Monthly Archives: January 2013

Warm snug hat from leftovers….

I’m still knitting hats. This is another one for me, since the weather has been cold and annoying.

Knitted striped cap with garter stitch band

Assemble about 126 yards of leftover bits of worsted weight yarn.
Do a gauge swatch from one of your leftover yarns (in plain garter stitch).
Measure your head and subtract two inches. Yes, two inches. This hat is supposed to be snug.

Using a circular needle, cast on the correct number of stitches for your gauge and head measurement. Cast on loosely so the edge will be stretchy. Join, without twisting.

Knit a round of knit stitch, then a round of purl, to create garter stitch. Do that for 2 1/4 inches. Join in new yarn as desired to create stripes; you will want to join the yarn at the same point every time, to create a consistent change point. At 2 1/4 inches, start simply knitting round and round and round until you have another 3 1/2 inches, then start reducing.

To reduce, knit two stitches together every 9 stitches for one round. Knit a non-reducing round. Next round, reduce by knitting two stitches together at the same point every eight stitches. Continue to alternate rounds. Change to double-pointed needles or two circulars when you have to.

When you reach 8 stitches, pull the yarn through all eight stitches, then pull tight, and tie a nice tight knot. Weave in all the ends from your stripes and enjoy your hat.

Opportunity cost

I happened to receive an advance copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s new book: Decisive on making better decisions. They are business writers, mostly, but I’ve found their books surprisingly helpful in figuring out new approaches to problem solving.

I haven’t read all of the book yet, but I’ve already found two bits of advice that I like a lot. One is about reframing a decision point as a method of opening up the problem to other solutions; the other is about opportunity cost.

I’ve been talking about my struggle to lose weight. It seems every day I face a decision: eat this or eat that. Here’s the new framing: being hungry is a good thing because it means I’m running a calorie deficit. I have an opportunity to eat something. If I eat something that provides too many calories, I lose the opportunity to eat something later (that’s opportunity cost); if I make a better choice now, I can eat more later. So choices have costs and also cost me choices further down the line. All within my daily allotments for healthy food.

We’re having a party!

This will come as a surprise: I’ve been working with Dancer on her teeter issues.

This fall, in trials, she started avoiding the teeter, again. I think now that her anxiety shot up with Elly so ill and then dying. She was obviously rocked to have her life-long friend suddenly gone, and I didn’t care for it properly. I feel bad about that. I should have noticed it.

In any case, I started working on her teeter anxiety in the usual ways–more and bigger rewards for doing the teeter, trying new teeters–without much success. She turned out to have a painful overgrowth of yeast in her ears, treated that; I think that helped, but I was observing a lot of anxiety over trials in general, so I signed her back up for another round of Control Unleashed class (with Greta Kaplan at Fuzzy Logic Dog training).

I also made arrangements to train the teeter at Barb White’s arena, where we do many of our CPE trials. Barb is a gifted trainer with a slightly different approach to things. She has a value-adding technique I hadn’t run across before.

The teeter worries a lot of dogs; the key is to make it so valuable to the dog that the motion and noise are good things. She uses three bait bags, placed in position while the dog can’t see it being done. The first is placed on the ground right at the end of the teeter. When the dog does the teeter (and for a new dog, you’d start with it very low), there’s the bait bag, as they stand on the end of the teeter. You snatch it up, open it, and make a huge fuss while feeding from the bait bag. Then you release the dog from the teeter, run to bait bag number 2, about five feet away, and have another party there. Then you run to bait bag number 3, another five feet away, and have a third party. A minute or so of fuss for one simple teeter? Yes.

I put deli roast beef in the bags for Dancer. She thought that was amazing. The first time I did it, she was slow, tentative, one step at a time. By the time I’d done this at five different teeters, she was pulling, trying to get to the teeter at the new training barn. And it was one she’d never seen before.

Our next trial isn’t until early March. We’ll see then what we get. But I love Dancer’s enthusiasm for this method!

