Monday, December 31, 2012

My Inspirational New Year's Post

I'm not a New Year's Resolution kind of person. I have vague memories of making resolutions as a kid that never made it past the first or second week of January. I know some people do resolutions, and a few are successful. For me, when it's time to make a life change, the change usually finds me.

Instead of creating grand, doomed-to-failure goals about how I will become the perfect, well-rounded person before February, I watch for opportunities for change throughout the year and take them when they come. I quit smoking in a random August three years ago because that's when I happened to find the right method (medication, if you want to know). I re-learned to knit because I was bored and was feeling the impulse to create something usable. You all know how that went. I joined a gym because an inexpensive one opened near my house. None of those changes depended on the calendar, and they've all been successful (so far--the gym membership is still in beta testing). 

And that's how it works for me. I think of something I want to do--it may have been percolating for months or years--and suddenly I know that NOW is the time, and I do it.

There are some new life changes that I'm getting ready to start or have just started. Less knitting, more reading is one. Before I was a fanatical knitter, I was a fanatical reader, and I miss that. So I decided recently that when the Christmas knitting was finished, I would knit less and read more. I've been spending my evenings with Lauren Groff's Arcadia this last week, and only knitting right before bed. And while riding in cars and waiting in restaurants and listening to basketball games on the radio. Okay, so there's still a whole lot of knitting.

I've also started writing in a more, shall we say, determined way, and no, I don't just mean blogging about Brewster's diarrhea. You can see only so many middle-of-the-road novels before you start wondering why other people are making an income at it and you aren't. So I've been working on the plot for a novel, and have an idea for a nonfiction book as well. I don't know if either of them will make it into the world (and please don't ask me about it because I will get all embarrassed), but it's been fun to work on and I have no plans to stop. I decided to work on writing back in October, and if I had waited until January 1 to start, I likely would have forgotten that I ever intended to try. 

So if you're tired of resolving to lose the same 10 pounds every year, join me, won't you? Shun the New Year's Resolution! Don't change one damn thing "starting tomorrow." Instead, make changes when they come to you. It works. I promise.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Bertie Sue's Grab Bag Sweater

On Saturday I realized three things: (1) There's no way the Christmas knitting will be finished by Christmas. It's just not happening, so there's no point in busting my rear over it. (2) It's going to be pretty nippy this week, with highs in the 20s. (3) Bertie Sue does not have her own sweater. She's been borrowing Brewster's ski coat, but it doesn't fit her very well.

So I dropped the Christmas knitting for about 6 hours to create Bertie Sue's Grab Bag Sweater.


In addition to being a grab-bag in the sense of using up yarn scraps, it's also kind of a grab-bag pattern. Following a real pattern just seemed like too much of a thing, so I cobbled together patterns I already had in my head. The nice, wide neck that doesn't squoosh tender doggy ears is actually the cast-on for the Nancy Lindberg Christmas Sock, and the increases for the leg holes are the thumb gusset from Ann Budd's Basic Glove Pattern. (Those are both Ravelry links. If you're not already a Ravelry member, you probably don't care anyway.)

Then I just kept knitting in the round until it was long enough under her tummy, cast off half the stitches, and then knit flat until it was long enough to cover the puppy butt. Generally, Bert was patient with the try-on sessions, but there was a point on Saturday night where she had had enough, so she started demonstrating some pretty effective passive resistance.


Don't worry about Brewster. In addition to the aforementioned ski coat, he has a warm hoodie and two store-bought sweaters to keep his tushie warm. He won't be freezing this week, either.

Now, back to the Super Secret Christmas Knitting!

Happy Holidays from Chez Furry Pants! 
Stay Warm!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Think I'm Gonna Do It

Somehow the winter edition of Knitty came out without my noticing, and I just found it this morning. And I've spent the rest of the day periodically returning to the Rime's the Reason cardigan. I tried to talk myself out of it, but I think I'm going to do it anyway.

I'm going to have to buy all new yarn because I was planning to knit a sweater in bulky, and this is worsted weight. But I'm going to do it anyway.

I tend to dislike knitting cables. But I've finally decided that if I want to wear beautiful handknit cabled sweaters, I'm going to have to actually knit them. So I'm going to do it anyway. 

This sweater has a zipper and buttons. I've never installed a zipper or knit a button band in my life. But I'm going to do it anyway.

I printed out the pattern and it's thirteen (13) pages long. Thirteen! That's a long pattern. But I'm going to do it anyway.

Knitty rates the pattern as "extraspicy." That's the highest rating. I've knit a "tangy" before, but never an "extraspicy." I'm going to do it anyway.

So the schedule is as follows:
1. Christmas knitting
2. As-yet-to-be-determined lace stole/wrap/scarf/something out of the laceweight alpaca I got this summer because I want to wear that this winter
3. The Rime
4. Debilitating knitting defeat. Or a stunning knitting victory. Stay tuned to enjoy my yarn-related emotional breakdown. It should be along sometime in late February or early March.

Did I mention that the pattern is thirteen pages long? That's really a lot of pages. 

Update: When I was making this plan, I forgot that there were a few other things I've been wanting to make that rightfully should be ahead in the queue. Like a sweater for Bertie. And a Honey Cowl using all that yarn I thought I was going to use for a Christmas present that I wound up not liking. And about five other things. Screw planning. When it's time to start something new, I'll cast on whatever I feel like. Or all of it. There's nothing wrong within having two or three or twelve WIPs going at the same time!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Life Choices

Generally, I feel pretty good about choosing to raise pets instead of people. I don't have anything against mothers or their kids. After all, I have one of the former--a pretty good one--and I am one of the latter. But lots of screaming, buying expensive toys and clothes, and going to 8am soccer games on Saturday mornings just aren't for me right now.

But when Brewster has diarrhea, eats the diarrhea because it has tempting chunks of half-digested sweet potato, and then vomits the diarrhea he just ate, I wonder if maybe I should be focusing my nurturing tendencies on a creature a little less interested in its own feces.

Of course, when I wake up in the middle of the night and find this warm little ball of fur tucked up under my arm, I always decide I made the right choice after all. Always.


Even when he has diarrhea vomit breath.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Watch Your Nose!

Like most mommas, I want so badly to believe that my little ones, four-legged though they may be, are smarter than all their little friends. Unfortunately, evidence demonstrates otherwise. Last night, for example, Bertie Sue spent several minutes determinedly trying to get underneath a blanket she was sitting on top of.

And then there's the door.

The back porch sliding door has a storm door that I only shut when it's cold. Yesterday I shut it, which means that when the dogs go out, they have to wait for two doors to open instead of one. They can't seem to remember this. They've each bonked their noses three times apiece, now. I'm hoping this will help:


I know they can't read. But I'm their momma, and I believe they can learn. I dare you to tell me otherwise.

