Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The 2011 Cluster - Part Two

So here's the rest of the cluster report...
November in New England can mean any number of things: snow, sleet, sideways rain, constant drizzle, black ice, mittens, 40 mph winter winds, highs in the mid-30's....In fact on Wednesday (Thursday was my travel day) we had several inches of really heavy wet snow - it was a pretty drive through the mountains though!

But, for all four days of the agility portion of the cluster (Friday-Monday) the weather was absolutely perfect! Highs were in the mid to upper 50's, the sun was out, light breeze. Dogs were perfectly comfortable in the van with windows and doors open. Lows at night were in the mid to low 40's. The buildings stayed pretty cool during the entire weekend, most folks were comfortable in sweatshirts or polo shirts - perfect Woo agility temperatures! No one froze walking their dogs around grounds - it was a bit of a bummer arriving to the trial site in the dark and then leaving the trial site in the dark - but I couldn't have custom ordered better weather, even for an indoor trial. Imagine New England in November in a t-shirt!
And on Thanksgiving I give thanks for my dogs - who are 
probably the kindest souls I have ever had a chance to 
know. Above: Kipling and Murphy hunker down to enjoy 
chewies together. Note the matching 'froggie' chewing style.

Secondly, let me just say how much I love my agility friends - truly awesome human-beings to whom I am so so so grateful to count among my friends. Just awesome people. When non-dog friends (I have a few) want to know why I spend so much time on the road, training my dogs, in various barns and backyards, spend so much money on 'dogs' - it's clear that they don't understand the community that exists in our sport. That most competitors root for everyone else, sure there are exceptions - but we're out there to have fun with our dogs and fun with our friends on the weekend. Some folks tackle mountains - we tackle courses and spend a lot of that time working as a team.

From Margaret and Debbie a MACH bracelet
to match my QQ bracelet!
We got to celebrate a lot of successes this year - the cluster is the cut-off to qualify for the 2012 AKC Agility Championships held every year in March - so many of our friends qualified to go to Reno, NV this year! Teller and I qualified for Reno back in March - we still have a bit of time to decide whether or not to go - it's hard to make a 5,000 mile round-trip happen from a logistical and financial standpoint - but it's awesome to have qualified this year.

A few other friends have finished PACHs, MACHs and PAXs in the last few weeks and we haven't seen them yet to sign their bars, give them hugs and congratulate them properly in person. At the same time with four rings going from 7:15am through 7pm in the evening there's this sense of 'everyone is here this weekend but I didn't get to see anyone run'!

One week post-MACH, we're still coming off our MACH high (and suffering from a little P.M.S - Post MACH Syndrome). This weekend I was truly blown away by the number of well-wishers, the hugs, the 'I knew you guys could do it', etc. My 'peeps', I was truly BLOWN AWAY!  We received some lovely and thoughtful gifts this weekend and a MACH cake that - well, check out the pictures. It was a cake shaped like a QQ cheeseburger on top of another cake!

Ann and Sharon - I can't thank you enough for this cake - it was AMAZING,
a perfect gift - I am so so so grateful to both of you!

This cake creation by Mama Cakes in Westfield, MA
Here's a close-up of the "Pièce de résistance" - ehe cheeseburger
was another (yellow) cake!
Before the cake, we went out to take some pictures by the pond with Teller's ribbon. I was surprised the next day with an amazing plaque and framed photo from that afternoon's photo session. Both of these photos so captured who Teller is - Both were taken by Sharon Pica:
Photo Credit: Sharon Pica
Photo Credit: Sharon Pica

Thirdly, We love running on dirt! But holy cow, with all of the dust in the air, despite the efforts to keep the dust down, I'm firmly in the midst of the "cluster cough". My lymph nodes are swollen, my ears plugged, swollen and achy, a sore throat and congestion that really wants to become a hacking cough. I'm hopped up on Airborne, DayQuil and menthol cough-drops and hoping for the best (I promise that's the end of my whining).

I love the cluster, I love the chaos, the awesome shopping - it's the greatest show on dirt! 