Knitting (again) (simple cap, with instructions)

It’s winter and I’m knitting hats. This one I made for myself after I fell completely in love with this yarn:
Jeannette (Mountain Colors)

Simple knitted cap

It’s a cashmere-silk blend, of all things. Incredibly soft, lovely to knit. The description said 4-5 stitches/inch but I knit it at 5 stitches to the inch on number 6’s (circular) and it’s pretty loose (8 rows to the inch vertically, in stockinette).

Cast on 108 stitches onto circular needles. Join, being careful not to twist. Knit 2, purl 2, for 2 1/4 inches, then knit, around and around and around, until it’s time to start reducing. For my head, that’s about 3 3/4 inches. I decided I didn’t want a foldover on this cap–I was going for very light and easy to wear.

To reduce, knit two together, then knit 7 more, then knit two together, for one round. Knit a round without reducing. Repeat these two rounds (you’ll need to switch to double-pointed needles at some point, or a pair of circulars, whichever you prefer) until you have eight stitches left, then thread the yarn through the eight stitches, pull tight, and tie off.

Fancy little maneuver

Blind crosses and a fancy little maneuver.

I went yesterday to watch some of the best handlers in this part of the country compete in agility at the Rose City Cluster. It’s at the Portland Expo Center, and it’s on mats on concrete. A million spectators, children, dogs, vendors. Chaos. About the most distracting environment you could have.

Focused dogs and amazing handlers. Really really fast dogs. I was so impressed.

There’s a fancy little maneuver that Debbie’s been teaching us, called the Ketscher. (You want to check the link.)

You send the dog over the jump, then–while the dog is jumping, because Debbie’s rule is that you can make a blind cross while the dog is busy (on the a-frame, in a tunnel, jumping, doing weaves, etc.)–you make a blind cross. The dog turns tightly, the handler gets out of there in a hurry, and it’s a thing of beauty when done well.

I saw a lot of them yesterday, and it renewed my determination to get it right.

I had Jay video some of my work on it yesterday. See it here.

Going public… (we all have our closets)

My New Year’s resolution this year boils down to “become the handler Rush deserves.” Alternatively, you could think of it as “lose weight, get more fit, pay more attention to my handling and stop being so sloppy.” Or just “lose the fucking weight, damn it.”

When I got Elly (nine years ago!), I thought I was getting a couch-potato, non-shedding, companion dog who would enjoy walks with me. Slow walks, because I had a bad knee. Arthritis, the doctor said. Um, not so much. Elly was an energetic, oh-my-god-teach-me-something-else ball of poodle fire. Two walks a day, and I lost about twenty-five pounds just trying to keep up with her. (I’m not sure how much; I didn’t weigh myself for about five years in there. I just know my doctor was surprised.)

Oh yeah, and she made me teach her agility, too, which meant that I finally made the decision to see a sports medicine doctor, who did an x-ray and then an MRI, and then quickly referred me to an orthopedic oncologist to get my chondrosarcoma removed. Then two years of knee rehab (with another surgery to get my mending plate removed) and I was better than before.

And with a new resolve to lose weight. I lost nineteen more pounds, got stuck, got discouraged, saw a psychologist (“try to relax and be less stressed”–that didn’t work, as far as weight loss went, I promptly put most of the weight back on). Let it go for a while.

Then… Rush. The devil dog who yells at me when I’m too slow, who makes me work my hardest just to end up twenty feet behind.

So… another shot at losing weight. Saw a nutritionist this time. The nutritionist, besides giving me good advice about what to eat, told me “yes, sometimes you will be hungry and you just have to power through it.” After years of being told “if you eat the right things, you shouldn’t be hungry,” this was refreshing. And it’s helped. I am once again down … nineteen pounds, which makes me the lightest I’ve been since I got Elly.

And which means I only have forty or so more pounds to lose.

