Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Judge Gets In The Way!

I've heard complaints from other competitors that the judge sometimes gets in the way, distracts the dog, etc., but never noticed having that experience until the Lake Charles trial.  Here are 2 video snippets comparing the judge's movements in 2 different runs, same course.  The first run is me and Maxie, who left the table and took the chute behind me instead of the jump in front of me.  When you have a dog like Maxie, with a chute fettish, a dog walk fettish, and a tunnel fettish, it's important to block those entrances wherever possible. My intention was to block the chute but the judge was in that space.  Wanting to keep a respactable distance away from her, I was forced to go way forward.  Maxie saw his chance, and took the chute behind me (another good reason to never train the Blind Cross).  Since he also has a "greet a friendly stranger" fettish, he could have been attracted to visiting the judge as well.  Notice how she even stepped towards the chute, pulling Maxie towards it even more.  This cost us a Q in a run with no other faults.

When The Judge Gets In The Way (10 seconds)

Compare that to here.

When The Judge Stays Out Of The Way (8 seconds)

The judge staying out of the way made a big difference with this dog's performance.  In addition, my having to think about the judge's position during my run diverted my focus.

Be that as it may, distraction is one of those things each competitor has to learn to deal with as well as training their dogs to avoid distractions. Next time, I'll just have to run into/over/thru the judge.  Ignore the judge. Ignore the divits. Ignore the throbbing knee.  Ignore, ignore, ignore.  Focus, focus, focus. Stay present in the moment.

Upwards and onward!

Programming note: here's the original video I uploaded to YouTube (same as above), before I learned I could upload them directly into the blog from my computer. It worked fine for a week, then began posting a message that it was a private video. That won't do. I am leaving it here to test and see if I can change the setting from my YouTube account.

Lake Charles Agility Trial

RV Campground at Burton Arena,
view at sunrise over a swamp.
Maxie, 6 runs, 2 Q's, 2 Titles AX AXJ

Maxie got his Excellent Standard (AX) and Excellent Jumpers (AXJ) Titles on Thanksgiving weekend! I am so proud, even though we made it by the skin of our teeth.  Out of 2 runs per day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday), he got 4 NQ's and 2 Q's.  He only needed 1 Q in Standard and 1Q in Jumpers to get his titles, and he got them both on Sunday!  Was that perhaps because on Sunday morning, at daybreak, in my desparation, I wished upon this star?

I've spent the last 2 days after the trial (Monday and Tuesday) unpacking, resting my weary bones and posting the videos of the trial, analyzing, taking notes, etc.  (Anyone who dares accuse me of obsessing over details, hasn't met any of our members who follow football -- every player, every play, every coach's every decision from years gone by!  Listening to the games between every run, groaning over the scores.)

What a way to spend a Thanksgiving weekend!  In 64 years I don't believe I've ever missed a family/neighborhood Thanksgiving and since an adult, having it at my house or at least baking the turkey, corn bread dressing, Spinach Madeleine, and baking a dozen or so pecan pies to distribute to friends, then feasting on frozen left-overs for months afterward.  But this year, I needed to complete my 2010 goal of putting two Excellent titles on Maxie, and Lake Charles is the nearest trial (2.5 hours away) thru the end of the year.  If not then and there, I'd have had to go to Pensacola over New Years (4.5 hours away), which would be even worse.

L to R:  John, Jonathan, Lucky, Willow, Maxie.
We hunkered down cozily in the camper while the winds
howled outside and the freezing rain pelted down.
The boys kept entertained with their smart phones.
It wasn't so bad, though.  John took 2 days vacation so he came with me all 4 days, Jonathan joined us for a 4 day camping adventure, Audrey drove over on Friday, Nathan and Allison drove over on Saturday, so I got to see my family anyway.  My neighbor Thom had brought me a delicious fried turkey on Monday, so I cut up and froze the meat in 1 lb containers, half light and half dark, with gravy poured over.  I gave one tub to Audrey and brought 1 for us to eat Thursday night.  Besides which, the neighborhood kids are growing up and going their separate ways.  The old era is coming to a close.

I served up some instant garlic mashed potatoes, Audrey's oyster dressing, some canned green bean medley, and Little Debbie Chocolate Cakes!  It was close enough to a Thanksgiving feast to suit us  We ate off of paper plates and there were very few dishes to wash before rushing off to the movies (another Thanksgiving tradition) to see Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows. It was dark, but truly awesome.  We left the dogs locked in the car (a huge crate), rather than risk leaving them in the camper where Lucky could claw her way out within minutes if she wanted to.

Of course, the trip started out with a car problem.  As we pulled out the driveway the hitch hit the ground.  Curious!  It kept hitting the ground over every major bump.  Crap!  Of course it was Thanksgiving Day and nobody was open so we pulled into a closed gas station and tried using the air machine to over-inflate the back tires.  Instead of adding air, it sucked more out.  Double crap!  We had to unhitch the camper, go home and use our own air compressor, filling the back tires from 32#'s to 38#s.  This lifted the car up a few inches. We went back for the camper, and made it to Lake Charles and back safely.  Of course, now I realize the rear shocks on my car are shot and need to be replaced.  When did that happen?  Whatever. Will take care of that later this week.

Trial Site Summary:  click here.
Hosting Club: Calcasieu Kennel Club
Location: Burton Arena at McNeese State University

This arena is very nice, but open on 3 sides and not air conditioned. It was bitterly cold and winds of 25 mph whipped thru there all day Friday and part of Saturday.  Gloves and ear muffs, and 4 layers of clothes, were all essential for keeping warm. The bleachers are wonderful, aluminum, closed in back, steps are regular, have railings and are not too steep. The walkway in front of bleacher is wide, so setting up the tripod was no problem for people passing behind.  The seats were cold, though, so a bleacher seat or blanket to sit upon is recommended. 