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Thanksgiving Cluster - November 25-28th, 2011

We're home from the cluster - this will be a two-part post, too much to cover in one post!

The runs - Teller was amp'ed. The boy loves his dirt and the only time we get to trial on dirt all year (sod doesn't count)! The weather was perfect - PERFECT! The boys were comfy in the car with windows and doors opened and the building (not insulated and largely unheated) was nice and cool all four days.

The cluster is HUGE! 1500 agility runs each day in four rings with six judges. ISC classes, FAST, T2B. The Excellent 20" class was nine pages of dogs (150 dogs) and ran nearly all day! Our 24" class was well over 85 dogs. BIG BIG classes!!! This is the largest agility trial in the country.

In the other two show buildings (something like six acres of indoor dog shows and vendors), they had 20 rings of conformation, four obedience rings and two (I think) rally rings. We did a little shopping (part of this will be in part TWO of the cluster recap) and had a few good runs.

The net result for Teller was about 60 points and one more QQ (we're calling that a 'bumper' leg) as we likely won't pursue a MACH2 {we'd need 19 more QQ's and 500 points}. We're definitely going to put some more time into contacts this week - particularly that DOGWALK contact! We did get some training in the ring - pushing a bit here and there to see what I had - net win all around.

Here are the runs - Part TWO tomorrow:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Run-Throughs at the barn - November 26th, 2011

Obligations kept us elsewhere today, but I did design a couple of courses for the club run-throughs this morning at the barn. Here's what got setup, can't wait to hear how it went!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book Review: 11-22-63 by Stephen King

The Publisher's Summary

On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back?
In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King - who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer - takes listeners on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.
It begins with Jake Epping, a 35-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away: a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life - like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963 - turning on a dime.
Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession - to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world - of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading, eventually of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful - and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

I'm not generally a fan of Stephen King. I appreciate his work, his talent for storytelling and his ability to remain a mainstream popular author who hasn't gone the way of mass-producing novels written by others and re-branded as his own work (James Patterson I'm looking at you). Stephen King seems to write all of his own novels and each one can stand on their own with any name on the cover. I am not, however, a fan of the horror genre - finding it way more enjoyable to read slightly lighter material than tomes about psychopaths trying to kill their children or the dead rising from graves with murderous intent. Nothing personal Mr. King, just not my scene.

Stephen King's new novel however is neither dark nor horrific. 11-22-63 is firmly in the science-fiction realm. A portal in the pantry of a run-down, soon to be demolished diner deposits the time traveler to September 1958, each return trip down the "rabbit hole" resets the timeline - back to that same autumn afternoon. Al has changed the past with observable impact on the future. What if we (or in this case Jake Epping) could change history and save the President on that November afternoon back in 1963? Could Oswald be stopped? To what end? Yes, the past can be changed, Jake is able to convince himself of that when he 'saves' the Dunning family - but the past is resistant to change and the universe will resist his efforts.

On skim through the publisher's summary and I had already spent the credit and cued up the four-part download of 11-22-63. Within the first 20 minutes of the audiobook I was hooked on the storyline. Willing suspension of disbelief and more - the plotline was enthralling and consuming. With each change to the past, in some cases the change was simply the addition of George Amberson (Jake Epping), one could feel the strings of the timeline change. Small changes, the butterfly effect - of a man who should not exist in that time period.

Al went down the rabbit hole hundreds, if not thousands of times each trip, no matter how long he remained in the past, a mere 2 minutes passed in the present. All the while we wonder, if Jake saves Kennedy in Dallas is there a future for him to go back to in Maine?

Possible vs plausible - this novel is neither, which was part of the draw for me. What if we could change the past? What if Kennedy lived? Would we have avoided Vietnam? Would the twin-towers still stand in lower Manhattan? The cold war of the 80's averted? How might history be interconnected?

My one complaint about this novel (audiobook) is the speed of the narration. Craig Wasson's cadence was off when played at 1x speed. There were pauses in the narration that while intended to be part of the dramatic affect seemed overly long - and distracting. There were several times I thought my playback had paused for an incoming call, only to have the narration pick up again. I was able to solve this by listening to the novel at a higher speed - but I don't think I would have enjoyed the novel as much if I had to listen at the 1x speed for all 31 hours of this novel. Secondly, Mr Wasson's Maine and Boston accents left quite a lot to be desired - both sounded somewhat forced and unconvincing. The remainder of the narration was well executed - even the female voices were feminine without sounding forced or mocking.

