Friday, July 31, 2009

Windows of Opportunity

With how humid it's been here lately, we've kept our windows shut tight and the central air-condition humming. We stay nice and cool (and dry) in our controlled climate while the world outside wilts.

The canine crew, too, prefers to be indoors during these 90+-degree-high-humidity days. Here are the girls hanging out together: Pinot, Kenya, and Elsie, l-r below:

Ah, but when moisture factors and temperatures drop, the windows fly open and dogs come in and out at will (well, they come in at will since Tuc and Elsie can both open the back door; going out, however, necessitates opposable thumbs, i.e., human intervention).

We love open-windows kinds of days.

Open windows invite cool, crisp breezes to flow through the house. They allow us to replace stale, predictable, recycled air with clean, unpredictable, even robust odors of the outdoors (including wafting manure smells of distant farms..hehe...I did say "robust"). It's enlivening, uplifting, refreshing.

Open windows feel exciting and new. I love the scent of fresh air and the caress of cool breezes on my skin that open windows afford.

But I'm also allergic to molds and pollens and grasses (thankfully not to dog dander), and, to boot, I have allergy-induced asthma. So opening windows, though refreshing, is risky for me. I've learned to open windows at certain times to maximize the fresh-air benefit, but minimize the risk.

I'm learning to do the same with windows of opportunity.

Maybe it's because I'm a big kid now, a "grown-up" (otherwise known as an "adult"). Maybe it's that, at a year shy of fifty years old, I'm in full-fledged mid-life reevaluation. Maybe it's just that I've learned about life the hard way too many times. Whatever the reason, I just don't need the thrill-a-minute, blind-risk-adventure I used to enjoy.

I don't dive in without measuring the depth of the water. Not anymore.

That's how it's been with our Lab-breeding windows.

Am I a little sad (and disappointed) that we missed our window of opportunity with Kenya's heat cycle? Yes.

Did we weigh the risk vs. benefit of opening the window to a fall litter from her? Indeed, we did, and we decided that it was the right time.

But opening that window would not have been without risk:
  • This would've been Kenya's first pregnancy. You just don't know how it's going to go with an unproven dam. That risk will be there until she whelps for the first time, whenever that happens.
  • DH's job situation is still very up in the air. At this point, we don't know if he'll be commuting two hours (one-way) each day starting in late fall.
  • We just found out DFS is not returning to residential college this fall, but will be commuting to community college instead. That means me driving him, until he goes for, and hopefully passes, his driver's test. He at least has his permit now (Yay! This is his first attempt at getting a driver's license, and he's 25 years old -- a welcome milestone).
  • I'm still having trouble with the pinched nerve in my neck, and will be seeing the orthopedist next week. I have no idea how long this will take to settle down.
When we made the decision to attempt to breed Kenya this time, we knew about the first-time-pregnancy risks and the up-in-the-air job situation. We did not, however, know that DFS would not be returning to his residential college, nor did we know that my pinched-nerve trouble would worsen again.

Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, our missed window of opportunity with Kenya is really a blessing in disguise. Perhaps we're being spared the stress and responsibility (though missing the joy) of raising a litter when I would've been spending hours a day driving DFS back and forth to school (45-minutes one-way) or when I physically, because of the nerve thing, may not be in any kind of shape to care for pups by then.

The nice thing about windows is, though sometimes it's best they stay closed, there are other times, perhaps just around the bend, during which they can be opened again. It might be a different window or a different season, but it's an opening nonetheless.

And so it will be with Kenya.

And Elsie.

And Pinot.

And Ridge.

And Tuc (note the tail-wag blur -- one big, happy boy!).

And it will be that way with any other endeavor we pursue.

So, yes, it's definite: we missed our window with Kenya, and she will definitely not being having a fall litter.

But while that window is shut (perhaps for our protection and benefit), another will open. Of that I'm sure.

In the meantime, we'll enjoy the always-open window of loving and living with our Labs.

And, in this season, I'll try to more regularly share that window with you.

'Til next time,

Monday, July 27, 2009

Control: It's an Illusion (Aka, the Kenya-Bean has a Mind of Her Own)

Kenya, it seems, has a mind (and body) of her own.

She's also seen fit to remind us that "the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray." - Robert Burns.

Yup. Apparently we humans have far too inflated a view of ourselves. We seem to think we can plan and scheme and, if we invest enough strategy, effort, and knowledge, we can ultimately get our desired results.


How silly we are.

The latest round of remind-us-we're-puny-humans-and-any-control-we-think-we-have-is-just-an-illusion came in the form of planning for fall puppies.

We've done this before. Successfully. We've watched countless heat cycles, read biological indicators, avoided pregnancies when we wanted to protect our girls, and ensured conception when we thought the time was right. Timing the dogs' matings (or avoiding mating during prime times) has never been a problem. Nuts? Yes. A problem? No.

