Saturday, December 31, 2011

Going old school in the blogosphere

As with many of my fellow bloggers, I suspect we spend more time in the blogosphere than is socially acceptable. You know, it's not just our own stuff, but we're out there blowing away an afternoon reading other blogs too.

I'm checking out my favorite pet bloggers to keep up with their goings on (see my blogroll on the right hand panel), before moving on to brain candy like the trivia sites. I simply adore useless trivial nonsense sites, which help feed my fantasy of winning Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.   And I know I could win; my poor over-forty noggin is just packed with the stuff that keeps me from having a fully intelligent conversation.  Did you know that Play-Doh was first developed as a wallpaper remover? Do you care? Right, and that's why I don't get invited to parties.

And with that, don't even go out to a site like tywkiwdbi.  It will fill your brain. I warned you.

I'm just a humble thing, a niche blogger with a few dedicated readers (Hi Mom!), but while we're fantasizing I'll share with you the genius of the The Bloggess.  When I grow up, I want to be just like her.  Well, maybe a little less profane. I just don't have the guts to use words like $hit in my online ramblings. See, I can't do it. But darn it, I think that's why I enjoy her stories like I do.

Yep, the great and powerful blogosphere is a great way to avoid that nasty housework. But being an old school kind of girl, I have a tactile need to hold my creation in my hands. I made this stuff my own self, after all.

So what to do, but have these words of mine printed into a book.

That's right, says Micron, I'm kind of a 
big deal  around here.
Check out the expression on Yaxley's face.

I turned to an online publishing company called Blurb. These guys provided software so I could upload all my blog content, text and photos, in a single step. What a time saver!  Then they had the gall to allow me to customize and resize all my photos. Full page, two-page spreads, and such.  Aargh, what a time eater!  Took me days of messing around with everything until I felt it good enough to print.

After waiting ever so patiently for the thing to show up on my doorstep (what's taking so long? Didja have to chop down a tree to make the paper or something?), I rip open the shipping box to bask in the glow of being a (self) published authoress.  Ah, this is nice, I think. It's so beautiful. 

I'm leafing through page by page (should I be wearing white cotton archival gloves?), trying to keep the pesky perfectionist node of my brain from mentally changing anything in the format.  Then I find it.  A typo.


I don't think glasses would make me look smarter

Well, that does it. Gotta reprint the thing, darn it. I fix the typo and upload the tome again. While I was at it, a little redesign of the cover as well, giving it a typewriter distressed look.

And I'm pretty happy with the results, I think.  For you curious readers, clicking Book Preview in the image below will take you to, well,  a preview. This shows about 40 or so pages of the book. Somehow, I actually filled this tome with 156 pages of text, photos and inflated ego.

If you do check it out, would you drop me a comment and let me know what you think?  Good, bad or ugly?  What would you change if this were your magnum opus?  

Raising a Super Dog: 2011
Another year in the...
By Donna Black-Sword

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Caption this photo

This Micron when he was a tiny fellow. So new, so pure. Like a fluffy cotton-ball with needle sharp puppy teeth.  (Remember Mogwai rules? Don't get 'em wet, no bright light and don't feed after midnight. Or your adorable Gizmo critter turns into a gremlin.)

And on the right is Jager. Who continues in his role as a professional victim.

I had titled this photo "Land Shark."  But what other captions can we come up with here? Drop a comment should something come to mind.

Birthday wishes do come true

The anniversary of my 29th birthday falls in the early springtime. It happens every year, it does. And I do love that time of year, right at the cusp between winter's end and the renewal the more temperate weather brings to our days.  That wonderful season of windbreakers, yellow daffodils, and rain boots.  

And it's an extra coolness when my special day actually falls on Easter Sunday, which puts a whole new glorious spin on the celebration. Sure, this has only happened once that I can recall, but it was a great theme party that year.

Of course I don't have griping rights about sharing my birthday with a big holiday. Even something as powerful as the Easter celebration. Odds are, I have more chance of winning the lottery while being consumed by a tiger shark than getting another Easter Sunday birthday. So I can pretty much expect the same amount of gifts year after year. And by gifts, I'm referring to the stuff I buy for myself.

