Sunday, December 30, 2007

Seamus Gone Wild: Adventures of the Off-Leash Brown Dog

What is the definition of insanity, anyway? I've heard several times that is repeating a behavior, expecting a different outcome.

Well, that would be me, I guess, although it is difficult to admit publicly that I may just be a bit unbalanced when it comes to the brown dog.

Going back years and years, ALL of my dogs could go off-leash in appropriate hiking areas, away from traffic, cats, and other people. They all learned how to do this quickly and with little trouble. They listened. They came back when they were off on a tangent and called back to the trail.

Even Little Beans, our puppy visitor, could go off-leash. He just followed Augie and Duke.

But not Seamus. My dog with little brain just doesn't get it. He WANTS to go off-leash like the black-and-tans. He WANTS to chase lizards and bunnies into the bushes and come back full of foxtails and cockleburs and a wide doggy-grin. But it never happens because he forgets the "come back" part.

The very first time I lost Seamus I was in tears. He went off the trail at the top of a hill, into the brush like he was on a mission. Augie went in after him and would return every minute or so to reassure me, then go back in, hunting for the brown dog.

When Augie chased him back out to the trail, I swore NEVER AGAIN and didn't - for about 3 months. Then, I rationalized that I really WANT Seamus off-leash because he will get better exercise with all the running they do, be happier because he is unfettered, and (here's the biggie) IT IS EASIER ON ME not to hold a leash.

So, he went off-leash again and was a Good Dog for about 10 minutes. And then he saw a rabbit and all heck broke loose and I couldn't locate him. It was long enough for panic to set in, me calling and calling, and Augie going in looking, and Duke just wanting to GET GOING. I picture mountain lions, dropping temperatures, and big black bears. It is awful.

So, I swore this time NEVER AGAIN. And I stuck to it. But then, I rationalized how much better he was listening at home, really, and how if I work with him, and teach him, he will be a GOOD DOG and stay on the trail.

We were doing a really good job. I praised him each and every time he returned to the trail after a bush tangent. I have him a piece of dog bisquit. I should have known, though. He was on a mission, with that look in his eyes, running a bit further ahead of me than I like. “Seamus!” I called. “Come back!” HA! He just goes faster. No more loping and moping.

But I was calling to no avail – the brown dog took off like a bat out of hell at a fork in the trail. Instead of staying on the well-maintained Pacific Crest, he veered right and went straight up a trail that hasn’t seen clippers or hikers in years. Off I ran. The faster I ran, the faster HE ran. It was a vicious circle. Augie and Duke struggled to stay caught up while Seamus ran like his fur was on fire. I am panting and my lungs are burning. We are going UP a mountain. And the dog just keeps running.

Eventually, after about 20 minutes of “chase,” I knelt down on the road up top and, because God is good, the brown dog came right to me, pleased with himself, fishing for a bisquit.

This was about a year ago and he hasn’t been off-leash again. But he HAS been listening better at home and I began wondering today if maybe, this time, he could do it. I am nothing if not optimistic, right?

Now, Seamus on a hike is a bit like Eeyore. He lopes along with a pained expression on his face and flops down in the shade about every tenth bush. He pants like he’s running a marathon and eventually ends up behind me, which is a very pathetic thing indeed.

So, after an hour of hard hiking, I decided Seamus was tired enough to trust. I unfastened his leash and let him go.

It is always at this point that Seamus turns into a different dog. Loping and moping is replaced by leaping and scrambling. Panting is replaced by exciting yipping and doggy smiling. And, for the first 10 minutes he is a Good Dog. He comes back to the trail when called and accepts praise like it’s his due.

As we run down the trail, I recall the time at Devil’s Punchbowl when I let him off-leash and he promptly ran DOWN a steep incline after a bird. Since we had been hiking awhile, he was tuckered out and REFUSED to move. I had to climb down to get him and then haul his burly butt all the way BACK up. This took thirty minutes, with me pushing him and cursing him and swearing to GOD I would never, ever, let this dog off-leash again.