To boot, for this fall's planned litter, we have a notify list of over twenty people (people who want to be notified when Kenya is pregnant). We've already received three completed placement questionnaires (but didn't take any deposits -- never do until the pups are born) from people who seriously want a pup this fall.

We prepared. We did all the necessary screenings. Kenya's OFA certs came back well ("good" on hips; "normal" on elbows). She and Ridge passed their eye-certifcation exams with flying colors. No issues. Everything was good to go.

We had our plans.

Kenya, it appears, had hers.

Our Kenya Bean, for the first time, didn't cycle the same way as she has in past heat cycles. Mind you, this is not Kenya's first heat -- more like her sixth. This time was different.

In heats past, she made it obvious when she was ready to mate. Her day-counts (we count days from the onset of their heat cycles to estimate when conception is most likely to occur) have been well within the norm (20-to-22-day cycle, prime between days 10 and 14). She'd do the normal-for-a-Lab-in-heat attract-the-boys dance and would cock her tail to signal her readiness.

This time she's barely spotted. This time she's not cocking her tail. This time she wants nothing to do with the boys.

Not that the boys don't want her. They've been going nuts.

But Kenya's not interested.

Maybe it's that Elsie was in heat simultaneously (a couple days ahead of Kenya in her cycle). Maybe Kenya's just not feeling well. Or maybe, for some reason, Kenya is experiencing a longer-than-usual cycle and isn't yet prime, though by our count she's at day 15 right now. We've been putting Ridge and Kenya alone together now since her day 11 (last Thursday), and she won't have anything to do with Ridge. Period.

Oh, and she lets us know she doesn't want anything to do with him, too. Sweet, happy-go-lucky-always-wiggly Kenya morphs into snarly-get-away-from-me Kenya when Ridge gets close (poor, confused boy is only doing what Kenya's phermones are telling him to do). She's been behaving this way since we started allowing them to be together five days ago.

I'm beginning to realize we may not be having fall puppies after all.

Aaargh. You would think this would be easy, that nature would take its course.

It's not.

I don't know what happened (or what's happening). Maybe our counts are off (but we were checking her daily for spotting, and didn't find any until 15 days ago). Maybe we just lucked out with Elsie (our little always-ready-to-mate-would-be-a-breeding-machine-if-we'd-let-her girl). Maybe Kenya is just having an "off" cycle (she not at all flirtatious this time like she has been before). There've been no indicators from her, none, other than the onset of spotting.

Maybe she's just picky.

In any case, we planned a fall litter. And now it looks like it won't be happening.

And I'm reminded again of just how little control I have over anything.


This isn't the first reminder of my lack of real control, nor will it be the last. It's not my first disappointment, nor is it the first time things haven't worked out as I'd hoped and planned. I've learned to live with our other unexpected outcomes. I've even learned to embrace a few and have grown thankful for them. I trust there's a reason for this outcome out there somewhere.

So, though disappointed, I'm at peace.

I just dread disappointing all those people out there who were hoping for a Ridge-Kenya pup this fall.

Now it looks like we won't have pups until next spring. We'll find a new sire for Elsie over the winter (her next cycle six months from now), and then will get Tuc certified next May, for a Tuc-Kenya pairing next summer.

That is, of course, only our plan. We'll have to see how it all pans out.

I guess that makes me a pan-theist, eh? I believe it all pans out in the end.

'Til next time,

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Speaking of Wirings: Along Came Ridge

Mr. Ridgers. What a goof ball.

RR knows Ridge, our yellow (fox red) male who is now eight years and soon to be retired from stud-service, came to us as a three year old. We don't know a lot about his "nurture" (vs. nature) from those early years, only that his previous owners loved him, trained him, and cared for him well. Beyond that, we really know very little.

Yes, we have his pedigree. We know who his original breeder was (but never met him or saw those facilities). We met his first post-breeder owners and did see their facilities -- both were great. But we've never really known much about the specifics of his early years.

Regarding his "nature" (as in, wiring) we know even less.

Ridge, of our gang, is our mystery dog in both nature and nurture when it comes to his first three years of life. All we know is what we have in his paperwork. That's it.

Fast forward five years, and we're still learning about Ridge.

One of our recent (in the last year or so) discoveries concerns his aptitude for storytelling.

Yes, I did say storytelling.

Ridge loves to tell stories! Who knew? We sure didn't for the first four years he was with us; and if his previous owners did, they didn't tell us.

Here's how it goes when it's story time:

Ridge parks himself somewhere (brick floor, sofa, kennel room floor, the picnic table top ... whatever suits his old-man's fancy):

A human type walks by, especially a "Dad!" human type or a "Mom!" human type (aka DH or me), Ridge cocks his head, and then makes a half-voiced singing noise. It's not a bark, not a whine, not a howl or a moan (and not even remotely a growl), but something in between:

Said human type then says something like "Oh Ridge, did you want to tell us a story? Ya got a story to tell us, Ridge? Huh, Buddy? You got a story?"