But I hear the folk who have their birthdays around the Christmas season don't always get off as lucky. Christmas and birthday gifts sometimes get combined, lowering the meter on the happy scale into the yellow zone. Kids especially can feel a little slighted about their celebrations getting mixed in the holiday rush of family activities. You still get stuff and maybe even lots of it.  But what about your special day? You know, when your sister has to be nice to you and does the dishes when it's really your turn.

One friend has solved this by celebrating his Half Birthday. A clever way to get your day of personal Me attention, I think. A full balloons and cake celebration in July instead of December. Smart fella.

So with all this in mind, we were sensitive to Yaxley and his first birthday that fell on December 22.  Yax was the fourth pup born in the aptly named Yuletide Y litter for Canine Companions for Independence.  These undecaplets met the world in the warm, caring hands of Susie Nash and her awesomely incredible team of whelping assistants.

Yaxley and his ten littermates were born to Keara, a full golden retriever. The dads were either Camden or Hickman, both Labradors, and paternal heritage was determined at eight weeks old by DNA testing (Yaxley is a Hickman pup).  Susie is renowned in that league of most excellent of breeder caretakers for CCI and once I began watching the videos of Keara's Y litter, I just knew I wanted to raise one of these amazing pups.

Here's the Y litter on their actual Birth Day, courtesy of Susie Nash. Eyes and ears closed, these fuzzies begin life with the comforting smell of Mom and warm milk in their tummies. About three minutes of newborn puppy goodness. 

So was that just precious or what? Well, check your glucose levels folk, cuz I got another batch of puppy sweetness coming up. Again, by the awesomeness that is Susie, we have a video of the Yuletide Y's noshing upon their first Eukanuba meal.  This one is especially near to my puppy lovin' heart as little Yaxley has finagled himself as the center of attention.

You can watch for the neon green collar for identification, but Susie does give him a personal call out. A couple of times or so. This is the Y pup's first solid meal as they're weaned from mother's milk. Dunno about you guys, but this is seven minutes of time well spent for me.

Ah, but back to the topic at hand. What can we do to make Yaxley's holiday birthday a special day?  The answer is rather easy, you know. Because he's a pup, he's a live-in-the-moment kind of critter. Hungry is in his doggie vocabulary. Along with Sit, Down, Bed and Hurry. But Happy Birthday is not. We give him an extra doggie cookie to mark the occasion. We're nice to him the whole day and he doesn't have to do the dishes that night, even though it was his turn. And as we're tucking him in at bedtime, he says, Thanks! I had a good day.

It's not hard to make a pup happy.

As human beans, however, we want a little more for the little yeller feller. It's his First Birthday, after all. Let's celebrate!

We were wonderfully surprised by a gift from Inga's family. Inga, the first CCI pup we raised, is now a Skilled Companion to a young fella in Pennsylvania. And I admit, I struggle with the words to express how blessed we feel that this family has embraced ours and included us in their lives. We sent Inga off filled with our love to share. And now it's coming back to us. This, my friends, is just awesome stuff. [sniff]

Hey Yax, I think today's my half birthday. Just sayin'.
The accompanying note instructed us to open the gift before we celebrate as it contained something Yax would want to put on his birthday cupcake.

Oh! Adorable!

Now don't feel pity for Yaxley when I share this next tidbit. He didn't get to actually eat the cupcake. I rather enjoyed the chocolatey thing in his honor. Instead, he was rewarded handsomely for not touching people food. He got his very own Iams dog biscuit. 

Make a wish, Yaxley!

I wish that were a dog cookie.

Which, when you consider it, means his birthday wish really did come true.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Huntin' season for trees

Ma!  I like this one!
In the days when the Husband and I were oh so very new with this parenting gig, we thought it paramount to put our personal spin on the family Christmas traditions. You know, the warm and fuzzy memories of his suburban childhood mixed gently with my rustic farm livin' upbringing. (Alternatively called "You're Not Doing That Right.") Then we would offer up these experiences for the kid's memories. And someday when he has his own family, he will carry these traditions with him and tell his kids, when I was little, my rents . . .

It seemed like a wonderful idea, we thought.

So the first Christmas after the kid became self-aware, we donned him in his winter gear and rumbled off in the Ford pick-up for the local Christmas tree farm. Let's go cut down our own tree! we exclaim, we're gonna make you some memories today, son.

