Monthly Archives: April 2011

The life of a hard-working dog


This blog isn’t about something new, its about something old:  our  Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie) Calvin who took suddenly ill this week and died just a few days before what would have been his 13th birthday.  I’m sure I could come up with analogies to make this topic fit the overall “New Experience and Learning” theme of the blog:  new sheltie facts, or changing doggie dynamics or something but I’m not up for that.  Instead I’ll revert to a childhood response  for that observation…….”So sue me.”    (do kids even say that anymore?).

In the summer of 1998, we had just moved from Cleveland to Ft. Wayne, Indiana.   We had 2 brand new important jobs, a nice new house with a big fenced in yard, 4 active daughters ranging in age from 2-13, one sweet but neurotic rescue dog,  and 2 cats.   What more could we possibly want?  Well, a puppy of course!   While visiting relatives in Illinois, we saw a classified ad for a litter of sheltie puppies.  Might as well just LOOK, right?  So we  headed out to the farm in the middle of nowhere (also known as Carlock)  where they had kennels full of Shetland Sheepdogs with pedigrees and titles and fancy names.   And soon the shaking nervous little puppy in the back of the  crate was  thrown into the chaos that was the Lewis family.  We named him some long official name that I can’t even remember anymore, and sent in his paperwork to the AKC. I’m not sure why we did that since we also had him neutered as soon as possible  but I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Here in no particular order are a few top Calvin memories and pictures:

  • Calvin  took his job as a “herding dog VERY seriously.   Any creature, human or animal, was expected to stay with the herd.   If one went outside, we should all go outside.  If the rest of the children were in the family room and one wandered into the dining room, Calvin would fret.  Calvin was quite good at fretting. For years he would grab our pant legs or shoelaces in his mouth and try to pull us back in if he caught us trying to go out the front door.   Failing that he would stand and bark wildly at us, letting us know how dangerous it was out there.  He always positioned himself on the periphery of any given situation, often near a door or gate—presumably so he could keep track of his flock and be immediately alerted if one tried to escape or a wolf tried to get in.  Now Calvin was the wimpiest dog on the planet so if a wolf DID get in you were sunk, but he’d feel responsible.   A risk-taker he was not.

    Catie, Anna and Calvin when he was about 2 or 3

  • Since we were busy people,  when Calvin was about 6 months old we decided to send him to a local  “Canine Boarding School” for training.   We had thus far found him to be a nervous dog who didn’t want to do “dog things” and barked all the time.  The trainer was supposedly going to teach  him commands.  Instead, we got a call to come get him within a week or two—-it seemed that he couldn’t even get Calvin to come out of his crate, much less do any of the typical things dogs need to be trained for.  The trainer decided that he needed to start by learn to walk on a leash.  Except Calvin was too afraid when they walked outside, so he just taught him to walk on the leash inside.  From then on, we had a dog who would walk INSIDE on his leash perfectly.  Outside – forget it.   And he still wouldn’t stop barking or sit & stay or stop peeing in the house or any of the other things we’d hoped he would learn.  Lesson learned for the Lewis family: no more boarding schools, we bought our own dog training books.  And we potty trained him along with Anna (2 at the time).  M&M’s or liver treats for both….neither ever seemed to care which they got although it was confusing to both when Calvin got a treat for peeing in the shrubs while Anna got in trouble for it.
  • Speaking of walks, one of my funniest-ever Calvin memories was several years later in Virginia.  Jim & I decided that it would be healthy for Calvin, who was battling a weight problem, to go for walks.  Calvin was the eldest dog by then, and Hobbes, the younger one LOVED to walk. When we got out the leash Hobbes would go crazy with excitement.  But not Calvin.  He still  hated anything having to do with a leash and thought there was no reason to ever leave our yard.   But that particular day we put a leash on Calvin and set off. We got about 4 blocks away but then, because he had a big fluffy neck with a small pointy-head, he slipped right out of his collar.   Once he realized he was free, he turned around and started running back home.  But Calvin couldn’t really run—-his legs were too short, and he was too fat, so it was really more of a waddle-trot.  He had absolutely no desire to go anywhere but HOME, which is exactly where he headed.  We called him and he ignored us, neighbors who were in their yards and had previously admired how pretty he was when we first walked by now turned to laugh at him and he ignored them too, we waved treats in the air and ran behind him.   Other dogs barked at him and a couple even ran out  to greet him and see if he wanted to play as he ran by, but he focused SOLELY on his goal of getting back home.  He ran all the way, getting there long before us, huffing-and puffing and very indignantly clear that walks are NOT acceptable.  So that ended the “going for a walk”  experiment.
  • But we didn’t give up easily.   Our other dogs liked to go to a local dog park.  They ran and played and socialized.  There were lots of humans and  dogs there, in a big, huge fenced in play area. You can see where this is heading, right?  This was not FUN, it was work!   A HUGE flock, full of unknown sheep, all misbehaving!  Humans and dogs all coming and going and no one staying where they were supposed to.   So Calvin decided to handle this by staying as close to the entrance as possible, checking out whether the fence was really strong enough to keep out the wolves that were surely out there.  He fretted the entire time. I thought we were going to have to give him Doggy Prozac.
  • Calvin loved to pose for pictures

