for new clients and likes coaching first-time authors, please refer me to him/her and I’ll be eternally in your debt.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Tip your steward, we'll be here all weekend

Random thoughts from a day spent stewarding Utility - noticing the good, the bad and the adorable article bags.

What’s the first jump height? 24? Got it. The jumps are set. No. Wait. Someone moved? Now it’s 18? Okay, on it. No. Wait. Someone else moved? We’re back to 24? Fine.

This is a super cute article bag.

I do not need another article bag.

I can’t find the gloves. Oh. They’re hidden away in a top secret pocket.

Next jump height is 18, right? No? Still 24? What happened to the 18 who moved up? Oh. She moved down. 

The ring sheet is starting to look like a road map with lots of squiggly arrows. There are only 15 dogs in the class and it seems like every one of them has a conflict.

This bar jump is a pain in the butt to set.

Hey, another cool article bag. Wonder where she got it?

What is wrong with this bar jump? Seriously, did someone throw it off a truck?

Neat gloves. They’ve have sparkly cuffs and embroidery. Maybe Banner needs bling-y gloves. Phoenix could never have anything this nice. They would have gotten shredded.

Whoa. These are teeny tiny little gloves.

Gloves, gloves, gloves, gloves. My life is gloves.

Give me a hammer and stand back. I'm going to fix this jump for once and for all.

Seriously whoa. These gloves need washed. Like last year. Are they supposed to be stiff?

Other end of the spectrum: some exhibitors are a little OCD about their articles and gloves. I think if they could bring them to the ring in a hermetically sealed bag, they would.

We’ve gone from 24 inches to 20 inches back to 24 inches down to 16 inches and back up to 18 inches. Yeah, how's that jump height order working out?

How many dogs do we have left?

Shouldn’t have asked.

Thank you, Miss PITA Exhibitor, for the condescending lecture on how to take articles out of a bag with tongs. Wow, you sure know how to make a steward feel appreciated.

I probably should have apologized for that WTF look. I didn't.

Another super cute bag made with adorable fabric. Article bags are an art form these days.

Waiting for a dog and handler to set up so I can drop the first glove. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. This is Utility. Why is walking into the ring and setting up so hard? I really want to know - I'm not any better at it.

Some gloves fall with a solid clunk.

Others float to the ground like leaves.

I’m standing here, being the invisible steward after dropping the gloves and it’s been at least a minute since I heard the handler say, “Take it.” Now the exhibitor is laughing. The judge is laughing. The dog is laughing. And the gloves are not at all where I put them.

Gah! Another set of crusty gloves. They have chunks of mud on them! 

OMG, am I becoming one of those OCD handlers who wants everything perfectly clean? Pretty soon I'll be lecturing stewards on how to take articles out of my bag.

No. No, I won't.

This bar jump is a complete pain in the ass. I don’t think this superintendent has bought new obedience jumps since 1978.

Holy cow. These gloves look like welder’s mitts. At least they’re clean.

“Are you ready?” is not supposed to be a rhetorical question.

Oh look! A vintage wooden article box, the kind with the sliding pegboard closure and dumbbell handle on top. You don’t see those any more.

This bag has all kinds of pockets and pouches. I feel like I’m searching someone’s purse to find the gloves.

Put the gloves out. Pick the gloves up. Reset the jump. Put the gloves out. Pick up the gloves up. Reset the jump. Wonder how many steps I’m getting in today?

Sometimes the judge says, “Exercise finished” with more enthusiasm than others.

Always good when exhibitors smile and thank us when they leave the ring. It's a warm fuzzy feeling that's even better than the free lunch.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Keeping Homestead weird

Gryffindor the cat is obsessed with Banner. He was previously obsessed with Phoenix. I don't know if it took him this long to figure out Phoenix is gone (seriously, he's not the brightest thing) but in the last month, Banner has become the object of his affection. 

