Thursday, July 18, 2013

On Good Days...


...even the clouds are beautiful! 

This photo was taken during my drive home from agility practice on Tuesday.  The clouds had silver linings, and my heart felt full of happiness.  Good days are just darn nice!  Riff was great at practice.  Although I made plenty of mistakes, it didn't bother me.  I'll always have room for improvement, and on good days that seems like a good thing.  What better way is there to learn?  

This feeling of joy started as a little seedling at the July 4th Bay Team USDAA trial in Prunedale.  I was a goofy mess, getting ready for that show.  For two days, as I checked my camping supply lists and readied the van, my thoughts circled around the vortex-phrase "I don't want to go.  I don't want to go.  I don't want to go."  The local weather was wickedly hot.  My back hurt, my knees hurt, I didn't want to drive that far by myself, and the friends I'd planned on meeting weren't able to go.

The deck seemed stacked against having fun.  My husband said, more than once:  "You know you don't have to go if you don't want to."  Riff and I were getting along great at the practice field, and our last trial (at the end of May) went well...but I was stuck on the idea that trialing is strictly for the Handler, rather than the Dog, and that trials are too risky.

Still.....I wanted to share the joy Riff and I have had recently at the practice field.  So I decided to throw away all the negative thoughts I had about Prunedale, and Just Go.  Call it an adventure.  Prove to myself that I CAN drive south for three-to-four hours, and then set up camp and stay in my van for three good nights.   

The weather in Prunedale was great (coooool).  Lots of slow traffic on the drive down, but I had mix CDs from my oldest son, so sang my way through the boring bits.  (Which I could never do if I was with anyone else, since my singing

The lovely Camping Czar gave us a terrific spot near the Starters/Advanced ring.  Set-up was easy (I'd already arranged my cot, Riff's big bed, and the ice chest in the van).  I used a photography drop-cloth stand to hold my shade up.  Thank god I remembered to bring clips this time.  I had screens for all my windows, and plenty of air circulation in the van.  The camping part was quite nice, as it ended out.  The trial was on the small side, and everyone was friendly.  My cot was comfortable for reading.  (Honestly, I'm happy just about anywhere, if I have a good book to read.)  There were good trails for dog walks, and a nice exercise field.  A great neighbor shared some "aged grape juice," and the Czar invited me to dinner in her RV.  Sweet.  Even though we had a couple of nights of fireworks noise from the valley, Riff and I slept pretty well. 

My goal was to be proud of my dog as we went to the start-line, because just getting to the USDAA Advanced class start-line is a terrific accomplishment in-and-of-itself.  Out of ten classes, I reached my goal ten times.

I was determined to FOCUS on each obstacle during my walk-thrus and runs.  I still got lost in one class.  And in another I had a twitchy mental moment during my lead-out.  Riff pushed off early, dropped the first bar, then leaped the A-frame down contact.  Oops.  Done.  (Breeeeathe.....)  But it really does help to stay focused!  I was also determined to help Riff as much as he needed at each and every obstacle.  Treat him like a baby dog.  He's not a baby anymore, at 4.5 years old...but he's had very little trialing experience.  It worked. 

Riff enjoyed seven qualifying runs out of ten classes.  He won four firsts, two seconds and a third.  Wowsers!  He was even well-behaved when we ran Advanced Pairs with Liza and Monty.  Niiiice.  Riff won his Advanced Agility Dog title and now qualifies for all Masters classes. 

Good boy!!

At the Prunedale exercise field

Are we going to the SMART trial this weekend?  Nope.  We're leaving the following Wednesday to visit family in the San Diego area, and that's enough traveling for the four of us this month. Jeff made reservations at a couple of dog-friendly places near the beach.  Yippee!  We get to stay in motels!  Swanky. 

I think the next USDAA option for Riff might be the Regionals, in Prunedale over the Labor Day weekend.  But...that's a big five-ring circus.  Are we ready to tackle Regionals as our first trial at the Masters level?  Argh!  Maybe not.  Oh, well.  Doesn't matter.  It's still a good day.  Yay!

Ever onward....

