Becoming the Alpha

Lindsay and I (mostly Lindsay) have been watching videos about how to make Salish view us as the Alpha leaders of our “family pack.” Apparently, becoming the leader of the pack can help your dog stop barking, become more accepting of refugees, and generally “wag more and bark less.”

As part of the alpha training, Lindsay ignores Salish when she gets home and maintains constant eye contact while she pretends to eat his food before he is fed. Once he is calm, she calls him over and gives him a few seconds of attention. Now that I think about it, Salish and I lead very similar lives.

Open Scene

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Salish and I doing beta things

*quietly from the other room*

“…once you’ve established yourself as the alpha, the other members of the pack will naturally follow your authority…”

David: What are you doing?

Lindsay: Becoming the alpha leader of the pack.

David: What? why? What pack?

Lindsay: Shhhh. Submit to my authority.

David: … okay.

Close Scene

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Climate Change

Traveling east from Western Washington is like immigrating to a new country. The people, the politics, the culture – all different. At this moment, the difference I’m noting the most, besides a decided increase in red “Make America Great Again” hats, is the climate. When we moved here in September, we enjoyed a long sunny fall and I could count the number of days that it rained on one hand. It almost made me forget that I’m suppose to love rain.

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Wintery apple orchards

However, I am aware that senses deceive, so I’ll stick to quantifiable facts. (Please note, these are not alternative facts). The average annual rainfall for Yakima is only 8.35 inches. Seattle averages 37.13 inches per year. Average annual snowfall in Seattle isn’t even reported by US Climate Data. For Yakima, 23 inches of snow is average. This year appears to be an outlier. I overheard someone saying that the valley hasn’t seen this much snow in over 20 years.

Another notable difference between east and west is the response to adverse weather: when Western Washington gets even a hint of snow, everything shuts down¹. When Eastern Washington gets freezing rain on top of 23 inches of snow, everyone still goes to work. No snow days here. This fills me with a deep, soul-crushing sadness.

A few weeks ago I met up with my BFF, Kelly Lin², and the SASA³ group in Easton, WA for some Sabbath snowshoeing. After a worship thought at the cabin, we headed over to Keechelus Lake for a snowy adventure. The temperature was hovering around 12 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the windchill, it felt more like absolute zero4. Not even the warm sense of superiority I get from wearing Patagonia products could keep out this cold. We suffered through the head wind to get to the lake, snapped a few photos, and scurried back to the car for hot cocoa.

It had started snowing hard while we were gone img_2808and since I had to work the next day, I set out for home as soon as we arrived back at the cabin. I wasn’t worried about driving in the snow, with my newly acquired all-wheel drive vehicle and studded snow tires. However, the biggest hazard about driving in the snow is other drivers. Shortly after I left, traffic slowed, then stopped. There was a collision 5 miles ahead that was blocking all lanes and no estimate on when it was going to clear.

My first reaction was to freak out. Should I turn around, like other cars were doing? Should I take the REALLY long way around and try to go over White Pass? Should I take the detour and risk it on the back country roads? What if I run out of gas? I was scared of freezing in the car, or worse, being found by the Night King5 and getting drafted into the army of the dead.

After the initial freak out, I got the blankets from my trunk, turned off the car, and gnawed on a Clif bar. Then my only problem was boredom (and the Night King). My phone battery was rapidly depleting and I needed to conserve power to check for updates on the DOT website. So, no games, texts, twitter, or insta. Just watching people walk around in the snow and thinking Lindsay Thoughts™.

Eventually the government cleared the road and I cautiously made my way home, arriving just before 10pm. The trip was about four times longer than it should have been and I’m pretty sure I saw the Night King near Ellensburg.

I guess blogs usual end with a clever lesson or piece of advice, so, here goes: don’t solely rely on your weather app for guidance? Invest in a back up iPhone for emergency web surfing needs? Pack more exciting snacks to nibble on during road closures? The point is: winter is here, it’s scary, and I’m going to need some retail therapy to get over this traumatic experience.

