Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hooray for birthdays!!!

Oh man, do I love birthdays. I love the celebration of one more year on this remarkable planet, all the things I saw and did this year, living in a community I love in a place I love and surrounded by people I love, and by my side through it all the most amazing partner any handcrafting, stair-falling, critter collecting, entrepreneurial dog- and art-geek ever could have imagined. This past year I made the leap into legitimate self-employment, the scariest thing I've ever done by far... and it's thanks to you that I'm able to do this remarkable thing. Every single day of my life I love going to work. In what assuredly ranks amongst the most cliched things I've ever written: I am the luckiest person in the world.
I had a hobby that just got completely out of hand. I fell into this business a little by accident and a lot because I love dogs. It's my birthday today, and I wanted to thank you all for the friendship, love, support, and encouragement you all have given me over the years. I've met a lot of incredible people and even more amazing dogs (and a few super-rad cats ;0) ) through this business; my life is infinitely richer in every intangible but thoroughly soul-fulfilling way for knowing you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Every year during the summer I pick a load of those incredible Oregon blueberries and freeze them, so that in the full swing of chilly, rainy Autumn I can bake myself a birthday blueberry pie. The ever-practical Mr. Armadillo suggests that it's possibly not a good idea to tuck in a slice of sunny birthday blueberry pie with your gear, so all orders placed today will include a little birthday present in lieu. ;0)


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Back at it!

Well, I made it home mostly uneventfully. My outgoing flight apparently moved much slower than expected and we almost didn't land in time for me and one other guy to make the connecting flight. We made a mad dash to the terminal and hopped on two minutes before the doors closed. Whew!

I'm back at the sewing machine as of 5:30 this morning and beginning to plow through a backlog of orders from the week. I won't be at the computer much through at least the next couple of days while I clear things up, so if you need to reach me quickly please feel absolutely free to give me a call at 541.520.5713. That's my cell, it's always near to hand so is the fastest way to reach me. This weekend is the opening of the Eugene Holiday Market at the fairgrounds, I've got that to get ready for as well, so I have a feeling the next five days are going to be a bit of a challenge!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This just in: thieves suck.

...the most.
It's my last day here in Minneapolis, and unfortunately my sister-in-law and I got a harsh reminder last night that for all its mid-west, Minnesota Friendly, people still occasionally suck here just as much as anywhere else.

First things first though, I have to admit this has been quite a trip. I'm not generally much for urban areas. Cities make me feel claustrophobic, and a little harried in all that hurry and asphalt. I'm surprised, though, how much I liked Minneapolis, right off the bat. The pet boutiques I visited, and the areas around them, were artsy without pretension, urbane without being supercilious. There are several lakes, a chain of them in fact, scattered right through the heart of the city--beautiful stretches of greenspace and getaway with over forty miles of foot- and bike path crisscrossing the city. As previously mentioned, the skyline is gorgeous at night, and the historic warehouse district (former home of General Mills and Pillsbury processing plants) still keeps the Gold Medal Flour marquee burning. The MIA and Walker museums are here, along with some of the most beautiful period homes I've seen.

Our trip to the northern Minnesota wilds was everything I could have hoped for, if far, far too short. No amount of time spent there is ever enough. I was incredibly fortunate to have married into a family of the most kind and caring folks I have ever known in my life, and spending a weekend every few years with them just doesn't even begin to approach enough. We arrived Friday around lunchtime and spent the rest of the weekend chatting, napping, laying around and enjoying the solitude, and stuffing ourselves silly with wild fish and game, Sharon's remarkable (secret recipe) coleslaw, blueberry pie and peach cobbler. The one downside to visiting this time of year is that we showed up right smack in the middle of the full swing of the two-week shooting season for deer, so long, early-morning runs in the Chippewa national forest which is their back yard were unfortunately out... both to avoid being plugged by an over-ambitious gun hunter and to avoid disturbing the hunt for people who hunt for subsistence, living year-round on what they're able to harvest in this short window of opportunity.