But Seamus is being good. Until he isn’t good anymore and goes off the side of the trail, into some bushes. And he doesn’t come out. I call and call. Augie goes in looking but comes back alone. Duke begins the anxious pacing, ready to just leave the brown dog if necessary. For Duke, stopping is painful and unnecessary - unless he has to mark a bush. Even that he does mid-pace.

Seamus is gone for 10 minutes, long enough for me to bargain with God and swear I will never, ever, again let this dog off-leash. When he comes back, panting through the bushes on the UP side of the mountain (??), I hitch him up and the spring in his step leaves and his doggy smile is replaced by loping and panting.

This time, I mean it. Really.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bless Your Bloggings.. I mean, Blog Your Blessings!

The hard part about making a Blessings List is that it looks like you are ranking them when you put them in some sort of order. Using numbers, letters, or bullet points, it doesn't matter. It still looks like a ranking. So I shall state for the record that there is no particular order to these blessings. They just ARE.

Family, health, friends, home, reading/writing, teaching, learning, dogs, cats, all other animals, cars, education, computers, coffee, swivel chairs, ice, heat, warm pools in winter, cool pools in summer, trees, plants, soil, vegetables, fruit, Cheezits, soft material, blinky lights, good music, wine, good jokes, nice pictures, details, eclipses, the universe, languages, feathers, and Happy Trails.

Happy Trails are the hiking paths the LowDawgs and I haven't taken yet.

Friday, December 28, 2007

In Praise of the Lovely Brandine~

Her name is really Brandy and somewhere along the line during their college years, she fell in love with my son, who absolutely adores her. They are getting married pretty soon. Dustin calls them Cletus and Brandine and somehow that stuck with me.

There are many things to love about her, not the least of which is the fact that she is a GIRL and I can now buy GIRL CLOTHES after always having to buy GUY CLOTHES for the boys. I am going to have a daughter and this is going to be fun.

I think I spend more money on Brandy than I do on the boys. I just keep seeing things that "look" like Brandy. I can't help it. I am hoping the boys don't notice.

Other things to love about Brandy:

1. She is tenacious. This girl sets her mind to things and doesn't give up. She wanted to go to college but didn't have a scholarship or lottery winnings. So she just packed up her Dad's old Honda and went. She worked her way through school and finished her degree in 5 years. Did I mention she made the Dean's List?

She wanted to learn how to crochet. So, she went to Michael's and picked out a book. She then sat there on the floor for hours, using a crochet hook and some yarn and taught herself how to do it. THEN she made me a lovely scarf that I call my "Brandy Scarf."

She received a book about knitting from her clueless future mother-in-law who SWORE it was knitting that she sat on the floor at Michael's to learn. Did she return the book or throw it on her shelf? NO! She worked THAT NIGHT until 4:30am to teach herself to KNIT and PURL, using the book.

2. She loves animals, all animals. This includes Mufasa, who got lost in the car one day. Instead of just waiting the snake out, she and her friends ripped apart the inside of the car to find the hiding snake. I don't think the upholstery or door panels were ever the same after that. When 'fasa got sick, she took him repeatedly to the vet, spending money she didn't have in order to get him well. Although it wasn't easy, Brandy injected him with vitamins and things he needed to get well. When he died, she grieved.

3. She is a hard-worker.

4. She is smart. Scary-smart. But I am not sure how she is with Jeopardy. If she is better at it than I am, maybe I better not know. I am proud of the fictional big bucks I win every night on Jeopardy.

5. She loves to read but claims she is taking some "time off" since college reading fried her brain. I am waiting to figure out WHAT she likes to read. In fact, I am rubbing my hands together.

6. She loves my son, which isn't hard to do, but she truly LOVES him. I can tell because a mother knows these things.

7. She is a loyal friend. She has many friends and they all love her very much. Most of them drove a long way to our house for the engagement party. A really long way for some of them - and they were all delighted to be here.