Talk about no concept of personal space. I think Banner's tolerance is due more to his refusal to move from his spot atop the patio table than any genuine affection but he puts up with Gryffin's antics with good grace and lets him nibble, lick, knead and snuggle, usually without bothering to actually acknowledge him.

dinna move. i steps over.
Srsly? Havin’ me a napper.
i comes to say hi. hi.

i lurves you.
You weird. If I ignores, you go ‘way?

lurves you this muches.
Dude! Why you all up in my whiskers?
gives nibble. you likes. yes. likes much.

Pft! Gittin’ cat fuzzes in my snooter. Stop!
won’t. luuuurves you. 

Git off my face, you furry freak show!
i gives kitty nibbles. you likes.
Can I bite? Mom says no bite. Doin’ me a frustrate.

i has dog! my dog! snuggle the fluffs.
Bro, stop it. There's no excuse for you.

we makes fine looks. paparazzis love us.
I looks fine. You looks mental.

i not going away. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

This is your brain on obedience

I saw a cool post on Facebook this week about how playing piano engages different parts of your body and brain. Of course, I immediately began translating it into dog training. I’m sure it could be applied to riding a horse, shooting a bow and arrow, painting a picture or any of a hundred other skills but it was fun to think of the ways it can be applied to working a dog.

Obedience (or any other kind) of training allows us to use our bodies and experience our senses in a variety of wonderful ways. I’m sure this is just a partial list.

Eyes: widening in delight as your dog approaches at warp speed, then your pupils dilating in terror as 65 pound Fido shows no sign of slowing for a front, meaning he is either going to knock you on your ass (see, you’ve engaged another body part already) or leave bruises that will linger for weeks, necessitating a lengthy conversation when your doctor asks, “Do you feel safe in your home?” Your eyes are frantically telling your legs to get out of the way while your brain is delusionally convinced you can still do enough damage control to salvage the front.

Ears: It is a well-known fact dog trainers have hearing that rivals their dogs’, while at the time managing to be stone deaf. The same trainer who can hear a dog vomiting three rooms away at 2 a.m. can’t hear a damn thing her instructor tells her in class. No. Wait. I’ve been informed she DID hear me, she just didn’t think it applied to her. Well, at least she heard me.

Hands: Hands are the most valuable tools you use in training. As a result, they will cause 98 percent of your problems by being in the wrong place. Top tier trainers have mastered the art of hand zen. The rest of us wonder why the appendages at the ends of our arms are fluttering around like birds on crack. By extension, elbows are never quite where they belong either. 

Hands generally need to go somewhere and stay there but that’s a constant battle and generates so much brain conflict it’s a wonder any of us are still sane. Hands are also useful for writing cryptic notes upon, such as the order of the Command Discrimination.

Keeping time: A friend and obedience mentor told me a long time ago to keep a silent “one-two” count in my head while heeling to keep my pace steady. She had no idea what she was dealing with, since my brain is a poster child for “one-two-one-two-SQUIRREL!” or “one-two-one-two-three-oh-look-we’re-waltzing!”

Fingers: You should begin and end each training session with 10. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong and need to find another hobby, although minor bleeding is allowed. In the meantime, fingers generally make dandy treat holders. When delivering treats, fingers should remain in the desired position you are trying to reward. This takes more concentration than the non-dog-training public might imagine. Fingers are in cahoots with hands and do not always stay in the correct place. During heeling, fingers and hands on one’s left side should behave themselves (i.e., if you don't stop waving them around, your instructor is going to get out the duct tape) while the same digits on the handler’s right side often engage in all kinds of reflexive twitching. 

Spatial ability: I’m pretty sure we’re talking about dumbbell throwing here and gauging the sweet spot where the dumbbell won't bounce into another zip code. Also, the ability to judge the required 15 feet for the Command Discrimination when you’re the 22nd dog in a 24 dog class and the judge’s chalk marks disappeared sometime before lunch. 