Our crate area, showing my beautiful new rug.
L to R: Jonathan, Audrey, Maxie, Lucky, John, Willow
Crate area: on concrete, but rug is still needed as fine red dirt from arena gets tracked everywhere.  Having my new black rubber WELCOME mats in front of each crate helped knock the dirt of my doggies' feet before crateup, and kept them relatively clean
My favorite crate area:  Near rest rooms and concessions, the wind doesn't blow there.  My second choice would be the other far corner behind the bleachers. There were steps to get ringside, but not too many.
Camper facilities:  No freezer available at concessions, but one in a nearby building.  No showers.  No trash cans in RV area.  Our hookup number was N-6.  N-1 is closest to the arena.  The sites are level concrete, with grassy area behind for pottying dogs.  Of course, being the second unit to arrive we put up our awning to claim more space for ourselves.  Then we went to the movies and came back a few hours later to find our awning had blown over the roof and the poles were all bent up.  But it didn't rip the fabric off the camper, so we came out pretty okay considering. Poles are easily replacable.
Insects:  No mosquitoes, but the flies were terrible.  Within minutes our camper was full of them.  They didn't bite but buzzed around the food.  Nathan brought me some fly strips, which caught a bunch of them. Jonathan amused himself catching/swatting/killing flies.
Weather:  Being near the gulf and alongside a swamp, the weather was raw.  I told another RV'er as we passed her on Friday evening: "You never know what you're going to encounter at a trial." She replied:  "No, it's always the same in Lake Charles in November -- cold, windy, and wet." We heard coyotes howling late in the evenings, coming from the swamp.  That was a neat touch, along with bright stars and magnificent sunrises.
Hosting Club: The Calcasieu club members are very friendly.  They seem to work well as a group and have lots of fun.  Chip Grafe, another Papillon owner and experienced handler whom I befriended at our Baton Rouge trial last April, was their course setter.  John and I helped him set up courses each morning.  We learned quite a few tricks.

Lessons Learned:
From Chip, when setting up the course, after placing all the obstacles, you can fine-tune the angles by holding up the properly oriented course map right over the bar and adjusting the obstacle to the proper angle.
From the judge: NEVER walk out onto the course with your dog, even before the trial begins, even if NOTHING has been set up out there.  I did this upon arrival on Friday, to see if Maxie would even walk over the huge tire tracks with the 1 inch deep holes everywhere.  The judge appeared out of nowhere and told me anyone entering a course area with their dog before their official turn can be eliminated from the whole trial!  I didn't know that.  Fortunately, she let me go, then later came back and said I couldn't loop my dog's leash over the gate and go help out.  Dogs must be crated, or held on leash by a human. I didn't know that applied when the arena was almost empty.  I guess she cut me some slack due to my inexperience, but now that I'm Excellent B, I'm told I'm supposed to know everything. HA!

Titling Ribbons:  the Calcasieu Kennel Club is the first trial I've been to that didn't provide Titling Ribbons.  I was mightily disappointed and complained to one of the workers.  After all that work and all that travelling to finally get Maxie's Excellent titles, and no rosettes to show for them, no photo with our ribbons. When I got home I looked up the rules, and sure enough the AKC doesn't require a club to provide titling ribbons. I think they should be required, and I am newly proud of the LCCOC for offering the beautiful red ones I got for Maxie's Novice titles. I was told by the Trial Secretary to pick up these ribbons the next trial I attend.

Things to bring or buy: Ear muffs, thin but warm gloves, bleacher pads.  Because of low light pollution, the late night sky was bright with many stars.  It could be good to bring the telescope if the weather is right.
Nearby attractions:  In Iowa, about 6 mi east of Lake Charles, is a truck stop with the best, biggest boudin balls ever, at .89 cents apiece.  We bought a dozen of them on the way home and by the next day they were gone.
Proofing against horses:  There were horses in the stalls surrounding the rings, and horse poop piled up around the rings.  Many dogs, including Maxie and Charlie, were pulled off course multiple times by sniffing poop or looking up to see the horses moving around, swishing their tails, shaking their heads, etc.
New Friends:  I was crated near Patricia Horton (with Sadie) and Sherry Neumann (with Spangles), who both have Papillons competing at Excellent B level, 8".  Pat and Sadie have competed at AKC Nationals. They are from Houston and invited me to their club's trial at Reliant next spring, with it's carpeted rings.  We talked quite a bit about our paps, training history, etc.  Both outgoing, savy competitors, who travelled to the trial together.  I look forward to seeing them again, swapping more stories, etc.  They were both very complimentary of Maxie, which of course made me happy.  They gave me their emails for a link to the videos.
When The Judge Gets In The Way:  next post, with video snippets and comments.

L to R:  Jonathan, Maxie, Willow, Michele
We rest up after the trial.
The big rigs just unplug and drive off,
but we still have an hour or 2 of packing up to do. 
We are the very last to leave, including the ring crew!
This is making me think about convenience and parting with my darling little pop-up.
 Now that I've met my 2010 goal, I won't do any more trialing until at least February 2011.  I'm going to concentrate on Christmas, New Years, a visit to my parents in southern Florida for their 90th and 95th birthdays, looking at my training DVD's, improving my competitive edge, and practice, practice, practice.  We are going to have some low pressure fun.

Upwards and onward!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jose & Kathy's Thanksgiving Visit

Our Indian Dinner Thanksgiving Feast on Tuesday
The dogs didn't bark when Jose and Kathy came down the driveway about 8:15 last night. They stepped in the door and we started talking like they had never left from their visit 6 months before.  Eventually I let Maxie and Willow in the room, they barked for a few seconds, sniffed, then settled down. I uncrated Lucky and she was immediately friendly, although of course jumping up to try for eye level contact. Jose and Kathy are both so mellow, it didn't take long for me to feel confident letting FoohFooh in as well, he took a few sniffs and was as calm as a docile cat.  It's very strange the calming influence these 2 centered, spiritual, artistic people have on our dogs.
I had prepared turkey soup for dinner, but they had already eaten in the French Quarter, so we just talked in the kitchen while I laddled my soup in plastic containers to freeze. Turns out, they like detective stories, so we settled into the LR and watched the first few episodes of Damages, with Glenn Close as the super villainous lawyer. They liked it and we watched a few episides each night they were here.

Maxie surprised me by hopping up on the red couch and falling fast asleep between them.  My two-timin' doggie!  I actually felt jealous after awhile and had to reclaim him.  Everyone else turned in around 1, but I wasn't the least tired.  I trekked out to the camper to get my pottie chair, positioned it in the teepee, making sure it would work in that confined space, figuring out where to put the velcro to close the door. 

Aside: I so love the quiet of night.  I'm truly a night person.  I feel like a flower blossoming (time-lapse photography style) after midnight. Only true love, or desparate necessity, could make me go to bed early. Wonderful secrets, creative insights, are hidden in the night.  But if I stay up late and have to get up early (to train or trial, for example), I pay dearly for every one of those insights with bleary eyed, foggy headed misery the next morning.  To combat this problem, at the last 2 trials I began taking half a sleeping pill at 10 p.m.  I doze off within an hour, sleep reasonably well, and wake up at 5:30 feeling refreshed and clear headed.  The lengths we will go to for our dogs!