And I’ve been stuck here for about two months, inching down about a milligram at a time (note the cognitive dissonance of “inching down” and “milligram” in the same sentence–but no one says “millimetering down”). I’m using my Fitbit fanatically; I try to record everything I eat, but the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, our 29th anniversary) were hellish. Too many cookies, cakes, occasions. Not to mention the nut brittle recipe in Maude Dickinson’s cookbook. (Awesome, by the way. Just wait until we get it republished.)

Cue the devil dog. Rush is so fast! He’s so determined to do his best. How can I let him down by not losing the weight and giving it my best effort to be the handler he deserves? I’m training him to be the best agility dog out there; isn’t it only fair to try to be the best handler?

I hate admitting to the world that I have a problem with food. The funny thing is: it’s got to be obvious to everyone. I mean… people aren’t blind.

Blind Crosses! OMG!

Rush and I are taking an amazing handling class with Debbie. Four people, four young dogs, detailed detailed handling techniques taught.

Yesterday’s courses involved a bunch of questions: can your dog weave toward the wall? take the teeter toward the wall? get a difficult weave entry? hit a weave entry with you in different places? go from jump 1 to the backside of jump 2 and where should you lead out to if you want to clarify that for your dog? does your dog have a good enough contact performance that you can do a blind cross after the a-frame?

Yep, blind cross.

That’s not the first blind cross I’ve done with Rush. It’s not even the first one I’ve done on purpose.

Debbie has been teaching us some very carefully considered blind crosses. There’s a fancy little maneuver that I need to practice more, used when you want to create a tight path between two obstacles (or for a discrimination). The dog goes over the jump you’re facing, then you rotate out of the path and the dog comes up on the other side. Rush reads it well; I can’t do it on the move yet.

Debbie believes a lot in independent obstacle performance. Her rule: If your dog is busy doing an obstacle–a tunnel (or the chute), or the dog walk, or the a-frame, or the weaves, or landing a jump (as in the fancy little maneuver)–you can do a blind cross (cross in front of the dog with your back to the dog) because the dog isn’t free to follow you until you’ve finished the cross.

I hadn’t tried a blind cross with Rush on the a-frame before, but–faced with Debbie’s challenge to try it–I introduced Rush to it in class. Video here. One thing more to train!

The longer I train agility, the longer the list of things to train gets.

Just from yesterday’s lesson:
Weaves under all kinds of conditions and entries.
Blind crosses after the a-frame and dogwalk.
Leadouts to the backside of jump 2. (I bet that’s be useful for snooker, too.)

Previously on the list:
Turn-aways from the dogwalk/a-frame to the tunnel (something Debbie recommends be done on a verbal cue).
The fancy little maneuver (I’ll have to get it on video).

And always on the list:
Contact performances. At a distance. Close up. Stopping short. Running past.
The teeter without fear (Dancer).
Jumping sequences of all kinds of complexity.
Go on!
Discriminations (a-frame/tunnel, dogwalk/tunnel, etc.).
The chute (Rush doesn’t like it much).
The table (stopping? not Rush’s idea of a good time).

A blue hat (hand-knitted spiral hat, with instructions)

From time to time, I post knitting projects. This is a hat I made for my sister:

For those of you who would like instructions, here they are. The instructions assume you are somewhat experienced as a knitter.

The yarn is a silk-merino blend, with about 4.5 to 5 stitches/inch when knitted using #7 circulars. Any double-knit weight yarn will work. This blend doesn’t itch.

First, swatch. Swatch at least 25 stitches and knit at least ten rows, then cast off. Wash (however you want to wash it–for me, that’s hand-washing and drying on a rack), dry, then measure. Hats need to be washed regularly so don’t skip this step. Figure out how many stitches/inch you got, widthwise. Lengthwise doesn’t matter.

Now, measure your head where you want the hat to land. For me, that’s over the ears, around the nape of the neck, and across the forehead, and it’s 22″. I like a hat to be a bit snug, so I plan for around 21″ diameter.

This hat needs a stitch number divisible by eight (8), so multiply 21″ (or whatever number you got for your head) by your stitch/inch count. If that number is divisible by 8, you’re done; if not, add a few stitches or subtract a few, depending on your snugness preference.