Strong spatial ability allows you to judge a go-out that 20 feet past the jumps while getting your turn and sit command uttered before the dog crashes the gate. People with good spatial ability (also called “eyeballing it”) are often driven to distraction when training with people who pull out a tape measure and insist on setting up the ring right down to the last inch. If you train long enough, your spacial ability will develop to the point where you can set up your dog's broad jump without measuring and be within one-quarter inch accuracy.

Artistic interpretation: By now most of us have seen the video of the boxer in the BN ring who flies in on the recall, then does a series of whirligigs at the handler's side instead of sitting. Yeah. That’s artistic interpretation. Many instructors have decided to write it off as artistic interpretation when their students’ dogs exhibit some bizarre behavior and they proudly tell you, “I taught it just like you said.”

Proprioception: This is a fancy word for being able to walk backward without falling down. Dog trainers usually execute this exercise when working fronts. It's relatively safe as only a few backwards steps are required. There is a method of teaching heeling where the handler walks briskly backward while the dog trots in front, then the handler pivots into position and off they go. I tend to avoid that method as I would like to live a little longer. Also, I do not wear a helmet when I train.

Two feet: One is left. One is right. You learned it in kindergarten. Seriously. Feet generally need to go in the same direction but not necessarily at the same time. Your dog has four feet and does a better job of managing them than you do with only half the number so quit complaining.

Touch: Your dog’s fur. The weave of your favorite braided leash. The cold metal of a scent article. The slimy bit of hot dog. The crusty fuzz of a favorite toy. The “OMG what is this?” treat that got left in your training vest after the last session. The minute you realize your finger is stuck in the ring gate someone is trying to fold.

This list could go on. I haven't covered the skill of having eyes in the back of your head or the mental game of getting home from a training session with the same amount of gear you set out with.

Monday, August 5, 2019

'The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning'

 With apologies to Margareta Magnusson, I have not read the book. 

Perhaps some of you have. I like the premise – decluttering your house so when you die, your loved ones’ job of sorting through your belongings is not more monumentally stressful than it needs to be.

I’d like to think I’m managing to do this without formal instruction. Not that I plan to expire any time soon, I just hate living with clutter. I find it physically and mentally draining to be surrounded by stuff that serves no useful purpose. I am a thrower-outer. The Farmer jokes if he hasn't used something in the last 15 minutes, I'll probably throw it out. He may have a point.

Over the last few years, I’ve done a couple of major house purges that have seen loads of stuff hauled to charity, garage sales, re-sale shops and the burn pile. I’m getting better at both eliminating old stuff and acquiring less new stuff in the first place.

The Farmer and I have been married for nearly 30 years and we’ve lived in the same home from day one. Stuff accumulates at a staggering rate. Every item in every drawer, cupboard and closet must have seemed like a good idea at the time one of us put it there.

It's useful. 

It’s valuable. 

We might need it some day. 

One problem with de-cluttering a house is that it’s really hard to give your stuff to anyone else because they're all trying to give away THEIR stuff. I think as a nation, more and more people are realizing we have too much stuff. The Marie Kondo trend of pitching anything that doesn’t bring you joy is popular right now. 

Relatives keep offering me things like furniture and other household furnishings. While I’m flattered they think we look like newlyweds with barely a toaster to our names, I don’t need more stuff. 

“You don’t want Great Aunt Sadie’s wedding china?” they say in hurt tones, as if my refusal has wounded them grievously.

Um. No. I don’t even use OUR wedding china. I don’t need six more boxes of it. Sorry, Aunt Sadie, please don’t come back to haunt me. Some people find comfort in having things just for the sake of having them, whether they use them or not. That's fine for them but it doesn't work for me.

One of the problems is we don’t have kids. (Actually that isn’t a problem, as far as I’m concerned but that’s another post entirely.) While many couples look forward to gifting their children the family heirlooms, when the Farmer and I take off for the big harvest in the sky, the task of dealing with our worldly possessions is going to fall to nieces and nephews.

