a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: 2015

Thursday, December 31, 2015


SUMMARY: My dogs' ghosts inhabit my life; do yours?

Disclaimer: I do not believe in ghosts. And yet--

For months after Sheba was gone, whenever I made popcorn, I heard her toenails trotting down the hallway for a snack. For months after Remington was gone, I swear that I heard him behind me turning his head and shifting his weight to see the cattle on either side of the car. Tika and Boost, in life, traveled maybe hundreds of times in the crates in the back of my car; now, I hardly take the new dogs anywhere, and yet I hear dogs resettling themselves in the crates as I drive.

These do not strike me as unhappy ghosts, just revisiting some pleasurable things before moving on.

[Repost from my Facebook page]

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dog-Walking Poetry

SUMMARY: Because Longfellow didn't get it quite right
Originally on facebook; posted here 12/30/2019

December 30, 2015 at 8:10 PM
Just something that my brain thought while out walking (Apologies to H.W. Longfellow):

BETWEEN the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the dogs’ occupations,
That is known as the Dog-Walking Hour.

I hear in the hallway behind me
The patter of little claws,
The sound of a toy that is squeaking,
And the clatter of toothy jaws.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
A-prowling with collie-like flair,
Grave Chipper, and bright-eyed Luke-meister,
Both shedding their summer hair.

A whimper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the kitchen,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By two doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

(Maybe to be continued. Or not. Need another walk.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Taking the Christmas Photo

SUMMARY: A photo essay on the challenges of a selfie in a tight space with badly trained dogs (reaping my own rewards).

Goal: Our upper torsos with nothing but tree behind us.

First, scouting out the camera position (and a little bit of focus and light/flash checking).

Too high; need the bottom of the tree in the frame. And center it.

Centered but too far away and too much floor.

Centered, floor is better.  Chip is helping [not].

Nope, from this position, I might have to edit out the white lampshade.

Move the camera to over here. Um. Not enough  floor showing for us to fit in front of the tree.

Moving camera back some more looks OK.

I plan to sit on a stool with dogs next to me because it's so hard for me to get down and up.  No, not facing this way, as my feet would be out in front.
Try my feet off to the side--doh,  the corner of the coffee table--and Darth-- are in the photo.   (Notice the remote control in my hand.)
Move the camera back to the left. Tighter fit, but Darth is now gone.
Photo check. --nah, I'll be higher than the dogs. And not enough tree showing behind me. Giving up on the stool.

Now I put a bag full of tacos on a shelf directly behind the camera to draw the dogs' attention. Oh, boy, does it. Thus begins the struggle where, in position on the floor, I can't move easily but must keep the dogs away from the tacos and sitting next to me. Both at the same time. Both facing the camera. NOT lying down.

Eventually they are securely grasped under my arms to keep them in position. FINALLY I can start clicking the remote. I try to reengage their interest in the tacos: "What's that? Do you want it?" Ah HA!-- merely doing a remote focus focuses their attention momentarily on the camera! A huge assist.

I choose the one that is most in focus and has all of us looking at the camera nicely. Some lighting adjustment and such, crop out everything I don't want (including my knee with the knee brace), and there it is.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

From Taj MuttHall, A Happy Christmas to All

SUMMARY: And to all a good night.

(This was one of the most physically demanding selfies I’ve taken in a while—with untrained dogs. Used a bag of tacos behind the camera to get their attention—you BET it got their attention. Thank goodness for remote controls and tripods).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Stalking Tiger

SUMMARY: In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the tiger sneaks tonight...

Cleverly disguising himself as a large wild predator, Luke sneaks up on an unsuspecting Chip.

(Darn it, I couldn't get the photo where it was all the way over his head like a cowl.  He had rolled around on it and when he stood up, it came with him.)

Neil Armstrong's Moon Suit

SUMMARY: My patch arrived!

You know how each NASA shuttle mission had its own patch? Well, I donated to the Smithsonian's fundraiser to get Neil Armstrong's moon-walk suit restored and displayed -- Reboot the Suit -- and this is my chosen reward!  Yayyy!  (And they made well more than their original request, so even more things will be preserved!)

Cleaning House

SUMMARY: I'm trying to be tough with myself.

I've been wading through my parents' (mostly my dads') collection of papers in file cabinets.  Inspires me to come home and try to get rid of Stuff.

Gritted my teeth and did it. Tossed 10 years of agility competition catalogs.

