Collie muse

Happy Friendsgiving!

I love the idea of a day for giving gratitude for friends and family, for one's warm/fed/dry/whatever circumstances, or even simply because feeling grateful helps one to appreciate life more. Just for fun I cooked for a few years… and then I'd had enough of that! We started celebrating at nice restaurants instead. Good food served to us with no worries about cleanup or whether there'd be enough or if the cats had gotten on the counter with the whipped cream… perfect solution, we thought!

So we'd celebrate Thanksgiving each year with friends on the proper day — but then again, it always seemed like this friend would be out of town, or that friend had family obligations, or whatever… and the poor restaurants were a madhouse! Our favorite ones had strict menu choices and allowed us two hours — but only with a reservation, please! — and once the time was up it was a polite but firm 'thanks goodbye we need the table, please!'

Now we celebrate Friendsgiving (I love that term!) at a nice restaurant on the day before Thanksgiving. It's a fantastic solution, I think: we get to see all the friends we often don't get to see much during the regular year, and the restaurant is much calmer. We can take as long as we like to chat with our friends to catch up, and we can order whatever we want off the menu. Win all around! 

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Collie muse

Review: Bristly dog toothbrush

Goldie's Bristly Dental Set Christmas gift finally arrived a few days ago! Here's my review.

The (slightly crumpled) package I received had three items in it: the big, green, sturdy Bristly itself; a smallish tube of "Bristly pre-biotic toothpaste"; and a triangular blue, umm… thing… which is apparently a tongue cleaner. It has a wide, round suction cup on the back so you can stick it to the floor for your dog. I'm not sure how useful it is, though, since Goldie ended up doing a great deal of licking on the Bristly itself.

While I couldn't really detect it, Goldie very much liked the added-on "meaty" smell of the Bristly toothbrush! She was happy to take it after I tore off the packaging and offered it to her. She took a few chews & held it between her paws the way they show in the video… but then she seemed a bit put off by the spiky bits, so a few licks later she paused… then quit. I'm guessing the taste didn't match up to the smell?

So then I brought out the meat-scented toothpaste — that certainly caught her attention as well, since she gave it too lots of sniffing as I opened the package! I tried to pour some down the inside of the Bristly, like they suggest in the video, so it would ooze out the little holes further down — but the large, round, squeezed-out 'worm' of toothpaste wouldn't go at all into the narrow opening at the Bristly's top. The toothpaste is also much runnier than human toothpaste… which I messily discovered when I tried to simply layer some on the outside of the Bristly. However, Goldie really liked it — she enthusiastically licked it all off my fingers and the Bristly. I guess at least her tongue got nice and clean? :)

No chewing yet, though. I even left the Bristly for a day out where she could get to it easily to see if that encouraged her at all… which it did not. So my third try was, in my head, the Bristly's final chance: I took a blunt table knife and used it to gently work toothpaste down into the Bristly through the narrow opening at the top. Then I smeared a bit down two of the four sides, and then I even added a little bit of peanut butter (a real favorite for Goldie) on the other two sides.

Doing so, I also noticed that the toothpaste which had dried on the tube's outside cap had turned into a thin, gummy substance rather like rubber cement! I peeled that off & made a mental note to always clean off the tube before putting it away… and then handed the Bristly off to Goldie. She was — as always, with peanut butter — excited… and I was watching to see if the Bristly was a win or a fail.

Unsurprisingly, Goldie first carefully licked off all the peanut butter and toothpaste on the outside of the Bristly… but then she could still smell, and occasionally taste, the toothpaste inside. She initially tried licking the more spiky bits, but seemed put off by the texture… and then, to my great delight and relief — she chewed a little bit on the Bristly! That became her pattern: chew a little, lick a lot, chew a little, lick a lot, and so on.

