Friday, January 31, 2014

FitDog Friday: We Got Out of the House!

On Monday and Tuesday, the windchill was so bad that our campus closed. I don't need any hands to count the number of times that has happened in the four years I've lived here, so I knew it must be really cold. Any doubts I had were gone when told me that it would feel like -24 degrees on Tuesday morning. I took advantage of extra snuggle time with the pets and didn't abandon my fleece jammies or my coffee cup until late in the day both days.

Today, the temperatures finally made it into the high 30s, so I packed up our little backpack and Barley and I hopped in the car for another snowy adventure at the Arboretum.

I had one happy girl. She knows the way to the Arboretum and she starts dancing in the backseat as soon as we take the exit off I-90. The closer we get, the more excited she gets. She was so excited today that she didn't know which way to turn first when we got out of the car and just kind of spun in a circle in the parking lot for a few seconds before I picked a path.

In December, we went on our first snowy trip to the Arboretum. On that trip, the trails just had a little bit of snow--that was not the case today and I think my legs are going to look really great are going to be really sore tomorrow. It's amazing how quickly you get out of shape--our little .5-mile trots down to the end of the street and back have been doing nothing for keeping me in shape, and trudging through several inches of snow with hills added in was not an easy task today. I looked at my Garmin at one point, sure that we had walked at least a mile, only to find that we hadn't even gone 3/4 of a mile yet!
We always stop at the pond by past the crabapple collection. The left is what it looked like in December and the right is what it looked like today--you can't see our bench or the pond!
Barley was not struggling to dash through the snow. In fact, she was angry I was holding her back.
I had planned on getting in a good trek at the Arboretum, but I just couldn't do it. My ankles, knees, glutes, quads, and muscles I don't even have names for were yelling the whole time, so after we'd hit 1.5 miles I figured it was ok to head back to the car.

On the way home, I realized we had to pass Lakeshore Reservation, which we hadn't visited lately. I've been dying to see the lake up close after admiring the ice on my drive to work. Since it's supposed to be 40 and rainy tomorrow (figures that our warmest day this year has a 100% chance of rain, huh?), I decided this might be our only chance to see the icy lake for a while and we made another stop.

Lakeshore Reservation is nice because it's relatively flat--in fact, if there's any incline at all, I didn't notice it--and there's a big stretch of beach. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the trails had been cleared, so we had an excellent spot to add an easy couple miles to our day.

I think I like the weird sculpture garden better in the snow.
Lake Erie is out there somewhere.
She hasn't looked this happy in weeks!

Where is the lake??
Lakeshore Reservation has two staircases down to the beach and usually we walk from one to the other and then do a couple loops on the paved trails above the beach, but today that was not an option. We couldn't go too far out from the staircase because we couldn't tell where the beach ended and the lake began and I've been traumatized by the scene in Little Women where Amy falls through the river while skating, so I wasn't interested in finding out where the lake started. When we tried to stick close to the other side of the beach, we slipped all over the place. There were even a couple places where the snow was so deep it came up to Barley's chest, so we went back up the stairs and stuck to the pavement.

My girl has been worn out since we got home. She apparently worked up an appetite, too, because as soon as we walked in the door she started running back and forth to her dish--three hours before her normal dinner time. I caved after an hour and a half of that and gave her dinner, so we might be having a late night snack of popcorn this evening!

Surprisingly, even though we missed 10 days this month (what?!), we still walked 5 more miles this month than we did last January. That kind of blows my mind--it's crazy how quickly my definition of a "good" walk changed from our mile a day strolls last January to our almost 3 miles a day in December. I've felt like such a sloth this month, but compared to last year we're doing great!

Hope everyone else got a break from the bitter cold and could enjoy some outdoor time with your pups!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of . . . Winter?

Every time I have a lazy day, I get the "Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" song that they play during one of the many Gilmore Girls town festival scenes. You know, this one:
Today, I got an impromptu lazy day! Mondays already get to start out a little bit lazy this semester because I'm not teaching morning classes every day. So, I've made a vow that as long as there's snow on the ground, I will not be setting an alarm for any earlier than 8:30 a.m. on Monday mornings. This morning, my phone rang at 8:04 and I was prepared to have to hold back snarling at someone in my family for calling before my alarm. Instead, it was a recording saying classes were canceled for today.

