Monday, January 31, 2011

In the Kitchen With Mill'E-Max and Me!

Life has been so crazy lately and for me, there is no better way to relax and decompress from the insanity than spending good quality time in the kitchen. Mill'E-Max is my canine kitchen helper. She assists with things such as throwing away trash, carrying things from the refrigerator to the table where I work, and picking up things that I drop. She makes the entire cooking experience go much more smoothly.
Yesterday and today were both long kitchen days. Yesterday I made chocolate peanut butter rice krispie treats and a huge salad. Today I made a crock pot lasagna and will make french bread to go with it.
I have an unusual kitchen situation in that I don't actually have a stove and oven. My house didn't come with one and I have not purchased one as yet. This requires much creativity on my part, but I don't mind as I enjoy finding different ways of doing things.
People have been asking me for the recipes of the lasagna and the rice krispie treats so I thought I'd post them to my blog. I'm different than most cooks in that I don't measure things very carefully. Well truth is, I don't own a single measuring cup. I'm very much a member of the "eye ball it and guess" school of cooking. I believe that in the kitchen that exactitude is over rated. I realize that the majority of folks don't do things this way so I've tried to give measurements for the recipes I post. I don't know how right they are, so if you make something and you feel like it needs a bit more of this, or not as much of the other, then by all means go with your gut! Taste liberally and don't be afraid to add your own unique touches to what you cook. I think of these recipes as more of a kind of guideline.
Exactitude is overrated!

Rox'E's Rice Krispie Treats
4 cups mini marshmallows
10 oz dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
4-5 cups rice krispies

In microwave-safe bowl combine chocolate, marshmallows, and peanut butter. Mix well and cook on high for two minutes. Stop and stir, microwave for another minute if needed.
Dump rice krispies into bowl of chocolate mix and stir. Drop by spoonful on to wax paper and let sit to cool. You can also press into 9x13 pan, but I find that the wax paper thing works better because I can feel each cookie to make sure everything is mixed evenly.

Mama Mill'E-Max's Crock-pot Lasagna
Ok ok, Mill'E didn't cook this, but she helped out enough that I named it for her! and I did let her lick the spoon after everything was finished...

1 lb italian sausage (I like the kind with lots of fennel!)
1-2 lbs ground beef
1 lb mozzarella cheese
1 small container ricotta cheese
1 large container small curd cottage cheese
1 onion
1 large or 2 small portobello mushrooms
1 package lasagna noodles) you need the kind that don't need to be boiled)
6 cups spaghetti sauce (either home made or store bought)

on the stove, or on a grill, cook the ground beef and sausage using seasonings of your choice. Drain and break up the meat.
Grate the mozzarella; reserving 1/3 of it in its own bowl.
In large bowl combine cottage cheese, ricotta and 2/3 of the grated mozzarella. Mix well.
Chop the onion and mushrooms and add them to the cheese mixture mixing well.

Add half of the spaghetti sauce to the meat and mix well.

Coat a 6.5 qt crock-pot with olive oil (I used basil infused olive oil)
Once pot is thoroughly oiled up, put down a layer of meat and sauce mix. Follow that with a layer of lasagna noodles. You may need to break the noodles to cover the entire area; this is fine to do. On top of the noodles, place a layer of the cheese and vegetable mix. Repeat the layering.
Once you do another layer of meat, pasta and cheese, use 1.5 cups of the reserved sauce, then do another layer of noodles. Use the remaining sauce to cover them. Then take the remaining 1/3 lb of mozzarella cheese and sprinkle on top.
Your crock-pot should be full but not over flowing. If you notice that you may have remaining mix, you can add that before doing the final layer of sauce and cheese.

Bake on high for 4-6 hours or on low for 7 hours.

We're having the lasagna with french bread brushed with basil infused olive oil and an herb mix of garlic, oregano, basil, chili, and red pepper as well as a light dusting of parmesan.
To go with it I made an iced tea which consists of a mix of green tea, lemon peal, peach leaves and melissa. It's very light and refreshing.

