Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

It's New Year's Eve.

I'm not out celebrating with friends.

Friends aren't here celebrating with me.

I'm not with family.

I'm Home Alone with Doggies, one crashed on the couch,

one bringing me a stripped naked tennis ball again and again.

At 9:00 pm, I just finished WORKING. And it's the best New Year's Eve I've spent in years, because I just solved a problem that has been kicking my butt since September.

Those that know me best know that I'm pretty darn happy when I'm reconciling a bank account. Well, corporate bank account reconciliation is the MOTHER of all bank recons. I can't say how many lines of data or how many digits, of course, but I finally found bank recons complex enough to keep me happy for hours and hours. No, I haven't been working on it since September, but start to finish, this one took me about 18 hours (that flew by like it was 5 minutes) in 3 uninterrupted sittings this weekend to do a 6 month recon. And I only got it done that fast because parts of it had been done by me and others in bits and pieces over the months.

On that happy note, I can say goodbye to a very successful 2012, and gaze into the future at what 2013 might bring.

To bring down the party (should I really do that in this post??), I fear it will bring me a blind dog, my own dear Sunny. (Yes, I should write this, because this is what I set out to write when I sat down - that stuff up there is just a warm-up.)

Dear diary, you missed the canine medical adventures we've had since July. As souvenirs from our journey, we have stacks and stacks of invoices from 3 vets (I know, I just sorted all the 2012 bills) and a big huge dent in the P&L statement for the year. So the accountant in me says good riddance to those money-pit eyes. In finance class, I learned that it's a sunk cost - not an investment - those expensive, glowing brown orbs, so expressive even after having lost sight completely in #1. At what cost to keep them? The meds keeping them happy since Thanksgiving are a temporary solution and will start being tapered this week.

A few weeks before Turkey Day, the inflammation was bad enough that I scheduled the surgery to put him out of my misery. This was about the same time I was dropping big bucks to find out that nobody could tell us why he was having bloody noses. But 2 weeks later, the "let's just try this for the bloody noses" medication had given so much relief to the eyes that doc wouldn't let me make him operate.

And 5 weeks later, a week after Christmas Eve, all is calm, all is bright.

But like I said, the moment of truth beckons. Please just let us get moved into the new house so I don't have to move a blind dog.

And now, the whole point of making this post. I had written something about all this back in November on the day when the surgery was cancelled, and I wanted to get it recorded here. So here goes:

The Dog That Will Go Blind, But Not Today

It's a roller coaster ride,
it is,
it is.

To commit
on the 7th day of November
To remove the right eyeball of one's dear dog
on the 20th of November.
Then to decide
on the 15th of November
That two operations constitutes cruelty to animals
Therefore one must sacrifice both orbs.
Then to learn that things have calmed down
and nothing should be done
during the month of November 2012.

But at the bottom of the dip
with a realization I was hit...

This is a death.

The dog that communicates with his eyes will be lost to us.
Odd, isn't it. Since dogs supposedly don't like to look us in the eye,
Yet they seem to know that we humans need this link.

So when faced with the loss of the soulful Lab eyes and the dog that
is defined thus,
We must take our turn to mourn, and then look ahead with anticipation
at the new dog who will blossom in his place.

Come On Mom - 2013 is waiting! 
We have lots of Reading Rovers and Agility to do. 
Let's Go!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy Holidays 2012

I really appreciate all my friends who still send Christmas cards, especially the photo ones. Well, I appreciate ALL my friends, but tonight I am looking at the small collection on display, and I am grateful that they are not ALL from doctors who got lots of my money this year and non-profits wanting anything that I might have left over. After Sunny's vet bills this year and buying a Master's degree in Accounting from Gonzaga University, there isn't much left, y'all.

I miss the days when my mailbox was full of 50+ incoming Christmas cards, almost as much as I miss sending 50+ outgoing cards, with personalized notes for everyone. I remember sitting in the San Francisco and Chicago airports during a foul-weather December business trip one year, so glad that I had brought all my cards along to work on during 24 hours of delayed flights. I never did get to the customer in North Carolina. Stuck in Chicago, I was grateful to find a room in the inn. Returning to the airport in the morning, I once again set up shop, sitting next to a window, watching the lovely snow come down. At some point, when the customer meeting had begun without me, I rebooked my ticket and returned to SFO. If I hadn't had a lovely snow storm to watch and 100 Christmas cards to write, it would have seemed a wasted 24 hours. What an odd Christmas memory to come back to me today.