Update: So far from bonking his nose, the sign worried Brewster so much that he had to back up and watch it suspiciously for a bit before he could get near it. I forgot that sometimes doorways are scary, and something different is likely to cause more than usual trepidation. But at least he didn't bonk his nose. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Ending I Did Not Like

In 2012, Gillian Flynn published her third novel, Gone Girl, and it got a lot of press and was a really big honking deal. So when I accidentally left the house the other day without a book or knitting, and I had some waiting in line to do, Gone Girl was the novel I intended to pick up. But a paperback by the same author was sitting right there, and a paperback is cheaper and fits in your purse, so the decision was purely practical. All the best literature is reasonably priced and portable, right? Plus, whereas Gone Girl is about a marriage, something of which I have little knowledge and no experience, Dark Places is about a girl raised by a single mom in Kansas in the 1980s. I've got some personal stake in that story. And that's why I'm proffering my opinion about 3-year-old Dark Places instead of the newer novel.

I have to admit that I don't know the ins and outs of writing a "legitimate" book review. Maybe I should read a few, eh? But I cannot help but whine about how disappointed I was in Dark Places. The ending was so silly it verged on nonsensical. It's as if Flynn thought up a murder and wrote and wrote and wrote, and suddenly realized she didn't know how to solve it. So she figured out an answer that would fit the situation she had set up for herself--a ridiculous answer, but an answer--and then went back to an earlier chapter to toss in some foreshadowing and called it good.

Which is not to say that I didn't love Dark Places. I absolutely did, and that makes the disappointment all the more potent. That final nonsensical plot point aside, Flynn is a genius writer. Her characters are just like all those assholes you knew in school or at the bar. And they are all assholes to some degree, even the narrator. In other words, they're real people. Libby Day, now in her mid-30s, is on a quest to solve the murders of her mother and two sisters that happened when she was only 7 not because of a sense of duty or honor, but simply for money. She is not compelled to avenge her family; she is compelled to pay the rent. Otherwise, she'd just as soon stay in bed. (Frankly, I can relate to that, too.) A reader tempted to feel sorry for Libby won't feel that way for long. Having made a living on the pity people feel for her, Libby well understands the process of manipulation, but manipulation is not the purpose of Flynn's story. Libby's telling of her own life is straightforward and unflinching. Flynn never gives the reader a chance to indulge in the maudlin pity that a lot of writers wouldn't be able to avoid.

And that's why we love Libby. We know she's a manipulator, a thief of both unconsidered trifles and her supporters' sympathy, but she isn't stealing anything from us. In fact, she's giving us something--entry into her tightly controlled life. We also incidentally get a clear-sighted analysis of the worst possible scenario of 1980s rural poverty, alcoholism and addiction, absentee parenthood, the satanism-molestation panic, and even the farm crisis. Flynn reminds us that the 1980s had problems a lot bigger than mullets and parachute pants.

So even though the ending made me yell "That's so stupid!" I still loved Dark Places. A splendid novel isn't damned because of one flaw anymore than Libby herself is damned because of one horrid night.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

This Thing I Made

It might be stretching it to call this a "design," but let's stretch it just for fun. Without further ado:

The Grab-Bag iPod Sweater!


Directions:
1. Put some leftover yarn in a bag. You know, so you can grab it.

2. Choose double-pointed needles appropriate to your yarn. In this case, you're looking at mostly worsted weight, except for the orange, which is more of a DK, on size 7 needles.

3. Check your gauge. Ha! Ha! Just kidding! It's a sweater for an iPod. Let it go.

4. Reach in your bag and grab a color, and cast on an even number of stitches in multiples of 4. I cast on 36 stitches for my 2.25-inch-wide iPod. I probably could've gotten away with 32. However many you choose to cast on, make sure it's an even number in multiples of 4, unless you happen to like wonky ribbing. 

5. Divide your stitches over three or four needles, and join to knit in the round. Do I need to tell you to be careful not to twist your stitches? I didn't think so. Use a stitch marker to mark the beginning of the round if you want, but for a project this simple, real Knitters just keep an eye on the tail to find the beginning of the round. Are you a Knitter or a mouse?

6. Go to town knitting 2x2 ribbing. Knit with your first color until you're tired of it or you run out. Then grab another color. Continue on, switching colors as the mood strikes you, until you have a tube of ribbing long enough to hold your iPod, about 4.5 inches, or whatever it is you're knitting a sweater for. (I don't want to know. This is a family-friendly blog, people. More or less.)

7. Move your stitches onto two needles (I divided my 36 stitches into two groups of 18), and kitchner the toe. Okay, it's not a toe, but it's late and I knit socks, and I honestly can't think of a reasonable word for the bottom of an iPod sweater. Probably "the bottom of an iPod sweater." (If you don't know how to kitchner, just search online. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of written explanations and YouTube videos more eloquent than I am capable of writing at the moment.)

8. Pick up four stitches at the top middle back of the sweater and begin knitting an i-cord handle. The back of the sweater should be facing you so that when you fold the i-cord over to button in front, the front of the i-cord will be facing the same direction as the front of the sweater. Does that make sense? I hope so. If not, please feel free to send me snippy letters. I'm a college instructor. I can take it.

9. Knit your i-cord as long as you'd like. I wanted mine to button onto the belt loop of my jeans or the handle of my lawn mower, so I kept it short--about 2.5 inches. A slightly longer cord would fit nicely over your wrist.

10. Now you need to create the button hole in the i-cord, and this is the part I'm kind of proud of. I'm pretty sure I thought this up myself. Google gives some results for "button hole in i-cord," but I can't see any like mine, and mine is better because you don't have to cast off and re-cast on. So try it. To knit a button hole into the i-cord, put the 2 far left stitches on waste yarn or a spare needle, and just work the 2 right stitches as its own little i-cord for 3 or 4 rows. (If you've already picked a button, you can guesstimate how much space you'll need. Generally, the answer is less than you think.) Then stop working the right stitches, and go back and work the 2 left stitches for the same number of rows. You'll need to use a different piece of yarn. I used the yarn from the outside of the center-pull ball. When you've worked the same number of rows on both sides, start knitting all 4 stitches together again for another row or two, and then bind off however you would normally choose to end a piece of i-cord. Totally up to you. This is your show, man. 


11. Pick a button from your button collection that will fit through your button hole and sew it on the front wherever you want it. If you don't have a button collection, start a button collection.

12. Weave in all your ends. Or tie them in knots. Again, it's a sweater for an iPod. Quality is important in any undertaking, but let's not overdo it. 

13. Post on Facebook about how you just knit a whole sweater in 2 hours. Your knitting friends will be all, "Wait. What?" Your non-knitting friends will be all, "God, will she ever shut up about knitting? But if she stops talking about knitting, she'll start talking about her dogs again. Where is that mutherfreakin Hide button. . . ."


P.S. No, this has not been tech edited. Again, it's a sweater for an iPod. I got the idea while I was in the shower this morning, and I knit it tonight while watching Wheel of Fortune and It's a Wonderful Life. If you find a mistake, let me know and I'll fix it.

P.P.S. For personal use only. You should please not sell this "pattern" or anything made from this "pattern," such as it is. If anyone's going to make money off this booger, remote as that possibility is, it's going to be me. 


