Monday, August 30, 2010

Reba - a new life Part II

This is the second in a series of posts about Reba's new life as a service dog. Part I is here if you haven't read it.

Graduation was Saturday, August 14. I got a schedule in the mail - there was a brunch where puppy raisers got to meet the graduates, and a 20 minute period where puppy raisers were able to visit with their puppies. There were pictures sessions too, and finally graduation, where the puppy raiser walks across the stage with the puppy and hands her to the graduate. It sounded like a beautiful ceremony, and I'm very sad I wasn't able to attend.

Fortunately, Reba's weekend mom was there in my stead, and she was kind enough to send me any number of pictures throughout the day of the ceremony and activities.

Before the ceremony, the puppy-raisers got to spend a few minutes with their puppies. Reba greets ER with a talented paw shake and a veeery careful "stealth slurp," caught here on film.

During the graduation ceremony, ER and Reba walk across the stage so that ER can hand Reba over to her new owner, Lyena. They all look so wonderfully happy - I could not be more proud!

There was a professional photographer at the graduation ceremony as well. This picture of ER hugging Lyena as she hands Reba over just makes me tear up. It's so beautiful!

In hindsight, it's hard to believe that Reba went from...

... this, at 7.5 weeks... this, at ~8 months...

... to this, at ~2 years. Note the blue jacket that denotes a "real" service dog, and not just a puppy-in-training.

My little girl is all grown up. Sniffle.

It turns out that at every graduation, one graduate is chosen to speak during the ceremony. Lyena was chosen for this graduation, and the picture above was taken while Lyena spoke. I'll be receiving a video in the mail in a few weeks, I hope, so I should get to see the speech in its entirety. I can't wait!

About a week after graduation, Lyena sent me a lovely email introducing herself, and I've gotten permission to share that in the next installment.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reba - a new life Part I

Over the next few days, I'm going to do a series of posts about Reba. On August 14, she successfully completed Team Training at CCI in Oceanside, CA, and is now at home with her new owner, Lyena, happily fetching water bottles and occasionally snoogling in bed.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me start by saying that I only knew about Lyena from her web site and what I was able to find about her through Google. I'd never talked to her, even over the phone. And I wasn't sure she'd want to contact me - CCI leaves that up to the new owner. In addition, I wasn't able to attend graduation due to my sister-in-law's wedding, but Reba's weekend puppy raiser, ER, went in my stead. We put together a photo album of Reba puppy pictures, and I wrote a (very) long letter to her new mom, which we printed out and put in an envelope. ER delivered both on the morning of graduation.

Most of the puppy pictures that we included in the album are available on this blog entry, but I've pasted the letter I wrote to her new owner below, in its entirety. There will be more to come in the next few days - pictures of graduation, and Lyena's letter back to me - but we'll start with this.

A Letter to Reba's New Mom

More than anything, I wish I could join you for graduation this weekend, but I am attending my sister-in-law’s wedding across the country in New York. Please know that I am with you in spirit and understand that, as you begin your journey with Reba, graduation is the culmination of a journey I began more than two years ago.

In April 2008, my Ph.D. adviser, John S., passed away after a multi-year battle with leukemia. John was not only my adviser and a key part of my dissertation, he was also one of the most respected individuals in the field of accessibility, namely, Web accessibility for individuals with visual impairments. My dissertation explored ways in which blind individuals navigated web sites, and how modern-day web design practices could be improved to lessen the gap between user needs and web site design. Without John, I would not have had a dissertation!

An English professor at the University of Texas, John was himself blind, and had a wonderful guide dog named Dillon who had been with him for almost 10 years. Dillon was John’s key to freedom – with Dillon he walked to work nearly every morning, he navigated the very large campus at the University, he traveled internationally to lecture on web accessibility, and he even danced in a very creative production called “Sextet”. A two-part documentary on the production is available on Youtube, and it includes several interviews with John. You can also read more about the performace if you like. The dance was even performed at the Kennedy Center, where I believe you have performed as well.

