A New Project

I mentioned the addition of a new puppy into our home a few stories back. What I didn’t mention was the involvement with a local group that focuses on training dogs to assist local search and rescue efforts.

It began when I contacted a local trainer because of some questions I had about behaviors Toner (then about 4-5 months old) was displaying towards people she did not know. Toner has been exposed to people from the day she was born. I was bringing her into the shop with me each day where she’d meet customers and I also took her on regular walks so that she could be exposed to people in an effort to properly socialize her.

So it really took me by surprise when she started barking and acting defensive towards new people. As far as I knew, she had not had a bad experience to prompt the behavior and it only seemed to be getting worse. So I pursued trying to get some outside opinions on what might be causing it and what I might be able to do to curb it.

During my visit with the behaviorist I mentioned that I was training Toner to hunt for shed antlers. We have Mule Deer in our area and each spring the males will naturally drop their antlers and begin new growth for the year. Following local regulations, anyone has the opportunity to hike out and pick up any dropped antlers they find. Dogs become a great tool for these hunts because of their athletic ability to cover so much more ground than a human can, but also because of their powerful noses. It seemed like a natural fit with my love of the outdoors to train my dog to search out that scent, giving her a fun job when we go out hiking.

When I mentioned this scent training with the other training I was doing with Toner she asked me “have you ever considered doing search and rescue with your dog?” It kind of surprised me because I had pursued search and rescue in the past because of the resources I had in off road vehicles, knowledge of the local area, and outdoor abilities. But I was gently told that “now wasn’t a good time” because of some leadership dramas and organizational challenges that the local SAR (search and rescue) group was going through. Further, I have always thought that it would be REALLY cool to have a dog that could track people. I mean, how cool would it be to tell your friend to take off and go hide somewhere. To give them a half hour start and have no clue where they went, or in what circumstances they were hiding, but you’ve got this secret super power in your dog that will lead you straight to them!

She explained she was apart of a group that was training dogs and handlers to become a reliable resource for local SAR efforts, the days they met to train, and what would be required of someone joining the group. I had opportunity to attend without Toner at first to get a feel for the format and then with Toner to see how she handled the training. Eventually, while there were time commitments and some lingering reservations, I decided to join feeling it would be good for both Toner and myself to be apart of the group.

I continued attending the trainings as often as I could with Toner. While I could see potential within Toner to become a true trailing dog, I almost viewed it as more of a socializing opportunity for her and a chance to work with her in the midst of the distractions of other dogs and other people. I knew that building an ability for her to trail someone would be possible, but it still seemed like a goal that may be out of our reach.

As I was becoming comfortable with that idea I was informed that there would be a 4 day seminar hosted by the INBTI (InterNational Bloodhound Training Institution) for our group. They were flying out two professional trainers to work with us for four straight days. Showing us how to make our dogs true trailing dogs from start to finish. Super exciting!

As the days neared for this seminar I started to become really nervous. I felt that Toner and myself were so amateur. I have never trained a trailing dog. In reality, I’ve never really trained a working dog. Scent work for hunting shed antlers and man trailing were new to this dog and the only training I had done in the past was basic obedience and a few party tricks.

Add on top of that that Toner was now only 8 months old and still struggling to have leash manners in a group of people…….. yeah, I was worried they would take one look at her and feel like they wasted their time.

The first night of the Seminar consisted of a slide-show presentation outlining the basics of man trailing, how the training would look, and what the dogs would be capable of if we followed the steps they would outline for us. As I looked around the room I learned that there were two, real world Bloodhounds that would be joining us along with a Belgium Malinois. These were local dogs with their handlers who had attended seminars like this before. This just deepened my nervousness that I would somehow be frowned upon for even attending at this stage in our training. But it also excited me to get to see the real deal in action.

The next morning we met in the parking lot of a local grocery store. We all had our dogs in our vehicles and we all stood, moving our feet in anxiousness but also in an attempt to keep our blood flowing on this cold morning. We had a brief introduction and then we were told that we would now run our dogs for the instructors so that they could get a feel for the stage that dog was in. Of course when they counted off the handlers, giving them an assigned place in the order we would run, I ended up being number two. My heart dropped.

The first dog ran, and while it was distracted, it trailed fairly well. It was now my turn and I pulled Toner out of her crate and allowed her to meet everyone present in an attempt to at least eliminate one distraction this morning. They chose an individual to run for Toner, someone she didn’t know. As they instructed the individual what to do I could tell that he was not following very well. He also had to leave a scent article (an item that the person has had good contact with for the dog to sniff before hitting the trail) of which he didn’t have one. Instead another person grabbed a towel that was supposedly clean for him to use. He wiped his hands on it briefly then dropped it to the ground and went on his run to leave a trail for Toner.

Toner still dazed on what she was doing there took a brief sniff of the rag and I set her off with a quick “search!” command. She launched forward but immediately I could tell she had no clue what she was even looking for. It was a painful 3-5 minute search. She finally did make it to the runner, with some help from me, and with that the pain was over and I could sit back and watch the other dogs……still feeling a bit embarrassed to be there.

The two Bloodhounds and the Belgian Malinois were the last to go. I stepped up, my attention heightened, and anxiously waited for the first Bloodhound to start it’s trail. The handler went through the pre-start ritual of dropping the harness over the scent article, circling the dog around the area, and then getting the dog harnessed for the run. I was a little surprised at how relaxed and nonchalant the whole process was, but I accepted it as these were the real deal so it must be right.

The handler then gave the command to start trailing……a start that, to me at least, was super anti-climatic as the dog meandered forward with the same confused mannerisms Toner had displayed. What surprised me even more was that the second Bloodhound and the Belgian Malinois followed in the same manner. I was dumbfounded! But I quickly realized that I wasn’t the odd man out. That Toner and I had an even playing field moving into the weekend. I realized that we wouldn’t be singled out as inexperienced or amateurs. My excitement for the weekend suddenly renewed and I dove into the training with new enthusiasm.

During the days that followed I found that the first run on that first morning was a result of Toners puppy excitement, an inexperienced runner, and a bad scent article. She was, in a way, set up for failure on that run. Because as the days progressed on she had many opportunities to show how capable she was of trailing even amidst the distractions of an urban environment. Having a couple of runs under her belt, working out some of the excitement of new areas, new people, and new dogs, she launched into a display of athleticism and drive.

I did my best to soak in as much information as I could. I asked questions, followed other dogs and their handlers on their trails even if I felt there wasn’t a need to. I observed as much as I could and participated as much as I could. I read evening assignments from an accompanying book and did my best to apply all I had learned in the next run. I even began wearing a chest mounted Go-Pro so that I could go back and review the footage, much like an athlete would, in an effort to pick out things in my runs that I could improve and correct.

On the last day I came to a realization:

Toner was the youngest dog in the group. I had the least experience in training and handling a trailing dog out of all of the other handlers. Toner and I came into this seminar as the underdogs and yet we somehow ended up as the top team of the weekend. Now, this is by my own observation. The instructors did a great job in critiquing and commenting on the teams as to keep an even playing field. There were no awards given and no favorites played.

I know by making that statement I probably sound quite conceded as well. But hear me out. I am not stating that Toner ran trails with perfection each time. We experienced plenty of mistakes, frustrations, and errors through the weekend that need correction and critiques from the instructors. Toner and I are nowhere near being in a position to respond to a SAR call and no where near advancing beyond foundational exercises.

But as I observed the other teams make their runs; the attention the handler gave to the information, the way the dog would respond to the handlers inputs, etc. I observed that Toner and myself were producing the most consistent results. Toner was anxious to work and anxious to do as I asked. She proved to have a drive and an ability that was so impressive to me and to the others that observed her. She got the concepts and did not react to distractions and items that disrupted the other dogs.

I can’t even begin to articulate the respect I gained for Toner over the last few days. She’s proven to be a dog that is truly capable of amazing things. I’m a bit sad to admit that I have doubted her in the past because of some behavioral issues we’ve encountered, one of which that started this entire path. But this weekend proved to me that we are a match and that we are capable of amazing things.

