Saturday, March 23, 2013

Welcome Spring?

It doesn't seem possible that just two weeks ago we had temperatures in the 60s and sunshine for several days in a row.

Last weekend, the snow came back.  It just won't stay away.
This might be pretty--if it wasn't mid-March!
I tried to be positive about the snow.  It was the kind that settles on the trees and just stays there and we hadn't had that all winter (even if it was the right kind of snow, it was too windy to stay on trees until last weekend!) and I think it's the prettiest.

So, Barley an I took the camera and walked down to the park at the end of the street to romp in the snow and get a few pictures of the snow on the trees.  But I think even my little snow dog is tired of the snow.

She didn't have her usual spring in her step and instead of prancing through the snow, she sort of trudged through it and stopped every so often to stare at me.  We didn't walk for long.

On Sunday, I met up with my parents to go to the maple syrup festivities in PA near my great aunt's house.  By the end of the day, I was in a sugar coma after eating maple sugar sourdough pretzels, maple hot chocolate, maple walnut ice cream, maple brownies, and several other maple snacks throughout the day.
Aunt Timmy, Dad, and I are excited about maple hot chocolate
The festival was fun, but it was cold and muddy and by the end of the weekend I was over winter.

This week has been more cold and more snow, so Barley and I haven't had many adventures.  We even took off 3 days from walking this week and watched movies in bed and snacked on popcorn instead.  (Today, my jeans are telling me that was not a good idea.)

Despite taking off three days this week, we're only 2 miles from our goal this month and we still have 8 days left in the month!

Even though today was cold, we had to get at least 2 miles in--we're going to a friend's house for dinner tonight and their house is the complete opposite of my cluttered life, so I need to make sure this dog wasn't her normal wild self before we invade their lives (I keep telling myself that they wouldn't invite her to come, too, if they didn't love her craziness, though).

Fingers crossed that those nice 60+ degree days come back soon so I don't need as much motivation to get out of the door for walks!

Friday, March 15, 2013

An End of Winter Walk

Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory is bummed because Logan moves to London for work and they have to cancel their summer tour of Asia, so Lorelai turns their house into Asia with Hello Kitty paraphernalia, sushi, and kimonos?  Today, Barley and I went to the State Park and pretended we were traveling to Antarctica.

Unlike Lorelai, I had nothing to do with turning the State Park into Antarctica, but it was a pretty walk.  The beach still had snow right along the the water and the waves were crashing against it.

In the summer and fall, the lake is usually to far up the beach to walk very far without wading through the water.  And, in the early fall, the beach is usually covered with dead fish, so we avoid it.  Today, though, the beach was wide and relatively clean.  So, we were able to walk farther than we've ever been able to walk on the beach.  Then we found a little path that took us through the woods and back to the regular paved trail we usually stick to.  It was really fun to explore new territory in a place where we've been a hundred times.  Even the parts of the park that we see several times a week in the summer looked new.  They've cleared out some trees and made some other changes that I can't quite put my finger on, but it looks different.

We spent over an hour and a half romping on the beach, walking on the trails, and ended up walking over 3.5 miles.

The past week, I've felt like a pretty bad doggie mommy.  Monday, it rained, and since we had agility class on Monday night, I figured we could justify skipping a walk.  Then on Tuesday, I had a lot of grading that I need I had to get done, so we just got our 1.4-mile neighborhood walk that we usually save for the gross, cold rainy/snowy days when we need a walk to meet our monthly goal.  Wednesday, Soth had a vet appointment for his vaccinations (more on that at the end), so I came home from work long enough to let Barley out to potty and then Soth and I had to rush off to the vet.  By the time we got home, it was snowy and cold and I had 12 papers I had to grade before I went to bed, so we missed our walk again.  We got a little practice in with our jumps.  Yesterday was the day I felt the guiltiest, though.  I'm normally home a little after 2:00 on Thursdays, but yesterday one of my students offered to help me with getting the folders together for the English festival I organize for local middle school students (that's happening NEXT week!), so I stayed at work later and didn't get home until 4.  Then I had to be back on campus by 7 to support a colleague who was leading a Socratic discussion for students and faculty to take part in.  So, I was home for two hours before I had to put Barley back in her crate and head back to work.  We got a 3.5-mile walk in during that time, but it was not a very exciting day for my Barley girl.

So today, I was determined to do something fun with my girl.  The temperature wasn't supposed to get above the mid-30s and there was a chance of snow, so I didn't want to venture too far from home, which made the State Park a perfect spot.  Barley seemed so excited to be out of the neighborhood.  Halfway through our walk, she went nuts and started jumping and crouching and just running back and forth across the trail.  She does that all the time when we're out in the yard or when we're on the beach at the park, but she never does that when we're in the middle of a walk.  It was really entertaining.