John kept an online journal of the two weeks of training he went through when he got Dillon in 1998, called The Dillon Chronicles. Unfortunately, the university removed the web site after John passed away, but you can read about John’s experience walking in the neighborhood around his house, just north of campus. Perhaps it will provide some insight into how Dillon affected John’s life.

John was an inspiration to so many people, and Dillon helped him to be so. When John passed away, I felt that I wanted to give something back, as John had given to me. I decided that in John’s memory, and Dillon’s (who passed away shortly after John) as well, I would raise a dog in hopes that she, too, could be an integral part to someone’s life. I chose to raise a service dog for CCI, because there was already a support group in the Austin area. After a lengthy application process, Reba arrived as “unattended cargo” at the Austin airport on the Friday before Thanksgiving, 2008.

It’s hard not to fall in love with a puppy, and Reba was no exception. From the beginning, Reba was a very good girl. She didn’t whine or cry, although she did have a propensity for stealing my husband’s size 12 boots. I’d never had a puppy before, although I’d trained my other dog, Elias, who was a rescue. Leash training, toilet training, working with her on name recognition – I was so worried I wouldn’t get it right! We went to puppy classes, where she always shone, except during playtime, and then she was a terror!

One of the funniest things that happened during puppy class was during a demonstration of what to do if your dog got off leash and wouldn’t come back. The trainer fell to the ground and pretended that he was hurt, and all the dogs in the class tried to get to him to see if he was OK – all except Reba. She just sort of looked at me as if to say, “Mom, I think you should do something about that,” then heaved a sigh and put her head on her paws. It’s a good thing she’s not supposed to be a search-and-rescue dog!

My co-workers loved her, and occasionally I’d take off her jacket for playtime. Most of the time, though, she snoozed under my desk (upside-down, of course), and went with me to meetings, which she was allowed to sleep through. The best part of having her at the university was watching people’s faces when I walked by – they would, without exception, smile when they saw her. I loved that she could bring that bit of light to people’s days.

Outings with Reba were always entertaining. On the bus, she always turned heads and I was forever answering questions about her. One lady who rode my bus in the mornings was an artist who did watercolors on her 45-minute bus commute. She did a watercolor of Reba that she claims really got her business going! On campus, people I’d never met would stop me and ask me how Reba was doing (that was an odd experience, to have a complete stranger walk up to you and refer to your dog by name, but have no clue who you are!) We startled waiters at restaurants; they never knew she was there until we got up to leave. I would often overhear children at the grocery store ask their moms why I had a dog, and those children who were respectful occasionally got to shake her paw. Reba even went with her weekend mom, Ellen, to visit a Montessori school in town, and she was calm and gentle with even the smallest ones.

Of course, all was not perfect in puppy land. Raising a puppy is like having a two-year-old. When did she last toilet? Did she just try to lick the floor? Is she going to be good around that guide dog and not distract him? I should warn you that Reba will find every twist tie in your house and bring it to you. She also occasionally steals socks, but she always returns them, mostly undamaged. She has an uncanny sense of time and will remind you when it’s time to go home from work (mostly so you can feed her) or take her out. She loves to get out and RUN – but only for a few minutes. Then she’s ready to settle down and work again. As a puppy-raiser, we aren’t supposed to let them sleep with us, but she did sleep with me the last night I had her. She was a model puppy, staying at my feet until morning, at which point she wiggled her way up to lay her head on my shoulder and stare at me with those big brown eyes. Beware of her cute puppy wiles!

Reba has several names that she earned while she was with me. I’d often call her the “Lablet” when she was small, and “Munchkin”, which was later shortened to “Munch.” And of course, she was The Adorable Labrador, which ended up as “Labradorable,” and… well, I could go on, but I won’t.