With the bitter cold and wind, I am not complaining!

A few hours later, I got another call that tomorrow's classes are canceled, too. Somebody up there loves me! Especially since said it was going to be -4 with a feels like temperature of -23 degrees!!! when my alarm would be going off tomorrow morning.

Since my first set of papers weren't scheduled to come in until later this week and I'd already planned today and tomorrow, I only felt a little bit guilty about putting on my fleece snowflake pajama pants after my shower and curling up with Barley and a book for the afternoon.

Barley's been getting into her fair share of mischief as cabin fever takes hold, though, and I'm not sure we're going to survive this winter.

She has been into EVERYTHING. Soth's food. Soth's treats. The litter box. My school bag. The popover pan I had on the counter waiting to be washed. EVERYTHING.
There's a picture of a cat on them, so that must mean they are for Barley.

I've been trying to work out her brain since her body isn't getting much of a work out this month, but I guess it hasn't been enough. She's going nuts, and I'm going nuts.

Saturday was warm enough we could get outside in the backyard for a few minutes of playtime.
I know my whale's around here somewhere.

We got in short walks yesterday and a couple decent walks on Saturday, but we've been playing inside a lot, too. Every time we've come in from a short walk, I've emptied our treats into the treat ball, which luckily is still wearing her out for short periods of time.

We will be very thankful when we get to agility class tomorrow night--hopefully since I can be home with her all day, I can wear her brain out enough that she can focus and we can burn off energy and actually work on some agility skills!

Dreaming of days when she could play outside for more than a few minutes.
Soth's been up to some mischief of his own. He's been seeking out the snuggliest napping places around the house.
Barley took his treats, so I guess he can take her bed.
This morning, he figured out he could push the couch cushions away from the back of the couch and burrow down a little deeper than usual.

Then he stole some hot dogs from us while Barley and I were doing a little bit of practice with her jump. I guess they're even on the treat-stealing now.

I couldn't let the pets be the only ones who got up to cabin fever-inspired mischief, so I got into a little of my own yesterday.  I booked a cabin in western Massachusetts for Barley and I to take a hiking trip and for me to visit the home of Emily Dickinson (and maybe if I'm feeling like spending a little extra time in the car, Louisa May Alcott). If we can survive the winter, Barley and I will trek off for 4 nights in a darling, pet-friendly cabin in the country! I figured I should have something to look forward to on the days that the cold weather starts to get me down, so summer vacation is officially on the calendar!

Snoopy's Dog Blog

Friday, January 24, 2014


Since I moved to the frozen north 3.5 years ago, I accepted that snow and cold is part of my life. I rarely play the southern cold and have never missed a day of work because of snow (although I did show up late for office hours on the day I had to embrace my inner MacGyver to figure out how to open my car doors that were frozen shut during my first winner). Some days, I even think I like snow.

This week, though, Mother Nature and I are on the verge of war.

Temperatures haven't been very far into the double digits since Monday. The "feels like" temperatures have been in the negatives. That means Barley and I haven't had a real walk since Monday. On Tuesday, at least we had agility, but the lack of walking was already taking it's toll. She decided she would rather just run laps around the gym on her turn than actually listen to me. I'm thankful that she got to stretch her legs, but it would have been nice if she could have done that by doing the things I asked her to do.

Wednesday morning, we pretended we were hibernating until it was time for my afternoon class.
Soth picks strange places to hibernate.
Warm and snuggly.
We've done our best to get out some energy, but it's been tough. We can only do the wobble board, jumps, and weave poles so many times before Barley's bored with it (or we run out of treats). We've tried to practice some of our focus games, but I don't want to make my pup's brain explode. Plus, Soth wants to be included. Once he starts rubbing against the jumps or the weaves, we have to stop working to keep everybody safe.

I even ordered her an IQ treat ball from Amazon. It's the best $11 I've spent on Amazon (and that's saying something for someone who's a book addict). I think it breaks her brain. She'll pick it up and drop it, bash it into walls, nudge it from one end of the apartment to the other until she passes out beside it and wakes up and starts all over again.

But that can only amuse her for so long because she can't just eat treats from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed.

Today, I broke down and took her for a "walk." If we go to the short end of the street and back, we've gone half a mile and still made it back inside in less than 10 minutes, which I figure is more exercise than she gets (and definitely more than I get) when we go out on the long lead in the backyard.