It also made me realize that having a dog that can trail like the pros is actually a reality. I now have the tools I need, the information I need, the resources I need, and proof that Toner is capable of it. It’s now up to me to make it happen.

Note to Self:

As the sun peaked over the eastern horizon and began to fill my camp with a warming light, I couldn’t help but feel a desire to somehow make a change that would allow me to be here more.

After purchasing a few new modifications for my rig, I started feeling that itch and my toys just intensified it. What I mean is I started feeling a strong, somewhat primal, desire to go camping. I start to get that itch at a consistent time each year. Typically what happens is we get a series of days that peak into warmer weather. Weather that allows me to walk outside and feel warm enough to maintain a comfortable temperature with only a t-shirt on.

Somehow that event creates a physiological change within me (okay, I’m willing to bet that’s not the right term, but it sounds good!) and I start to yearn to leave the comfort of electricity, a spacious and soft bed, indoor plumbing, and many other modern conveniences and flee to the outdoors where I can smell like smoke, cook simple meals, and pee in the bushes.

I had to go!

So I picked a weekend and a general location and loaded up to hit the hills. I hit the grocery store for some basic, easy to make food, and get on the road by about 3:30pm. When I arrived in the general area I started running some roads until I found the perfect spot.

The sand was soft at base camp and it ran into beautiful red slick rock that bordered the site to the north. A large, dead ponderosa tree stood tall behind as a sentinel standing as an overwatch to my camp. There was a slight breeze, but it was still t-shirt weather. As I jumped out and gave Toner, my chocolate lab, the okay come out also, you could tell there was an electric energy in both of us.

I leveled the rig and began setting up camp.

The cover was unzipped, slid out, and laid over the hood of the rig. The rooftop tent was then easily unfolded and the annex room connected creating my two-story penthouse for the night. I then deployed the canopy over the tailgate and set up the old Coleman cook stove in preparation to cook dinner.

By now the breeze had died down as the sun sunk to the west. Toner and I went for a little stroll to explore our surroundings as the low light made the red rocks glow only to be exaggerated by the deep shadows that hid behind each contour, crevice, and character adding feature. I’m sure if anyone could have seen me they would note that I had a grin ear to ear. The landscape was beautiful and quiet, almost in a meditative state.

I needed this

Back at camp I started a fire and just stood and enjoyed the smoke that filled the air accompanied by the crackling of the wood as the flames began to spread. I had two rainbow trout that I caught a few months ago in a pan frying over the blue flame of the Coleman stove in some butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. The other pan would be used to cook the boxed pasta.

I continued to turn and face a new direction at camp. Each turn would bring a new view, a new scene to take in, a new remedy for my ailing soul. My mind felt so invigorated, so alive, the relief so ready to me.

I pulled my sleeping bag out and climbed the ladder to my loft on the roof. Laying it out, and fluffing it so that it would be ready to protect me in the cold of the night, I could begin to smell the fish cooking below. As I set up Toner’s kennel and fluffed her bed, laying a blanket over top to help keep her warm, I knew my dinner was nearing being ready. A final stir, and then one fish was laid on top of the pasta.

Holding the pan in one hand (I mean, why dirty another dish?) and my fork in the other, I stood by the fire enjoying my meal. The temperature outside was cooling off quickly, so I would rotate front-to-back, somewhat like a rotisserie to keep both sides of me warm. I could see my breath and my fingertips were a bit cold. But the meal and the entertainment of the flames lapping at the wood and the sparks drifting into the sky were unbeatable!

The dark of night came quickly.

The stars were so vibrant and only intensified by the lack of a moon and the absence of clouds. I continued to rotisserie myself by the fire as the temperature dropped quickly. But my gaze kept being drawn to the heavens.

My mind seemed to just flow even though it would keep changing course. But it wasn’t the frantic thought process my mind would typically follow. This was different. This was calmer, more comfortable, more meditative. I even took several notes in my phone as some solutions and points I had been pondering on became clear.

The warmth of the fire continued to sooth my body as I stood in silence simply soaking in the solitude. I had no time limits, no chores to do, no tasks to carry out. My phone was not buzzing with text messages and alerts, reminding me of what was continually demanded of me. I had no preparations that needed my attention in anticipation the duties of the following day.

With the fire buried and the coals safely put to bed, it was my turn to cozy up for the night.

I decided to wander out into the night before climbing into bed just to enjoy how vibrant the night sky was with no light impeding on it’s beauty. The night was still enough to hear my footsteps even in the soft sand of the landscape. A bird here, a chipmunk or field mouse stirring in a bush there. They sky overhead witnessing it all. I climbed the rock steps to gain elevation in order to get a broader scope of the landscape. And there I just stood. Breathing. Soaking it all in.

My sleeping bag was cold, but I grew up climbing into a cold bed and have come to enjoy the feeling of letting a shiver out a couple of times as my body slowly warms the covers around me. Eventually I settled, snuggled into the cozy cocoon of my sleeping bag. Sleep came quickly and in the comfort of my roof top tent, the sleep was really quite good!

I also grew up with a fan blowing on the hot summer nights and have come to need some noise as I sleep. For whatever reason my noisemaker on my phone quit at 6am bringing my mind out of it’s restful state. I fumbled for my phone to see plenty of battery life. My plan was to sleep until the sun hit the tent so that I could wander out into a world that was starting to warm up rather than one that would be at it’s coldest. I turned the noisemaker back on and rolled over to doze in the warmth and comfort I was laying in.

But sleep wouldn’t come. Toner stirred below in her crate and whined a little. I think she was having the same struggle as I was. My mind turned to the excitement of hot chocolate and more of the camping experience. The cold kept me at bay, but the urge to arise and take part of what I was in the middle of was stronger.

Now fully dressed and Toner beating the side of the tent with her happy tail, I unzipped the tent and stepped out into my new playground. The cool air was crisp against my nose and filled my lungs with adrenaline. I stretched as I walked to the nearest tree and, yes, took my morning pee.

Just as a man will never understand what dark chocolate can do for the soul of a woman. A woman will never understand what peeing outdoors does for the soul of a man.

I poured some water into a bowl for Toner and she began lapping it up as I poured my pan full and set it on the flame of the old Coleman stove. I stood and stared with a smile on my face as I wondered at how many meals that stove had seen. My mom or dad at the controls just reveling at the adventure they were currently apart of. I like that I can keep those traditions going.

There was a definite sadness in me as I packed up camp that morning. I had soaked in the sun, explored my surroundings, and just enjoyed being there…..and just being in general. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to have to go. I didn’t want to return to a life of demand, deadlines, and duties. I wanted to just set up a permanent residence in this current life I was living.

I did find solace as I started driving down the dusty road that would link me back to the pavement of civilization.

It’s right here. It’s been here this whole time and it’s not going anywhere. I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in a location and in a position to be right here in the middle of what other’s come to visit on once-in-a-lifetime vacations. Why am I not doing this more?

I need to. For myself and for my well-being.

I need to.

What’s Happening Now?

Why do I maintain such a high standard for myself when the rest of the world doesn’t see the need to try?

I’ve found myself in a frustrating state as I’ve opened up my business to receive employment applications. It seems as though the past few rounds of hiring I’ve gone through I have received every sort of disappointment you could face when going through that vetting process.

I have have received resumes with terrible grammar, including several typos. I’ve received resumes that were so simple you couldn’t really consider it a resume, including one that had no contact information for that person……how do you expect me to get back in touch with you!?! One resume even listed work experience with dates that were 6 months in the future!!!! I mean, if you are capable of building a time machine I’m pretty sure there are more lucrative options than working for me!