In all I'm giving 11-22-63 a strong 4.5 stars on a 5 point scale - even for folks like me who generally aren't naturally drawn to Stephen King novels.It was well worth the audible credit and the  20 or so (factoring in the 2x playback - which isn't really double-time) hour investment for the uniqueness and richness of the story. Ultimately I powered through the audiobook in about 5 days start to finish - with more than a couple sessions sitting in the car at my destination waiting for a suitable stopping point. It's been a while since I had one of 'those' novels on my mind. Kudos Mr. King  (and thank you).

11-22-63 was written by Stephen King and produced by Simon & Schuster Audio, copyright 11/08/2011. 11-22-63 was narrated by  Craig Wasson and has a runtime of 30 hours 44 minutes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fun in the snow!

Not technically Kippie's first snow (the October snowstorm in CT was a real joy to be in), but it was our first snow for the season in Vermont - and thus Kippie's first chance to go outside and play (off-leash) in the white stuff.


Are you guys done yet? Breakfast was late 45 minutes ago and I'd
really like my breakfast. Breakfast is late, it's getting later.......


No, not pooping!!! Not exactly sure what he's doing here
though - perhaps the front end is turning while the rear-end
is going straight? Puppy weirdo!

Truth be told this is pretty much what Teller and Kipling do EVERY morning.
It's just that most morning I don't drag the camera out to capture the action.

Love K's eyes on this one!

Ummmm.....still hungry!


Woo always picks up his toys.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kipling's Training Journal: Part Eight

It's Kipling's turn for some stardom tonight! Kipling is now officially 7 months, 22" tall (thus no longer out of standard) and is developing a pretty decent work ethic. Kipling is a thinker - he is very deliberate in his learning, but picks up new things really quickly. Once he's generalized those things he speeds up and really digs into the work. He's just about as honest as his father - and is giving me moments when he gets the lesson before I have opportunity to teach it.

For the last couple of weeks (I generally only play puppy-agility with him on Tuesdays) I've had him working tunnels with various crosses and sends. It's about time to introduce him to a jump (or in this case...two jumps). I hadn't put him on jumps before because it just wasn't necessary - it still isn't necessary per se, but it's a starting point to learning some more big boy crosses and baby sequencing. The jumps won't go up until he's at least a year when we have some prelim x-rays done to look at hips and elbows. He really won't see a lot of jumps between now and then either, but he'll have it in his 'bag-o-tricks'.

Why eight inches you ask? What's the significance? When I start a large breed puppy I generally start with the bars at 8". I watch their natural stride to confirm my expectations, I want the bar to be a factor (a jump),  but I want them to be able to stride over it pretty natrally. Lots of trainers start all puppies regardless of size on a 4" bar, but in my opinion a 4" bar isn't a factor for a puppy (or dog) Kipling's size. I want them to notice it - and I want them to knock that 8" bar - so I can fix bar dropping right from the beginning.

So tonight I introduced Kipling to his first jump. It went so well I decided to break out a video camera and film our session. What you see here is what I got from the session, I've edited out only short bits of play and super squeaky Erica voice - which might have been interesting if it didn't all happen off-camera. Also, it drove my dogs bonkers as I edited the video! I have some BIG fans of squeaky voice around here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

MACh Teller - At Middlesex County Kennel Club - November 19-20, 2011

MACh Teller-Woo
Middlesex County Kennel Club
November 19th, 2011
A short post tonight with big news....Mostly that we didn't waste any time sitting on Double Q #19! I proudly announce MACh Teller! Actually that's:

There's a certain ring to that eh?

We finished our awesome weekend with two 4th place placements, about 45 MACh points and overall 3 for 4 for the weekend.

