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Monday, December 31, 2012

Paying it Forward in 2013

I'm a huge fan of the concept of paying it forward. I've done a lot of things for a lot of people, hoping for that result. I'm not someone who does things for others with strings attached though. Strings make me very uncomfortable, and whenever someone has bent over backwards to repay a kindness it's felt...awkward. I believe in Karma and in the cyclic nature of energy and life and I don't want to negate good Karma by expecting something in return. It doesn't make me awesome or special, just human. Okay, and I DO dig the 'warm and fuzzy' that comes from being nice; I find it very reinforcing:-) It doesn't make me a bad person.

Having said that, it's been a long time since I've done anything really nice. I just haven't had the resources emotionally or financially, and sometimes that's just the way it is. And that's okay too. It's okay to say "no". In fact, it's much better to say "no" than to say "yes" with negative intent. If you say "yes" with resentment, strings or expectations, if you have to tell everybody about the favor you're doing, if you think it somehow puts you above the person you're helping or if you fantasize about ways to take it out of that person's time or hide, than you aren't doing the other person a favor. You are doing a favor for YOURSELF. There is no good Karma attached, and there is no positive ripple of energy outward and forward. You just trap all that energy into a swirl of clinging selfishness. You don't just hurt the person you are "helping", you ultimately hurt yourself too. No warm fuzzy for you. Blah.

I am very familiar with being "helped" in this manner. It is this kind of situation that I referenced in Saying Thanks when I said "some of you have done so [helped me] by making my life hell..." It has changed much in my life and the way I do things. I will do almost anything to avoid needing any kind of help with anything, and only ever ask if it's the11th hour and I'm at the outer limit of desperation. I only mention it because I'm going through a bit of it right now, but I can handle it. It's a good reminder, and it continues to teach me how to treat people who may need my help at some point. Sometimes the best way to learn the right way is to witness and experience the wrong way. Life's funny like that sometimes:-)

It doesn't negate my gratitude, or my desire to be kind. It DOES reinforce my desire to increase my resources so that 1) I'm in a better position to be self-sufficient,  and 2) I'm in a position to do nice things for other people.

I think I can do that:-) I learned a lot in 2012. I learned how to say "no" without guilt, I learned that having less money does not make me less of a person. I am not less intelligent, less important or less relevant. My opinion doesn't count less and my abilities and experience didn't disappear just because my bank account is smaller. I know all of that sounds like a great big "Duh" but believe me, you don't really get the whole 'money is power' bit until you don't have any. It took a long time, but my power is back. And I'm going to use it to increase my resources:-)

I look forward to 2013. Thirteen is one of my lucky numbers, so that alone bodes well:-) I can't send cash, but I CAN send out ripples of happy, joy, success, love, gratitude, good intent, good results, and straight-up AWESOMENESS for all of you in the year ahead, because that is my wish for you.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas eve and I can't help but reflect on Christmas eves of the past. I remember going to church, listening to an uplifting sermon and hearing beautiful singing. I remember waiting in anticipation at my grandparents' window for the woody-wagon bearing my aunt, uncle and cousins to arrive. I remember eating so many sweets that I felt sick, and then eating some more. It was entirely over-stimulating and awesome. My sister and cousins and I would want desperately to sleep so Christmas morning would arrive more quickly, but we couldn't stop giggling and getting in trouble for it. It was tradition and it seemed then like it always would be.

Of course time marches on and with it some of the magic of childhood is lost. That's life. My daughter is now twenty, and so there is no more childish influence to the holiday...or is there. Sometimes I've thought that my awesome childhood left me unprepared for disappointment and sadness, but now I'm not so sure. I look around at what I have and the people in my life, at the continued loving influence of my family, my wonderful daughter...well, I'm still fortunate.

This year I'll do some traveling to my sister's in a friend's borrowed van (thank you Tommy!!!). We'll over eat, laugh until our stomachs hurt, watch movies and stay up too late. It won't be like it was when we were children, but we have each other (and a small pack of dogs). Our Mom just came to visit too, so we have that to be grateful for. I think if I give it a moment's thought I have to admit that that's pretty darned good.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas, whatever that means to you. If it means a Happy Hanukkah or Kwanza or Solstice or Holiday...great! Whatever you celebrate I hope you have a wonderful day:-)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Staying Connected

This time of year I always think about family. I realize that a lot of folks do, but it's not always a positive thing. For me it's a double-edged sword: I grew up in a close family, holidays being a blessed melee of chaos and relatives, screaming kids (us!) and adults making every effort to ensure that a great time was had by all. I remember sitting at the kids' table with my cousins, eating Cheerios for breakfast and singing 'happy birthday' to Jesus before opening a huge pile of gifts. I know how lucky I am and I'm so grateful to know such a wonderful childhood. The only part of this that's difficult is that it can highlight the relative isolation of adulthood. Now it's my responsibility to reach out and create that blessed chaos in my own life, and I'm completely clueless. As an adult, I'm realizing how much the psychological ability to connect can effect our ability to stay connected to the folks in our lives. Not exactly my forte (once again, unless you are a horse or a dog;-) and I feel it.

I suppose the way in is to connect to the warmth and joy of my happiest memories. It's true that memories can be equally effective at creating a rift and a desire to remain in a bubble, but there's some choice here. There are so many things I have no control over (a realization highlighted by the fact that I'm writing this on my daughter's computer because mine died suddenly, ahem) but I can certainly decide what I choose to remember. I can be a broken person surrounded by broken things if that's where I choose to let my thoughts linger, but that's no place to be. I find that our lives can follow our thoughts very closely, and sometimes our dreams. Far better to dream of happy things. I often dream of animals.

My favorite recurring dream is of riding a horse. It's vivid and realistic except for a liquid, sow-motion effect. It's a grey fall day and I'm galloping along with friends. I can smell the wool of my jacket, the sweat of my horse and the pungent leaves; I can hear my horse breathing heavily and the thud of footfalls in the soft earth. The wind has a bit of an edge to it and it stings my cheeks in the most invigorating way. I look down at the hogged neck of my sturdy piebald cob and am flooded with feelings of love and trust for this animal that feeds my soul with every fluid stride. The trust is mutual and we are a team, both of us entirely in the moment. When I wake I try to hang on to the moment, that memory of connection, but it slips away like all dreams do and I wake to my reality.

I know it need not be just a dream, but the future. It keeps me moving forward and seeking that connection. It gives me hope and something to strive for. But connecting to right now today is a bit more challenging. I find it interesting though, that even in dreams it's animals teaching about being in the moment and connecting. Perhaps that's the key. It IS Murphy that facilitates so much of my participation in 'the world out there' right now. Sometimes I feel badly about that, though I'm not sure why. He certainly appears to enjoy his job.

But here's the thing: "Now" is the only moment we're sure of. How do I connect and find joy right now? I won't attempt to answer that question here, but just to ponder it and do a bit of brainstorming. Just giving the idea some attention will take me a long way to improving things. I am connecting to the spirit of the season this year in a way that I haven't in a long time. I think it's a start, and a good sign. At the very least I am appreciating the thought process that's occurring and am gratefully anticipating a positive move forward as a result. Or maybe the key is to abandon thought and let something more ephemeral be in  charge for awhile. It's worth a shot, right? :-)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Saying "Thanks"

Yeah, this has happened to me.
I know I'm a couple of days early, but good timing has never really been my forte. Why start now? And what difference does it make? There's no bad time to say "thank you", and certainly this is an appropriate season. I am in two minds about the more 'traditional' meaning of Thanksgiving; The Irish and English parts aren't really in agreement with my Sioux parts. But that's okay. It's okay to be grateful, period. I'll go with that:-)

First of all, thank you for reading my blog. Often I write just because I enjoy it, but knowing that you're reading it makes it that much more rewarding. And thank you to all of those bloggers who inspire me and sometimes even keep me going. I appreciate you all more than you will ever know.

But there's more to gratitude than saying "thank you". When I look back on my life and the difficulties in it, I can't help but notice all of the wonderful people who have been there to hold my hand, in one way or another, every step of the way. Some of you did so while making my life hell, but even you are appreciated. Some of you have been absolute saints. All of you inspire me to want to pay it forward. I won't let the 'chain of warm and gooey goodness' end with you. My gift to you will be my effort to take the kindness you've shown me and amplify it; your gift reverberating outward in endless ripples. That is my intent, because of you.

I am grateful for my Facebook friends who post sweet, beautiful and original things, who keep the mood light, who never post things that are mean and spiteful. You are the reason I'm still on that $%^& social networking site. The joy you put forth is a light that drowns out all the sanctimonious darkness. If anything will move humanity forward it's that attitude, that refusal to engage in the bickering and blame. You folks are gold.