(What? You say but I competed for 19 years? Shhhhh.)

Luke is confounded at how someone could have that many catalogs. 
Chip is waiting a safe distance in case they decide to explode.

Puppy Environments for Fun and Learning

SUMMARY: I love how friends have set up their puppy enclosures.

If you want your litter of puppies to grow up being unafraid of different kinds of surfaces, things that make noise, things that wobble or movie under them of various stabilities, random objects of various sorts, what better thing to do than to fill their environment with that in mind?

One friend posted a video of her litter in their playground. So much fun to watch! (Puppies are about 4 weeks old here.)

Another posted a photo of the playground, ready to go as soon as soon as their little legs and eyes can get them moving. All kinds of mini teeters, tunnels, things that make noise, that roll, that can be climbed (a little bit), different surfaces, similar thing to what's in the video.  Lovely!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Looking Back -- Moving Tika to Performance

SUMMARY: The emotions are still so fresh.

I just read Nancy Gyse's latest blog post,  Endings and Beginnings.  It took me back to the summer of 2009.  Just wanted to capture my response here.

I went through the Performance-or-Championship decision with Tika when she was only 8–still running fast, still making jumps, no Early Take-Off (ETO), but was coming up sore more and more often during or right after a trial (not always–but enough to finally decide that it wasn’t just a random tweak, so went to the vet). Xrays confirmed that she had arthritis in her neck and lower back.

 I do watch my title counts, and I know that it would be better to not do so, but she seemed to love being out there with me and running and jumping like crazy and I LOVED watching her do the courses. I cried because, you know, “all my friends have their platinum ADCHs” and moving to Perf meant that I’d never ever get that on any other dog, because she was so good.

That was a personal thing, so true…but it also hurt because I was sure that this would just be temporary–if she had arthritis, she’d soon be done with agility completely, and I SO wasn’t ready for that.

She was only a few Qs away from silver, or had finished, in all the classes, so I moved her to Perf in each as she finished them.

The surprise benefit to me, then, was that, at that time, I stopped thinking so much about titles because I thought that she’d be completely done in only a few months. The surprise benefit to her was that she started running like a young dog again, didn’t get sore, and started pulling in Qs and ribbons against some pretty tough competition!

In fact, my other surprise benefit was that we blasted through all of the performance titles and were less than 20 Qs away from that coveted platinum when heart disease sidelined her suddenly at 11. I’d never dreamed she’d like that difference in height so much or that she’d be able to compete that long comfortably, as big as she was.

(So, even when I started caring about titles again, it was almost all pure fun because her Q rate became so high.)

I don’t really have much of a point, except that, yes indeed, I understand the feeling about it being a physical milestone that one doesn’t want to see because it means essentially that the dog is moving on towards being an old dog.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tiny Miracles Happen: A Walk In the Morning With the Dogs

SUMMARY: No photos, just a note.

I took Handsome and the Beast (aka Chip and Luke) on a mile walk first thing this morning.  Got up out of bed. Got dressed and walked downstairs. Put on my windwall fleece and flannel-lined coat.  Leashed them up and out we went.

Once upon a time, this would have been normal for me, nothing even noteworthy.  Did it a lot. Used to do it nearly every day for many years.

Then The Spine Thing happened.  I haven't talked much about it here. Keep meaning to, but somehow it's hard to qualify.  But here's the thing:
  • Got up and out of bed. Without screaming in pain. Without pain. Without a twinge. Yeah, being careful (as my whole physical life is now, but that's OK and becoming habit). But no pain that made me have a second thought. 
  • Got dressed and walked downstairs.  For well over a year, walking downstairs and doing anything else without a warmup (hobbling to the exercycle and gradually increasing the pedaling as the pain eased over 10 minutes or so), then strengthening exercises and many stretches.  Then maybe I could tentatively sit and eat breakfast and then lie in wait for the assorted pain-controlling meds to fully kick in after an hour or so. Then maybe I could walk around and do some small chores.  
  • Leashed them up.  Haven't walked these 2 dogs much at all until very recently. Bending to put their harnesses on has, at times, been excruciating for my back, hence a deterrent. Also, they're not gentle on the leash and just a single tug in the wrong direction could put me back into agony & returning home for icing and stretching.  That I felt solid enough to try this with both of them amazes me.
  • Went for a walk.  There were a few months where simply doing that, with or without the dogs, was out of the question.  I worked on it when I could. Some days it was to the end of the cul de sac and back. Some days going out to get the paper was too much.   It wasn't perfect today, but we had a walk at a pretty normal clip and both of them tugged fairly often and I survived.  And I was able to bend to pick up the poops without much pain at all--this also has been a deterrent to me taking them out, because if I bent the wrong way, the blast of pain would knock me to the ground, and besides being potentially dangerous, it was embarrassing doing so in front of other walkers.
Still, walking has been easier  (that and lying down, which has always been OK) than standing still (e.g., for washing dishes) or sitting (e.g., for working), which are not as bad as they were, but remain problematic.

