Welcoming Cow Ball

I’m beginning to think Lamb is a bit of a tramp.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I’m happy she’s living her life to the fullest.  After all, it’s probably a lot more fun then just hiding under the bed until Tisen decides it’s her turn to go for a walk.  But, first we had the whole disappearance with ‘Possum.  Then we had the Duck incident.  And now, it appears she and Big Dog have run off for some sort of road trip.

I discovered Lamb was, once again, lost when I gathered everyone together for a dual-purpose portrait:  to create a record of all of Tisen’s toys so we can remember when they’ve gone missing, and to practice using my flash on camera since I broke a hot shoe adapter for my light stand and will need the flash for a shoot tonight.

I was playing with a honeycomb grid attachment for my flash unit to see what it looks like on camera (as opposed to on a light stand).  It creates a very tight, spotlight effect which seems like it will work well for shooting at the Haunt tonight.

Cow Ball appears at the far left of the group shot.  I’m at least 50% sure she is, in fact, a cow.  I like her because she matches Tisen’s coloring.  Tisen likes her because a) she has nice soft fur and b) she has a very loud squeak.  Tisen is a sucker for a good squeak.  He tried out Monkey, Pink Elephant, Silly Dog, and Flat Cow, but decided Cow Ball was the one he wanted to take home with him.

This was a Tisen day.  Given how much I’ve been working, Tisen’s been feeling neglected.  And, of couse, I will be gone all evening shooting at the Haunt.

After sleeping late, we took a long walk to a dog-friendly pub, Hair of the Dog, where we sat on the patio for a late lunch.  Tisen enjoyed people watching.  He also enjoyed some of Daddy’s fries.

Tisen was quite a hit walking down the road with Jack in his mouth.  Tisen’s toy-carrying habit is the best PR move for pit bulls ever.  Or it would be–most people don’t recognize him as a pit when they seem him with a toy.  It’s an interesting psychological phenomena.

After our walk and lunch, Tisen and I went looking for a hot shoe adapter to replace my broken one.  Unfortunately, one camera store who might have had it has gone out of business.  The other one closed an hour earlier.  Best Buy had never heard of a hot shoe adapter.

But, we were next to PetsMart, so I took Tisen in to pick out a toy since he’d been so good about guarding the car.  It was hard to get it out of his mouth long enough to scan it at the register.  Hopefully Cow Ball will stay closer to home than Lamb.


Crossing Bridges

I love my dog.  I love him for many reasons, but today, it’s because every day he reminds me that we can learn, we can grow, we can be completely different than we were before.

How many times do we hear people say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”?  As someone who strives to learn every day, I know first hand how hard it can be to undo decades of habit to do the thing I will myself to do.  Many days, I feel like it’s an impossibility.  Then, I have days when I do things like fly off a mountain in a hang glider and I know that anything is possible.  But, sometimes I walk away thinking that maybe flying off a mountain in a hang glider doesn’t ultimately change anything at all.

That’s where Tisen comes in.

Tisen has transformed himself from a nearly-dead street dog to a urban-dwelling, middle-class gentleman who likes to hike.  He wants to make me happy.  That’s his bottom line.  While I’m not sure I could handle a person being so into me, in a dog, it’s kind of nice.

When we went to Savage Gulf Natural Area to hike the other day, we encountered something called a suspension bridge.  The dreaded structure was not the kind of suspension bridge you drive over, but rather a flexing, swinging, bouncing rope-and-wood bridge meant for no more than 2 pedestrians at a time.  These bridges make me nervous; I have no idea what they are like for a dog.  For Tisen, it was clearly a gauntlet of terror.

First, he would not step onto the bridge at all.  I walked across first to give him a reason to cross.  Then Pat came behind, encouraging Tisen to come with him.  Tisen considered climbing down a sheer rock cliff to the stream below over walking onto the bridge, but Pat managed to get him up the entrance ramp to the bridge.  But there, he stopped.  It wasn’t until Pat had crossed and Tisen was left standing alone that he decided he’d better cross.

