a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: December 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Redux

SUMMARY: December Photo Challenge.

Every month, Karma issues a photo challenge. I sometimes pursue it because it gives me a different perspective from which to shoot (thinking outside the brain, as it were). Dawn, who has posted her own results, kindly pointed out that my quick snapshots from the last couple of days's posts have pretty much covered the December challenge. Really, I meant to get around to the challenge any moment now, but--well--I'll take Happy Coincidence (I'm not going to call it "cheating"). So I'm repeating my apropos photos here, with a couple of extras:

I wanted to try the nifty technique for photographing lights described in this post of 10 Creative Tips For Capturing Memorable Holiday Photos.

I try to take a photo of the family Christmas tree every year; I have always loved the variety of ornaments that my family prefers (over, say, carefully matched colored globes). Here are some others from previous years.

Not only is my niece reading a card, but my mom's traditional display of cards floats on the stair railing behind her.

The morning after Christmas, it was a little chilly for San Jose--Boost didn't notice the frost covering the lawn, but I sure did.

In order: A bouche de noel purchased by one sister; frosted sugar cookies that I made this year because I've missed having the ones my mom used to make when we were kids; fondant candy made by another sister, which is another holiday tradition.

Nineteen of us gathered Christmas afternoon for too much food and the exchange of gifts.

Bonus: show me the winter holiday of your choice
In case the preceding photos aren't enough:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


SUMMARY: Wordless Wednesday.

(Just a few of my photos from Sunday.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Hike From Hell Leads to True Happiness

SUMMARY: Funny how the most unexpected things can have the best results.
The days leading up to, and then the day of, Christmas were full days. There was shopping to do, gifts to wrap, projects to work on, people to see, errands to run, my mom with a brief stint in the hospital with a minor stroke (if there is such a thing) from which she's recovering well, dogs going nuts from being ignored, food food food of course, and I wayyyyy overindulged this year. All part of the holiday season, but this year has seemed more stressful and harder on me than most years,and I was feeling it.

And also deciding that there's definitely something going on with Tika. Maybe more than one thing, but definitely one thing in that she wasn't wanting to eat her kibble which would be like, I dunno, Magic Johnson not wanting to play basketball. I've decided it must be something to do with her teeth, because otherwise there seems to be no problem with her appetite. Although she does seem more subdued than usual and is drinking more than usual. I think. So I'm a bit stressed about that; left for the day on Christmas with instructions to the renter to call me if he noticed anything truly worrisome about Tika's behavior, and that hung over me a bit all day, with my cell phone turned on in my pocket. Probably worse because of the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 2002 when Remington was in the dog hospital, getting transfusions and trying to recover from his tumor bleeding out again.

Anyway. She survived the day and so did I. She ate her kibble for dinner, although reluctantly again. I got out one stick of string cheese--an occasional treat for the dogs--cut it into small pieces, and did tricks with them in the living room before going to bed, because they were a bit wired from virtually no attention for three full days.

On The Second Day Of Christmas, I got up a little frantically as Tika started making horking noises; she tossed her cookies (so to speak--interlaced with tiny bits of cheese) on the bathroom floor, so at least it was an easy cleanup, then she did complete liquid #2 out in the yard.

My plan for the day had been to do a little hike with some friends, so, then I had to decided (a) whether to take Tika immediately to the emergency vet, or (b) leave Tika at home with the renter and just take Boost. I decided to attribute the digestive issues to the half stick of string cheese and the eating issues to sore teeth, and go ahead and take both beasts.

It was a little earlier than I had planned on getting up, but that's OK--my camera appreciated it.

I gave the dogs each a little kibble, had a healthy meal of hot oatmeal with raisins, eyed the frost in the 30-degree back yard (-1.1C) and decided NOT to bundle up for the hike because I figured I'd get plenty warm when we started going up and down the hills at Las Trampas.