1. They actually got about 8 inches of snow, so that’s a legitimate reason to shut down everything. However, there have been times where is was raining at the school and they cancelled because some of their bus routes were getting snow. I certainly didn’t complain when that happened.
2. AKA, Kerree Rin
3. Seattle Adventist Student Association
4. The zero point on the absolute temperature scale; -273.15°C or 0 Kelvin or -459.67°F; theoretically, the temperature at which molecular motion ceases 
5. Nerdy Game of Thrones reference

Dog Treats

Lindsay and I took Salish to his third puppy training class last night. We spend the first 10 minutes or so walking laps around Petco. We work on ignoring the giant bags of dog treats and the endless rows of squeaky dog toys. It’s our way of teaching Salish that engaging in consumerism doesn’t bring happiness. Merry Christmas!

Next we work on our “sit” and “stay” commands. Salish is part Australian Cattle Dog, so when properly motivated, his focus is absolute. In my decidedly biased opinion he is the most intelligent dog in his class… of two. The instructor then decided to teach Salish a new trick called “touch.” This is where I hold my hand out up in the air and he leaps to touch it with his nose. Think of an orca at SeaWorld (and then try not to cry).

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Working on his “nap”

When the instructor teaches Salish a new trick, she stuffs his little face full of treats when he gets it right. This would be fine, except the tiny brown chicken flavored cubes of motivation turn Salish into a walking chemical weapon. There’s no other way to say it – his toots are legendary. They foul the air for minutes at a time and stir me from a deep and dreamless sleep. They leave an aftertaste in your mouth.

After class, we let Salish play with a classmate named Buddy. Buddy is a fluffy, overly eager poodle mutt mix of some sort. He is very excitable and I suspect the Pentagon is using him to develop a way to shatter the human eardrum with a single bark. Salish merely tolerates Buddy until it’s time to leave.

During our third class, I had a rare moment of clarity. I’m now convinced that puppy training class isn’t really about training the dogs. It’s about training the owners. I would venture a guess that the instructor barks more commands at me than at Salish. “David, use your leg to get between your dog and the toy,” “David, don’t be afraid to raise your voice,” “David, only give the command once. Do not repeat,” “David, those treats are not for you.” Whatever. I paid good money for this class. I’ll eat the treats if I want to.

I hope they give me a certificate of achievement at the end: “Most Improved Owner.”

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Salish Enjoys the Snow

 

Family Time

Winter has come to Yakima. The leaves have finished changing sunlight into food and are now transitioning into fertilizer. Scrapping frost off of the car windows has added some light cardio to my morning routine. img_7158

A couple weeks ago, I helped six families finalize their adoptions at the Juvenile Center in Yakima. The court room was packed. People were laughing, crying, and hugging as each case was presented and approved by the judge. I’ve never asked a judge to approve a decree while my clients are eating cake. All courts should feature light refreshments.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my in-laws living room, sweaty and bruised after serving as the karate practice dummy for my three nephews, all at once. The younger ones are ages 2 and 5. They throw punches into my legs and giggle when I tickle them. The oldest, almost 9, is a future karate master in the making. He likes to grab my upper body and then kick at my knees. It’s imperative that I know where all of his limbs are at all times – because I enjoy being able to walk.

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What?! No, I didn’t dig in the delicious dirt!!

Salish is here, too. He doesn’t understand why he can’t get in on the martial arts action. He doesn’t have fists but he has a mouth, teeth, and a positive attitude. He seems confused when I scold him for grabbing on to someone’s pajamas and pulling them around the room while they scream. Why don’t I understand that this is the Best. Thing. Ever?

It’s about this time that I realize it’s my fault. It usually is. Salish is chewing on blankets, running around the house, and turning children into chew toys because I haven’t spent enough time with him. He has needs, too. He just doesn’t know how to tell me that he needs to run in the leaves or chase an imaginary bunny across the field. After Lindsay and I take him for a walk he settles down and naps in his bed.