I am thankful to have goals, even though my lack of forward movement sometimes torments me. I AM moving forward, but not fast enough for me. To quote my much-younger self  "I TRIED being patient but it took too looooong!" (you have to imagine it spoken in the plaintive whine of a frustrated child. Yeah, I STILL sound like that.) Listen to me, in a blog about thankfulness and gratitude, STILL whining:-D

I have endless gratitude for my family (Murphy included!) and friends. I think sometimes that I'm not super-easy to get to know and perhaps even more difficult to understand. To say I am anti-social is the understatement of the century. Yet there you guys are, smiling and kind through all manner of shenanigans. I'm terrible about emotional stuff and talking about squishy things like 'feelings' (well, unless you're a dog or a horse), but I DO love you guys. I see each of you for the amazing, unique, talented and compassionate people that you are. I don't know what I've ever done to deserve such great friends, but I'm endlessly grateful to have you in my life. And to my family, I know you're pretty much stuck with me but you all rarely complain and that's good on you;-) If I could hand-pick my family, you would still be stuck with me:-D

Okay, all this 'positive' is starting to make me feel a bit uncomfortable. It's back to that whole bit about 'feelings' and my often uneasy relationship with them. One more thing though: I am grateful for my awesome daughter. She is a fabulous mix of beauty, intelligence, dorkiness and talent with just enough 'klutz' thrown in to keep life interesting and funny. Fortunately, she has been gifted with a great sense of humor (and she doesn't bruise easily, a bonus!). Raising her alone was one of the most difficult things I ever did, but having her was the one thing I never second guessed myself on. And she's an awesome person! (phew!)

I feel very blessed this holiday season, and I hope you do too. Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!

Monday, November 12, 2012


The word "tradition" has been thrown around quite a bit lately, and it's a word I both adore and despise. I think tradition can be wonderful and warm; it can provide security within its familiar parameters. I love family traditions, especially those that center around holidays, and I'm completely and endlessly fascinated by the rich and myriad traditions around carriage driving and fox hunting. But tradition can be stifling. Some horrible things have been perpetrated under the guise of tradition. Like anything else, there is usually something very negative to be found in fervency.

Where people are concerned, traditions need to remain flexible. Humanity is fluid; our ideas and ideals grow and change as our understanding of the world and our place in it evolve. Pathological adherence to tradition can interfere with natural progression if it's allowed to. Inflexibility is often cast aside, shed like tight and dessicated old skin, left by the wayside to go extinct like the dinosaurs: Evolve, be flexible or become obsolete. It's not a new concept. It's an idea that exists in history, religion, nature. Yet it's so hard for human beings to grasp. We fumble about the dark, mistaking our intelligence for superiority and worse; we define our personal value by our ability (or the ability of others) to acquire stuff. And then we fight about it. We destroy and kill each other over it. We make stuff and currency more valuable than people. I don't want to fight, but I don't want to understand, either. I wonder what operates under and within a society that puts money before people, self before others. I wonder but I don't really want to know. No religion in politics, I agree with that. But...

I believe in the spirit of humanity. I believe the spirit within me gives me structure, morality, an innate sense of right and wrong. To be a person of morality means it carries forward into all things. To be a bastard in business, the bastard must exist. There is no excuse for treating people badly. None. I don't believe selfishness is worthy of emulation. It's not an example to follow, or something to be proud of. I don't believe we secure our rights by denying the rights of others. I don't believe in denying the rights of others in order to adhere to outdated and outmoded traditions. I don't believe in peace through intimidation. Maybe I'm the dinosaur. But I'm not alone.

Call me what you like. Call me irresponsible, lazy, pointless; tell me I don't matter and that it's okay if I starve and my children starve and my parents starve. Perpetuate the myth, it doesn't matter, because it IS a myth. I'm not alone. I'm not the only one who's been cast aside, lied about, vilified, scape-goated, disenfranchised, dismissed, alienated, insulted...underestimated. And we know the lie for what it is.

Good people live in this world. There is hope for humanity if we reach out in united and honorable purpose, with both ourselves and each other in mind. Or we could keep doing what we're doing; wasting our time, energy and resources to useless purpose, snapping at each other over ideology and ultimately, irrelevance. But I have to wonder; how long will we glorify acquisition above all? Selfishness as a worthy trait? How long will we pride ourselves on our propensity for violence? It doesn't matter. It's not for me.

I pray for this world and this humanity that I love.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Horror, or something like it

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love this time of year. I am currently taking a break from a horror-movie marathon, and can't help but feel somewhat gleeful (and okay, giddy) that they are so prevalent right now. My favorite movies involve the supernatural and actually have a plot and a budget. While I do believe there is a place for B horror films, I don't really dig them. I'm a thinky person with a need for mental stimulation, and I don't feel the least bit challenged by movies that were created with the 'Soft-core porn+demented serial-killer+increasingly-bloody deaths = gross' formula, whether it be at a cabin in the middle of nowhere, a beach, a mansion of some kind, etc. B-O-R-I-N-G. And let's face it, unbelievably unimaginative. I would like to comment here that we have sadly low standards in terms of what we consider entertainment, but I think in this era of "Jersey Shore" and "Honey Boo Boo", that would be entirely redundant. No, I don't personally watch any of that nonsense, either. But I digress.

My point is that I have a fortuitously-timed, scheduled lazy day. The sky is heavy and grey, I can hear the hissing of leaves being tossed around, the smell of falling leave and rotting vegetation is delicious, pumpkin everything is for sale and my daughter just went crazy baking 'nanner' breads. All is right in the world today, and it deserves to be acknowledged.

One would think, because of past experience, that ghosts and dark shadows in every storefront would scare the crap out of me. Not so much. When you've lived through the real thing, paper cutouts and whimsical imagery is even more fun. Okay, I'll admit to taking exception to the fake spiders. They've ALWAYS scared the crap out of me, and my fear of them always has been and remains borderline-clinical. But if you really want to scare me, make the phone ring. If you want to terrify me beyond reason, trap me in a dark room with a stone wall. The things that really scare me, though my fear may be utterly justified, would seem silly to anyone else. The things that scare most other people fill me with mild amusement. It's a quirk.

In honor of this beloved month of October, I have started to write a short story for this blog. I say 'short', but my inability to be truly succinct means that it's probably going to run over three or four days. I'm having a blast writing it, and I hope you enjoy it. And I hope you are enjoying this spooky month (of course the beautiful leaves and the cool nights too;-) as much as I am.

Until next time:-)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Product Review: Cozy Horse Dog Coats

Dober-model Desi in a polar fleece snood
This review has been a long time coming. I actually discovered this awesome company a couple of years ago, quite by accident. I was walking my dog down the street one cold winter day, when a couple in an SUV pulled over to talk to me. They had an adorable dober-girl in their back seat, and they just wanted to say "hello" to a fellow dobe-enthusiast. It wasn't the first time this sort of thing has happened, nor would it be the last. Dobes are not common in my area, and the folks who are owned by them love to meet others. This chance meeting brought with it a bonus: My dog was wearing a coat that didn't really fit and wasn't exactly warm enough for our Vermont winters, so these folks gave me their recommendation; a company called Cozy Horse

They took the time to show me their Cozy Horse Dober-coat and I was instantly sold. It was warm and well-made, and even had a hole for the D-ring on their dog's harness. A new coat wasn't exactly in the budget, but these folks assured me that Cozy Horse was reasonably priced and well worth it. I decided to check it out.

As my friends know, I am fussy about exactly two things: dog stuff and horse stuff. When I looked at the site(s) (Cozy Horse has an Angelfire Site too) I was blown away by all the options and choices; even more so by the affordability of Cozy Horse products: not cheap, but certainly reasonable and actually rather exceptional for what you're getting. As the name implies, Cozy Horse makes horse blankets. I am used to purchasing dog coats from horse blanket companies so I wasn't surprised that they also offered dog coats. My usual experience has been fairly mixed; the dog coats are usually made out of the same durable materials as the horse blankets, but the fit has often ranged from adequate to unbelievably wrong. One company made a coat in size extra large that looked as though it MIGHT fit a 40 pound dog, another made a size medium that my 98 pound dog could swim in. Needless to say, I have often been a bit disappointed in dog coats made by horse blanket companies. But here is where Cozy Horse is far beyond superior: they are a CUSTOM company.
Custom made for a Saluki!