We park the truck and drag toddler boy out for his first ever tree hunt. Dang, we say, pulling on our gloves and stamping our feet, it's flippin' cold out here.

Fuzz-lined gloves are poised above our eyes in an attempt to see clearly out into the fields of evergreen. We discover our conifer of choice, the soft-needled white pine, is . . . where?  Holy cow, really?  Well, that's gonna be a hike.  Maybe we should have packed a lunch.

But no matter, we're actually in pretty good shape to get out there. Got our walking shoes on and dressed warmly enough.  We've got time and the attitude to do this.

We had an affectionate nickname for the kid at this phase in his young life. When my cuddle bunny melted into a hungry, thirsty, and tired toddler, he was referred to as Bio-Boy. And two-thirds of the way out to the north forty we found ourselves challenged with the insistent biological needs of a toddler. (Where's the diaper bag? Ah, back in the truck. greeaat . . .) I scoop up my little adorable bio bundle and we trod on with a renewed sense of purpose to find the Perfect Tree for this year's Christmas memories.

Husband says, how 'bout this one?  I dunno, the needles are a little yellow on the ends.  This one?  Don't you think the trunk is too crooked?  He grips the handle of the hacksaw perhaps a wee too tight.  Right.  How's this one look to you?  Are you kidding? Look at that big bare spot!  Alrighty. This one?  It's not, well, piney enough.

Ok, look, says the Husband. You know what? I believe you. The Perfect Tree is out there. But, as luck would have it, it's not actually at this particular tree farm. Please just pick a tree so I can hack the thing down and drag it back over the twenty acres we just walked.

Oh, but I can't! I can't choose from any of these inferior coniferous twig beings. I'm not often accused of having high standards, but these pines are just not the stuff of memory making. Sorry, my brave knights, I have failed you. And with hanging heads and lowered standards, we tromp back on numbing feet to the farm entrance. You know, I sigh with resignation, that tree lot at the grocery might have something nice.

We walk past the barn when we notice, well, there's a barn. Has this been here the whole time? Huh. And through the open barn doors (snicker, sorry), there appears before us a gallery of evergreen, freshly cut and hanging in neat rows.  Firs, scotch pine, white pines - all green and straight and full and all piney smelling. They're perfect, the whole lot of them!  I walk in to hug a beautiful tree, exclaiming too loudly, I love it! Toss that hacksaw aside, we've found our destiny tree!

I know what you're thinking. You saw that photo of the kid at the top, didn't you? In spite of my seasonal zealousness, the kid was way too young to really retain any memories of this ill-fated tree hunt of his toddler youth.  And that's for the best, I think, as the parental dialog was getting a little salty out there on the tundra.

But now, my favorite kid has outgrown me and is off to college. And the Husband and I are left  behind to carry on the holiday traditions we started as a young family.  With a different flavor these days, though.  We no longer have the Ford S-10; we now rumble to the tree farm in extended cab GMC.  And instead of the kid, we take a dog.

Not that we replaced the kid with a dog. It's important to keep that clear, he keeps reminding me.

Gotcher holiday spirit right here, Micron says.
Yax, my love, I exclaim, put on your working cape and let's go make us some Christmas memories!

The mighty Micron was our furry and festive tree hunter last Christmas (photo, right). Before we left for the tree farm, he pulled Yaxley aside to give him some pointers on how to get the job done.

Kid, he says, Pick the first one you see.

Great. Thanks a lot, Micron. Now, please turn off the TV and bring up the box of decorations from the basement, will you?

So it's a gorgeous, sunny December afternoon. Perfect weather for tree shopping. And so we rumble off to the tree lot with Yaxley all jazzed and ready to hunt him some evergreen.

Sniff, snuffle, says Yaxley, here it is! Got one!

My job here is done.
Yaxley, this is indeed a lovely choice, I say, but since the tree is laying right here at the entrance, it probably already belongs to someone else. Let's dig a little deeper into the lot, shall we?

Luck is ours and we find a beautiful white pine without any fuss or muss. I send the Husband to the other side to untie the thing from the post. Which end do you want, he asks. Which end do I want for what? You mean to carry? Don't they have people for that?  Ugh, I get The Look. Alright, lemme have the top part. It looks lighter than that big thing on the other end.  You mean the trunk?  Yeah, that.

I'm watching it just like you said, Food Lady. 
What's it supposed to be doing?