Back in the days of Lily and Network, it was an annual tradition to set up a tree, wrap some gifts, get out the reindeer ears and Santa hat, and work on the annual card. This year, I stumbled on the old reindeer ears and Santa hat and tortured the new generation of Labs, so at least I can complete my electronic Christmas card.

And now for the summary of 2012. Judging by the paltry number of posts this year (8 - wow, better than I thought, but only 1 in the last 8 months), it musta been another crazy one!

It all started when I successfully executed on my goals for 2011, setting me up for a crazy 2012, which started with part 3 of the CPA exam on day 2 of the year. I had also just completed my first temp job and was finally calling myself an accountant. But I still had another year of classes to complete the master's degree, one more part of the CPA to tackle, and hopes that more work would come my way.

And they all happened right on schedule. After working one last time at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, I got settled into the spring semester, told the temp agency I was ready for another assignment, and was back to work before I could get lazy. It was not a good place to work, very unhealthy (odd that a hospital isn't more aware of the health hazards of a stressful workplace). But I stuck it out long enough to get some good experience, leaving that temp job after 6 months since I was running out of time to take that last CPA exam and they had shown that they wouldn't respect the time I needed to study, despite promises made early on. I should get some kinda award for lasting that long - the guy who took my place lasted less than a month.

I enjoyed my summer break, such as it was - a week or two to finish studying and take CPA exam #4, a long weekend of agility at our big local competition, and then off to the races with the fall and final semester. As soon as I told the temp agency I was ready for work again in September, they delivered (well, I had to help them) and by day 13 on the job at FLSmidth, I was told I wouldn't be able to leave. On day 12, I had decided I didn't want to leave, so that was excellent and timely news. My permanent position became official on November 5th and I finished my degree 6 weeks later! I didn't get any rest as excess work immediately flooded in to fill the empty spaces, but the weekends are much more relaxing now that I don't start the weekend off on Thursday night by mapping out all the homework that I have to divide up between Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday.

In the few hours left over at the end of the semester, I had started house hunting on-line. What a nice way that is to shop for a home - much less tiring than running all over town and getting the willies at the sordid selection. I still got the willies a few times, but I clicked to another web page without delay. December 9th was my last day of school, and on December 11th I visited the home that I had already chosen, and promptly made an offer. As of this writing, financing is still up in the air since the mortgage broker thinks he can do this without me having to sell my property in Idaho (did we learn nothing as a society by the recent housing crisis - you really want to sell me a house for a song??), but the new year will hopefully start off with my 14th move in 25 years. I've got the itch to either move again, or take a long road trip, but since new jobs don't allow long vacations in the first 6 months, it'll have to be a move! My apartment lease is up on 2/28 and my job is 20 miles away over very scenic terrain that is prone to doubling my commute time with winter weather, so I'm moving across town one way or t'other.

Somehow with all of the above going on, I still managed to hold down my volunteer position as Medical Intake Coordinator for Safe Harbor Lab Rescue in Colorado. I also sat on the boards for Pawsitive Works and Canine Angels Service Teams, but didn't give as much time as I wish I could have. All are worthy organizations and I proud to do what I can for them.