He made it all the way across the gulch (which really wasn’t so far below as to be completely terrifying), got to the top of the exit ramp, stared down at me with his longing eyes, then eye-balled the ramp down to me and decided he’d had enough.  He turned around and went all the way back across the gulch.

We managed to coax him back across and all the way to land on the other side.  We completed our hike to Savage Falls and then wondered what was going to happen on the way back across.  When we got to the suspension bridge, I went across first, Pat coaxed Tisen up to the bridge, and Tisen led the way across looking like he’d been crossing suspension bridges most of his life.

In about an hour, Tisen transformed himself from a ‘fraidy cat to a top dog.  He’s my hero.

Down Came the Rain

There’s been an interesting development in the weather of late.  We went from ridiculous heat and drought to rain, rain, rain.

When at last the rain came, I went from relief to disappointment to worry.  The first day, when the rain drops started, I felt myself exhale.  Finally, rain!  But, it lasted only a half an hour or so and rained so hard it seemed like of it bounced off the dry earth and rolled away in the gutters.  The steam rising off the asphalt left us in a steam bath and the temperature barely dropped.

The next day, it rained more.  The temperature dropped dramatically and the sky took on an ominous tone.  The 10-day forecast was predicting rain for all of the next 10 days.  The relief in the temperature was welcome, but when the skies unleashed a torrent of rain that caused our roof to leak and the streets to flood, I started to worry. Coincidentally, I had volunteered to lead a bird walk for beginning birders before work Wednesday morning.  I scheduled it “rain or shine”.

This meant taking Tisen for a walk before the bird walk.  I tried to get him out of bed at 6AM.  He heard the rain on the roof and just rolled his eyes at me and stuck his nose under his blanket.  Tisen is not fond of rain.  Fortunately, his dad was home and volunteered to take Tisen out later while I was on my walk.

It did rain during the walk.  In fact, it started raining about the time we started walking and then kept raining harder and harder.  No one seemed to mind except the birds–they were suspiciously absent.  Although, we did see a couple of Osprey soaring over the river.

It rained like it was never going to stop from then on out.

The following afternoon, I managed to take a break for lunch.  I looked out the window and saw it was only sprinkling, so I thought I’d better take Tisen out right away.  He grabbed Blue Dog and off we went.  By the time we got downstairs, it was pouring.  I figured we might as well go for our walk in the rain, but Tisen had to be convinced.  He took two steps out from under the overhang and turned back around and started running for the door.  I managed to get him headed back out with much coaxing.

When at last we returned home, all three of us were soaked.  As soon as I let Tisen off his leash, he went running into the house with Blue Dog in his mouth.  He carefully laid Blue Dog on a towel left on the floor from drying Tisen earlier.  I had to laugh.  Since Tisen gave the big towel to Blue Dog, I had to use the only dry dog towel left in the house, which was an old hand towel.  Poor Tisen was still wet hours later.

Play Date

Tisen has made a friend.  Well, at least a playmate.  Let’s start at the beginning of this relationship.

Tisen and Twiggy were introduced at the park several weeks ago.  Tisen isn’t all that fond of other dogs, although he’s definitely getting more tolerant.  So, imagine my surprise when this beautiful lady of a dog starts tussling with Tisen and they end up in a playful wrestling match!  No snarling, no growling, no yelping.  It was great!

This monumental event was followed by a pleasant visit to Twiggy’s patio and, later, another visit at our place during a weekend lunch for the humans.

However, Tisen and Twiggy never re-engaged with one another other than to take each other’s toys when we were in their respective homes.  It was a little disappointing–but perhaps they needed neutral territory to wrestle.