We were back late on Sunday for JJ's return to the pressing matters of life and law school. Charles and I are hoping to make a trip back maybe this summer in a repeat of the Great Road Trip of 2006 wherein we made a 6500 mile trek around the western half of the US with all my gear and a big, white dog in the back seat. I'd spend all summer at that cabin if I could.

Monday was great, Docent Larry was kind enough to smuggle me into the MIA for research purposes on a day where the museum is closed to the public. We visited a few of the permanent collection exhibitions we'd not had time for on Thursday and did a little more communing with Olive Trees. I brought along my sketchbook and pencil roll and took a lot of sketches and photos for research. We attended a discussion group regarding museum acquisitions, which was really interesting, and later in the day met with Larry's friend Margaret Osbourne, an emerging lampwork glass artist with whom I hope to align on some upcoming collar projects. Dinner time rolled around and we decided to pick up JJ at the law library and grab some moussaka and spanakopita at a Greek restaurant voted best in the city for eight consecutive years. The food was great, but after a leisurely and enjoyable meal we strolled out to find Margaret's car windows smashed in, with my semi-professional digital camera and JJ's backpack being the casualties. I'd thought to bring my camera in to the restaurant but decided against at the last second, instead stashing it under the seat, figuring that in such a busy area such minimal precautions were enough. The real tragedy, though, was JJ's backpack, which happened to contain her laptop (lame, but not a complete crisis) and a zip drive containing the entirety of her law studies along with all her photos from her European travels. In one fell swoop a couple theives walked off with her entire professional portfolio--something completely useless to them. My camera is easily replaced--lame, but no big deal. I'm far more bummed about the loss all the photos I took of the trip, the cabin, the art, but that doesn't even begin to touch the tragedy of the loss of JJ's work. Countless hours of study and labor, lost in an instant, and she's understandably devastated over the loss.

We walked through the alley, checking all the dumpsters, circling the block in case they'd grabbed the laptop and tossed the bag, but no luck. The Minneapolis PD showed up. They were very nice but pretty thoroughly unhelpful. They basically took a report and said they'd give us a call if either item showed up, but really not much else they can do. I'm not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, I'm heading out in a few minutes to spend a last hour at the MIA in the Egypt and Chinese ceramics collections before Larry drops me off at the airport and I begin the trek home. Please send your very best wishes for an uneventful trip home!

Friday, November 14, 2008

This just in: it is effing cold in Minnesota...

...just in case anyone had any doubts about that.

Marching right along in a tour of recommended pet shops and boutiques, I'm having a great time in chilly Minneapolis. This city is completely different than I expected. Actually, I'm not entirely sure what pre-conceived notions I had about the Twin Cities, but at least a couple things have surprised me.
First of all, y'all have an incredible skyline! Who knew? I'm staying with my sister-in-law who is a law student here. When she told me how much she loved the Minneapolis skyline, we were on our way out to dinner (more on that in a moment) and just hopping on to the 35 freeway. We came into sight of it and... sure enough, it's spectacular! The buildings were all lighted with the Target building being particularly lovely.
Also, when I think of the midwest, ethnic food isn't exactly the first thing that springs to mind, but holy buckets have we had some fantastic meals. The main focus of these visits is to tour the great little shops and boutiques which come most highly recommended by my customers, so the first day I spent in town was dedicated to visiting the short-list of places that seemed to fit my general philosophy of business and which feature the sorts of products and services which might be a good match for Raw Dog gear. Good food has been a completely happy and indicental accident, but a completely happy one it is, for sure.