After some easy, prompt and pleasant correspondence with the company's owner, Claudia Jones, I was ready to place my first order. I measured Murphy carefully and picked out all the specs in my usual compulsive manner. I like to dress Murphy in purple, but because he's a boy I thought two-tone (with black) might be more manly; horseblanket-style straps meant I wouldn't have to worry about Murph peeing on a strap, and just a bit of reflective piping made us a bit more visible on a dark winter evening. This coat featured a medium-weight fill and a smooth taffeta lining. I also ordered a black polar fleece snood for those really cold days when Dober-ears are especially vulnerable, and a fleece-lined, reflective martingale collar, also in purple and black. We were good to go.

I expected a longer wait than the three weeks it actually took for my custom order. I was already very impressed with both the service and the turn around time, and I hadn't even opened the box yet. When I did, I found my beautiful new items wrapped in purple tissue paper with some business cards and dog treats. It was like an early Christmas:-) I was so impressed by how well made everything was; the materials were great quality, the stitching was careful and even. Everything was exactly what I wanted and fit perfectly. It was a unique and wonderful retail experience:-)

These folks make everything "dog": Great collars, service dog vests, donation dog vests, tug toys, coats of all types and configurations and much more. The possibilities for customizing these items are almost endless too, no bulk order required. After my initial purchase, I realized the need for both a rain coat (bright yellow, of course, with reflective piping) and a fall-weight fleece (in soft grey). I was equally pleased with both of these purchases, so of course when it was time to buy a fundraising vest, I went back to Cozy Horse. Once again, I found myself impressed by the quality and attention to detail, apparent even in something as simple as a donation dog vest.
Murphy, happy and warm in his custom coat

I have long been in search of a good dog coat company. My doggy-life began with greyhounds. Their lean bodies and sparse coats mean that buying a coat for them is not optional, but necessary. Their unique shape also presented a fitting challenge. Back then (almost 20 years ago) people simply didn't 'dress' their dogs for any real purpose and after searching high and low and only finding fru fru clothing (?!) for small dogs, I ultimately ended up making my own, notably NOT fru fru, dog coats. And they were...okay. As the popularity of greyhounds as pets (and the internet) soared, so did the number of dog coat companies that catered to this unique breed. But of course the coats were crazy-expensive. Even so, I succumbed and bought my hounds nice coats. Then I became involved with Dobermans and the search began all over again. I spent a lot of money on "adequate" and "not-quite-right", unfortunately.

There is a misconception that "tough dogs don't need coats", but it IS a misconception. A single-coated dog simply does not have the ability to keep itself warm in cold temperatures, no matter how tough they may be. Add wind and/or wet and the problem is compounded. I know that my dog couldn't tolerate the cold long enough to get the exercise he needs without his warm coat. It DOES make a real difference, and fortunately more people are realizing this and fulfilling this need for their dogs.

And now, there's no excuse and there are real options, even for service dogs. Cozy Horse is now working with Bold Lead Designs (see my reviews here: Part 1 and Part 2 ) to provide custom coats that work with BLD's service dog harnesses. What a great idea! Now your dog can dress for the weather without it interfering with your dog's job, AND he/she can look great too!
Cozy Horse and Bold Lead Designs...perfect!

When I saw these two companies working together it almost made me was like canine-retail-perfection overload! So much excellent quality and awesome service all in one place- it was almost too much:-) Now I have to buy another stunning Cozy Horse coat to fit over Murphy's harness. Bummer;-) Of course it won't replace the purple one he wears for play; this will be the third winter with the purple coat but it still looks brand new. Even after washing, Murphy's coats haven't  faded, become lumpy, shrunk or lost their shape. The soft fleece hasn't pilled.  Cozy Horse items are as durable as they are attractive. I could write a book about all the great options, but instead I encourage you to visit the sites and experience for yourself the excitement of 'designing' exactly what you want, knowing the fit will be perfect and it will last.

I am so glad I found Cozy Horse, and I have nothing negative to say. The service is the best, the choices are infinite and the products hold their value. This is the last coat company I'll ever need to find to keep my dogs warm and dry. Why settle for 'adequate' and 'not-quite-right' when you can have exactly what you want, and probably for less?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

All or Nothing

Some days I feel like an old person. I feel especially old when I see what I like to think of as "the inherent fervency of the young, inexperienced and uninitiated" playing out day in and day out. Yes, back to me ol' nemesis, Facebook.  It seems that so much is all or nothing these days as people stand up and shout over and over again, ad nauseaum "THIS IS WHO I AM AND THIS IS WHAT I STAND FOR" in several repetitious venues. I am including myself here;-) Hey, it's what social media is for, is it not? Most of the time I kinda love it. I love my friends and love to see what they're on about. For real:-)

I feel all kinds of observy, even when I'm participating. I have certainly made my political opinions known. But part of being observy in earnest is to point that fickle finger of judgement to oneself first. What, exactly, has driven me the most crazy about the political nonsense? Easy answer: first and foremost the mean-spirited, sarcastic (and let's face it) often ignorant and repetitive tone, and I mean that on both sides. I'm an old person who has never seen so much "dumb and ugly" all in one place, I mean to such an over-the-top ridiculous degree that it's mind-blowing. And it's from BOTH sides. While it's true that one side has definitely gone extracurricular with it, both sides are guilty and I have been too. And it's entirely pointless. What's being passed around isn't real or helpful information, it's entirely disrespectful and it's only function, it's ONLY function, is to create a rift. Is that something I want to be a part of? Am I crass, mean, reactive, sarcastic or any of the other unpleasant adjectives I could attach to this kind of behavior? I have my moments, certainly, but as a rule I am better than that. I know better than that. I was RAISED better than that by good people who were far above that behavior.  It's easy to get caught up in the steady stream of nasty, but it feels bad and well, it's beneath me. Politics shouldn't be all-or-nothing; we should be cooperating. Now THAT is something that's really worth getting behind.

My other pet peaves involve, well, pets. I guess I'm less "peeved" and more mildly annoyed, but there's an "all or nothing" trend in animal (for me that's horses and dogs) training as well. I am old enough to see fads come and go and to see real information stick. Unfortunately, trends usually have this huge swing from one extreme (in this case compulsion training for dogs) aaaaaalllll the way over to the other side (all positive, all the time) before common sense kicks in and levels things off a bit. I'm not new so I've already been to both extreme ends of this learning curve but there aren't that many of us yet. And it's a bit trying sometimes. It's hard to explain "Hey, I was you, but fifteen years ago". If it was a "to each his own" thing it would be fine, but some days I'm seriously NOT in the mood to get lectured by an inexperienced pet owner who took a class or two. Like today. Another lecture about my prong collar from someone who clearly knows just enough to be sanctimonious about training methods to total strangers. *Headesk*. Apparently if I use a prong, I don't know anything about positive reinforcement training. Well, except that I've been doing it for almost 20 years, I remember when it was new and have developed my training techniques as our understanding (through doing back then) improved. But hey, whatever. I offered to hand the leash over to her just as a (well-timed) squirrel passed by, but she didn't seem interested. They never do;-) Some people don't understand the concept of "management tool" and assume 'compulsion training' at the very sight of a prong and are too hard-headed to see any point of view other than their own. Oh, I know all about it. I've been that person. I know these folks just haven't met "that" dog yet. Hopefully if and when they do, they'll evolve instead of 'managing' the dog into isolation or giving it up as a lost cause. Based on my personal observation, it's about 50/50. I try to adopt a "smile politely and walk away" philosophy, which fortunately I was able to do today. Barely.

What about horses? Well, there has certainly been an uptick in the "Natural Horsemanship" trend. This, fortunately for you all, I have no direct knowledge about. I've always been a "humane, classical" kinda girl, but am not above giving something new a try. I think if a person is experienced (or is working with someone experienced) no harm is likely to be perpetrated here. In fact, I did a bit of digging around and saw quite a bit of merit to some of the methods. I do love the focus on groundwork and relationship-building (though admittedly there is plenty of both in classical training as well). The biggest potential flaw I see in these systems is that inexperienced or timid people might try to work with a horse with nothing but videos for guidance. THAT is a recipe for disaster, and I've heard of results to that effect. In all fairness, any method is only as good as it's application, and inexperience+horses without real, experienced guidance is a bad, bad formula no matter what method you choose. I know folks who are all about the NH to the exclusion of all else, and I don't think that's for me, but it certainly brings me to my point (finally!):

Moderation is a beautiful thing, and you can't make good choices if you are only well-educated in one side of the argument. Thinking you know isn't knowing, reading or hearing lots and lots of stuff from people who come only from your own point of view isn't knowing, and hearsay and misinformation certainly aren't educational or helpful. If you want to stand firmly by your opinion fine, but at least take the time to learn about the REALITY of other points of view. Phew...I feel better:-)

Next time I review my favorite dog coat company, just in time for cold weather:-) Cozy Horse

Sunday, September 9, 2012


"Spooky Tree" photo by Lana Pinto
 I did it, or started it at least. I finally looked into the history of The Infamous Brown House. And it was FUN. I have seen it done on TV, but the reality was far more confusing and less conclusive than anything fictional. For starters, the inevitable Startling Revelation Involving Microfiche was not part of my actual experience. It began with perusing listings to find the picture and subsequently the address of the house. I recognized it right away, a feeling in my gut more than anything. From there it was a search though enormous book after enormous book; each getting older and harder to read than the one before it. I learned that the neighbor's outrageous account of the house's history was not only feasible, but likely. I followed up my trip to the town clerk with a visit to the public library. I searched the few historical tomes available; black and white and sepia windows on a past I could scarcely imagine. Though there were many interesting anecdotes about the area, none were specific enough to be useful. I learned that yes, the original structure was indeed built in the late 1800's, that fires were common and bears were a danger. Nothing supported the specifics of the haunting (though the prevalence of fire was certainly interesting, considering), but nothing negated it either. The ladies at the library were incredibly helpful and interested in the book. They suggested that I contact the historical society, which I've done. Now, I wait. At least this time I wait with interest and eagerness and without fear.