In any case, the other day, Twiggy was invited to spend the morning with us without her parents.  It was Tisen’s first real play date.  I walked Tisen before going to get Twiggy so he could have his usual morning routine.  Then, I picked up Twiggy and took her for a spin around the park before taking her home.

When we got to our place, Twiggy ran for the toy basket and started digging around for what appealed to her.  Fortunately, Twiggy went straight for real chew things like bones.  Tisen never touches bones.  This would have worked well, except for one little complication:  Twiggy started breaking off enormous chunks of bone and swallowing them.  We were worried enough that we substituted first a softer bone, thinking she would chew it up smaller, followed by a dried hoof, but both suffered the same fate.

Robbed of attention-occupying chew toys, Twiggy returned to the basket and started pulling out squeaky toys.  This started a game that was like a combination of capture-the-flag and king-of-the-hill with a touch of tug-o-war thrown in.

Tisen started grabbing his toys two at a time and running behind the couch with them.  Twiggy, in turn, grabbed what she could and started making a pile in the middle of the living room.

I played referee when arguments started over toys mysteriously migrating from one hoard to the other.  It was possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.  No sooner would Tisen run off with a toy from Twiggy’s pile then Twiggy would find another to replace it with.

I was pretty sure this was going to be an infinite game, but after turning away for a few minutes, when I turned back, they were both snoring next to their respective piles of toys.

Unfortunately, they both woke up when I got out my camera, but Twiggy posed like a pro while Tisen guarded his pile behind the couch.

I think they had fun–they certainly weren’t bored.  Tisen slept more soundly than I’ve seen him sleep in a long time after Twiggy went home.


Late Sunday afternoon, I got the urge to hike.  Pat, however, did not.  He was in the middle of a project.  I started to settle back into the couch, but then thought, “I didn’t move to Chattanooga so I could sit on the couch.”

With a little surfing, I discovered there was a section of the Cumberland Trail on Signal mountain and it sounded awesome.

Based on the map scale and the “pinky measurement” technique I’ve developed (patent pending), I guestimated it was between 2 and 2.5 miles one way.

As we started down the trail, we passed a sign that said Edward’s Point Overlook was 2.9 miles away (there goes my patent!).  I resigned myself to the reality that we were not going to make it to Edward’s Point today.

We made our way down some treacherous steps and then some even more treacherous steps.  After about 20 minutes of walking, we made it to another overlook.  Black Vultures soared on a thermal, rising up over the mountain and disappearing on the other side.  I tried to get a shot, but they disappeared before I could even get my lens cap off.  I shot a boat down on the river below instead.

We kept on going, which might have been a mistake.  I had trouble getting Tisen to drink water.  He wouldn’t drink out of my hand and he shied away from a water stream.  I paused to find a depression in a rock he could drink from.

As we continued, we heard a waterfall.  I thought maybe water would be nearby, but each stream was just a damp mark on the side of the mountain.

I watched Tisen plow through poison ivy.  As much as I knew I should avoid touching him, I couldn’t help myself.  I suspect even my camera is now covered in poison ivy oil.

We’d made it about 200 yards past a frightening bridge when our time ran out.  With no photo ops since noticing a cluster of mushrooms high above us,  I was cursing every ounce I was carrying.

When we stopped again at the rock with the depression for more water, Tisen laid flat out on his side, head down, sides heaving.  I wasn’t sure he was going to get up again.  But, when I stood up, he popped up like he’d just been teasing me and even led the way up the steepest parts of the trail.  I was really impressed when he hopped up those scary steps full of energy.

We stopped at the overlook in the park one last time to shoot the Eastern sky.  The light was better, although the sun was still too high for shooting towards the West.

Hot, tired, and hungry, we headed back down the mountain to return home.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t relax right away–both Tisen and I required poison ivy detoxification.  Tisen does not much like baths, but he seemed to feel pretty good afterwards.  Or maybe it was after dinner?

Lost Lamb

We interrupt the regularly scheduled program for this emergency alert:  Lamb is Lost.