8. She has the first tattoo I ever really liked. She thought a lot about it and then only had the outline done. She is "thinking" on the colors and when she decides, she will probably think some more and maybe - maybe - she will have the tattoo colored. She says the colors have to make themselves known and these things take time.

I will have to add to this list as I think of things to add.

In Lieu of a Fiery and Sarcastic Email~

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a reader from way back and come by it honestly. My nightstand always has a stack of books and you can generally find books, magazines, journals, and other material almost anyplace in my house.

Being enrolled in a doctorate program means lots of professional reading that takes a lot of cognitive energy. The whole point of being in school again is to learn, which just so happens to take place when you READ. Go figure, but I do know what I am talking about here.

So, in the mail last week I receive the Box o' Books from the university for my second class. I only recognize one of the titles and think the others are written by or contributed to by university staff. Since none of them appears particularly enticing, I eMailed the new instructor to ask where I should begin reading.

The first thing she did to tick me off is ignore my eMail for over a week. Maybe I am being sensitive but I think this is a bit rude.

But then she replied - today. Her two paragraphs have pissed me off to the height of pisstivity and it is all I can do, friends, to NOT fire off a nasty and sarcastic response.

She sent this "wagging finger" eMail that is just dripping with TONE. You know what I mean. It is the type of communication that makes you feel dressed down, castigated, disrespected, and patronized. I had flashbacks to grade school - when I was kicked out of my sixth grade class for daring to "read a book" (artfully hidden in the desk, I might add) instead of participating in the "discussion" the teacher wanted to have. Our desks were all pulled into a circle for this purpose. I couldn't see any purpose to this "discussion" and was in the middle of a good book. The teacher actually KICKED ME OUT of class! I don't know which was worse, being forced to sit on a picnic table during the little kids recess or being out there WITHOUT MY BOOK. Then, we had to walk to the office to CALL MY MOTHER, something I got out of when I started crying - in anger more than contrition. But the teacher thought I was sorry and that's all that counted. I still want to track that woman down and ask her about THAT. Kicking a kid out of class for reading - PUHleeeeze. What was this, some 1960s touchy-feely, ultra-progressive yak-yak curriculum? I was reading a BOOK for gawd's sake. In school.

So THIS instructor replies to my very upbeat and friendly eMail with the admonition that I must wait until the class officially starts and that she "appreciates my enthusiasm" but that "this is a process" I must follow.


It is a BAD thing to want to begin the reading for a doctorate-level class? It is WRONG to want to get started on what appears to be a grip-load of reading WHILE I AM OFF school for the next week?

I am failing to understand this response and my anger has flared. My Pavlovian response is to fire off a really nasty and sarcastic eMail that will just drip down the keyboard. I also want to forward this rather bitchy response to the powers that be at the university, demanding to know why I am PAYING to be treated like a recalcitrant child.

Yes, I could begin reading anywhere, but I want to be efficient. The last batch of books - and there were many - were all good but we only read certain chapters out of them. I want to read for understanding - isn't that the whole point? Can you not read better for understanding when you don't have so much of a time constraint?

I am telling you that I am so pissed off I can hardly stand it. I am having to sit on my hands in order to avoid an uncomfortable 18 weeks with an instructor who somehow thinks reading is BAD and got called to task for it by a student whose grade is at her mercy.

Heaven help me. This is taking more will-power than keeping away from the cage of kittens at the pet store. (Cute ones. Cute PLAYING kittens. Adorable SLEEPING kittens, all curled up.)

I think I will leave the house and go cool down at the BOOK STORE. Ha! Then I will come home, pick one of the books and START READING! HA! Then I will send her a PICTURE of me READING.

Double HA!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lost and Found

About a week ago my favorite holiday shirt went missing. It is a long-sleeved tee shirt by the makers of "Life is Good." There is a picture of Jake wearing a Santa hat. He and Rocket are on a snow board, traveling up and over a snow hill. The caption reads: Road Trip.