So I'm going to tentatively say the Bristly is a success, since Goldie loves the toothpaste, and I'm willing to put the toothpaste into the Bristly to encourage her to chew more. Admittedly, I'm not thrilled that the toothpaste is about $14 per 4 oz. tube, but hopefully I'll find something else that's runny enough to put into the Bristly, that she also loves to lick up. With time, practice, and some encouragement from me, Goldie will hopefully get used to chewing more on the Bristly, and her current dental hygiene will improve.

Hope this helps all you dog owners! :)

Later edit: I've discovered one very unfortunate side effect of squeezing toothpaste (or any gooey substance) into the inner well of the Bristly. Because the Bristly cannot be taken apart for cleaning, and Goldie is still not chewing very much on it, the gunk inside dries into a hardened mess! I'll try washing the Bristly in the upper shelf of the dishwasher later today — hopefully it's sturdy enough to withstand that.

Final edit: the toothbrush easily withstood the upper shelf of the dishwasher. Unfortunately the little inner well is small enough that the hot water couldn't really get into it. Thus about 15 minutes of scrubbing with a bottle brush and a lot of swearing was required to finally get it completely clean. Considering Goldie doesn't chew on the brush unless she's after something in the little well, and crap dries into a sticky and difficult-to-remove mess in there, I'm afraid the Bristly toothbrush is definitely not a win for us.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Bragging on Goldie! Things that make me happy, pt. 3

Later edit: I was notified that some of the video links weren't working. I think they all are now, but please do notify me if any of them don't?

Yesterday I bragged on Goldie's Novice Trick Dog title, so today I'd like to share some of her awesome work on her Intermediate and Advanced titles! To receive the titles a dog has to successfully perform 15 tricks for the Novice, 15 more for the Intermediate, and then five more difficult tricks for the Advanced, and five tough ones for the Expert.

Goldie in new bandanna & ITD certificate!

Goldie in her spiffy new purple DMWYD bandanna & her ITD certificate!

For me, a fabulous part of this was discovering that there are Facebook pages by accredited coaches which are dedicated to helping folks reach the various levels they wish to accomplish. Best of all? They give you excellent tips on teaching the tricks, and they'll witness your films of the tricks for free! I'm currently working with Kim Mayes' Rockin' Dawgs Spark Teams. They are, of course, closed groups but they're easy to join; the link will take you to the Novice one. It's a ton of fun. ;)

So here's Goldie doing some of the tricks required for her Intermediate Trick Dog certificate. The first one is visually not very exciting, but takes quite a bit of training: Goldie puts her paws up on a target, then circles her rump end around so she stays standing next to me. Very proud of how well she got that one! Next is her doing a "Have you been naughty?" with the rug on the floor, followed by a leg weave, and then a "play dead" followed by a "miraculous" revival — though Goldie seems to be the happiest "dead" dog I've ever seen! :) Finally we do a roll-over in both directions.

While Goldie eventually did successfully perform the shell trick, I've included a blooper reel of her getting too excited while practicing — to the point that she simply shoves an offending "shell" right off the bench!

So that's some of the Intermediate tricks. Here's a few of the Advanced tricks: a very nice paw cross and some good "touch your button" work. The last video is where Goldie & I do some distance work at 10' or more ("crate" followed by down), then she performs backing up. I'll add in a photo of the Advanced Trick Dog Certificate as soon as it arrives!

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Bragging on Goldie! Things that make me happy, pt. 2

Later edit: I was notified that some of the video links weren't working. I think they all are now, but please do notify me if any of them don't?

So there's this thing called patellar tracking disorder which, if you are a middle-aged or older woman, is apparently something you have to watch out for. In a nutshell: the muscles that hold the patella, or knee cap, in the right place for your knee joint can weaken to the point that the patella sort of drifts away from where it should be — and ends up rubbing painfully against other bones in the knee. It was not something I knew about, but I've become intimately acquainted with it in the past couple of months. Did I mention painful?