Yet--Today I did those walking things and felt pretty darned good.  I hope that this lull in The Spine Thing's progression will last.  I'm feeling content about all that this morning.  And the dogs loved being out and about.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Dogs Meet Art

SUMMARY: A surprise at yesterday's USDAA trial

Yesterday I went down to Morgan Hill (only half an hour from here) to work full time as a scribe (NOT as a score table person, how weird is that?!).

One of my [many] agility friends is an artist who creates pet portraits in pencil, pastels, and colored pencil and sells them at local trials.  A couple of people suggested that I go check out her Christmas ornaments and drawings.

I did. I looked at the drawings.

I cried.

It was perfect.

I didn't know that she was working on that. She did it from one of my favorite photos of Boost and Tika from the first month that Boost came to live here. And she was clever enough to fill in Tika's back where the actual photo cuts it off!

And guess whom I also found in the ornaments? Apparently Tracey does some paints, as well.

(Luke REALLY wanted to know what I had in my hand, so he had to be in the photo, too.)

Thanks, Tracey.

Contact Tracey at wildkelpies (@) gmail.com.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Simple Thoughts About Hard Things

SUMMARY: Simply written.

This is the year when everything changed.

Maybe not everything.

But it feels as if it were everything important.

My old dog who knew how to do the dog jumping and climbing game very well is gone. Because she was old and sick.

My younger dog who also knew how to do it very well suddenly became very, very sick with bad things growing inside her that killed her very, very quickly.

And both of these girls could walk and run without a six-foot holding thing between me and them and still be good girls.  And would come when called (mostly anyway). And knew how things worked in the world and loved to be out in the world and checking everything out. Now I have dogs who know or do none of these. And I miss my girls so much.

My father, whom I have known for more than half a hundred years--that is, my entire life--had bad things growing inside him, also, which also killed him quickly and also made him angry because, being human and not dog, he knew what was happening and didn't like it much.  And he knew so very very much that I can't even begin to say what.

The set of bones running down my back have decided to go in different directions than they should go and do other things that make the sensing-feeling things in my legs and back hurt so much that some days I can barely walk. Or sit. Or stand.  Lying down is usually pretty good and I like that part. But it's hard to do that and do any of the other things that I want to do--hard to do almost anything, in fact, when lying down.

So my dream of ending working for money and traveling the world and walking through and up and down many forests and hills and mountains and very dry places seems to be fading. And of taking photos of many creatures and places and things from many points of view such as lying down or on my knees or back seems to be fading. And of playing that dog jumping and climbing game until I turn eight times ten years old is fading. And also of staying in this house in this area for several more years until I have carefully thought things through seems like it cannot happen. Which means that I must be faster at getting rid of many of the many things in this house, and that is something that I find hard to do.

So. I am getting up every morning and doing the things that I must do and finding ways to still enjoy life and trying to slowly come to know the truth of my life and what I need to be doing within me, not just in my head.

These are all hard ideas to grab. And yet, in many ways, it is quite simple.  To help me think simply about it all, I have written this story-thing using this thing that helps people to write using only words from a simple word set*. It is hard to be simple.  Maybe that is why I feel so tired so often.  Trying hard to be keep things simple. Being simple is hard. And so many simple things are hard.


*I thank xkcd for creating this Simple Writer thing.   Here is a good one of his funny drawings that I think uses the simple words.

("The thrower started hitting the bats too much,  so the king of the game told him to leave and brought out another thrower from thrower jail.")

I have so many things to say to myself that I want to track--

SUMMARY: --and yet they stay in my head.

About my current dogs.

About my past dogs.

About my friends' dogs. Who are getting older as I'm not doing agility and not seeing them and their new dogs whom I don't recognize and whose names I don't know and I don't know what they're like. And

About agility and missing it and not missing it.