And that's Ridge's cue. Enter Ridge the Storyteller (that's my foot-filled-aqua-blue-and-white sock at his nose in the first pic below). Note the leg action required to tell stories:

Ridge tells us stories just about anywhere. The sofa:

The picnic-table-top (now, mind you, I'm inside looking through the kitchen bay window when these next few were taken -- he's shouting his story through the window!):

You get the idea. Ridge carries his stories with him wherever he goes, and he's ready to tell them at a moment's notice. Anywhere. Anytime. You name it, and story-teller Ridge is there.

Lest you think Ridge's story-telling is a typical Lab thing, in the twenty years we've owned Labs, I can't recall ever capturing a photo of even one of our other Labs vocalizing. We've owned eight Labs here (not counting our litters); not one vocalized like Ridge.

And none told stories when asked. (Hey... the first real "On Demand"!) .

Who'd a thunk?

Wiring, it seems, is revealed over time. We just can't know everything up front. And I think it requires some level of trust.

After three years with previous owners, Ridge took a while to feel at home here, to feel safe, and to trust us. But now that he does, we're afforded windows into the "real" Ridge we might never have otherwise seen.

We just needed to stick it out with him. We needed to give him a chance. We needed to give him time.

And so it is with canine wiring: given the right conditions, even story-telling wirings can soar.

So it is with human wiring, too.

Here's to giving each other the grace and time we need to discover, test, and enjoy our wirings.

'Til next time,

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our Wirings

The more I stumble through middle age, the more I realize how much of who we are flows from how we've been wired.

That goes for canines and human-types alike.

Take Pinot, for example. Yes, we bred and raised her. Yes, we selected who her parents would be and made sure her parents were healthy and strong and had solid pedigrees. We carefully watched over her mom during her gestation. We delivered her and ensured that as a neonate she received the best sensory stimulation and exposure to various situations we could offer. We nurtured her. We provided the best vet care available. We gave her an enriching environment and worked with her. As our vet says, we did everything "right" by her and her littermates. We invested hours and hours and hours in her, and we love her to pieces. She's our girl.

But for all of that, we could not and cannot control her genes (neither can geneticists, so I don't feel bad).

Because of her genetics, she will never be a conformation show dog. By Lab breed standard her tail and nose are too long. She's too lean. Her body length isn't proportional to her leg length. Her skull isn't wide enough. Her chest isn't broad enough.

It's not who Pinot is, and it's not who she was designed to be.

Though she'll never be a ring dog, she's a retriever to the bones. She focuses on her retrieve like no other Lab we've owned. She's athletic (like her dad) and sweet (like her mom), but she seems to have exponentially multiplied the sound retrieving instinct she received from them both.

Just look at her focus (she's retrieving a black, medium-sized Kong in these photos):

Pinot is absolutely wired, no doubt in our minds, to retrieve.

Now, if we were fools, we could protest her wiring. We could shake our fists and say "but we wanted a show dog!" (Not that we did.) We could groom her for the show ring. We could train her for the show ring. We could even cheat and crop her tail a couple inches (NOT allowed) and fatten her up a bit. But we wouldn't get very far, and neither would she.

And, too boot, we'd both be miserable.

Instead, we've chosen to embrace who she is and foster her strengths.

We did the same with our children (who come with their own wirings as different from each other as our Labs are from their packmates).

To do any less would be to deny who they were made to be.

And to do any less with myself would be to deny who I was made to be.

For so many years I fought my wirings: I wish I were artistic like ________. I want to be petite like __________. If I only I had the fiestiness of ___________, or the patience of __________, or the figure of ___________ or the quick-come-backs of _________. I really should be more sweet, and feminine, and lady-like....

But to look at others to see who I should be would be as silly as us looking at Kenya (or conformation Labs) to determine who Pinot should be.

One of the many joys of reaching middle-age (late forties here) is realizing that we are who we are, and we don't need to be any other. We can celebrate our differences and enjoy our designs, just as we're wired to be.

It's taken decades, but what a relief it is to no longer feel defective for being who I am!

And what a relief it is to no longer expect others to be different than how they've been wired to be.

The pressure is off. I'm learning to enjoy the best in us all, just as we treasure the best in Pinot, despite her conformation faults.

We know she was born to retrieve. And she knows it, too.

And that's okay by us. We want her to be who she is.

After 49 years (my 49th birthday is in two days), I think I can finally say that about me, too.

It took long enough! I just wish I'd learned it sooner.

'Til next time,

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kiddie Pool Play

Me thinketh we needeth a mucheth biggereth pool!

'Til next time,