Time is value. I have a good relationship with my nephews because I spend time with them. When Lindsay and Salish interrupt my leisure time to bite me and pee on the carpet, it’s usually because I neglected them.

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Nature with the Nephews

Part of what makes the adoptions so special is that, at the core, it’s about people showing kids they want to spend their time on them. It’s a powerful gesture. The experience reminds me to evaluate what I spend my time on. A little reflection and an effort to reallocate my attention goes a long way.

I’ll start by asking Lindsay about her day and taking Salish for a walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puppy Love

“Look how cute he is!” “Are you sure you want to do this?” “Look at his little face!” “This is a big responsibility that will impact our lives for the next 12 to 15 years.” “He licked me!”

That conversation ended with us forking over a couple large bills in exchange for a little ball of black fur. Don’t let our conversation fool you. This wasn’t an impulse decision. We had been fantasizing about stealing other people’s dogs while walking around Green Lake for a couple of months. We scoured humane society websites and Craigslist looking for a puppy or a dog to adopt. We even read books written by monks who raise German Shepherds in upstate New York.*

img_0382-1The Sunday before we moved, we picked up Salish from the breeder we found on Craigslist. He didn’t speak a lot of English and his heavy Russian accent sounded more sinister than he looked. All of David’s questions about the puppies, their parents, and their dog raising technique were answered with a short, “He’s very good dog.” As we drove away with a tiny 8-week-old puppy falling asleep at my feet, we gave each other the “what have we done?” look.

We spent the next four days attempting to hide Salish in our No-Pets-Allowed apartment. We snuck him out the backdoor for potty breaks and gave in to his every wish to avoid any yelping. Although we were eventually caught and fined (David is currently engaged in an ugly legal battle**), the manager admitted that he couldn’t find any damage caused by the puppy – surprising since we only spent every waking and sleeping moment with him.

img_0383Salish is a Labrador retriever and Australian cattle dog mix (specifically blue heeler). While his coloring would make you think black lab, the shape of his face, the cowlicks on his neck, and his rebellious personality screams heeler. He tends to be stubborn and fights back if I clamp my hand around his muzzle for being too mouthy. He will often chase me when I run and this usually involves him nipping at my legs. When he and Buddy (my in-laws’ rat terrier mix) play, no matter how much Buddy beats up on him, Salish always comes back for more. He even has the audacity to growl and bark at my in-laws’ Rhodesian ridgeback who is at least ten times his size and possesses no sense of humor.

img_0379Initially I was convinced he descended from velociraptors due to his love of tasting everything. But he seems to be learning very quickly. “No Biting. No Barking. No Peeing.” Consistency is key.  Now, most of the time he will stop when we tell him “no”. When I walk around the yard with him, he will wander around and do his own thing, but if I get too far away, he’ll come racing after me. The sight of his little ears bouncing as he blazes a trail toward me makes up for any frustrations. And while he isn’t super cuddly at this stage, as I write this, he is sleeping under my chair.

Since I haven’t started working yet, Salish has pretty much become my life. As a result, I’ve become one of those dog parents that creates an Instagram account for their pet. Sad, I know. But I am so convinced of his objective cuteness that I believe he will get a big enough following that he will get free treats from companies who want to use him in their advertising. If you’re interested in helping us achieve that goal, you can follow Salish on Insta at @salishseaborne.

*If you’re considering adopting a puppy or dog, I recommend you read one or both of these books by the monks of New Skete Monastery. They will change your life.
  • The Art of Raising a Puppy revised edition
  • How to Be Your Dogs Best Friend: The classic training manual for dog owners
**Not really, but he did write the landlord a stern letter using his special lawyer letterhead (our lease agreement said nothing about a fine if we were found to have a pet)

Mind Wiggles

I start my new job tomorrow.

I left my last job at the end of June and have been running my own firm since then. I’ve had some free time, but wasn’t fully able to enjoy it. Being unproductive for too long is unnerving. I believe the medical term for the condition of my brain is, “wiggly.” Slothfulness is only fun when there is an end in sight.

