Sunday, April 30, 2006

Watch that throttle, buddy

Keith is headed back home from Indiana, having flown down a few weeks ago, and now driving back in his new-to-him black Jaguar formerly owned by his cousin. Alcan + Jaguar = Uncertainty At The Very Least, if you ask me, but part of me (okay, all of me) is envious. When I think of cruising large sections of Alberta at 110 mph in a 4-speed Tercel (um, this is a theoretical model; that is, I mean, if one chose to do that in one's 4-speed the fall of 2003 and again in the fall of 2004...hypothetically speaking) it's just breaking my heart to think of missing out on a restrained 160 mph in a Jag. Hypothetically.

But the real point of this post is that as an amateur radio operator, he's set up for tracking on the FindU system and this has just been a lot of fun for me today as he left there in the afternoon local time. Since I didn't think to ask for his permission, I won't post his actual tracking URL here, but the repeaters pick him up and the data gets posted with position (relative to a city point), heading and speed. [At this moment it's 3.7 miles southwest of Boonville, MO --- Report received 5 seconds ago Course: 270.0 Speed: 72.5 MPH] The accompanying Google map output is as a map, satellite image, or satellite/map hybrid. Sadly, the map marker itself is a little red jalopy that also happens to be pointed east, but I guess you can't have everything. Anyway, I think it's a cool system. Although I think FindU will only report positions in the U.S., so I won't get to cruise Alberta even virtually and vicariously. Sigh.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

At trail's end...

is where you may turn to look back at all the distance you've covered. For me this week it was a long, tough slog. I am realizing right now that the things that had me terribly distressed last weekend are just background noise compared to the new things that arose. I had set aside an hour today just for myself, to get some support and guidance, and was really unhappy when I had to place the call to cancel that help for myself because literally there were too many phones ringing and too many demands and too much tension and ugliness around me. And then I worked hard at my job all day, juggled multiple other demands from life, kept pushing pushing pushing...and thank god that when the day's end came and the boss walked out the door leaving me without my expected paycheck, I actually just smiled quietly at the absurdity of it all and I called it a day. And I went home to a fuzzy doggie boy who'd been patiently at home for nearly 11 hours, and I said oh honey, I'm really sorry, and he wagged his tail and went outside and came in and had dinner and climbed on the couch with me and there's not a damn thing wrong in this world.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Disappointments in daycare

I stuck a note about Hunter in the comments on my previous post, but thought afterward that I should make it a primary note instead. My heart is hurting for my little boy today. He only lasted an hour or so at daycare; went in happily as he always does, straight out to the exercise yard without a backward glance to me. When the dogs all came back in and I was there, he faltered, clearly confused. He wanted to be near me but he was nervous and unsure. I tried to give him steady guidance as part of the group without indulging him too much - I knew I was stretching him. And I think I knew pretty quickly that it wouldn't work, though I stayed calm and don't think I was adding substantially to his distress. Before an hour was over, he'd been placed in time out for growling at one of the staff while I was out of the room, he was rushing the doors in some panic, and mainly every time I looked in his eyes I could see his real confusion as to why I was there and what did that mean he should be doing in proximity of so many other dogs. I tried to let him know that there was actually nothing about my presence that meant any new responsibility for him, but there were also other factors in the total dynamic that were affecting him too. In hindsight I can see some things that might have helped it work better. I took him home after just an hour and he was very relieved to get there. He was clingy with me tonight, which is rare.

At later points in the day I felt tears well up, just to think of seeing him take a large backward step when we've worked so slowly for so long - years - to help him build his confidence in new situations where he is unsure. I kicked myself for letting him down (and I'm weeping a little right now too). But...truth is I didn't let him down. He decompensated quickly, I had no difficulty in recognizing the tipping point where the day could not be salvaged because he was in a state of mind where he wasn't reachable, and I did not let him remain in that distress.

I can think it out before we try again (have decided not to take him tomorrow) and we can stage him for a better chance of success, probably when Kari's around too. I also got to know all of the dogs that are in his regular Wednesday group and am encouraged by the numerous dogs there that are really good companions for him and that he seems to enjoy. It was fun to watch a few special friends greet him before they all came back inside and things went to hell in a handbasket. In a few weeks he'll probably be moving to the Friday group which is the smallest group of the week, so we may just take a break for a few weeks before we try again.