About pain and pain and pain, inside and out.  About still finding pleasure in life.

About back surgery being very likely in my very near future. And being very afraid.

About my dad who is gone. And still have no words.

About good friends and good times--I don't have many close friends, and I'm not excellent at staying in touch, but somehow we manage.

About Trail Watch Academy coming up and trying to walk 10,000 steps a day and seldom being able to do so.

About Disneyland! In 4 weeks and very excited because I love going there yet with trepidation because trips in January and May were excruciating.  But still wanting to go.

About truly feeling like I'm working towards being Old, not merely Older Than Before.

About beautiful weather and terrible drought and even with that, the survival of civilization with no zombies at all. So far.

About photography and loving it.

This was supposed to be my daily diary of my life with my dogs. Now it is just rather a personal version of Pinterest.

OK, I have another post to do, so on to that.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The pain is so big

SUMMARY: Time is passing but I don't know how

My pain and grief belie the calendar. Only yesterday my Merle Girls left me, the pain and grief are so big that they tell me this. Yet it has been 6 and 7 months, I realized suddenly just now.

I don't even know how to begin talking about my Dad's absence.

I am enjoying my life for the most part (except for the self-destructing spine pain issues), yet the knife still cuts deep and the tears explode, sobbing so much beyond mere weeping.

Now I'm joining friends for this evening for Cumberbatch's Hamlet. Drying my tears. Collecting my missing breath. Continuing.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Memories of Lean-tos

SUMMARY: Not really Wordless Wednesday

My father is gone. We've been going through everything in the house with my mom's help.

Ah, the Adirondacks, where they met and spent their honeymoon and managed two lodges and took us kids hiking and camping. Lean-tos are a big part of that memory.

If you ever read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, these are the huts he refers to.

Found this watercolor of a lean-to that my mom used to display. Source unknown.

Here's mom camping at a lean-to when she and dad were dating, Dad behind camera.

All of us out for a day hike (plus at right a lanky neighbor teenager sometime-babysitter), Dad behind camera again and his usual giant pack among us.

Dad before we all arrived, not in a lean-to, but undoubtedly near one.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Updating History

SUMMARY: Recreating photos of yesteryear.

Do you love the photos that people take while trying to recreate photos from their youth? Like this site(43 people who flawlessly recreated their childhood photos)--which has ads galore and you have to click to see each next one rather than them being on the same page, but wonderful photos!

Seems to me that I've attempted these things at random times in the past, but remember only a couple of recent ones, and they're not complete attempts to match clothing and location, just positions.

Fair warning, there is melancholy in these posts, as well as fun.

(1) Even 2 years ago we knew that we wouldn't be able to get my mom up to the top of this dome. Even less likely now.  Dad really wanted it to happen (he took the photo), but now he'll never see it even if we do successfully recreate the whole thing.  Above Olmsted Point in Yosemite.



We had to convince dad 2 years ago that it was not the stroll in the park that he remembered from when he was in his 30s, and that he'd have a rough time of it and mom just wouldn't be able to do it unless someone carried her.  You ever think, in retrospect, that Dad wanted this photo so much that we should've found a way to get them  up there?  Well, I had a wonderful time the day that we found this spot and took this photo and I'll at least cherish that.  I wonder--any chance that we could get all 3 of the oldest of us up there AND find someone(s) to carry mom up?

(2)  When I learned that Boost would not be around much longer, I wanted to redo some of the old photos. This one, not in the same location, not with the same clothing, but the main characters are here.


And, of course, these (which I already posted back in January):

2002: Tika, Jake, Remington

2015: Tika, Boost, Chip, taken as I knew that Tika couldn't be around much longer. Already having trouble sitting comfortably--but she managed it for me, briefly. All three of them were such good dogs on this day.

I have thousands of photos to sort, label, and edit

SUMMARY: So I decided to experiment with Photoshop Elements--

--the tool that is now on version 11 or so and that i've been using since about version 2.

You know how when you first get a creative tool, you play around with everything to see what it does?  Well, I wanted to get back to that mindset for a little while here, because one forgets (plus they keep adding features, go figure).

Just saving some of the fun I had.