We also had a lot of success with distractions that we've needed to work on for the therapy dog test.  First, we encountered a woman with a 6-month-old German Shepherd, and she stopped to ask us if dogs were allowed on the beach.  One thing that's always hit-or-miss with Barley is the meet-and-greet with a friendly dog, but she did great today.  The woman with the puppy was great; she stayed on the the other side of the path and her puppy lay down in the grass.  Then Barley sat down and waited while we chatted, which is exactly what she's supposed to do--she wasn't in heel position, but it was the most relaxed I think she's ever been with with a strange dog on our walks.  Then we got a lot of practice with joggers and bikers--our downfall on the last TDI test attempt.  She didn't even turn her head to look at any of the people going by.  Maybe by mid-summer, if we can work on not eating food off the floor a little more, we'll be able to pass the test.

We also got a little bird watching in.  I love birds.  I'm not good at identifying very many types, but I love them.  Today, there were a ton of huge birds, I'm not sure what kind, but they were big and black and it looked like they had some white markings on their heads, but when I tried to use an online bird book thing it told me they were vultures, which was not true because I do know what those look like.  Then there were some cute little mallards floating on the ice.  There were also some teeny tiny brown ducks with some white markings, seriously the smallest, cutest ducks I've ever seen, floating in a pond, but they were really skittish and flew away before Barley and I got anywhere close enough to take a picture.  The online bird book failed me in identifying them, too.  (So, in 6.5 months, if anyone wants to get me a bird guide for my birthday, I'm pretty sure Barley and I can find a way to fit it in our backpack!)  On the way back to the car, we saw a female cardinal, and cardinals are one of my favorite birds, so that was really exciting.  I didn't even know they lived here!
There were at least 8 massive birds flying above us and then two little mallards floating on the ice.
Watching the ducks fly away
All in all, it was an excellent walk with my Barley girl in a park that's close to home, but still a great change of pace from the regular neighborhood walks.  And, since we're halfway through March now, it seems as good a time as any to update on our resolution progress.  We've walked 35.3 miles so far this month!  If we keep this up, we're not going to be doing anything but walking by the time December rolls around (so hint, hint, Mother Nature--give us a few good rainy days this months!).  We only need to walk 12 more miles this month to meet our goal, which will be especially easy to do since we got a full week off (if I can just survive next week and the English festival first) for spring break!

*Soth Update*
Drum roll please.  Like I said, on Wednesday Soth went in for his vaccinations.  He hadn't lost much weight, (he was down to 10.6 lbs. from the 10.8 he was at when he went in for his flushing procedure) and the vet said that wasn't unusual since he has been eating even more canned food than usual (he's scarfing down three 3-oz. cans a day!  he's eating me out of house and home!).  When the vet did his wellness exam, she said that his eyes looked brighter than they had in months and he was also really curious about everything.  He was sniffing the table and the vet tech--he even let her brush him!  When the vet felt his belly, she said that his bladder (which if you remember was really small and hard and unable to expand last time) could hardly be felt at all--so it's more normal!  Also, this week the blood hasn't been showing up in his urine much at all, so that means the outbreak I was worried about last week was probably just the regular cycle of FLUTD.  On a non-vet related note, he's also been playing and climbing EVERYTHING, so he's acting more like a normal cat.

The other day, I was grading papers and it was close to his final meal time, but I wanted to get through the paper I was in the middle of first.  Soth was being a brat, knocking things (bills, my keys, pens) off the counters to get my attention.  Barley was curled up next to me.  Then things got quiet.  Finally, I heard a rustling in the kitchen.  Since I knew it wasn't Barley, I got up to see what was happening.  I got to the kitchen just in time to see Soth peeking his head out and pushing open a CLOSED cupboard door.  I don't mean the cupboards near the floor--those have baby locks on them to keep him out.  We're talking about the ones that are above the counters, above the microwave, the ones that don't have enough room on the counter below them to jump up inside them even if the door was open.  How did he get in there?!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I started Early--Took my Dog--

. . . and we visited the Holden Arboretum!

 The sun was streaming through the french doors in my bedroom at 7:00 this morning, so I figured why stay in bed and waste a minute of sunshine and I fed the pets, got our hiking backpack together, and layered up.

When Barley and I went to get in the car, I immediately decided I was crazy.  The windows were all frosted over and when I turned the car on, the thermometer said it was 25° outside!  I was glad I grabbed an extra layer on our way out of the door.