The idea of someone sorting through all our stuff is enough to prod me into de-cluttering with enthusiasm. Sometimes I sort through a drawer and wonder, “Why the f*ck am I keeping this?” I’m sure the next generation to encounter it will see it as confirmation their aunt was batshit crazy. 

I’m off work this week, which is usually more work than going to work. But it fills me with a wickedly delicious sense of knowing someone else has to do my job so all the pre-vacation scrambling and post-vacation chaos is worth every minute.

One of the things I’m doing is a house purge. I’ve done them before and each one is has become successively easier. With less stuff in the cupboards and closets, it takes less time to sort through it. I’m getting rid of less and less each time, too, because what remains are the things I truly use and/or value. Since I’m the odd sort of person who likes having space more than she likes filling that space up with things, having storage that isn’t crammed to the gills is becoming a pleasant habit.

The first house purge happened about 20 years into our marriage. My father had died and the Farmer’s father had died and both of our mothers’ automatic response was, “Here – we want you to have his clothes.”

(I guess they both forgot we only have one closet on the first floor of our turn-of-the-century house. People back then didn’t have to worry about doing house purges because they didn’t even have enough stuff to need closets in the first place.)

Aside from a few pieces of outerwear, none of it really fit anyway but I understood where our mothers were coming from emotionally, so we took the clothes and shut up. And I started cleaning.

I sorted and pitched and tossed and downsized. I adopted the mindset of “If we were moving, would this item be worth packing up and hauling to a new house, then finding somewhere to put it?”

The answer was a frequent and resounding NO. 

I’m not a minimalist. I like my kitchen gadgets as much as the next girl. I like clothes and boots and books and houseplants and pictures and all the creature comforts. I'm sentimental. I have all my dogs' ribbons. I have my 4-H record book from 1984. I have my maternal grandmother's Depression glass and a vintage quilt hand-pieced by my paternal grandmother.

I also like to see the top of the dining room table at other times besides Christmas and I like my kitchen countertops to be a clear work area. Counter tops, like closets, are a rare commodity in this old house. I think this is a blessing in its own odd way because I’m not tempted to keep lots of useless stuff just because there’s room for it. There isn't. And if it's constantly falling on my head when I open a cupboard, I'm going to throw it out from pure annoyance.

I’d like to think if and when the Farmer and I ever move to a different house, every single item we carry through the door will be useful and necessary. It probably won’t be but it’s a worthy goal.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Dog handlers don't do math

This title of this post may be deceptive.

We do math.

We just don't do it well.

I've made it seven months into the year without offending Jack Onofrio. This is some kind of record and I figure my days are numbered.

Yes, I realize the man himself has passed on to the great down-and-back in the sky but his organization lives on to frustrate dog handlers in perpetuity.

I have been known from time to time to perform fuzzy math when calculating entry fees, which inevitably results in a snippy notice from Onofrio Dog Shows informing me I have failed to pay the appropriate amount and as a result (insert loud crashing chords of organ music here) my armband will be withheld and I will be required to do the march of shame (or, more likely, the desperate run) to the superintendent's table approximately two miles as the crow flies from the obedience rings before the show starts to hand over the requisite amount so I will be allowed to play that day's reindeer games.

Privately, I think every time this has happened it's been a sign from A Higher Power that we shouldn't have entered in the first place and Someone was trying to prevent the inevitable train wreck from occurring, but I haven't tracked those stats closely enough to prove it.

Good grief. I'm not trying to swindle the IRS. I'm trying to make heads and tails of a dog show premium list. There's a reason I went into writing for a living and if you've ever tried to figure out the fee schedule for a five-day cluster show involving multiple host clubs who could barely agree on a date and show site, let alone entry fees, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

My monetary offenses are minimal. I am an obedience handler showing one dog, not a steely-eyed breed ring professional in a power suit with a chunk of liver clamped between her teeth and a pin brush tucked in her armband hauling a string of dogs around on a circuit.

One dog, two classes per trial - Open and Utility. How hard can that be?