I also had to decide whether to haul my SLR camera, since that's all I've got at the moment. (One goal for this week is to decide which subcompact camera I want to get for myself this time. My Canon S95 was very nice, but do I want to spend the $500ish again for the S100 or save a couple hundred bucks and get something well-rated with a bit less functionality but that will still probably do me fine?)

Decided not to haul the weight of both the camera and the overwhelming desire to stop and take photos. Turns out that most of my friends had their cell phones and there was one "real" camera, too, so there are photos.

Picked up a friend and her two dogs (Steamer and Carson) and finished the hour drive to Las Trampas, one of the East Bay Regional Open Space Districts, where we met up with three other agility friends and their dogs. So: Five agility people, ten agility dogs.

The thing that was cool about the dogs was how different they all were--this wasn't an all-black-and-white-border-collie hike!

  • Steamer: What I'd call a "standard" black and white border collie--medium to small dog, longer hair, white blaze on the face, tulip ears, etc.
  • Carson: Large, short-haired border collie, floppy ears like Boost's.
  • Boost: Blue merle border collie.
  • Tika: Blue merle aussie mix.
  • Sheila: Shaggy-haired mostly black border collie.
  • Jersey: Red and white smooth-haired border collie mix.
  • Kipper: Dark red, smooth-coated, prick-eared border collie.
  • Kaz: Lighter red, smooth-coated, prick-eared border collie.
  • Surely: Tricolor Aussie.
  • Kinetic: Our token nonherding dog--the Papillon.

(Photo by Kraig P.)

A little more about our hike beyond yesterday's post: We thought that we were going to do about a 3-to-4 hour hike. None of us had been in the particular area where we decided to hike. We picked our route on the spot and had to do a lot of consulting at each of the many junctions.
(Photo by Susan P.)
(Photos by Barbara S.)

Sure, I could see that there was a lot of steep uphill and downhill along the route, and I did warn people. What I really couldn't say was how very hard it was for me to get up the hills and how very hard it was for my knees to get down the downhills. These were extremely steep trails; I had to use my hands in places or sit and scramble here and there, especially as my legs got rubberier and rubberier (say THAT 3 times fast!). Oddly, although I could feel my muscles approaching their limits, I felt generally pretty good.

Apparently I wasn't the only one; one of my compatriots described it as a "three-hour hike that turned into the six-hour Hike From Hell."  But a couple of the friends just seemed to hop, skip, and jump merrily along the trail, kindly waiting for me/us frequently. (More motivation to do more uphill hiking.)
(The soul-sucking climb from Hell. Photo by Barbara S.; overacting by assorted hikers)

However, we did stop in a number of places for cool photos...
(Setting up for The Ten-Dog Log photo, see yesterday, photo by Barbara.)

... and we found 4 (5?) geocaches! (Another one we looked for but never found, but we didn't know exactly what we were looking for, either.)

 (Large black lunchbox thingie, hidden in plain sight, just 10 feet off the trail! Oh, and down a really steep slope. Photos from Barbara S.)
 (Wee itty bitty cache in a hole found by eagle-eye Williams. Photos from Barbara S.)

The sad note was that one of our hikers lost her brand new--as in, just bought this week--North Face jacket somewhere along the way. And the trails were so strenuous that, although we were willing to go back and look for it and tried to start the expedition in reverse, the owner made the executive decision that we'd just keep going. That was probably just as well,

The dogs had a great time. Tika was more subdued than on many hikes in the past, never saw her actually run at all, but she had no difficulties.
 (Photos by Susan P.)

Boost did a little of the run-ahead-run-back thing.
(Wait--where was I when Barbara was snapping photos of Lisa  fooling around with my dog atop Vail Peak??)

But it was the one-year-old Kinetic, with those itty bitty Papillon legs, who amazed us all, running full speed ahead and back at about the same rate whether it was level, straight up the side of a cliff, or straight down the wall of an abyss. Where does a dog that size store all that energy?

When I finally got home and stepped under a hot shower, oooooohhhhh did it feel good! I never wanted to leave!  But I wanted to get to my sister's house for their Boxing Day Feast, so I dried off, dressed again, and headed out.

