Wednesday, January 25, 2012

State of the Pack

Mother Nature has a major case of confusion. It has been in the high 70's this whole week. I'm actually running the air-conditioning because it is so hot and muggy outside. Don't get me wrong; I'd much rather have high 70's than 40's! Hey, I'm a weather wimp! That's why I don't live in the frozen north with the rest of my family! While I'm enjoying this weather, it makes it hard to remember that we're only in January. It doesn't feel like Carnival time at all!

This good weather has given me lots of opportunity to get out with the dogs though which is nice. Bristol has seen both the regular vet, as well as the eye specialist and the old lady appears to be pretty darned fit for her age. This makes us all very happy as we would all be quite lost without our Queen Bristol and we hope she will be around for many years yet.

I am teaching myself to make incense. This required a trip to the herb store where my SSP got an education on everything from Rooibos to Tansy. It was fun, and I some how ended up buying a beautiful marble mortar and pestle (because I needed a bigger one-- promise)! So I am still in the mixing of the herbs stage. I couldn't find Makko powder at the shop so am going with charcoal and honey for combustion/binding. I am also trying Rooibos (red tea) in some of my blends and am liking it very much.

Baylee is growing and is starting to wear a small harness. She is having some body sensitivity issues and I'm getting her used to the feel of a handle on her back, being picked up and set down, as well as starting some positioning work. My friend took a bunch of pictures and tomorrow's chore involves uploading them to Flickr. I'll post the link when I have it. If I were more techy-ish, I could put them in the post itself but I still don't understand how to do that. Someone should really write a book-- blogger for idiots.

And speaking of books, I do believe that it is time to give the old lady her 2nd round of eye drops for the day and crawl into bed with my book. It is the first Harry Potter book-- obeying the maxim, that "When the going gets tough-- the tough read HP!"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Obstacle Avoidance

Today I took Baylee for a walk. She has been doing some very light obstacle avoidance work, plus she will reliably stop for changes in elevation. She is in no way a trained guide dog, but we have been encouraging these behaviors since we got her, and in the last two weeks her focus and overall understanding of these behaviors has improved drastically.

Mister Pawpower needed to go to the post-office, and he "borrowed" Laveau since she is the master of navigating the lines in that building. While they were gone, I decided to take our striped one for a walk.

Everything was going just swimmingly. We had gone about 7 blocks in all, and were nearing the end of our walk when we encountered an obstacle..

No, it wasn't a trash can, or a parked car. This obstacle was a person... with a dog, on a leash. However, for some people, a leash just seems to be a pretty bit of fabric to clutch while their dog does whatever it pleases. This was the case with the woman we met.

I felt Baylee stop, and I reached down to find her sniffing the dog. I asked her to stop, and she did. I told her to continue walking, and she tried but failed as she was suddenly set upon by this dog who was thankfully not much bigger than she was. The dog thought it was great fun to jump up and pin Baylee to the ground, wagging its tail and licking her face. Poor Baylee just lay there-- still ignoring the other dog, and trying to get up but having no luck. I informed the woman that we needed to be on our way (which is a polite request to remove her dog from atop mine), however the woman was cooing and laughing and getting a real kick out of her dog's antics. Finally I told Baylee she could greet the other dog because I had no other choice.

Eventually I got the other dog off of her, got Baylee on her feet, and left on our way home. Thankfully the dog, although very poorly trained, was very friendly and its only intent was play. This could have ended up so much worse if the dog had been reactive. Baylee doesn't seem any the worse for wear, but I think my nerves are shot.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Life is like mystery soup....

You never never know what you'll get. And yes, it's supposed to be chocolates, but I am making mystery soup today so soup it shall be.

I needed to clean out my fridge and veggie shelf, so today was soup-making-day. I also had some old stock I had frozen from a pork roast we had made a month or so back. I defrosted it (not an easy job when the kitchen is unheated and it's 35 degrees outside) and skimmed off the fat(ewww!) and tossed the stock in the crock pot with 5 chopped red potatoes, an onion, some leftover frozen corn and green beans, half a bottle of salsa that needed to be used, 4 or 5 cloves of garlic(just in case of vampire invasion) and a can of Skyline Chili base (I thought it was black beans, but got a surprise when I opened it so used that instead). I will make biscuits later or maybe some egg-rolls and that shall be our dinner, and if I'm lucky, lunches for me next week.

This morning we went for coffee. Our vet said that Baylee would tell us when she was ready to start going with us again, after being spayed on Wednesday. This morning she was for sure ready. Mister Pawpower and I dressed Laveau and Baylee and went for coffee and to the mini mart. Baylee was very glad to be out and not stuck at home. She has been a very good girl, not bothering her stitches. She doesn't even need the cone of shame (lamp shade collar) which is awesome.