I enjoyed my research. Though my initial pass revealed nothing conclusive, I was taken in by the spirit of these early Vermonters and it made me want to know more. More story ideas perhaps? I do love my monsters but ghost stories, especially those based in historical fact, could be a hell of a good yarn too. In fact, a good ghost story would be my favorite thing to curl up with (in addition to an afghan and a warm beverage) on a wet or cold day. Hmm...It really is up to me, isn't it? But first, I need to get this project done and out there.

 I don't think it's a secret that I like to escape into fictional realms of my own creation (which my current project isn't), but it bears mentioning again just the same. When the world is a rapidly rotating vortex of sad circumstances, financial stress, political ugliness and an unnatural state of being (read: my current horse-less-ness), I like to make myself a cup of strong Irish tea and visit a place where all is possible: my own imagination. Just because my current project remains stuck in the pipeline does not mean I can't do something else too. Sometimes, when all else just seems to be beyond my ability to manage it, just the act of doing something, anything really, can break the spell of stagnation. And it has given me an idea.

Halloween is coming. I love Halloween, I love the spooky atmosphere, the darkening sky, the wind and the blowing leaves. I love that I think I saw somebody staring down at me from the window of the empty apartment next door, and that sometimes I hear things. What if...

Until next time:-)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Today's the day I suck it up and do some research. I'm not opposed to research on principle, in fact many of my major life choices have been the result of countless hours of it. But this is different. This time, I have to take a closer look at something I actively ran (almost literally) from: The Infamous Brown House. The Infamous Brown House of my former reality, and of past and current nightmares. I wrote the story of all that happened to us there; a terrifying tale of relentless and unexplained occurrences. I relived those sleepless nights and the waking horrors of those days already. I needed to. I needed to do it for myself, and for those who shared the experience. Today, stories of haunted houses abound. But then, fifteen years ago, nobody talked about it. Embarrassment kept us quiet and the story stayed dark and coiled and waiting within me. I left that house a haunted human being; what more did I need to know? I don't know the history of the place. I didn't feel like I needed to. No matter what happened, it wouldn't validate or negate our personal experiences. It was what it was. But this is a world of "why?" and it has become apparent to me that no ghost story worth it's salt comes without a history. I've been strongly encouraged by folks I have deep respect for to take this step. I finally had to admit to myself that, yes, I need to do this. So today's the day.

Maybe I will find nothing. Though it has rarely occurred to me that this might be the case, the fact of the matter is that it might very well be. Maybe I will find some magic something that will make sense of it all and provide new understanding into the whole affair. More likely it will be somewhere in the middle. I can only speculate. I am sure though, that I have made it a bigger deal than need be. I have put this off, and in doing so put off the completion of a long project I desperately want to see finished. You see, I'm still afraid. All the writing, the joking, the hopes for success, none of it diminishes the very real fear we experienced, the very real trauma we have lived with since. This isn't just a book I wrote. It's our story. I love writing about the occult, but don't really have the stomach for experiencing the reality of it. Some of you may know what I mean.

But it's time. It's time to dig out the truth, or as much of it as I can find. It's time to finish this, one way or another. "My" time of year is approaching, and it feels like it's the book's time too. It's ready to be born in earnest. It's time to release it all; the book, the fear and the hesitation. It's time to embrace my well-developed sense of dark and morbid curiosity and make it work for me. I can do this...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Being Human

It has been an interesting week on the Facebook-front. While it is generally my practice to minimize any and all social media nonsense, and to relegate it to "entertainment" status, I am realizing it really DOES accurately reflect the opinions and beliefs of actual people. Being old and therefore dismissive of social media no longer renders it irrelevant. Scary. This week's hot topic (at least within my FB circle) has been women's rights. It has been a bumpy, scary tour through the various opinions this week, and a very enlightening one. While I prefer to dwell in the realm of fiction, to NOT be angry and to cruise through my life secure in the knowledge that better folks than I are in charge and making sure that all the right things are happening, this is a luxury I don't feel entitled to any longer.

I think I have always been a feminist. Truth be told, it isn't something I ever thought much about. I have always agreed that women should get equal pay and have equal rights on all fronts, but I know that men and women are different from each other and always thought those differences were kind of cool. Equal, but different. Seems like a pretty reasonable assessment, eh?

I read a book called "The Handmaid's Tale"  in college. It was published in 1985. If you want to look it up, its Wiki page is here:  The Handmaid's Tale  Just briefly, here is a line of the description:

"Set in the near future, in a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government, The Handmaid's Tale explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency." 

Back in 1985, to say the themes in this book seemed unlikely is an understatement. I thought there were some really cool, far out ideas within the story (the idea that we would have bank cards instead of checks or cash seemed especially far out and futuristic) but I felt pretty secure in knowing the war for women's rights had been won. A done deal. I no longer feel so sure.

There are people who are not just angry, but actually up in arms about women having rights to their reproductive health. There are organizations that have actually singled out women's health issues as something that should be excluded from insurance coverage. At first, I thought it had to be some kind of a joke. I mean, employers and agencies who provide health insurance for people just provide what is needed, correct? Nobody, I mean nobody would ever tolerate one gender being singled out and picked on for one specific health care need, right? That would just be ridiculous! But it's happening. It's happening under the guise of "women want us to pay for their abortions". Newsflash, angry people: No federal funds are used to pay for abortions. Period. A ruling back in 1976 decided that, and it still stands. The exception is in the case of rape. My opinion here? If you want this to go away, make rape go away. Very simple. Even a caveman could understand it. Well, in theory. But there are people who are angry about women having abortions in the case of rape and would like nothing better than to take that right away. Why? Are there people who are so hell bent on saving fetal life that the life of the woman, the VICTIM, becomes irrelevant?

The part I am having even more trouble with (I mean besides the complete disregard for a living, breathing cognizant human being that's been relegated to nothing more than incubator status) is that those same people screaming "save that baby" won't give a rat's behind if that child goes hungry every night because it's living on welfare. Then it's just another dirt molecule to put down and dehumanize. But hey, it's alive, right? We can all sleep at night knowing we did the "right" thing.

Okay, I don't want to be angry. I am a Christian and don't like the idea of abortion on many levels. I am also a woman, a rape victim, and someone who has more than two brain cells to rub together. It's more than an abortion issue though, it's birth control. Somehow that's up for debate too. Condoms aren't, Viagra isn't; but birth control for women is suddenly a big deal. From my point of view, don't even bother with the Viagra if I don't get my birth control. Just sayin'. It's funny how rarely it's the men left alone to raise the children, isn't it? I've spent half my life as a single parent, as did my mother. Yeah, great judgement men. Can you please make all my decisions for me? And yet when it's time for the government to discuss women's issues, it's a panel of men that's assembled.

Don't get me wrong, I love men. There are some really fabulous guys out there; wonderful Dads, devoted and respectful husbands and all around great folks. I had a grandfather in this category. Even guys I disagree with fiercely are still basically decent human beings at their core. But this isn't a guy thing. A guy can't relate here, and can't understand how incredibly disrespectful it is to make consideration for the woman last in decisions about her own body. It's dehumanizing. Some women disagree with me, and it makes me sad. It makes me sad because if we won't stand up for our own humanity here, we will loose it. This isn't about politics or political leaning (on some level there is a connection, but it's not really the point) this is about being human, and the right to remain so. If you don't want to be loud and obnoxious, don't want to protest or be outspoken, that's okay. Just don't be complacent. Think about it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Going "Postal"

Maybe "going postal" isn't the most PC way of describing what I'm doing, but I suppose it's as accurate a description as any (without the semi-automatic firearms and bloody, unfair deaths, of course!). I went back and forth about writing this entry: I'm in a really crappy place and that's not exactly the stuff I want to be projecting outward into the world. But I'm nothing if not honest, and life is a process. It's easy, when times are great and smooth, to forget how tough things can be. It's not a place to wallow and revisit in a tangible sense, but remembering difficulties can be a good barometer at times. I write this fully anticipating the day when I can look back and say, "wow, look how far I've come".