I am very satisfied with my morning's work, I even cleaned the kitchen so when it's time to make the bread everything is ready!
I wish I could cook like this every day!
Happy cooking, y'all!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vengeance is mine, sayeth Laveau

My guide dog Laveau is a pound puppy. Even the best and most wonderful pound puppies come with their share of baggage. This is why I so desperately wanted to obtain my next dog from a reputable breeder-- it was my hope I could get a really great dog with very few issues.
But life didn't work out that way and I ended up with a funny black Doberman mix from the pound. She left her pound experience behind largely no worse for the wear, except for ... "The Food Thing®"
She must have been starving when they found her. She lived at the pound for five weeks and when I adopted her, you never would have known she was getting regular meals at the pound; she was so skinny.

For the first two months I had her it seemed she did nothing but eat. I let her eat as much as she wanted and once she figured out that yes, this raw chicken is actually food, she realized that the whole prey animal thing was a really fabulous idea!
She ate and ate and ate. I had to watch her like a hawk in the house because if it was food, she would eat it.
We worked on the concept of "Doggie Zen." This means that if you want something (like food) you must ignore it.
She became very good at ignoring food, and after a while I built up trust that she would behave herself.

But sometimes... Sometimes she backslides!

Yesterday I needed to run some errands. I decided to take Mill'E-Max since she hadn't gone out in a few days and I knew that Laveau would have a full work day on Sunday.
I've now worked with Laveau enough that I feel safe leaving her free in the house when I'm gone. Usually she will take all of my dirty clothes out to the front room, make a nest, and snuggle down in it to watch the door and wait for me to return home. I don't care if she does this-- she doesn't damage my clothes and hey, we all have our little idiosyncrasies, right?
Mister Pawpower and I harnessed up the dogs, leaving Laveau and Bristol home alone.
Now, Laveau may be very well trained, but I'm no fool. I usually close the kitchen door when I go, and yesterday was no exception.
I didn't know that at some point Laveau had taught herself to open the door...
Do you see where this is going? Do You?

I was gone for maybe 90 minutes. I return and unharness the dogs. I noticed that Laveau didn't make the usual pile of clothes by the door and wondered about it. Nothing looked out of place. Clothes were still in the hamper, kitchen door was shut, everything seemed the same as when I had left.
Until I found the empty bag of cheese Chex Mix on my pillow.
While I was gone, Laveau opened the kitchen door, took the half-eaten bag of Chex mix off the table, carried it out of the kitchen, shut the door, climbed up on my pillow on my bed and finished said bag of Chex mix. If she had only managed to throw the bag in the garbage, I never would have known and would have just assumed that my husband, Mr. Pawpower, ate the last of the snack food.
I know it wasn't Bristol who did this. Not because Bristol is perfect-- (well she's almost perfect) but because Bristol can't get up on our high bed.
This just goes to show, you can train and work, but dogs will be dogs, and they're always going to have an Achilles heel! Apparently Laveau's is Cheese Chex Mix!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brissy Makes a break!