We stopped for a chicken biscuit on the way, but as soon as Barley realized where we were going, she started prancing in the backseat.  We hadn't been to the Arboretum since November and we were both beyond excited to pull into the parking lot around 8:45.  (The perks of being a member--we can get in from sun up to sun down whether they are officially open or not!)

There were only a few cars in the parking lot and we were adventuring for over an hour before we ever saw another human.  There were no elusive black squirrels taunting us, no deer, no turtles, no coyotes, and no visible birds, but we did hear several different birds singing.  It was like Barley and I had the whole place to ourselves.  (Check out these awesome pictures the Arboretum posted on Facebook earlier in the winter!) At one point, my phone rang (the plumber finally showed up and my landlady was letting him in to turn of the water) and it was so unnatural and jarring that I didn't even realize what was making that noise at first.
Posing in some of our favorite spots!
 Our walk through the woods was an interesting one.  Normally, as long as Barley's responsive and comes to heel when I call, I let her wander at the end of her leash instead of having to stay right in by me; this morning she was so excited she completely forgot that I existed!  For the first 20 minutes of our walk, it was like she didn't even know she was on a leash or that I was with her unless I stopped and stuck my handful of treats in her face.  I'd call her name and her ears wouldn't even twitch and she definitely wasn't turning to look at me.  But she wasn't pulling and there weren't any other dogs around that required her to be able to focus on me, so I let her prance and sniff and zig zag and embrace her inner wolf!

We had to adjust some of our normal hiking routes this morning.  Normally, we hike down to the creek, hop across the creek, and then go up to the Maple collection.  Then we go back down another trail to another point down the creek, hop back across, and work our way to the rhododendron garden.

To get down to the creek, you have to go down a ton of stairs.  Barley and I were definitely out of practice on stairs.  By the end of last summer, we were so good that I didn't have to feed her a billion treats to get her to stay by me (although she did get them on every landing just for reinforcement).  Today, she wanted to charge ahead, so there were lots of reminders to heel and lots and lots of treats.  The stairs were also rough!  Who knew that we could be so out of shape (at least as far as climbing stairs is concerned) even with all of our walking!
We paused because my legs were screaming this was the perfect spot for a photo op.
When we got down to the creek, we found that the creek still had a lot of icy patches along the path.  In order to get across it, you have to go down another short, but steep staircase and then hop across some rocks.  The rocks were surrounded by floating ice and the creek had a lot more water in it than it did during the summer.  I just couldn't embrace the idea of finishing our hike and then driving home in wet pants, so we trudged back up the stairs and took another trail to the rhododendron garden.

Icy ponds and paths!
We passed the new Meditation Point again today.  Remember how Barley was unsure of it back in November?  Well, apparently she forgot that we had been there before!  When we got to the rock marking the entrance, she slowed down (just like with the teenager yesterday) and started walking funny.  Then she stared at the rock and jumped back in fear--at first, I thought maybe a bug had flown out at her or something, but she was fine.  When the rock didn't move, she crouched down and approached it really slowly and then sniffed all around it.  
Then she pranced down the boardwalk to the benches with me, so we could sit and enjoy the peace and quiet for a minute.

By the time we got to the rhododendron garden, the temperature had gone up to closer to 40° so the mud that had been frozen when we first arrived was good and sloppy.  Barley left the rhododendron garden and her whites were anything but white!  Thank goodness I found a towel hidden under the seat of the car--otherwise our seat cover would be really disgusting now.

After a good two hours of romping in the woods, Barley and I are both in much better spirits--our neighborhood walks were getting old and after teaching Walden in US Lit this week I was dying to get back out into the woods and live deliberately with my dog.  Fingers crossed that we get lots more of these sunny, warmish (I never in a million years would have thought that I'd think 40° was warm before moving here!) days in the near future so our weekends can involve more adventures!

We've spent the rest of the day lounging and reading Ian McEwan's new novel Sweet Tooth that I checked out from the library on my iPad.  Isn't technology super cool? I can check out library books without leaving the couch!  I'm three chapters in and I can honestly say I have absolutely no idea what this book is about, but I think I like it.  

And, I would be a bad pet mommy if I didn't include at least one picture of my baby boy cat, too!

Sothy got a new knit catnip toy to celebrate the sunny day.  I caught him in mid-play.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

Today was a day full of waiting around.  The other day, I realized that my front porch had a constant wet spot that I originally had thought was from snow blowing onto it, but then the snow was gone and the sidewalks were all dry and my porch was still wet.  Then it started to get bigger.  Then on Wednesday night, I noticed that it wasn't just wet, there was a puddle I could splash in.  So, I came to the conclusion that the water pipe that goes to the outside spigot my neighbors and I share must have burst.  (This happened before I moved in a few years ago and my front outside closet had gotten gross and moldy and I couldn't put things in it until the maintenance guy could replace the drywall.)