Then comes the interviewing process. After sifting through the applications and resumes I select those that seem the most promising and may be the best fit. I would estimate that I have received about 50% attendance to those interviews. That’s right, I’ve come to expect that I will be stood up half of the time when it comes to interviews. No call, no text, no email stating why or apology. Just straight up no-shows. I did have one person come wandering in three days later claiming they lost their phone and that’s why they didn’t come in for our interview. When I called to set up the interview for the next morning she had her phone…… Maybe without her calendar on her phone she forgot she had an interview in that short period of time?

Then, the other half that do come quite often are late. Again, not the best impression.

Finally I make a hire HOPING that I’ve made a good decision because, again, I’ve come to find that I can’t trust what I’m being told in the interview. I’ve had employees that BEG for full time and then consistently take a day off each week. One was desperate for full time work “I need the income……I need the money.” Well……during the 6 months I had him on hire I never once paid him a full 80 hours. Why? Because he would consistently call in on a Monday morning saying he got sick over the weekend. Sounds to me like someone just has a hard time getting their butt out of bed to start another work week.

I’ve been told that someone is “very healthy and hardly ever has to call in sick” only to have them call in sick three times within the first 7 days. Also a mother with young children stated she had “care for them handled so that she can put in full days.” Now I have compassion for moms, don’t take me wrong here, but when you say you’ve got it handled and that it won’t interfere with your work then that is what I expect with the exception of an emergency here or there. I don’t expect you to have to leave 2-5 times each day randomly in order to pick them up, take care of a milk spill, settle a fight between sister and brother, and whatever else is happening while they are under the “care” that you arranged for them.

I don’t want your significant other hanging out by your desk for hours at a time before and after lunch or before they pick you up at the end of the day. I don’t want you to consistently show up 15 – 30 minutes late each day and then spend another 15 – 30 minutes preparing your breakfast. I don’t want you to spend 3 out of every 5 minutes on your phone texting. I don’t want you to put off my customer’s jobs to work on your own personal projects. I don’t want you to get offended when I get frustrated and sternly correct the same exact mistake that has been made for the 5th time. I want you to realize that the customers we serve are who pay your wage. If they feel your lack of care, experience you ignoring them, or receive a messed up job with obvious mistakes and choose to stop coming into our shop, that effects my ability to write you a check every two weeks.

I have just been blown away at the behavior I’ve seen. Things that I would never dream of doing if I were in their shoes because of the commitments I’ve made and the gratitude I would feel for what I am receiving. Almost as if I am expecting too much from a grown adult with adult responsibilities and commitments…….an adult that I’ve agreed to pay a competitive wage to in exchange for a portion of their time each day………a wage that allows them to provide for their daily needs and wants.

And yet, somehow these grown adults make it through life without any of their unfortunate circumstances being their fault. They lost their job because their boss fired them for being sick. Or at least that’s the story they tell leaving out the fact that they called in sick on a regular basis for the last month just so they could run to town with a friend, or because they didn’t feel like coming in that day, or whatever the reason was. So then, when they actually were sick and needed a few more days off, their employer finally pulled the plug because they had proven to be undependable.

And now they can’t afford to pay for little Johnny to have his tonsils out because they lost their job, all because that greedy business owner didn’t care that they were sick and needed a day off. Again, failing to mention that they over-extended their income by buying that new toy that they had to have after their neighbors bought one and those payments, coupled with an Amazon addiction, puts them into the red each month.

But that’s okay, a few taps on their IPhone (the latest model of course) creates a GoFundMe and puts their sad story out there for everyone to see and the charity starts rolling in, smoothing everything out, and covering for them.

I know I sound bitter. But when I work so hard, sacrifice so much, and go through continual effort day in and day out to keep the commitments I’ve made, to reciprocate what’s been offered me, and to take care of my own, it makes you a bit bitter to see others just skate by. It’s really frustrating when you realize that you don’t reap the full reward of your endless efforts because part of that reward is paying to fill in all the gaps they left.

I would like to clarify; I know that not every person out there is milking the system. I believe some people are wronged by greedy employers, that some people really do need help with medical expenses after they’ve done everything the can to cover them themselves. I know there are good people out there with good work ethics who are responsible and honest. Even after I’ve been burned I still give the benefit of doubt to those I come in contact with (probably more than I should).

But it does make me pause and wonder why I hold myself to such high standards when I could receive the same reward as those that seem to have lost those values.

Maybe it’s time I stop focusing on what can be measured in dollars and cents or on a clock and start living in the now.

A couple of days ago I was sitting in church and the speaker mentioned that phrase: Living in the now. I’ve hear that so many times and each time it was as if it was something someone else needed to hear. “I’ve got that handled” I would think. I mean, I like to daydream, but I don’t get caught up in the future and what mansions are in store for me. I felt like I dealt with enough daily struggles that it kept me grounded and not off in a wonderland. But this time it struck me a bit different.

Part of my anxiousness to bring on new employees is that I am loosing a couple of long-time employees that I depend on and so I am anxious to find replacements for them. Failing to do so would inevitably land more on my plate and I don’t have the time to have more on my plate. Not to mention that I am finally getting a taste of what a normal 9-5 job looks like and…..well…. I like it! I want to quite each day at a normal time. I want to have a consistent daily schedule of exercise to keep me healthy, then go to my job for a set amount of hours to provide for my family, then come home and be able to fit in some play with the kids, because I’m not emotionally drained from stress, and also have time for a hobby. I want to be able to schedule time off for a family vacation once in a while, and by time I mean more than a weekend.

I realized that I had become so focused on what I needed to fall into place within the next couple of months, that I was becoming discourage over what needed to happen right now in order to make that happen. I was setting such lofty goals of freedom for myself, that it was discouraging my day to day pursuits. Creating a monster in everything because it wasn’t fitting into my plan precisely the way it needed to.

I’ve come so far with this business over the last decade. A large portion of that was because of the standards I hold myself to. But equally was the day to day focus on the work that needed to be done now in order to meet the next payment that was breathing down my neck. Suddenly we are ahead! We are writing checks for large production machines without needing any sort of financing, we are offering wages higher than we ever have before, we have a very large and very beautiful facility that we own, and I am spending more time at home than I ever have before.

Those dreams are coming true. But only because I have taken one step at a time, one day at a time. My standards are high, but in the end with a ‘what’s needed right now’ focus, my reward will be greater than others. Sure, we need to know what’s coming tomorrow, but only so we can prepare to tackle it today.

Puppy Progression

Her name is Toner.

And, yes, I do mean toner as in the bottle you slide into the front of a copy machine when it stops printing and demands you replace it before it will finish printing your job (usually with less than 5 sheets remaining).

We went back and forth on a few names. We were getting a female Chocolate Lab puppy and planned to surprise the kids. In all honesty, we wanted to name the puppy before we picked it up because if we allowed input from the kids we’d end up with a name like “Brownie” or “Spot”, even though she doesn’t have any spots. This way it was already decided and we could just start calling her that name from the beginning.

My wife found a few names that, while they were beautiful and fit for a female dog, were still just a little too feminine for my taste especially when she was going to be my “ruff” and tumble (get the pun?) adventure pal. I planned to train her to hunt for shed antlers and possibly retrieve for water fowl hunting. I just had a hard time thinking I’d be sending a “Daisy” out into the cold and muddy water to grab a dead duck in her mouth and bring it back to me with pride.

So we shifted gears. Planning for her to be at the print shop with me most days we started thinking of print-related names. We considered hard on Cyan, but ultimately had a hard time finding Blue in a Brown dog (I often get hung up on practicalities, that’s the same reason I struggle watching Sci-Fi films). The idea of naming her Toner came into the mix and we both agreed it would be perfect!

The kids were ecstatic to discover a puppy would be coming home with us, especially J8. They were full of excitement and enthusiasm to play, rough house, show her new toys, and just run like crazy animals all over with her in tow.

In fact, within the first few days I found myself worried that MY puppy was going to be more loyal and interested in being with them than with me. They were the fun ones where anything went, just play, play, play all day long! While I was the one trying to potty train, teach obedience, and all of that not-so-fun stuff.