Sunday, all day, we prepared for an Indian Thanksgiving Dinner, having invited the new friends Jose and Kathy had made on their last pass thru Baton Rouge.  Jose travels with 2 shoe boxes full of indian spices, J & K bought all the fresh ingredients and spent 5 hours in my kitchen preparing 4 spicy dishes (chicken, fish, lentils and basmati rice), and brownies.  I straightened, dusted, swept and decorated the dining area. People began arriving at 5, each one bringing a dish of their own, and some wine.  After dinner everyone went outside and drummed for about an hour.  I stayed in, though, cleaned up and put food away, and spent some time with my poochies.  We all had a fine time.

So even though I'm not having family Thanksgiving this year (for the first time in my life I believe), this dinner satisfied my desire to entertain, share food and give thanks this time of year.

Kathy makes a design of swirls on my little model.
Monday, the next morning, I distributed all my old paint clothes (I have several sets), and Jose, Kathy and I began painting the tee pee.  It was great being outdoors in the crisp air, bright sun and falling leaves. 

Kathy made a design of swirls on my little paper model, which she thought expressed playfulness and spiral energy.  She said it would give me a platform to work on later, adding jumping dogs, etc.

Kathy, Jose and I prime the tarp with Kilz.

We primed the tarp with Kilz hoping the paint would stick better (it doesn't, the primer is easily scratched off).

Mixing the paint, tarp spread out on all our tables.

Jose supervises from above.
We took all my old acrylic paints from Montessori School days and mixed them as best we could to match the colored stripes on the pop up camper.
Kathy commenced painting the designs on, after which we all added our creative input.  Jose supervised from the top of a laddar, made jokes and told entertaining stories.  I added my creative input to the Indian dishes that were left over, and for lunch we gourged ourselves on more spicy food.  Thanksgiving is stacking up pretty nicely for me.

Jose said it had been years since he had been involved in an art project and he really enjoyed it.

Kathy Keller, a free lance graphic designer by the way, said it was interesting working in light pastel colors.  She usually works in warm dark colors (brown, black, maroon, gray).  You can see a collection of Kathy's paintings at:

Monday night I took off for agility class in my beloved, generally trusted, 1994 Grand Marquis.  On the way the lights on my dashboard dimmed then went out.  That's odd, I thought.  When I went to leave, I needed a jump from Nedra.  I drove out as far as Don's parking lot and it died again.  I called John, he said the alternator was out, leave it there, and have it towed in the morning.  I hitched a ride home with Nedra, called Geico and arranged for a tow the next morning, and called to postpone picking up Jonathan from New Orleans on Tuesday until I could get my car out of the shop, hopefully by Wednesday morning. Crap!  This kind of shit always seems to happen just before a trip!

On the other hand, I'm glad it happened before and not on the road to Lake Charles!  I take it to mean that some benevolent divinity is looking out for me!

J & K had to leave for Tucson by 8:30 on Tuesday morning, so I waited until they left to call for a tow and meet the truck out at Don's.  Before they left I rigged up the TeePee and took their photo.  Another fond memory for my scrapbook!

Now, on to meet the tow truck, using John's 1998 Grand Marquis, and led the guy to Sherwood Car Care, who said they could have me fixed up by tomorrow morning.  New alternator.  New battery. New posts.  $700.  That doesn't sound right, but I don't have time to argue.  At least the tow was free.

With all that going on, for sure the tee pee won't be ready for this trial/trip.  Disappointing, but I'll eventually have a private outdoor place to pee, PLUS a canvas to decorate with all kinds of dog-related cartoon drawings!  Maybe other creative artists will come along to make my PPTP a memorable dog agility folk art piece.
Picked up the car Wed morning, then on to New Orleans for Noon to pick up Jonathan, then back home to pack up for 4 days in the camper, 1 husband, 3 dogs  and a grandchild all going with me to the agility trial in Lake Charles this weekend, and arranging various neighbors to come in and feed FoohFooh and cats.  So much to plan and think about.  Never a dull moment.

Upwards and onward,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Intro to Tracking, Turkey Soup

Yesterday I had a surprise visit from Tracey, a fellow club member that trains about 10 dogs, and is involved in agility, obedience, tracking, lure coursing, as well as herding.  She keeps a blog about dog training, too, which is what originally inspired me to start my own.

She came by with two of her Beagles, Spirit and Xanadu, to practice weaves in a different location.  It's important, see, to get your D used to performing all the obstacles in strange places, with different smells, people, dogs, etc., so they don't get psyched out at trials.  Tracey did that awhile, then it turns out she was going to take another beagle, Lego, out tracking.  She had "laid a track" about 3 hours before in a big field behind a McDonalds in Denham Springs.  I asked if I could come along and watch, brought Lucky, and she gave me an introductory lesson. It was neat.

I have already ordered the book, "Tracking From The Ground Up", and am waiting for it to come in so I can teach Lucky the basics, then I'm supposed to get in Kay's class in January.  Not that I can ever compete with Lucky in AKC tracking, because they only allow pure-bred scent hounds to compete (a stupid rule, in my opinion, since any dog of any breed can accidently have extraordinary skills the same way people do).  But we can have some fun, and I study more closely, learn what she's is made of, and what the tracking thing is all about.

On the way home from the track I got a call from Thom and Judy.  They have some turkey carcasses for me to make turkey soup with, and a bunch of giblets.  They also gave me a whole fried turkey.  So I knew what I'd be doing last night, boiling turkey bones.

Next, we went to Nedra's house to see the progress on her workshop.  WOW!  Impressive.  Now that she is retired (at age 70) she is going to have time for lots of projects.  I got a chance to show John all her framed jig saw puzzles, and we got a chance to talk about LCCOC a bit, possibilities for publicity and fundraising, a stronger mentorship program, and other things that have been on my mind.  Nedra is a fellow club member, our Treasurer and Trial Secretary, who's been in the club for over 35 years.  She's been on the board forever and knows a lot about how the club works, not to mention she is also my advanced agility instructor.

Then I went to Thom's and picked up my turkey.  Turns out there was only one carcass and it was so burned I couldn't use it.  But the whole one was so delicious, I have never tasted such a delicious turkey.  It wasn't burned on the outside like most fried turkeys I've seen, and injected with something scruptious.  I called and told them to remember the exact steps but they said they are always experimenting and couldn't remember what batch that was. So, I'll probably never have such a good turkey again.  Oh, I also picked up about 3 lbs of giblets.  When Thom buys his turkeys, he doesn't use the giblet packages, so he saves them for me.  If I don't cook them for myself (John hates giblets), I will use them to make dog treats.