Yup, we untied it ourselves.
Next step is dragging this piney carcass into the house and the joyful joint effort of putting the thing in the tree stand, which is not as bad as wallpapering a room together.

Last Christmas Yaxley was a newborn pup, so we're sensitive to these new experiences. While he's trying to wrap his yellow noggin around the phenomena of an outdoor smelling thing planted into a big water bowl, Micron pulls him aside.

This is funny, Micron says. Watch the Food Lady when I drink from the big water bowl. heh heh.  Now you try it. See, she sounds just like the red squeaky ball, doesn't she?

And then you put lights on it?
And so continues our holiday traditions.

This will be our fourth Christmas with a CCI puppy in our home.  In 2008, we celebrated the season with the lovely Inga. This gorgeous pup was five months old on her first Christmas.

Inga shares her wish list with Santa, while the jolly elf wishes she'd move that front paw from his, um, chestnuts.

We brought home the mighty Micron the week before Thanksgiving in 2009.  A ridiculously adorable puppy that looks like he smells like sugar cookies. As is turns out, it's actually a scent reminiscent of mushroom soup, but that didn't dampen  the warm welcome into our home.

All this puppy goodness was too much to keep under the radar, though. The mighty Micron has graced the Canine Companions for Independence holiday cards two years in a row. And his handsome puppy mug has been included in the 2011 and 2012 CCI Calendars

Just the way timing worked out, we enjoyed a second Christmas season with Micron in 2010.

And he continues to be the life of the party.

I didn't bother to send this next photo in to CCI.

And now that this cuddlebug is a CCI college drop-out, we find ourselves blessed to have yet another Christmas with him.  Just proof that we must've done something good to get this kind of karma happening for us. 

More on that later. But now, I need to check on the tree. I think the cat just discovered it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: When he smelled like snickerdoodles

Christmas 2009 . . . when puppy Micron smelled like snickerdoodles and we learned to decorate the tree halfway up.

Here my favorite kid introduces Micron to his puppet doppelganger. The thing barks out three Holiday songs, which was pretty funny. For about five minutes.

bark Bark bark barkbarkbarkbark . . .  (we wish you a merry Christmas . . . ) Ok, that can stop now.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Every day he reminds me

I love the taste of newsprint in the morning
Oh, Mr. Micron, you silly yellow dog.  Every day is a reminder of why he is our pet . . . and that he's just not made of assistance dog stuff.

Another roundtable meeting at the office this week and we start with the obligatory autobiographical introductions.

Hi, I'm Donna from Finance. I've been with the R&D Pet Care group for just about eighteen years. And here under the table is assistance dog in training, Yaxley.  This handsome fella belongs to Canine Companions for Independence [pause while everyone peeks under the table at the yeller feller curled up like a fox and resting quietly].

And this guy? [all eyes move to Micron who's resting his smiling noggin on the conference table with his tongue lolling out].  This is Micron. He was in training with CCI as well, but he was released from the program and is now my beloved pet.

He didn't pass? I'm asked. But why?

He, um.  Well you see, Micron just didn't want to do that kind of work, I confess this to all in the conference room, Mike's kinda lacking a little in the work ethic department. Micron rolls his soft brown eyes over to me and produces a big doggie smile. 

Ah, it's true. After Micron came home from Advanced Training (what we otherwise refer to as three months at CCI summer camp), we've been giving him chores to do around the house. Because it's so annoying to come home to a warm TV and Cheetos dust on the sofa.

I have to tell you though, I am totally blessed to be in a dog friendly office and will bring Micron in whenever I can. Some days, though, it just can't be helped and the mighty Micron needs to spend the day in the comfort of our humble home. 

So, what did you do today while I was at work, Micron?  I cleaned the breakfast dishes with Soap & Water!, he says.  

Which is, of course, his clever nicknames for Yaxley and Jager - Soap & Water.  Ugh, alrighty then. I think I'll just load the dishwasher and run a sanitizing rinse if that doesn't offend your canine sensibilities too terribly much.

What to do with this beautiful and intelligent dog to keep him from the distractions of the willingly unemployed? You know what they say - every hour of daytime TV is another brain cell sacrificed to the talk show gods.  Right, for one thing, we've tasked Micron to retrieve the newspaper every morning. The Husband likes to review the latest world happenings along with his Life cereal.  It keeps the Tums folk in business, it does.

