Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Drive

Growing up in Vermont, I always knew this time of year as "leaf-peeping season." My friends down south and out west aren't familiar with this term. We called it leaf-peeping because of the droves of tourists who came to view the beautiful fall foliage. What an amazing and gorgeous season! Over the last few days, the colors have started to come alive. So many bright reds this year. Our drive to church takes us out along back roads into the country, and it was especially enjoyable this morning. A line of turkeys marched along the dirt shoulder. An entire field was speckled with Canadian Geese--there must have been 2 or 3 hundred of them. One one side, a pasture of snowy white goats munched the grass. On the other, I caught sight of a woodchuck ambling through the tall weeds. The day was somewhat overcast, and a heavy fog hovered over the hills and mountains. Occasionally, rays of sunlight broke through. At one point, scores of plump, black birds sat shoulder to shoulder (wing to wing?) along the lines of a telephone pole. There were so many resting there together, the line stretched without a break, about as long as a football field. Whenever I see birds on a telephone wire, all I can think of is that little Pixar sketch about the big geeky blue bird that lands on the wire beside all the snobby little birds. Remember that?!
Anyway, today I'm giving thanks for such a beautiful world and a breathtaking season, every day growing more and more glorious as the autumn colors fill the countryside. God's masterpiece.

Note to Self:
A country drive can be so much more rewarding than a day at work.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Instead of working on deadlines, completing assignments, etc, I thought I'd try something different. A fun website for you to play with. You enter a block of words, the URL to a blog or a website, or whatever, and this fascinating new website, Wordle, composes your text into word art. You can choose from many different arrangements, fonts and colors. Go ahead--skip your work today. Have fun and play!
The Wordle above was created for me by my daughter Kate, using pages of my blog. Thanks Kate!

Monday, September 22, 2008

To Dicker or Not to Dicker

You get all types at a garage sale. I'm telling you--all types! There are those who pay what you're asking-- sometimes even happily. Because seriously, I try to price everything cheap, cheap, cheap...I'm well aware it's a garage sale, and people rightly expect bargain. There are those who dicker on the price. I don't even mind this, if it's done nicely. ("What's the best you can do on your computer desk?") But others insist on haggling over every single price ("This sweater is marked $1--how about would you take a nickel?") or worse, insulting everything ("I could get this priceless Waterford crystal at the Dollar Store!") and then expecting me to accept their miserly offer.
This past weekend we had a garage sale, which is an exercise in exhaustion. It took days to set everything out on tables, organize and price the goods, and hang signs all over the city. We ended up with beautiful weather (no rain!) and a good, steady turn out. Definitely worth it.
Garage sales are a wonderful microcosm for studying human preconceptions too. One scruffy looking young man in ragged jeans, hair slicked back into a ponytail, tattoos on his arms, sauntered up the driveway. "He's not going to find anything here," I thought, noting we had no tools, biker parts, heavy metal CDs. But--shame on me for judging-- he ended up leaving with a pile of books--classics, too.
One man spent a lot of time looking over the clothes. He was a short, well-dressed Asian man. He came up with an armful of clothes--dress shirts, fleece jackets, khakis. 12 items. I had them marked at $2 each or 4 for $5. That is usually a good deal for nice quality, good name brand clothing. "I give you $3." He said, in broken English. "How about $10?" I said, trying to strike a deal.
"Three dollar," he insisted. "Refuge," he pointed to himself. "Refuge."
"Okay, fine," I sighed, accepting the bills. I have no way of knowing if he really was a refuge, or a wealthy businessman, but whatever. On his way down the driveway he picked up a new notebook. "Present?" he said, holding it up.
"Fine, take it," I said. I knew there was no point in arguing.