Last seen approximately 2 weeks ago, she disappeared about the same time as ‘Possum.  Authorities initially suspected the two had run off together, shunned from their community because of the tabu associated with inter-species couples, especially one with such size disparity.

However, ‘Possum was recently located hiding out in a dark, secluded spot under the sofa.  While it appears ‘Possum may have suffered from anxiety related to the recent introduction of Big Dog into the family, he otherwise was unharmed.  Upon being selected for the morning walk earlier today, ‘Possum appears to have fully recovered.

Lamb, however, remains at large.

The once-favorite of Tisen, Lamb was accustomed to being selected for walks, a top honor, at least once each day.  However, the introduction of ‘Possum, followed by Baby Beaver, Lion, and most recently, Big Dog, greatly reduced Lamb’s popularity.

It’s unclear whether Lamb became disgruntled with her reduced status prior to her disappearance.  All members of the community have been questioned, but all refuse to talk.

Lamb’s general willingness to squeak with only the slightest pressure from Tisen, along with her soft wool providing significant comfort advantages for Tisen when carrying her in his mouth, Lamb quickly achieved Top Dog status.

Additionally, Lamb never embarrassed Tisen by hanging in an unseemly fashion from his mouth, dragging on the ground or tripping Tisen.  Although Red Dog and Squirrel were previously banished for such offenses, Tisen continues to select ‘Possum and Mr. Beaver for walks even though they are occasionally guilty of poor form.  Similarly, Tisen continues to attempt to walk Big Dog, but Tisen’s parents thwart each attempt.

In spite of Lamb’s superior aptitude for fitting in Tisen’s mouth and squeaking, she had begun to look unkempt.  She was described by one witness as “having crusty spots with pieces of mulch stuck in them.”  Authorities suspect that Lamb was suffering from some level of neglect and may have fallen into a deep depression, preventing her from grooming properly.

It’s possible the disappearance of ‘Possum preceded Lamb’s, contributing to Lamb’s depression.  The two were often seen together and some witnesses imply they may have had an “unnatural” relationship.  These rumors were what originally led authorities to suspect an illicit affair.

Others speculate that this is a sick ploy on the part of Lamb to demonstrate to Tisen just how important she is.  Lamb may have gambled that Tisen would be so distraught without her that, upon her return, she would be his favorite once more.  If this really is Lamb’s intention, she may find it back-fired upon her return.

Rather than moping and looking for Lamb, Tisen is content to carry ‘Possum, Lion, Minnie, Baby Beaver, and Mr. Beaver in her place.  It’s unclear that Tisen has even noticed her disappearance.

If you see Lamb or anyone who closely resembles her, please comment below.  We need to find this lost lamb before Tisen completely forgets her.

Safety Portraits

Graduations seem to be a bit more complex than they used to be.  My older nephew graduated on Memorial Day two years ago.  I can see why that might not have been so popular–especially in a suburb right outside of Indianapolis.  Improving upon that plan this year, graduation was on the Thursday before Memorial Day.

However, it was also the last day of the school year.  Graduates were supposed to go from school to graduation and be there at 4PM for rehearsal.  Then, they would be fed dinner while their families arrived and filled the stands.

Following graduation, the graduates return their caps and gowns before being released to join their families.  It wasn’t clear that there would be any opportunity to get a picture of my nephew (let’s call him Sam) in his cap and gown.

So, the night before graduation, we took a few shots in the back yard just in case.  While we were at it, I took a few of my brother and sister-in-law, too.  My sister-in-law is wonderfully easy to shoot–I caught an all-out crack-up with one eye closed in one shot (not shown) and she still looks great.  My brother and nephew are a bit more challenging.  I don’t know why.

As I worked with the strobe on a stand with an umbrella out in the yard, I was reminded of a recent class I attended back in Chattanooga.  The instructor expressed disgust at the cliche shot of a graduate in front of the school sign.  While we were lacking a school sign, I realized I was shooting extremely run-of-the-mill portraits.  But, honestly, I had no idea what else to shoot.

