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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

Welcome to the jungle

As longtime readers know, I am powerless to resist an opportunity to meander through a greenhouse. If it’s cold or overcast outside, or I’m having a hard day, or I just need a little boost in some direction, meandering around a nursery works wonders on my mood. There’s something about the warm, moist air, the vibrant colors, and the smells inside a greenhouse that energizes me.

This fall, I found two nurseries worthy of a wander: Coulter Gardens in Amarillo and Rehm’s Nursery in Albuquerque.

Both businesses carry a pretty nice assortment of houseplants, and I’ve spent the past three or four months rebuilding the collection of plants I had to rehome when we moved.

Above are a few of my recent acquisitions, which I’ve already had to repot a time or two. My long-term goal is to turn my office into a veritable jungle, with hanging baskets, terrariums, and shelves full of plants everywhere. I think I’ve got a pretty respectable start on that project now.

Emily

Drive my car

Once again, I’ve managed to neglect my blog because I was busy doing cool stuff that I should have been blogging. If you’re still with me, thanks for hanging in there.

One of the cool things I’ve been doing lately is detailed over at my teaching blog, Foolish Wand-Waving. Hop over there if you’re interested in seeing the inexpensive stim tools I’ve been cobbling together from dollar-store materials.

Another cool thing I did recently was buy a new car. I wasn’t sure this was cool at first. I wanted to drive the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar a million miles, but at 220,000, it landed in the shop with a mysterious engine problem, and school was about to start — so the day before the new semester began, I bought a Chevy Spark.

It’s not the Dreamcar, and it’s not a stick shift, but it has three redeeming features:

1. A CVT. Less fun than a stick, but optimal fuel economy.

2. A real-time mpg meter to facilitate hypermiling.

3. A trial subscription to Sirius XM, where I discovered there is an entire radio station devoted exclusively to the Beatles. Where has this been all my life?

The CVT and mileage meter are probably the main reasons I’m getting an average of 43.2 mpg (and climbing), but it can’t hurt that I am in zero hurry to arrive anywhere when I’m driving around with the Fab Four on the stereo.

Fine, Spark. You’re not the Dreamcar, but maybe I’ll love you. (Beep-beep’m … you know the rest.)

The third cool thing I did was start a free obedience class at Paws and Claws. Our first lesson was this morning. Seven dogs and their humans showed up, and Ramona happily served as my teaching assistant, demonstrating “heel,” “sit,” and “stay” as smoothly as the average Westminster champion.

I gave her a piece of bacon jerky when we got home, but I think the bigger treat for her was getting to see her old friends at the shelter. We adopted her almost a year ago, but she obviously remembered the volunteers who’d taken care of her when she was a puppy:

Woman cuddling an Australian shepherd mix
Ramona was delighted to see her old friends at the shelter.

I’m proud of Ramona. I knew she was going to be good at obedience, but she’s exceeded my wildest expectations. I suspect she’ll be able to go for walks without a leash before the winter is out.

Emily

 

Serendipity

So I’ve been plotting to adopt another Chihuahua for several months. I wanted to do it as soon as school let out, but then I had surgery, so I decided to wait until I recovered.

Once my doctor released me to resume normal activities, I sent an application to a Chihuahua rescue group in Albuquerque, but after an initial flurry of emails back and forth, they went silent, and I couldn’t get a response to my questions so we could advance the adoption process. I’d just about given up and was about ready to go to one of the shelters in Amarillo or Lubbock.

Ron and I were at the feed store Thursday when we bumped into a couple of board members from our local shelter. One of them was supposed to do my home visit for the Chihuahua group, but they never got back to her, either. Before my surgery, I’d been training dogs out at the shelter, but between recovering from surgery and fighting off the tension headaches that followed (protip: If you’re recovering from surgery, DO NOT spend the entire recovery period reading fanfic on your smartphone in bed), I hadn’t had a chance to get back out there all summer.

In my absence, someone had brought in a 13-year-old Chihuahua whose owner was ill and could no longer care for her.

As soon as we finished up our feed-store run, we headed to the shelter and came home with Tootsie, who adjusted to life in our pack very quickly and is contentedly napping on a pillow under my desk as I write this. I am not sure how I got by without a Chihuahua for the past 10 months, but I don’t ever want to go that long without one again. It’s like trying to get by without bees, chickens, or green chile.

New dog. She looks more alarmed than she is.
Man holding smiling Chihuahua
Tootsie is more tolerant of Ron than Lillian was.
Why does my dog look like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”?

That last picture is from our trip to Clovis on Saturday. Tootsie was sitting on the floorboard, watching Ron and making her very best “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” face.

She’s a character.

Oh, and I managed to get back out to the shelter today. If you want to see pictures of the pooches I worked with, look up @redforkhippie on Instagram.

Emily

Best. Final. Ever.

So I gave my creative-writing final this week. That class has only three students, so instead of giving a conventional final, I walked in yesterday, handed each kid a Barbie doll, and gave them their choice of three writing prompts involving a sentient Barbie.

Prompt 1: Barbie lives in a Dream House owned by a 9-year-old girl with affluent parents and a bad habit of losing small objects. Barbie has several housemates who may or may not be sentient. She has a crush on one, and another is incredibly annoying. She has access to a Corvette, Jeep, and RV. Despite her luxurious surroundings, Barbie is dissatisfied with her life and has resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms. She views the 9-year-old as a destructive monster, benevolent deity, or obnoxious landlady (your choice).