It was a beautiful day for a walk. I have had a cold for the last week or so and by now I also had a raging case of cabin fever. Mister Pawpower and I decided to walk to the near by coffee shop and then to hit the mini-mart on our way back home. I harnessed up Mill'E-Max and he walked with Rudy. We shut the door and headed out, enjoying the warmer temperatures and the Monday sunshine.
I noticed that Mill'E-Max was walking kind of hesitantly; she didn't want to get me too close to Mr. Pawpower and his dog. I just brushed it off as her being extra careful. We made it about two blocks before Mr. Pawpower, who was in the lead, came to an abrupt halt.
He had felt something brushing against his right leg ever since he had set off, but every time he reached his hand down to try and find the mystery object, there was nothing there. Until he tripped over it. Well, it wasn't an *it*, it was a she. A very old, white-faced, furry, bossy, crafty *she*.
Bristol decided that she was not going to stay home; sometime between when I left and when we shut the door, she snuck out and very carefully walked with us to the coffee shop. She stayed by Mr. Pawpower's right side, until something on the sidewalk caught her attention. She was so wrapped up in investigating that she forgot to pay attention to us, and Rudy, Mr. Pawpower's dog, stopped to point her out to him.
We debated on running her back to the house, but lox and bagels with strong tea were whispering to me and we were only a half block away.
We decided to just let her tag along. I waited outside on the patio with Brissy and Mill'E-Max while Mr. Pawpower and Rudy went inside for the afore-mentioned goodies. We all sat outside, enjoying the morning and feeling bad for Laveau who was the only one left at home.
After we finished our breakfast, we walked to the market and once again, I waited while the boys went inside to complete the shopping.
I think all in all, Bristol is very satisfied with herself. She may be getting old, but the brain appears to be working overtime.
Crafty dog! Gonna make me as gray as she is.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Chose To Do It My Way.

This post is for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. If you'd like to read other posts, you can go
When I saw the information about the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival I was very eager to write a piece for it. There were so many topics to choose from, but finally I settled on writing about the choice to train my own guide dog. I am Deafblind, and many people have been very curious as to my reasons to choose to owner train.
When most people think of getting a guide dog, they imagine attending one of the several training programs scattered throughout the US. However, there is a small minority of people who go about it differently; we make the decision to train our own.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a dog must be "individually trained to do work, or perform tasks which mitigate a disability." The law does not specify who trains the dog and there is no "certification" for a dog to be a "real guide dog."

There are many good reasons why most deaf-blind people choose to attend a training program. Most, if not all, guide dog training programs give the dog to the recipient at little or no charge, pay for your transportation to and from the campus, pay for your food and lodging while attending the program, and pay for the equipment you use--such as the harness and leash which a guide dog needs to wear in order to work effectively. Also, training a dog is hard, back-breaking work.

For many reasons, I chose to train my own dog. I am a clicker trainer and there are very few guide dog programs which use exclusively clicker training to train their dogs. I want to raise my dogs using the concepts of Natural Rearing. This means a fresh food diet, minimal vaccinations, using herbal medicine or homeopathy to treat most medical issues. To my knowledge, there are no such programs which meet these criteria and which will accept a Deafblind student who's method of communication is American Sign Language (ASL). To be honest, though I just love training dogs. Being a part of that process, starting from the ground up and building a team together. Problem-solving and learning from one another. Don't get me wrong; it's not all sunshine and roses and there are times when I honestly wonder if I'm cut out for the emotional roller coaster that is owner training. I think that to really enjoy it, to keep doing it over and over again, you need to have a soul-deep love of the work, even during the hard times.

I was born blind. However, when I was in my early twenties, I was diagnosed with a progressive inner ear disease. When I trained my first guide dog, I only had a mild to moderate loss. I didn't need to make many modifications in my training to account for my hearing loss. I used my senses of touch, smell and hearing to assist me in teaching my dog what she needed to know in order to keep us safe.

In August of 2005, the city of New Orleans, where I live, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent failure of the federal levee system. I had evacuated from the city before tragedy struck, and I remained in Memphis, Tennessee until March of 2006. After seven months of evacuation I was able to return home. In addition to dangerous sidewalks, and the inability to find an open grocery store, I faced another challenge. I had an unknown allergy to mold, and there was quite a bit of mold in New Orleans at this time. Within six weeks after my return home, I became profoundly deaf due to an allergic reaction to the mold.

In May of 2008, Gracy, my then current guide, made it very clear to me that she was ready to retire. I was faced with a major decision--to attend a program for my next dog, or to attempt to train a dog myself, this time without the ability to rely on my sense of hearing. After careful planning and a great deal of soul-searching, I made the choice to once again train my own assistance dog. I eventually found a suitable candidate--a young female Doberman mix whom I named Laveau.