Day 1 at Dog Tired

My first day at the shop in Kari's absence went fine. The staff know what they're doing and were helpful in explaining things to me through the day; my job is just to be a flunky and a buffer if something goes wrong. Except for some of the large contingent of yellow Labs that I'm still trying to sort out, I was able to call by name all of the 40 or so dogs by early afternoon. It definitely helped to reduce my blood pressure a little, I think. I'd only slept a couple of hours the night before, so was feeling tired - ran errands on the way home, greeted Hunter, fed us both dinner, thought about the hours of stuff I needed to do at home...and crashed on the couch. Today is Hunter's regular day to go, and I'll take him but am skeptical as to how that will work out. At times he can be a bit of a hooligan at daycare when he decides that Kari is too important to him to be shared with others. Last week he parked himself under her barstool in the play area and growled at anyone who approached. (and of course he got busted for that) If that happens with me and it becomes problematic, he'll either get timed out or he'll get sent home - pretty bad when the principal's kid is the one to get expelled from school. On the other hand, he may not regard me as valuable at all and my ego may take a(nother) beating!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Temple of the ancients

I've wanted to post about my friend Raina for months since I last visited her. (Yesterday was a beautiful day but I forgot my camera, so these photos are from our November visit.) I've composed this in my head quite a few times and gotten stuck because the right words are difficult to find. I visited Raina (and her minions Pat and Skye) again yesterday, and I am still lost for words. Raina is a Burmese cat of more than twenty years on this earth. The phrase 'old soul,' while woefully overused, is at least one that most people understand. Raina is not an old soul. She is the most ancient soul I have encountered in a living being.

A few months ago Pat and I were talking about this and the not-quite-right word I had in mind was 'timeless,' when Pat said "There is something rather eternal about her." That's it. Raina is a being who would make me believe in the reincarnation of energy upon the earth in many forms, because of the sense she conveys that she may have always been here, continuously. How would I know that on only spending such a short time with her? When I first met Raina and Skye and their cat companion Dandy (now Bridgeside) a few years ago, it was like a circuit connection being completed. Raina has a tremendous impact.

Pat is cheerfully unselfish and gracious in indulging my contacts with Raina, when I have felt it somewhat presumptuous on my part, like stepping in oafishly when Raina and Pat have so many years and so many struggles in their intimate history. But this time I asked for an audience with her because I needed that profound effect. I have been troubled and unfocused, and I needed to feel I was in the presence of old wisdom. It's like surveying an old river, knowing it has flowed steadily through many generations, millennia, eons - constant while everything else around it has emerged and lived and faded away. When I arrived, Pat walked me into the cozy room along her back porch, sun pouring in the windows onto a little sheepskin cuddler bed where Raina was napping curled up with her hot water bottle, picked her up gently and handed her to me. With Raina this feels like an act of generosity. No, like an act of communion.

Now Pat herself is also possessed of quite a lot of wisdom, and kindly interjected my restless ramblings with the perspective of one who has been quite visible in public life, overwhelmed and overworked but tremendously capable, with the common sense to assess things and to lay them out with directness. I appreciate that about her so much. And Skye is just a beautiful rottie girl with a happy smile and I feel so at home around her. She's been through multiple hip surgeries and I am glad to see her having so much better quality of life than my Diva ever had. And it's precious to see her be exuberant with Raina but also respectful of this creature just a fraction of her own size.

And again there's Raina. Coping with multiple medical issues, she's just recently been able to get barely back over the 4-pound mark. She's not a lap cat. She's a collarbone cat. That's just where she fits naturally, faces close. She surveys things. Sometimes she talks and purrs. She's so regal and her eyes are so vastly deep, yet she will nuzzle and nudge and demand rubbing and behave in a rather somewhat more hedonistic way than one might expect in the presence of greatness.