I was also the one putting in all the hard work while they got all the fun; taking her out every hour and cleaning up the mess inside when she didn’t make it outside in time, having to wake up three times through the night to let her out, etc. With all of this in the works I found myself wondering “what was I thinking!” more than once. Trying to decide if I had just made a HUGE mistake by taking on a dog. Oh, and in case you are wondering; I am the dog person in our home, my wife is a cat person and she has explained to me more than once that the low-maintenance, naturally cuddly nature of a cat is WHY she is a cat person.

But sooner than I could let any buyers remorse settle in, I found myself with a little buddy. We went on a few camp trips, she settled into long days at work, and enjoyed going out to the hay field to move the water each morning. I think what really sealed the bond though, was the nights we spent on the couch together sleeping; she would start on my lap or right next to me curled up in a cuddly little ball. But soon she’d sit up, turn around and walk with her front legs, dragging her back legs behind her until she was fully stretched out on her belly. We came to call this “supermanning” because she’d do it all over the place, especially when she was hot and wanted to feel the cool floor on her belly. Front legs straight out in front of her and rear legs straight out behind her. But she’d always end up tight against my side again at some point through the night.

Toner did not remain a small, little puppy for very long. Her little body began to expand immediately! In order to track her rapid growth we came up with a plan to take a photo of her next to one of our production machines’ toner bottles each time we had to replace it. This has ended up being about a weekly basis. She started just a bit shorter than the bottle but quickly passed it up.

With her physical growth came her intellectual growth too. I found a dog excited to do work and very anxious to please. I jumped right into all of the normal obedience training: come, sit, lay down, etc. One command I put a lot of emphasis on is the stay command. I’ve found that to be so helpful with my prior dogs and knew it would be important for her to understand and excel at.

One evening at work I started feeling guilty because it had been such a busy day and I had hardly given her any attention. Usually I would try and take a few 15 minute breaks throughout the day to play with her and do some sort of simple training but that day I barely had time to rush her out to go potty every once in a while just to rush back in and get right back to work.

I found myself at my desk, with her nosing me and trying to climb on my lap, but if I could just focus for about a half hour then I would get done what I needed and we could both go home. So that set the challenge: how do I get the focus I need to get done what I needed to while still giving her some attention and working out some of her energy? She needed some sort of interesting job that would make her work mentally and physically but that could also interact with me.

My mind shifted to what I hoped to achieve with her shed antler training. We hadn’t done anything with it up to that point because I was so focused on obedience. I had looked at a few training kits but still didn’t think she was quite ready for that stage yet. But I wanted to at least get her started on something while she was young.

The goal with shed antler training is that she would seek out the shed antler and once she found it, using some sight but mostly scent, she’d pick it up and come find me to deliver it into my hands. So in order to create that thought process I decided to take a small plastic bottle and fill it with some treats that had a good, strong smell to them. I then took my pocket knife and poked a bunch of holes in it so that the smell could escape. After making sure the cap was screwed on good and tight, so that she couldn’t access the treats, I let her smell it and played with her with it for a minute or two. That turned into a couple of quick retrieves and each time she’d bring it back to me I’d open it up and give her a treat.

Once she had that concept down it turned into a great game of hide and seek. I’d do a sit-stay (see what I mean about the stay command) in my office and then I’d go hide the bottle. At first it was in an obvious location but it quickly turned into more difficult to find places. I’d come back, sit in my chair and ignore her for a minute, just to build the anticipation and test her control, and then I’d say “okay, go find it!” She’d bolt out of the room like a rocket and start trotting around the shop sniffing the air in an attempt to zero in on the prize.

During that time it afforded me a few minutes of focus to get done what I needed to as I awaited her to return, bottle in her mouth, ready for her treat and to go another round. It was the perfect solution for that night’s dilemma; I got the work done I needed to, she expelled the energy she needed to, and we got the interaction we needed. Not to mention an excellent start to her training!

That training soon turned into a soft rubber decoy antler, for her protection as she learned to handle it, with some antler scent. She transitioned really well into that and we’ve used that same routine several times in order to afford her some work/play and me some focus on what I needed to.

The frustrations of having a puppy have been experienced on nearly a daily basis. She jumps up on people, she sheds……LIKE CRAZY!!!!! She gets distracted, poops in the building 2.5 minutes after being out to go pee, chews up one of our kids toys, ALWAYS has a sock in her mouth, etc.

Recently I’ve started doing Search and Rescue training with her. I’ve always been intrigued with bloodhounds that can track a person for miles and Toner has a focus on doing work like that that I’ve never seen in my other dogs. I think she’ll do it and I think she’ll do it well! But my excitement has been diminished on several occasions as I’ve attended those trainings with her at my side constantly pulling the leash trying to get to the other humans and dogs. She won’t look at me, listen to me, or respond to me. Even when I’m crouched down in her face she’s constantly dodging around me to see what’s going on across the way. She is such a good dog in private, at the business, or at home. But in that setting she makes me look like a fool who hasn’t spent a minute on training!!!

In those moments I have found myself forgetting that I am working with a puppy. That, while she is nearing her full size, or at least I hope she doesn’t grow much larger than she already is, she is merely a child. Still learning, still growing, developing, maturing. She still comes into situations like that with an adolescent energy and excitement that she just can’t control!

My wife and kids attended one of those trainings the other night. The group had arranged for the use of an indoor run that had agility equipment inside. It was a good opportunity to work the dogs on obedience and push them to try climbing on things, going through things, etc. For the first half hour of the program I just found myself constantly fighting an ever-changing direction leash, pulled taunt by a, probably close to 60lbs now, machine that was clawing at the ground in an attempt to reach the closest dog, smell, human, etc.

But, after the excitement died down a bit and she was able to take in what she needed to, suddenly I was handling a dog that was anxious to run, jump, and go through anything I asked her to. It was so cool to see her willingness, trust, and drive to do what I asked her to. Yes, in between she’d get distracted and pull towards the nearest thing she found interest in. But it was a good exercise for her to be there without greeting the other dogs/humans and to re-focus on me amidst those distractions.

Later that evening as my wife and I were discussing the night she reminded me that “she’s still just a puppy.” She’s growing, learning, and gaining intelligence and self control just as our children, J8 and T4, are. Maybe I was expecting just a little too much of her when all of the other dogs attending the program are 5+ years old.

Later that evening as I lay in bed, trying to shut the door on all of the lingering thoughts and notes for the day, my checklist fell to “puppy.” I started kicking myself for getting frustrated with the flaws she was displaying or had displayed in the past. I reflected on how I often found myself comparing her to my previous dog, Izzy (see Neglect). But what I was doing was comparing my puppy, Toner, to who Izzy was after years of work in her adult dog state. Not comparing puppy to puppy.

I’ve found myself many, many times catching myself with my own children. Expecting them to think and act like adults when they are still children. Why would I push them to quickly take on adult traits when I, myself, don’t like being an adult that much!?!? I wish for them to be adults, and I wish for myself to be a child again so that I can shirk of the responsibilities of being an adult. Why would I do the same to my puppy?

Let the puppy be a puppy!

Sure puppies and children need an adult to show them the path to becoming an adult. To set boundaries, teach them skills, take care of them, etc. So don’t take me wrong and think I’m encouraging you to raise wild animals where they are free to do what they want for however long they wanted to. But I know that I need that reminder often. That they are puppies for a reason. So let them revel in it! Give them opportunities to play, to be excited, to meet new dogs and new people often.

Expect what needs to be expected and let the rest go. She’ll get there. She’s already come so far! Unfortunately, before I know it, the puppy will be grown out of her and lost forever. So I had better enjoy that puppy progression while it lasts!

Steak and Potatoes

About half way through my meal of Steak and Potatoes the other day, as I savored the juicy and flavorful taste of red meat cooked to perfection, topped with the buttery and well seasoned flavor of roasted potatoes; crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I thought back, trying to remember when my last meal of Steak and Potatoes was. But what I was reminded of immediately was how much I enjoyed that basic meal. It’s something I need to enjoy a bit more often in my life.