I just figured out Banner's dance card for late August and early September. In three consecutive weekends, we have the opportunity to enter 11 trials.

No. I didn't do it. How stupid do I look? (Rhetorical question. Don't answer that. Seriously. Shut up.)

I entered six. This involves five different clubs at three different sites with two separate show secretaries. One is the corporate entity whose services most larger kennel clubs use. The other one is a sensible, privately secretary'd affair that knows what they're doing and is on a first name basis with half the exhibitors.

I agonized over the entry fees. I used a calculator. I added and re-added. First entry of the first dog = $X. Second entry of the same dog in the same trial = $X. Times three because I'm showing three days, right? No. Wait. Club A has different fees than Club B. Club C's entries the following weekend are an entirely different matter because I'm entering non-regular classes there. Isn't there a break for the non-regulars? No? WTH. There used to be a break. Okay. No break. I'll stop whining. So this plus that times two carry the one, add the decimal point, it's the dark of the moon, Mercury is in retrograde, throw salt over my left shoulder and so mote it be.

These are the kinds of math story problems I should have been given as a kid. By now it's probably obvious I wouldn't be any better at them than those stupid trains that left different stations at different times and different speeds but it would have been a lot more fun.

If Sally enters Dog A in Novice B and Dog B in Utility A, each as a first entry at regular price at Friday's trial, then enters both dogs in the same classes at Saturday's trial hosted by a different club, then adds a second non-regular class entry for Dog A at Friday's trial, and enters Dog B only in the same classes at Sunday's trial, oopsies, different host club again, how much will this weekend's entertainment cost?

Probably a good chunk of change because Sally is going to be so frantic in the week before the trial trying to settle up with the superintendent she won't have time to train her dogs and they will be miserably unprepared. Sally should have stayed home and enjoyed an adult beverage. It would have been better for her blood pressure and her bank account.

I figure I'm doing good if I get all the i's dotted and t's crossed on the entry form. I have an AKC entry form set up as a fillable PDF on my computer so all I have to do is change the hosting club and date and print it out. Since Bann and I are relegated to Open B and Utility B for the rest of our born days, there's not much variation on theme.

Once I get the thing printed, all I have to do is check the box next to his AKC number (which my computer obstinately refuses to do), fill in the amount of the entry fees enclosed (pick a number, any number, it's probably not right anyway) and sign my name. Then I can write the check, pop it in the mail and spend the next month wondering if I'm actually entered because this superintendent is not well known for sending entry confirmations any time earlier than 72 hours before the show, if at all.

However, I've discovered if you don't send them enough money, they correspond much more quickly, confirming you are entered even if you are not in their good graces.

My last offense was to the tune of $1. I received a large window envelope with several sheets of printed paper detailing my fiscal offenses via first class postage. I owed them $1. I figure it probably cost them $1.50 to tell me that.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mayhem, mowing and men

The Gypsy has been slacking and apologizes for not posting last week. Life got in the way.

The last few weeks have involved, in no particular order of work/life balance (I figure if I’m still alive and vertical, I must be somewhat balanced): five Fourth of July celebrations; a county fair; a kennel club picnic; a family reunion; another county fair; sleeping on my right arm inappropriately and rendering it useless for about 48 hours (don’t laugh – just wait until you hit middle age); Aussie spa day (Banner was dismayed I put the clean on him); the discovery I can pack for a show weekend in less than 30 minutes (looking back, I wouldn’t recommend it);

Also, Banner’s 9th UDX leg; Tuesday Taco Summit (very important business luncheon and meeting of the minds with former co-workers); another kennel club event; a fun-filled afternoon with the IRS disputing agricultural exemption for heavy road use tax (the IRS erred in OUR favor, yay, I should go buy a lottery ticket); Mother Nature trying to find out at what temperature human beings will spontaneously combust; challenging the record for how many showers I could take in one day (the record stands at 4); another freakin’ county fair and finding time to train Banner in spite of it being hotter than the surface of the sun (neither humans nor Aussies combust at 5:30 a.m., in case you were wondering).