Friday, November 30, 2012

Knitting Sounds


knit knit knit purl. knit knit knit purl yarnaround.
knit knit knit purl. knit.two.together. knit knit knit purl.

Knitting needles are supposed to “click.” That’s always in novels, about how some character’s needles “clicked.” Miss Marple, Madame Defarge, it doesn’t matter whether she’s a spinster detective or the secret record keeper of a revolutionary outrage. If there’s a woman knitting in a book, her needles click.
            My needles don’t click unless I make them.
            Of their own accord, my needles don’t make any sound at all except when I cuss.
            The only sound of knitting is in my head, and it goes knit knit knit purl. knit knit knit purl yarnaround. knit knit knit purl. knit.two.together. knit knit knit purl. Of course not always those stitches in that order. Now yarn, it makes a sound, especially when the ball is wound a little too tight. “Fuuuuurze” is the sound it makes until enough yarn has been pulled out to loosen the ball a little bit. It’s that sound that can make your teeth tingle if you listen too close. So I try not to listen.
            Knitting is silent, and isn’t that the point? The sounds are around you. There’s the occasional car passing out on the highway, going too fast, even the ones just doing the speed limit. That shepherd mutt in the next block, barking, bored and angry on its chain in the dust. In the summertime the cicadas yelling at the whole world, angry as hell, they’re not sure about what, but they’re damn sure going to tell us all about it. (Anybody ever nominate a cicada for political office? They’d fit right in and be about as much use.) The sounds are around you, but when you’re knitting, you don’t have to listen. The inner sounds are the ones that matter.

knit knit knit purl. knit knit knit purl yarnaround.
knit knit knit purl. knit.two.together. knit knit knit purl.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Noelle Solves Politics

As the election cycle enters its most contentious phase, I would like to propose new nonpartisan terms of use requirements for all social media sites. Any person making a political post must acknowledge the following:

(1) Such posts have no influence on members of the opposing parties. What you perceive as "facts" the other side views as blatant distortion, if not outright hogwash, and vice-versa. And as much as it pains us all to admit it, "they"--whomever "they" might be from your perspective--are not stupid, or at least no stupider than "we" are.

(2) As such, the purpose of political posts is:
     (a) to entertain people who already agree with you
     (b) to express one's own opinion without any expectation of convincing opponents
     (c) to piss off people who disagree with you

With these terms of service requirements firmly in place, we can all happily ignore each other and still be friends after the election.


P.S. Democrats Rule! Republicans drool!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TOIA Ghost Stories

Stop with the lists already! There's the list of Nobel literature winners that I am emotionally invested in someday completing. (And the 2012 winner will be announced tomorrow. Eek! The suspense!) The National Book Award announced its list of finalists for 2012 this morning, and of course I should probably also read all the winners of the Pulitzer in fiction. At least that list only goes back to the 1950s.

And then there's Time Magazine's completely arbitrary--and sometimes bizarre--list of the 100 best novels since 1923. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret? Seriously? Okay, fine, yes, "We must, we must, we must increase our bust" was very influential for me. But of all the 20th-century YA novels in all the world, that's the one they picked? Really? It's like they realized at the last minute that less than a quarter of the authors on their list were women, and they thought that if they tossed us a book about menstruation, we wouldn't notice. So forget the Time list.

But still, that's a lot of reading. What's a girl with three jobs and a steady knitting habit to do?

Chuck it, that's what, and in honor of October, dive into some deliciously terrifying ghost stories.

My bedside table is temporarily haunted.
A local bookstore advertised a pretty good sale last week, and so of course I ran right over to see what I could find. The display table at the front door had a great Halloween display, and The Big Book of Ghost Stories practically leapt into my hands. But I wasn't there to pay full price, so I put it back and wandered around the sale tables. Nothing appealed. In three tables of obscenely cheap books, I couldn't find one single thing I wanted, which has to be a lifetime first for me. Mysterious, right? Almost supernatural, one might say. And all the while, The Big Book kept calling me back, almost as if a mysterious presence wanted me to buy it.

Let's talk for just a moment about how I have never, ever enjoyed even the most highbrow vampire literature--we're talking The Historian, not Twilight--for the very simple reason that I don't believe in vampires. And yet ghosts are not a problem for me. I'm not saying that I believe in ghosts. But, yes, I absolutely believe in ghosts. I mean not really. But, yes, really.

So The Big Book came home with me, Gabriel Garcia Marquez got temporarily relocated to the coffee table to-read pile (catch you in November, Gabe), and, except for that first night when I kept waking up and thinking my robe was a navy-blue ghost hovering at the foot of my bed, I haven't regretted it.

With the crazy that is my life right now, what with copyediting and grading (Did I really need to assign so many essays? No. No, I did not.), short stories are the perfect format for my frazzled mind. And the selection in this book is wide, and, what's even better, obscure. Of the 80 stories, the only one I've already read is "The Monkey's Paw," and the stories range from at least the 19th century through contemporary authors like Joyce Carol Oates. They're arranged not by date but by theme, so stories about love are grouped, as are stories about kids, stories about dreams, and stories that are supposedly funny.

That last is the category I was most looking forward to, but of the three I've read, Mark Twain's "A Ghost's Story" is the only tale that doesn't disappoint. Oscar Wilde's "The Canterville Ghost" starts out funny, but edges into melancholia in the final pages, as if he didn't know how to finish it. And "In at the Death" by Donald Westlake, "the funniest mystery writer who ever lived," according to editor Otto Penzler, is flat-out tragic and demoralizing. I'd someday like the chance to explain to Mr. Penzler that "irony" and "funny" are not automatically the same thing.

But other than that, I've enjoyed every moment of my ghostly detour, and with the number of stories in this anthology, I'm guessing I'll be enjoying them for two or three more Octobers to come. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to gather my furry protectors around me and sample Ellen Glasgow's "The Shadowy Third." Luckily, I live near my mommy, and I can be huddled under her bed covers in 7 minutes flat if need be. So, Mom, leave the deadbolt off just in case, okay? All month. Thanks! 

Update: "The Shadowy Third" was excellent. Even though Glasgow never explains exactly how the ghost became a ghost, the payoff at the end is both surprising and satisfying. 



Saturday, September 29, 2012

TOIA My Biggest (Yarn-Related) Problem

The problem with being a knitter is that when you notice that all your light-weight cardigans are old and kind of ratty, your first thought is not, "Hey, I better run by Target and see what I can get on sale," but "Hey, I better check Ravelry for a pattern and the yarn shop to see what they've got in sweater quantities, and, yes, I know there's already a cardigan in the closet that's just waiting to have its ends woven in and be blocked, you're not telling me anything I didn't already know, but that's a dress cardigan, and I need an everyday cardigan, and I am going to go YARN SHOPPING!" And then your eyes kind of cross and the drool starts to run and you become a yarn zombie, which is a condition that can never really be cured, but can be sent into temporary remission by the sense of shock that occurs when you realize you just spent $70 on what is essentially fancy string.