There are certain things in life that are so consistent and dependable that you almost tend to forget about them.

I’m talking about the things that get set in the corner to collect dust. At first the intention is that you will come back to them. So they are set aside carefully and in a precise spot with that intention. But after some time something lands in front of, then on top, and soon it’s buried under years of neglect and past memories.

Now it’s out of sight and out of mind. You’ve forgotten how good it was and how well it had served you. You’ve moved on to new and more exciting things. More convenient things. Things that might often even come at a higher price and seem, at the time, more fulfilling.

But eventually, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, you rediscover that thing. You pull it out with a sentimental smile on your face as the sight, feel, and smell brings a rush of memories that will forever be attached to that thing.

You dust it off and, with a twinkle in your eye, think “I wonder…..” as you give it another try only to be amazed at how quickly and easily it fills a need you forgot you had.

These things are the Steak and Potatoes of life.

These things are cheap, out of date, out of style, etc., or at least that’s what the world tells us. Often times we have to work a bit harder for these things. They don’t function as easily or make us feel as comfortable as a ‘modern replacement’ might and that’s often why they get set aside.

But on that Saturday afternoon when they are rediscovered you almost feel guilty for ever taking on that view. As if you had traded in years of commitment, loyalty, and memories for a joy-ride that lasted for an hour.

Sure, after driving that cold, noisy, and slow 1974 vehicle for a week you REALLY appreciate the power, comfort, and warmth of a newer car. But there will always be something in that old car that the new car will never obtain. A legacy that it will never be able to live up to. A dependability it will never earn.

I’ve re-discovered several Steak and Potato items in my life and, unfortunately, I’ve lost a few Steak and Potato items as well……let go in exchange for that new and exciting thing. But I think that’s okay too. I’m not suggesting you become a hoarder!

The important thing is to remember the taste. To remember how consistently that simple meal fulfilled you, took care of you, and got you through to another day. Because it has contributed to what you have today………..to where you are today and how you are today.

It’s built your character, strengthened your determination, and shaped your future. Maybe it’s even embarrassed you a few times as you pulled your collar up, hoping no one would see or notice.

No matter how it’s effected you, its undeniable that it HAS.

Snow Angels in the Sand

It is finally 2021!!!

I can’t express how anxious I was to get to Dec 31st and into a new year. Somehow I had this idea in my simple mind that crossing over from 11:59pm on one day to 12:01am the next would solve so many problems and issues, not only in my life, but in our country and world.

I’m going to guess that right about now you are shaking your head and chuckling to yourself, thinking: “boy, this guy needs to get a grasp on reality”. But don’t kid yourselves! My guess is 9 out of 10 people were focused on this same idea. The only reason you feel so wise now is because you had the same reality check I did when you woke up January 1st and you faced the same personal problems, news sources were still yelling at you about the same issues, and the world was just as it had been 24 hours prior.

So here it is, January 18th, and there is no World Peace to be found, there is still some question on who our President actually is or who it will be in the coming months, and I’m still burned out, fed up, and ready to make rash life decisions without fully thinking them through.

It’s funny how as a mature adult you can still get to a breaking point that will either bring you to your knees or be the first step towards something great. I feel like this unprecedented period in the world is going to be that moment for many people.

As I’ve observed the events of the last year or so there are a couple of things that have stood out to me:

First – Our neighbors are quickly becoming our enemies. And that’s really sad! It’s so unfortunate that somehow we are finding ourselves wandering around looking at everyone we encounter as some how, some form of danger to ourselves. Whether it’s based on a face covering, color of skin, or even a bumper sticker expressing their political views, we instantly want to judge them and place them in a box that the media has created for them.

Second – There are too many necessary evils in our lives. I’ve often found myself in this battle against what I allow to take up my time. It’s so easy to kick back in a soft chair, pull out your phone, and within a few clicks be lost in hours of ‘entertainment’ and information. So easily does it flow to you, that it becomes an outlet or escape from real life matters that desperately need your attention but somehow take a back seat again and again. So many times have I decided that I just need to cut this or that out because the ‘entertainment’ or information provided has so much negativity built in. But then I find myself needing to know how to access it and operate it because it’s a source of information critical to my business, or a source of contact critical for other organizations I’m involved with; Facebook has become a bulletin board for local events, Instagram allows me to keep in touch with the youth groups I help with and provides talking points to encourage and praise them by, etc.

Third – We live in a society where you will never be able to make everyone happy. Now, I’ve known this for a long time. I learned this within the first years of running my own business and have grown to accept it while still trying to achieve the unachievable. But I feel like a little more each day, controversy, contention, and debate just for debates’ sake has become almost an essential skill that is being built into our society. We can’t just agree to disagree anymore. There has be a right and a wrong and I have to be right and you have to be wrong, even if it comes to blows! Why can’t we just not be so easily offended…..why can’t we just all get along!?!?

There are so many things that play into the worries I have about the coming years, especially when I look at my offspring and contemplate on the next 10 – 15 years worth of responsibility I have to prepare them for the world, even though I have no way of knowing what that world will be at that point.

It’s a very intimidating feeling.

So I’m sure at this point you expect me to come out with some deep and resounding statement that somehow rounds this all up into a defined set of steps that can be taken to smooth it all out and package it all up into a manageable task. But I don’t. I’ve got nothing for ya! I’ve seen people plow through, taking it all in, and coming out just fine on the other end…..or so it appears on the outside. I’ve seen others slowly drown and fall apart, visibly giving up and going under. Each individual has strengths and weaknesses that they’ve got to understand, accept, and work with.

I will say that I am very grateful to live in an area where it doesn’t take much time or energy to escape from it. To simply grab the keys, load up some snacks and supplies, buckle your family into the seats, and drive. Drive away from what the world tells us is important to a spot where I can focus on what I know is important.

On Saturday I wasn’t even sure where that spot was, but when I got there it quickly became clear and my two children showed me the way. We only had a couple of hours but somehow, by following their example, I found a way to shut it all out and find peace. Laying on my back, the warm sun on my face, following the lead of my two children, it suddenly adjusted the scales in my life. I could see that there were things that were out of balance. That a higher value was being placed on things that were only worth pennies and that some definitions needed to be redefined.

Who knew that making snow angels in the sand could be worth so much.

Simple Pleasures

Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite Holidays of the year.  I will be boldly honest when I admit that my sending it to the top of the list is in direct relation to the food, but I also just enjoy the simplicity of it.  It typically consists of about three days worth of relaxing, spending time with family, and very casual living as you enjoy left-overs from the meals and time off of work.  That is why each year I get irritated when Christmas starts to over-run it with music, sales, displays, and so forth.  This year was no exception, other than when it came to the complications that a large (at least for our high-desert climate) snow storm brought.

We began receiving rain earlier in the week, but on Thursday night it finally got cold enough to turn into snow.  As I mentioned before, snow that comes and stays is pretty rare so when it comes to snow my stance is typically ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’.  And this time I believed it.

About 3:30am on Friday morning the electricity in our home shut off triggering complete silence in our home other than the beeping of a video style baby monitor we keep in our room to view the children in the room next to us informing us that it had lost it’s signal to the camera.  (This particular monitor can run wireless on a battery making it convenient to take with you wherever you might need to).

My wife being trained after over 7 years of motherhood to respond in an instance to nighttime interruptions was swiftly out of bed and to it, silencing it just in the nick of time…..or so we thought.

Less than 30 seconds later we heard the thumping and opening of our children’s door.  My wife was swiftly out of bed again meeting J7 in the hallway to which she stated that it was pitch black and she was scared.  I then heard my son, T3, holler from the room “I’m scared!”

Expecting it to be a quick outage the children joined us in bed where we tried to ask the impossible from them knowing the whole time that it was merely wishful thinking to request that they HOLD STILL and try to go to sleep.