Cast on that number of stitches onto your circular needle. As every hat pattern says: “join, being careful not to twist.” Now, knit 2, pearl 2 to create ribbing for enough rows to create a nice fold over your ears. For me, that’s 3.5 inches of ribbing.

You begin the spiral at the end of your ribbing. To create the spiral, pearl seven once (which moves your two knit stitches over); then knit two, pearl 6, and repeat. When you get to the next round (you can put in a marker if you want), make sure you move your knit stitches over one (which should happen automatically), and keep doing that to create the spiral until the hat, from the bottom of the fold, is as long as the length from the base of your palm to the first knuckle of your middle finger.

Now you start the decreases for the top. Pearl two together after each pair of knit stitches, every other round. At some point, you’ll knit the knit stitches together and now you just pearl for the last row or two. When you get down to ten stitches, run the yarn through the ten stitches, pull together tightly, tie tightly, and trim (leaving a good length of yarn so it won’t come undone).

Running Rush…. and Dancer….

I feel guilty about this but I absolutely love running Rush even though I’m terrified (well, sort of) at the beginning of every run with him. Running him is exhilarating, but that’s partly because it is terrifying.

I worry that I’m going to fall behind; I worry that he’ll lunge at me, take me down at the knees, bite me out of sheer frustration (although it’s been months since he did that); I worry that I’m going to make him look bad when I know he’s amazing.

Yesterday, he made me look amazing. I took Dancer and Rush to the Portland Agility Club’s AKC trial. I don’t normally do AKC because the structure of AKC trials makes me slightly crazed. This was no exception; I ran Rush in Novice FAST (he Q’d and took first) and Dancer in Excellent FAST (she didn’t), back to back, at about 8:30 AM. I sat around for about three hours, then I ran Dancer in Excellent Jumpers-with-Weaves (she didn’t Q, but she did take the triple without hesitating–but not the double). Then I sat around for another three hours, then had five runs in the last 45 minutes of the trial, including running Rush from one ring to the other.

The first of those five runs was running Rush in Novice Jumpers-with-Weaves. It started with a tight precise handling spiral (Rush barked at me when I turned him away from a tempting off-course tunnel) of eight jumps that opened up to two nearly straight tunnels in a row, two jumps across the top of the arena, the second one a double jump, then a turn to the weaves (6 poles in novice), then two more jumps in a straight line. I was behind as soon as I sent him to the first of the two tunnels. He turned on the speed and I found myself in an instant panic that I was going to end up so far behind him that he’d go off-course. He started to turn to me after the first tunnel and I just yelled “go tunnel”–and he turned and ran–with me frantically running the line twenty feet lateral and miles behind, he took the line right to the weaves and when I yelled “go weave!”–I was sure he wouldn’t get the entry, he was going so fast–he nailed the entry and then, with my last bit of breath, I said “go!” and damned if all the training didn’t work, he didn’t look back, just sailed over the last two jumps without any hesitation.

He did the 114-yard course in 18.65 seconds (6.1 yards/second). The scorekeeper told me that she checked with the scribe to make sure there wasn’t a timing problem on Rush’s run. There wasn’t.

From that run, I ran to the car to get Dancer to run her in Open Standard. After she missed an entire jump (my fault), she did nice contacts on the way to the teeter, then did the teeter for the first time in months. I went right from the teeter over the exit jump and gave her all the treats I had. What a good girl! While I was running Open Standard, Time-to-Beat was built (two a-frames, no teeter) and I did a quick walk-through, walked Novice Standard (for Rush) then ran to get Dancer, ran her in Time-to-Beat (a Q and eight points, good girl!), then ran Rush in Novice Standard (no a-frame contact, no Q, but excellent dogwalk contact, weaves, teeter, then ran Rush in Time-to-Beat, where we ran out of time because he only did ten weave poles the first time. We’ve been doing a lot of competitions with only six poles, so I’m not surprised he popped; we need to solidify that in training.

After that, I sat in the car and tried to get my breath back.