She was with me this morning also, when my throat was raspy and my breathing a little rough, despite the boatload of antihistamines I took before our visit. I am allergic to cats even when they are oracles.


I got up around 6:15 this morning and started preparing for my intervention. Becky and Nissa came down in the afternoon to help me give the house a long overdue cleaning. They arrived about 2:00 and stayed for a few hours. I had spent all of that time just trying to get the house ready to get started. Is it a bad thing that you can put in a combined 13 hours of housecleaning in one little house...and not finish? Ay chihuahua. Got tons of stuff done, though, and much more than just housecleaning - laundry's been going all day with all the winter comforters and etc - and what remains will probably not take me longer than an hour and a half maybe. I have been so uneasy here for the last few months for just not being able to keep up with it all, and that's just not me - I like to be in a clean and comfortable home. This was Becky's payback for my having kept Nissa while they were away, but it felt like a gift outright.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

In a cone or in a cup?

Kari is going out of town for ten days and I'll be working some of the time at the shop to help cover things, and probably more just to give her good staff a sense of some backup. They can handle everything just fine and will have a lot to teach me about normal ops, so my part is to step in if something goes awry, to be the buffer if there are upset dogs and upset people. Kari's done a great job of setting us up for success.

So today we had a meeting about all of it, and then I picked up my uniforms. If you've been to the Dog Tired website you know the colors are quite bold and bright courtesy of the wonderful logo that Natalie designed. So the uniforms are colorful too. Very colorful. Very bright and sherbety and colorful. Very mixed and colorful, as in shirt one color, pants another color, pullover another color. Every day of the week a different combination of three colors.

I have a stack of scrubs and shirts in grape purple, hot pink, lemon yellow, peachy orange, white and apple green. I look like a frighteningly large ad for a Baskin Robbins double scoop. There is nothing else to do but commit to it fully, so I am embracing this by dyeing my hair a deep deep ruby red for the cherry-on-top effect.

Friday, April 21, 2006

"The sign on the door said Ladies, and sure enough, there they were..."

Old joke, bad joke. But I spent the day working at the Alaska Women's Show, and sure enough, there they were. My second favorite thing about this trade exhibition is the peoplewatching. There are plenty of men at the show too, but honestly, the collection of 'infinite diversity in infinite combinations' of women always just amazes me. From every size, shape, color, stage of life. And trends that surprise me somehow - though it takes awhile, at some point I realize hey, I have seen at least twelve young women here in advanced pregnancy who also still have a baby in arms. (Or, as a visitor to our booth commented, "I give to the Alaska Humane Society *and* Planned Parenthood...") And it seems every elder looks at our sign and says "I'm all done with careers" as though their shelf life is over and you get them to talk about what they used to do and they are transformed into their prime before your eyes.

My first favorite thing is talking to people. Not the chit-chat that you have with a couple hundred people, but the eight or ten who linger on the edge and you know they want to say something, and you ask them, and they tell you. And you listen and ask and you hear the voices of people who want to do more, to be more, to have someone say it's really all right to pursue the life you want to lead, it's not wrong to want to love the work you do and make a living at it. And they raise some of the barriers and you know that they are easy barriers for you to help break down, and you talk about how that can be done. And you see a little light in the eyes begin to sparkle. And you share a few possibilities for next steps, and you pull a small commitment from them because what they want is so reasonable and it's so worth having, and before long that person is engaged with you in crafting their brighter future, and they are smiling when they leave. Yeah.

Well, really, my first favorite thing about this show is that this is the last year I will do it, and that this particular job ends in another month though I'll probably still do a few things from time to time to keep my hand in it a little. Next week I start a temporary transition, helping cover for Kari at the dog daycare while she's out of town for ten days.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Soul searching

I did hours of it last night as I lay awake worrying until about 4:45 am when I finally dropped off for a little while. I am burdened by the desire to understand and reach rapport with people, and bewildered at the axes they drop when I risk and try. I turn things over in my mind and wonder where I went wrong, what did I say that I shouldn't have said. When someone's first response is to end the conversation, I just...don't understand. And have difficulty accepting that maybe where I went wrong was in trying at all. On the drive across town this morning under a bright sky, it occurred to me somewhat wryly that God is surely planning to grant me the broad perspective that comes from having to sustain my best work under a constant cloud of wilting disapproval.