After much fidgeting, shooshing, and fighting the constant wiggle my stomach began to rumble as it remembered how tasty the meals were the day before and how much it wanted that long awaited left over turkey sandwich with the homemade rolls that were currently sitting next to the oven.

This, of course, made the children giggle and get even more wound up.  So, realizing this was going to be a longer outage than expected I threw the covers off of me, exclaimed “that’s it!”, and rolled out of bed and headed for the living room and kitchen.

The power had been out now for a good 40 minutes.  We had gathered out into the living room by the light of our phones and I began stoking the fire from coals to a flame while my wife found some candles and began lighting them on the table.

This acceptance to being awake triggered something inside of J7 and, I kid you not, she began a non-stop stream of talking that lasted well into the next day!  T3 also accepted our awaken state and, like his dad, requested some food.  So the leftovers were pulled from the fridge and some very delicious turkey sandwiches were made up and the four of us enjoyed an early morning snack around a candle lit table.

The power did come on at about 5am again and everyone tried to settle down to get some rest, but it kicked back off again at 5:30ish and then remained off until nearly 8pm Friday night.

We did make the most of it as we found a winter wonderland when the sun rose which was exciting for everyone involved.  Snow apparel was dug out, and once everyone was bundled thoroughly by my wife we went out to play in the deep snow.


Again I was bombarded with hiccups as one thing after another was complicated by the power being out as I attempted to keep the outlaying rooms of the house warm, blow up inter tubes for snow play, make sure refrigerated items didn’t spoil, and so forth in an effort to keep my family comfortable and manage our electricity-less home as I felt obligated to as the man of the house.  So, it was quite a relief when the power kicked back on Friday evening, and stayed on, allowing life to get back to normal.

Saturday we planned another Thanksgiving tradition, which was to go cut a live tree off of a nearby mountain.  The truck was loaded, lunch and snacks were prepared by my wife, and off we set to hunt out our perfect tree.

After making a quick stop at the Forest Service office to purchase our tag we endured a good forty minutes fart noises resonating from the back seat where our children giggled and laughed as they tried to one-up each other’s manufactured fart sounds.  I will admit that my wife and I did egg them on a bit as we couldn’t help but voice how impressed we were with a couple of exemplary sounds that were created by my daughter.

Soon enough we arrived at the junction that would take us just a bit further to where the perfect trees grew.  Just beyond that junction we were greeted by ROAD CLOSED!  The plows had continued beyond that point, but the gates were shut and locked up tight.

A bit frustrated we scrambled all over the mountain looking for any open road that would get us  to the trees we were searching for.  But after a thorough search, no open roads were found and we made it full-circle back to the closed gates.  After some debating, we decided to get out and walk up the closed road a bit to see what we could find on foot.

About 1/2 mile up the inclined road I found myself constantly having to stop and wait for my children that were doddling along at the pace of vintage VW van trying to keep up with modern traffic.

Not knowing how far we’d have to go, or if the kids would even make it, we decided that I had better just head out and see what I could find.  So off I went at my ‘determined to get the job done’ pace to find a tree.

Not more than a mile down the road I finally found a suitable specimen, trudged through the waist-high snow, cut it down, and started back down the road only to be surprised by my family not more than 100 yards off.  I genuinely didn’t think they would make it that far, and especially didn’t think they’d make it that quickly.  But there they were, trooping along and still rearing to go.

As we chatted for a minute and I expressed my apologies for not waiting explaining I didn’t think they’d make it, the kids found fun climbing up, then sliding down the bank that had been pushed up by the plow that had been down that road.

The bank was no more than about three feet, but it was still so much fun to those two young ones.  That made me reflect on the trek up as they were doddling along, they were also picking up large chunks of pre-made snow balls that the plow had created and having an on-the-move snowball fight with mom.  (Mom had started this play).

The day before, with the power out, they were still very merry the entire day as mom continued to supply activities, treats, and so forth to keep them entertained and happy.  They were all simple things, but effective.  All the while I was in work mode ‘doing what had to be done’ to keep the house going, just as I had been today.

My focus was getting a tree and the closed road had just made me even more focused on the task, turning my attitude from a happy outing as a family to a task that was being tried on every hand with the snow and closed roads.  There was no fun in this job, just the job that HAD to be done so that I could move on to the next job at hand.

As I watched my kids play in this snow pile that had been pushed up on the edge of the paved road, simply reveling in the opportunity to play in this snow I felt myself getting a little jealous.  Here I was, a trained hound with a job to do, and these were care-free puppies chasing butterflies.

But honestly, what was at stake each of these days?  When the power was out we had a wood burning stove to keep us warm inside, and it was plenty cold outside to keep our refrigerated items cool and unspoiled.  As simple as that.

If we couldn’t get a tree today we’d simply find a fake version that would be easier to maintain and cleaner to set up and take down.  So why stress over cutting a live tree today?  Enjoy being up on the mountain, in the snow, with your beautiful family!

After kicking myself for not enjoying the simple pleasures of the weekend I grabbed the tree, with a smile on my face, and we all headed down off the mountain.  T3 ‘helped’ me drag the tree for a bit just as happy as he could be.  I enjoyed the sun shinning through the frosted trees as I watched my kids run and slip-and-slide on the icy patches that still remained on the paved road.

Back at the truck my wife had a thermos of hot chocolate waiting for us along with a bag full of snacks.  And that’s when I realized she was the real hero of the weekend.  At each roadblock we met, some more literal than others, she was prepared with the solution, as simple as it may have been, but in each case it was effective.

I felt the need to complicate each task by putting a weight that was unnecessary on the scenarios while she sought out a way to expose the simple pleasures that would make the most of it!

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for my wife and the simple pleasures she introduced to make it a wonderful weekend.

How do I place a Value on my Efforts?

I can quite honestly say that being a small-town business owner is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done……and it is an every-day process.

I’ve been acting in this capacity for 13 years now.  That is pretty much 1/3 of my life.  (Give me a minute….I’ve gotta sit back and take that in….)




A third of my life I have been hard at work, 5-6 days a week, for 8-15, even 18-20 hours on occasion, each day.  Then there is the time that I’m not at work.  My body may sleep, drive, enjoy outdoor activities, watching movies, and other non-work activities, but my mind doesn’t transition away easily.  Jobs, due dates, machinery needing to be replaced, employee struggles, maintenance, pricing, complaints, capital inflow and outflow…..and the list goes on and on.  My business continues to be an active performer on my mind stage each and every day of the year.  Yes, different acts of the play call for different characters, but work is always center stage.

So when I am asked to provide pricing on the different jobs I am called to fulfill for my customers, I struggle to know what value I can put on that job.  It is easy to find the cost of supplies, machines, utilities, even employee wages.  But when it comes to my time, my efforts, …..me….. how to I place a value on me?

Recently I was asked to revise some pricing on a few products that were going through some changes for our largest client.  That is what made this question surface.  As I worked on the figures, I couldn’t help reflect on the impact their projects have on me, personally.

Currently they are using a system that tries to predict what their usage will be.  They then place large orders, multiple pages worth, at a single time.  Usually I am allowed a couple of weeks to fulfill the order and deliver it over to their facility so their team can get to work assembling their product.

Sometimes, I am asked to rush portions of that job because of a more urgent need.  I have been happy to do that for them because I see the value in keeping that partnership.  I mean, their jobs account for over 1/3 of our gross sales.  It makes sense to bend over backwards and meet the demands and needs they have.

Because of the attention needed on these jobs to ensure the final quality of the job, I often save the job until I can give it my full and uninterrupted attention.  I’d love to say that since my press sits in the far corner of the shop I can simply attend to the other jobs needing my attention and start on these VIP jobs as soon as the others are completed, but that would only work if I were an employee who’s duties were limited to specific jobs.