I love this shirt. I found it on eBay right at Thanksgiving, while doing my weekly search for the best Jake and Rocket tee shirt of all - the one with Jake and
Rocket hiking up the trail. Can you believe they don't make that one anymore? Unbelievable! The caption reads: Life is Good.

I have worn this shirt a LOT to school and around town this past month. Since it is holiday-themed, this was the week to really take advantage! But I cannot find it
anywhere. Nobody in this house has seen it and Second Son went so far as to MAKE FUN OF IT. This would normally make me suspicious, but he made sure to emphasize that the shirt was not to his liking.

The same thing has happened before. Most recently, it was a tee shirt I got in June Lake. There is a picture of a drunk cowboy, slumped over in the saddle. His dog is
holding the reins, taking him home to safety. The caption reads: Designated Driver.

Before that, it was my trusty navy blue cords, all worn it at just the right places, size 8.

Anyway... I recently wanted to wear THAT shirt but do you think I could find it anywhere? NO! It wasn't in a drawer or any of the usual places shirts in my house hang out.

Before that, it was my hiking socks. Not just a pair - SEVERAL PAIRS of my thick and pricey hiking socks came up missing, including a brand new pair of blue Thorlos.

Since I had hiked with my sister and we tend to buy the same socks for each other for Christmas, I called her and nonchalantly brought up the missing socks. She played completely innocent. So then I had to get more aggressive. I ACCUSED HER, via eMail, of taking my socks and not returning them. She got a little testy with me and swore to God on a stack of holy Bibles that she didn't have them and asked how in HECK one manages to LOSE ALL OF one's hiking socks anyway.

She DID get me a pair last Christmas. Guilty conscience, I was thinking. To shut her up, is what SHE was thinking. (I know this because I know her very, very, well.)

So today, I am cleaning out my closet. Behind some long "teacher" dresses that my colleagues at school would pay me money to get rid of, I found my very old wicker
laundry basket, the one with a missing handle. I have had that basket a LONG time. It came as a set. Only this one remains. The others went missing a long time ago.

On the top of the basket were some khaki pants given to me by a teacher who outgrew them and heard me say that I needed some size 12s and didn't want to go buy them. Well, she came through. There were about 14 pairs of khaki pants without. I got a large bag and started the process of pants-culling. Since I don't wear 12s anymore, I thought I may as well bag them up.

After awhile, I started to reach bottom and was AMAZED to find my Drunken Cowboy with the Dog tee shirt, AND 3 pairs of hiking socks! (Except the blue Thorlos.)

But, no Jake and Rocket holiday tee shirt - anywhere. My grief is escalating.

Bet I get a pair of blue Thorlos this Christmas. The card will read: TOLD you I didn't have them.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Annual Holiday Pageant: A Report from the Trench

This is a report from the trenches, with regard to our Holiday Pageant, created especially for my dear and illustrious Principal:

1. The pageant went beautifully. Nobody was late, nobody forgot anything, and nobody threw up.

2. The Master of Ceremonies was somebody you know and love and has a big mouth. Rumor is she had them rolling in the aisles. Okay, yeah, it was me.

3. Most of the parents arrived on time. The vast majority DID NOT get up to leave when the K-2 portion was over. So much for the idea that space would be created for the Grade 3-5 parents.

4. The B*****S family arrived late, entered the cafeteria with a stroller AND a baby buggy, wife and concubine in tow, and blocked the only entrance door until somebody asked them to move. They did - 2 feet to the right. They were considerate and left the dogs outside.

5. The 5th Grade members of the middle school band were outstanding. Loud applause accompanied the introduction of Mr. Mac and the group. When they arrived for the 2nd performance (Gr. 3-5), the Emcee mistakenly called them the "Challenger Band." She was very loudly corrected by the McM****** men, both of whom were in attendance, arms folded, scowls perfectly in place. Heartening to know they were paying attention.