On Wednesday my sister-in-law and I had what must be one of the most incredible meals I've ever eaten at a place called El Meson. She'd been there for lunch before where they'd had a lunch buffet and said it was good but the dinner menu was just absolutely remarkable. Everything around us looked and smelled wonderful and we couldn't decide on an entree, so we ended up ordering a pile of tapas and appetizers and a carafe of sangria.
The stage was set with the freshest calamari I've ever had prepared in a wonderful light breading, quickly followed by the ceviche of the gods which was served with thin slices of fried plantains and some little rounds of garlic-buttered toast. After that came a little cluster of asparagus wrapped in chevre and prosciutto and grilled together as one piece which... just defies description. We had a little plate of cured iberian meats with a lovely Manchego and a little handful of Spanish olives. A salad with spinach, fine curls of sweet carrot, slices of strawberries, tiny chopped fruits and pecans. It was just one amazing bite after another. The whole incredible experience was capped with a grilled pear half stuffed with French brie and served on a bed of fresh spinach. It was just amazing--and what's more, this isn't anything like the kind of place where you'd expect to find such delights. Prices are completely reasonable, even cheapish, and we went dressed in sweats and jeans expecting a casual meal. Our waitress was patient and funny, just a great, unexpected experience.

The next day I spent in a dual pleasure/business visit to the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts with my husband's cousin who is a long-time volunteer docent. Two art nerds and eleven solid hours worth of art later and we only made it maybe two-thirds of the way through their incredible collection. I have a bachelor's degree with a dual study in studio art and art history; as a student we spent quite a lot of time discussing the completely definitive collection of modern and contemporary art at the Walker Art musuem but I'm not sure the MIA was ever even mentioned. I had -no idea- going in what we were going to be seeing, but their collection is absolutely encyclopedic. We spent most of the day on the second floor moving through a dozen very fine collections of textile arts. There were special exhibitions of Indian and African textiles along with an incredible collection of Native American textile crafts. There was also a really great exhibit of contemporary textile artists with a focus on the use of the natural world in pattern design which just thrilled my little heart.
After half a day spent in textiles and contemporary crafts we headed upstairs for the more contemporary section and just got lost in a world of French impressionists and post-impressionists. I could have spent hours in front of their van Gogh, Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun, alone. I'm still thinking about everything we saw, so I think that's going to need to be a discussion for later. Art takes some processing.
We had a great dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place and then headed over to the Walker which, for an art nerd like myself, was like seeing a rock star in person. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to actually see the place, so when I bought the plane ticket to Minneapolis, the very first thing I did was call Larry the MIA docent and ask for an art date. They're showing a companion exhibition with the MIA of Eero Saarinen's work--if you are in the area and have the opportunity to see it, I recommend you do. They've also got an enormous exhibition of Tetsumi Kudo's work which doesn't do anything for me in the least, but... there you are. I was, on the other hand, totally beside myself about theirJoseph Beuys collection and was thrilled to get the chance to see Coyote: I Love America and America Loves Me, snippets of which I'd seen but never start-to-finish. We got a small sampling of Abstract Expressionist love in one gallery, and individual pieces throughout by artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Yoko Ono, Franz Kline and Jasper Johns. I'd have loved to spend an entire day with the artists in the first three galleries, but unfortunately most of my favorites were only represented with single selected pieces and most of the gallery space was dedicated to Kudo, who I didn't appreciate one modicum more after what seemed like several floors of his work.

So, now I've got eleven hours worth of art to digest. We're heading North to spend some time with relatives in a cabin a mile away from the closest neighbor, where I hope to spend the next three days thinking, sketching, reading, and maybe even ice fishing. My internet connection will be more or less completely non existent, so any orders or questions will be addressed ASAP when back in civilization, early next week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beta-testing the Bulletproof tugs. Also: projects!

As you may have seen, we are completely stoked to be in full production of our new Kevlar Bulletproof Tugs, and no one is happier about this than the Raw Dog himself. He's incredibly, remarkably hard on his toys. As a baby I made him those gorgeous sheepskin tugs, with a soft, plush grip--good for puppy mouths. As he got older (and stronger, and more destruct-arrific) his toy needs also evolved. As wonderful as that sheepskin is, these are dogs bred to catch and hold giant wild boar and mountain lions. His grip and pulling strength is absolutely indescribable. Eventually he was able to rip the double layers of sheepskin after a fair bit of use, so I started making his toys out of sturdy bullhide, or rough elk suede.

