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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A new beginning

I've never made New Years resolutions before but a few "unconventional" ones occurred to me as I pondered how fast the years are going by.  My New Years resolutions are simple to write in words - but won't be easy to carry out because each one addresses a weakness of mine.

Play with abandon. Don't take life too seriously. Shyla is teaching me this one - because she navigates the world most confidently when I don't take anything too seriously!

Notice the wisps of beauty, like a withering leaf bathed in a ray of sunlight. A day that might, at first glance, seem cold and barren might contain some nuggets of beauty if I look for them.

Make the most of every moment with those I love because no one knows how many moments we get. Try not to let too many days slip away without doing something memorable. Loving animals with short lifespans teaches us this lesson faster than anything else.

Do the things I love and keep trying to improve at each one, like my wildlife photography. The problem for me is that the list of things that I love to do is long... so I need to accept that I can't do everything everyday. After all, there are only 25 hours in a day :)

Take time to rest. For me, this is the hardest of them all. Dogs naturally excel at this one!
I wish you all a safe and happy new year! I thank you all for taking the time to read and comment on my blog over the past year. I am grateful for each and every one of you.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A new chapter

Yesterday, I wrote about memories of K, my sweet heart dog who changed me forever.

While I still cry for her sometimes, I also realize that the ray of sunshine in the story is that I met Shyla after K's death. If the timing had been any different, Shyla and I would have never known each other.
I feel fortunate that Shyla leaped into my life a couple of months after K's death.
Shyla was/is a different dog than any I've had in my life before. She's super sensitive - some would say that she's "fearful". However, I don't think that "fearfulness" is written in her genes. I think that she didn't get a lot of exposure to the world when she was young so her naturally sensitive soul is easily scared by the crazy things in the human world.

My dog trainer likes to say that you usually get the dog who you "need" at any point in your life. My trainer feels that I was a perfect match for Shyla. I'd had enough experience with training Labs that I could learn to help Shyla navigate the world. And, after grieving K, I was ready to open my heart to a sensitive girl like Shyla.

Now, unlike when I first met Shyla, she usually looks at the world with hopefulness and enthusiasm. She sometimes gets scared in the midst of her enthusiasm. However, her hopeful and usually happy demeanor warms my heart because I know how scared she was when I first met her.
I feel honored that Shyla now trusts me (and our whole pack) completely, and for that I feel nothing but gratitude. Each morning that we see the sunrise together, I feel grateful.
That's the ironic part of loss. When and if you're ready, a new chapter of life opens up after a loss. I am still capable of feeling guilty about that part but I mostly realize that this is what K would have wanted for me - a new furry friend who makes me smile and laugh, who watches sunrises with me, and who loves to snuggle.
And, for that, I am grateful.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Memories of K

My trip through my photo archives brought up many photos of my sweet Angel K.It made me realize that I now remember her in her prime rather than when she was sick.
What a joyful dog she was. She lived with a zest and love that taught me so much.
When I see her photos, I miss her but, mostly, I smile at the memories that fill my heart.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Look Back...

I am, finally, putting together my calendars for the coming year. I've spent hours going through all the photos and choosing my twelve favorite photos of each dog. It's a long process because I enjoy remembering the story behind the photos that capture my fancy.

I love this one of Shyla in the Utah desert last March. We were in a new campsite that we'd just found, and the sun was setting over the desert. There were slickrock slopes surrounding the campsite that glowed like honey in the setting sun. Shyla and I enjoyed the warmth of the sun as it slipped below the western horizon.
I also love the next one. It shows the Labraduo playing in the wildflowers, with R sporting his usually toothy look that he uses during playing. It makes me laugh how he was looking at me out of the corner of his eye while pretending to be so ferocious to Shyla.
I dream of the days when the meadow looks like that, and it's so warm that we can relax, letting the dogs romp for as long as they want. My dream is that both R and I will be at full strength come spring so we can enjoy it to the fullest!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Great news and not-so-good news

When I watch Shyla leaping effortlessly through the forest, it makes me smile. Although I have to be so careful of my movements, she doesn't think twice about jumping just for the pure joy of it.
As you can see from the photo above, I've been having fun working with backlighting in photography. I love the glowing snow that Shyla kicked up as she jumped, even though her face isn't in perfect focus. There's always something to improve!

Speaking of joyful spirits, we got great news and not-so-good news about R from the vet. On the great news front, his deformed red blood cells and angry white blood cells that first appeared about 16 months ago finally disappeared!!!!! We are overjoyed because the clean blood test means that the bad blood cells were probably not due to cancer. My bet is on a toxin in his food (it happened in the midst of all the terrible canine illnesses/deaths due to recalled dog foods) but we'll probably never know with certainty. We're simply happy about R's good fortune!
On the "not-so-good" news front, R had elbow xrays. They showed bone pieces floating around in the elbow joint space where he had elbow dysplasia surgery about 5 years ago as a puppy. The deterioration of his elbow is no surprise - even when elbow dysplasia is fixed surgically, a dog's elbow tends to degenerate over time. We've been seeing the tell-tale limp when he gets up from a nap which is why he had xrays.