According to my doctor, for two to three weeks I needed to stop any running or twisting motions with my knees — which effectively wiped out my agility training with Goldie, and my ATS bellydancing. Drat! Fortunately, the "fix" for patellar tracking disorder is relatively simple: exercise. So I did the doctor-recommended exercises for about two weeks, and one of my wonderful housemates gave me my Solstice gift a little early: a gym membership with a trainer! I've consequently been working out there for the past three weeks or so, and now I am deeply pleased to report that my knee is doing much better! It's funny, though, how often physical and mental issues I have are resolved by exercise. Geez, you'd think maybe I should, like… do it routinely or something! ;)

So because I wasn't able to do any agility training with Goldie I decided I would do some other type of work with her, so she wouldn't get bored. It had to be something we could do inside, where I wouldn't be required to move around too much — so I chose trick dog training. I'd been idly training her to do tricks to relax in between agility training elements, after all, for the past two or three years, and it was clear she enjoyed doing them… so surely it wouldn't be too much of a change for her?

The funny thing is, I'd never heard of trick dog titles before a month ago. I mean, I knew you could train your dog to do tricks, but not that they were titles the AKC would recognize. But as it turns out there is a woman named Kyra Sundance (love her name!) who trains Weimaraners to perform tricks using just positive reinforcement, which I am now a huge fan of. She's put out several nicely thorough books on training your dog to do tricks — her system is called Do More With Your Dog — and set up a certification system to encourage folks to (effectively) do more with their dogs… and the AKC decided to recognize it, and have a program of their own as well.

What she does is have you perform a certain number of tricks for each title, and then have someone accredited witness it, and that's how you get your titles. The AKC recognizes the DMWYD accreditations, and it cost about $20 for title regardless of which group you go with, so I'm going to support the woman-owned business. Once Goldie is an Expert Trick Dog I will send in the request for her to be recognized as such by the AKC. Pretty cool!

Goldie & her NTD certificate

Goldie & her NTD certificate

So Goldie & I have started doing some more focused trick dog training with an eye towards getting her some "alphabet soup" after her name. Luckily some of the agility elements (e.g.: the teeter or the weave poles) are considered "tricks." Thus we blew through her Novice, Intermediate, and even Advanced Trick Dog titles pretty quickly — so she's now my Golden Girl NTD, ITD, & ATD!

I'm very proud of my beautiful, clever girl right now! The Novice and Intermediate certificates have arrived in the mail already, and I've included both pictures of her titles below, as well as the official videos of several of the tricks she did. Her Advanced certificate is on its way — doubtless slowed down by holiday traffic — but once it arrives I'll post that one too.

Here's the first batch of tricks by Goldie for her Novice Trick Dog title! They include, in order, a come that got slightly cut off by the video taking a while to start, then a sit up pretty, down, sit, stay, paws up on her mark, nose touch to hand, high-five, shake hands, bow, crawling low to the ground, figure 8 through my legs, and a "leave it" for food! That was 13 of the 15 tricks needed for the title — though I later redid the come and sit up pretty so they could be more easily seen.

Two more very short videos show the tricks Goldie did that I think look the cutest: the "Have you been naughty?" trick, where you unfortunately can't really hear me, but can certainly see Goldie's (unrepentant) enthusiasm for hiding her face! — and the "Say your prayers!" trick. Amusingly enough, as it turned out I taught Goldie the trick incorrectly — she's supposed to lower her nose down between and below her forelegs — but I still think it's awful cute! I'll have more videos tomorrow for the later-earned titles!

We're currently on our way to getting Goldie her Expert Trick Dog title — only four tricks to go! — which will make both she and I very proud! She seems to really enjoy learning and performing the tricks, too — which is great as far as I'm concerned. If I can't keep her running around madly with me in agility training, at least I can keep her brain running just as fast, as she learns the new tricks. Of course, I suspect the multiple treats don't hurt any either. ;)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Things that make me happy (part 1)

Because I'm feeling somewhat under the weather due to a touch of stomach flu, I've decided to put today's writing time into happy thoughts. The following occurred about two years ago, but it still makes me smile, and people laugh when I tell the story, so I thought I'd write it down to share to a larger audience.