The bullhide tugs satisfied for grip and strength for a good long time, but in listening to the needs of some professional agility and obedience folks, we developed a tug with the comfort and grip of a braided toy, with the kind of tensile strength a hard-core tugger needs. Simon -loves- this tug. He can grip it so securely that he was almost able to out-wrestle Mr. Armadillo. In the photo you can see Simon's feet are blurry--that's because he'd brace himself and launch his whole body sideways and backwards for full-body tugging action. After countless tugs, they still look like new. I'm impressed with the materials and am happy to have found them.

In other news, a couple of this week's projects...
A sexy spikes-and-domes collar for brindle boxer-mix Karma up in Alaska:

And in progress, a custom harness for Jiro:
What you are seeing is the back saddle and belly band, with the shoulder and chest straps in progress. I'll be working on the chest plate over the next couple of days. Once the chest plate and padding are fit to the body harness, I'll adjust, decorate, and finish the shoulder straps.
The ring at the top of the saddle where the flames point is part of an optional seat belt system.

I -love- building harnesses. For one thing, it's always a chance to stretch my craft muscles. It's also a challenge to custom-fit something to a body that I can't actually put my hands and eyes on. It's for this reason I don't offer standard harnesses. I think any equipment--but particularly a piece of gear that fits around the chest and body--should be properly sized and comfortable and built to suit the individual needs of the dog and uses of the equipment. A tracking harness is built differently than a draft harness, which are both built differently than service harnesses and casual harnesses. All are designed to suit specific tasks and performance needs with the comfort and individual body shape of the wearer in mind. Building custom harnesses is a real treat.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Website updates, slowly but surely...

As you may have noticed, we're working on an update of the entire site. My portfolio has grown, as have my photography skills, so I figured it was about time (okay, so I've been saying that for a while but... for reals, this time).

The awesome Helmi Bastami of FlyBorg.net (flash artist extraordinaire) has been kind enough to 1) put up with me, 2) help rebuild the various flash galleries and generally help me touch up the site, and 3) set up a couple neat new things yet to come. He's very patient.

I've updated the text on most of the pages, set up a handful of new ones, and -finally- gotten the majority of my catalog at least viewable online. Formerly you pretty much had to contact me directly to order most things. It's set up now for you to be able to order all sizes of leads and flat buckle collars as well as my entire catalog of toys, squee!

On that note, we are abso-friggen-lutely thrilled to announce the launch of Raw Dog's long-awaited Kevlar(R) Bulletproof Tugs! These tug toys are the ultimate in tensile-strength. In response to demands for a hard-core braided tug for professional agility and obedience competition dogs, we set out to find a material with enormous tensile strength that would still provide a soft and comfy grip. Results: Kevlar, a light, strong para-aramid synthetic fiber. From the Wiki page: "Kevlar has many applications, ranging from bicycle tires and racing sails to body armor because of its high strength-to-weight ratio—famously: '...5 times stronger than steel on an equal weight basis...'[1]"

These tugs should last well-nigh forever. The Kevlar can be "cut" with dedicated chewing across the fibers, so don't leave them unattended--they aren't chew toys--but the Bulletproof Tugs should give you a fair lifetime of tugs.

As Charles can attest, I absolutely hate the idea of throwing things away with useful life remaining, so like all Raw Dog gear, I'm absolutely happy to repair them for a lifetime, as long as the piece remains "intact". That is to say if you ever need stitching, or handle replacement, or seam repair, just send 'er on back with a few bucks for shipping and I'll be happy to patch it up if it's within the realm of possibility (and structural integrity).

Keep an eye on the site for more updates to come. Currently in progress is a complete revision of the feedback gallery featuring teeming masses of your wonderful Raw Dogs in action and some of the lovely notes we've been honored to receive over the last few years. Also, all-new custom galleries with a better chunk of my custom portfolio available for view and divided into sections.

More to come!