Now the garage sale is all cleaned up and packed away. The leftover clothes are all being donated to a church outreach. The books go to the library for their annual booksale. Neckties are being mailed to a high school in Africa. It takes a lot of work to get these items to different places that can use them. I don't mind. I love to donate to good causes. I just don't like feeling like I've been had.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sleeping Spots

Kelly is provided with two very lovely doggy beds. One is by my desk so she can be near me while I work. The other is upstairs next to our bed for her to sleep at night. Kelly likes these beds, and even sleeps in them at times. But, since she sleeps a good majority of the day, she has lots of other preferred sleeping spots. Her favorite is the back of the couch. At times she curls up on the seat of the couch like a normal person--er, dog--but most often she jumps up to the back of the couch and sprawls out. If we are sitting on the couch and beckon her to come sit beside us, she jumps up and springs to the back of the couch and curls behind our necks. To me, this is cat behavior. Kelly is not a cat-sized dog. She's 35 lbs, rather large to be wrapped around a neck. But it does feel soft and warm. Kelly also loves to lay on a narrow ledge on the front porch. This ledge is only 4 inches wide! There is a wicker couch out there, a chair, and a trunk with a nice comfy cushion on top. But Kelly chooses a narrow ledge. Go figure.
Where do your dogs like to sleep?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fall Frolics

Things I Like About the Fall:

Return of the cool weather--what's not to love!

McCoun apples--I've tried many varieties but these are the best. Crisp, tart. Try 'em. And now that I'm doing well on my diet, I plan to take full advantage of this healthy snack treat and not just make it into pies.

Fleece--may not be stylin', but so cozy! Jackets, vests, blankets, anything!

Playing with Kelly in the back yard--she's feeling frisky now. If only she knew how to rake.

New fall TV shows. Okay, I admit it. I'm a Survivor fan. Can't wait for the new season!

What I'm not crazy about:

Raking. Well, I don't mind the raking as much as stuffing the leaves into bags. ugh.

Cold feet. When the weather gets damp and chilly, they feet are always the first to go. Wish I had a crackling fire to stick them in front of. A campfire would be another thing I like about fall, except I live in the city and it's not a good idea to build a campfire in my back yard.

Dental procedures. Okay, so this isn't really a normal fall occurrence. But it is for me, tomorrow. I have to have a crown put on a cracked tooth. It takes an hour and a half, and that's just for the first appointment. It takes two visits to the dentist. So, not real comfortable under normal circumstances, I'm a bit skeeved out by this. But...I'm staying calm, and it will all be good. I'm calm...I'm calm.... Please dont' comment with any dental horror stories, I couldn't take it :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Book Deal

It's so much nicer to take Kelly on her walks when the weather is cool. Today a lovely 66 degrees with a breeze. Mmmmm.

Kelly and I are still working on weight loss. We each took off the initial bulk quickly, but now I need to lose about 10 lbs more, and Kelly is struggling to maintain what she lost. The eating habits are pretty much ingrained for each of us. But the exercise is a killer. The walks are crucial, yet every day I want to do anything to avoid them. Over the last month we haven't lost any weight, but--yippee!--we haven't gained either.

There's good news on my doggy diet book too. An agent was interested enough to ask for my proposal and sample chapters. And, my proposal is also with a major publisher now, and they said they too were interested. I'm hoping for some more news soon. Trying not to get my hopes up--anything can happen. I had a friend go through the book process with a publisher all the way to through editing, and in the end they changed their mind and decided not to publish the book. So there's no done deal until it's actually in print. Kelly and I are hoping, though!

Monday, September 8, 2008

At the Lake

You know how everyone tells you that time passes more quickly as you get older? You'd think I was 101... Where did that summer go? It feels like we didn't do anything summery, and now the leaves are turning red and orange, the nights are cooler, the big yellow school buses are tying up traffic just when I want to get down the street. My daughter Kate told me about a commando crossing guard in her neighborhood who likes to assert her power and stop cars, motion for them to roll down their window, and scream "25!" at the drivers. We assume she's referring to the speed limit. Anyway, one of the best things we did this summer was relax at my in-law's camp. This is the most fun for Kelly too. The camp is in the mountains. It's by a lake. There's a big screened porch with comfortable rockers. Ahhh...what more do you need? Kelly spent her time there sticking her nose into chipmunk holes, barking at squirrels, and chasing ducks. She was funny, she'd sit and watch a family of ducks waddle up from the lake, about 200 feet up a slope, wait for them to situate themselves under the bird feeder, where they gobbled the seeds that were dropped on the ground. She'd stare at them for a bit, and then when she was good and ready she let out a bark and sent them all fluttering off, back down to the water. This, Kelly feels, is the ultimate power trip. Now back to the city and no ducks to chase. But there are those pesky neighbor cats.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Clicker Training