As for me? I’m a technical writer/web designer/accessibility expert/project manager for the university’s central IT department. I finished my Ph.D. in May 2009. I’m married to a geology professor, and have two teenagers, J. who is a senior in high school and E. who is a junior. We have a Malamute mix (the rescue I mentioned) named Elias, and a Great Pyrenees Guardian Dog named Anie. We also have two cats, Freya and Bailey, and two horses, Saga and Red. We keep a flock of chickens as well, for eggs, but they are not named, although collectively we call them “The Ladies.” There’s currently a (harmless, though large) rat snake visiting our shed, and the husband has dubbed him Herbert, but that’s a story for another day.

We recently bought a house in south Austin on two acres, so we could keep our horses at home. However, the house was built in 1951 and hasn’t really been cared for, so it’s a major project. I keep a blog about the progress on the house, and another blog about the horses, if you are interested. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, riding the horses competitively, and traveling. And of course, working on the house!

I would be absolutely delighted to meet you and/or correspond, if that’s amenable to you. I do hope you will keep in touch – I am so proud and excited that Reba is going home with you, and I hope that she is as important in your life as Dillon was in John’s.

Very sincerely yours,

Reba’s puppy-raiser

P.S. Looking in my old emails on Reba, I found this story that I sent to CCI. She was about 5 months old when this happened:

Reba (III) came to me last night with a tag dangling from her mouth, looking for all the world as if it had been attached to her. I asked her to drop, which she promptly did. I picked up the tag, which had apparently been filched from (gnawed off of?) an old comforter that we now use as a dog bed. The instructions on the tag read:

Laundering Instructions
Machine wash warm separately, gentle cycle.
Tumble dry low, remove promptly.
Shake to restore fluffiness.
Do not dry clean.

Just in case you wanted to know how to launder a Lab... :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mid-week kitteh

This week, on mid-week kitteh, I give you... paws! Because Freya just has such cute, fuzzy, EXTREMELY LARGE snowshoe-like paws - which are very important here in south central Texas. You know, in case it snows or something.

The front paws, neatly curled. Because one must curl one's paws neatly, you know.

And the back paws, complete with "toehawks" (those tufts of hair between the toes).

And, the entire upside-down kitteh. Just because she's cute!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How not to wash your dishes

I would just like to let all my readers know what happens when you put dish washing liquid in your dishwasher instead of dishwasher detergent.



There are a few things I would like to note about this experience:
  1. My kitchen floor is now Very Clean, after mopping up the bubbles.
  2. It's a good thing we have a Bosch, which doesn't leak much... otherwise, my kitchen floor would be Even Cleaner.
  3. I had nothing to do with the wrong detergent being added to the dishwasher. Neither did my husband or children. The guilty parties shall remain unnamed, since they were kind enough to do the dishes for us!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mid-week kitteh

I had some great new kitteh pictures to share on Mid-week Kitteh, but for some reason my iPhone is refusing to synch with iPhoto. I'll have to solve that problem tomorrow.

In the meantime, please grab the kitteh nearest you and give it a good smoosh. Bonus points if your smooshable kitteh is snoozing on a piece of paper (note Freya, above).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Goin' solar, baby!

Now that we have a new roof, we were able to have the solar panel for the water heater installed. The guys came out on Saturday and put it up in a couple of hours.

The panel is on the front of the house, where it gets maximum sunlight and is closest to the water heater tank. For anyone who wonders what solar will look like on top of there house, here you go. I personally don't think it looks all that bad.

This single panel should provide us with all the hot water we can use, March - November, without using any energy from the grid.

The guys will hopefully come back on Wednesday to actually finish hooking up the system, but they have to do so early in the morning. With daytime temperatures reaching 102 here, it can easily be 150 degrees in the attic in the afternoon, which makes for dangerous working conditions. But... hopefully by Wednesday, we'll be all hooked up!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Half a new roof

Last week ended up being very productive, even though we didn't end up doing much of the work ourselves. In addition to having the gas line run to the kitchen, we got a new roof put on the slab half of the house.

Shingles off, down to the tar paper. Fortunately, none of the roof decking (which is 6 inch tongue-and-groove Douglas Fir) had to be replaced on this half of the house.