We logged a mile (1000 is feeling very far away at this point) today.

I can totally make up our missed miles in April, right?
The sun didn't do much good at 11:30 this morning.
Things were not more pleasant by 4:30.
I'm thankful for the few neighbors who had actually shoveled the sidewalk in front of their houses to give my pup's toes a quick break from the snow. Tomorrow's supposed to reach a balmy 21 degrees, so maybe we'll make it a full mile in one shot!

How do you keep your dog happy and healthy when it's too cold to be outside?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I'm Crazy for Loving You

When I heard Hunter Hayes' "I Want Crazy" for the first time, I knew it had to be our song (and if we can ever fit the Canine Freestyle Dance class into our schedule, it will be the song we make a routine to!).

We heard our song on the way to tonight's class, and I hoped it was a sign of good things to come. I was a little worried about the class because our walk before had been strange. As we were walking, a kid was playing on a skateboard and doing a lot of falling; Barley's always interested in scooters, skateboards, and the like, so I crossed the street to avoid having the kid fall in our path. Most of the time, if Barley has any reaction more than perked ears and a watchful eye to skateboarders, it's a lunge and a quick snap of the jaws in their direction (after all, nobody's supposed to move quickly without the border collie's permission) and then as soon as we're past she's 100% back to normal.

That was not the case today. She started out just staring with her perky non-Dobby ears. Even though we were on the opposite side of the street, apparently she felt particular offended by this skateboarding child. Maybe he reminded her of a turtle since he was on his belly sliding down the sidewalk after giving up on staying standing. Maybe she was just on edge because I went back to work this week after almost a full month of non-stop Beth and Barley time. Maybe he had a stench that my human nose couldn't detect from our distance or was just a bad kid. Whatever the reason, her hackles were raised--from her shoulders all the way down to her tail--which is unusual behavior from Barley. Even when she has had run-ins with other dogs, her fur usually stays put or she'll get a little mohawk right by her shoulders, but it only lasts a few seconds and it's gone. This time she was full-on mohawk until we turned the corner and she was growling; you could feel it vibrating all the way up the leash.

Since my new schedule gives me exactly an hour between the time I get home and the time we leave for agility, we didn't have a lot of time between walking and getting in the car to regroup and calm down. I just had a sense that she was going to start singing, "No matter what you were thinking that I wouldn't, honey, I just might. I'm gonna go crazy if I don't get crazy tonight." So, I realized that I couldn't just tell her to run and hide her crazy and start acting like a lady. After I didn't listen to my gut the last time she seemed a little off, I learned my lesson.

Today, I stood up for my dog. Our trainer told everyone to get a jump and practice sending to the back of the jump. She told us to take a jump at the end and put our first trainer (aka Barley's guardian angel), who is a classmate in agility, beside us since Barley feels calmer and more focused near her. But I didn't think Barley could handle working off-leash tonight while everyone else was off-leash, too. Our trainer respected my decision, told me I was making a good choice for my dog, and after everyone else had a chance to go, she had the class leash their dogs, put them in a down-stay and give them as many treats as they needed to stay that way. Since the dogs were all down and calm, Barley didn't even notice they were around.

She did great work. When it wasn't our turn, we stayed in the hallway so I could watch over the door and Barley could chill out without looking at the other dogs. Since we didn't get as much time to practice sending, our jump sequences were a little rough, but we know how to practice at home with our jumps so we'll do even better next week.

I'm so proud of my baby girl and myself for standing up for her. We came home and as soon as I finished dinner, she sprawled across my lap with her abominable snowman. We got in some good snuggle time until I had to reclaim my lap for the computer to get some work done for tomorrow's classes.

I love that crinkle nose when she nibbles toys.

Silly faces from two happy girls!
So, even though crazy isn't easy, I wouldn't want my girl any other way. Jason Mraz kind of sums up our relationship (even though it breaks my "quoting songs that talk about crazy" streak): "Well, I won't give up on us. Even if the skies get rough. I'm giving you all my love. I'm still looking up. . . . We've got a lot to learn. God knows we're worth it."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reflections on Teaching

Frigid temperatures have kept us inside most of the week. We only got 5.39 miles in during the last week. Let's be honest--the frozen lake is pretty, but it's also a sign that the world is REALLY cold right now. On Tuesday, Barley couldn't even go outside to potty without her toes freezing and making her limp. I thought I was going to have to wade out into the snow and carry her back in! I never thought I'd be thankful to see 20-degree temperatures, but by Wednesday we had such a case of cabin fever that our 1.5 mile walk by the lake seemed like a huge victory!