I sliced up all the meat and put it in the freezer in 1 lb. containers, half white and half dark.  We ate about a pound of it for supper.  I boiled the bones and set them out to cool in my freezer room overnight (in fall and winter, with temperatures in the 30's to low 50's, I open the window and use the room as a refrigerator). Today, I picked 3 lbs of meat off the bones (what most people throw away), saved all the necks and skin for the dogs and cats, and am making a huge pot of turkey soup right now. We have weekend company coming in around 8.  Maybe they'll be hungry.

Gotta go clear some clutter, dust some furniture.

Upwards and onward,

My 64th Birthday

My "love slave", harvesting bamboo for me,
with Lucky at his side.
This is an account of my 64th birthday.  After waking up early and musing about my special day (2 posts back), here's what actually happened.

Talked to my Mom on the phone, of course, and received a few calls, texts or emails from friends (Vincent, Sheryl, Laura).  This on top of several Facebook well-wishers from my dog club.

Per my birthday request, John and I headed out to the woods adjacent to our property around 10 a.m., boots, gloves, machetes and lopers in hand, to harvest bamboo for my tee pee.  It was clear skies, still, and cool enough for long sleeves.  Not a single insect to bother us.  Energizing! Lucky came along, her very first off-leash walk-about in an unfenced area.  John was a bit trepidatious but I was confident she would stay with us, and she did.  Had to call her back into view several times, but she wasn't far away, just sniffing thru the tangled undergrowth. (Nathan, nobody is keeping the paths clear the way you used to do as a boy.) It was so thick with fallen trees, vines, and debris, we had to cut a winding path to the bamboo patch, lost it, and had to cut another path back home.  We were in the woods a good 2 hours.

Michele and Lucky, trimming bamboo
Finding straight poles was a challenge.  Most of the ones in this patch arch out, but we finally found a few 30' long pieces with 10' of straight somewhere in their length.  I set about shaving off the side chutes, with Lucky at my back.  My birthday is starting out GREAT!

We marked the path home by dropping lengths of bamboo all along the path.  When Jonathan gets here next Tuesday, John hopes to take him in there to clear the path, as Nathan did 25 years the ago. We used to harvest blackberries, I used to take my pre-schoolers out on short hikes, and I remember Garrett and I especially delighting in harvesting spiral vines to decorate our classroom with.  I don't know why the neighborhood boys don't go there now.  They are missing out.
Maxie on the tee pee

We came in, sat on the back patio to rest awhile and I took some photos for the blog of John and dogs enjoying our new lawn.  Inside, I finished binding the edges of the tee pee fabric with duck tape so it wouldn't ravel.  That took a few hours of bending over, and needing to rest now and then, I sat at my computer and wrote up my story on Laying Sod).  When I was finished with the binding, I spread the fabric out on the ground, set the poles in place, then John trimmed them to 9.5' with our skill saw.  

John checks it out for headroom. 
Oops, 6'4" Nathan might not fit.
We set it up, and here it is, in the raw.  So far, so good.  I still need to figure out how to fasten the door closed, rig up a bowl over the top to keep the rain from running down the poles, and paint some decorations on it.  But this is enough for today. Gotta go inside and rest up for dinner tonight.  My full tee pee story is scattered on some other pages. I'll pull them all together eventually, maybe.

Then John in his recliner, me on the red couch, we kicked back for a few hours and watched the last 3 episodes of Lie To Me, Season 2, streamed from Netflix.  Somewhat rested up, I changed my shoes, fixed my hair, threw on some makeup and jewelry, then John and I took off for Ichiban's Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar for 8 p.m.  "Dress is casual", Nathan had said, so I didn't even change my clothes from the hike in the woods.  I was so tired, I was incapable of putting on any kind of airs.  I was glad I didn't have to cook or do dishes, but not sure I could stay awake thru the dinner, much less be good company.

L to R: Audrey, Allison, Nathan, Me, and John
Notice all the bar chairs turned upside down. 
We were the last to leave.
At Ichiban, we met up with my son, his wife, and my sister-in-law for a scrumptious birthday meal, Nathan's treat.  These are my main "peeps", plus my grandson who couldn't come. Nathan did all the ordering. We drank chilled sake, had fried sushi, yes, fried sushi, and another kind wrapped in cucumber strips.  OMG, those were over-the-top delicious. We fought over those.  I tasted eel sauce for the first time.  The main platter had about 6 other kinds of sushi, which were also good but comparable to sushi you find other places. We ate, talked and laughed so long, we shut the place down.  I didn't realize until the last moment, as they were throwing us out, that I hadn't taken any pictures.  The waiter was kind enough to snap this one near the exit, in the bar, with all the chairs upturned so they could mop the floors.  Alas, I didn't get one of our food-laden table.  It was a sumptuous display!

It was a "no gifts" party except for cards, because all my peeps know I don't want any more material things. But Audrey brought me a gift anyway.  It was wrapped but you could tell it was a book.  I rudely, adamently pronounced that there was only one book I wanted, and if this was by some mysterious means that book, (which it couldn't possibly be), I would lie down on the floor in shock.  Sure enough, it was Barbra Striesand's new book, My Passion For Design.  So I laid on the floor as promised, in shock . . . . . which shocked a few waiters and patrons.  That's the thing about Audrey.  She knows me so well.  Unbeknownst to me, she had also seen Oprah's interview with Barbra and Robert Redford a few nights back, and she knew I would want this book.

So that capped off the perfect birthday day.  Good food, good people, a bit of magic, shock and awe! But my friends say "Fry's birthday isn't over til she says it is."  So this morning I woke up and ate the leftovers, including the last two fried sushis, and thought about declaring that to be the official end to my very special day.  And so, perhaps it is . . . . . . . . . . . then again perhaps not.  I still have friends coming in (tonight), we're hosting an Indian dinner party tomorrow night for many old friends I haven't seen in months, a book to read, a blog to write, work to do, pictures to take, projects to finish, dogs to train, etc.  Every day I feel a bit renewed, reborn, and spoiled by my friends, family and all my many blessings.  Words being so powerful, visualization so life-shaping, I don't think I should ever let my birth day be over.   :-)

Upwards and onward,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Laying Sod

Michele leveling the dirt
I haven't told the story yet of us laying sod in the back yard.  So now, while resting up from my tee pee binding project, I have time to fiddle with the pics and blog about our new lawn.

On October 5 when the weather cooled a bit, John and I brought in 6 tons of fill dirt to raise the level of yard just off our patio steps, and replace the outdoor carpet I had used there for years to keep down the dust. Tree roots were growing all across the area and we were tripping over them at alarming rates.  We couldn't afford to cut the roots and risk killing the tree, so we just filled over them, then laid St Augustine sod over that.  This gave us a chance to raise and level the area, too, after nearly 30 years of it being sloped and uneven.  All good.  Backbreaking labor, though. 