Work progressing - view from the street.

Nearly done - just in time for a lovely thunderstorm to move in from the north (notice the nice black clouds in the background).

Done. Well, the slab half (left half) is done, anyway. It's really not much different in color than the old greenish tiles, but the new ones are 30 year dimensional shingles and because of the color, are eligible for the Energy Star roofing rebate.

As to why we only re-roofed the slab half of the house, there are a couple of reasons.
  1. The solar water heater tank is in the laundry room, which is in the slab half of the house. We've had the tank since March or so, but weren't able to put the solar panels on until we had a new roof. Now that we have the roof on, we'll be able to install the solar panels and take our water heater completely off the grid.
  2. We would like to put an addition on the back of the pier-and-beam half of the house and a covered porch on the front of the house. Waiting till these projects are done to re-roof that section of the house makes the most sense - that way we won't be roofing it twice.
We're hoping to get solar panels on the house in the next week or two, so I'll report on that as it progresses. As for the second half of the roof, we are now re-thinking the addition but may still do the front porch. Regardless, we don't want to wait for more than a year (preferably less) to get a new roof on the rest of the house - otherwise the roofing tiles will start to look different with the different amounts of weathering.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Just like the Old Spice commercial, Part II

This is the second half of the Story of My New Oven. You can read the first half here.

When last I left you, the gas line had been run, pressurized, and inspected, but the range hadn't yet been installed and connected. Well, the last step finally occurred a few days later, and I had my new range!

I should point out that having the range up and working was really the last element of reaching Appliance Nirvana - new refrigerator, new dishwasher, new range. And, once we had the oven installed, I of course wanted to use it. I haven't done any baking AT ALL since the carbonized banana bread experience, so I'm afraid I've been feeling rather deprived.

Well, the thought of baking something reminded me of a clip from one of the Old Spice commercials... you know, the one where the actor asks, "Do you want a man who smells like he can bake you a gourmet cake in the dream kitchen he built for you with his own hands? Of course you do!" Well, my hubby hasn't started building the gourmet kitchen yet (unless you count the gourmet appliances), but he has done almost all the work on the house thusfar with his own hands (ok, and a lot of help from yours truly and other relatives and friends, but I digress). So naturally, in keeping spirit with the commercial, I told him I wanted him to bake me a gourmet cake.

Now I should point out that my husband Does Not Bake. He's all about fire and active cooking, but if he has to walk away from it for more than 3 minutes, chances are the next time he'll remember it is 17 hours later. Handily, our good friends Alexis and his wife were visiting town, and he offered to bake the cake. I should also mention that Alexis has rebuilt their kitchen with his own hands, after Ike hit their house two years ago, so he most definitely qualified for the gourmet cake-baking. So the hubby and Alexis sort of tag-teamed dinner, with my hubby doing most of the grilling but assisting with the baking as well.

Look, a flame! EEEET WORKS!!! (Insert gleeful cackle and me bouncing joyfully around the kitchen.)

Notice the CONV BAKE. Convection ovens are just the BEST for baking - everything turns out nice and even and it cooks so much faster too!

Testing it for the first time: perfectly-done angel-food cake castle (it's upside-down here).

Triple chocolate brownie castle base (mmmmtasty).

The final product, complete with a raspberry-blueberry compote. I'd say that qualifies as a gourmet cake! (Note Old Spice Body Wash options in the background.)

And that, dear readers, is why my man is just like the man in the Old Spice commercial. ;)

Oh, and in case you're wondering... yes, I have used the new oven. IT ROCKS! I'd just like to leave you with a before-and-after thought...

BEFORE: Old oven produced Carbonized Banana Bread.

AFTER: New oven creates Perfect Banana Bread (minus the sample I had out of the back corner).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mid-week kitteh

When one has an excess of kittehs, it's important to have a place to put them when they're not in use.

I prefer storing Freya in a drawer.

Ok, ok, as any cat owner knows, you can't actually put a cat in a drawer. They have to get in themselves. It's still cute, though.