Everything in the above paragraph wrapped itself into a work-not work-home-travel-deadline stressball that had me going six different directions at once and wondering why I didn’t just get a nice relaxing job like defusing bombs in Afghanistan while being shot at by insurgents.

Plus I’m juggling a few on-going writing projects that are bringing in zero dollars but need to be a high priority in spite of their current lackluster financial state, a manuscript proofing project for a friend and damn it – who the $#@! keeps throwing all their dirty clothes in the basement?
Yeah. It's been kinda like this.
Did I mention the printer broke? And the pipe under the kitchen sink did its own special little thing where it comes unhooked and water goes everywhere? And Banner pulled one of his “I’m going to throw up everything I ate since last Thanksgiving” episodes for no apparent reason except that he could.

So there you go. That pretty much covers July in a nutshell. August is going to be much calmer. Probably because I’ll be sitting in a corner, drinking.

But you know what? Those damned ring gates I pounded into the ground last month are still standing. I had to rush outside in a panicked state last week when I saw my husband headed toward them with the lawn mower, though. He waved me off, thinking I’d come to move them, and yelled, “Don’t worry, I’ll mow around them.” I was waving back like I’d just run through a dozen spider webs, yelling, “Look out for the wire!”

He immediately stopped, looked at the mower’s tires, yelled, “They’re fine!” and took off again.

Of course he couldn’t see the strip of woven wire laying atop the grass to block the left side of the center stanchion to keep Banner from swinging wide on the go out. It was green. It’s green for a purpose – so Bann can’t see it either.

For the exactly three of you who have met my husband (he does exist), you may or may not know he views mowing the lawn as a NASCAR-like event during which he attempts to top his own personal best time each week. Given that we have about five acres of lawn to mow, it’s commendable he doesn’t dawdle but holy crap weasel, the man does not see mowing as a relaxing pastime. 

We’ve had so much rain earlier this summer, mowing the grass was a matter of preventing jungle growth and he’s got it down to a calculated science. The mowing, the mower and the lawn are his domain. I do not mow any more. Do not go there. Just don’t.

Enough said.
Having said that, the man has one speed when it comes to mowing: forward. It would be appropriate to insert a comment involving the damning of torpedoes here but I don’t think even that could do it justice.

Really. There are no words.
But I digress. There he was, barreling straight toward something guaranteed to wrap itself around the mower's blade assembly and result in the end of a relatively happy nearly 30-year marriage and the first murder Iowa County has seen in a good 10 years.

I sprinted across the lawn and snatched up the offending wire only moments before disaster struck. As he sped by, I was the recipient of a WTF look that would have dropped a lesser person in their tracks.

Sigh. Marriage. The struggle is real.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The other end of the leash

(Editor’s note: Against my better judgment, I’m letting Banner write this week’s post. He’s remarkably well spoken, although I’m a little chagrined to hear some of my own favorite expressions tossed back in my face.)

By Banner MacGregor

Seriously? On top of everything else I do around here, now I have to write a Thing. As if being the Executive Officer in Charge of Butt Wiggles and Master Sergeant of Alarm Barking wasn’t enough of a full-time gig. Being a Writer’s dog but doesn’t make me a Writer any more than dropping a cat in a stock tank makes it a fish. Not that I’d ever do that.

I’ve managed to wedge this writing Thing in between napping, eating stuff I’m not supposed to and barking at Things that aren’t there. If you want something done, give it to a herding dog. We can prioritize the hell out of a busy day. Maybe it will give Her more time for us to do The Things.

You know what I’m talking about, right? The Obedience Things? She says a lot of dogs don’t ever get to do them, that no one cares enough to teach them. Can you imagine that? The Things are like, life, man. There’s stuff every dog should know and then there’s stuff only special dogs are taught to do. Like we’re the elite canine special forces. I got your Tier One Operator right here, sweetheart.