But God interrupted my thoughts to say, "Maybe they're actually just mean." Which I hadn't truly thought of.

Oh make me glad for every scalding tear;
For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain!
Wait, and love more for every hate;
For God is good, and loss is gain.
- from Mother's Evening Prayer, by Mary Baker Eddy

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


This is what's landed at our house for the next eight days. George and Becky adopted this little young'un from Friends of Pets and have named her Nissa ("happy little girl"). She's a dear little cuddlebug and has a yipe that could shear steel. (We're trying to focus on the first part.) Such a funny little thing. Yes, those ears look that way all the time - canted in different directions, with the left tip permanently crinkled forward and the right permanently crinkled backward. George calls her Wild Onion.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Retriever convention

Last week while Emma was staying with us, she enjoyed meeting the new puppy (Princess). Both Angel and Emma seem to enjoy the puppy a lot, and Hunter adores her.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Season of change

I wouldn't say I've fully accepted my role as architect of my own life, but wheels are in motion. (As is, evidently, my capacity for mixed metaphors.) Having lived with me from Jan-Nov of last year, my mother will be returning to Alaska in the fall. I'll be moving out of this great little house. Leaving both jobs to accept Kari's offer to help manage her business expansion and spend my days in the company of dogs.

For a time there will be more balls in the air than I can manage, with moving, transition out of both existing jobs, the challenges of a new enterprise. And delights in the chaos - multiple visits with Michele and Chuck's 12-canine (and one cat) crew in order for them to enjoy summer travel, Danika's visit here for the first half of August.

And there will be the sense (and the reality) of shaking some supports for others. One job already has its end date. The other will be harder to detach and keep necessary business integrity in place. Whether or not I continue with Friends of Pets will be partly up to that group to determine. But in general I feel good about yielding both the burden of worry and the control to others to manage how they will cope with my decisions, rather than me figuring out how to manage it all and make it perfectly okay for everyone except me.

And then in the madness, somewhere one of the balls will drop out and my arms won't be trembling as much and I will re-center and keep juggling. And then the objects I'm juggling will turn from chainsaws into beanbags and I'll feel a little less endangered. And somewhere down the line it'll be me tossing one ball up and down and maybe bouncing it against the wall a few times just for fun.

I realize I am painting a rather uncharacteristic picture of optimism here. Don't worry, I'm sure there are also multiple disasters-of-the-month prepared to launch, since (1) some streaks cannot be broken, and (2) this blog would have no purpose otherwise.

Crossed paws

In the online communities of dog lovers, it's common to express one's support for a good outcome by saying 'we're keeping our paws crossed for you'. I just thought you might like to see what that looks like, as performed spontaneously by the world's cutest dog.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sound the retreat

Bless me, father, for I have sinned and it's been three years since our last board retreat. We have a pair of truly magnificent facilitators working with us, gratis. Over and over through the day I was struck by their many insights and flooded with gratitude for their generosity.

After spending nearly a full day in conversation with my colleagues, the thing I'm constantly surprised at is my own capacity for bias. How insidious it is to become derailed by what goes on in one's own head, unchecked, unverified, unchallenged. And how that pulls us off course. But in the calm water miles below, that strong sense of shared purpose - the bottom current that will not be denied by the tumbling surface waves.

The thing that doesn't surprise me, but that I find so encouraging, is how these experiences leave me feeling that I can better tolerate issues that are yet unsettled. It's good to have the practice in not stepping in to correct, amend, confront - just keep one's mouth shut and listen to someone else's perspective when it may feel unfair, without fixing the discrepancy that seems so obvious. And the sense of humility to know that others are surely hearing you with that same temptation to disdain, but with the gift of grace to let your own (inaccurate and annoying) voice be heard.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Your change, ma'am

This morning Emma and Hunter and I arrived at work, and Emma was thrilled to see her mom (Nancy) was back home. Lots of wiggles all around. Nancy wanted to pay me something for dogsitting, and pulled a bill from her wallet. She held it out to Emma and said "Here, take this to Peg." (not something Emma is trained at doing, other than the "go get your toy" command)