  • Even though he worked hard, Calvin also liked to play.  But only for short periods of time, on a pre-arranged break of course.   One of his favorite games was the “flashlight game.”   He would chase the light around the floor, try to get it on the wall, and bark like crazy at it.  And even later in life he would go through playful periods where he’d try to engage the other dogs or join in on a game of ball.   He didn’t quite know what to do with a toy once it was in his mouth and when we played ball we had to hold the other dogs back occasionally so Calvin could get it.   As long he was off the clock and there weren’t any wolves around, of course.
  • Luckily for us Calvin relaxed and mellowed a lot in his old age.  He stopped barking so much, stopped worrying so much and welcomed whatever humans and/or animals that might come to visit without feeling like he was responsible for their entire well-being and probable imminent wolf attacks.   He learned important tricks, like “lying my head on someone’s lap while they’re eating dinner, because they’ll think that’s adorable and reward me.”  He still, however, kept many of his old habits.  Even up until last week,  our morning routine was for me to get up and shower, then all the dogs to accompany me downstairs.  Calvin was convinced I probably couldn’t find the way unless he followed along behind me, herding and barking at me  the entire way. Good herders never go first—-they have all their sheep in sight at all times and Calvin was a good herder.
  • Calvin has a diet named after him.   As I mentioned before, he got kind of heavy when he was younger and Jim took him to the vet who informed him that our dog was overweight.  Jim asked him earnestly, “What should we do?”   thinking  there was probably some special doggie diet food or routine, or even a medication he would recommend.   The response was, “Well, you control his food—–feed him less!”   (thinking, “DUH, that will be $75 please.”)  So that’s what we did.  And lo & behold he lost weight.  So now we occasionally put our other dogs and ourselves on the Calvin diet, which basically consists of this complex principle:   eat less.
  • Calvin HATED to be brushed, so he was usually “overly fuzzy.”  Every once in awhile we’d take him to a groomer who would chastise us and tell us we had to brush him every week or we were horrible, awful doggie-parents,  but we never did and I like to think he thanked us for that.  Like most Shelties, once the weather got warm he’d do what they call “blow his coat” which basically meant he would shed and shed and shed and shed and shed.   The rest of the time he just shed (and shed).   I love you Calvin, but I will not miss your hair.
  • taking a rest break

  • He LOVED snow.  When he was young he would play and roll in it; when he was older he’d eat it and lounge happily in it.   We’d bring the other dogs in and just leave him on the deck to enjoy the feeling of the snow.  I’m happy he got another couple of snows this year.

No photo session is complete without the obligatory "picture with Calvin"



Filed under Uncategorized

Ambato: Tierra de las Flores y las Frutas (land of flowers and fruits)

We spent several days of our Ecuadorian adventure in Ambato, where Kim lives.  Ambato is a city south of Quito,  high in the Andes along the Pan-American Highway.   Like the slogan says, the city is known for their flowers and fruits, and they even have an annual fiesta to celebrate this distinction.  Near as I can tell, Ecuadorians have festivals for EVERYTHING and they all travel to each others’  cities to attend them.   If you’re looking for something to do, you basically figure out who’s hosting the party  and that’s where you go.    Everyone  knows the weekend that Ambato hosts the Festival of Flowers and Fruits  in February during Carnival and the population swells to the point where they have to call in the military to assist the local police in providing security.   We missed the Festival (probably a good thing….it sounds like a week meant for people much younger, livelier, and needing far less sleep than us), but Kim’s friend from the US did visit that week and shares her impressions here.

