Thursday, May 31, 2012


As the weather turns warmer, and June leans over May, my thoughts turn to SRJC's Summer Repertory Theatre.  Even though I haven't seen any of their plays in a couple of years (due to being immersed in dog agility and life-as-a-retired-person), memories flood back.  They always have, and always will.

Do you often think back to your summer camp days?  I never went to camp as a child, so SRT is my summer camp, of sorts.  Even after I became a JC theatre instructor, and Theatre Arts production manager during the school year, I answered the siren call of SRT.   From 1989 through 2009, with a few years off here, and a couple of years off there, summertime was all about SRT!  Theatre gets in the blood.  SRT, in particular, can get in the blood.  You dog agility people know what I'm talking about.  Like....the Power Paws workshops/camps?    Like....the Regionals, or the Nationals?

Every year, a new SRT company of about 200 people would meet in the Burbank Theatre during the last week of May.  Those of us on the staff would have already met several times, to plot our season of six plays, by the time the "kids" showed up.  Our "kids" were mostly college-age....which means anywhere from seventeen to seventy....and they were always pretty shiny at the beginning of the season.  During the summer the company would build and rehearse, six days a week, in order to put up six plays, all in rotation at three different theatres located on and near the JC campus.  Our production standards were HIGH...we wanted to compete with the Best of the Best.  Having seen a number of productions in the big San Francisco equity theatres, I can safely say that our scenery, costumes and acting  easily compared.  (At least, they used to.  Since I haven't seen any plays lately, so I don't know how things are today.) 

But, back in the day....

This is just one page of an old Company Program.
My first year at SRT was spent working in the costume shop....

...sewing costumes. (Hard to believe!) 
But mostly I worked as a dresser, which meant
I spent a lot of time backstage,
watching actors be silly.  :-)

Back then, SRT rented a warehouse/hangar out at the old
Army airstrip.  Years-worth of sets, props and costumes were stored there.
We'd venture into that creaky 3-story
building well-armed with flashlights and friends.
The costumes, of course, were on the third floor (with the owls).
"First Company Meeting" - one of many.

When you work in theatre, you learn the fine art of
"Hurry Up and Wait."
A good thing to know, when you get into dog agility.

(Can you tell the play wasn't ready for this dress rehearsal?)

You make a lot of life-long friends....

.....and you do things you never EVER thought you would do.


News Flash

Just entered Riff in the USDAA Woodland trial, June 16-17.  Oooh, boy....! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Memorial Day.  We've had (and continue to have) way too many wars.  As a result, we've had (and continue to have) many war veterans...and way way too many of them are gone.  My heart is full of sorrow when I think about the ravages of war.  And my hat is off to anyone and everyone who has stood up and fought for freedom and human rights. 

I wish you all PEACE.    PEACE!   PEACE!

We have many animal veterans, too - horses, dogs, dolphins, seals, carrier pigeons, and the occasional shipboard cat.   These animals stayed with their humans during the most gruesome times - open-hearted, determined, and brave.  I wish them all PEACE!

For instance:  STUBBY served during World War I and worked through seventeen battles.  17!  He won several medals, including the Purple Heart.  He patrolled the trenches in France, warning troopers of incoming gas attacks and German soldiers.  What drove this little dog into such service?  He must have loved somebody. 

Stubby, WWI

One of my favorite dog books is a novel titled CRACKER! by Cynthia Kadohata.  About a Vietnam vet and his faithful German Shepherd, it's a splendid, realistic look at not only the bond between men and dogs, but also the effects of the Vietnam War.  It's written for teens, but adults will appreciate it, too.

Way too many of our young men and women (and countless animals!) have given up their lives for reasons we still cannot fully understand.  Why were they in Vietnam?   Iraq?   Afghanistan?   The world can be such a complicated, twisted place.   I want to concentrate on PEACE.   I wish I could always be a conduit of joy, hope, light, understanding and love.  One of my favorite words is PASSION, and right up there with it is COMPASSION.....

Oh, you know.  If wishes were horses.....
But I won't give up!  Will keep trying!!  Peace, love, and understanding...

Tater Jim...many years ago...

Some photos from yesterday's Memorial Day, at our neighborhood cemetery.

A salute, of sorts.

Lots of flags.  A few people.

We walked through the old rural cemetery to get to the shmancy modern cemetery.
Lovely walk.

They decorated the graves of the World War I vets, too. 