Monday, July 15, 2013

Polarization (plus A Few Thoughts on Stalking)

Riff likes to get through the weave poles as quickly as possible.  He puts his nose down and reaches ahead with his front feet, as far as he can, while staying as close to the middle of the line as possible.  His tail looks like a rudder, curling around the path he's taken, fluffing the air after he cuts through it.  Once he's entered correctly, Riff has great weaves.  I can get as far lateral as I need to, and he stays in.  And he's quick.  Good boy, Riffle!

We started with the 2X2 method of training, then segued into using a few channel weaves, along with a few runs through "caged" poles (a set of weaves with full-sized guides around them).  We also tried putting cable guides on the first couple of gates, before going back to 2X2 exercises to polish up his entry.  I really like the fact that Riff has always looked for his reward on the line, somewhere beyond that last pole - credit goes to Susan Garrett's Weave Training DVD and her 2X2 advice.  Riff is crazy about toys, so seeing that floppy old toy thrown down on the line is his idea of heaven on earth.  Garrett emphasizes that the toy needs to be ON THE LINE, so I had to find a toy that landed instead of bounced.  And I had to practice toy-tossing for a while, because I throw like a girl.  (Wait, did I just say that??!  Erase, erase!)  It was worth every moment.  Riff stays in those poles, and travels smack dab down the middle of the road.  It was the entries that set us back for a while.  But we seem to have corrected those, too. (Yay!)  (Knock on wood...)  Practice makes perfect!

I wish we had a fix-it DVD we could hand to some of our countrymen Down South.  I am a Californian, but both of my parents were from Louisiana, so I used to spend a fair amount of time in the South.  I heard "Bless your little pea-pickin' heart" countless times in my youth, among many other Southern sayings.  I remember being "hit up the side of the head" by one of my aunts, for using the word Negro, when I was seven.  She then taught me the "right" word.  Back home, at our grammar school in California, I was "rapped on the knuckles with a ruler" for using the N word during my "What I did this summer" speech.  The world can be incredibly confusing, when you're seven years old.  Or thirty-seven.  Or even sixty-seven. 

"Crabbing" in Louisiana

I wish the jury had found Zimmerman the very least, of manslaughter.  He was guilty the moment he checked his gun then got out of his car and started following that young boy, against the advice of the 911 operator.  Acquitting him will polarize our country even more than it already is.  Life is very different in the Southern states.  Anyone who says "Jim Crow is dead" has not spent time in the deep South.  

One day, a little while after Zimmerman shot the unarmed teenager named Trayvon, I was driving home behind a white SUV-type vehicle.  When the SUV turned left onto my street, I looked at the long line of oncoming traffic and judged that I had enough time to also make the turn.  I followed the SUV somewhat closely through the turn...and then it suddenly stopped dead in the middle of the street.  I stopped too, no problem.  No screeching of brakes.  Easy stop.  I was just happy that the tail-end of my van wasn't still on the busy cross-street.  As the SUV crept forward, I decided he must be lost, or looking for a specific address.  I waited, driving ever-so-slowly behind him.  When he stopped again, I carefully went around him.  As I went around, the SUV driver honked his horn.  I thought maybe he was picking someone up. 

I drove on, but the SUV settled in right behind me, on my bumper.  I started to get nervous, he was tail-gating so closely.  I continued to drive - slowly, inviting him to go around me - a half-mile up the street toward my house.  On a hunch, I turned on one of the streets prior to reaching my house.  I turned left.  So did he.  I turned right.  So did he.  He was obviously following me.  My thought: "Is he trying to find out where I live?  Why?  What's wrong with that guy?  What's he trying to do?"  My blood pressure went up about a million points. So I sped up and tried to lose him.  He sped up and stayed right behind me, through several semi-wild turns.  It was like a movie, except I was driving a mom-mobile mini-van, and feeling decidedly unsafe.  "What does he want?  What is he trying to do?"  Finally I thought I'd lost him.  Just in case, I pulled over to look for the cellphone in my bag.  (Note to self:  Leave your cellphone on your console, where it is handy to reach in emergencies.)  I speed-dialed my husband, who was expecting me home.  I thought Jeff could give me advice on what to do next.  At that point the white SUV showed up, coming around the corner like a shark from Jaws.  The SUV driver pulled up, penning me next to the curb, and rolled down his window.  My window was already down, as it had been during my drive home.  My first thought: "Does he have a gun? Should I duck?"  The SUV driver was a middle-aged white man, with a crew cut.  He leaned out of his window and cursed me loudly, and at length.  He said "I know you're one of those rich fuckers from up the hill, you think you can do whatever the hell you want, like following people too close.  Where do you live?  I'm gonna find out where you live, you fucking bitch."  He said he needed to watch me.  He said me that it was his job - HIS JOB - to protect "the flats" neighborhood from "rich assholes on the hill."  It was his DUTY to watch the neighborhood, and to PROTECT THE NEIGHBORHOOD from people like me. 