I also have to thank all of my truly awesome agility peeps who cheered me on not only yesterday and today - but every run we've ever had over the last year and a half on this journey from Novice, struggling through Open Standard with dogwalk and a-frame contacts. That teeter issue that cropped up last November, the run of one mistake standard runs in Excellent B, Mr. JWW consistently throwing down Excellent B JWW legs with a jumpers Q-rate approaching 90%. A full half of our (now) 950 points coming from JWW - points harder to come by for us in JWW. It takes a village and it's a journey to get there!

Our runs from the weekend:

Oh and those of you following this blog know that Teller gets a cheeseburger for every Double-Q. Here's MACh Teller the cheeseburger remix - all twenty cheeseburgers :-)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Publisher's Summary:
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. 

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. 

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is solidly a young adult offering: horses (including mythological fictional sea horses), a love interest, coming of age, orphans, danger and adventure. I can imagine my 11 year old self (The Scorpio Races is solidly PG rating - very family friendly) obsessing over every detail of this novel. Puck's island pony (horse) Dove is the pony (horse) I always wanted as a little girl (and pretty much the pony (horse) my fifteen year old self was gifted for Christmas one year). Sean is the dreamy but somewhat unattainable boy that is half as horse-crazy as I would have been in Puck's shoes. A sweet and charming novel with a National Velvet quality (though I preferred the much less popular International Velvet as there was jumping involved).

Here's my dilemma with reading young adult fiction as an adult - the story is smooth, sweet and entertaining. I did like the novel, I enjoyed the writing and I loved the narration of the audiobook. It's a solid offering, well deserving of all of the early accolades and adoration. But, there is a chunk of complexity that is missing from most young adult/teen fiction that I find hard to forgive, this is precisely why Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver series hasn't piqued my interest (Twilight falls into this category as well) before picking up the Scorpio Races.

However, The Scorpio Races came highly recommended by not one, but two of my GoodReads friends, the premise sounded entertaining enough and there I was with an audible credit to spend and a road trip to the Bullmastiff Trial coming up. So I downloaded The Scorpio Races. I knew at the onset that the novel could only finish with one possible ending - sure there were other variables - but as the story unfolds the question is how the characters get to the end, not what their end will be. Perhaps I am tainted - or perhaps that eleven year old Erica would have figured out the novel's conclusion the beginning of the novel too. Perhaps the real difference is that eleven year old Erica would have figured out the ending, but would have savored the ride to get there - even if the end was spinning down predictably. The thirty-five year old Erica isn't as patient - or forgiving.

That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the novel (I very much did), but there is something - just something - about figuring out a novel's conclusion with the characters (or sometimes just after the characters) that is more satisfying in the adsorption of a novel.

The Scorpio Races was written by Maggie Stiefvater and published by Scholastic Audio. The Scorpio Races was narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham. The Scorpio Races were published in audio and hardcover format on 10/18/2011 and has a runtime of 12 hours 6 minutes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kippie's day at the dog show...

In case anyone was wondering what Kipling does at a dog show...here's a peek at a day in the life.

First Kipling goes in and works on some tricks, watches some agility and bonds with some of his favorite people. Here he is with Auntie Ann:

Then Kippie and his puppy friends go play in the dog-park attached to the show-site:
Not a great pose - but a good 'before' shot.

Kipling, Gracie (yellow labrador) and Hi-Fi (BC)

AND they're off!!!

Kipling much prefers to be the chaser, rather than the chasee.

Gracie in the muck pond. From which Kippie pulled a dead frog...which
he  (THANKFULLY) traded for a hunk of chicken. Will wonders never cease.

I'll get you Gracie!!!

Unfortunately the mud was the end of Kipling's social hour for the day - unless you count a date with a brush and some water-less shampoo a social event of record. In fairness 99.9% of the muck falls off when he dries off, which really just means that I'll be washing all his crate bedding this week.
The 'chaser' like the also-rans in horse racing is the one who ends up the dirtiest...

Oh but he had FUNSIES!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

American Bullmastiff Association - November 12-13th, 2011

Off to New Hampshire for a weekend of agility - This weekend was the American Bullmastiff Association's November trial with one of my all-time favorite judges Lavonda Herring (we always do well on Lavonda's courses - plus Lavonda is a funny lady with a great sense of humor).