Later, I did some searching for cool shots of graduates.  What I discovered is that the interesting images were either interesting because they were shot in really cool locations or they were so abstract, you couldn’t see the person who graduated.

Given no control over time of day or the location of the shoot and assuming that we all wanted pictures where we could actually tell it was Sam in them, I need more experience to come up with a really creative approach.

As it is, we got some cute shots of Sam in his cap and gown along with some nice shots of my brother and sister-in-law.  And, Tisen had a great time playing ball with whoever wasn’t involved in a shot.

Although, Tisen did have a bit of a run-in with the screen door.  He didn’t realize I had to open two doors to let him out and did a complete face plant into the screen in his hurry to join the party.  Later, when only the screen was closed, I slid it open and he stopped dead in front of the open door, poking with his nose to make sure it was really open.  The dog is not only a fast learner, he can count!

Portraits in Suburbia

It’s that time of year again:  graduations.  I have begun to divide my life into stages by the kinds of events we celebrate.  Long ago, it was our own graduations and those of our friends.  Then it was weddings.  Next, it was baby showers, followed by divorces (well, that wasn’t usually a celebration).  Then there were second marriages (and occasionally third).

Now, I seem to be participating in the same cycle of events one generation removed.  Because I have friends in many age groups, these events continue in waves depending on how old my friends are.

The high school graduations of my friends’ children started ten years ago.  Those were followed by weddings, and a few baby showers (although babies seem to be coming later and later in people’s lives).

But, this time, it’s my nephew who completed high school.  This event led to us taking Tisen on his longest road trip ever.  Fortunately for us and for Tisen, my brother’s family is willing to accommodate Tisen so he didn’t have to stay in a kennel.  I’m not sure either one of us would have survived the separation anxiety.

The other unintended consequence is that I gained a couple of new models for portrait shooting.  It’s a good thing my nephews were unwarned of my intention to shoot some portraits or I might not have seen either one of them during our visit.  However, I managed to get a few minutes of their time before they got too impatient with me.  What is it about the men in my family that they can’t sit for more than 10 minutes to let me practice portraiture?

They might have been a little intimidated posing next to my strobe on an umbrella stand–I don’t think either one of them has ever posed in front of an umbrella before.

I had fun trying to create some more dramatic lighting by casting shadows with the light.  My youngest nephew seemed to think the lighting was a little too dramatic, but he played along patiently anyway.

Tisen, never one to pose in front of a flashing umbrella, spent his modeling time discovering the joys of the ‘burbs.  I believe the thick, green grass right outside the door was a first for him.  At home, he can cross an asphalt parking lot to find a small patch of grass or walk to the park to roll in a short, spongy variety of grass.  Before he came to us, I doubt there was much grass in his life.

Unleashed and let out the door in the heart of an Indiana suburb, Tisen seemed at first confused and then overjoyed by the large yard to play ball in.  Although there was no fence, Tisen stayed well within the invisible confines of the property lines as if he was  afraid he would get lost if he got too far from me in that endless expanse of grass.  I am now worried he will resent returning to his urban life.

Big Dog in a Flash

Today, a mysterious brown box showed up outside our door.  I hadn’t ordered anything and yet a package arrived.  The address was hand written like maybe it came from someone we knew.  It was addressed to both my husband and me.  When Pat came home, we opened it together.  It turned out, it was a gift for Tisen!

Tisen’s very thoughtful grandma sent him his own dog friend!  This is not just a little squeaky toy to add to his collection.  No, this is a life-sized stuffed dog that’s so incredibly soft, I tried it out as a pillow.  It makes a great pillow.

Since Tisen was at puppy daycare when we opened the package, we set Big Dog up on the couch with Lion.  When Tisen came home, he ran to the couch, grabbed Big Dog and threw him on the floor, snagging Lion in the process.  I guess he thought Big Dog had no business playing with Lion.