At a recent steampunk convention I was at I noticed there was a sort of scavenger hunt in which one could participate. I eagerly signed up, and learned that the things to be collected were stamps from different locations at the con, which you had to figure out from the clues. Several of them turned out to be in the dealer's room, and in order to get your stamp you had to do some funny little thing the dealer asked you to do. These varied from doing a "proper villain's laugh" to singing a short bit from a song about balloons to decorating a little steampunk cog and adding it to a board of interlinked and moving cogs, and other similar things.

There was one dealer I located, but I noticed two girls were there before me — so I politely waited and watched. The two girls were standing in front of the little desk/table, swaying slightly and making low groaning sounds. That… was odd… but the dealer smiled at them, told them that was good, and stamped their papers. They scampered off and I stepped up and explained why I was there. He said he was happy to stamp my paper, but first he wondered: had I ever seen the legendary Galapagos Tortoise, and heard its beautiful song? It was reputed to sound a bit like whale song. Did I know the Song of the Galapagos Tortoise?

Ah! I thought — that explains why the girls were behaving so oddly! I was having fun, so I brightly replied to the man that alas, I'd never visited the Galapagos Islands… but thanks to the wonders of the internet and youtube, of course I'd heard the beautiful Song of the Tortoise! Why, it was so lovely… words failed me! Would he like to hear me sing it?

By this point my almost alarming perkiness had both the man and his wife, seated behind him, eyeing me with wary amusement. Su-uu-ure, the man said, he'd love to hear it! I took a deep breath, straightened and put my right hand reverently over my heart — then belted out powerfully:

"Hello, my baby!
Hello, my honey!
Hello, my ragtime ga-aa-al!

The two folks at the booth nearly fell out of their chairs laughing! As he stamped my paper, still chuckling, the man said it was a pity he couldn't stamp twice! I was very pleased they'd enjoyed themselves.

As my sweetie and I walked away, he grinned and murmured that I'd gotten to be quite the smartass! To which I smugly replied that I'd learned from the best — him! Curiously, he seemed pleased. ;-)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Author: Maya Angelou

Review first posted April 2004

It took a while to decide to review this book. There is an unfortunately strong current societal meme which says if you are: (less victimized, &/or more financially secure, male, white, privileged, whatever) then you don't get to comment. I understand it's a natural reaction to the horror of being silenced due to not being recognized as even human, and I emphatically don't want a return to that. But as Angelou herself notes, bigotry perpetrated by those who have suffered bigotry doesn't make it right.


Too, if I am silent due to fear of censure but blame society for it, who is really at fault? I strongly believe in both facing one's fears, and in allowing all to speak, so meaningful dialogue occurs. How else to learn from each other? So here's the review. I feel contributing one's thoughts & experiences to on-going societal dialogue is good, even if — especially if — one's personal experiences are different than those of others. After all, wide variety in experiences makes for more interesting shared commentary.


And as always, grateful thanks to George!

I should note up front, my life and Angelou's were very different. Reading about her childhood was varyingly eye-opening, horrifying, inspiring, tragic, and touching. I've heard, however, the story apparently deeply touches some who read it — the librarian who helped me find the book mentioned it was an often-stolen item.

I found the book interesting, I found much of it tragic, it was often sympathetically or brilliantly written, and I am glad I read it. Just because I am not touched to my very soul by it, however, doesn't make it — or me — any less good.

That being stated up front, I had a few interested thoughts on the book. The first thing which hit me was the title. It's a lovely, evocative title, but it is never referenced in the book — not once. I found this a fascinating expression of Angelou's writing style. She lays out the pieces of the puzzle with graceful, evocative prose, but she expects you to have the wit to put the pieces together into a coherent and meaningful whole.

