Success story

This is Maggie. She’s a good dog, but when she came to the shelter, she wasn’t a very well-socialized dog. What she lacks in social skills, she makes up in size, which is unfortunate. When you’re as big and strong as Maggie, manners are important.

Maggie had a bad habit of lunging and snarling at other dogs who barked at her from behind fences.

Natalie, one of the other shelter volunteers, contacted me for advice. I recommended a gradual process of desensitization that involved establishing herself as Alpha to gain Maggie’s confidence, then demanding that Maggie sit and stay within sight of the kennels, gradually working her closer and closer to them, until she could sit still no matter what the other dogs were doing a few feet away.

Natalie started working with Maggie on Wednesday. She got the other volunteers on board, so they’d set the same expectations for Maggie whenever they walked her, and this morning, I watched this happen:

That pretty little brindle pibble in the background is Brenley. Maggie and Brenley do not get along. Brenley barked at Maggie, but Maggie was focused on Natalie and sat and stayed as she was told.

When Natalie praised Maggie for being a good girl, Maggie rolled over and clamored to have her belly rubbed.

If you know anything about pack instinct, you know why this was a huge deal for Maggie. Rolling over, belly up and feet in the air, is an extremely vulnerable position for a dog. It’s a submissive posture that says, “I’m no threat to you” — kind of like when humans put their hands up to show they’re unarmed.

I expected our incremental desensitization project to work, but I had no idea it would work this fast or this well.

Maggie is going to make an excellent pet for somebody. Bravo to Natalie and the other volunteers who made the effort to train her.

Emily

Little victories

Things I can put in the win column this week:

1. My sophomores did a writing and peer-editing assignment using the End-of-Course exam rubric and a form I made for them. Their essays were solid, and their critiques were even better.

2. The child I am teaching to read has gained at least two grade levels since August. I intend to double that by May.

3. My journalism students are finally getting the hang of proofreading. I awarded bonus points to three kids today for making good catches — two for content issues (an incorrect name in a cutline and two jumps that didn’t match) and one for a design issue of the sort I’ve seen veteran copy editors overlook.

4. I came up with a project today that will — if it goes according to plan — resolve a conflict with a colleague, provide some multidisciplinary collaboration, and give a student a good shot at winning a statewide journalism award and several FFA competitions next year.

I’m tired and ready to spend a little quality time with my fictional banshees this weekend, but it’s been a good week.

Emily

The kids are all right.

This is one of my fifth-graders, using inDesign — the industry standard for desktop publishing software — to lay out the next issue of our school newspaper.

The kids are all right.

BTW, that Promethean board is a godsend for design training. I can sit on the futon and coach her through each step without having to hover over her shoulder. It’s a fantastic tool.

Emily

A preview

Here, as promised, is an excerpt from the first draft of the prologue to my next novel. Enjoy.

Prologue
Nov. 1, 2005 ~ Coldwater, N.M.

Sierra watched the brown sugar disappear into the whiskey as Miss Shirley stirred it into the bottom of a feed-store mug. The coffee maker had just finished burbling, and as she pulled away the carafe, the machine released one final, defiant drop that hit the warming plate and evaporated with a hiss. Miss Shirley ignored it, pouring hot coffee into the mug and adding a splash of cream before setting it in front of Sierra and handing her a spoon.

“Give it a good stir and see how you like it,” she said.

Sierra stirred and tasted. “Eat your heart out, Bailey’s,” she said.

Miss Shirley laughed, stirring her own mug. “There are no shortcuts to Irish coffee,” she said. “Either you use good Irish whiskey and heavy cream, or you’re drinking hot chocolate.”

Something scraped against the side of the building, just under the kitchen window, and Sierra could hear the wind yowling across the llano, an unearthly sound that made her shiver in spite of the warm coffee. “How do you get used to that?” she wondered aloud.

Miss Shirley sat down across from Sierra.

“The Mexicans call her La Llorona,” she said. “The weeping woman. My ancestors knew her by other names. The Scottish called her bean nighe; the Irish knew her as bean sidhe — the banshee. She and I are old friends.” She looked at Sierra over her coffee. Her white hair framed her face, barely restrained by a set of silver-trimmed combs, and for a split-second, looking into her pale blue eyes, Sierra could have believed she was the banshee, an ancient Celtic spirit far from home, howling across the high desert and pining for the forests of Ireland.

Sierra was silent for a while, listening to the bean sidhe, meeting her doppelganger’s eyes and wondering just what she’d seen in her years at the Tumbleweed. Miss Shirley didn’t smile, exactly, but her crows’ feet deepened just slightly, and Sierra got the impression the older woman was amused by her quiet response.

“How does a nice Scottish-Irish girl with a command of Celtic folklore wind up running a motel in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico?” Sierra asked at last.

“I wondered when you’d ask something useful.” The crinkle around the corner of Miss Shirley’s mouth deepened to a wry smile. “It began, as so many things did, with the potato famine.”

She disappeared into a back room for a few minutes. Sierra sipped coffee, letting the whiskey warm her, and wondered whom the bean sidhe was pre-emptively mourning this evening. …

You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

Spotted this evening as I was coming down First Street on my way home from the dojo. Dollhouse B&B has a bay window, and this Major Award was displayed prominently in it.

I am delighted to see that someone in town shares my fondness for A Christmas Story. I show the film to my sophomores every year as an intro to my narrative essay unit, as the flagpole scene is a near-perfect example of narrative structure.

Emily