On our way home we stopped at the bakery cafe.  YUM!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Keeper During Sunset

Last night, while I was laying on the couch watching TV, [the Giants won 14-7!] the setting sun darted through the backdoor and lit up Keeper.  This is a cellphone grabshot.  The photo above was cropped (part of the TV was in the background) and turned into a black & white shot...otherwise untouched.  I played a bit more with the photo below.  Isn't she pretty?  Lovin' the Keeper!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Push Over

Training environment makes a big difference!! 

I live on a hill, and the only semi-spacious flat spot on our property is a cement patio.  So!  If I'm desperate to do a bit of agility training, I use jumps with the bar as close to the ground as possible.  (Picture the trial set-up for 4" dogs...)  The last thing I want to do is injure my dog by letting him jump on cement. 

Running a few serps on my patio seemed to help our serp troubles a LOT, so I decided to work on a verbal command for "take the backside of the jump."  I chose the word PUSH.  I'd seen one of my classmates use it with great success.  I set up a line with two jumps on the patio (bars on the lowest cup, right next to the ground), spaced about twelve feet apart, or so.  Then we played, for about 10 minutes,  to teach Riff to go around the backside of the jump when I say PUSH.   I set him up behind the first jump and took a lead-out to the second.  I made sure I was in a good position to step toward his path and encourage him to go around the backside of the jump, take the jump as I turned, and get a reward.   He picked it up quickly!  Yay!  I was soon able to "send" him a bit of distance to the PUSH.  We worked both sides successfully. Training session done!  Treats and games! 

About ten days later, I had an opportunity to practice PUSH on a nice grass agility field.  I set the two jump heights at 20", with the jumps about eighteen feet apart, and took my lead-out.  Riff held his startline nicely, then eagerly ran onto the path to go around the backside of the second jump.....   .....   ......only to run under the bar!  I was shocked.  "What the heck are you doing?"  I asked him, and we tried it again.  And he did it again. 

Ruh roh.

I kept the height of the second jump at 20", but added another bar at 12".....and he did it again.  He paused this time, gave me an anxious glance, and carefully squeezed in between the bars after he went around the backside of the jump.  And his expression said: "Isn't this what you want?  What's wrong with you?" 

Oh, duh.  Riff learned, during our backyard lesson, that PUSH means go around the jump stanchion.  But hey - there was nothin' 'bout jumpin'!!  He was doing his best to run low and fast around the backside of the stanchion.  He couldn't figure out why I put those bars in his way, and I couldn't figure out why he wasn't jumping. 

During the next five minutes, after bringing the top bar down to 16 inches and keeping the second bar at 12," my new verbal command turned into PUSHOVER.  Oops.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but - as you know - agility is a Whatever Works game.  The lightbulb came on over Riff's head, and after he took the jump nicely a few times. "Push! Over!" with treats and tug....our training session was finished. 

We'll need to work on it again, sometime.  I'm not entirely convinced he knows what do to when he hears PUSH...and we ran out of rental time, so he hasn't practiced the other side yet. 

Yeah.  Hmmmm.   I'll need to be much more careful about how I try to teach new tricks to the amazing Mr. Riffle...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thoughts on Dog Training

One of my friends wrote this on FB the other day:  "I never thought I'd have trouble being more interesting than dirt until I started training dogs."  (KP)  Haha!  Was her dog was digging, instead of coming when she called?  Sometimes Riff will wander off in the middle of a training session, and I think of that post and giggle. 

I don't think of myself as a dog trainer.  When I was younger, dogs ran around the neighborhood or ranch, just being dogs...and that was fine with me.   My dogs were generally well-behaved.  They knew how to sit, stay, come when called, drop stuff, leave certain things alone, and walk on a leash.  Lovely!  Done!

But now I have a couple of border collies that are competitive at the Masters level in AKC and USDAA agility shows.'s no small feat!  Does that make me a dog trainer?  In my mind, the closest I've come to being a real dog trainer was teaching Riff how to stack rings on a Fischer Price toy.  And that only took a couple of days.  (Riff is smart!  He usually trains me...)

Agility often feels like a game.  A tough occasionally ruthless game....but a game nonetheless.  A glorious game. 

Some folks think of dog agility as a hobby.  I used to.  I still try to, sometimes.  There are plenty of people who play tennis as a hobby, so I'm sure dog agility is often approached in a similar way.  You buy some lessons, then dabble in it part-time, without sleepless nights or strenuous effort.  Your big goal is to have some fun running around the field with your fur-buddy.  It's a terrific goal. 

