Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What's WRONG With People??

Is it just me or do tailgaters make other people crazy? I simply do not understand the mentality of a driver who thinks that it is a good policy to position his car 2 inches from my back bumper while traveling at 80 miles per hour down the freeway in the fast lane. Do they not realize that if I have to brake suddenly, they will be in my back seat faster than you can say “howdy-do, pleased to meetcha”? And they will be arriving via the heretofore unknown back door, rather than the regular entrance on the side.

I do realize, and appreciate the fact, that in California Land, you cannot leave the “proper” distance of one car length for every 10 miles per hour, between vehicles. The very second a large opening starts to appear between two cars, some fool will jump into it so HE can have the pleasure of visiting my back seat first. However, something over 2 inches is definitely required for safety, both his and mine.

I usually drive in the fast lane because, well, I drive fast, however, I guess “fast” is all a state of mind. Apparently my 80 mph puts me in the “little old lady from Pasadena” category in some people’s minds. I readily admit that I frequently speed on the freeway. It seems to be a way of life around here. I believe the freeway driver’s motto is “drive fast or get the hell out of my way”, so since I’m usually in a hurry too, I drive fast. However, no matter how fast I go, (and 80 is my personal limit) it never seems to be fast enough. There is ALWAYS somebody pushing right at that back door and silently saying, faster, faster, faster or get out of my way. Sometimes, they are not so silent and they actually flash their lights or toot their horn. I readily move over to let them fly past. If I’m going 80 and they go rocketing past me when I move over, my question is, exactly how fast do these fools want to go?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I Love Cruising

I think cruises are the ultimate vacation. Not everyone agrees as I recently discovered when a friend returned from a cruise and informed me that they had been terribly bored from being cooped up on the ship. I almost did a double-take at this astounding revelation because, for the life of me, I can’t see how anyone could be bored while on a luxury cruise liner, drifting along on the glorious, blue ocean, with all the activities you could imagine and all the food you could possibly eat right at hand.

Who would not love a vacation that includes 6 meals a day, all the snacks you can consume, a midnight buffet, free drinks (not liquor) and, the piece de resistance, a CHOCOLATE buffet at least once during the cruise? Omigod, somebody pinch me, I’ve died and gone to heaven! Not only do they include all these incredible eats in the cost of your trip, the food is actually very good. You get lobster and steak and shrimp and all manner of other wonderful treats prepared by a high-end, chef-type person. It is definitely not the mac and cheese with hamburger patties that you are accustomed to at home. Not only is the parade of food endless, it’s very tasty as well. They’ll bring this bounty to your room and serve it to you on a tray if you don’t feel like making the trek to the dining room, and, of course, none of this costs one penny extra…..it’s part of the cost of a cruise.

Then, if you can stop eating long enough, there are enough activities to keep any insane person busy 24 hours a day for the entire time the cruise lasts. Most of us sane folks, however, just do a few activities so we have more time to concentrate on the eating. Of course, these numerous activities help you build up your appetite for your next foray into the culinary world so they should definitely not be missed.

I myself am fond of Bingo, movies, live stage shows, trips to the casino (oh yes, a live action, honest-to-god casino right there on the ship), dips in the pool (waiters hover nearby ready to fill your food and drink order at the lift of a pinkie), soaks in the hot tub, a mind altering one hour massage by Jacque or Phillipe or Sven, manicures, a good work out on the treadmill at the on-board gym (you must do something to work up that appetite), putting at the onboard golf center, a visit to the library to find the latest best seller, an evening visit to a hot disco, a lively sports bar or a quiet night club with a live band, and lastly, but certainly not least, you could go on a shopping trip to the numerous onboard shops.

Clearly the above activities sound wonderful to this aging Baby Boomer, however for those with considerably more energy, there are things like, surfing in the wave pool, rock wall climbing, team volleyball, a track for running, scavenger hunts, numerous on-deck sports on the Sports Deck, Ping-Pong tournaments and the list goes on and on.

Now bear in mind that all the aforementioned activities take place ON THE SHIP. There is another whole group of activities that must be factored into your potential boredom level when you get OFF THE SHIP.