Parade celebrating the fruits and flowers

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were privileged to meet Kim’s friends and host families while we were in Ambato.    When someone invites you over to their home for dinner, it is nice to bring what we in the US might call a “hostess gift.”    We ended up making gift bags with some goodies & snacks from a local fancy-type of food market.    But you might bring a bottle of wine, or in some cases, flowers.

NO, not flowers!   In Ecuador it would be considered odd to actually give someone flowers, which are so abundantly available and inexpensive, if not free.     Flowers are so cheap and  common in Ecuador that bringing a bouquet as a hostess gift is akin to picking up a loaf of Wonder Bread at the 7-11 on the corner and then presenting it as a gift.   Boyfriends in Ecuador are off the hook in this regard.  I think they sort of  thought we were kidding when we talked about how one of the most romantic gifts an American girl might receive from a boyfriend is a bouquet of flowers, and the pricetag that can go along with that gift.

One Valentine's Day when we were young, Jim gave me a Hershey's Bar. He thought this would be a GREAT gift because "I know you like chocolate." He has never lived this down (and never will). Giving roses as a special gift in Ambato would be kind of like giving a Hershey bar.

Ecuador is filled with flower farms.   Many of the flowers, including roses, that we pay muchos dineros for here in the US are shipped  from Ecuador.    Kim told us how the flower farming business in Ecuador has traditionally been full of corruption and worker exploitation.  Laborers are typically women who work long, hard hours for low wages, no benefits, and in unsafe environments.  A cut rose you buy on the streets of New York, Chicago, or San Francisco may have been harvested by one of these women earlier in the week.    There are now unions and efforts toward Fair-Trade Certified flowers, but like many such changes its a slow process, particularly if  the effect includes higher prices for Americans.    One of Kim’s Fulbright friends who lives in the nearby city of Latacunga works toward this effort on one of the large flower farms in the area by helping teach the children of the laborers.   I found this PBS link and video about a rose farm in Latacunga and how they are approaching this issue.   I don’t know if this is the farm where she works, but if you have a few extra minutes, its interesting and informative.

1 Comment

Filed under New Learning

South Carolina’s Windshield Replacement Law

Earlier this week I got into my car and had an “oh crap” moment.   There, right in the center of the windshield,was a foot-long crack.     I tried to wipe it off, hoping it was just a condensation pattern, or twig that had fallen and was playing tricks on my eyes, but no such luck.   I have no idea why it cracked although I’m sure the fact that it had been  about 120 degrees one day then 30 below the next probably didn’t help.  A cracked windshield is not a rare or a serious problem, but the times it has happened before its ended up being one of those “Gee, I could have thought of  better uses for that $250” moments.  Sure, you can report it to insurance, but the cost is less than the deductible and then you have a dreaded  claim on our record    (Insurance Rule #1: never use it).

But we quickly discovered Reason #220 why South Carolina is a cool place to live.  Apparently at some point along the way a lawmaker must have chipped a windshield because it is one of only 4 states with a “windshield replacement law.”   This means that when your windshield (or in SC’s case, ANY window) is cracked,  your insurance has to replace it with NO deductible, and they can’t count it against you.   And not only did our insurer cover it, they even sent someone to my workplace and he replaced it right there in the parking lot.   So no missed work or sitting around in repair shops for hours.


Filed under New Learning

Well, that’s embarassing

I have lots of new learning and new experiences built up from our wonderful trip to Ecuador, so I’ll try to write about some of it over the next few weeks & months while still trying to keep up with the “one new thing a day”  effort.  Lately, other than the trip, its been more like “one new thing a week” unless you count work-related stuff.

One of the main things I learned from our travel experience is how awful our own US policies are for foreign visitors.  On our end, when we wanted to visit our daughter in Ecuador, we just made sure our passports were up to date, bought a round trip ticket for our week-long visit and showed up.  We got our passport stamped in Quito, our bags scanned, and were sent merrily on our way.

While there, we met Kim’s 2 host families.  These are people she met through her University who have welcomed her into their families and social lives. They have cared for her, taught her, fed her,  traveled with her, included her in their daily lives, and love her.   Both families are typical Ecuadorian middle-class – adults are business owners, professors, high school teachers, and government workers;  college/grad students are doing things like med. school,   teacher training, and studying psychology plus holding part-time jobs and doing what 20-somethings do in their spare time (socialize, dance, party, go out), while  the teens and younger kids all go to school just like kids here.  They participate on soccer and basketball and dance teams and are frequently busy with school or work-related events.  They have dogs and drive Toyota’s.   Sound familiar?  Sure there are language and cultural differences, but for the most part, its very similar to our lives here. While we were there, both families hosted us for dinner and entertained us and made us feel welcome.