Naylors, our local plant nursery/hardware store, sells fill dirt (a sand/clay mix they call "sandy loam") for $13 a scoop.  1 scoop fits in the back of John's truck and weighs about 1 ton.  We got 7 of those.  Trip to store, drive home, shovel it out.  Another trip to store, I spread the dirt while John goes for another load, then another, then another.  That took 1 day.  We tamped it down and let that settle a week while we recovered.  The next weekend, John picks up 1/2 pallet of St Augustine grass sod, we arrange the rectangles in tight alignment, then he goes for the other 1/2 pallet, same thing.  More hard labor, all in one day.

 Our first 1/2 pallet of sod, in John's trusty Toyota
Can I tell you how sore we were for 2 weeks?????????  Then it's water, water, water.  Every day for 30 minutes, for at least 2 weeks, then every other day for a month.

Costs including tax:
Fill dirt:  $13 x 7 = $99
1 pallet Sod:  $176

TOTAL:  $275.00

Not bad at all.  If we had hired the work professionally done, it would have been more like $750, so we, in effect, made $475 doing the labor ourselves.  Not a bad income but I would NOT want to lay sod for a living, no matter how well it paid!  If I ever do it again, I plan on having a big party, buying all the food, and have each guest lay just a few dozen pieces.  But maybe my friends are too smart to fall for that one.  A few would do all the work, the others would cheer and jeer.

6 weeks later, looks like we have a lawn!
6 weeks later, today, my birthday, the grass seems to be thriving.  Some of the blades are turning brown, but we hope that is because of the cooler weather, and when we water it, most of the brown turns green again.  Surprisingly, it is doing best under the patio cover with the filtered UV light.  It gets enough light, then.  But we must hand water because it never rains under there.  No problem as I have to hose off the steps every few weeks from the debris brought in from the dogs.

Lucky Lucy rolling in "her" grass
One thing I notice about sod, though.  When you first get it, the soil is very moist.  As the squares dry out they shrink a bit so no matter how closely you push and shove and wiggle to wedge the pieces tightly together, little cracks begin to form between them.  I need to take some more fill dirt and pour it into the cracks.  Meanwhile, Lucky thinks we laid all that sod for her.  I mean it, she acts like we gifted her with a plush carpet of grass to roll around in.  In this photo, you can just make out some of the rectangles and the spaces between them that I need to fill in.  They can  be felt underfoot better than seen.

Despite that, I'm feeling somewhat victorious about our sod project today, which is, in effect, like another birthday present. All is well in my world today.

Upwards and onward!

Birthday Musings

Today is my 64th birthday.  Went to bed around 3 a.m. last night, dogs woke my up at 7 a.m. for pottie time, and now I can't go back to sleep.  I feel clear-headed, too. Perhaps my "early morning" training is working.  Beautiful day. Sunny, clear, 58 degrees.  Got the coffee pot going.  Dogs at my feet.  Husband resting peacefully.  Son taking me to dinner tonight. All is well in my world.

Woke up to 4 emails that said "X posted on your Facebook wall". That was a first!  They were all Happy Birthday messages from fellow dog club members.  Sweet!  I have a Facebook account but never use it.

So here in the hush of morning, I muse on what I want for my Birthday.  In truth, just another year of contented days like yesterday and the day before, and the day before that.  Perfect days.  No bombs falling.  Gestapo not knocking.  Moveover, I never thought I'd have a devoted husband, a trusting relationship, paid off mortgage, no debts, sufficient income to meet our needs, solid house in good shape, settled child, a delightful grandchild, a few good friends, 4 amazing dogs, 5 cats who hunt and keep the snakes away, a good digestive system, and lots of magic in my life!  I guess I could use lasic surgery, a boob reduction, bigger hair, smaller waist, fewer wrinkles, better teeth, less clutter, freedom from my bad habits, better health, a house maid and yard man, healthier parents, closer family, more money, a few less aches and pains.  But on the whole, I think I've got it made.

I intend for John to take me out in the woods today to cut some bamboo poles for my ongoing tee pee project , (which my son has aptly dubbed my "PeePee TeePee").  That will be John's "labor of love" birthday present to me, something no one but he can give (and gives just about every day).  Then we'll get out in the yard and have some fun engineering my tee pee.  That's my idea of "having a blast"!  It's incredibly satisfying to have a "love slave" on my special day.

Shush!  I hear stirrings in the hall.  My "love slave" has awoken. Time for musing is over.  Now I have to go and see what my birthday will really pan out like.  That will be my next post, probably tomorrow!  Meanwhile, this poem keeps running thru my head.  It's called WARNING! WHEN I GROW OLD I SHALL WEAR PURPLE, and you can read it here. It's decadent, delicious, and one of my all-time favorites!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tee Pee Progress - Geometry On The Web

What's my angle ?
Yesterday I blogged about building a paper model of my Tee Pee.  I left off going to find a silver tarp at least 8' x 15', which I found at Harbor Freight.  Today I moved all the den furniture aside, spread out the enormous 12' x 19' tarp, and cut it to the 8' x 15' dimensions I needed. 
Now I am ready to cut out my tee pee, but I think I have a geometry problem.  I need to know the angles at which to cut the bottom edges.  Uh-oh.

I could wait intermnably for John to get home and using my geometry book, in about 30 minutes, he could figure out the degrees using some cosign formula he found in the back of the book when we were building my A-frame.  But I'm impatient, so on a whim, I do a Google search on "Solve geometry problem", and came up with the coolest website ever!!!!!  It's called WEBMATH, and has a dropdown list of all sorts of problems, and how to solve them.  I chose "Right Triangle", plugged in my known quantitles, and it gave me the answer I needed -- in about 90 seconds.  Unbelievable!

I knew I needed a right triangle to get my answer, and knew enough to divide my isosceles triangle in half (green line) to get a 90 degree angle.  I knew the hypoteneuse was 8' and half the base was 1.75'.  I plugged those figures into the boxes provided on the web page, and it showed me the entire formulation it used to generate my answer of 77.364 degrees.  Unbelievable!  Totally amazing!

And all this, for free! 

Aside: Some people ask me why I bother with this blog, with my Wild Food Foragers of America project, and other volunteer things I do or have done, giving away a lot of hard won knowledge for free.  Well, this is why:  I get so much for free, and so much of it that I could not purchase for a king's ransom were it not for other people's generosity, it's my way of paying back, of not being a total mooch. I love feeling plugged into that ever-flowing stream of abundance, and the only way I know to stay plugged in is to live in a constant state of gratitude, and contribute what I can.  For so many years, while working my ass off full time, scrabbling to make ends meet, I couldn't afford to give anything away for free.  But now I'm making up for that, I hope. The business world certainly has its place, but so does the volunteer world. I want to maintanian balance --- one foot in each.