Saturday we were 0 for 2. In standard we had a close tunnel call-off which put me out of where I had intended to be, then I mis-placed a front-crossed in front of the A-Frame - coming out of the rotation at the base of the a-frame pulling Teller off the a-frame entirely. Oh well!!! It's all good.

Saturday JWW I decided to try something I wouldn't have the guts to do if we were working on a double Q - the opening sequence is on the left (red handler path. A running start with a push out to the tunnel while I moved ahead for a front-cross after the triple. We ALMOST pulled it off - I should have pushed a bit harder at the tunnel as Teller went to the tunnel but pulled off the tunnel at the very last second. Definitely something I'll be setting up at the barn in the near-future. Fair-warning gang.

Sunday Standard and Sunday JWW we pulled it together for a nice QQ and about 30 more MACH points. Good boy Woo!

From the weekend:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Review: The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Publisher's Summary:
In the heart of Calcutta lurks a dark mystery....

Set in Calcutta in the 1930s, The Midnight Palace begins on a dark night when an English lieutenant fights to save newborn twins Ben and Sheere from an unthinkable threat. Despite monsoon-force rains and terrible danger lurking around every street corner, the young lieutenant manages to get them to safety, but not without losing his own life....
Years later, on the eve of Ben and Sheere's 16th birthday, the mysterious threat reenters their lives. This time, it may be impossible to escape. With the help of their brave friends, the twins will have to take a stand against the terror that watches them in the shadows of the night - and face the most frightening creature in the history of the City of Palaces.

The Midnight Palace is my second Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel, I finished The Shadow of the Wind last week and so enjoyed it that I HAD to go back to listen to another Zafon novel. I wasn't disappointed, The Midnight Palace is every bit as charming and intriguing as The Shadow of the Wind. A great deal of this credit must go to translator Lucia Graves, who surprised me again with rich language and a flawless translation.

The Midnight Palace and The Shadow of the Wind share a fire theme - fire running prominently through both novels. The Midnight Palace adds a hearty dose of supernatural influence, the theme of twins - separated soon after birth who find each other as they come of age and they are forced to confront their own demons and those of their mother and father.

The Midnight Palace (like The Shadow of the Wind) - starts strongly and continues on that pace throughout the entire novel, evenly paced and not a single wasted or superfluous word. Zafon's language is entrancing. If I have one complaint it's that the story (for me) was not as compelling as The Shadow of the Wind. Orphan twins, separated shortly after birth - you know they'll eventually find their way to each other and you hope that the evil forces responsible for their separation won't survive the sixteen years to their maturity. Somewhat predictably this isn't the case at all, the evil forces even more determined to hunt down the twins..

The Midnight Palace is labeled as Young Adult fiction, which I think is technically the teen 14-18 crowd. I'm not sure that a fourteen year old Erica would have appreciated the tapestry that Carlos Ruiz Zafon  has woven here, though she probably could have better related to the coming of age struggles of our orphans Ben and Sheree.

The Midnight Palace was written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (original Spanish copyright January 2003) and translated into English by Lucia Graves (copyright 2011) Penguin Books. Audio Release date 05/31/2011. The Midnight Palace was narrated by Jonathan Davis and has a runtime of 7 hours 9 minutes.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

November Sun and Fun

What are the odds that we'd see 68 degrees and sun the second week of November? We won't spend too much time calculating the details as it was much too nice not to get out and play. Murphy is back in a cone with a skin thing on his muzzle and chin. Definitely not a hot spot, but Murph is really determined to scratch the heck out of himself - he had already caused himself a bald spot on the side of his muzzle by the time I noticed he was messing with his face. So Murph had to stay home as there's just no sense bringing a dog for a run in a cone.

So Teller, Kipling and I headed out to the school - camera in tow, for some fresh-air and exercise. It was 4:30pm so the light wasn't great - obviously that didn't stop the fun.

If you can't beat them, bite their face.

Also not their finest moment. Can you find Kippie?

I want it!

Not a great shot - but look at all those FEET!