Somehow with all the above going on, I still managed to train every week and compete a few times in the crazy sport of Agility. Star and I had our AKC debut in February and rocked it, with a Double Q our first day and 3 out of 4 Qualifying runs for the weekend. We were running well together in March and were on top of the world after our local competition in May, earning our first title, lots of Qs and a couple Best in Class scores. Then I made a critical error, trying to cram an out of town competition into June, between work and summer school and CPA exam. I was just too stressed out and my partner Star didn't perform well under the circumstances. She in turn got so stressed that she started using the competition ring as her personal racetrack, and it only got worse as the summer wore on. After 2 days of this at our local August trials, I left her home the third day and had more fun working in the ring for the whole last day, earning my Novice Course Builder title, and the first leg of my Ring Steward title. For those not in the sport, these are fictitious titles that I invented to make myself feel like I wasn't a total failure after my performance with my dog in the ring. Star continued to be out of control at our weekly classes, but coincidence or not, her graduation gift to me was snapping out of it the minute I was done with school. I'm looking forward to getting back to competing in 2013, if the stress of moving doesn't push her over the edge again. She's such an awesome, athletic jumper, the sport has an amazing amount of analytical stuff to feed my insatiable need, I train with a coach who competes at the international level, constantly pushing the envelope for herself and us, and I live in an area where the Agility community is as strong as the country dance community in Sonoma County, which I REALLY REALLY miss, so I really hope we can live up to our potential.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes to All for Good Things in 2013!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Network's Legacy - Three Years Later

Three years ago today, I said good-bye to my first Lab, Network. Writing about my second Lab had helped me after losing her, so I tried to do the same for Network. It didn't come easily like it had with Lily, until I realized that Network's story is really my story, a story about all the wonderful things that came into my life because of him.

Getting to know dogs, especially Labs and Goldens (he was part both), and the joy they bring to our lives, led me to spend most of my free time volunteering. Through my work with Healdsburg Animal Shelter, Canine Angels Service Teams, Safe Harbor Lab Rescue and Pawsitive Works, I have been touched hundreds of times by seeing the improvement in the lives of dogs and people when wonderful matches are made. This is something that Network gave to me.

He also gave me pet photography, one of the great joys of my life. Also very important, most of the friends that I have made over the past 15 years, especially the lifelong type, came to me because of him.

In our early years, I became intrigued by pet assisted therapy and by the sport of agility. We never got around to trying agility, and he was a little too easily frightened to be a good therapy dog, so I poured my energy into photography instead. But those two ideas that were planted in my mind with him have both come to be now with my third and fourth Labs - Sunny is a reading assistance dog working with elementary school students, and Star and I train and compete in AKC agility.

I will never forget you, my faithful friend. Thank you for making me who I am today.

Adapted from the original post: So-long-ol-pal

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunny Is Still Going to School

I just realized I left my audience hanging after the February 12 post about Sunny Bunny, so now on Easter Sunday let me bring us all up to date.

Sunny did recover from his flare-up and was happy to go back to school.

Then about 6 weeks later he got up one morning and was obviously in some kind of pain. For a week he was in a lot of pain. The vet eventually identified his hips as the area of concern. Might have been the weather. Dunno. Sure was tough to watch - he cried when he had to walk, so mostly he just laid on his bed. I added more piles of soft stuff on his bed till he looked like the Prince and the Pea. Poor little baby.

Then after a week of that, his eyes flared again. Sheesh. I know the vet doesn't believe it, but I gotta go with stress as the trigger. After about 10 days from the start of it all, he had turned the corner, and now 16 days later, he's tapering back off the meds and holding his own. He missed school one week and then it was spring break. He should be good to go back this week.

While he was in the midst of that, I got to stay home all weekend. I was supposed to be working on my audit research project but I never really got around to it. Completely blew off the whole weekend watching my agility coach at Nationals: How inspiring is that?

The following weekend was much more productive on the report front, and when I finished my work on that for the day, Star and I got to play a little bit. We call it Rockin' the Weave Poles:

Yup, there's 12 of them there. Competing at the novice level, we're only running 6 in competition right now, but she knows how to do all of them. And at the 9 Mile Trial coming up in 5 weeks we'll be playing the new Time 2 Beat game, where we have to do all 12 and do 'em fast.

Next challenge - being as aggressive in competition as we are at home.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Moses Lake AKC Trial 3/25/2012

Good thing we threw that Ridgefield trial in at the last minute in February. Little did we know that our life of leisure was quickly coming to an end. I added a 3rd class at Gonzaga during the 3rd week of the semester and then a week later I took a new temp job. They wanted 55-60 hours a week but were satisfied with 38, which was pushing the limits for me, but having just written the big check for tuition, income was good.