And this fluffy dog just loves the taste of newsprint. He walks to the end of the driveway to pick the thing up, and carries it back in his maw along with a proud doggie strut. Lookit me y'all!  he says. I gotcher paper! 

That's right.  I am the Master of News Retrieval.

So there, Yax!

And this job works out pretty well. Sure, for the most part anyway. There are the occasional mornings when Micron has determined the paper has developed a self-awareness and needs to be summarily destroyed before it can take action on its evil plans to take over the world.

But fortunately, that's not every day.  Some days I even have enough left to do the crossword.

Another job that Micron has shown an interest in is helping to carry in the groceries.  Groceries is rather a broad term and what I really mean is that Micron likes to carry in the paper towels.  And that's it, really.  Just the paper towels.

So on grocery days, we're met at the door of the Toyota by the mighty Micron.  Need help? he asks, smacking his lips, so, which bag has the paper towels? And so, like idiots, we hand him a roll.

In a well-intentioned, but disastrous, attempt to demonstrate this feat, here's a photo recreation of what happens after our weekly grocery trip.

Yeah, so the play bow is not a good sign that he's taking this recreation seriously. If I had any sense, we would give up any hope at this point for a happy ending. At least for the Bounty.  But I continue to optimistically click the shutter.

But things take an even darker turn.

Ok, so I'd really like to say that it doesn't happen just like this every week, but I'd be lyin' to you.  Because it does. Pretty much just like you see here.  The only twist is when he takes the paper towel roll into the house to show Yaxley (Look what I got and you don't, Yax!I).  I don't have photos of that.  And I wouldn't show you if I did.  It's too embarrassing.

No dogs were harmed in this photo recreation.
The Bounty roll, however, suffered a bit.

And speaking of embarrasing, don't tell Micron I showed you these next shots. As we're going back into the house after my ill fated photo shoot, Mike spies the paper towels on the railing where I had left them. In a fit of impulsiveness (every day is a reminder) he jumps up to grab them, but knocks them off instead.

And here he is trying to get them back.

Ah, hindsight is 20:20, isn't it?  All he had to do was walk around the railing, instead of giving it the old college try pulling the ten inch roll through the four inch space. But hey, maybe he was just trying to show me he does indeed have a work ethic after all. He is trying really, really hard, you see.

That work ethic stuff.  It's . . . well, it's hard work, it is.

Whaja mean there's another newspaper out there again?  You want me to do this every day?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

He's goin' for the dog cookies!

WoofWishes Christmas Card
Browse Shutterfly's unique Christmas card designs.
View the entire collection of cards.

Last year we participated in a holiday card exchange with other CCI puppy raisers, graduates and supporters of this fine organization. Facilitated by a fellow puppy raiser, the rules were straight forward - you need to sign up to participate, agree to mail out a holiday photo to everyone on the distribution, and (rather important) have a dog of some sort. A working dog, Change of Career dog, pup in training or even just your favorite household pet. Easy nuff.

Going to the mailbox became a day brightener over the otherwise dreary wintertime. Tossing aside holiday catalogs and bills, I would fish out all the personal envelopes to check out the gorgeous dogs gracing the front of photo cards. We received over seventy cards last year, which I pasted onto the outside of my office cubicle for everyone to enjoy. Folk came from afar to view the Wall of Dog. (A bit more heart warming than the previous Wall of Death, when I had tacked up the eviscerated bodies of every stuffed toy a certain nameless dog had cheerfully disemboweled.) 

If this is some kind of contest for the best lookin' dog,
I feel kinda sorry for the other guys.

This year, I couldn't wait to sign up again. I chose two photo card designs from Shutterfly; one is pictured above. Photo credits go to Flash Photography of Dayton. Snarky comment is courtesy of me via Photoshop.

My grand plan is same as before. This will get posted on the cube wall in my new office for everyone to view and enjoy all the holiday dog goodness. And I had actually motivated myself to scrapbook these things last year, sorting the dogs by state. Will do that again, I think. A lofty goal, but certainly achievable over the Christmas break. Especially, if I give up other recreational activities, like sleeping and paying attention to the family.

Looking forward to some furry holiday cheer in the mailbox over the next few weeks.

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