So, what’s the polite thing to do in this situation?   It is (at least in my mind) to invite THEM to come visit YOU sometime!  Not only do they know Kim and now us, but  they have family members who live in the US.   So maybe they’d like to visit and do wild and subversive things like go to Disney World,  eat BBQ and go to Wal-mart.    Dress like dorky tourists and buy new fanny packs.  Oh wait, that’s us.

Guy in the background is thinking: they let this guy come here, but they think I'm too big a risk to go to HIS country?

Megamaxi - the Ecuadorian Wal-mart

So the apparent solution is to make it close to impossible for anyone from a country that isn’t on an “approved list”  to visit, no matter what the reason.   There is no just getting a passport and buying a ticket.  If they really want to go to Disney World, or visit Abuelita in New Jersey, they have to successfully jump through hoops of fire to make this happen.

A potential visitor from Ecuador has to first travel to a major city such as Quito or Guayquil (possibly hours away) and interview with the US Embassy for a visitor’s visa.   The Embassy is very clear (yes, they state this….its not a subjective opinion), that unless the person can STRONGLY prove otherwise, they assume that the person is trying to sneak in and become an illegal immigrant and will not approve the application.   They are particularly suspicious of anyone under the age of 30.  Gee, what age group in any culture generally likes to travel and see the world – wouldn’t that be the young people?

The applicant has to bring lots of documents to the interview and be prepared to defend them.  The  “proof” that the Visa applicant  has strong enough ties in Ecuador that he or she wouldn’t leave  (even though we KNOW they all really, really want to) may or may not be reasonable or even culturally appropriate.   For instance, the applicant should have a few thousand dollars in an Ecuadorian bank account.  Now what 21 year old do you know who has a few thousand dollars in a bank account?  Certainly not mine, unless its the Bank of Mom and Dad.  If the applicant is a young adult, in addition to a job and school registration, they want that person to have rent and utility receipts showing that he has his own apartment and is independent.  He must have important things to come back to, like a landlord.  The problem is that in Ecuadorian culture young adults for the most part continue living with their parents until  they get married and start their own families.   Its the norm, and doesn’t mean the kid is a slacker or secretly desires to give up Medical School and clean toilets in a seedy Miami hotel.     In fact, Ecuadorians seem to be slightly appalled in a politely curious way that Kim not only prefers to live alone, but that we support this.

The difficulty in getting a Visa to the US is apparently legendary.   If any family member, ever, at anytime, has “overstayed their welcome”,  you might as well forget even applying.  If anyone in your family has committed any crimes, you’d better hope your US cousin has Skype, because you’re not going to her wedding.

Potential visitors better make sure they don't have any of these types in their family tree. Most of us would be in trouble if we were held to the same standards

Interviewing is nerve-wracking.  Remember, these aren’t just people showing up at the Mexican/US border saying, “Hey, yeah….I just want to go over buy some of those cheap US prescriptions, then I’m coming back. Really.”    They have typically prepared for this for months if not years,  made an appointment well in advance and bought new interview clothes.  And even if everything is perfect, its still a seemingly random crap shoot.  This  process has resulted in a proliferation of tips and guides for potential applicants such as this:   “Prepare a list of anticipated questions and practice answering them again and again.”    “Prepare perfect documents, especially your family photographs, property documents, bank statements, and income tax records.  Make sure the documents are perfect and nothing is missing.”   and  “You should know by heart the order the documents are arranged in your folder so that if you need to present a particular document it can be presented in 2 to 5 seconds.  The interview officers are highly impatient, and any delay/fumbling in pulling out a document and presenting it to the officer can trigger an emotional reaction that might lead to visa rejection.”

I don’t know if this is true, but while reading up on this topic I came across one website that said Brazil, in retaliation for the USA’s draconian measures has instituted the same policies for US citizens wanting to visit there.   Can’t say I blame them.

So speaking as a US citizen it really is embarrassing not to be able to say to our friends, “Please come visit!”.  Instead it comes out as something akin to “Gee, if my government ever deems you worthy of stepping foot in our country and after they have fingerprinted and photographed and implanted a GPS-tracking device, if you’re not already totally fed up, I hope you’ll stop by.”


Filed under New Experience, New Learning