Sometimes there’s food for doing The Things and sometimes there isn’t. I wanna know who the hell’s idea that was. No food? YOU work for free? Didn’t think so.

I love doing The Things with Her even when there isn’t any food (shhh, NEVER let the Humans know that - it's Item #7 in the Dog's Code) but ya wanna know what confuses me about the whole deal? I spend a lot of time picking up after Her. I mean, I thought this was a team sport and She loses shit like you wouldn’t believe. It’s always, “Banner, get it!” and “Banner, find it!” and then I have to go racing around, fetching stuff up She’s managed to lose AGAIN. It happens ALL the time. Some days I don’t know how She manages to get out of the house with both shoes on.

I’m gonna put that dumbbell on a rope and tie it to Her wrist. The minute She gets hold of it, she throws it away. One minute She’s holding it like it’s a Pulitzer Prize, next minute, yahoo, there it goes, sailing off into the wild blue yonder and ya know who’s gonna have to go get the thing no matter where it lands.

Same with those gloves. Three gloves. It’s always three gloves. She doesn’t have three hands. She doesn’t need three gloves. Maybe there’s a spare in case She loses one? That doesn’t make sense either, because She can’t hang onto ANY of them. What’s worse, She’s always giving them to other people and THEY can’t hang onto them either. Next thing I know, the gloves are gone and guess what? I gotta go get them back. It’s the same freaking mission over and over – different infil and exfil but same damn objective. Get the glove. Why does She want it back so badly after She gave it away in the first place?

She tells me which one to get and God forbid I bring Her a different one. Hasn’t anyone told Her THEY’RE ALL THE SAME?! I think She’s relatively bright, as far as humans go, but seriously – those gloves are all the same, no matter where they’re placed. Sometimes it would be so much easier just to veer off course a bit and fetch up the one that’s closer, with the thumb sticking up. Grab and go. But no. She wants the one the Cat’s sitting on.

Dumb stupid Cat. He shows up whenever we do The Things outdoors at home and he gets in the middle of everything. He sits on the gloves. He flops around in the pile of Find Its like he doesn’t have any bones. He's always sniffing around my supper dish, too, like he's done one damn thing to earn it. I don’t know what the purpose of Cats is.

If I’m not fetching things for Her, we’re Marching. Marching is okay. It pays really good. I know it’s called Marching because I’ve watched the TV and seen people walking in long lines. They all walk the same speed and turn at the same time and stop at the same time and no one ever goes faster or slower than anyone else. She calls it Heeling but I know it’s really called Marching and obviously Humans need to practice a lot because they’re really not very good at it.

Marching is complicated when you’ve got twice as many legs to keep lined up as the Human. I have to stay in the exact same place at Her side, no matter how fast or slow or crooked She goes, and whoa buddy, let me tell you, Marching brings out Her OCD big time. Let me put one paw out of place and She’s on me like a fat kid on a cupcake.

“Hurry up!” “Slow down!” “Back up!” “You’re too far out, get close!” “You’re too close, get off my leg!” “$#@!! it, Banner, this is not a race!” That’s my favorite one. I make sure she has to say it at least once every time we do Marching.

So get this – Her big thing now is to ask me, “Where’s your butt?” I bring her a glove or the dumbbell or a Find It and while I’m sitting in front of her, reminding her for the 487th time, that I was the one who did ALL the work while She just stood there, She’s asking me, “Where’s your butt?” I notice she never asks anyone else where THEIR butt is.

So when She asks, I play along and adjust my butt. I gotta tell ya, I don’t know what difference it makes but if I move it one inch to the left or two inches to the right, that seems to make her happy and I get crunchies and it’s all good. If I put my butt in the right spot in the first place, She gives me a LOT of crunchies right way but dang, when you’ve got a butt like mine, it’s hard to get the thing under control.

Okay, I’m done with this. I don’t want her thinking I did too good of a job or she’ll want me to do it all the time and I’m a busy guy. There are Things to bark at.