Bristol's labs came back and they are all normal. She was examined by our vet who said that her hips are actually improving a bit which is amazing! Go team Bristol.

The weather has been so cold. Well ok, all y'all yankees are looking down your noses but it is! Also our homes don't have central heat so... brrr! My hands get so cold and I am very grateful for my new gloves with the fingertips missing so I can still read braille without freezing my hands off.

Tomorrow I am dragging my SSP to a local herb shop. I went to their website and they even have classes which sound interesting. I'm going to check out their prices and to see if they have Makko powder because I'd like to try my hand at making incense.

Yesterday I realized that this is a three-day weekend because of Martin Luther King Jr. day. I think I will celebrate by making another pot of the solstice soup I made last month. I may also make a pan of jalapeno corn bread, and perhaps some chocolate cupcakes.

I think that is all of my randomness for now.
Mill'E-Max is telling me that her water dish is empty. If I don't fill it soon she may exact vengeance. And don't let that golden retriever face fool you-- they are masters of revenge!!
Stay warm, y'all!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Random brain dump

Part of my job requires that I do presentations on various topics to groups of people (mostly school children). Today I attended an "Abilities Awareness Day" held at a middle school. My interpreter arrived just shortly after I did. We have known one another for a couple of years now, but rarely get to work together. We spent a while just chatting and catching up which was nice.

Then the presentation started. As did the questions. One young gentleman asked me if I was married. A young lady asked me why I needed a dog if I had an interpreter. I think I'll pass on the guide human, thanks. One young man called Laveau a "statue" because she was holding so still. He was wondering if she ever moved at all. I kind of laughed at that because when she's not working, she never stops moving.

At one point I was demonstrating how I use my iPhone and Braille display for texting and the like. I had the display on my lap, and a teacher held my iPhone. I read the information on my display with my right hand while the left hand sat atop the interpreter's right hand so I could answer people's questions. Yes, it is possible to receive tactile ASL and read braille simultaneously. It kind of breaks my brain though. The ride to the school was one hour each way, so it was a very busy day, and very tiring.

Baylee is getting spayed tomorrow. I am nervous. Bristol is also going in for labs, and this also makes me nervous.
Also I think I'm losing more hearing. I know, who'd have thunk I'd have any more to lose at this point but there you go. I'm going to have to make an appointment with my audiologist soon to see if she can turn up my hearing aid again. Honestly I am putting this off because hearing aid adjustments are one of the auditory things that triggers an increase in vertigo symptoms. I really hate those. I don't care about being deaf but I hate being dizzy and sick. I didn't really even realize how much I've been struggling lately until I used an interpreter today and didn't have to struggle at all.
I always have to struggle to hear, it's just a fact. That makes it hard to notice an increase in the need to work when one is already working hard. But today really brought it home to me how stressful listening has become.

bla, bla, bla!
My brain is so fried right now I'm not making sense. gonna plug in all of my gizmos and go to sleep. We leave for the vets at 8:45 tomorrow with Baylee and Brissy. Good juju/happy thoughts/prayers to the deity/s of your choice are appreciated.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Obstacles of Grace

This post is for the sixth
<"Assistance Dog Blog Carnival">
The topic is obstacles.

When an assistance dog organization trains their specially-bred dogs to become working partners, it's only the top half, or less who make it. So many obstacles stand in the way of a young puppy. Will it have the correct temperament? Will it be physically sound? Will it like the work? So many things to overcome.

If a specially-bred dog has such a small chance of making it, then how much less so, a mutt who found herself in one of America's dumping grounds for pets, left to be someone else's problem. Her black color became yet another obstacle; because nobody wants the black ones; they will always have a higher chance of being euthanized.

Her name was Jewel. She had a filthy coat and eyes that seemed to know too much. Her first family didn't want her, none of the people who walked by her cage at the shelter day in and day out wanted her, and her time was running out. I was volunteering at this shelter at the time, and was also looking for another dog to train, maybe as a guide dog, just for fun, to see if I could train the tasks, but mostly just to have as a friend for Bristol, my old working dog. but we didn't want Jewel, either. I knew what I wanted and that wasn't her.

But sometimes we don't get what we want, and through a string of small yet life-changing events, I found myself up to my neck in suds and black fur. Jewel became my dog on a long-ago Saturday morning, as I washed her encrusted hot spots, trimmed her matted fur, and otherwise tried to fix what had been broken. At some point during that endless-seeming afternoon, Jewel the unwanted and castoff farm dog had taken her first tentative steps to becoming Gracy the guide dog. But just like windshields have bugs-- roads have obstacles.

She came to live with me, and it soon became apparent that her socialization was minimal, at very best. We did it all-- steps, cars, out door strip malls. She loved being out in the world. I loved having her, and what was even better, she was helping my current working dog to change for the better.