The other day I saw a young man walking his German Shepherd down the street, click click clicking as he walked. It reminded me of a story I wrote about a local woman who has a seeing eye horse. (Yes, a miniature horse!) She trained her horse with a clicker. I thought this was very interesting, and it obviously worked well enough for her to feel confident following the guidance of this little horse in traffic, onto buses, and in busy buildings too. Well, maybe clicker training would work for Kelly and I, too!

Many of my friends also used clicker training for their dogs, so I decided to give it a try. The main behavior I hope to teach Kelly is a more consistent basic recall. She knows the command, but only responds when she feels like it. Yeah, I know. It's embarrassing. She really should be more obedient. And I know it's my fault for being lax and inconsistent with her. I admit, but now I'm trying to correct this.

So I went out and bought a good clicker, some tiny treats and an instruction book. I still am a novice about all this but the basic idea is: give the command, when the dog begins to respond with the correct behavior click. Don't click after, don't click for a command, click exactly when the dog is doing what you have asked her. Then give the dog a treat.

Initially I was to get Kelly to associate the click with a treat. This was a simple process, clicking randomly inside, outside, at various times of the day and always following up with a treat. Click! Her ears perked up, she ran right over to me, practically drooling. Success.

Now I am beginning to teach her to come when called. She runs outside in our fenced yard. I call her in, if she responds I click, then give her a treat. The trouble is, she doesn't always respond yet. I am not supposed to call and click repeatedly. If she doesn't respond, I'm supposed to walk away and basically ignore her. The trouble is, I still want her to come in! So anyway, I am still working on this process. I want to do it right, so I'm taking my time to read up and learn what is what. In the click! Kelly surely knows that means a treat is coming her way.

If you've had experience with clicker training, I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ultimate Dog Lover

Today I received my contributor's copy of The Ultimate Dog Lover ((c) 2008 HCI) and it looks like a beautiful book for all you dog lovers out there! It's very much like a Chicken Soup, but there are beautiful full page color photos that are the best of the best. Stories are divided into chapters, "Four-legged Family Members," "Common Language and ESP," "Teachers and Healers," "Unconditional Love," "Celebrating the Bond," and "Must-Know Info" which includes training tips, help for battling bad habits, advice on traveling with your dog, socializing, doggy-breath, and puppy pedicures. My story, "Happy Together" appears on page 77.

It's nice to reminisce about the childhood pet I wrote about: my faithful beagle-lab mix Happy. He was my companion from Kindergarten through high school. We'd found him starving and abused, abandoned in the woods. I thought he was the most beautiful creature in the world. Happy was utterly dependable. Even though in those days, in suburban Vermont, he was allowed to run free (something I'd never do today) he always came when I called. Kelly, on the other hand, won't even come in from our small fenced-in back yard unless she feels like it, or thinks that a Snausage is waiting. Kelly loves me, but I think she is more interested in knowing that I love her and that I cater to her needs. I was watching an episode of a TV show where the dogs were actually strapped to a zip line, and were asked to jump down to their owners calling from below. Some of those dogs actually stepped out into thin air, taking a very real leap of faith, risking a fall and injury, just because they trusted their owner would never call them if it would harm them. I would be shocked if Kelly would make that jump. Happy, on the other hand, would have sacrificed anything for me, stood up to any danger for me, traveled through mud and hail or anything to get to me. In the story, I tell about a time he was going to be taken away from me, and how he cleverly handled the situation to a happy ending.
This book is full of happy endings, and I can't wait to read all the other stories!