Where do you store your kitteh? Send me a pic and I'll post it here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

And the winner is...

And the winner of my little poll about which critter you'd rather have - Wasps on the front door, Scorpions in the kitchen sink, a Rat snake in the back shed, or Forget this, I'm moving to Manhattan with the sewer rats - is...

Herbie, the rat snake in the back shed, by a landslide! Well, OK, he got 63% of the vote. Maybe not a landslide, but definitely the majority.

Second place goes to Scorpions in the Kitchen Sink. For those of you who voted for the scorpions, please send me your address and I'll be happy to FedEx you the next scorpion I find. Don't worry, the little buggers are nigh on impossible to kill unless you squash them, so I'm sure they'll arrive in good condition, even if you live halfway around the world. :)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Adorable Labrador

More news on Reba!

Last weekend, Reba started Team Training at CCI. Thursday, I got a call from the head of the puppy-raisers program to let me know that Reba had been "pre-matched" with a lady from the Hollywood area. This means that Reba will spend the weekend with her, and hopefully, if all goes well, they will graduate as a team next weekend!!!

Now, Reba could do something inappropriate for the graduate to handle and the whole thing could be called off at the last minute, but apparently, it looks pretty good. Reba's weekend mom and I are getting together today to put together a puppy photo album to give to Reba's new mom. It will have most of the pictures I've already shown, but hopefully after next weekend, I'll have some of Reba graduating to share!

In the meantime, WritingWeb found this short video of Reba trying to cram three - count them three - squishy balls in her mouth at once during a play session at work last spring. I just love how she pounces on the balls and the ears flop about. Too cute!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

By request - mid-week kitteh

Last week on Mid-Week Kitteh, Writingweb suggested that, due to her propensity to sleep upside-down, Freya needing a good smooshing. After inquiring as to exactly what a smooshing entailed, I give you the following, by request:

Alas, I could not rub my face in her tummy, as suggested, and video at the same time, due to the nature of the smooshing. However, I do hope this will suffice.

WARNING: One should only try this with smooshable cats, else one might withdraw a bloody stump when the non-smooshable cat objects to smooshing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Just like the Old Spice commercial, Part I

About two months ago, we bought a new stove - a GE Profile Double Oven Gas Convection Oven, to be precise. 5 burners, double convection ovens, and it makes coffee too (ok, kidding on the coffee). Unfortunately, the house didn't actually have gas run to the kitchen when we bought it, so the oven has been sitting in the living room since we purchased it. Poor stove, neglected and abandoned. And me, stuck with the crappy electric stove with the Carbonizing Oven. Tragedy.

However, this last week, our plumber finally managed to find time in his schedule to run a gas line from the utility room to the kitchen. Of course, first we had to submit a sketch of the new line, along with $100 permit fee, to the city office for approval. Once we got the approval, work started.

Digging the trench from the laundry room (on the right) to the kitchen (on the left). We paid the plumber's son to do this part.

Tying into the existing gas line into the laundry room. Note the shiny new cutoff valve (yellow). The red wire is a tracer wire that is run next to the gas line - you can plug it in and then trace it with anything that detects electricity. This is important since gas lines are no longer metal, but a super-strong plastic. The white PVC pipes we think are water pipes that go to the shed, but we're not entirely sure.

And of course, halfway through the project, it rained and the trench filled with water. The yellow thing in the trench is the new gas line.

This picture is actually fairly important because you can see three other metal pipes above the gas line. We think the two lower pipes are gas and the upper one is water, but we're not really sure where they're going or what they're hooked in to. However, for future reference, we'll know where to start looking with a metal detector to trace them out.

Nearly done - the line is pressurized and holding steady, as shown by the gauge. At this point we had the inspection company come out to inspect it, and then backfilled the trench. But we couldn't actually install the new stove and hook it up until the inspectors did the final inspection... I almost couldn't stand the wait!!!

You're probably wondering why this is just like the Old Spice Commercial... well, you'll just have to wait around for Part II to find out!