I told the apartment manager yesterday and she called last night to tell me someone would be coming to fix it today.  She wasn't sure if they needed in my apartment or not, so I told her I could be home all day.  Then I found out that it was going to be sunny and almost 40 today and I was sad that I committed myself to a day of sitting and waiting instead of a day of adventuring with my dog.  But, I was hopefully that they'd show up early in the day and we could at least run up to the State Park for a walk by the lake.

The sun made an appearance this week. Sothy loves it.
At 7:20 a.m., I was wide awake, so I got up, threw on jeans, and started getting water together for the day in case they turned off the water for the whole apartment.  I filled the coffee pot so it would be ready when I was ready for coffee, I filled the pets' dishes, I washed a few dishes, I made sure the Brita pitcher was full.  By 8:30, there was no sign of the plumbers.  

So, I started to clear out the front closet and got rid of the big boxes I'd been saving in case I ever got around to finding an actual house to rent since they were all damp.  I pulled out the bag of potting soil and the empty plastic storage bins I keep in there.  Still no plumbers.  

At noon, I had caught up on the tv shows that were available online and was ready for a nap.  I slept on the couch so I'd be sure to hear a knock on the door (not that Barley wouldn't have alerted me if I had curled up in bed).  
Patiently waiting for an adventure
By 4:00, I had cleaned, napped, eaten lunch, done some work, and still no plumbers.  At one point, I had seen our maintenance guy walk up, look in the closet, leave, and come back with two other guys and then leave again--but they never knocked and they didn't stay long enough to do anything.  The sun was shining and I was not going to waste all of it on waiting for the plumbers, so I left a note on the front door to let them know I was walking the dog and to call if they needed in the apartment (my landlady said she was putting my number on the maintenance request). 

Our walk started out wonderfully.  Two little boys were climbing up one of the big snow piles left by the plows that hasn't melted yet and they love Barley, so they asked if they could come pet her (yay for responsible parents teaching their kids to be responsible around dogs!).  I had Bar sit and they came up and pet her really gently and she got lots of treats from me. Then we walked down a street where there were two barking dogs on each side of the street, so we had to walk by four barking dogs at once--and Barley only looked to me for treats reassurance a couple times.  She hardly even turned her head to look at them.

So, since it was sunny, we added another mile to our walk.  There was a teenager who was possibly high or drunk (or just a really really bad walker) walking down the other side of the street in our direction and Barley was definitely interested in him.  Her ears were perked and she started walking really slowly and she doesn't this weird thing where she just kind of gruffs/puffs out her lips without really making any noise when she's confused about something.  As the kid got closer, she just stopped in the middle of her tracks and wouldn't walk again until he was past us.  It was really weird--she did that on the same street a couple weeks ago when a truck that isn't usually there was parked in someone's driveway.  Who knows what goes through her head?

She was still feeling energetic by the time it was time to decide whether to go straight and go home or turn and add on one more mile, so I decided we could walk a little farther.

Once again, we had dogs on all sides of the road barking.  Barley was still doing great, but I decided not to push her too far, so instead of walking back down that road to get home I decided to take the little side road that nobody but us is ever on to get home.  

The road is relatively short with just a couple houses and then most of the sidewalk goes alongside a church parking lot and we walk down that road daily in the winter because it's a one-way street, so there's not a lot of traffic and when the sidewalks are icy we can walk in the street instead.    When we got to the middle of the road/beginning of the parking lot, I heard a man yelling "Get back in the yard" and at the end of the road we were walking towards.  At the same time, a car was starting to turn onto the street, so I decided our best choice would be just to stop and sit.  I didn't want to turn around and turn my back on the dog in case it was planning to chase us since that would take it farther away from the guy who was yelling at it.  I didn't want to keep walking closer to the dog, either, though.  So, I thought maybe if we just stopped and Barley sat then the dog would decided to go back to it's yard.  Instead, it ran in front of the car (which thank God stopped just in time) and then stood there not moving.  But instead of running to grab it, the guy continued to just yell "Get back here!"  Then the dog decided to charge at us.