I rather like that. It allows for some subtlety and depth in her writing. It is obvious little in her life is a simplistic binary issue — things are not just bad or just good — and she portrays that complexity with grace.

Her depiction of her grandmother is an excellent example. "Momma" was a strict Fundamentalist and disciplinarian, but also a kind-hearted, shrewd, practical woman who faced the racist sniping of quotidian life with inspiring dignity. Angelou's childhood relationship with this imposing guardian figure is written with warmth, affection, and honesty.

Her view on organized religion (as opposed to her view on her grandmother and her faith) is nowhere near as kind or respectful — probably with good reason. The traveling black minister is portrayed as a greedy, overweight, self-centered gossip; the behavior of the more "ecstatic" fundamentalist churchgoers incites the children into laughter — for which they are later duly punished.

Later, Bailey's innocent use of an everyday euphemism is interpreted by their grandmother as blasphemy against god, and Bailey is beaten without mercy. This leaves both Maya and the reader with the perception of the church as a powerful but distantly capricious master, in some ways to be as greatly feared and misunderstood as the thoughtlessly malicious white folks who created the religion the church is based on.

Indeed, the entire scene of the traveling revival tent show presents a carefully crafted satire on the uselessly palliative nature of the church, on a par with (and, I believe, more beautifully written than) Mark Twain's funeral scene in Huckleberry Finn. Angelou goes one step further, in fact, portraying the self-righteous emotional purge of the community of church-goers as ultimately equally ineffective as the desperate, shrill gaiety of the partying gamblers.

It is my guess this complicated thread of religious fervor against all common sense has the most impact on Maya's life towards the end of the book. Having little good experience with sex, and no training in normal human biology, the young Maya worries she is a lesbian. At 16 she decides to prove conclusively she is not one by having sex with a boy.

Unsurprisingly the encounter is rushed, joyless, and without much meaning for either of them. Also unsurprisingly, Maya gets pregnant. She keeps the pregnancy a secret, revealing it only in about the 8th month. At that time she receives help and comfort from her family, bears the child, falls in love with this perfect thing she's created almost completely on her own but fears she will accidentally harm it.

The final scene in the book is Maya's mother forcing her to sleep with the baby, then waking her later to show she's cradling the baby quite naturally, and without harming it.

That's it.

No, really, that was it — that was the end of the book. I admit, I was quite confused, and a bit disappointed. I turned the page to see if I'd missed something — but there was nothing to miss. I checked to see if pages had been torn out? No. That was really, truly It — The End.

I felt like her editor had snatched the manuscript randomly from her hands to publish it unfinished. It was dissatisfying, confusing. It left me with a strong "So? Is that it?" feeling.

It was a friend of mine who gave me what I believe was the critical point to my understanding the book's ending. As my friend pointed out, I have no desire to be a parent. I don't wish to bear or raise children, and I believe the mystique of "motherhood" is in its own way as much a cultural construct as marriage or corporations.

However, as my friend noted, authors present those scenes and situations they personally feel are meaningful. Obviously, Angelou considered the final scene deeply personally significant, or she wouldn't have included it in the book.

This was what I'd initially missed. For the young Maya, successful creation, possession, and nurturing of her child, without accidentally harming it, was an incredibly important moment in her life. I think she realized at that moment that despite her poor self-image, to have been the originator of such a beautiful and perfect child, there must be something of worth and beauty in her as well.

Once I grasped that, I found the ending rather touchingly apropos. It's hard not to feel sympathy for the young Maya as you read about her troubled, difficult struggle to find herself in the midst of the often indifferent or even deliberately malicious environments she was dragged through as a child.

To discover she finally found personal peace and joy through motherhood becomes a source of satisfaction for the reader as well as for her, and an encouragement to face life as unflinchingly and fearlessly as she, with dignity and self-respect. Perhaps it is also a sign that someday even caged birds can escape, and sing in freedom.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.