24 February, 2008

Florida Trip - woo!

Well I had an amazing visit to Florida last month. A few days with my friend Micah was really good for me. I flew into Miami and when he was driving up from Key Largo to get me at the airport his rental car broke down (rental because his car was stolen). So his pop picked me up at the airport and ran me down to where the breakdown was, then the adventure continued down to the keys.

The first day we went to Micah's work and collected blow-hole cultures and blood from dolphins. Sounds boring, I'm sure, but for me it was a ton of fun to do medical stuff on different species. I was exhausted after my red-eye with the guy coughing up a lung behind me all night, so I ran to his place for a nap. Then a fun dinner party with his friends complete with fire on the back patio and seeing a croc in the water off the docks.

The next 2 days were work days. Micah had to do his "doctor stuff" and I got to hang out with the dolphin and sea lion trainers and watch and learn all day. The weather was beautiful so I also managed to get a little bit of sun as well.

One trainer, Wendy, took time to get to know me and invited me down onto her platform for every feeding of her dolphins, Squirt and Fiji. Watching her interact with the dolphins was very interesting. It triggered many thoughts for me... of course my ever-training-mind was running a mile a minute: "But what if they did this?" or "Why isn't this more important than that...?" etc etc. It was an excellent exercise in training, observations and interacting with new people.

On my second night, Micah surprised me with a fun thing! We went for a ballroom dancing lesson. We learned the basic steps for the swing, tango, rhumba and a quick box step. It was a ton of fun and I really enjoyed it. I've been wanting to learn to dance for years, and it was a good first lesson.

When the instructor came to show me the tango I felt like I was on Dirty Dancing or something. The instructor says to me, "Monique, the tango is performed in closed dance position." He then proceeds to have me stand with my knees slightly bent, facing him. He steps into my dance frame, puts his knee between my knees and our hipbones are touching. He leans close and says "If you can't feel my hips, you're not in closed dance position."

I managed NOT to burst out laughing, and he proceeded to sweep me around the dance floor as though I knew how to tango! It felt amazing, and I learned that with a 2-minute lesson and a decent lead I can look as though I know how to dance.

We lounged around the keys in the evenings, biking and going snorkeling and sunbathing one day as well. A story for another day is the gentlemen we watched poke a LARGE hole in their $250,000.00 boat.

2 days later was the next highlight of the trip, when Wendy decided she wanted to put me in the water with her dolphins. The manager was totally cool about it and let me swim for free with Squirt and Fiji. We had an awesome time together and I got to do the "underwater driving test." It was exhilarating.

Then we drove up to Orlando for the vet meeting. We spent nights partying late and 10-hour days in lectures. For my birthday we went out to a fun seafood dive bar. I did some important networking in the behavior community and made a great impression on a few very influential people. This was a big priority and I was very happy and relieved when it went well.

For the day after my birthday, Micah arranged for us to go out on a research trip to capture wild manatee. This was a terrific experience. After the first animal, they had me hauling in nets, assisting with collecting samples and helping carry the manatee around for measurements and release. The animals were beautiful, a little intimidating with their power and size, and fascinatingly different from anything I've seen before.

After the conference, it was back down to Miami for a night with Micah's family. We went out to their favorite restaurant, ate way too much, drank way too much sake and finished the night with a moonlight walk along Biscayne bay.

I was very sad as I always am to come home. The trip was really fun and gave me a chance to be with my best Micah, impress some people who are very high in my chosen field and spend time with awesome animals.

11 December 07 - Repeating themes of life

In my life, I've been through a lot. Spending a childhood parenting my alcoholic parent, parenting my very sick and disabled grandparent. Striving to do well in spite of a lack of support. Motivating myself to learn when no one else cared. Marrying young, losing the husband I knew, learning the husband I've got. Supporting a family as the sole bread-winner. Giving everything I've got to building my employer's business without much success.

These experiences have armed me with plenty more life experience than I sometimes feel I deserve, and enough emotional baggage to require those little orange extra-bag tickets everywhere I go.

While I've done my best over the years, I've found myself failing consistently in a few areas. As my friends, I trust your advice in helping me understand how to improve myself. So feel free to chime in...

Somehow, people always feel like I have an ulterior motive. I feel like I should be transparent - my mistakes are honest ones, my apologies are always sincere, and my triumphs are hard-won. I do my best to be clear and honest, stand up for myself (this is *HARD*) and reflect on who I am and how I need to change to improve.

Yet, I find these recurring themes in my life. For some reason, it is very easy for people to believe me guilty of being intentionally mean... I'm scary. They believe that I lie. They believe I'm fine cheating to get ahead. They find me intimidating, condescending, or worse.

Patience is NOT a virtue of mine, but I'm trying. I'm a control freak. My tolerance for lack of personal responsibility in adults is non-existent. Anyone who knows me realizes this - it is a great weakness. At the same time, fairness is extremely important to me. Fairness to others is even more important to me than fairness to myself.