First you will find yourself at the foot of the gangplank in some wonderful, exotic, heretofore unknown location that offers innumerable possibilities for adventure. It might be a tropical paradise in the Caribbean or the South Pacific or a cool, unexplored wilderness in Alaska, with dozens of possibilities in between. There are excursions to everywhere, doing anything that you can possibly think of with tour guides, group leaders or side trips that you can make on your own. Want to walk on a glacier? It’s available. Want to climb a waterfall? The falls await your arrival. Want to sun yourself on a deserted beach? Just don’t forget your towels. Want to hike into the wilderness? Don’t forget the camera. There are more adventures, good food, shopping trips and tourist destinations than you could dream of in a lifetime.

How could anybody possibly find a cruise boring???

What Am I Afraid Of?

As many of you already know, I am college professor working in a large State University system. I have been teaching for several years now and have reached the point that I’m very comfortable in front of a group of students. Initially, getting up in front of a class was a mind bending, palm sweating, heart thumping experience, however, practice makes perfect and now it doesn’t bother me at all.

And then we come to this semester…….

School starts this coming Monday and I am in the midst of doing lots of prep work, working on outlines, revamping lectures, preparing Power Point presentations, etc. etc. But instead of feeling a sense of eagerness and readiness to get back to work, I am terrified. This feeling is not coming out of left field for I know exactly why I feel this way, but that doesn’t make it any more logical.

I have become involved in a scholar exchange program, and for the first time, I will have several students from a foreign country in my classroom. I don’t know why this bothers me, but somehow I am worried that they will think I am incompetent or stupid or unprepared or something. Don’t ask me to explain this for it’s too illogical for words. I am NOT incompetent or stupid and I will be vastly over-prepared as is my nature, but still I worry.

Upon in-depth analysis of my feelings, I must admit that I think maybe it has to do with the fact that the majority of my regular, on-going students, are, generally speaking, not prepared for college. They struggle with EVERYTHING I ask them to do. Our high schools are doing a terrible job of preparing our children for college and they come into my college classroom unable to write intelligibly, unable to spell, unable to compose a coherent sentence, unable to read well, unable to clearly express their thoughts, unable to do a coherent presentation, not knowing how to do research and with an “I don’t care” attitude. My biggest challenge is to reach them and hope that MAYBE 50% of what I put out there actually gets absorbed into their brains.

And now I will have noted scholars, exchange students, in my classroom. Students from a country that is noted for its serious “brain power”. I think I am up to the challenge, but I worry that maybe I’m not. I’ve never faced this challenge. Terrible to say, but I’m used to teaching underachievers, not bright, well trained, well prepared “A” students who actually do their reading and complete their assignments.

It should be an interesting semester.

Friday, January 26, 2007

For Love of The Lab

I got a note from a friend yesterday and he said that he and his fiancee were considering getting a dog. They wanted to know what I thought about Labrador Retrievers. Did I think they were a good pet? Would I recommend them? What were their good and bad qualities? Little did the poor guy know that he had asked the “magic question” and given a Lab Lover a reason to rave about their breed. Some of the stuff I wrote might be interesting to others, so I repeat it here for your entertainment and education.

I can’t recommend Labrador Retrievers enough. As far as I am concerned they are the perfect dog. I prefer females to males as they are easier to train, but that’s a personal preference. Either sex is wonderful, the boys are just a bit more hard headed in the training department, so say the experts. Boys of any breed are also known for “marking” their territory and I’ve never wanted to deal with that. I’m sure a male could be trained not to mark, by why fight that fight? Therefore, I have girls. If you choose a male, I recommend you have him neutered. He will be a much, much better pet if you have that done, and the only reason not to is if you are planning to become a breeder. Get your girl fixed as well for then they will not have “female problems” or be prone to uterine or ovarian cancer. If they don’t have the equipment, they can’t get sick with those kinds of problems. Always be pro-active with their health.

Labs are smart, sweet, loving, gentle and are wonderful with kids no matter what their sex. The boys are physically bigger although, I have some very big girls. A lot of their adult size just depends on the pup you choose. Want a big dog? Go for the big footed, big boned pup and vice versa. Also take a look at the parents. This will tell you a lot about your future adult dog.