So, R needs elbow surgery. They'll use a scope to do it with minimal trauma, cleaning out the bone chips and fixing up the cartilage. He and I may be recovering from surgery together. When we asked who would be the nurse, Shyla raised her paw!
Except for her wild streak, she'll do great!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Day After

I am wondering something. Is getting a migraine on Christmas like getting coal in your stocking? Shyla says it's not but this is only her second Christmas with us so she may not know for certain.

We went out for a gentle ride this morning - I felt as if I was nursing a hangover even though I didn't drink any alcohol yesterday. The morning light is almost unbelievable these days, turning my chocolate girl into a fiery red Lab. Around here, this kind of sunrise light is unique to the month around the winter solstice.
There was a small slot of clear sky on the eastern horizon. After a short time in the sun, we pedaled through a dusky early morning light that was blocked by clouds to our east.

As the sun slipped behind the clouds, Shyla stopped to gnaw on a stick, and she made such a funny face! I laughed when I saw this photo.
Then a wind kicked off of the Divide, and the clouds covered our sun.
Then, we just rode. We pedaled up high to Hug Hill, and I enjoyed the sight of a high peak spotlighted by the sun. Everywhere around it was in the shade.
The mountains look different to me every single day. I'll never tire of gazing at them, especially with a Labrador or three by my side.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Joy to the World

Some one loves singing Christmas Carols.
 He's the best singer in the family.
He ended with a flourish and said that he was singing "Joy to the World" particularly for his friends Jo, Stella, and Zkhat.
But then he gave one more howl to include all our friends!

Shyla is a quieter sort who blessed me today with several peaceful gazes straight into my eyes.
We wish for peace and joy for all of you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gratitude

It felt like another long day of working on scheduling surgery and talking to doctors. Thank goodness for the infectious joy of my dogs.

Shyla loves to leap "just because she can". And she makes me smile widely every time.
Because a hiatus from bike riding is going to be forced upon me while I recover from surgery, I am making the most of every ride these days. Today, I headed for a favorite ridge. I had to ride through some deep snow to get there but the ridge sparkled with a fresh thin layer of snow and allowed views for miles around. It was glorious! I love riding my bike in the Rockies.

Then, after what felt like a long day in town, I arrived home to discover an incredible sunset underway. Shyla and I hiked at top speed to a view point.
It was a beautiful and peaceful way to end the day. My gratitude for the glory of mother nature is endless.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Peace

It's a time of year when it can be hard to keep life calm and peaceful. Yet, our dogs can be wiser than us, still reveling in what they love to do and ignoring most of craziness.

R is a good role model in that regard, although he does create some of his own hubbub when he gets excited about a run or a hike. For R, excitement means barking. Loudly!
Shyla is becoming more used to the fact that life isn't always quiet and predictable. House guests will move in for little while. Groups come over for dinner. We go with us to other people's houses for outings. She's learning to roll with the changes, especially when everyone is nice to her.
Of course, we try to keep some parts of the dogs' routine the same, regardless of what's going on in our lives. Shyla nearly always gets to snowbike with me in the morning on the trails near our house, and R runs with the Runner on the trails.

Sometimes, we even see the boys of our pack out on the trails in the morning so the Duo can play together in the golden sunrise light.
The bond between the two dogs is still growing. There is so much play in our house, with them chasing each other, vying for toys, wrestling, and then snoozing together. It's a joy to see.

Here's to a peaceful winter season for everyone.
For the sake of my sanity, I'm going to keep trying to see as many sunrises with Shyla as I can. It is the quietest and most beautiful part of the day. It helps me face the future, as do your many kind comments like those that you left yesterday. Thank you.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Brighter Tomorrow

Today is the solstice, the darkest day of the year. However, the sunrise light was gorgeous. It was filtered through purple clouds, rendering it rose-colored.
It's been a rough few days. I found out, for sure, that I must have surgery on my shoulder. They need to remove a piece of my collarbone that is hopelessly degenerated, probably caused, at least in part, by the problems in my neck. One nerve that's being pinched in my neck has caused the muscles around my shoulder to spasm literally for years on end. There's no doubt in my mind that the spasms contributed to this shoulder problem.
I still have to figure out whether my neck needs surgery too so there are more appointments before I can finalize the shoulder surgery plans. This will be my 11th major surgery so I know the drill. I even know the emotional stages that I go through before surgery: anger, sadness, acceptance, defiance and determination, and finally a calm courage. Right now, I'm somewhere in the anger-sadness stage although I am fully aware that my life is easy compared to what some people are facing.