Then you decide you'd really love to win a few classes at the local trial, and show the world just how special your dog is.  At that point, agility begins to slip out of the "hobby" range.  It becomes a sport.  You start jogging to control your weight.  You buy good running shoes.  A pair for winter, another pair for summer.  Maybe a pair for dirt, and a pair for grass.  You start checking out running clothes at the local sports shops.  You wear baseball caps four days a week.  You tell your GP that you absolutely must have a referral to a good sports-minded physical therapist, to help you get over your knee problems.  To heck with the mental health counselor.  ;-) You  spend money on entry fees, gas, dog-friendly motels, and look longingly at RV sales.  You sign up months early for weekend seminars, determined to be a "working team" instead of an "auditor."  You buy at least two dozen training DVDs and four dozen books.  You keep notes on training.  Notebooks pile your office, on the bookshelf, by the computer, in the glove compartment of your car. You sign up for the livestream of the World Championships, and get up at 0:dark:thirty, three days in a row, to sit in front of your computer and watch them.  You devote an entire kitchen cupboard to your dog gear - each dog has several collars, many leashes, a harness or three, a basket full of toys, water bottles, medications, grooming tools, and all kinds of special feed and treats.  Your camping/canopy/set-up gear bulges in a corner of the garage.  You buy a dog car/van/SUV.  You have years-worth of magazines and articles stacked in the closet.  When your first agility dog starts showing her age and weakness-due-to-structure, you move her to the occasional Veterans class and - filled with hope - buy a [willing and high-drive] purebred puppy....the first papered purebred you've ever owned.  You might even start a little blog.

Some people will decide you've gone a bit dotty in your dotage.  Other people totally understand.  You start spending more time with the Others. 

Does this make you a dog trainer?   Shoot, I don't know.  Not me, I guess.  I so often - still! - feel like a beginner.  My dogs keep me humble.  The sport keeps me humble.  I know I'm something more than a hobbyist, but I don't know exactly how you would describe me. 

It seems, to me, that "real" dog trainers are the people who make a living at it. The folks who have lots of dogs, give lessons, charge money, make videos, and maybe even write a book or two...those are the dog trainers.  World class competitors are dog trainers, too.  Anybody else?

When push comes to shove, it's all a matter of perspective.  Most of us do train our own dogs.  Agility requires us to train ourselves and our dogs together, because it's definitely a team sport.  Many of us devote a lot of time to it. 

So, who are we?  We don't make a living wage at this.  Many of us have separate careers, or we're already retired and trying not to blow through our life savings too quickly.  So....what do we call ourselves?  "Hobbyists"  "Competitors"  "Amateur dog trainers"? 

Well...whatever we are, for sure we're having some fun.....learning a lot about our dogs....and ourselves......

Monday, May 21, 2012

Solar Eclipse

May 20, 2012 at 5:58pm
We thought we'd go out front, cross the street,
and watch the solar eclipse through J's welding helmet...

....then I noticed the shadows on the backside of our house. 
I didn't realize the trees would turn into "solar eclipse pinhole projectors."


Me and my shadow. 6:29pm

Riff just wanted me to throw his toy.  6:30pm




Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Walking through the parking lot, to the field

Barb and Kate were excited about showing me around the ballpark.
It was my first time at AT&T!
(The last Giants game I went to was at Candlestick, and Will Clark was playing...)

Thrilled to be there! (Yep...I bought a new baseball cap!)

We found Richard right away.  Yay!
Richard and Kate didn't know how much "dancing in the stands" Barb and I would do.
They were very nice about it (while pretending not to know us).

Posey batting

Timmy pitching

Even though the Giants lost (a squeaker, in the 9th), it was a GREAT game!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Checking In

Life has been busy and beautiful for us - hope it has for you, too.

The weather around here is glorious, a siren-call to "GO OUTSIDE"!  We've been practicing agility every chance we get, gardening big time, hiking around the neighborhood and in the parks. [Is it actually possible?!  Am I losing weight??] 

We haven't been back to sheep yet.  [Sadly, there are financial considerations involved...and a sheepdog-in-training needs to get to sheep, three or four days a week would be great...] 

We haven't entered any more agility trials either.  Soon, we hope!  We did attend a fun LeapDog Workshop last weekend.  LP and my fellow students seemed quite impressed with the Riffle.  What a nice, handler-motivating day...!

Riff grows ever-more-fit, and responsive.  He floats over 26" jumps like a cloud.  He has always been light on his feet, even though he's a big, powerful boy.  Thank god he hasn't been "lunging and pulling" on the leash as much as he used to.  Could he be maturing??  Settling in?  He still constantly roams around the "settling in" may be the wrong phrase....but he is a happy, vigorous three-year old, that much is plain.