Meanwhile, you're still wearing an old, ratty sweater.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

TOIA the Prudhomme Quest

Meet René François Armand (Sully) Prudhomme:


Monsieur Prudhomme has the singular distinction of having been awarded the 1901 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first year the prize was ever awarded. Not that that means much. Although I still have hope of running across him accidentally one of these days--I plan to check the index in every Norton anthology that crosses my path--I haven't been able to find a significant collection of his work by a verifiably competent translator. 

There are a few poems available online, most frequently "The Broken Vase," or, alternatively, "The Fissured Vase." The worst translation is certainly that available on poemhunter.com. "Don't touch! It's broken." Snork.

The best, in my opinion, is the one at the On Being website. It's the most contemporary, and the translator specified that the fan was "a lady's fan," which made a bit of difference to me because I had been imagining a ceiling fan. Please don't ask me how a vase would be broken by a ceiling fan; I hadn't made it that far in my musings. I like to think I would've gotten there on my own eventually, and I thank you kindly for humoring me in that belief. But once I realized what type of fan Prudhomme meant, the poem took on a slightly different tone. Obviously.

(It also started me on a train of thought about why only women used fans. Were men supposed to be too tough to get hot? But I digress. Again.)

The last two stanzas of the version posted at On Being are:

The quick, sleek hand of one we love
Can tap us with a fan's soft blow,
And we will break, as surely riven
As that cracked vase. And no one knows.

The world sees just the hard, curved surface
Of a vase a lady's fan once grazed,
That slowly drips and bleeds with sadness.
Do not touch the broken vase.

Nice, yes? The Nobel committee awarded the prize to Prudhomme "in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect." I'm looking forward to running across more Prudhomme some day, and the assignment still stands. If you find him somewhere, let me know.

Next up: 1982 winner Gabriel García Márquez for no other reason than that I've had Love in the Time of Cholera and News of a Kidnapping sitting in my to-read pile forever. Maybe I'll re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude again, too, just for kicks. 'Cause I'm crazy like that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

TOIA Craftiness: How to Kill a Random Thursday

Supplies:
  • radiator cover
  • cheap Salvation Army frame deep enough to provide clearance between the wall and the back
  • tin snips
  • spray paint
  • super glue
  • nice weather to spray paint outside
Step 1: Cut out a piece of the radiator cover to fit the frame.


Step 2: Spray paint the pieces in the color of your choice (or not).

Step 3: Glue 'em together.

Step 4: Hang your dangly earrings from it. 

Click for bigness.

Step 5: Vow to strip the wallpaper and repaint the bedroom immediately. Or maybe next month. Whenever. It'll get done. Stop pressuring me!

Step 6: But in the meantime, consider yourself scary smart.

With enough determination to avoid work, you, too, can kill a random Thursday.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This One Is About Books. (Updated)

In the blog world, there's nothing I hate more than seeing a new post up on my favorite knit blogger's page, and I gleefully click expecting to be regaled by stories of hilarious knitting mishaps, and it turns out that there are three sentences about knitting and then three pages about her garden. Or her cousin's brother-in-law's neighbor's toddler. I don't care about gardens, no matter how beautiful, or toddlers I've never met, no matter how cute.

But I fall into that same trap. Sometimes I write about dogs. Sometimes knitting. Sometimes . . . okay, that's pretty much it. But I figure if you read my posts because you like dogs and the post turns out to be about knitting, or vice-versa, you're probably annoyed. Hence, I have decided (at least until I get bored with the conceit) to start warning my three regular readers about what's coming up, and then you can click or not.

This One Is About (TOIA) Books. 

(Notice how it's not about dogs or knitting? Aren't you glad I warned you?)

The Nobel Prize in Literature is due to be announced next month, and that means it's time for me to make my annual vow to read at least one work by every Nobel-winning author since the beginning of the prize. Last year I went so far as to buy a copy of Tomas Transtromer's poetry. But I have not cracked the spine.

This year I thought I'd start the other way around and work from 1901 forward. But it turns out that winning the Nobel does not guarantee longevity the way you'd think it might. Neither the Wichita Public nor the Newman nor the Wichita State libraries has any collections by René François Armand (Sully) Prudhomme. I did find a public-domain site that has his poems nicely organized, which is great, except that they're in French. My memory of high school French doesn't extend much beyond "Bonjour" and "le chat," so unless he writes a lot about how to greet a cat, that probably won't help much. I plugged a stanza into Google translate just to see what would happen and got back a lot of tantalizing nonsense about stars and stairs and diamonds. No cats.

But I'm not giving up on Prudhomme. I think I might like him, if I can find a reasonable English translation. But for now it's back to work. I have stacks of grading to do (five stacks, to be specific), and the students care about whether I'm going to mark them down for failing to use the series comma (yes, I am), not about the difficulty in locating material by a long-dead French poet.

So I am assigning this task to you, Internet. If you happen to know where I can find some Prudhomme in English translation, let me know.

Update: I can't get a copy of Prudhomme's poems, but I could buy a jigsaw puzzle of his portrait. 



Sunday, September 16, 2012

I'm Speechless

Okay, not speechless, exactly, but apparently I haven't had anything blog-worthy to say in the last three and a half months.

Here are some things that happened while I was maintaining blog silence:
  • I taught an on-ground class at the S. Rock Road Southwestern campus. It was nice to have a small class of adults.
  • Bertie Sue rolled in a lot of poo.
  • A Missouri politician became a walking, talking billboard for why every child should be required to take sex education in school.  
  • Brewster didn't get to roll in very much poo because Bertie Sue usually got there first.
  • I learned how to mud drywall, specifically the ceiling. My neck objected. Loudly. For two days.
  • Bertie Sue took a lot of baths. 
  • Kansas decided Missouri was getting too much attention for having the stupidest politicians, so we decided to take seriously a request to remove the sitting President of the United States from the November ballot. We win!
  • I copyedited. A lot.
  • The cats mostly alternated between sleeping and demanding chin scratchies, as cats do.
  • Now I'm teaching two Newman classes, one on-ground of mostly 18- and 19-year-old traditional undergraduates (O! M! G!) and one online class of mostly adults. My next Southwestern class is online and starts next week. 
  • I'm still copyediting. A lot.
  • Between copyediting and managing the two online classes, I'm spending 12 or 13 hours a day at my desk.
  • I'm in the market for a laptop. 
  • I finally cast off the lace sweater I've been working on since last September 5th. Now it's sitting in the closet waiting for me to dig up the willpower to weave in the ends and block it. It's gorgeous. You'll love it.
  • I got my first-ever knitting "commission." Apparently if you bribe me with pretty purple yarn, I will knit you socks. I had no idea I was that easy.
  • Actually, now that I think about it, my first knitting "commission" was last year and it was a pair of socks for* a friend's ex-boyfriend's iPod that he "forgot" when he moved out. I still haven't mailed the socks. They're coming! I swear! (And they're very pretty. You're going to love them, Ms. You-Know-Who-You-Are.)
  • So apparently I can also be bribed with used electronics.
I'm sure a lot of other stuff happened that was as interesting as the stuff in this list, which is to say, not really at all, but time consuming, nonetheless. Hence, lack of posts. To my three fans, I apologize.