No response. Nancy placed the bill on Emma's back and said "Go see Peg..." Emma sort of twisted around to see what was on her back. The bill slid off and fell folded on the ground. Emma picked up the tiniest corner of it and carried it daintily to my hand. Nancy and I were FLOORED! I love those moments of total surprise and delight with dogs. Emma got wild acclaim which thrilled her to death, and Hunter got wild acclaim via the Theory of Peripheral Fame for being the friend of the dog who did the smart thing!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Civic responsibility

It's hard to write the first post after Jude's death. I have been avoiding it and my heart isn't in it, but I just need to do it.

So yesterday was election day in our fair city, with the main event being the mayoral election. I was in a very busy work day at Nancy's all day and then headed straight to Deeta's afterward to work some more. As I crossed town in the evening rush, it occurred to me I'd forgotten to dash out at lunch to vote. No worries, there's plenty of time.

Then it occurred to me that potentially I could get off the hook. At the super-long red light at Northern Lights Boulevard and the New Seward Highway, I called Kari and said "Hey, have you voted yet?" Damn her, she said "Of course..." like I was the only idiot who hadn't. I said "Shoot, now I have to go vote and cancel you out!"

So my proposal is that we all take our vote AND our time very seriously with a sort of Democracy Express, where people can make a pact with someone of opposite politics simply as a timesaver on Election Day. Had I thought to call Kari sooner with my proposal, perhaps both of us overly busy persons would have been saved the time to vote, with zero-sum effect on the progress of democracy. The only real requirement is that both parties are honest, both about their political stance and their desire to skip the voting errand. Perhaps the honesty standard could be, say, the same as applies to candidates for office.

I think this could catch on.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A wake for Jude

[Updated: Sorry that I forgot to give the timing of the toast for those who wish to join virtually. That's at 7:30 pm AKST (11:30pm EST) tonight. L'chaim.]

I am lifting a glass (and more) for my friend Jude who died this week. She was an extraordinary force in the world of senior-dog rescue. Surely her name befit this most hopeless of hopeless causes, but she turned those bleak stories into happy endings for so many dogs who lived their final years with dignity and love because she intervened.

She was a tireless mentor through all the years I ran the Canine Underground Railroad. She was in the trusted inner circle who helped me navigate how to do rescue with integrity when it's mostly among people you've never seen. When one or the other of us went beyond our ability to be rational and pragmatic in this work of the heart, the passion and frustration led us to some memorable arguments.

She rescued me too, more than once. In small ways through the years. When I left my longterm relationship for the second and last time and moved into my little woods cabin with Diva and Courtney and little else, I comforted myself every evening in the soft afghan wrap that she sent me because she knew I would need to be held. When I left Alaska some years ago and drove East, I pushed myself beyond physical limits, driving like hell with my eye on Calgary, to safety and rest in the heart of an old friend I'd never yet met in person. She put me up in a hotel, pampered me incredibly, and we spent a gorgeous autumn weekend exploring the city. Just like with every old, tired, broken-down dog, she fed me, rested me, filled me with love and then launched me to my life's next chapter.

As I've considered these last several days how to (or even whether to) discuss this event here, I've thought that what needs to be remembered is the impact she's had on my life. This week that impact is that yesterday morning I gave notice to quit one of my jobs. Something that Jude and I had in common were some parallel tracks in terms of life struggles - financial, medical, personal - we've known a lot of that in our lives. Shoulder blades sore from backs constantly against the wall.

I am still here. And yesterday I took the next step to make my life better, because of my beautiful friend who loved me and who I loved.

Two toasts from Jude:

Date: May 8, 2000
From: Jude Fine
To: Peg Banks
Subject: Thought for the day
Everyone can master a grief
But he that has it.
- William Shakespeare
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2002
From: Jude
To: Peg
Subject: Ya know ....
if the kindness stopped right here, right now, today, it would still be awesome, and incredible, and life-transforming ... just so you know that....
---We do know it, Jude. We really, really do.