There's no shame in having a tough time. It's not the 'tough time' part that's shameful. The shameful part would be the "Whaaa, poor me, I'm having a tough time and I'm going to just sit here and whine about it...Whaaa!". Doo doo happens. It isn't realistic to walk around all lilty and cheerful when there are real-world things to freak out about. It's okay to acknowledge, "hey, this is kind of sucking and it's really, really difficult. I need to take a moment to process and assimilate this." But something needs to come after, and sooner rather than later. Oh, and BTW, there's nothing new and major, I'm just feeling especially overwhelmed by more of the same ol' same ol' and frustrated to tears (like, for real) by my current inability to move past the same ever-present and stubborn stumbling blocks. The world is a wheel, and sometimes my discouragement is too: My financial situation makes it nearly impossible for me to sort out my panic/anxiety issues, and my panic/anxiety issues make it nearly impossible to sort out my financial woes. I'm not talking a bit of nervousness here folks, we're talking sometimes paralyzing, debilitating fear that makes no logical sense (despite my dogged determination to try to find some logic, and by doing so attempt to control it) and has been a problem for so long that it affects me physically in several...inconvenient...ways. I've lived with it so long that most of the time I have just gone forward doing what I could and pretending not to even notice the things that are beyond my capabilities. And when I throw phrases out there like "beyond my capabilities",  there's never a period after that phrase in my understanding of it. I mean "beyond my capabilities for right now". I'm wallowing today, no doubt, but it's a pity PARTY, not a pity way of life. It has a brief shelf-life because I said so.

As Zen and positive as I'm trying to be about my irrational negativity (see what I did there?), there has been some amusing fallout. I think I scared the CRAP out of another dog owner at the park this morning. He had not one, but TWO loose dogs, neither of whom had any recall and both of which made a beeline for my dog upon sighting him. Don't get me wrong, I am never warm and fuzzy to the "he/she just wants to say hi" crowd (click large DINOS badge at right if you can't imagine why), but this guy hit me at the worst possible moment and I completely unloaded on him. Not that he didn't have it coming. Seriously...TWO untrained loose dogs in a public park with a leash ordinance. WTF?!  But I usually at least manage to get through one of these exhaustingly-frequent exchanges without shouting things like "you inconsiderate GIT!" at people. In fact, I find firmness and assertiveness far more effective than anger and shouting. Oops. C'est la vie.

But a couple of coffees and some deep breathing later, I have at least reconnected with the logical part of myself that manages all of the problem-solving functions. Logic is much cooler than my Irish temper, and I embrace it's return with gratitude, even if it doesn't have any immediate solutions. Not digging a deeper hole is as good a temporary-fix as any;-) Logic likes to perseverate. Not always a good thing, but when it perseverates on finding ways to adjust my attitude, it can be very helpful indeed. It's Sunday. I have the time.

I think if you don't want to be miserable, you won't be. I also think if you are determined to be miserable, nothing can stop you. I know (believe me I KNOW) that misery visits us all; but I would rather turn it away at the door than invite in for tea. I spent my day reading blogs. I read the blogs of all the positive, uplifting, strong, gifted and determined people that I could absorb, and I let their words permeate the veil of  boo-hoo-ness and whaaa and reach the parts of me that they needed to reach. I did my level-best to do away with the "but"'s and allowed myself to be absorbed by the "what if" 's. I still feel like crap, but it's better crap. It's a step forward. If you keep facing and moving forward you can stay ahead of the ground crumbling beneath your feet. Well, at least in theory, right?

So this is the 'gratitude' part; I am grateful to have the tools I need to pull myself out of a hole, and even more grateful for the people, knowingly and unknowingly,  who reach their hands out to assist in that endeavor. Tomorrow is a shiny, bright new day:-)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Warm and fuzzy

Photo: Huffington Po
I've had a bit of a tough week, but consoled myself with a 'time out' and some Olympic dressage. It's the first time in a long time that I can recall watching equestrian events on television, and I haven't seen any dressage in what feels like forever. This year the stars aligned so that the Olympics occurred at a time in my life when I actually have cable. Cool beans.

As thrilling as it was to have the opportunity to watch, I will admit that I was somewhat disheartened by what constitutes Olympic-level dressage these days. I saw more than a few horses working front to back, overbent and tense, with mouths gaping open. I have no doubt in my mind that this is a direct result of Rollkur used in training. Not only was it used in training, but in the warm-up area at the Olympic games, and even on the way to the arena. It is supposed to be an illegal technique, but nothing was done about it by stewards or officials. Shame. I thought I was alone in my disappointment until I read some of the many comments on the FEI Facebook Page . Holy kaka batman, but people are cheesed off! I encourage you to follow the 'Rollkur' link if you are interested in understanding how abusive and ugly it is. It seems like it must be a new-ish thing, as I don't recall it ever being a part of classical training. Of course, I AM old though;-)

I love dressage, or at least what it is supposed to be. When I was first learning about it many years ago, I read a book (two, actually, as I wore out the first one) by Alois Podhajski called The Complete Training of Horse and Rider. I believe it was published in the late 70's, early 80's, and it was a fascinating read for anyone interested, even peripherally, in training a horse. Colonel Podhajski was a pretty amazing dude. He was the director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria during WWII and is even credited with saving the Lipizzaners (with the help of General Patton). Here is his wiki page: Alois Podhajski
Even for non-equestrians, the story of Colonel Podhajski and his Lipizzan stallions is an interesting bit of history. He is a man I've never met, but my familiarity with his writing has given me a great deal of respect for this amazing man. His sensitivity to the horse and his compassion jump off every page even as he's describing training techniques in great technical detail. My point is, this man was my first introduction to dressage and he set the bar on most of my experiences and opinions since. One can only wonder what he would think of today's competitive dressage.

So often, "new" is synonymous with "better". This is one of those circumstances when "old" and "traditional" definitely should be the standard.  Dressage is one of those sports that has declined and fragmented as tradition has been left by the wayside. People are replacing common sense, time and sensitivity with rope halters and games. Don't get me wrong, "natural" horsemanship has it's merit, especially in light of what passes for training so often these days, but it seems to be a response to a need to be more kind in the training of horses. If the principles of classical training were still adhered to not only would abusive training like rollkur disappear, but there would be no need to seek more compassionate training methods. I'm just sayin'.  I won't bore you with the details here, but suffice it to say I spend a lot of time watching and shaking my head. To each his own I suppose. I will say that since I was a kid (back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) that some things HAVE improved. I love some of the new bits. As we've learned and understood more, we've developed more anatomically-friendly bits that can enhance classical methods; bits by Herm. Sprenger and Neue Schule especially come to mind. And I would be lying if I said my old, lumpy self wasn't excited about the development of flexible stirrups like these: system 4 stirrups. Much easier on the ol' bones, especially the knees. But I digress.

As disheartened as I felt about most of what I was watching, one great story did unfold. The gold-medal winner was a young British woman named Charlotte Dujardin, riding her wonderful horse, Valegro (pictured above). Valegro was supposed to go to Charlotte's coach, Carl Hester (also a British team mate) but he loved the pair of them together, so history was made. Not only is this a great story because this wonderful coach let go of his ego and gave a student the opportunity to shine, but she shone without the use of cruel training practices and she WON. Not only did she win, but she did so wearing a safety helmet. At the upper-levels of dressage it is traditional to wear a top hat. Many dressage riders won't even wear a helmet when they train. I am a HUGE advocate of the safety helmet, and am so pleased that this wonderful young rider set such a great example to other up-and-comers by making safety a priority and doing it with style. The story of Charlotte and Valegro was where I garnered most of my "warm fuzzies" this week, and knowing that conscientious folks still exist gives me hope.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Goals and inspiration

I play this game with myself sometimes: I'll lay in bed for a few minutes every morning (or for as long as Murphy allows) and pretend I'm somewhere else. I'll pretend that I'm in a bedroom in my very own house, and that I have to get up to feed the horses. I pretend that I can just let Murphy out the door to follow me to the barn and that he can sniff and roll and cavort as he chooses, without fear that he will be accosted by someone else's dog. I pretend that I am living the life I want and deserve and have dreamed about since I was almost in diapers. And then I am poked relentlessly by an enthusiastic, wet snoot attached to a wiggling body until I open my eyes and get out of bed.