Anyway, back to the tee pee.  77.364 degrees.  Where's my damn protractor?  Oh hell, I can't find one.  Looks like I'll have to use the old fashioned method of "approximating". It's just a silly tee pee after all, not commercial housing.  Why am I even bothering with this?  Why?  Because it's fun.  It keeps me mentally challenged.  And besides English, geometry was my favorite subject in school.  My Geometry teacher said on the first day in 5th grade, "the whole world is made up of shapes", she sent us home to list how many rectangles, triangles and circles we could find in our houses, and I remember that revelation just blew me away.  I had never noticed them before!

More later, gotta go.

Lucky's Doghouse

Jonathan, Lucky, Max and Willow
and the completed dog house.
This morning it was 45 degrees at 6:30 a.m. when I took my dogs out to pottie.  Lucky immediately curled up in her dog house for warmth, which reminded me how it was about a year ago that my grandson and I built it.

Since Jonathan usually spends a long weekend with me at Thanksgiving, I'm always looking for short projects we can do that will develop his manual and thinking skills.  Something he can do besides texting his friends and playing video games. Something requiring planning, thinking, and a tangible result.
Since Lucky is technically HIS dog,  what better way for Jonathan to show responsibility than to build "his dog" a dog house.  I have tons of scrap wood and screws (one of the advantages of living on a large property is my ability to store stuff), so the project wouldn't cost us a dime.

Our plans on paper, and the pattern
for the upper curve of the door,
 of Jonathan's design.

It was glorious fall weather, great for being outdoors, no jacket required. We reviewed our materials, set up a table out by the shed, lined up all our fabulous battery-powered DeWalt tools, then sat down with paper and pencil to design a house.  I had a some exterior siding left over from the shed's construction that would not need painting, some 1"x1" remnants for the supports, and a neat wooden "counter top" I had salvaged off of someone's trash pile . . . . . (yep, I'm a certified dumpster diver with the T-shirt to prove it - but that's another story.)  I had been saving that plank for about 10 years, waiting for a perfect application.  The width of our doghouse was determined by that top.  The length and height were determined by how much siding we had to work with.

Granny (that's me) operating the skill saw.
There was only half a sheet of siding (about 4' x 4'), so we used up every square inch we could to make the doghouse as long and as tall as possible.  We drew the lines together, then I operated the skill saw myself to make the cuts.

Very important was the skeletal support. The frame had to be sturdy. Lucky is a powerhouse of a dog and would tear up anything weak. Based on the sides we had cut out, we determined the length and height the framing posts needed to be, then built the frame. That was an interesting project all in itself. Both Jonathan and I learned some things about structure from that.

Jonathan operates the battery powered drill.
Next, J operated the drill to secure the sides to the frame after I tacked it into position. He liked doing that, and good thing because we used over 50 screws.  We were extra careful that none of the pointy tips stuck out on the inside, which could have cut up a dog pretty badly.

Next was the door opening.  We needed that as big as possible.  I showed Jonathan how to make the upper arch symmetrical by folding a paper in half and cutting out one half.  Open it up and it's the same on both sides.

Jonathan's door pattern, and the finished product.
He of course said "I know" to every trick I showed him, and didn't seem surprised about anything.  Age 12.  I had forgotten, 12 year olds are on the cusp of knowing everything.  Of not being much impressed by anything.  Of being sure adults don't know anything.

Still, I KNOW he had a good time because when he forgot to be cool and bored, he was grinning and gigglish, posing for pictures, jumping in and out of the doghouse, barking, acting silly. I have many pictures to prove it (these are just a few).

Years from now when he reads this story, I hope it will help him remember the warm sun on his hair, the cool breeze on his skin, the rustling leaves, the fresh woodland air at Granny's house, the love, the laughter, and the fun we had with our dogs --  in "The Doghouse That Jonathan Built".

Coaxing Lucky into her house
with treats.
Our yard, camper in background.

After Lucky loses her fear of getting in,
Jonathan and Lucky take turns
jumping in and out. 
Jonathan hanging out with the Lucky, Willow and Maxie after the project is finished. 
Now all we have to do is pick up the tools and move the doghouse around to the back porch.
Nobody wanted to do that just yet, so we just relaxed and basked in a job well done.
P.S. J was concerned that Lucky wouldn't have enough room inside and would never use the dog house.  But the exact opposite is true.  I put a rug down under it to insulate her from the cold bricks, and she curls up in there just about every day.  I'm pretty sure all the dogs know it is hers, too, because nobody else goes in there, although Max and Willow still perch on top, as they did from the first day.

A most satisfying outcome, and my heart is still full of thanksgiving for yet another wonderful memory at Old Hammond Hideaway!

Go Outs

Sheryl and I met on the field today from 1:30 until about 4.  The weather was blustery, sky blue, temp around 68 degrees.  Leaves were swirling. Excitement was in the air and I felt energized.  We finished building a course I was working on last Sunday, ran a course several ways that was set up on Field 4.  One required a "go out" at either end.  Neither Sheryl nor I have a "go out" command so, I devised a way train our dogs to "go out".

"GO OUT" Defined:  That's when your dog needs to continue on in a straight line over 2 or more obstacles and you can't run fast enough to go along with them.  This usually happens at the end of a run, but it can happen in the middle, as it did in the Field 4 exercise.

"G-G-GO" Command:  I already have an "OUT" command, which means to veer out away from me, go around the back side of a jump, or take an obstacle that's out there.  Not wanting to confuse D, I decided on "G-G-GO" as my command instead of "GO OUT".  I already use GO to mean "run fast, keep going over the dog walk or see saw or thru the weaves", and since those both involve straight forward momentum and me lagging behind, I think GO can be broadened to mean, "go forward in a straight line".  I add a few G's, as in G-G-Go, to distinguish GO from the one syllable NO command.

Here's a link to a Susan Garrett YouTube video at 2011 World Agility Championships that beautifully illustrates the Go-Go-Go command.  This is very important in competition, when speed counts.

The diagram below shows how we trained our "go outs". It was a neat exercise and made Maxie, Charlie and Lucky run very fast.  Maxie especially, ran like a bullet!  They caught on quickly.

Here's how it works:
H takes D toT1, places a treat on the target where D can see it (on an upside down flower pot, something very visible from a distance), says "Leave It", then walks D to other end, sits D, then runs along side, arm closest to D pointing forward, as D takes each jump in turn all the way to T1.  "Over, over, over, over, get it."