Prompt 2: Barbie lives in a crude dollhouse lovingly constructed from a cardboard box by her owner, a precocious 9-year-old girl from a working-class family. Barbie is the girl’s only store-bought toy; everything else is a hand-me-down, yard-sale find, or something homemade. Despite her meager surroundings, Barbie is satisfied with her life. She and the child are each other’s only friend. Barbie wants to help the child, who is being mistreated, but is hampered by the limitations of being a plastic doll.

Prompt 3: Barbie is living rough in a city alley after falling out of a dumpster that was being emptied into a garbage truck. Once a 4-year-old girl’s favorite toy, she was separated from her owner through some tragedy and is now fending for herself. She either desperately misses the child or is grateful to be rid of her. She is in mortal danger from some threat. She has no survival skills and is learning on the fly, acquiring or creating her own shelter and other necessities in whatever way you deem appropriate for a small plastic doll.

I’m not sure this prompt would have worked with another group, but these girls are clever, caustic, and fully capable of turning Barbie’s perfect pink fantasy world into a biting commentary on modern capitalism, a dystopian hellscape, or an existential nightmare.

They’re supposed to be turning in their final drafts tomorrow. I cannot WAIT to read them. I’ve promised the girls that anybody who makes an A on the final gets to keep her Barbie, so they are MOTIVATED.

Emily

Outdoor office

I bought a new laptop a few weeks ago. It’s much smaller, lighter, and sturdier than my old one, which makes it just right for using outdoors.

I really like the idea of taking my lesson plans and curriculum-writing projects outside to work on while the dogs play in the yard. I like my home office, but fresh air and sunshine are always better than sitting inside on a pretty day, and this is the time of year when we’re likely to get a few pretty days.

With that in mind, I’ve been surfing Pinterest and poring over hardware-store websites in search of furniture of the right size, stability, and durability to use in an outdoor office.

Most of the ready-made stuff I found was either too light to withstand New Mexico winds, too top-heavy to withstand regular assaults by a blind rat terrier and a clumsy shepherd puppy, too finicky to sit up straight on uneven ground, or too expensive to meet with Ron’s approval. And none of it seemed to fit my style or go well with anything else in my yard.

As I was winterizing the pond and trying to figure out what to do with the cinderblocks I’d been using to support the now-obsolete clarifier and gravity-fed external filtration system, inspiration struck.

Monitor-riser mode. If I want to work on a deeper surface with the laptop keyboard lower, I just move that top paver down.

Twenty minutes’ worth of elbow grease and a few flat pavers yielded a dog-proof, windproof, mid-century-inspired, faux-Brutalist desk and stool with a top that easily converts into a monitor riser if I feel like bringing out a keyboard and mouse.

Ignore the color variations. Some of the blocks were wet because I’d hosed dirt and cobwebs off of them.

I rummaged around in the carport shed and found a couple of bungee cords just the right length to anchor an outdoor pillow (purchased on sale for $3.50 at the dollar store) to the pavers on the seat.

Bungee cords anchor the cushion to the seat.

I test-drove it while blogging the day I built it, and it works just about right. If I end up using it a lot, I might see if I can rustle up some breeze blocks somewhere and expand it into a bigger and more ornate desk with some built-in storage, but for now, it’ll work just fine for typing up lesson plans and posting blog entries on sunny afternoons when it’s just too nice to stay indoors, no matter how much desk work I need to do.

Emily

Winterizing the pond

While I was working in the garden last week, I decided to do some cleanup work around the yard and start getting the pond ready for winter.

Sometimes winterizing includes a water change. Sometimes it involves skimming out fallen leaves. But it always involves removing floating plants and bringing a few inside before they freeze. Too many times, I’ve neglected to do that in a timely fashion, and I’ve found myself scooping slimy, dead, decaying water hyacinths and sludgy remnants of what used to be water lettuce out of the pond in the spring because fall turned to winter faster than I expected, and I didn’t get the plants out before they froze.

Gross.

Not this year. Last weekend, I used a pitchfork to scoop most of the plants out of the pond, leaving just a few lonely specimens floating on the surface to provide cover for the goldfish until it gets cold enough for them to go dormant.

If you look closely, you can see some of the fish under the water.

When I removed the plants, I was delighted to discover all six of the feeder goldfish I’d dumped out there this summer were alive and well.

I moved a few plants into a bucket of water and stuck it in a sunny corner just outside a south-facing window, where it should stay above freezing all winter.

Hedging my bets, I also half-filled a miniature washtub with water, threw a hyacinth, a clump of water lettuce, and a few stray bits of duckweed in there, and parked it in the living-room window, where it should make a nice centerpiece for the next few months.

With nothing but fish and algae to muck up the water, the pond doesn’t really need the elaborate, multi-stage filtration system I designed for it last spring, so I disassembled the whole setup and replaced it with a variant on the biofilter I had on my pond in Cape. I upgraded the original design by placing the pump inside a half-gallon sherbet tub with 3/8-inch holes drilled in it, wedging chunks of old memory foam around it, and setting the whole thing inside a one-gallon ice-cream tub with 1/4-inch holes drilled in it. I slipped a layer of Scotch-Brite pads between the tubs, providing additional filtration, and anchored the lid with a bungee cord.

After I put away the excess filter components, I was left with a stack of cinderblocks just right for another project I’d been considering for several months. I’ll show you that one tomorrow.

Emily