Some of the tools I used to assist me in training my dog were an FM system and a Tactile Mini-Guide. An FM system is a set of two small boxes. One box--the transmitter--has a microphone on it, and the other box--the receiver--has a headphone jack into which I plugged my neck loop which moved the sound directly into my hearing aid.

I also used the Tactile Mini-Guide, which is a small device--about the size of an iPod. The device uses ultrasound--and detects objects in my path and vibrates accordingly. The Tactile Mini-Guide vibrates harder, the closer one gets to an object such as a car or trash container. The Tactile Mini-Guide will not detect steps or other changes in elevation.

When I first started training Laveau, my husband--who is blind but hearing--held the transmitter part of my FM system. He walked ahead of Laveau and me-- giving me a running commentary of the obstacles ahead of us. He read traffic patterns and told me when it was safe to cross. He did this so I could focus on Laveau's training and so I could be aware of problems we might encounter. Eventually, I began traveling familiar routs with Laveau alone--giving her the opportunity to make mistakes and to learn from them.

Once Laveau generalized the concepts of stopping at curbs and avoiding obstacles, we were ready for more independent travel. I began socializing her in public--first in places where pets were allowed. Eventually she began to accompany me to destinations where pets were not allowed. I started small, going into well-known stores during quiet times where the distraction would be low. Laveau was a quick learner, and soon it became business as usual for her to enter a coffee shop, slide under a table and ignore the people attempting to pet her, food on the ground, and other distractions while I conducted my business.

The task I worried most about was teaching the concept of intelligent disobedience. Intelligent disobedience simply means that if the dog deems it unsafe to continue forward, she will stop and prevent the handler from moving. Even if the handler cues the dog to continue forward, the dog will “intelligently disobey” this cue. This skill is needed most in traffic situations, when the handler is crossing roads. It is especially important that a guide dog for a deaf-blind person be very fluent in this skill.

I set up traffic situations with an experienced driver. She held my FM system's transmitter during our training so I could hear and understand her instructions. She would inform me ahead of time what she intended to do and I would make sure that the dog kept me safe. We practiced situations where she pulled up her car onto the sidewalk in front of me, backed her car out of driveways while I crossed them, ran a red light while I crossed a road, and drove in an unsafe and erratic fashion while I was navigating my surroundings.

Telling me beforehand what situations to try out also had the added benefit of letting me expect sudden movements from my dog so I would not mistake my dog's movements and think she was distracted. It took a great deal of hard work and persistence on both our parts; however I can say that Laveau is one of the best guide dogs I've ever had.

Laveau and I have taken several trips together; visiting family and friends in different states all over the country. We move together smoothly and with confidence. I feel like she can read my mind sometimes. I know I can trust her to keep me safe.
We have begun sound alert training. Now Laveau will alert me to sounds in my environment such as smoke alarms, people calling my name, and traffic coming up behind me.
I had a great many questions and reservations when I first began training Laveau, but almost three years into our journey together, I can say that she is truly my partner. I was very unsure if the decision to train my own dog was the right one. I didn't know many other deafblind people who had done it. It may not be right for everyone, but it was certainly the right choice for me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


This has been such a very sad and horrible weekend for so many. All over the news are descriptions of shooting and killing and anger. Yet in my world there has been contentment and peace and productivity. Watching everything that has gone on outside has made me so grateful for my, at the moment at least, quiet life.
I am praying for everyone-- for the victims of all the shootings and their families, for the shooters themselves. I wonder what can make someone so full of hate that they could take another's life.
Yesterday I spent the morning out in the sun, with Bristol on the grooming table and brushes in my hands. I spent time with her in the simple act of reconnecting and enjoyment of our shared bond. I had my "Goddess playlist" on my iPod and was at peace. At that same time, in Arizona, a gunman opened fire and killed a bunch of people; one of them only nine years old. A new life just begun, and ended in senseless violence.
The outside world seems so big and full of pain sometimes. Yet all is quiet at home.