Because of my capacity as the owner/boss/manager/maintenance/HR rep….you get the piont, there are days where the interruptions are constant.  I find myself setting down the business phone, only to immediately attend to my cellphone ringing in my pocket, while holding up my finger and mouthing “just a minute” to an employee standing in the doorway of my office, while I lean over my desk responding to an email.

Machines need to be un-jammed, networks need to be restored, paper needs to be ordered, time cards need to be fixed, customers need to be helped, and before I know it the front door gets locked, the open sign is shut off, and finally the interruptions of the day begin to settle and my focus comes to rest on weighing what absolutely has to be done before tomorrow and what can wait another day.

Most often, the VIP jobs that have to be done today belong to this particular client.  They have to be printed tonight in order for the ink to dry sufficiently to allow them to be cut and packaged for delivery the next day before 2:30pm.

So, like clockwork, I call my favorite burger joint and place a to-go order for my favorite burger with a value meal #2 that includes waffle fries, and an XL Dr. Pepper, and get to work with a goal to hopefully make it home before the kids to go to bed.  Sometimes I make it, most times I don’t.

But day after day, every phone call is pleasant, every customer gets met with a smile, and all of my emails are worded meticulously portraying a man that has it together and is at the top of his game when deep down I am sleep deprived, my back is aching, my arteries are getting cluttered with cholesterol, and I’m starving because lunch time was three hours ago!

And so the question weighs on my mind; when I am making so many sacrifices to fulfill these jobs, what value does that equate to and when does it get to a point to where I simply can’t put a number on that?

I’ve often seen the cards laid before me and told to myself “brother, it’s time to fold.”  But I also know that bluffing for just a little bit longer could buy me the capital, clientele, and time I need in order to crest over that rise and descend into the Garden of Eden that lay below.  To a time when things handle themselves, jobs flow in and out seamlessly, the money that comes in is far greater than the money going out, and I come and go as I please wearing a smile because I know I’m finally earning what I’m worth.

88 miles per hour is slow


I don’t know about you, but I am always taken off guard about how different things look after the fact.

I had a chance to go out for a Saturday afternoon adventure.  The plan was that my family would come with me, but after a long day of projects the kids, and as a result momma too, were just plum wore out.  And anyone with kids knows that when they are wore out every little disappointment turns into the end of the world.

I, having a core-driven need to get out and be in the hills, needed to go.  So I set off on the 15 minute drive to the trail-head that led to the box canyon I was seeking to find that day.

With Sami, my adventure buddy, unloaded from the trailer and my back pack nestled in the seat next to me, I shifted Sami into first gear and headed down the dirt road that would lead to my destination.

After a few wrong turns and mental notes made on those various roads I finally found myself descending into the canyon.  As I drove up the bottom of the wash, it began to narrow with slick rock on either side encroaching in on my highway.

Finally, it was time to stop and continue on foot.  Immediately I found this mini slot canyon before me where the walls neatly folded inside of each other making a nearly perfect pattern.

I always deceive myself when I encounter something like this because I immediately get an image in my head of how I want to capture that scene.  It is where my amateurism shines through as typically I can’t quite duplicate what my eyes and my mind sees when I try to capture it on my camera.

After taking a couple of shots I quickly gave up and headed on the long hike that lay before me expecting to find some better stuff up ahead.

Hiking along I did find a shot here and there that I spent considerable more time and effort on.  But, really, nothing too exciting and ultimately the whole trip was a bit of a let down as the canyon just didn’t live up to the hype.  So after reaching the end of the canyon I made a hasty retreat back to Sami and on to home feeling somewhat let down about the whole trip.

A few days later I sat down to review a few of the pictures and see what turned out and what wasn’t that great.  As I swiped through and downloaded some of my favorites the first shots I took of the mini slot canyon came up in line.  I ended up taking two photos before giving up and moving on.  I downloaded both, as they were the only two of that particular feature, not paying much attention to them and hurrying to get to the others that I thought would glean more satisfaction.

Once downloaded I was able to view them in a higher quality state which always makes or breaks them.  Again swiping through I found some that I really liked and made the trip worth while.  Finally I arrived at this mini slot canyon again.

I paused on it as I took in the scene and re-lived that excitement again of when I had first seen it.  What I found was the first photo I took wasn’t focused well.  I really needed a tripod for what I was trying to achieve.  Then then the second photo had a better focus but was just  bit too under exposed making it a bit dark.

In the moment, I saw the light spot where the sun was shining down giving too much contrast, and how dark the image was coming out and gave up after two shots.  But viewing the photos now I could see the easy fixes that would have made the shot, quite easily, one of my favorites.

Suddenly I had the solutions I needed to make that experience a success and desired to somehow go back in time and do it over.  To spend the time that shot deserved rather than shoving it aside quickly when the reward didn’t come quickly or easily.

Fishing has become that thing that I wish I had more time to do and wish I was better at doing.

Living in a desert climate the opportunities to fish just aren’t very close by.  It seems like you have to travel to every spot, especially if you want some seclusion and quiet……and I want the seclusion and quiet.  So I just don’t get to go as often as I would like to.

Recently we had a chance to take a quick run to a childhood fishing spot as a family.  When the kids come fishing, I always try to prepare myself for the fact that I won’t be able to focus on MY fishing experience as much as I would like to.  This trip was no different.

When we arrived the poles needed to be rigged, bait needed to be applied, and lines needed to be untangled and cast out.  So one by one I went through the poles and readied them.

The hits were slow but on a lure I kept getting one here and there.  Realizing that the species of fish we were aiming for wasn’t hitting I decided to change tactics.  So I went for a bait that was in ready supply.

It was easy to find because the buzzing was all around us.  So quickly I found quite possibly the ugliest bug ever created, a cicada, and pinched its wings and headed back for the dock.  Carefully I threaded it onto the hook of my daughters Tinkerbell pole and cast it out.

Nearly as instantly as it hit the water a fish surfaced and gobbled the cicada and I was reeling in a small small mouth bass.  Excitedly, everyone wanted the same bait and so dad was on bait duty as cicada after cicada was caught, hooked, and cast in the hopes of catching the next fish.

What built the frustration of the moment was that I had made catching a fish as simple as I possibly could have.  I had tied a bubble on the line as a visual indicator of when a fish bit the hook.  All that had to be done was to cast the hook, baited by dad, out into the water and watch the bubble until it dunked under the surface of the water.  Once the bubble dunked one just needed to set the hook and reel in the caught fish.

But what was happening instead was the hook, baited by dad, was cast out and the bubble was watched for 1.3 seconds before their attention was directed at the other bank where their cousins were fishing, or at a dragonfly that was fluttering lazily along the bank, or back at dad who was catching another cicada to bait another pole……

Before long mom or dad would be yelling “your bubble, your bubble” and a dazed J6 would searched frantically the surface of the water, trying to locate the bubble, which of course was hidden beneath the surface, so then our prompts would turn to “reel, reel!” and at about that time the bubble would resurface and the hook would be reeled in, bait-less and fish-less because the fish had plenty of time to realize that there was something “fishy” (pardon my pun) about that particular bug and spit it back out.

And so, again and again, dad would be on bait duty, cast duty, watch the bubble duty, and bait duty again instead of enjoying a rare moment to catch fish for himself.

After several rounds I threw out a freshly baited hook for J6.  The cicada was still buzzing it’s wings when it hit the water creating ripples and vibrations that I knew would quickly attract a hungry fish.  J6 was getting a bit frustrated with the cycle as well and wanted to catch a fish like others were that day.  So I encouraged her saying “this one is going to catch a fish right away, I know it.  So watch that bubble and as soon as you see it move you yank and reel.”

Just as I predicted, within seconds I could see a fish headed right at her bait.  “Here he comes?” I prompted excitedly and watched as the fish gulped up the bait and pulled the bubble under the surface of the water.  “See I told you!”  I said, very pleased with my fulfilled prophecy only to turn and see J6’s eyes fixed across the pond on the other shore completely oblivious to what was happening on the end of her rod.