It's tough to be discouraged when the first thing I see in the morning is a happy Dober-face, but even then when I open my eyes and find that I'm in exactly the same place as yesterday, the day before, and the day before that...well, it does happen. While I understand that I am where I need to be, I'm nowhere near where I want to be. On a logical level, I know I have worked very hard to move forward and continue to do so, but without seeing some kind of tangible proof of progress, it gets hard to maintain any enthusiasm. I am okay, I am grateful for all that I am, all that I've learned and all that I have. Even more so, I am grateful for the people I have in my life, the people I have had in my life and the abilities I've been given to utilize as I see fit. I realize that on many levels, there are folks that would give anything even to be where I am. I know how fortunate I've been. But that's not the point. This isn't my life. This is not the life I was meant for by any stretch of the imagination, and my heart so longs to reclaim the parts of me that, for sanity's sake, have had to remain dormant and waiting for opportunity. Some days it feels like it's killing me.

And that's what it's about sometimes, isn't it? Opportunity. A single word that can mean the difference between success or failure. I know it's important from my own experience, and more recently from watching my daughter work her butt off, and still never be able to achieve what the others did because her mom couldn't afford the same opportunities as the other parents. Money can't by talent, but you can have all the talent in the world and get nowhere if you don't have opportunity. It was more difficult to watch than to experience personally. And it drives me.

When I get discouraged, I find that it helps to read the blogs of folks who I admire. We're all in different places in our evolution, we all eventually overcome our difficulties. I am encouraged when I see another person achieve a goal, or when I find humor in another's perspective. It gives me hope when I read about hope, when I can see what human beings are capable of overcoming and achieving. I am discouraged, but I'm not alone. In my real world and in the places I frequent in cyber-space, there are amazing folks cheering me on both directly and unintentionally. Right now especially, I need to remember that those resources are always there, and to immerse myself in all the "positive" that I can. Maybe then, and with a dose of sheer tenacity, I will open my eyes and find that I have achieved my goals, and we are living our lives at last.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The High Cost of Profiting from Fraud

I don't want to be angry today. It's an encouraging, hot, sunny day in a long line of encouraging, hot, sunny days. It's a Saturday, the day that others are out and about so we are in and chillin' in the AC. Murphy and I enjoyed a nice mani-pedi this morning (neither of us like polish) and I have a nice, strong pot of fresh coffee keeping me motivated. It's summer time, and the livin' is easy. But I'm not just angry, I'm P***ed. I often find myself so when I see someone profiting from fraud, especially when it's at my expense (and at the expense of others like me) Call me crazy. Today's perpetrator is a company called Free My Paws, who claim to be "the resource for service animal owners". There are LOTS of companies that sell gear for service dogs, so what's so wrong with this one?

First, a little background. The service dog "industry" is largely unregulated. This has been found necessary because of the wide range of needs of legitimately disabled handlers. Imposing specific tests on SD/handler teams would mean that some folks with significant need would be unable to have a SD. Even so, it is widely accepted that wherever it is possible, a service dog should complete a Canine Good Citizen test to determine suitability prior to beginning their service dog training and take a Public Access Test at the direction of a professional trainer to ensure that the dog is ready to work outside the home. Generally speaking, disabled folks who rely on service dogs work very hard at ensuring that their dogs can perform as needed, and do so without public inconvenience.

As I mentioned, there are many companies that cater to the needs of service dog handlers. They provide goods to better facilitate the team, and in general, make life easier. They don't ask for any kind of verification either. The difference here is, they don't tell you how to pass off your pet as a service dog just so you can take them everywhere with you. Free My Paws does, and they seem to have no problem at all with what they are doing. Check out this video: Free My Paws website video . There is so much wrong with this I don't even know where to begin.

Let's start with the Q&A section (which is, btw, exceptionally offensive to folks who have legitimate disabilities, pretty much ensuring that only fraudulent users are going to shop FMP)

If you yourself would like to perpetrate fraud, be warned. These folks gloss over some pretty important points in order to convince the pet-owning public that anyone can take their dog anywhere, it's easy. I won't go down the whole Q&A list, but I'll pull out some of the more disgusting examples:

Q: What is a Service Animal?
A. The ADA defines a Service Animal as any Guide Dog, Signal Dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability, so long as the person’s disability falls under the ADA’s definition of physical or mental impairment or condition.


Here is the ADA's definition (as found here):
"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

As much as FMP would like to gloss over the "training, work and task" part to encourage "Joe pet owner" to just throw a vest on his pet dog, that part is the essence of a service dog. Yes, they do mention "training", but they don't elaborate and they stop short of discussing the severity and reality of actual disabilities.

Here's my favorite:
Q: I don’t think I am disabled, so do I qualify?
A: You may not think that you’re disabled—yet, you still may be legally “disabled” under the ADA. Just go through our Disability Self-Assessment Test which tracks the ADA’s definitional hoops.

Are you F'ing kidding me? Believe you me, folks with disabilities that are severe enough to warrant the assistance of a service dog are not asking themselves this question. FMP has to know that, but they don't care. They encourage people to find an excuse, a reason that entitles them to take their pet wherever they go. It's no better than "I have a touch of asthma sometimes, I'm entitled to park in a handicapped spot".

And this, the real purpose of these folks:
Q: Does my ID Card expire? A. Yes, the ID Cards are valid for 1 year. In order to remain compliant with most transport administrations requirement that documentation be current within one year, we require our clients to renew their IDs each year. Note that the same rules may also apply to any Doctor's certificates you provide airlines when travelling. If you purchased your ID as part of a kit, an ID renewal is available for $19.99 per annum (normally $39.99).

Guess what folks, as any legitimate service dog handler will tell you, ID cards are NOT NECESSARY.

From the ADA: When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Even so, ID cards can make life easier. And they can be purchase at any service dog store for about $20. And they don't expire. At least they mentioned a letter from a doctor, which DOES need to be current within one year. While medical documentation of the specifics of your disability are not allowed, if you want to travel it is expected that you provide a letter from your doctor stating that you are disabled and require a service dog. I'm sure there are doctors who have no problem at all with lying, but at least this requirement makes it more difficult for the fakes. Not only does a person need to have a disability under the law, they must have a DOCUMENTED disability, and a doctor's letter confirming this. Nobody is allowed to ask what the disability is, but you must have proof. In my experience (and I fly with my dog regularly), transportation agencies are far more concerned with doctor-verification than with some ID you purchased online.

I guess the most reprehensible part of what Free My Paws is doing, is exploiting the ADA and in turn, risking the rights of legitimate service dog handlers. They are saying (and carefully, within barely legal parameters) "Hey, this is vague enough that YOU TOO may get to experience the joys of bringing your pet with you everywhere, come spend money here and we'll help make that happen". And why is this not okay? Well, the easy answer is because it makes light of the plight of those with legitimate need. But the biggest consequence that I've personally witness is the prominence of ill-mannered "service dogs". Pet owners largely don't grasp the reality of having your dog go with you everywhere, and are unprepared (as are the dogs) for the experience. I have seen dogs licking plates in restaurants, running off-leash at the beach, barking in movie theaters and walking up to strangers for a pat on the head, all while wearing a vest declaring them a "service dog". NONE of this behavior is okay or acceptable while on the job, but it's what the public sees. It's what gatekeepers at businesses see, it's what the travel industry sees. And it makes life that much harder for those with real need, whose dogs are trained and well-prepared for the rigors of public access. If it continues, it may force changes in the laws that could significantly harm the cause of the truly disabled. In short (yeah, I know...too late for that), Free my Paws is doing harm to the disabled community, just to make a buck, and it's reprehensible.

On the upside, fraudulent service dog handlers are frequently 'outed' by their dog's behavior, and the public does have recourse: From the ADA: A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.

While it's true that real service dogs make mistakes, they are few and far between  and tend to be promptly dealt with by the handler.

I know I shouldn't take the behavior of  Free My Paws so personally, but they minimize the legitimate difficulties of living with a disability by turning it into nothing more than an excuse to take your dog everywhere. It's disgusting, and I wish there was something that could be done about it. I guess the only thing that I or people like me can do is be sure to purchase our equipment from legitimate sources and to spread the word. I know that within our community at the very least, any dog sporting FMP equipment will be immediately identifiable as a fraud.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Feelin' hot, hot, hot...