The original JPEG from the camera.
I started with the RAW file, which was similar to the JPEG, and did the normal tweaks to get it to look better and normal.
This is playing with the Levels curve, sliding midtones pretty much all the way to the left.
Also I converted it to black & white and played with the various possible B&W filters/settings to get something that appealed to me (this is based on the Newspaper setting.

Mwah hah hah haaaaaa... Discovered what fun the Transform tool can be!
And the Recompose tool!

Holy Magic Extraction Tool, Batman! How did I miss that this awesome tool existed? Love love love how simple it was to extract part of the photo!
OK, kids, that's all for today. Go thou and create.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Puppy on the bed all night!

SUMMARY: Luke succeeds at sleeping with the big dogs!

I have tried periodically to let Luke sleep on the king-sized bed with me and Chip, but every time I've lain down, he starts climbing all over me and biting at me and will not be deterred.  I usually give it 5 to 10 minutes, depending on my patience and fatigue level, but he has always ended up back in his crate.

Last night--success! Only about 2 minutes of trying to be an annoying puppy and then, voila, he slept on the bed quietly all night!

I kept thinking:

  • On the down side, it would probably be nice long-term to have dogs who don't sleep on the bed.
  • On the up side, getting him out of his crate every morning, when my back has is usually at its worst, has been a pain in the backside, literally. Often a very big pain. So, if this keeps up like last night, I'll no longer have to worry about that. (Just the small amount of bending required to release him. Tellin' ya, this back thing of mine is not playing by my rules.)
So, well, anything is possible, and we'll see how the champ does tonight!

Old Books, Good Memories

SUMMARY: Lad, A Dog; Bob, My Dad.

Starting somewhere in my middle childhood I became crazy about dogs.  A crazy dog lady in development.

My parents encouraged me via books. My mom was the one who had collies as a kid and who likely got me started on Albert Peyson Terhune, and I think that it was my dad, in particular, who browsed used bookstores for all the Terhune books that money could buy--back in the day when used bookstores were many, and those who remembered the best-selling Terhune books still roamed the aisles of used bookstores. (Lad, A Dog: "Published in 1919, the novel was a best seller in both the adult and young adult markets and has been reprinted over 80 times.") And he loved books, and he loved bestowing gifts on loved ones.

My father died last week, just a month short of his 85th birthday, after a steep but short decline from cancer, still fighting, still treasuring his books and his family.

So many memories from my childhood reside in these books, so very many of which came wrapped as birthday or Christmas gifts over a period of a decade or more. And so many of which I still occasionally pull out and plunge into, for good times with good dogs.

You can always read about how Gray Dawn influenced my preferences for dogs, in Boost's History.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kibble Song

SUMMARY: Just some positive and some silly lyrics in a difficult month.

OK, think Annie Get Your Gun:
Got no mansion, got no yacht,
Still I'm happy with what I got.
I've got the sun in the morning
And the moon at night
Got the tune? (If not, try this.)  The song itself is something I'm singing to myself as an affirmation.

Still, once that's in my head, it's hard to avoid going here at mealtime--
I feed kibble to my dogs
I must keep them from being hogs:
They get a cup in the morning
And two thirds at night!
That's all I got for ya.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

OK, Puppy, When Did THIS Happen?

SUMMARY: I really have no idea.

But I'm glad that he appears to still be alive and unburnt.

And the lightbulb still worked. Until I squeezed it too hard trying to put it back together. THAT was another disaster but fortunately it was in the front hallway where cleaning up broken glass was easy. Ish.

Do you have any idea how long it took me to find that kind of lampshade the last time I needed to replace it?

Sleeping Together

SUMMARY: A small Luke milestone.

To date, I've been unable to take a nap or go to bed at night before first putting Lukers in his crate. Otherwise, he's all over me and/or Chip.  I've tried it occasionally, with no success.

Last night before I got into bed, he had hopped up there and was lying so quietly and sweetly (I've seen it before, mind you) that I thought I'd try it again. Worked very well for about an hour an a half, until I needed to get up again for a brief couple of minutes, and then it was all over.

So into the crate he went again. But, still, that's progress on that front. (Assuming that I want to eventually let him sleep on the bed, too, which I think I want.)

That's all.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Half And Half, a photo challenge.

SUMMARY: Yep, photography.

I don't usually do these, but I've been waiting for a chance to use this photo. I love the contrast between the two architectural styles (at Madonna Inn, if you're curious).

Here's the friend's post that alerted me to it with her interpretation, and here's the source of the challenge.