That’s when it happened……”Dammit J6! Reel!”.  Surprised by my tone she jumped and began frantically to reel, but it was too late again.  The bubble surfaced and no fish was hooked.

Frustrated by the failing of the perfect scenario I had just set up for my daughter I launched into a hasty explanation as to why she needed to watch her bubble, and how I had told her that a fish would come right away to get it, and how when one did she wasn’t looking, and didn’t see her bubble bob, and that’s why she didn’t get a fish…….

Well, by this point her lip was quivering and she was headed into tears.  Realizing that I was spewing my frustrations at my daughter, bringing her to tears, I put the breaks on and knelt down to her level.  I calmed my voice and explained that I wasn’t mad but that I was simply trying to give her the best possible shot at catching a fish and by not following my instructions she was missing out on that chance that she wanted so badly.

She calmed, we hugged, and went on fishing.  In fact, she ended up reeling in the largest fish of the evening.

As kids do, the experience was quickly forgotten, no grudge was held, and we were best buddies pretty much immediately.  But I’ve hung onto it.  I’ve hashed it again and again.  Mostly because I am ashamed of how I reacted and that I allowed myself to swear in a response to my daughter but also because of the dark mark it left on such a fun, family day.

I found myself, again, wanting to somehow go back and correct that tiny block of time.  To simply enjoy the experience and allow her to learn from loosing the fish rather than from the fear of my disappointment. To somehow clean off that black mark so that the memory could be perfect.

Well, the hard truth is that there is no time machine that can travel back and allow us to alter those experiences.  Sure, it’s frustrating and a bit haunting as they happen so fast and so suddenly and are over in a blink of the eye leaving us pouring over our memory grasping at every detail.  Even if there was some sort of machine that could take us back, I doubt it would be as easy as a rare car hitting a speed of 88 miles per hour and leaving a couple of flamed-out tracks on an empty road.

Some of those haunting experiences that hang on in our memories from the past are life-altering.  So it could never be a simple thing to go back and change them.  And I guess, really, that’s the point.  If they are life-altering in our past, then maybe they can motivate some life-altering changes in our future.  Maybe that remorse and regret can be the catalyst we need in order to make those changes that would really mean something and that would really shape us for the better.

The Photograph On My Wall

Family is always on my mind.

It’s kind of hard for it not to be.  I’m sure if you ready my posts you might suggest that my business secures a spot front and center when it comes to my brain power.  But, me being the only one that is truly in my head, I can honestly tell you that family is always in that spotlight.

Now while my family occupies my thoughts constantly that doesn’t mean that I am boasting in my perfected role as a father.  In my eyes I am far from where I need to be when it comes to family.  But I can say that my thoughts are there because I have a desire to be that man.

I was raised by a father that kept a focus on family.  The sacrifices he made, the gifts he gave, the time he spent illustrated this.  I truly did have a great example laid before me when I made the decision to have a family.  I am grateful for that.

Another example he laid before me was as a business man.  He also owned and operated his own business.  While our two ventures are very different, they also share many similarities one of which is the amount of time I spent as a child in his shop and the amount of time my children are spending in my shop.

It was a family business in every sense of the word that he ran, other than that none of his children picked up the craft and took over for him.  He was the sole proprietor of that business until the day he passed away.  Since his passing I have wondered several times how he felt about that.  What I do know is that his door was always open to us kids to help clean, explore, ask questions, and sit on his lap.

Owning a small business in a small town was not a lucrative situation.  We did not grow up with wealth, enjoying the lap of luxury.  I remember telling how amazing it was as an adult to purchase a 2005 Dodge Stratus just after my wife and I married.  It was the very base model, but I really thought we were living the high life because this car was only a year old, had air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and EVERYTHING worked!

No, we didn’t bask in the latest and greatest but we had so much.  Looking back with a mature understanding of income and expenses, I am really quite amazed at what he achieved on the income that was brought in during those times.  We did not go without and though I knew we weren’t wealthy, I never felt we were living on a tight income.  I can honestly state that I can sympathize with the stress and pressure he lived with having those responsibilities solely on his shoulders.

I had a chance to read an inspired statement of him that expressed his ability to see past the riches the world would offer to those things that are of more importance.  Another great example he set for me to keep a perspective of what’s most important in this life.  There are always new heights that can be reached, new things that can be had, but is it an investment worth making?

Since my fathers passing I have had opportunities to look back into his life with new perspective.  To see his belongings and the path he left behind through new eyes.  Not only as an adult with much more experience and insight under my belt, but as a son missing a father and recognizing how much that relationship really meant.

Much of his life was spent at his shop, just as I do at mine.  As I recently wandered his shop, looking at the collection he amassed, items collecting dust in storage, and just taking in the character of it all; I thought on his time spent there during the quiet hours of the day.

With his profession being photography I’m sure there was always something to tinker with, test out, a new set of negatives to pick through as he searched for that one shot that had been perfected on his last outing.

But I wonder what is favorite thing was.  With the amount of time he spent within those walls, I wonder what the thing was that he would come back to time and time again.  That would catch his eye every time he walked past it.  That would make him smile again and again, no matter how many times it had made him smile before.

I believe that tonight I recognize what is most likely the answer to that question.

Probably close to six months ago my wife won a photo session at some sort of a raffle.  She made the appointment and got us all dressed up for the occasion so that we could go turn in the ticket and get some updated family photos.

I remember being at work when she arrived with my clean outfit to change into.  I had some ink on my hands that I tried to scrub out as best I could and I wasn’t the most thrilled to leave because I knew I would have to come back after in order to finish the job I was in the middle of.

We arrived in the orchard and the photographer began placing us and snapping away.  You would think growing up as a photographer’s son I would be used to being the subject in the lens, but to this day I still feel uncomfortable having my photo taken.

I remember a few days later picking up the disc of photos for my wife and spending a moment looking through the various family portraits that were taken.  I do recall liking the results, but with all that was going on in my life, they were quickly forgotten.

It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that my wife re-posted one of the family pictures on Facebook, I believe.  Upon seeing it again, this one photo just grasped my attention.  I can’t pick out one single thing that I just really love about it, but as a whole it has smitten me.

It was quickly placed as my lock screen on my phone and I can honestly say that there has been several times that I have just stared at it, hitting the home button again when the locked screen times out and would go black again.

Having access to a variety of print production capabilities I made up a stretched canvas print, nice and large, and hung it on the wall in my office this afternoon.  I placed it next to my desk so that it would be easy for me to see at any time.  What I didn’t consider, but soon discovered, was that it was also very visible through the window of my office from the production floor.  I found that just moments ago as I was setting up the press for a run that would take me late into the night.

I wasn’t excited for what lay ahead, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do, and these needed to be printed tonight so that they would have enough time to dry enabling them to be cut and packaged tomorrow.

As I stood beside my press and reached to wipe down the blanket in preparation for the first sheets to run through, my eyes fixated on the photograph on my wall.  Again I fell in love with the image my eyes saw.  My wife has a beautiful, natural smile on her face.  My daughter standing in front of us just oozing cuteness and joy and my son sitting in my arms with a very handsome gaze that is just off to the side of where the camera is.  My guess is that he spotted some motorized something in the distance that intrigued him.

In that moment it energized me again to do what I needed to do, because that was what I was doing it for.

Although printing is my profession, that photograph on the wall will forever be my greatest work.

And therein lies the answer to my question.  When you wander my dads shop, among his beautiful landscape images, animal portraits, and other pieces that made up his portfolio as a photographer, there are scattered in shots where his family was the subject.  Weddings, school pictures, and more.

I remember being on location with him once.  I was probably around the age of six or seven and had been dressed in period attire and sat on the steps of an old ghost town building.  I can visualize that photograph, matted and framed, placed among the others.

I feel confident in saying that those images were among the things that he cherished most.  The things that would catch his attention and hold it for a moment.  That would bring a smile to his face again and again.  I am sure that those were among the pride of his portfolio and took the podium when the points were tallied for his life’s greatest work.