Our involuntary hibernation has made it hard for me to avoid finishing my syllabi for the new semester. It also gave me plenty of time to think about teaching.

I never wanted to teach. In fact, I would get irrationally angry when people would say, "Oh, so you're going to teach" after learning that I was majoring in English. I've always loved school. My favorite part of summer vacation was always the end when we'd go to the open house and I'd learn whose class I was in, what supplies I needed, and which friends would be in my class with me, so it makes sense that I ended up teaching--it just took me a while to realize that was what I wanted to do.

I was blessed with some really wonderful teachers.  I don't remember much about kindergarden, other than Super and Dolphin our class hamsters (named after our school mascots, the Super Dolphins) and the letter people like Mr. T with the tall teeth and Mr. N with the noisy nose. As we watched the videos and colored the coloring sheets, I learned that letters were unique friends who had different personalities and interesting lives. My second grade teacher introduced me to American Girls and encouraged me to read and learn more about their lives. My third grade teacher was tough, but she wanted us to learn. In fourth grade, my teacher read to us in funny voices (she made an incredible grandma in Trouble River) and helped us practice multiplication and division with pig races (timed math worksheets drawn in the shape of a track that we completed on days when we could bring in stuffed pigs; the first person to finish all the problems correctly won the race and got their picture taken with their pig). There was nothing about school I didn't love. 

Although each of my teachers were different, I loved almost all of them.  As Barley and I have trained over the last 2.5 years, I've thought a lot about different training styles.

Like my third grade teacher, our first trainer is tough. She holds me accountable for my dog. When I mess up, she makes sure I know it. (And we need that. I took an online class recently and all of the feedback was "Great job!" or "This is wonderful" and I never got feedback on how to improve.) But she also wants us to succeed--which is why she's tough. She shares in our successes and she picks us back up when we fail. She approaches our training sessions as games to keep learning fun for Barley and to offer Barley choices, so she chooses to do the right thing rather than doing it out of fear of being reprimanded. Her only consequence for not choosing the right option is that she doesn't get the treats she wants.

I'm ready for some learnin'.
When we started agility, our first agility trainer was a whole new kind of tough. She was intimidated by anything or any dog. When Barley would have negative reactions to other dogs, she'd let Barley know very clearly that she had crossed a line. When Barley flew over the gate to chase down a smaller dog, our trainer had us spend the rest of class working on boundaries so she wouldn't jump over the gate again. This trainer also wanted us to be successful and gave us a lot of wonderful tools for dealing with Barley's reactivity, but with her techniques my relationship with Barley became less of a partnership and more of a dictatorship controlling relationship. There are definitely reprimands when we're working with this trainer (and I'm not necessarily saying that's a bad thing; sometimes she needs to know that there is no option but to listen to me).

Our new agility instructor reminds me of my fourth grade teacher. She uses funny voices and sayings--when Barley and I do something beautifully, she shouts out, "Sweet Baby Jane!" If we aren't perfect in an exercise, she doesn't stop us--she lets us finish the exercise, gives us feedback, and tells us to try again. She sets boundaries for Barley, and sometimes recommends we duck behind the swinging door into the hallway so I can watch but Barley can chill out while she waits her turn. We play lots of games to learn different agility skills, but there are clear rules on what Barley is allowed to do.

Each of our instructors is wonderful. We couldn't have made the progress we have made without the tools we've learned from each one of them. Since they are all so different, they've made me think about the kind of teacher I want to be.

Even though I joke about my teaching mantra being "I just want to conquer people and their souls" (thank you, Mike Tyson), I prefer to have more of a partnership with my students. Most semesters, I learn so much from them even though they're supposed to be learning from me. I don't want them to follow the rules because they're scared of my reaction or of the consequences; I want them to follow the rules because they choose to. I want to have clearly drawn rules (which is something that didn't seem as important to me until we started working with trainers--who occasionally give me conflicting advice, which highlights for me just how important clarity and consistency is), but I also want my students to enjoy learning (although I am not a funny voice kind of person--at least not intentionally). I believe in giving feedback throughout the learning process and giving students an opportunity to fix mistakes.