Swamp cooler from Ruffwear
We're having a heat wave, or so it would seem. We have been fortunate here in the Northeast; while it has been hotter than is usual for this time of year, it hasn't been horrid. In other parts of the country though, folks haven't been so lucky. Heat can be difficult to escape. It isn't like the cold when you can just layer up or hunker down inside. There are only so many layers you can remove (or should remove), and even if it were legal to run around "layer-less", it would still be hot. And it's not just too hot for people. Animals can suffer terribly in the heat too.

I have been working on tweaking my "hot-weather dog-survival" system for many years and I think I have it down. Maybe there is more tweaking on the horizon, but I feel I have a system that works. If it works for a service dog (who doesn't always have the option of just avoiding the outside) then I suspect it could be helpful for pets too. I'll start with a couple of "Don'ts":

1) DON'T SHAVE YOUR DOG. Having a coat in the summer is NOT the equivalent of "wearing a fur coat" to us. We sweat through our skin. Covering our skin makes it near impossible for us to cool down. A dog's coat insulates...against the heat as well as the cold. They do not sweat through their skin, so having a coat does not prevent them from cooling. There is also some evidence that shaving a dog can stress the thyroid (Google shaved dogs and thyroid, but here's a link to start: ). It's literally and figuratively not cool.

The other big "Don't" is:

2) DON'T WET DOWN THE WHOLE DOG. Water in the coat can actually trap heat next to the skin. Wetting down the dog's chest/belly/paws will do much more to cool them off than wetting the whole body. The exception here, is a dog that has access to a pool or lake (or ocean). Being immersed in cool water for a period of time can be very cooling, unlike getting wet and then hanging about with a wet coat.

While we are on the subject of how dogs keep cool, I would feel negligent if I didn't point out that dogs absolutely need to be able to pant. I realize that sounds like a big ol' "duh", but I have seen an alarming number of dogs being walked in fabric muzzles (or leather ones that fit like fabric) and that's something that should NEVER happen. The only type of muzzle that is suitable for exercise is a properly fitted basket muzzle. They still prevent biting, but they also allow the dog to breathe and pant and drink. Fabric muzzles hold the dog's mouth closed. It is the equivalent of us wearing a garbage bag in the sun. These muzzles were never intended for use while exercising, but only for very short-term use like at the vet's office or at the groomer's. Okay, moving along now...

Here is my list of "Do's" with a few product recommendations thrown in for good measure:-)

1) Do exercise your dog early in the morning or late in the evening on a hot day. I get up very early some days because mornings just work best for us. Not only has the sun not baked everything yet, but it's less buggy and I get the park almost to myself.

2) Bring cool water for your dog, always. I am still surprised by how eager my dog is to drink cool water when we are out and about. He is a raw-fed dog, so at home he really doesn't drink much. When we are out on a hot day though, he will drink a LOT. I always carry a water bottle for him, either in a sling or a back pack, and I always fill it with ice. My favorite water bottle is this one: H2O4K9 I like their sling too.

3) Take plenty of breaks in the shade. I try to avoid being out during the hottest part of the day, but if I need to (and consequently my dog does too) I try to get some place where there is air conditioning, or to at least find a cool spot to relax a bit.

4) Cool-down coats DO help! You can wet down the coat so your dog gets the benefit of evaporative cooling without having water in his/her coat. It's important to note here that they tend to work better when they are damp, not so much when they are dripping wet. I have two of them for different reasons. I keep this one: Oaisis Cooling Coat in my back-pack because it's super light-weight and works well under Murphy's working harness. I have also found that its slightly reflective fabric helps a bit even when it's dry. At the very least it seems to prevent the hot sun from soaking into Murphy's black coat. The other cool coat that I really like is this one: Ruffwear Swamp Cooler , which I consider the 'big gun'. This is the one I take to Florida with us when we go. I soak it, I wring it out and I clip Murphy's ID right to it and use it alone (we exercise on the beach in Florida where I'm not likely to need his harness). I'm always amazed by how cool it feels underneath!

5) Be mindful of hot pavement! It gets really hot, really fast. Teach your dog to wear boots ( help here: Training a Dog to Wear Booties ), and then use them if they need to be on pavement on a hot day. Your dog's paw pads can literally cook on the tarmac, so either use boots or avoid it altogether. I like these: Ruffwear Grip Trex boots  because they fit my dog well, have soles that are thick enough to insulate against the heat and because I could buy them individually for the same price as a full set (that's a very convenient policy if your dog is like mine and has rear paws and front paws that are different sizes). Because your dog also sweats through his or her paws, make sure to take the boots off periodically if you're out for any length of time. During your "break in the shade" is the perfect time to let paws breathe:-)

6) Dogs need eye protection too! As much as your eyes appreciate the UV protection of a good pair of sunglasses, so would your dog's eyes. If I am out for the day with my dog and I need sunglasses, I make sure to afford him the same care. I have found these: Doggles  to be both readily accepted, and to stay put. They block UV's, they are shatterproof and they don't fog. They are an affordable solution to damaging UV rays.

7) Put sunblock on the pink spots. I have a black dog now so it's not a concern, but I used to have a dog with a big, pink spot on the top of his nose. Because the hair was so sparse in that area, it was quite prone to sunburn. I made sure to put a good sunblock on it, and it did the trick. No more sun burn:-) Dogs have skin too, so if you see any pink, make sure to protect it:-)

8) Home management. Make sure there is a place for your dog to escape the heat at home. I have air conditioning because I am a wuss and I like a temperate environment; Murphy sure appreciates that too. At the very least, keep a room shaded, keep the air moving and throw a few ice cubes in the drinking water. There are cool beds and cool mats on the market too. I have never used them so I can't make any personal recommendations, but if you have experience with them, feel free to comment! They seem like a great idea. I know a lot of folks who use kiddie-pools too, and their dogs seem to enjoy them a great deal. Keep them clean, keep the water cool and make sure your dog has a place in the shade to dry off and they are a GREAT way to beat the heat.

And of course it goes without saying: NEVER, EVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN A PARKED CAR IN THE SUMMER. Even if you leave the car running with the AC on, a car can stall. I know of more than one police dog who lost their life that way. Even with all the windows open, the car can still be hot as Hades. DON'T DO IT. Leave your dog at home if you can't take him out of the car with you. Don't stop and run an errand "just for a minute"; run your errands another time. NO DOGS LEFT IN CARS. PERIOD. Okay, sermon over:-P

If you have any other cool ideas to help your dog enjoy the summer and beat the heat, please feel free to share!

Friday, July 6, 2012

For want of new feet...

If you know me, you know I am a walkaholic. I walk for my sanity and I walk to burn off the excess physical energy that builds from my current, unnatural state of horselessness. I walk just to stir the mental pot; there's something about doing a calming and repetitive physical activity that stimulates the mind in a positive way. I walk because it's less frustrating than pacing, because I feel like I'm doing something, getting somewhere. Sometimes I walk because it's all I can do. Except now, I can't.

Apparently, there are consequences (who knew?) to walking obsessively. I suppose there didn't have to be, but I guess I never entertained the possibilities until it was too late. I've always been able to walk forever, and I totally took for granted that it was all good. Enter: plantar fasciitis. The first time I heard those words, I was all "planter wha?". I damaged the muscles in the bottoms of my feet. How stupid is that? I had never heard of such a thing, and now I'm hearing that it's really common. Maybe if I had heard of it before, I could have prevented it. Wearing 'dead' shoes and having high arches (and a big ol' rear-end) are all contributing factors. I could have at least done something about the shoes, maybe. But I didn't. So now it's all about dealing with the "after-ness" of the damage. Damn.

Unfortunately, I also tend to subscribe to the "work through it" notion of dealing with physical pain. I have had pain in my feet for a year. I iced them after walking. I bought good shoes with special insoles. I took Advil. But I did NOT stop walking. Now, the pain is excruciating and I have no choice. DAMN. Now, I have special shoes to wear when I sleep and I am in physical therapy. Yes, I screwed my own self up that badly. Who does that? Me, apparently (well, and my daughter. She runs and isn't great about taking days off. She ran herself into a stress fracture a couple of years ago. Apparently it's hereditary;-) But as painful as it is, I can't help but think it's kind of funny, too. It's the usual kind of weird and twisted sort of situation that I tend to find myself in. And as if I'm not drop-dead-sexy enough, those special, night-time boots just make me that much hotter. You should see me struggle into them at night. Even better, I'm not supposed to walk on them, so if I have to get up to use the bathroom in the night, I have to take them off first and then struggle into them all over again. Because I'm not my sharpest in the middle of the night, it's no easy task and one that I am thankful there are no witnesses for. The limping around my apartment saying "ow ow ow ow" isn't exactly what I had in mind, either. I am not enjoying myself.