I immediately decided that Moses Lake wasn't going to happen (for me anyway - they weren't gonna cancel the whole event just 'cause I couldn't be there), which made me very sad, because I had been looking forward to it for a year. But then a couple weeks later I realized that I could go for one day, and that made me very happy, because I had been looking forward to it for a year.

I had a cooking frenzy on Friday night as I prepared my food for the weekend, spent a leisurely Saturday morning getting everything all packed up, and then made the short 2 hour drive over, arriving in time to watch the end of the FAST novice runs, which was perfect as I was going to attempt it for the first time the next day. I also got to join the Spokane/MT BBQ, thanks to Carolyn and Betty and Chuck**2. (That's Chuck Squared in English.)

And then on Sunday we had our 3 runs.

Novice JWW

Novice STD

Novice FAST

No ribbons, but nicer runs than the first event where we got all those silly ribbons. Well, maybe not that STD one, although we did fix the broad jump and A-frame problems that we had at the last event.

Thank you to Dave and Heather for the great videos. I hope to return the favor at future trials.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunny Bunny Spending All My Money

Oh Darling Sunny. I really do love you too. But you will land us in the poor house yet. I've always said I'd rather be homeless with my dogs than give them up to stay in a lonely home, but please don't test me on that one, ok?

I was so proud of you last week when you went to school to help those little kids learn to read. I loved it when your handler Micky said that you are already a favorite with the teachers and the kids after just one week, and when the program administrator put you through the paces and said you were perfect for the job. And when I left you with Micky and Suki for the weekend and Star and I went away to do our agility, I was so happy because what I had envisioned for all of us for 2 years had finally come to fruition, all the way down to the 2nd mom to take care of you on weekends sometimes.

But then we woke up yesterday morning and your uveitis had flared up again and you couldn't open your eyes. When neither the vet nor I could identify the cause, I had to consider that it's a stress-induced condition and the activities of the past week might have triggered it. Coincidentally it also happened when I brought Star home 2 years ago, as it happened to Network 15 years ago when I brought that little BC mix, Yule, home from the shelter to foster. You "momma's boys" just don't deal well with sharing, do you?

Well, you got used to Star, so maybe you'll get used to going to school too. But if you don't, then we will stop doing it, because it's no fun watching you when your eyes hurt so bad you can't open them. Never mind those vet bills - I still love you.

February 17th, 2012

I had a realization in the past week that was pretty special for me and I can't BELIEVE it took me 2 YEARS to figure it out.

My first Lab was a big ol' guy (Network) who was born on Feb 17. I let him go in Aug 2009 at 13 1/2 yrs old. Six months later, Feb 17, 2010, on what would have been his 14th birthday, I very innocently volunteered to transport for Safe Harbor a darling yellow girl from the vet to her foster. She of course was my future agility Star and this is the very first photo I took of her, with my cell phone, as we sat in the car in front of the foster's home, before I got out to let him know we were there. I love her alertness as she watched a kid go by on his way home from school.

In retrospect, I am sure that she picked me that day - it took 30 min to drag her out of the car at the foster. If I had realized what day it was, I would probably have known that my big ol' Network was sending her to me on his birthday, and I would never have left her with the foster. It was about 3 days before I decided I wanted to give her a try, a week before I got to bring her home, and another week before we overcame a potty issue and I agreed to keep her forever. I can't believe it has been 2 years already and that in some ways I love her more than my first Lab, my "heart" dog. We really have that special something. (Hmmm, is that "special something" something I'm supposed to have with another human being, and not a canine? Well, when they make a human more worthy than my canines, I'll reconsider.)

I was really floored when I realized all this last week and looked back in my transport log to confirm those dates. I was sobered by the realization of just how "meant to be" this was. What a special gift she was, and a special Valentine too.

And I just love how she curls up into such a compact little Lab ball. I just wanna wrap my arms around that little ball and make her last forever.

AKC Debut Day 2

Preparing for our 4th run, after 3 straight Qs in our AKC debut, I was almost hoping that we wouldn't get another one. Not that I was planning to turn it down if it was earned, but think of the pressure to continue that trend if we did go 4 for 4 at our first AKC trial! I had all day to think about that as our 1st run was early and our 2nd run was late.