They are great protectors and will lay down their lives for their family. The people at my front door are duly impressed by the large, loud watch dogs and their ferocious growl is very impressive. Only I know that they would much rather kiss and hug and play than fight. Gentleness is built into their nature. The love and devotion you get from a Lab is an experience that everyone should have at least once in their life. Labs are the most popular dog in America for a reason. Over the years, I’ve owned numerous breeds, but once deciding upon a Lab, I’ll never look back. They come in three colors, yellow/white, chocolate brown or black. I love the chocolates, but again, that’s a personal preference. These beautiful dogs are the only breed I expect to own for the rest of my life. (the only possible exception to that statement is that I may one day choose to have a small lap dog to go along with all my beautiful Labs. Since Labs get along with everybody, I’m sure they would love their new junior sized playmate.)

They have many breed characteristics that you should be aware of and be prepared for. First, the puppies stay “puppies” emotionally for a long time and they don’t grow up fast. You will have a large, lumbering “horse” around the house who still thinks they are a tiny pup until they are between 2 and 3 years old. S/he will be obnoxious, overly playful, overbearing, demanding and needy. S/he’ll also be sweet, loving, full of kisses and hugs and will adore you. S/he will jump on your friends, put muddy paws on your clean outfit, chew up your favorite shoes, slop water all over the kitchen floor, try to climb into your lap for a snuggle even though she weighs 75-100 pounds, get hair in your bed and on your clothes, and s/he will have absolutely no idea why you are angry. S/he just wants a hug and a kiss. Think of a demanding two year old human toddler and you begin to get the picture. However, I can assure you that the love and joy you will experience from owning this animal will make it all worthwhile. That is, of course, assuming you are a “dog person”. Not just a dog owner, but a true dog person.

Second, almost without exception, Labs love water. I can’t keep my girls out of the pool. That means your new baby may play in the water dish, join you in the shower, hop in the tub with you, sleep in a mud puddle, play in the sprinklers, climb into the washtub where you are soaking something, walk into the fountain you are passing, dive into the lake, or jump into the pond, etc. etc. etc. They are water dogs to the bone.

Next, these guys are working dogs. They are the number one choice for seeing eye dogs and handicapped assistance dogs. This means, of course, that they are exceptionally smart and can be trained to do just about anything. They are almost scary smart sometimes as they will have you figured out long before you have them figured out. They are easily trained, obviously, and will excel at obedience training. And you MUST take them to obedience training and you must train them well. Because they are so smart, they know exactly how much they can get away with, and because they are so sweet and so cute, it’s tempting to let them get away with a great deal. However, you must be a firm “dog parent” or you’ll be sorry. They have a great sense of humor and they will have a good laugh at your frustration over their behavior. A well trained Lab is a joy, an untrained Lab is a pain in the ass. I have two half-trained girls, one a 4 year old and one a young pup of 8 months. The 4 year old was never perfectly trained and now, with the influence of the pup, she has reverted to her puppyhood and I have two wild hounds on my hands. They are truly full of it. (Bess was the perfectly trained oldest dog. She was barely 6 when she died.) I must now turn my attention to Lucy and get her properly trained and then next will come Meggie. They MUST be trained. Start your first obedience class when s/he’s 6 months old and just keep working on it. They will absorb as much as you want to teach. They are so smart. It’s easy to be lax and easygoing about the training as I have done with the younger two, but I am paying for it. As sweet and wonderful as they, they are obnoxious as well and it’s my fault.