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“I’m sorry I peed”

I accepted the new position a couple weeks ago and was granted a license to test the limits of human inactivity. I have spent the majority of that time reading and trying to prevent my dog from saturating the carpet with puny puddles of puppy pee.

As a personal favor, I will now save you time and money by providing one sentence summaries of the books I read in descending order of recommendation:

  • The Art of Raising A Puppy: “Dogs and humans are not that different”
  • The New Jim Crow: “End the war on drugs and overhaul the criminal justice system”
  • Hillbilly Elegy: “Poverty robs people of opportunities”
  • Dark Money: “Billionaires ruin democracy”
  • Take Your Eye Off the Ball: “Peyton Manning is not dumb” (sung to the tune of the Nationwide jingle)
  • Democracy for Realists: “Is it worth it to truly inform yourself?”
  • Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: “Not enough about dinosaurs”

Between reading and cleaning up my puppy’s indiscretions, I also compiled a list of movies that I am physically incapable of turning off regardless of how far into the movie I turn it on.

  • The Count of Monte Cristo: “Proving you need to get educated to get even”
  • Jurassic Park: “I root for the dinosaurs”
  • Imitation Game: “We all owe Alan Turing a huge debt of gratitude”
  • Pride and Prejudice: “Please don’t judge me”
  • Interstellar: “Matthew McConaughey in space discussing theoretical physics”
  •  Tom Hanks: “This man is a national treasure”
  • National Treasure: “The treasure at the end should have been Tom Hanks”

I’ve enjoyed my time off but I am overdue for a return to the world of productivity. If having a real job doesn’t pan out maybe I can get a job writing one sentence reviews of books and movies for the New York Times.

Friday Night Lights

My dad is a volunteer fire fighter for our local district. In addition to responding to brush fires and burning cars, the firemen donate their time to be on hand for local high school football games in case of an especially egregious injury. I never played actual tackle football, but was always pretty sure I could have, so naturally I wanted to tag along.

I went to a high school that couldn’t afford to bankroll an actual football program (equipment, insurance, concussion studies) so all the “war stories” my wife graciously listens to are about my exploits playing flag football. (Read with Trump Voice: “Sad. So sad. Total failure.) I remember having “locker room conversations”* with my friends about how we were pretty sure we could have excelled playing in an actual tackle football program. Probably not.

The matchup was the Highland Scots (think Mel Gibson in Braveheart yelling, “FREEDOM!!!) against the Granger Spartans. The kids from Granger were larger, faster, and clearly consumed more dairy products. It also happened to be homecoming weekend, so there was a special energy in the air. As a former high school student I’m guessing the energy was an unmeasured mix of axe body spray, hair gel, and repressed sexual urges. img_5525

High school was, and still is, awkward. At halftime there was a presentation of the homecoming royalty. I felt sorry for the clearly frostbitten girls wearing shiny dresses and pounds of concealer standing next to boys sporting obviously rented formal wear and enough zits to play a rousing game of connect the dots on. (spoiler alert for the girls: the completed image is a picture of the boys’ mother, for whom you will never be good enough.) Some of the kids wore sashes that prominently displayed their “homecoming titles.” The titles varied in creativity from “Homecoming King” to most likely to “Eject Macaroni out of His Nose After a Simultaneous Burp, Fart, and Sneeze.” The writing on that sash was really small.

Lindsay and I recently moved back in with my parents while we look for a place of our own which is it’s very own flavor of high fructose awkward. The settling in process includes a lot of drawer and closet cleaning, which leads to me wasting many handfuls of minutes on the floor paging through old high school yearbooks. Awkwardness abounds and I am left with absolutely no room to poke fun at the current batch of half-baked McMuffins waiting to make their mark on the world.

For anyone who is interested, the Spartans annihilated the Scots.

* not the kind of locker room conversations a presidential candidate might have with Billy Bush while on a tour bus wearing a live microphone