All my Trayvon bells were going off and I didn't know what to do.  I was absolutely panicked, and I started crying.  Such a girly moment!  (There it is again...)  I was crying so hard that Jeff couldn't understand what I was saying on the phone.  He understood just enough to say "I'm calling the police." So I told the SUV driver, through my tears: "I'm talking to the police," and the driver laughed and said "And I'm gonna make sure they arrest your ass."  And I said, "You're stalking me, you're scaring me, and you're stalking me, and I'm reporting you."  Jeff heard me say these things.  The man heard me too.  He cursed loudly, "I'm not stalking you, you dumb bitch!" and then drove away with a squeal of tires.  I sat by the side of the road for a few moments, to stop crying enough to drive home.  Jeff tried to find out exactly where I was, so he could come get me, but I said "I'm a big girl, I can get home."  (Girls can do anything!)  But I kept watching my rearview mirror. 

I watched that mirror for many, many weeks after the incident.  Every time I saw a similar SUV, I felt nervous.  I was worried about being seen leaving my driveway.  If a white SUV drove up behind me anywhere in the neighborhood, I worried about driving home.  I didn't want that man to know where I live.  It took me quite a while to get over it.   

In retrospect, I should've driven straight to the police department, instead of trying to go home.  I should've called 911 instead of driving around like an idiot.  I wasn't thinking clearly, because I was scared.  I'm a mature woman.  I've seen a lot during my life, but I was really scared.  Can you imagine how that young black boy felt with Zimmerman following him?  I did actually leave a report with the police, but I doubt they did anything.  Police are fine, as a general rule, but they have their priorities.  Some nervous older lady who was followed for ten minutes by a white guy in an SUV is not at the top of their list. 

The point of the story is that there really are vigilantes out there, and they are frightening.  We have one - somewhere - in our own neighborhood.  "It's my JOB," he said.  His job is to scare the hell out of a lady who drove her van a little too close behind his SUV while making a turn?

People don't seem to know how to compromise anymore.  EVERYONE makes mistakes.  We need to practice compassion.  We need to figure out how to talk to one another with an open mind, and with understanding and forgiveness in our hearts.  We need to try to help one another be NICE. 

Sometimes it's difficult to know what to do, because the world can be far too complex and confusing.  But I still think that if we look for a way to be helpful instead of vengeful, that the world would be a much better place.  I think the path to kindness is through education.  We need to keep learning - wherever we are, whatever we're doing.   We need to try to keep our hearts open. 

So I don't know what's going to happen, in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.  I am dismayed, because he got off scot-free.  It seems to me that vigilantes (who seem to be geared toward self-absorbed righteous indignation and thoughtless revenge) should not be allowed to roam neighborhoods with weapons (be they loaded guns or big SUVs), looking for trouble. 

No one should ever stalk another person, simply because they "look suspicious," or because they made a harmless mistake while driving.  It seems to me that the Zimmerman verdict may give a lot of vigilante-types a big green light.  I hope I'm wrong.  Being stalked is a frightening experience. 

I try to keep my heart open.  Understand we all make mistakes.  Understand we all have a lot to learn. Try to be nice.  Give each other space.  Allow each other basic freedoms.  Give each other a little understanding.    

The world is not a black and white place.  It's filled with color.  Beautiful, beautiful colors and textures.  Look around you.  Beauty is everywhere. 

Try to be kind.  Practice patience.  Practice peace. 

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