And if you would like me to make you a pair of socks, make me an offer. I need a new crock pot.

*A friend points out that I mean in exchange for. Because, you know, iPods don't have feet. That's why copyediting is important!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Insomnia: A Play in One Act


Characters:
--Bertie Sue: A mutt.
--Brewster: Another mutt.
--LadyPerson: The mutts' human.

Setting: A suburban bedroom, 3am, during a thunderstorm with hail.

Bertie Sue: LadyPerson, there are loud noises! LadyPerson, what are those noises? LadyPerson, why don't you make those noises stop! LadyPerson, I do not like the loud noises. LadyPerson, I will get under the covers with you until the loud noises stop. LadyPerson, scoot over, I want to be in the warm spot.

Brewster: Snore.

The End.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

All About Socks

Oh, the knitting. The bright side of having all of my spring classes canceled is that I've had more knitting time than expected (although still not enough--never enough). If you've known me for more than 20 minutes, or even if you're the stranger who was staring at me in Saigon* the other day, you know that I'm a little bit obsessive about knitting socks. I've heard of toe-up socks, of course, but in my three-ish years of obsessive sock knitting, I've only done cuff-down and I've always wondered if I was missing something. When I saw a toe-up sock pattern book on clearance it was like a sign from God that it was time to learn toe-ups. Or a sign from the manager of that bookstore. Whatever. When life hands you a really cheap toe-up sock book, you learn toe-up socks. So I cast on my first toe-up in late March and have completed two pairs since then (although not the first pair), and I figure that gives me the right to an opinion. 

I should probably make sure my next socks aren't purple.
I can't say that toe-ups are going to be my go-to method of sock knitting. Some of the things I like best about sock knitting are negated by working toe-up. When you're working a sock cuff-down, you get the ribbing out of the way right at the start, but in toe-up, the dreaded ribbing comes last, and that makes that last inch of sock really seem to drag. Another bonus of working a sock cuff-down is that you do the pattern repeat all around the leg, and then when you get to the foot, you can stop working the pattern on the sole, so suddenly you're moving a lot faster. It's a nice little burst of speed that you lose when you're working the other way around.

On the other hand, there are some pretty awesome aspects of working a sock toe-up. Most obviously, Judy's Magic Cast-On really is magic! I swear! As impressed as I was when I first learned to turn a heel, this is how impressed I am with the Magic Cast-On. Plus it's fun to do--as are most magic tricks, I suppose. I'm also pretty impressed with Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off. It is really surprisingly stretchy, a rare example of truth in advertising. I was about to give up on toe-ups all together because the three bind-offs I tried from the toe-up sock book were all too tight. And then Jeny came along and saved me from myself. I hope someday when I grow up I will have a knitting technique named after me, too.

So, no, toe-ups will not be my go-to method, but it's a technique I'm glad to have conquered so that when a special design I just can't resist comes along, I'm ready for it. And what type of design is so special that it can't be resisted, you wonder? I'm glad you asked.

This type:


This pattern is called "Covered in Butterflies" and it's by my own personal knit-designing friend, Drew Hayes. I just want to establish right now that I have met Drew and he is my friend and we have had real in-person conversations and have drunk beer together and played Scrabble and everything. I need to get that in writing because someday Drew will be famous and no one will believe that a designer of his stature would ever bother with some amateur like me.

This is exactly the type of pattern I love to work. The lace is fairly complicated and kept my attention, but it was repetitive enough that I had it memorized by the time I finished the first foot. So the design was engaging and entertaining, but I didn't have to constantly refer back to the pattern. Perfect.

Click to see a larger picture of the pattern.
I even eventually fell in love with the teensy cables on the cuff--although not until after I had muttered some very impolite words about poor Drew, which I'm glad he was not in the room to hear.


I am not generally a fan of cables, and little-bitty cables in Regia, which refuses to be cabled without a needle, are not likely to make me more amenable. But after I finished the first sock, I couldn't imagine this design without cables. The cables suggest vines, which complements the butterflies perfectly. Plain 2x2 ribbing would just be dull and wrong. So as much as I dislike cables, I have no choice but to admit that they are the best and only option on this sock. It's a testament to Drew as a designer that he realized that.


As far as I know, Drew hasn't made the pattern public yet, but I hope he will. In fact, I encourage all of you to bug the living hell out of him until he does ("JustDrew" on Ravelry). The world needs to be Covered in Butterflies!

Update 6/8/12: Drew has put the pattern up for sale. The Ravelry link is here. Go there. Now.

*Saigon the Vietnamese restaurant in Wichita, Kansas, not the formerly-known-as city in Vietnam. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Magic Happy Fun Time Cabinet

This afternoon I became the proud owner of a magic cabinet. Some people might think it's just an antique kitchen cabinet my stepmother decided she didn't want anymore and gave to me. But those are silly people, because it is really a magic cabinet. Wanna see?

From the outside, it looks like this: 



But on the inside it looks like this: 

 

See? Yarn magic. 


Friday, May 4, 2012

Why I Stay

Thursday, May 3, was a hard day. It was the day that the United Methodist General Conference considered the language in our Discipline related to homosexuality. Candace Chellew-Hodge does her usual excellent job of explaining what happened here.

I am nowhere near Tampa, Florida, where General Conference is taking place. All I had to do was check in on Twitter and the GC blog periodically, but my stomach was in knots most of the morning. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to be in that room. Nor am I gay. I can't imagine what it must've been like to be a gay person, a person who has faith that our church is ultimately a place of love, and to be told yet again that her life is intrinsically wrong. I won't pretend to understand how that feels.

To be clear, the church's official position, the position reaffirmed Thursday morning by a vote of 368 to 572,  is that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching." In other words, the official position of my denomination is that it is a sin to be gay or to engage in homosexual relationships.

My denomination is wrong. Being gay is not a sin.

I keep having to remind myself of my reasons for re-joining the United Methodist denomination. I actually have a list of reasons for joining a Christian denomination in general and the United Methodist denomination and my particular congregation in particular, none of which I'll bore you with. Today, the pertinent question is why I stay. I have zero interest in participating in a group that institutionalizes discrimination and bigotry. So why do I continue to contribute "my time, my talents, my gifts, and my service" to an organization that espouses an understanding of human experience that is so completely opposed to my own?

Part of the reason is stubbornness. It would be a hell of a lot easier to run off and join some other denomination that has already dealt with or is well on its way to dealing with equality, or even to be one of those "spiritual-but-not-religious" people who get to sleep in on Sunday mornings and never have to go to committee meetings. But I am a fifth-generation Methodist, a United Methodist born and bred. Not surprisingly, there are some specific elements of the United Methodist interpretation of Christianity that speak to me louder than any other denomination.

And I flat out refuse to cede my denomination to the bullies and the bigots.  

(I was amused and horrified to read the comments on an article headed by a photo of a woman pressing the ends of her rainbow stole to her eyes as she sobbed; one of the commentors was downright gleeful that the LGBT activist "bullies" didn't get their way. For the record, bullies aren't usually the ones who end up crying.)