Labs are high energy and need lots of play, regular walks or some form of regular exercise. Ideally they need a yard and a place to run and play. Fetch is a favorite game for all Labs since they are, after all, hunting dogs who live to retrieve. My girls get their exercise with regular swimming as I’m not great at long distance walking. I throw their retrieval logs into the pool and they retrieve them over and over and over and over. My arm will get tired long before the dog does. You must work out all that energy somehow or they will turn that energy into destructive habits. All puppies chew, but Labs really LOVE to have something in their mouth. You must be patient and just keep putting THEIR toys and bones and chewy sticks into their mouth as you carefully extract your slippers, socks, underwear, shoes, kitchen towels, water bottle, etc. etc. etc. Anything that fits in their mouth is fair game as Labs are very “mouthy”. EVERYTHING goes into their mouths. It is the nature of the breed. If they can’t retrieve that bird you’ve shot down, they’ll retrieve something else. They can be trained quite easily to only put their belongings into their mouths, you just have to be consistent and clear. Mine are very good about that. My girls have a toy box, literally, full of toys and both of them always have something in their mouths, particularly when they get excited. Retrieving is what they do, it’s who they are.

Don’t be deluded into thinking that because they are short haired, they won’t shed. They shed and plenty of it, however, long haired dogs are much, much worse. I’ve had both kinds and I know. However, the bright note on the shedding is that if your dog swims a lot, there’s much less shedding in the house as the hair ends up in the pool filter.

Not much else I can think of to tell you about this wonderful breed. If you are still interested, check out my breeders website (
http://aaalabs.com/). I can highly recommend them. They are in Ontario, California.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

When Do You Stop Crying?

I’ve never written a blog before and never imagined that I would. However, numerous family members are writing blogs and sharing thoughts, so I thought I might try it too. I’ve always imagined that I would one day do some “real” writing, e.g. a magazine article, a column, a collection of short stories or a book. I thought this just because I like to write and I seem to express myself fairly well in writing, however, somehow those “visions” of being a great writer did not include writing a blog on the Internet. But, as fate would have it, here I am with my big writing debut, and what is it? A blog on the Internet…..so off I go, plunging into the literary pool with both feet.

2006 was a very tough year for me. I imagine it was for many people, for many different reasons, but for me “tough” means the loss of my Dad and the loss of a very young, and dearly beloved, dog. Some folks might think that putting the loss of my Dad and my dog in the same sentence is disrespectful to my Dad’s memory, but I think not. My Dad was a good and kind man who understood that love is a good thing no matter who is loving whom, and I did dearly love both him and that dog. I lost them both to cancer and I now find, that after years of thinking cancer was somebody else’s problem, it has arrived on my doorstep. In the last week I’ve had word that a close friend and the mother of a close friend have both been diagnosed with terminal cancer. That terrible disease has suddenly become a huge part of my life and I will never again be the same.

As I wrote the above paragraph, tears welled up in my eyes, and I wonder, when will I stop crying? It’s been several months now and just yesterday, over lunch with a friend, I started talking about my Dad and immediately started crying. The day before I was at the vet’s office with one of our other animals and someone who didn’t know asked about Bess (the beloved dog) and, again, I welled up and started crying. I know that I’m a very emotional person and always have been, but I keep wondering, when will I stop crying?

My Dad was a good man. The kind who loved his children and his wife and who stayed married to the same woman for 62 years. Hard to imagine in this day and age when so many people get divorced so very easily with never a backward glance. I realized a good number of years ago how rare I was to be my age and still have two living parents that were married to each other. I thought it was the normal thing, until one day, in a roomful of my peers, I realized that I was the only one who still had two parents that were married to each other. I feel very lucky to have had him for as long as I did. I only wish it could have been much longer. He was one of “the good ones”: kind, loving, generous, wise, hard-working, a devoted husband, a loving father…… Is it any wonder I can’t think of him without tears?

My dear Bess was a beautiful chocolate Labrador Retriever. She was smart and beautiful and loving and was simply everything anyone could ever want in a canine companion. We had a mutual admiration society and we truly adored each other. How many people do you know who adore you no matter how you look, how you smell, how you feel and how grumpy you are? No matter that your hair is spiky and unkempt, that you need to brush your teeth and that your body is far from perfect. How many will do anything you ask, at anytime and in anyplace and how many would give their life for you if it was needed? The unqualified and giving love of a companion dog is something that has no equal in the world. The bond between human and dog is one that cannot be compared to anything else for no other love is so undemanding and so unequivocal. With this kind of love between Bess and I, is it any wonder I can’t say her name without crying?

I just went back and read what I have written. Where’s the Kleenex? When do you stop crying?