Repeat, H running alongside D but stopping around 3rd jump and saying "Over, over, over, GO, get it". When D is successful heading straight for T1 without H running alongside the whole way, H can lag a few feet further behind at each turn until finally, H can stop forward mementum after 1st jump, saying "Over, G-G-GO".  D quickly understands that GO means "take the rest of the jumps ahead".  No need for H to say Jump, Hup, or Over for each jump.

As D catches on, H can also place a treat at T2 before D takes off for T1, then after treat is eaten at T1, H can call D back across jumps towards T2, saying "Over, HERE".

This kind of relay race can go on, back and forth, several times. Eventually, fade to less and less visible targets (smaller flower pots), a flat tile, intermittent treats placed on the target, then no target at all. Eventually you can reward a successful GO OUT by treating from your hand when D circles back to you.  If you have a partner stationed at each end, each one can lay out the next treat on the flower pot, take turns sending and calling their own dog, over and over.

For toy motivated D, you can substitute the target with a ball, but you have to be able to throw it far and straight.  This is very difficult and not recommended.

Variations:  Use 3 to 5 jumps, closer or further apart, different kinds of jumps, a straight tunnel, chute, see saw.  The only constant is they must be in a straight line, and everything in D's path must be taken all the way to the end. 

Caution:  In training, don't ever call D off of a GO OUT command, or it won't mean GO OUT any more.  Only after they have committed to the last obstacle in the straight-line sequence should you call them off towards you or another obstacle.  Here's a training quote from Jane Simmons-Moake's Sequence Training book:

"When I do (or say) this, you do that".

Straightforward.  Simple.  Easy to remember.  I like that.

If you want to play call-offs, another good game, don't say GO.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tee Pee

Sun's out.  Should practice.  Darnit, I will practice this afternoon after the ground dries up a bit. Meanwhile, I have a new project in my head that just won't quit.  My Privacy Tent came in and it does not satisfy me.  Very flimsy, doubtful it will stand up to even a strong breeze.  Green, not the silver/blue pictured on the website.  This color scheme will clash with my camper and we mustn't have that!  I'm disappointed and am contacting the seller to return it.

Pentagonal tee pee paper model
So in the middle of the night I got the bright idea to make my own tee pee, couldn't sleep after that, and got up to make a paper model, scale 1" = 1', to see how big a tarp I need to buy, and how long to cut the bamboo poles (we have a huge bamboo patch in the woods), how tall to make it for a 5.5' footprint and so a 6' tall person can stand comfortably inside.  I often draw on my 5th grade geometry book for such projects, and it came in handy yet again!   I have some artist friends coming to stay with me next week, and have invited them to help me paint designs on the tarp.  This is exciting!  And Thanksgiving-y, too!  An Indian tee pee.  Whee!

Tee pee pattern
Here's a snapshot of my tee pee laid out flat, which gives me the dimensions and pattern I need to cut the tarp.  Looks like I'm going to need a 15' x 8' tarp, and 5 bamboo poles 9.5' tall. Now I'm off to find a suitable tarp.  Still a little fuzzy on how to do the door, how to anchor it to the ground, how to keep the rain out, how to deal with sloped ground, but that will come.  I'm sure it will provide privacy (my main goal), and I bet it will make my campsite look distinctive once I get some designs painted on it!

Later:  Eurika!  Harbor Freight was having a sale on 12' x 18' tarps, so I got one for $20, instead of the usual $30.  A good start.  Tomorrow I will figure out the angles and overlaps, and cut the fabric.  When Jonathan gets here next Tuesday (if I can wait that long), I'll send him and John out in the woods with machetes to chop down some bamboo.  That will be a great Thanksgiving project for a 13 year old boy -- a trek in the woods, chopping down stuff.  But I do doubt I can wait that long to see my tee pee take shape.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meatball - Animal Control

"Meatball" is a 50 lb black pit bull that runs loose in the woods almost every day for the past 3 weeks or so. He loves visiting the back fences of all the yards in our subdivision, especially mine, which sets off a huge ruckus with all the dogs in the neighborhood.  When he comes by, Max and Willow go crazy with their high shrill barking, Fooh Fooh growls and barks like mad, and Lucky just sails over our 5 foot cow fence and runs off in the woods to chase Meatball away.  Whatever I'm doing at the moment, I have to quit immediately and go deal with "the Meatball issue".

How did I learn Meatball's name, you might wonder. Well, two days ago a young man sachets by looking for his dog -- about 24 years old, living with his grandmother about 5 houses down, with his girlfriend and baby, and of course, no job.  A seemingly intelligent young man, well spoken and mild mannered.  I had just put treats in my pocket, boots on my feet, gotten Fooh Fooh's slip leash, and was headed to the woods with Lucky at my side, to catch Meatball.  The man joined me, and we finally got control of his dog.  I asked him why he didn't bring a leash, and why Meatball wasn't wearing a collar.  He said he had a collar but leaves it attached to the chain around the tree, doesn't have a leash, doesn't have a fence, the dog is not neutered, doesn't have his rabies shots "because I can't afford it".  He chains the dog up, but either he keeps getting tangled up in the chain or he slips out of the collar, so he "doesn't like to use that".

I gave him my schpeal about "Responsible Pet Ownership" and sent him on his way, with the warning that if I saw Meatball roaming free again I would have to call Animal Control.

I had a one day reprieve.  Then today, the ruckus started again and before I knew it, Lucky was over the fence again and disappeared into the woods.  On with my boots, out the gate, into the woods, calling "Lucky, come".  She was already far, far off but she came to my call.  We've been practicing that. I couldn't fuss her for coming when called but I brought her in the yard and put her on her 10' wire.  About 10 minutes later the ruckus starts again, Lucky takes a running leap off the porch towards the fence without realizing she is tethered, gets caught by her collar and her whole body flips up about 3 feet in the air and around in a big circle.  I saw it happen and was afraid her neck would snap.  I bet she is bruised.  Then I saw Meatball along the fence line, still with no collar, and I was instantly furious.  Didn't I just warn that idiot what I would do?   I called Animal Control for directions.  They want me to find out the guy's address, they will send someone out to "talk to him". Or, I can capture the dog and they will come pick him up.

A few hours later, visiting with a neighbor on my front porch while pottying my dogs, here comes Meatball and all hell breaks loose again.  Had to crate Lucky in a hurry, and by the time I came back out with the slip leash Meatball was gone. But I learned from Laura that he had her and her kids pinned in their car a few nights while "a big black dog" without a collar circled around them.  Not knowing his demeanor, they played it safe.