The more we interact with different training styles, the more I learn about my own teaching style. When I brought home this crazy Barley girl, I knew my life would change, but I had no idea that she'd make me reevaluate my teaching, too.

Barley thinks grading is less fun than learning.

Monday, January 6, 2014

3 Years!

On Friday, Barley and I celebrated 3 years together, so I postponed our return north so she didn't have to spend her adoption day in the car. In honor of spending 3 years with my Barley girl, I thought it was the perfect time to celebrate the 3 things I love most about my pup.

1. Her love of the snow. As I've mentioned before, snow has never really been my thing. But Barley's love of the snow has made me appreciate it up close and personal instead of through the windows from the warmth of my couch.
When cold, snowy days could easily tempt me to spend all day snuggled in bed with a book, Barley gets me out into the world and brings me so much laughter and joy that I forget how much I dislike snow.

2. Her willingness to get up and go. I have always been happiest when I'm busy, but I also really, really love routine. Barley also does well with a routine, but she's always ready for adventure. Pretty much, she could be singing this fabulous 90s song originally performed by the Poky Little Puppy every time we leave the house.

She pushes me to the edge of my comfort zone. When we go adventuring, I have fun. If there's something I want to see that happens to be a little off the trail, we off road a little bit. Without Barley, I never would have visited most of our favorite places at all (and I probably would haven't gone back to the Arboretum after the Gnome and Garden exhibit left).

3. Her ears. I almost didn't get my Barley girl because she had ridiculously small ears. When she has them back, she looks like she doesn't have ears at all. But her ears change all the time. Sometimes they're off to the side and I call them her Dobby ears because they make her look like Dobby from Harry Potter.
Dobby ears!
Other times, they are perky and stand straight up. My favorite is when they blow in the wind and the tips of them just sort of wave to the world.

Barley is not the dog I thought I was getting and she has shaken up my life in so many different ways.  She's not an easy dog to love. But as our song says, "I don't want easy, I want crazy" and I've certainly got crazy.

So happy belated adoption day, my Barley girl! I hope we can celebrate many, many more together.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Eight Percent!

On Sunday, I read in Parade that only 8% of Amecicans achieve their New Years Resolutions. If you remember, I set a resolution of walking more each month than I did the month before. Today, I'm happy to report that Barley and I joined that 8% of Americans! By the end of the year, we had doubled our monthly mileage. Some lovely weather in May made us walk 23 more miles than we had in April--which at that point was making our goal seem unattainable.  But we did it!

(Oops! I forgot to take a picture of the big 100% yesterday before it joined our historical goals log.)
So here's the breakdown of how it happened:

January: 44.21
February: 46.66
March: 57.77
April: 60.1
May: 83.3
June: 84.59
July: 85.13
August: 86.57
September 87.02
October: 88.11
November: 89.25
December: 91.51
For a grand total of 904.22 miles this year!

There were plenty of times I didn't think we'd make it--and plenty of times when we procrastinated and had to walk 15 miles in the course of the last 3 days of the month.  To be honest, I'm not sure we would have made it this month if we hadn't migrated south for the last couple weeks.  Rumor has it that it was 17 degrees and snowy many a day at home while we were enjoying sunny walks with near 50s temps. But, we did it.

One of our favorite walks of December was a trip to Cheaha State Park--the highest point in Alabama--where Barley got to experience mountains for the first time (and I managed to get in a short walk without any altitude sickness!).

There were some great views (although I stayed far far far away from the edge) and we managed to stay upright despite the steep, rocky, leaf covered trails. I'd call it a success.

We've set a new goal for 2014--to walk a total of 1000 miles throughout the year. (Yes, you can expect references to The Proclaimers song often over the next year.) 

It might seem lofty, but in March and April, we purposely took days off to avoid pushing our mileage up too high so early in the year (and trying to walk over 44 miles in the February cold seemed impossible many times), so it seemed less stressful to set a total goal and spread it across the whole year (it's about 2.74 miles a day if we walk every day--totally doable) instead of panicking at the end of every single month again.

Wish us luck!
Barley, Soth, and I are sending happy holidays and happy new year wishes to all!