The other part of the reason I stay is because I have to--have to--stand with the gay and lesbian members in my denomination and my particular congregation. If they can stick it out, I can. If they can see value in our Wesleyan traditions significant enough to outweigh the evil that our denomination perpetrates on them, then so can I. If they're willing to stay and fight until we finally fix this, if they have trust that we will fix this, then so do I. If they're willing to bring their children into our denomination, then I have to honor the promise that we all make at our children's baptisms to help raise them in love. And if they feel that they need to move to a different denomination where they don't have to fight quite so hard for acceptance, then I will understand. I will be sad to lose you but I will understand, and I will keep working until you can come back.

I'm not trying to say anything wise here, and I don't expect to sway anyone with this post. I have written this only because it is important for me to say it out loud, again and again:

My denomination is wrong. Being gay is not a sin. General Conference may be almost over for this quadrennium, but we're nowhere near done yet.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thunderflies? Butterstorms?

A good way to kill time while waiting to see whether Stormageddon(tm) is going to crush you is to learn Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bindoff. It helps if you have a tabby cat to supervise.


Then when the sun comes out the next day you'll have a lovely new pair of socks to wear while you're basking in the beautiful sunlight.


In case learning the Surprisingly Stretchy Bindoff and finishing a pair of socks doesn't fill the whole storm, you could move on to another toe-up sock. Bonus points if it's a sock designed by a real live human you've actually met, who apparently is on his way to becoming a famous designer. 


The theme of these socks is butterflies, created by the ingenious and charming lace pattern that will become apparent after another pattern repeat or two. But given the context, I think I'm going to call my version "Butterstorms."


Chez Furry Pants hopes you and everyone you love are safe today. Don't forget to roll in something good.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Second Childhood

This morning the dogs were sitting together on the bed while I was getting myself together. When I turned around and looked at them--saw them with "fresh eyes," as it were--I had a sudden and distressing realization.

When I was a little girl, we had two dogs. One was a cocker spaniel-poodle mix named Saucy. She had curly black fur, and was a bit wild.


No, this isn't her. This is Brewster, a dog with black, curly fur who is a bit wild.

The other dog we had when I was kid was a Shetland sheepdog named Lady. Lady's fur was straight and brown down her back with a white collar, ruff, and feet. She liked to have a good time, but she was more restrained than Saucy.  


Not Lady, either. This is Bertie Sue, a dog with sheltie-like markings who enjoys a good game of Chase, but thinks Brewster overdoes it with the barking.

The moment I had this realization, I called my mother. Her only comfort was, "Well, Lady and Saucy were bigger." Can anyone recommend a good therapist?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I'm So Busy I Don't Even Have Time to Write This!

I had lunch with my sister this week, and even though I've been so busy I barely have time for basic chores, I couldn't remember what any of it was so I could tell her about it. (OK, I just don't want to do chores. It's almost the same thing as not having time for them.)

So I've been trying to remember what it is I've been up to for the last few weeks. I know about 70% of it had to do with these two:



The Equal Opportunity Neighborhood Watch (i.e., evil boogeymen had better look out--and so should neighbors walking around in their own driveways and minding their own business)




The family bonding could not possibly be going any better. We've had a few snippy moments, but nothing at all concerning. In fact, I'm completely charmed by the gentle, restrained growling from both dogs that is so different than the all-out "I'm gonna rip your face off!" snarling that I'm used to when Brewster faces a stranger. The puppy gate came down on their third day together--because they took it down. When I tried to leave the next day with the gate in place, I sat in my car in the garage with the car door closed and motor running, and I could still hear howls of such heartrending sadness that I couldn't stand it. The gates came down for good. They've both done an excellent job of setting their limits and then forgiving each other when they're crossed. They don't love each other yet, but they are becoming friends. Bert has a bad habit of shoving Brewster out of the way when she wants something he has, and Brew has a bad habit of trying to hump Bert that seems to be fading as he gets used to her presence and as Bertie gets further and further past her recent pregnancy and spay. Families just have to overcome these little character flaws.

We have taken walks, we have worked on "Sit," and Bertie is trying really hard to teach Brewster how to play "Chase." Brew is usually a pretty quick learner, but "Chase" seems completely beyond him. I have faith, though. Bertie is persistent and Brewster is curious, so sooner or later, he'll figure it out.

In between all the doggy goodness, I'm working on two copyediting projects and keeping up with the Southwestern faculty orientation class. That class is no joke, but worth every minute. When I realized how much effort that class was going to require, I was indignant. After all, I've been teaching on and off for about seven years, now. But sometime during the first week, I remembered that I like being a student. And there is a lot of new software to learn, so despite the imposition, I'm glad they're actually taking the time to show us this material in depth. Every other teaching job I've ever had has basically consisted of being handed a room number and class meeting time. These folks actually want to help me do a good job. What a novel concept.

And of course there has been knitting. But it's all gift knitting and none of has been seen by the recipients yet, so I can't post that yet. And I've decided that this year, I'm going to keep up with the The Morning News Tournament of Books. I might as well, since it doesn't seem like KU's going to make it very far in their tournament. Instead of NCAA tournament socks, I can knit book tournament socks. So far I've added The Tiger's Wife and State of Wonder to my reading list. That's as soon as I get Bleak House out of the way. So I'm going to go get on that.

I'll leave you with one last shot of Miss Alberta Sue, who is turning out to be annoyingly camera shy, but does occasionally oblige with the perfect pose:


Look out, World. Bert has her eye on you.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chez Furry Pants: No Vacancy

Bertie Sue has been with us about a day now, so it's long past time that I start annoying you with photos!

First, Bertie's bio: She's about 3 years old, weighs 12 pounds, and, no, I have no idea what breeds she is. The most reasonable theory is probably some kind of pug/border terrier mix. What I do know is that she is a Pure-Bred Awesome. (And possibly part mountain goat.) Update: Someone on Facebook says she's a Brussels Griffon. I still say Mountain Goat.


Bertie was picked up as a very-pregnant stray and taken to the Animal Shelter. She was going to be euthanized because of aggression, but PALS got her out and, lo and behold, she is really a very nice dog. If you were uncomfortably pregnant and stuck in a scary kennel, you'd be aggressive, too! She had her puppy a week after she left the shelter, spent 8 weeks nursing him and generally being an awesome momma, and then they went their separate ways. As far as I know, Bert's puppy, Little Guy, is still available for adoption as of this writing. He's about 11 weeks in this picture, but is now 13 weeks. Update: My grandpuppy, Little Guy, went to his forever home in late March! Yay, Little Guy! We send you all our love!
Why did I name her "Bertie Sue," you ask? Well, have you ever seen a mane of fur more likely to make Albert Einstein's hair stand on end? And "Sue" is an homage to Bertie's awesome Foster Momma, who has the habit of tacking "Sue," among other things, onto all of her dogs' names. For example, I look forward to one day meeting Chihuahua-Extraordinaire PeteySueBobElvis. And anyway, I figure, if the Sue fits, wear it. (Yep. I said it. Deal with it.) 