And an odd feeling overwhelmed me as I drove: I was really, really happy. It had to be a combination of things: Tika seemed fine. I did something that was healthy (after a day of gorging myself). I succeeded at something that challenged  me. I saw wonderful vistas (well--obscured by one of the smoggiest days in a while--air quality management district says it's everyone's "traditional" holiday fires). Dogs got to be off leash and explore. I enjoyed the success of  finding geocaches. (Well--I was helping to look when others found them, anyway.) And I did it all with a great group of cheerful friends who are a delight to be around.

What a great day. I wouldn't trade it for anything!
(Photo by Lisa W)

More of Barbara's photos--I wore my pink Henley. Fun to have lots of photos of me for a change:

Monday, December 26, 2011

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Switchbacks

SUMMARY: Hike at Las Trampas.
The trails at this park for the most part go straight up or straight down the sides of ridges. Even their few switchbacks could have used switchbacks. My legs are SO tired!  Our little 3-hour hike turned into a 6-hour, 6.5 miles, 1400 foot cumulative elevation gain hike.

Update: Dec 28 a.m: I printed a large version of the topo map and went over the contour lines individually. According to the park's map, we did 6.93 miles and according to my calculations, 2060 feet cumulative elevation gain, not the 1400 that MapMyRun came up with!

Five agility friends, 10 agility dogs. And what good dogs they were!

(Left to right: Steamer, Carson, Boost, Tika, Sheila, Jersey, Kipper, Kaz (or did I get those 2 reversed?), Surely, Kinetic.

And again, all cooperating for a nice post on an old dead tree:
Jersey, Sheila, Boost, Tika, Surely, Kinetic, and front row Carson, Steamer, Kipper, and Kaz.
As we released the dogs from the log pose, we discovered that  a biker had hopped off his bike and was trying to get down to us in the field to get a photo of the amazing 10 dogs all posing prettily, but he was just a few seconds too late. I guess it is pretty amazing to have that many dogs all cooperate all at once. But we're professionals; don't try this at home!

I had a great time even though it wiped out my legs quite thoroughly.

(Photos by Kraig Paulsen.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Speaking of Food Treats--Favorite Holiday Sugar

SUMMARY: No-Cook Fondant recipe.
This is something my mom used to make, and my sister now often makes it at holiday time.

Apparently she's going to charge a lot for her labor costs.

It's actually pretty easy to make, very tasty, and very pretty if done the fancy way. And no cooking!

1/3 cup soft butter
1/3 cup light Karo syrup
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla or your favorite flavoring--I prefer peppermint (might not need as much as a tsp)
3 and 1/2 cups (1 lb) sifted confectioner's sugar
optional: one or two different food colorings; for xmas, green and red, for instance

  1. Blend butter, syrup, salt, and flavoring in large mixing bowl.
  2. Add sifted confctioner's sugar all at once. Mix first with a spoon and then with hands, kneading in the dry ingredients.
  3. Turn onto a board and continue kneading until mixture is well blended and smooth (you can use more powdered sugar on the board or your hands to keep from sticking if needed).
  4. Pick your option:
  • Roll into a long roll about 1" in diameter, slice into 1/2" pieces, store in layers of waxed paper in your favorite container.
  • Divide in half. Color each half a different color (or leave one half white). Form each into a loaf shape and roll out into a long, narrow rectangle (used powdered sugar on the rolling pin and board to keep from sticking). Try to make the two halves of equal width and length, about 1/8" thick. Place on on top of the other. Roll together so you have a long tube about 1" in diameter. Slice into 1/2" pieces and you have little pinwheels of candy. Store in layers of waxed paper in your favorite container. Tip: After rolling, make sure it's fairly round and then chill before cutting to keep it from smooshing as much. But it still tastes good smooshed (as in the following photos).
  • Shape into a patty about 1" thick. Chill. Serve on a plate with a knife and let people pick their own poison size. (Can also color it or decorate with sprinkles.)

Makes about 1.5 pounds candy. Store in a cool place.