Mother's Day was lovely.  All of my kids got in touch.  The gift of "time" is The Best!  The photo below was put together a few years ago, but they're all grown up so they still look something like this.  (Albeit older...)

TaDa!  My sweet husband gave me a new computer for Mother's Day.  It is speedy (lightning fast!), quiet and roomy.  (For the geeks - 8GB memory with a 128GB solid state drive, 1TB harddrive for storage, Intel I3, 430W power supply, 64bit MicroSoft7, etc etc et al.  It's a lot of computer for a retired college instructor who just fools around with photography...but I love it.)   Even though I'm in the middle of a Blog Break, I just had to sneak in and try blogging on it.  It's FUN.  :-D

On the sports front - we very much enjoyed Stage One of the AMGEN TOUR here in Santa Rosa.  Wow, the county looked marvelous during the TV coverage.  Those boys raced 111 miles, over hill and dale, through thick and thin, in less than five hours.  Kudos!! 

And hey, if you're ever near Railroad Square, check out the "Peloton Project" paintings in the Daredevils and Queens Salon...they're by Sherry, an old theatre buddy.  She has loved and watched bike races for many years, and rides her bike all the time.  COOL!  Below is "Levi and The Three Bears" (One bear for each of his Tour of California wins). 

Levi and the Three Bears - painted by Sherry Rahn

Last but not least, also on the sports front - the Giants (finally) won a couple of games in Arizona!  YAY!!!

Special Happiness because (drum roll) I'm going to a game tomorrow night.  In person, a real game, LIVE at the new AT&T park!  "New?!" you may exclaim.  " to me..."  

I haven't been to a game since my son Will and I watched the Giants and Will Clark play in Candlestick about - what - 25(?) or more years ago!  As I recall, JT Snow played in that game, too.  I totally look forward to tomorrow.  [With Kate and Barb - YAY!  Can't wait!!]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Riff at the SMART USDAA Trial

{A little break from my blogging break....}

Last weekend Riff and I went our first USDAA trial in many months. We were lucky enough to travel with LP and her beautiful dogs Wit and Clever. Riff competed in the Starters ring, and earned two Q's, both in Jumpers - a first and a second. (The 26" classes were very small, but featured some fast dogs.  Sorry, no videos...) Those runs completed his Starters Jumpers title, so we'll be moving up to Advanced Jumpers and Advanced Gamblers, next time out. Inching little and by golly!  He needs another Starters Standard Q to move up in all categories. 

Wit won nearly all of her P3 classes, plus PSJ finals (beautiful runs!), and Clever was a little puppy doll. A little ENERGETIC puppy doll! We had a good time.

Riff and I have many things to work on - but isn't that the lifeblood of agility?  

Honestly, I went into the weekend thinking it may be our last USDAA trial.  Struggling to run with a back-ache is simply not a lot of fun.  But (this probably won't surprise you) we had enough fun in Prunedale for me to think about going to another trial....! 

We especially enjoyed the cheers from the peanut gallery, and visiting a lot of friends we haven't seen in a long while.  :-)

We'll be concentrating on our fixing startline stay (he was SO pushy...) and on working a full-height A-frame, to help him get over the tendency to launch off the downside. (We have never asked the folks in our weekly class to help raise the A-frame for our turn, but it's obviously needed. Those two or three inches make a difference!)

We'll also keep polishing Riff's weave-pole entries. He's a lovely jumper, though - nothing needs fixing there. He makes 26" triples look like a walk in the park. Sometimes I get so caught up watching him sail over jumps that I forget to run.  (!)  He looks like he's having fun. I really have to hustle to get into position on the courses, though. No time to admire Riff's jumping style. 

Run, Celeste, Run!!!

I'll need to tack a few more laps onto our fast-walking exercise sessions in the backyard.  Must try to make 'sprinting' an actual possibility....

Keeper wanted to go.  (Sigh...)
She had fun with Pops, though.
They went on long walks.
They even went to a Japanese Arts Festival!
Riff and I enjoyed all the trails around the trial site.
We had extra off-leash fun by taking walks at 5:30am.
I'm lucky he didn't chase the bunnies.
Riff also loved playing retrieve games in the big exercise field.

Our view from the RV.
Of course all the emply space filled in with canopies and cars...

THANKS! to wonderful friends, we enjoyed a couple of
marvelous meals. ♥♥♥
Hanging out by the Masters rings.
(I spent most of my time at the Starters ring, though, either working
or playing with Riff at the practice jump.  Riff mostly hung out at the RV.)

Lots of gophers at this trial site.  K's dog Ruby enjoyed trying to catch one.

LP's new pup Clever liked giving people hugs and kisses!
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