"Now, wait a minute," I hear you saying. "You just wrote a whole series of blog posts about how you had to take Brewster to a reactive dog class because he's so fearful. How can you bring another dog into the house?" It was because of that class that I had the confidence to adopt Bertie. Working with the trainers, and especially with the trainer's dog, Gracie, helped me learn how to introduce Brewster to a new dog slowly and carefully. Brewster and I met with Bertie (formerly Cricket) and her Foster Mom twice in a neutral location (a pet supply shop). They got to check each other out without a lot of pressure. When Foster Mom brought Bert for a home visit, they parked in a church parking lot two blocks from my house and Brewster and I walked up and met them. The dogs got to see each other again, then we all drove home and walked into the house together. Once he realized that Bertie was the same dog he'd met twice before, Brewster never once showed any aggression. In fact he "approved" the adoption by giving Bertie a play-bow, the international doggy symbol for "Let's play!" I had never seen Brewster do that before, and it was all I needed to see to know that he would love having a sister. In the 24 hours that Bertie has been here, Brew has yet to show her any aggression. That doesn't mean there won't be any spats whatsoever, and it will be several days or even weeks before I go off and leave them alone without a baby gate between them, but so far it's looking very, very good.

Does that answer all your questions? Then without further ado, Bertie's first day with us:


Far be it from me to anthropomorphize my dogs or force them into nonsensical gender roles. But Bert did recognize right away that the pink bed was meant for her. It brings out her eyes, no?

Bertie meets a Kong and is simultaneously confused and delighted.

Maddie came over to help us watch the KU-Mizzou game. To get into this club, you have to be a PALS dog. 

To make up for having to live with another dog, Edgar gets some of the good MommaLady luvies, which are widely recognized as the best of all the luvies. Kudra, on the other hand, is still downstairs. I expect we'll see her in about another 24 hours. (Why the look of bored disgust on the MommaLady's face? This photo was taken toward the end of the first half. She was more cheerful an hour later.)
That's it! As I assured my horrified neighbor, there are now four pets living in this house, and we are taking down the vacancy sign. It will be a long, long time before anymore four-legged people cross our threshold. Probably. 






Monday, February 20, 2012

Graduation Day

Brewster is a Reactive Dog Class Graduate!


During the last six weeks, Brewster has learned that, under certain circumstances, hot dog will rain from the sky. I have learned that I've been holding on too tight--literally. So Brewster learned "Touch" and "Spin," and I learned to loosen up on the leash.

"Hot dog? Chicken? Cheese?"

I've learned some tricks to help Brewster live a happier, more secure life, so the class has been well worth my time. And for Brewster . . . well, there was lots and lots of hot dog. And chicken. And cheese. Totally worth it.   


If you're a Sedgwick-area dog person, Brewster highly recommends the Basic Manners class at the Family Dog Training Center, and he figures that their other classes, like Therapy Dog Certification and Agility, are probably pretty cool, too. And if, like Brew, your pooch is maybe less than thrilled to meet other dogs or people, follow the Reactive Dog Class link to sign up for the Kansas Humane Society class with Kelly and Karla, two of the doggiest Dog People we've ever met. (That's a compliment.)


Monday, February 13, 2012

Brewster Shows His Jayhawk Spirit

Just a short post tonight because I had to watch KU trounce the Pussycats. (Guys? That OCTAGON OF DOOM thing? Makes you sound like a particularly unimaginative Bond villain who tries to use geometry as his secret weapon.)

Here is Brewster doing his thing at Dog Class:

In his KU crimson halter, of course.
 "His thing" mainly consists of hanging out on his favorite towel, letting strangers feed him treats. He seems to have finally figured out that there really are worse things in the world than being fed hot dogs by strangers. It's been fun to watch.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why I'm Such a Crank

So that whole dog-gets-rescued-from-freezing-river-and-proceeds-to-bite-pretty-anchor-in-the-face thing. Scary, right? Kind of puts all those hilarious outtakes of reporters getting spit on by camels or goosed by geese into perspective.

I've been paying pretty close attention to this story through the various dog trainer blogs I follow, and I've noticed a difference in how dog trainers are responding versus how lay dog owners are responding. The trainers, rightly to my mind, are generally focusing on how this dog gave out multiple signals that he was stressed and was about to bite. Every human on that stage failed to notice clear signals that the dog needed space: showing the teeth, trying to look away from the anchor, and even growling. The dog also gave signals that would be less clear to a layperson--the "whale eye" (rolling the eyes and showing the whites), licking his lips, and yawning--and we can hardly expect non-dog people to understand those signals (although any parent who thinks it's okay for his or her kids to pet strange dogs should take time to learn them). But we should all know that a dog who is growling is telling us that he needs space.

The lay dog owners, on the other hand, often want to either "not place blame" or want to lay it at the feet of the anchor who, yes, should've known better than to put her face right into the face of a strange dog. One owner wanted to do both; she insisted that we not place blame at the same time that she blamed the anchor for not knowing better. What she meant was that she didn't want to blame the owner. Another owner listed a litany of dog bites she has been involved in or aware of in an attempt to make the case for the owner's innocence; she only emphasized that she herself is an irresponsible owner. 

I understand the owners' impulse to blame the anchor and not the dog owner. We are, of course, owners, too. We've all been in situations where our dogs suddenly did something that we didn't see coming--not that there were no warning signs, but we simply didn't recognize them. That's precisely why those of us who read dog trainer blogs read those very blogs! We've also heard the horror stories in which the owner did everything possible to keep a dog and the people around the dog safe, but was ignored, resulting in a bite. We've seen cases in which a municipality overreacts to a single incident with mitigating factors and orders that a good dog be euthanized, or even ignores the fact that there never was an incident but uses breed-specific legislation to condemn a good dog. That ultimately is our fear: That the owner will be forced to euthanize a pet he presumably loves as much as we love our own dogs.

And, oh boy, do we LOVE our dogs. It breaks our collective heart to share this owner's pain.

That's why this owner in particular, and we as owners in general, have to take responsibility for what happened in that television studio. Yes, the anchor (who reportedly is herself a dog owner) absolutely should not have put her face right into that dog's face. But it was the owner's responsibility to ask the anchor to back off. First and foremost, we as owners are responsible for being able to recognize our dogs’ signals so that we can warn strangers when it isn’t safe to approach. When they ignore our warnings or don’t give us a chance to give a warning at all, as in the case of a child who runs up from nowhere and hugs a strange dog, they have to accept the consequences. But our responsibility as owners comes first.

I haven't always lived up to that responsibility. Just ask my poor Dad and his index finger. Just like that anchor, Dad should've known better than to back Brewster into a corner and stick his hand in Brewster's face in a misguided attempt to make friends. But it was my responsibility to keep an eye on both Dad and Brewster, and I didn't do that. I am very lucky that the person Brewster snapped at was my understanding father and that the injury was slight (although I'm sure it pinched like the dickens). I learned the hard way that it really is my responsibility and only my responsibility to keep my dog and the people around my dog safe.