Her only problem was me. I had been taught just how to "train a dog." There was the one way I knew, and I used my method of choice in a manner I thought was pretty even-handed, and "normal." If leash corrections made her shut down, well that wasn't my fault, was it? I couldn't let the dog "be the alpha," could I? She has to learn to be tough. When I finally saw the metaphorical light, the popping sound which signified the removal of my cranium from my rectum was so loud, it may have contributed to my deafness.

Eventually I became an operant trainer and we both got a lot happier. I wasn't perfect, but I was a lot more willing to try different things, and a lot less quick with physical correction. She blossomed. We finally had a working relationship.

Things sailed along pretty smoothly for a while, but I should have known it was the calm before the storm. The storm even had a name-- it was Katrina. She rolled into town on August 29th of 2005, and left failing levees, and almost total destruction behind her. Gracy learned to work in a city other than New Orleans. We came back home in March of 2006, to a city laden with obstacles. All of the hours of training, all of the tears and hard work, and second guessing the both of us paid off.

Walking down the street was like visiting a third-world country. Homes lay neglected, with debris scattered everywhere. There were FEMA trailers on the sidewalk, rusted cars on lawns, refrigerators with their seven-months old contents lay in the pedestrian walkway. Nails in the road, and potholes which you could literally use for swimming holes. She guided me around them all. She knew what to do and she did it.

I remember on one of my first trips back to the city , when all I could do was walk-- zombie like-- through the blocks and blocks of destruction. Walk passed numbers on doors which told of the body count inside. walk passed people coming home for the first time, who stood weeping in yards. I just walked, knowing that if I were to stop-- even for a moment-- that I would be completely unable to move forward, or to even move at all ever again. There was nothing else to do-- so she lead me through this new landscape of death and broken lives. Without a flinch, or a twitch of an eyelash she guided me around the obstacles until I was safely home again.

Now she is retired. She is a gray-muzzled lady of leisure. She spends her days keeping the gardens free of mice, and the yard clear of intruders. I have another dog in the harness. I would like to think that I'm a better trainer, though. I'd like to think that somewhere along this unexpected journey which I've taken-- guided by grace-- that I've changed and that my current and future dogs will have benefited from the obstacles Gracy and I have overcome together.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I would love to wish everyone a wonderful, healthy, and safe new year. May it be full of many good things. The holidays were quiet for us here, which has been really nice. It seems that I spent 2011 dashing from crisis to crisis which was exceedingly exhausting. I was not at all sad to see 2011 go into the history books.

Last night Mister Pawpower and I sat out on our porch sipping drinks. I can sometimes see the fireworks but this year none were close enough. However I did manage to hear a few with my hearing aid in. My husband said the entire city sounded like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies with all of the fireworks.
The weather has been beautiful around here. Temps in the 70's and sunshine. Today we celebrated the new year with a barbecue. Mister Pawpower did t-bone steaks, brats, and smoked sausages on top, and a pan of roasted veggies in the bottom of the grill. We ate the steaks tonight, but the sausages and brats are sandwich material for the next few days. I made lemon raspberry cupcakes and lemon pudding icing to go on top. It turned out super well. I just made the recipe up as I shopped in the grocery store, so score one for me!

Baylee is getting spayed on Wednesday. She is 8 months old now, and for several reasons, we do not want to deal with her going into heat, and so after a lot of careful thinking, research, and conversing with our vet who is really a wonderful guy, we decided to spay her around this time. I am super nervous. I will probably always see her as this little wriggling striped bundle with tiny paws and a bitsy round puppy head. I think leaving her at the vets will be very hard for me. I know this needs to be done, and I've dealt with enough post-spay bitches in my time, but this time it's different, because I still think of her as the baby. Bristol is also going in for blood work because I want to make sure that her thyroid is behaving. She is showing a return of the clinical signs of hypothyroidism, and I'd like to have a look at her numbers. Of course I'm having a big inner battle with myself because I'm just sure she has horrible cancer of some variety, or other. I am trying not to stress out about it. I don't think I'm doing very well and I just want her to go in, get blood taken and for my vet to tell me that she is ok. Needing a thyroid med adjustment counts as OK because that isn't surprising seeing as how she is 14, and everything.
I started reading the new Stephen King book today. It is called 11/22/63 and it is amazing. That man can write! I think this will go on 2012's best reads list, for sure!
Tomorrow, I think we're taking Baylee out with us when we run errands. She won't be going anywhere for the first couple weeks after her spay, so it's good to get her out now.

I am currently making a huge batch of tea, aroma therapy sprays and tub muffins. I do believe that January 2, 2012 will be spent in the herb room, which is perfectly OK with me.

Happy New Year, y'all!