In that early stage before surgery, I get out into the forest with my dogs as much as I possibly can, trying to pedal my way to acceptance. There's something almost meditative about pedaling that helps my mind to unconsciously work through difficult things. It helps me to see the golden lining in the darkness.
On this morning's meditative ride, we saw the Runner and R. R stopped to frolic with Shyla. It made me smile and even chuckle.
Now we start the longest night of the year. Here in the Colorado mountains, it looks like it's going to snow, at least a little.
Life will start to brighten tomorrow both in the natural world and in my soul.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Frosty Friday

The photos say it all! Frosty but beautiful.
Happy Friday.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thankful Thursday: Dedicated to R

The Duo and I have been catching the sunset light for the past few days during our afternoon hikes. I love playing with them in the forest. The sunset light filters softly into the trees, creating spots of golden light within the dusky forest.
I find myself so grateful for R - he's the stalwart older brother in the pack. He's still silly and crazy but he's also found his serious side.
Shyla's eyes are often on him, taking cues about how to handle situations.
Most of the time, he's a great teacher, except the rare occasion when he teaches Shyla something bad, like his habit of barking full-blast whenever arriving someplace fun (fortunately, Shyla does this one only when with R, and not without him). But, one of the things that R is best at is showing Shyla that things that spook her really aren't scary at all.
So, I am dedicating Thankful Thursday to R. I love him.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Shyla's Winter Training Plans

In the winter, our agility course is swamped by snow. It never melts until April so I am thinking about my training goals for Shyla this winter. I love training her, and she loves it too. That's the main reason why I plan to continue some training this winter.
I've been mulling over the socialization issue and discussing it with experts. At one point in the fall, I posted about an incredible trip to town when she was afraid of no one and excited to try new things - it seemed as if she'd been "transformed". Unfortunately, it didn't last - within 2 weeks after that, we'd had a string of trips to town during which various little things spooked her. She's still leaps and bounds ahead of where she was a year ago but I've decided to modify my approach.

Over the first year that she lived with us, I tried to take Shyla to town multiple times per week - in an attempt to overcome her lack of socialization as a puppy. It worked to a huge extent. Remember that, on the first occasion that I tried to take her into town, she collapsed onto a sidewalk, paralyzed by fear, and lost control of her bladder. Now, her signs of fear are far more subtle, and I know them well so I can help her when the fear starts to creep up on her.

She can get spooked by the most mundane things - and she remembers the places where she was scared with great precision. If she gets scared on one street corner in town, she will cower past that corner for a long time thereafter. So, I've learned to stay away from the "spooky" spots for months afterwards - and then she seems to forget.

After much thought, I've decided that I'm going to accept Shyla's socialization where it is right now - with the knowledge that she'll probably continue to slowly improve just from everyday life experiences. She's generally a very happy dog. She's a mountain dog at heart - but all of our hard work has made her capable of going to town when needed without it being traumatic. I'm happy with that situation. After all, I don't love going to town either!

So, for the winter, I'm planning to work on Shyla's greetings when we see people on our mountain trails. She still sometimes gets scared of people on the trails - and I simply encourage her to "go around" those people without greeting them. However, the opposite extreme happens too - she decides that someone seems very sweet and she jumps on them! To deal with that, I've been trying to closely supervise her interactions with people who she appears to like, requiring "four on the floor" for her to be petted. I think we're making some progress. It's a tricky issue because I don't want to discourage Shyla from being outgoing, given her history, but I think it's doable.
For the winter, I want to teach her some more tricks plus a few things that will be useful in agility. The next photo shows a trick that I taught her last winter, and she adores doing it! I don't even have to ask her to do it... she just "offers" it.
This is another trick from last winter - taking and holding an object.
So, what shall we do this winter? Hmm...
We'll definitely keep practicing recalls every single day. They are so important around the wildlife in our world. We'll also keep working on her "stay". She now will "stay" with me out of sight for extended periods (without any people to distract her). I plan to add more distractions to her extended stays.
This winter, I've already starting teaching her two new tricks: balancing a treat on her nose and spinning. She's not ready to show either of them for a camera yet!

I'm also thinking of teaching her to heel on either side, and to switch sides either in front of me or behind me, depending on which I ask for. That's something that will help us when we play on our home agility course. She already knows how to heel on one side but the rest of it will be new.

Do you have any suggestions for other fun tricks?
It looks like Shyla is getting tired just thinking about all this training. But, the truth is that she loves it as much as I do!