So I do research, I follow several dog trainer blogs, and I take every class I can afford. And, yes, I have become a complete crank on the subject of Dogs in Need of Space. You don't have to be a crank to be a responsible dog owner, though. An hour with our friend, Google, can provide a lot of information about dog behavior and effective training tips. (Just please do me a personal favor and ignore all that Dog Whisperer dominance theory bull. I'll let Dr. Yin tell you why.)

I've commented on several different forums that I hope part of the legal judgment against the owner is that he be required to attend a class on dog training and behavior. But more than that, I hope that all of us, those of us who are familiar with our dogs' warning signals and those of us who've never really thought about it before, will look at our dogs with fresh eyes, that we'll recognize that our dogs are always trying to communicate with us, and that we can understand them if we take a little time. They'll tell us what they need us to know. We just have to learn their language.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Is Your Tail Half Up or Half Down?

All I have to say about tonight's Reactive Dog Class is thank goodness for the Dog People. We tried an interaction between Brewster and the teacher's dog, Gracie. Gracie was very eager to be introduced (it might've been the smell of very special treats coming from my treat pouch), and she came bopping up to us more quickly than Brewster liked, so he snapped at her. I was terrified and mortified. Had that happened out in the world, I undoubtedly would've had to cope with an angry human who would insist that her dog was "Just trying to be friendly!" and "Your dog is mean!" But, being Dog People, our teachers weren't even phased.

Karla, Gracie's human, called Brewster's snap a "smile," which is a rather surprising way to characterize it. She explained that when Brewster snaps he is showing Gracie his limits, which is a communication that should be respected. Karla repeated to me several times until she was sure I heard, "Brewster isn't aggressive. He's afraid." Thinking back, I realize that she's repeated this during every class, but tonight is the first time I've really paid attention. I have always characterized Brewster as "fear-aggressive." I have always known that it's fear that causes him to lash out. But Karla's insistence on categorizing fearful behavior and aggressive behavior as two completely separate things, even though they may look the same, is a new concept for me. I don't really understand what the implications for this are, except that, at its very base, it means that Brewster is not a "bad" dog. Karla is Director of Operations at the Humane Society, and when the Director of Operations tells you that your dog is really just misunderstood, you kind of want to giggle maniacally in relief. I'm considering asking her for a signed and notarized statement that I can show to anyone who so much as shoots me and the Little Dude a dirty look: "Brewster: Certified Good Dog."* 

After the snap, the four of us--two humans and two canines--sat down on the floor together and shared some of the very good treats. At one point I had Gracie and Brewster eating from both my hands at the same time, which our teachers were very impressed with. I wasn't that surprised. After all, Brewster and Maddie the Underdog get along. The barrier to Brewster's friendship with Gracie is simply that it's taking place in a big room with a bunch of noisy big dogs who scare his whiskers off.

The other "event" from this evening was Brewster's reaction to simply walking into the classroom. Instead of dropping, his tail stayed at half-mast for quite a while, and he even walked right up to the two assistant trainers who have been working with him during previous classes. When some of the other dogs started barking, it dropped all the way, but even then, as Karla pointed out, it was never "clamped," or tucked all the way under. It's a sign that, although he'll never be an outgoing or gregarious dog, Brewster is capable of existing in the world with strangers.

So, since I always try to make an effort to be an optimist, I'm calling the water glass half full instead of half empty, or, perhaps more appropriately, I'm classifying the tail as half up instead of half down.

*Jess over at the DINOS Facebook page makes the important point that dogs who are dog-dog aggressive but not fearful are not bad dogs. She says, "Some of the best therapy dogs I know are dog-aggressive dogs." My thoughts in this paragraph have more to do with my own mostly suppressed fear that Brewster might be irredeemable and my relief at hearing from an authoritative source that he isn't. It should not be taken as my judgment on dogs with challenges different than Brewster's!  

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Consequences of Fame

First things first: We have to send a big Thank You to Jessica Dolce and Boogie at Notes from a Dog Walker for reposting on the DINOS Facebook page the Dog People post I wrote after last week's class. People from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Russia, Germany, Croatia, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the Philippines read about Brewster! It was a very exciting Sunday!

 Okay, it was exciting for me. Brewster spent his Sunday mostly sleeping and licking himself.

Moments after finding out he was about 7 minutes into his 15.
I was pretty excited about tonight's Reactive Dog Class, too. Brew accepted treats from the trainers right away. Although he's still not into being petted by them, one of our teachers started teaching Brewster to let him touch his collar. Turns out that this is a very important thing for all dogs to learn. When strays are brought into a shelter like the Kansas Humane Society, one of the first things the staff does to assess potential adoptability is touch the collar. A dog who shies away or snaps has an immediate black mark. The collar touch isn't the only deciding factor, of course, but it's important. A dog who accepts a collar touch has a much greater chance of staying alive long enough to be reunited with his or her owner or adopted into a new family. That's very important information to have for a dog like Brewster who has a history of being a stray. Although of course I have every intention of keeping Brewster safe, bad things happen. This is a way that I can help Brew be prepared.

Brewster also had a very good interaction, or rather noninteraction, with Gracie, our "fifth teacher." Gracie is a terrier mix a bit bigger than Brewster. She's very calm and under control so her job is to help fearful dogs accept another dog's presence, and Brewster did great! He completely ignored her and kept his focus on me, which was exactly what he was supposed to do. I mentioned to our teachers that my long-term goal is to find a sister for Brewster, and they both think he'd do just fine. I already knew that, of course. Brewster is good friends with Maddie, my mother's dog. It's just a matter of being able to introduce a new dog carefully and slowly.

We did have a bit of a problem when a big German Shepherd looked into our pod. Brew was sitting in my lap watching dogs pass by a bit of a gap, and I was really proud of him. He was keeping a watchful eye, but wasn't reacting and wasn't having any problem refocusing on me when I asked him to. But when that big Shepherd turned around and locked eyes with Brew, Brew let out a pretty serious challenge growl. I don't speak dog, but I'm guessing it was something along the lines of "Come on over here and let me rip your face off for you," and the Shepherd was none too pleased to hear it. But one of the many great things about a small dog is that it's really easy to intervene and change a situation. In this case, I just put my hand up in front of his face. As soon as the eye contact was broken, Brew relaxed again, and the Shepherd's human walked the Shepherd out of eyesight to prevent further problems. I doubt that Brewster will ever write love poems to big dogs, though.

So over the paparazzi.
We also worked a bit on "Leave It" tonight, which any dog owner can tell you is what you say to your dog when you're out on a walk and he finds some delicious poop he'd like to sample. I was a little trepidatious about trying this one indoors because Brewster's usual reaction when I won't let him eat a piece of poop is to turn around and pee on it. What would the teachers think of me if I said "Leave It!" and Brewster's response was to pee on the MilkBone he was supposed to be ignoring? We didn't have to find out since Brewster wasn't interested in any old MilkBone anyway. A nicely aged piece of poop would make a much more effective training tool.