6. The Grouchy Gramma from H*ll simply could not be appeased with assurances, made generally and otherwise, that the 3rd graders WOULD eventually perform. She barked at the Emcee every single time the poor woman raced back to talk to the custodian about something. When told (again) that they third grade would perform last ("We save the best for last!") she angrily snarled, "WHY?!"

The Emcee, when accosted for the 7th or 8th time, wearily gave up reason and replied soulfully, "It's in the Bible," and patted Gramma on the arm.

7. Only ONE (1) Inebriated and Scantily Clad mother showed up to give the Emcee grief. A non-inebriated and much-embarrassed family member was kind enough to save this woman a seat. In the front row. This proves that blood is thicker than alcohol.

8. The Inebriated and Scantily Clad mother had the Grouchy Gramma beat HANDS DOWN with her repeated requests for information about the status of 3rd Grade. Each and every performing group was mistaken for 3rd grade by this most-proud maternal unit, who stood up to take pictures with a camera phone that had a dead battery. She didn't notice - any of several times she held it up before realizing that her child wasn't there.

("Is this 3rd grade?" she would slur to the Emcee. "No," the most patient Emcee would reply.)

9. The piano player was wonderful and the violin player even better. The CDs all played and we remembered to switch the boombox over to "tape" when it came time for the 2nd Grade to perform.

10. The Powerpoints in the background were a huge hit. They were loaded onto YOUR laptop and currently occupy most of your hardrive. Sorry about that.

11. After several inquiries and TWO (count 'em, TWO) general announcements about the performing status of 3rd grade, the Inebriated and Scantily Clad mother grabbed the Emcee by the sleeve as the Emcee attempted to set up another Powerpoint.

"Where is 3rd grade?" she demanded in her best slurry-speech voice. The Emcee very patiently turned off her microphone, leaned down into inebriated mother's face (gin, I'm guessing), and said sweetly, "Didn't I just announce that?"

12. The entire first row erupted into laughter at the 'taken aback' look on the inebriated mother's face. You gotta hand it to her though. She shot right back, "WELL, SH*T! I am FU*&(#!@G FREEZING HERE!"

13. To her credit, the Emcee did NOT lean down and sweetly reply, "WELL HELL's BELLS! Is it MY FAULT you decided to leave your house this morning at o'dawn thirty in 38 degree weather wearing a skanky tank top, bra straps down to here, tattoos exposed for the world to see, and hip-huggers just a couple sizes too SMALL for your frame, drunk as a freekin' SKUNK at 9:00 in the morning at her child's CHIRISTMAS SHOW?"

14. Instead, the patient Emcee offered her a school sweatshirt. The drunk lady declined. The color was ALL WRONG.

15. Only one Hispanic male, approximately 30-35 years old, with dark hair and an oversized white tee shirt entered the pageant at 10:30 am, exclaimed "HOLY $h**!" and backed out the same way he came in.

16. Only ONE male parental unit had to be spoken to by Officer Mark about his rude and unbecoming behavior when told that, NO, he could not just take his child off the stage risers and LEAVE.

17. Grouchy Gramma, impatient after a minute of photo opportunities for 3rd grade parents, did NOT take any pictures. The fact that 27 parents WERE snapping away mattered not. Instead, she castigated the Emcee for not dismissing the kids RIGHT NOW D&^%$it! so SHE could take her grandchildren home. Despite signing them out, neither of the children wanted to leave with her. In fact, the kindergartener cried and the third grader escaped to the playground. Go figure.

18. You will be proud to note that both of the Instructional Assistants who were challenged to "fight in front of this school" politely declined and then suggested for a SECOND time that these rather annoyed parents sign their children out in the office.

19. A lovely time was had by all - except the office staff. They will be filing for stress-related leave within the next few days. Karen was twitching and Gail had hives. The whereabouts of the attendance clerk could not be ascertained for quite awhile.

20. Officer Mark was flushed from all the excitement.