But first, we started off Sunday morning with high hopes, having scored the Big Double Q on Saturday. There's a lot I don't like about this run, but I LOVE the excitement of my friends behind the camera as we approach the last jump and after we complete the run. I also like my 2 front crosses, probably the only handling that I did as planned all weekend. So the bar is pretty low for the Big Q in Novice but I guess that's how they get you hooked.

And here's our 4th run. Commentary afterwards.

So I got my wish - we broke our streak. And after a brief moment of "ah shucks" I really was ok with it, and a week later as I write this, I still am. Now I can focus on improving our speed and my handling skills instead of worrying about our Q ratio.

It's hard to see what went wrong in the video, but without enough momentum off the dog walk she stepped on the broad jump (we now have one in our backyard, a discarded shipping palette rescued from the field behind the apartments, and will work on making sure that doesn't happen again) and then she jumped off the A-Frame. The judge also called 2 refusals. We might have gotten 0 Qs for the weekend if she had been our judge the whole time. Then again, she was our judge for our first run but I find I have no memory of that run.

What I am most proud of is our Saturday standard run, our very first standard run in competition. The 2 big things that went wrong on our Sunday standard run were exactly what I expected to go wrong on Saturday. I was much more conscious of that going into the Saturday run and supported her speed heading into the broad jump and was very vigilant on her A-Frame. Resting on my laurels on Sunday, I was too relaxed and it was exactly those 2 things where we blew it. Lesson learned.

But enough flogging - back to the celebrating!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Double Q!

I wouldn't call it pretty by any means, but we got the job done. This was our first AKC trial, after 3 non-AKC trials in Oct and Nov. Over those 3 trials, we had 5 runs and finally got a Q on the last one of the 5.

This weekend we drove to Ridgefield, WA, for our first AKC trial. Far enough away from home that not very people would know us in case it was a disaster - new location, etc. Also, this was our first Standard run in competition - the one with all the big apparatus, for those in my audience that don't know about that stuff. Our competition runs up to this point only included jumps, tunnels, hoops and weave poles. As you'll see in this video, this run had a huge variety of toys to play on.

She got away from me once and had a little romp, but for novice level, it was forgiven. She also went in the wrong end of the tunnel the first time (my fault of course). We were allowed 2 oops and we used them. As much as I hate the opening shot, I love the ending shot.

We ended up with 2 qualifying runs on day 1 of our first AKC trial. A Q on the Jumpers course and Q on the Standard course = Double Q!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year - How Fast Will This One Fly?

Stolen from a friend, who stole it from Mario Andretti...

If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough.

I might be hitting the turbo boost in about 3 weeks and I was getting worried about it, but now I feel better with that as a motto for the year. 2011 was nicely under control for the most part, although while reviewing photographs taken in 2010 and 2011 I was sad at the lack of gorgeous sunset pictures and dogs playing in the yard pictures taken in H2 2011 vs H2 2010, work being the curse of the photographing class.

Not exactly a New Year's resolution as much as a temporary diversion - I haven't exactly taken up wind sprints as advised but am trying to improve lung capacity a little for agility. Right now can't run at Star speed and give commands both. So dog walks have turned into dog jogs. 1 walking loop around the field has turned into 2 trotting loops on our lumpy path, and sometimes I even wander all the way around to the other side of the complex and pound the pavement coming back. While it's not snake season, we might run a little on the river walk just over there. Usually I'm wearing laceless boots that I've used in the winter to just slip in for a quick trip out with the dogs.

So on my limited budget I'm shopping for a good all wheel drive shoe for varied terrain. Built-in brakes would be good. Our high speed excursions are kinda like something from a physics text book - I control my vertical speed while they manage my horizontal speed. I sure hope nobody is making youtube videos from their balcony as we fly by. I'm sure there is a very ungraceful face plant in our future, if not from a wrong foot placement, then from Dog A coming to an abrupt sniff-halt right in my path, while the Dog B continues on at warp speed.

2 days left until CPA test #3, then off to Vegas for the annual CES blast.

Happy New Years!