I just want to slap this guy.  I hope Animal Control slaps a huge fine on him, and if he doesn't conform immediately, takes the dog away.  He said he had "rescued" Meatball from the pound about 3 weeks ago.  Some rescue, eh?  It doesn't tally. Doesn't the pound give shots and neuter all their dogs before letting them go?  Don't they screen prospective owners and charge them a fee?  My hunch is Meatball was found on the side of the road, like Lucky, and passed from owner to owner, and has not yet seen a vet, a clinic, or a pound.  He is probably full of worms.

People think they can just "have a dog".  First, a dog is an intelligent being. Second, there is a social responsibility.  Animal care has such a pivotal effect on civilized society, I think "responsible pet ownership" should be taught in grade school.  Isn't "civilization" what we teach in school?  You are taught to read, write and cipher so you can support yourself, vote, and serve your community?  We are taught how to sing, play an instrument, manage our computers, manage our tempers, calculate.  We learn about human rights.  What about animal rights? If they put me in charge, this course would not be "optional" or left to the private sector to teach.

This was not how I intended to spend my day.  But it has got me to thinking about the importance of Animal Control's job in a civilized society.  How nowadays we don't see packs of hungry dogs running the streets like in India, or individual mangy ones like I used to see when I was a child growing up in rural Slidell.  I bet the Romans had some version of Animal Control, though I've never read a thing about it.  Why not?

A Magical Sunday Night

It's always disappointing when Monday night class is cancelled, especially just before an upcoming trial.  So I was very glad I went out to the field Sunday night (last night)  at 5:30 to help set up a 50 x 100 course with Nedra and Polly.  On my way there Nedra called, said it was raining at her house, and they weren't going out.  I needed to put the Field 4 course map in the shed anyway, so I went on out for that.  On the drive down Airline Highway I noticed a pocket of white in the dark clouds up ahead and prayed that it would be right over the field, that it would not be raining, that I could set up the course and run my dogs.

My prayers were answered.  As soon as I got there, it quit raining right over the field -- not even a sprinkle.  It felt like magic.  The air looked kind of purple, too, you know that look.  I was in a protective bubble.  I had the course map, which required 10 wings.  I was alone.  Aha!  I could do an experiment!  Rather than dragging all the wings and jumps and poles all over Field 1, 1 or 2 at a time the way it's always been done, I stacked them all up, criss cross style, on the yellow wagon, then pulled the wagon around to where I needed to offload the various equipment.  Just as I suspected, it took very little effort and a lot less time.

I had offered all the instructors a few months back, via email, to build a wagon for this purpose, but that email was completely ignored. Not one response.  So I let it go.  I wasn't sure the big yellow wagon would work and I wouldn't dare try it with anyone else there for fear of ridicule or censure -- we need the exercise, they won't fit, don't be so lazy, come on forget about it -- but I learned just how to stack the wings so they fit perfect, and have cut the work load in half.

I wasn't able to set up the A-frame, dog walk, or see-saw by myself.  So I got to thinking about a solution for that, too.  The A-frame will need only 2 people instead of 4.  I think I have it, for next to no cost, but I'll need some more alone time on the field to play with that.

I didn't set up the tunnels either, because we have some 15', some 18', and some 20', and none are marked as to length.  I haven't yet learned to recognize them by appearance. I doubt there are many who know.

Meanwhile, it still wasn't raining so I took the time to run the exercises set up on Field 4, a 14 obstacle jumpers course with many twists and turns.  I didn't think either Maxie or Lucky would be able to do it, but Maxie made no errors, and Lucky only 2.  I was amazed.  Just as Lucky completed her 2nd run, it began to drizzle.   My bubble was popping. Time to go.

Nedra had invited me to come see her workshop's progress, but I had declined in favor of practicing in my magical bubble.  The invite was a bit of magic in itself, though, because we so rarely get invited to people's homes any more. John and I will go later in the week.  Since her retirement, Nedra is completely remodelling her workshop in her back yard, and we are very interested in seeing that.

I'm so glad I was able to squeeze off a practice at the Saturday night bonfire, and another one Sunday night, because the Lake Charles trial is in 10 days and tonight's class will most likely be cancelled.  It's been raining all night and most of this morning.  Maybe if I pray for another bubble?

P.S.  Didn't work this time.  Rained Monday night.  No class.  We sat around and watched TV, and I iced my knee.


Last Saturday night was our annual bonfire, a tradition I've kept up for over 30 years, mostly as a way to celebrate Halloween, get together with neighbors, introduce the neighborhood kids to  campfires, weiner roasts and semores, share food and scary stories, and also, and not least, to burn off a lot of the twigs and branches that fall from our trees all year.  With 2.25 acres of forrested yard, we have no shortage of wood to burn.

It's always fun, and since Portia was born on Halloween day, we usually have a cake for her and sing Happy Birthday.  She has come to think of my bonfire as her birthright.  This year it was 85 degrees on Halloween weekend, so she agreed I could put it off a few weeks hoping for cooler weather.  Turns out, it was still warm but at least an acceptable 70 degrees.

Jonathan couldn't come from New Orleans, the first bonfire he's missed since his first in 1998, but also missing were Christa, Garrett, and Schuyler.  But Alex, now 19, brought a friend, and Luis came.  He has missed the last 6 or so, so that was a real treat.

Laura also brought her friend, Lyn, who has moved up north so we haven't seen in 3 or 4 years, and that also was a treat.  We brought out her scarecrow boyfriend, Jack Spratt, whom I jokingly declared to be her "date" at her last 2 bonfires, and who has been in the shed "pining away after her" for 3 years, "without a single love letter or phone call".  We toyed with burning him up (he's old), but Jack looked so good, seemed so large and sturdy and happy to see her, everyone had so much fun adding their bits to the heartfelt love story, we finally decided to keep him.

Lyn has never met Maxie or Lucky, so at some point she asked for an agility demo. I quickly arranged the equipment into a sort of long course, everyone moved to the back yard, and I put both dogs thru their paces for about 10 minutes.  Max was rarin' to go, but he had screaming fits when I handed him to Audrey and gave Lucky her turn.  Lucky did okay, too, but at one point knocked me down.  I was able to roll, and catch myself, so no damage done. John said the comments were very positive.  I had a blast and it was the highlight of my evening.  I was really happy to be able to squeeze off a practice session.

Portia, age 8, took great interest in learning the hand signals for Maxie's tricks (sit, down, stay, go around, roll over), then even more interest in playing retrieve with Lucky.  She handled herself well and stuck with that for about 30 minutes in the side yard, all by herself.  I told her mom she showed great potential, that very few kids are that interested in training dogs.  Perhaps I could be interested in working with her, as I would with Jonathan if he were closer and more interested. 

We'll have to see what pans out next year. Yet another thing to look forward to.