Physical therapy might be a bright light in the distance though. I've had one treatment that was more of an assessment, but they promised it would help...and that I could use the stationary bikes. I am being diligent about doing my stretches and wearing my special shoes, and maybe I can take out 'the crazy' on the bikes. Maybe, just maybe, I can get through my unfortunate incarceration with the shred of sanity that I possess, intact. I am pretty used to being crazy, but not at all used to any kind of physical limitation, and I gotta tell ya, I have no intention of getting used to it.

Until my feet have healed, I will make the best of it, do what I'm supposed to do, and continue to sing "I'm too sexy" to myself every time I boot up for the night, just to remind myself that in spite of current, outward appearance, I'm still fabulous:-)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

There used to be this thing called subtlety...

Once upon a time, in a land long ago, there was an honorable thing called "manners". Children were raised to say "please" and "thank you", to give the best seats to the adults and to have self control. Adults felt no compelling need to let every word they think just fall from their mouths, they knew how to speak politely to each other even in disagreement. A handshake was as good as a contract. It was such a lovely place, where people had class and respect for each other. And lo, they even had respect for themselves! What a world it was, and what a life. And what a shock to be tossed headlong into this one.

I walk uncomfortably in a graceless world, hearing and seeing ignorant and unapologeticly rude political commentary. Children are actively and openly disrespectful. Shows like "Jersey Shore", that showcase and promote the most vapid, shallow and tactless of human behavior, are the popular programs of the day. Self-centeredness is misconstrued as good boundaries, and self-esteem is related only to shallow appearances and pursuits. Where is honor and depth?

I see goodness sometimes, so I know it exists. It exists in more places than it would initially appear. Sometimes it's hard to find because it lacks the garishness and drama of common, attention-seeking behavior. It is calm, subtle, and persistent. It persists in spite of obnoxious narcissism. It persists in spite of  a frequent and tenacious need to shock and disgust with a complete lack of couth or accuracy. It persists in action and effort, contrary to the verbal explosion of never-ending noise that surrounds it. I look for good everywhere, and get better and better at spotting it.

I know good people, and I know great people. The great are self-contained, confident. They don't need to constantly shout about themselves and their opinions in all possible venues. They know how to use language graciously. Clearly, I am not great, but I am blessed to know great people. They don't talk but they act. They don't go on about their opinions, but implement changes that they know are right. They have enough respect for themselves that they respect other people. Their respect of others means that they speak clearly but diplomatically in all venues. A great person knows how to make a point without put-downs or sarcasm; they have respect and reason on their side and that's enough. It's good to remember.

I can't go back to a previous time or place. What I can do, though, is bring the good things forward with me. It means being mindful and making an effort to avoid getting caught by some of the more ridiculous scenarios that currently exist. It means remembering to be who i am in spite of who I'm dealing with. No easy task, but perhaps worth the effort.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Dark Side of the Lighter Side

It's raining outside. I like a day like this once in awhile. Rainy days give me the excuse I need to hunker indoors and get indoor things done. I'm probably one of the few people who looks outside in the morning, and upon seeing rain says "Oh cool!" Rain means a lazy day for me. I realize that whether or not I have a lazy day is entirely up to me, so perhaps I should be more clear: rain means a justified lazy day.

If it's nice and sunny outdoors, I feel compelled to be out in it. I was raised to be an "outdoor kitty", to spend as much time as possible taking full advantage of every bit of sun. We would swim, ride our horses, work in the garden, dig for worms, read in the grass or just sun ourselves until the sun started to go down. Almost every summertime memory that I have is of being outdoors. To this day, I have a really difficult time relaxing indoors when it's sunny. I don't have many of my former outdoor activities to keep me busy any more, but I spend time with my dog and walk until my feet are killing me (plantar fasciitis sucks). To stay indoors comfortably, I need an excuse. Rain is that excuse. It's raining outside.

I have been listening to the rain, enjoying a cup of coffee and perusing other blogs. I love to read blogs. I love to read the thoughts of other people, to understand different perspectives and to learn something new. Reading a blog is almost like reading someone's personal journal sometimes. Unlike an article written in journalist fashion, blogs tend to have a much more 'human' feel that I appreciate. It's like someone is taking the time to share a piece of themselves.

People set their blogs up to reflect what they are about, and each blog has it's own unique 'feel'; from a reader's perspective its the online version of visiting peoples' homes. I totally dig the individuality, the colors, the images and the graphics that people choose to represent them. More insight into that person's uniqueness.

I have noticed, in spite of its title, that my blog is perhaps one of the darkest blogs out there. Maybe the darkness on my blog is the lighter side of me, hehe. Or maybe I like to occasionally provide light via the content. Occasionally. Maybe those brief snippets are the exception that proves the rule; the things that keep us hanging on just a little longer, just in case...

I don't think I intended to make it dark. It was a subconscious thing. When I chose my background, I thought "yes, here's a haunted room...this is what I know..." It made me feel simultaneously comforted and just a little edgy; therefore normal. Maybe I thought you might feel and appreciate it too, that it would invite you to come in, to sit down and stay awhile. My font is a little crazy. Self explanatory.  But it makes me think: should I brighten things up, and make my blog a lighter, Lighter Side of Darkness? Or do I keep it as is, letting the light, when it occurs, be that much brighter for the contrast? Hmmm.....Things to think about on a rainy day...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The meaning of life...sort of

I don't react well to bad news. Okay, that's an understatement. I am the Queen of Totally Freaking Out. It should be bestowed upon me as an official tile. Yes, I really am that good. It sucks, to be honest. The ease with which I panic makes me want to panic. And it really is as dysfunctional as it sounds. Okay, so then what happens? Well, after going completely around the bend, I get logical. That's the part I like.

I got notice today that my rent is going up. I kind of expected that it would, and was already anticipating having to pull another 50 bucks or so out of thin air. I've had numerous and seemingly arbitrary expense hikes over the years; some of them have been life altering, but mostly they just serve to keep the ground ever shifting beneath my feet. Wouldn't want to feel too safe and secure now, would we? Well, maybe not, but I'll come back to that. I think having people shooting each other in my parking lot (one resulting in murder) is enough to tweak anybody's equilibrium all by itself, but it wouldn't be full-on freak-worthy without a rent hike. And this year's rent hike is of the life-altering variety: a whopping $140/month increase (which completely fails to be offset by my $25/month raise). Yes, I know. I'm getting totally hosed. I assure you, I freaked out fully and completely in a manner that would make any bat-sh** crazy, straight-jacketed nut-job (and it's perfectly okay to say that if I am one) person proud. I gave Crazy-town a thorough visit, saw all the sights and the museum, and I even had some coffee at the Crazy-town Cafe. So now what? As tempting as it is to settle in at Crazy town, it totally falls into the "great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there" category.

Okay, logic time. Cool, Aquarian logic. It's time to go back to survival mode...I've done it before. I don't want to do it again, but as I think I may have mentioned a time or two, my life in it's current incarnation has very little to do with what I want. So why not take it to the extreme? I guess I'm railing against the idea a bit because I thought (okay hoped, but close enough) that by now, I would be in a place where things were getting better, but instead I'm having to let even more go. The stressful part is that there really isn't much left. I thought about giving up food, but apparently that's contraindicated for anyone who wishes to remain alive, and I definitely do. I can't give up the internet because I need it. I can't help but believe that the only way out of this situation is to keep my nose to the grindstone with my writing, and to be persistent. I don't know why I believe that, but it's something that lives on a gut level so I'm going with it. It's the only certainty I have. I also need to learn how to not let the second book become a distraction from finishing up the work on the first. And if that's not bad enough, the ideas for number 3 are already starting to float around like dark little shadows in shallow water; not distinct in shape but definitely present.  Maybe I can escape into my own stories once the stories aren't about me. At least that seems appealing. The first book is my story, I escaped the house in real life so there's no desire to escape into it in fantasy. The second book is purely fiction. The second is whatever I want it to be, and I can't begin to tell you how much that notion appeals to me.

 In the world of my stories, it's all about what I want, unlike my life right now. In the world of my stories, I really have a say, I control what happens. And it's AWESOME. I don't think that's a horrid place to be, and it's one of those things that can't be taken away randomly for some arbitrary reason. It's mine, free and clear. And it will assist me in making my real life mine too, I have no doubt. I can take heart in knowing that no matter what happens, "someday" gets a little closer with every passing moment.

Maybe that's not terribly logical, but this is: I have a roof, I have a bed. I have enough to survive. And yes, Mom, I can move my arms and legs. I have hope, and I have dreams too, and I'm lucky enough to posses tools that just may bring those dreams to fruition. Hey, it's much better odds than playing the lottery;-)