At first, Barley was really good.  She stayed sitting while the dog sniffed her tail.  But when the dog put it's face in her face, she growled (and I can't blame her--our agility trainer passed on this article by Suzanne Clothier, which has helped me realize that Barley is allowed to growl and tell another dog to get out of her space as long as she doesn't take it farther than a warning).  When Barley growled, the other dog started circling us and darting in towards Barley and barking and growling.  Then Barley lost control and was writhing at the end of her leash and trying desperately to get away from me and on top of the other dog.  Eventually, the owner caught up to the dog, but the dog wasn't wearing a collar, so it kept slipping away from him and back towards Barley every time.  Finally, the dog's owner got between Barley and the other dog which distracted the other dog long enough that Barley and I hightailed it out of there.  When we got to the end of the street, I looked over my shoulder and the guy was sitting in the parking lot with his arms around the dog, so we kept walking as fast as we could back towards our apartment.  When we got to our street, we could see the guy through the clearing between two houses on our street and he'd let the dog go again!  So our 4-mile walk started out really lovely but ended up with far more excitement than I ever want to have in my life. 

*Soth Update* My baby boy seems to be having another endless bout of FLUTD, so I guess it's a good thing we're scheduled to see the vet on Wednesday for shots.  At the very least, he needs some pain medicine, but maybe it's time to think about scheduling the ultrasound . . . 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

We Did It!

We did not fail at keeping our New Year's Resolution the very first opportunity that we had to fail!  In order to meet our goal of walking more than we had in the previous month, we had to walk a minimum of 44.3 miles in February.  I was concerned that we wouldn't make it because February was stinkin' cold!  Luckily, it wasn't too cold, too icy, or too nasty to walk almost every day.
We got 46.66 miles in!  So, our new goal for March is 47 miles.  We got off to a good start with 5.7 miles in the first two days of the month!

Barley's crazy faces.
The last two days of walking have been an adventure.  Barley's been on edge for the last couple days because they've been doing all kinds of improvements/fixes to our apartment complex.  On Thursday, they started cutting dead limbs from the trees in our complex, so there were chain saws and wood chippers galore.  They continued this process on Friday, so we couldn't see the work being done from our windows, but we could definitely hear it all day--that made Barley a little jumpy.  Then, when we went out for our first walk on Friday to escape the noise for a bit, Roto-Rooter was out snaking out our sewage pipes--according to the last newsletter, someone has been flushing diapers, food, and other things that should never go in a toilet down the toilet, causing lots of back up in the pipes.  So, there was all kinds of equipment out adding additional noise to the mix.

Our first walk of the day was uneventful, but Barley lost her mind on our second one.  When we were turning back into the complex, there was an ADORABLE little puppy--I have no idea what kind, but I wanted to snuggle with it!  The puppy was so, so good.  It sat down next to its owner and was quiet and perfect.  Barley, on the other hand, was naughty.  She lunged, she growled, she barked, she jumped.  Then I got in line of sight so she couldn't see the puppy, and she was jerking around so much that in the process I stepped on her toe and made her squeal.  Then she sat down and got refocused on me and we made it back to our front door.  We were far away from the puppy--nowhere close to being able to reach it--but it was still embarrassing.  When we were out walking today, the girl with the puppy came out of her building, saw us in the distance walking back to the parking lot, and she turned and ran back inside.  Oops.  Guess we won't become best friends with that neighbor.

Barley was a totally different dog on today's walk.  After we saw the puppy retreat back inside, there was a dachshund in a sweater outside barking it's head off, but Barley didn't bat an eyelash.  She heeled beautifully all the way past it (and we could have actually reached out and touched this dog, we were so close) back to our front door.  She might be schizophrenic.  But, I guess, as long as she always love me and her brother then we can deal with multiple personalities!

I'm hoping that now that March is here, maybe we'll have more beautiful days and get some more good walks in, see all the neighborhood dogs that have been hibernating all winter (and then practice not reacting to them), and hopefully have a dry backyard so we can take our training practice outside and I can have my dining room back instead of having my indoor agility gym.  Once we can start practicing outside again, we're going to start resuming our therapy dog training so that we can test again this summer and be totally prepared.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed those days come really soon, but I took today's light dusting of snow as a good excuse for extra snuggle time with my pets between grading sessions.  We got lots of napping and play time in today, and I think we're all feeling more rested and happier after today.  Soth's having another outbreak of his FLUTD, so we've been dealing with blood and crankiness the last couple days.  Hopefully, it's the normal FLUTD cycle and clears up after a few days.  At least, we have his appointment for vaccinations on March 13, so if it doesn't clear up soon, we'll already be seeing the vet soon and can add it to our list of questions and concerns.
These are Barley's tracks from our last outing in the snow.  How many legs does my dog actually have??
My little lovely just hopped up for some more snuggle time, so I guess my ramblings are over.  Hope everyone's March if off to a beautiful start!