So how do I reconcile what is important to me with being more approachable, more friendly, more easily understood? I have plenty to apologize for in my life. I'd like to have less to apologize for, and would like even more for people to be able to believe my apologies.

I've been going through a phase where I feel like I'm the crazy one and the majority really is normal. While I wonder how healthy this is, I also wonder if I should just embrace and accept it?

I can not change other people, I can only change myself. My feelings are my own, and not the fault of any other person. I'm not here to blame other people, I'm here to try and learn to change myself so others aren't angry at me all the time.

So I'm doing what is hardest for me: asking for help. Help!! Your comments and suggestions are welcome and appreciated. Thanks for listening.

17 August 07 - Words to Describe Myself

describing myself and news of the week

Well, I found an old friend. It's been a long time, and we have both been through a lot it seems. I look forward to finding what the future holds for us.

Random thought: Someday I still want to learn to dance. Anybody have a partner for me? The hubby isn't so into it. 6' or taller please, prefer male but butch lesbian could do just fine ;)

Link that keeps coming over and over, so I'll disseminate it here: Manualist performs "Bohemian Rhapsody"

In other news, a few weeks ago was my first board meeting as a BOD member with the SVBT. It was a frustrating conference call and somewhat chaotic. Chaos is the enemy, it gets me all riled up, though anyone who knows me well knows that for me "all riled up" lookes like insanely calm with the very-scary-very-quiet-and-intense-voice. One interesting result of the meeting was a request for an "updated" bio for the board member section of the website. I've been feeling really fragmented lately, so it was harder than I thought it would be to encapsulate the important parts of my recent professional endeavors. The process, however, reacquainted me with some of the qualities I constantly seek to develop in myself.

When chatting with friends and such, I frequently say I've never been accused of being "nice." This is acceptable to me because I don't think "nice" is very important. Being well-liked is far less important to me than being well-respected (read: right all the time *wink*). Of course, the question is raised, what adjectives do I seek? Here are a few for your perusal.

Ethical. Willing to follow the morally correct course of action within the relevancy of my own sphere, regardless of whether it is the easiest or most efficient path. For me, knowing my own ethics is easy, and even resisting applying them to others is relatively easy. The hardest thing is to brush off criticism of my own ethics.

Competent. Qualified to do the things I do, and do them well. This is sometimes hard to reconcile with my abhorration of complacency - constantly learning new things decreases my competence by definition. (At least temporarily)

Eloquent. Expressing myself succinctly and powerfully using written and verbal speech. Unfortunately, this is NOT the same as being verbose, which I do quite well 8)

Esteemed. This goes along with respected, but I think captures more clearly what I crave. I want people to look up to me, to desire my expertise and have valid reasons to trust that expertise.

Ambitious. Insert your own pre-conceived notions here, then abandon them as I hope to abandon my own.


Trustworthy. It seems this means something different to every person I know. However, for me, trustworthy means something akin to honest. My mantra is "Say what I mean, mean what I say." My closest friends understand this about me. My honesty is the reason my dogs, and friends, trust me - it is also one of my greatest weaknesses. Ironically enough, I feel that my manner of communicating leads to my being poorly understood. By meaning what I say, and saying what I mean, I take away the mysterious shroud often named "ulterior motive" or "what's in it for her?" -- All that remains is the trustable truth - and most people don't know how to process that type of behavior. So the question is, do I change myself, or change the world - or content myself with being misunderstood in my naked honesty? The answer of course is to change myself. Either my behavior or my level of contentment. Changing anyone outside myself is not within my power.

Pragmatic. Now, practicality may not seem compatible with the rest of the words on this lofty list, but I do my best. Sometimes impelling pragmatic answers out of challenging situations requires creativity. Lucky for me, I have plenty of creativity, seasoned with the tiny dash of diplomacy (not enough, but all I can muster), practical solutions are one of my specialties.

Responsible. My control-freak nature feeds right into this. I enjoy responsbility. Accountability for tasks, concepts and my own condition. I'm not always good at it, but I do gravitate toward it. I'll improve with practice.

Loyal. Sometimes to a fault. Once my loyalty is merited, you're stuck with it. Some accuse me of altruism. I'm not sure how to reconcile this.

Cynical. Because something has to save me from myself.

Well, that's my list. What's your list?


26 April 07 - Herding tale

So this is the run-down of my weekend as sent to our herding students' list. For those of you who need a little more background, here is the cast of characters:

Me - novice herding student on a STEEP learning curve
Diane - my herding instructor
Magick - my very novice herding dog
Lucy - Diane's 2-year-old Border collie who is my current trial dog
Dolly and Ray - 2 of Diane's other young Border collies who I don't know very well

This Saturday was Lucy's and my first try at a Nursery USBCHA sheep course. The course is comprised of an outrun (300yds), lift, fetch through panels, drive, crossdrive and pen. If you're that much of a herding nerd, check out www.usbcha.org

Overall the run went well. We finished under time, successfully completed all the obstacles and did not retire or get dq'd, so we made it through a Nursery course on our first try!! Lucy worked her heart out for me. She and I had a few small differences of opinion but with a young dog, strange sheep and a very very green handler this is not unusual at all. We earned 5th place with a score of 64 points. Not stellar, but still pretty darn good.