After a while, Tisen started carrying Big Dog around, which was pretty amusing because Big Dog is about the same size as Tisen.  Eventually, he settled down on the couch with Big Dog and discovered just how comfy a pillow Big Dog makes.

This gave me an opportunity to get a little portrait practice in.  Having just gotten my new flash before leaving for Columbus last week, I hadn’t tried it at home yet.  Interestingly, when I use my monolights (which can only be turned down to 1/8 power), Tisen gets up and leaves.  With my flash on an umbrella stand and turned down to 1/64 power, he seems to actually pose for me instead.  I could be onto something.

One of the challenges of properly exposing Tisen is that he is black and white.  As you can see from the last photo (taken with my iPhone), the whites tend to blow out and/or the blacks get clipped.  This is fine for an iPhone photo, but not really what I’m shooting for (a pun!).  I started with the umbrella on the white side of his face first because the black side of his face was in lots of ambient light.  Then, I tried speeding up the shutter to exclude the ambient light and moving the flash to the black side of his face.

One discovery from this experiment:  pleather makes a very bad background for shooting with a flash–the glare makes it pretty obvious that a flash is in use.  That said, you should now be able to tell which of the photos were taken with ambient light only and which of the photos used the flash on the umbrella stand.

Tisen was not too concerned about the glare.  He was just happy to have something soft and cushy to snuggle with.  He decided he liked Big Dog so much that when we went out to pick up a pizza, Tisen grabbed Big Dog for the ride.  Here’s a video of Tisen with Big Dog for your enjoyment.

Home is Where the Holstein Is

I spent four days back in Columbus for both work and personal activities, although I’m afraid I had too tight a schedule to see everyone I wanted to see.

There was one “person” who was particularly upset that I didn’t manage to work him into my schedule for four days straight:  Tisen.

My poor boy suffered greatly from the lack of a mother.  No one told him (in a high, happy voice) he’s the best dog in the whole world for four days.  No one rubbed his armpits in the exact spot he likes so well.  He didn’t get to take any of his toys with him on walks. And no lap was acceptable to rest his head on while mine wasn’t an option.

In spite of all our efforts to create a bond between Tisen and Daddy so that Tisen would be OK without me, he was a very sad boy indeed.

Over the past few weeks, Pat has become the sole feeder of the dog.  The good news is that even though Tisen was depressed, he kept eating for the most part.  But, he wouldn’t cuddle with Daddy on the couch.  As long as I was gone, if Pat called Tisen to come lay with him, Tisen would run and hide, sometimes even going to the bedroom and getting in his crate.

Pat was worried enough about Tisen’s strange behavior, including sleeping most the day, that he didn’t take Tisen to doggy day care, thinking Tisen wasn’t up for it.

As I drove home, I could think of little else besides my poor boy suffering from my absence.  I confess I may have driven a little faster than was prudent.

When I got to our door, I knocked loudly, but I heard nothing inside.  I dug out my key and swung the door wide, calling “Hello?” No one.  I walked the rest of the way into the apartment to discover it was empty.

Two friends I didn’t get to see in Columbus had stopped in to see us at home.  Pat was out walking with them and Tisen and hadn’t heard his phone buzzing when I’d called.  So much for my emotional homecoming.

Instead, I drove over to where they were to pick them up.  Tisen seemed not to recognize me at first, but then he started running at me and licking my face.  Later, our friends commented about how much perkier he seemed now that I was home.

Currently, I am laying on the bed typing this.  Tisen dozes on a blanket on the floor right next to the bed.  He dozed off for a while, but then started awake and immediately lifted his head to check and see if I was still here.

Since I didn’t have a chance to take any new photos tonight, I pulled together a montage of Tisen photos.  While many are not such great images, they all helped get me through the four days of separation.