The rest of my weekend wasn't exactly uneventful either. Following is the story of the "other" herding activities this weekend:

Well, I went out to work dogs on Friday. I planned on working Magick and Lucy, which evolved into working Magick, Lucy, Dolly and Ray.

All was well, I used Lucy to bring the sheep into the round pen from the lower pasture. Sorted out a couple of unlikely candidates which left like 5 sheep and a goat. I decided to work Magick first to take the edge off - put her in the round pen and had a very nice session.

Next was Dolly - she was quite the little lady. Very polite, rating nicely, moving freely around the stock and lying down swiftly and quietly. Had a nice session - calm dog, calm handler, calm sheep.

Then Ray had a turn. (Mind you, Lucy and Magick are NOT pleased that they are not the only dogs working with me and the woolies). All was well. He decided not to lie down once... but only once.

Back to Magick again. She had another nice short session balancing well. We are working on changing directions without slicing into the stock. She was being very good, so at the end I took her with me to the gate, opened the gate and sent her back into the pen on her own to bring the sheep out. She did this very nicely.

She was a hot and dirty little dog by now, so she went for a swim in the ditch. The cow had been watching all of this from afar and seemed quite interested in the dog swimming up and down the ditch. When Magick climbed out, the cow just walked right up to her and gave her a good sniff. She did the same to him, then gave him a swift, hard head-butt right on the
nose. No teeth, just a hard smack. The cow was quite shocked by this and took off at a quick trot away from the weird little
head-butting-swimming-dog-thing. I was curious to see what would happen, so took a few steps toward the cow just watching Magick. Lo and behold, she trotted right up behind that cow as calm as could be and marched him right into the round pen!!! I couldn't believe my eyes.

At this point I couldn't help myself. Grabbed Lu to put 3 sheep and a goat in with the cow and took Magick back into the round pen. Little miss Magick was more than happy to work the cow and goat along with her sheep like a champ. After a few gathers, we quit while we were ahead and moved off to the big field to practice some driving with Lucy. (If you want to practice starting the drive, just put some grain in a bucket under the orange cone marking the post... Lucy had to work pretty hard to push those woolies off of me)

Fast forward through Saturday (trial) to Sunday. Again I'm working all 4 dogs. Magick and Lucy both worked very nicely for me again. Ray's turn came and he was working very nicely and politely in the round pen so I decided (wisely or unwisely? one never knows) to take him out into the lower pasture.

The sheep are standing around the big stump and there is a group of sheep across the ditch (which I hadn't really paid attention to) grazing as well. I am standing near the round pen and send Ray left... next thing I know he has launched himself completely airborne, clears the ditch in a single leap and is halfway to the sheep I hadn't even seen.

While I have visions of dragging sheep out of the ditch by myself with no backup and getting soaked and grouchy it finally occurs to me to call the dog... Just 2 "Ray, That'll do!!" and he came running right back. The second time I was smart enough to send him right and he picked up the sheep on my side of the ditch...

But the real fun was yet to come. Dolly was worked last. This may have been a problem. She was pretty amped but working well in the round pen. She had been downing nicely and calling off the sheep to reset up nicely as well. When I decided we were done and called her off the sheep to the gate she decided not to come. I called her a few more times and tried to get between her and the sheep to collect her and she just put on the gas and kept pushing the sheep right onto me. So I have the bright idea: Let her fetch the sheep to me at the gate, let the sheep out of the round pen, then I'll be alone with the dog in the pen and she'll be more likely to come.

The sheep are right around my legs, Dolly is lying down on the opposite side of the pen grinning at the sheep. I open the gate and the sheep squirt out. I close the gate and turn around to call the dog when out of the corner of my eye I see a red and white flash... running across the pen... and then AIRBORNE... She sails right over the round pen fence and there I am, locked in the round pen with no dog and no sheep and she is off and running toward the pond...

&*#$^ is about all I'm capable of at this point. I finally made my way out of the round pen. I figured I'd just let her bring me the sheep and go from there but Dolly wasn't convinced that bringing me the sheep was in her best interest. So then it was convince Dolly to bring me the sheep... pressure, release, pressure, release. Eventually she did fetch the sheep to me and lie down long enough to be caught. Boy did she look pleased with herself. Taught me a lesson thinking I could outsmart a border collie who didn't think she was done working!!

So apparently, Lucy can do a Nursery course, Magick can work the cow, and both Ray and Dolly are FLYING sheep dogs.

All is well... I went home after that and sat on the back deck and had a cocktail.

Monique and Magick
(and Lucy's Auntie)

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