Archive | September, 2012


28 Sep

It feels just awful.

Fall is in the air.  Green Bluff Apple Fesitval with it llamas and you-pick produce are open and ready for me.  OktoberFests are beginning–I was invited to one and heard about two additional ones.  Hot air balloons–really?!  Invitation to pizza on the patio after work.  Fall brews are on tap everywhere.  I LOVE a festival!!!  There is running to be done–I want to set some PRs in this crisp air.  Horror movie marathons and pizza-baking need to commence.  Cool is ready to play.  I want to play!

And yet.

On Tuesday I have an Anatomy exam.  And I had to work all day today, half a day tomorrow, and all day Monday.  Which leaves the weekend to study.  And it makes me feel like I’m missing out.  Like I’ve always missed out.  When I worked so many hours, every other weekend, and all holidays at Noah’s Ark–I knew one day it would pay off.  When I worked on Chemistry pre-labs, physics practice problems, and balanced diets for Nutrition instead of going out with friends–I knew one day I could have all the fun I wanted.

And yet–I’m here.  I missed out, and yet I’m still back at square one instead of reaping the rewards of my hard work.  And I feel sorry for myself.  And tempted to blow off the hard-core studying I know I should do to get that SUPER-important A on exam 2, A+ in Anatomy, and that 4.0 GPA.  So instead of thinking about all the fun I’m missing this weekend, here is something to remind me of why school is so important:

This time is different from undergrad and pre-vet.

I will have tried my absolute best in this class.

I can draw on my anatomical knowledge in the future.

This will help prepare me for grad/doctorate school.

It will feel good to look at that exam and be confident that I know the answers.

Nothing feels worse then looking at a test and knowing nothing.

Except maybe looking at a poor grade written at the top of your test.

This way, I won’t always have to play catch-up with grades.

It’s MUCH easier to keep an A, then be on the stupid borderline.

My liver doesn’t need all that beer anyway.

I can always study my cheat sheets while taking a walk outside.

I’ll feel rested at work on Monday.

Fall is just beginning.  Even if I miss it–I get a Thanksgiving and X-mas break.

Not going will save money.

I can really succeed at this major in this school, if I put effort towards it.

An exam Tues allows me to get ahead the rest of the wk (when study time is built in to my schedule)

The festivals will feel better if I attend them after I’ve aced the test.

I can move someplace I truly like.

There will be countless festivals and concerts in Boulder.

I can get a job that is satisfying and that takes me places in life.

And I’ll have a better schedule.

One day I can sit back and relax b/c I’ll have made good money at a career.

So, it’s time for me to buckle down.  I can do it, because this is important to me.  I’ve rearranged everything in my life to put school first–so now I just need to do it.  Quit thinking about things I’m missing, and think instead of what a great opportunity and second start this is.  How this is my way out of depressing life circumstances.  And I really do want to do well.

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Day 2–Cementing the Learning

27 Sep

I actually wrote that last post yesterday.  And you can see there’s a lot less red (things I got wrong or couldn’t remember).

Also, as a side-note, it really bothers me that whoever it is, doesn’t use the terminology genetic and environmental influence, which I find more technical and accurate.  Plus nature and nurture are pretty similar words–both starting with n and containing two syllables, and could create confusion.  Not to mention being sort of watered down in meaning. . .

Anyhow, back to it:

Nurture (Enviro)

1.  Behaviorist Theory-

Language is not innate or special, it’s just another behavior.

Operant conditioning- Reinforced behaviors are strengthened, punished behaviors are REPRESSED.

Exp:  Swearing.

2.  Social-Interactionist Theory-

Language is learned through SOCIAL INTERACTION with a more capable person.  Then, it’s internalized to a psychological plane.

ZONE of Proximal Development (ZPD)-The difference between the child’s actual ability (as evidenced by individual problem solving) and their potential development (found through collaborative effort with someone more capable).

Exp:  Scaffolding rhymes.

3.  Intenistist Theory-

Child drives own language learning.  The tension between wanting to communicate own intentions to other people, and the ability for communicating drives the child to learn language.

Exp:  “Zip me up!”

4.  Cognitive Theory

Cognitive development must precede language learning.

Evidenced by monlogues (egocentric speech) turning into dialogues.  Draws on theory of mind where the child understands other people have different ideas, feelings, and thoughts AND can put themself in someone else’s perspective.

Exp:  The phoneme acquisition order follows general development stages.

5.  Competition Theory

Different forms of language compete, until a reliably heard (correctversion is strengthened.

Evidenced by over-generalization-applying the rule too much.

Exp:  Preschool positive language learning environment vs. neglect situation.

6.  Usage-Based Theory

Children attend to and understand other people’s intentions, and mimic communication actions in order to learn language.

Exp:  A baby laughs when the adults laugh during an adult conversation.

Nature (genetic):

1.  Modularity Theory-

Language is innate and localized in highly specific structures/modules of the brain.

Exp:  Children with one area of impaired language can excel in a different language area.

2.  Universal Grammar Theory-

All children are born with knowledge of grammar and language catagories common to all language in general.  Input shows children parameters of language rules specific to their own language community.

Exp:  Children’s language acquisition vs. Alex the talking bird’s.

3.  Semantic Bootstrapping-

Figuring out an unknown word using other words in the context.

4.  Syntactic Bootstrapping-

Ascertaining the part of speech from place in the sentence an unknown word is located, and using grammatical context to learn the word.

Boring for You, Studious for Me

27 Sep

I’m posting on an off-day, but it doesn’t really count, b/c it’s actually studying.  I’m going to attempt to write key features (from memory) of important language development theories that I have to know for my exam tomorrow.

Nurture (Environmental) Influence:

1.  Behaviorist Theory

Language is not special or innate, it’s just another behavior.

Operant conditioning-Positive reinforcement strengthens correct forms, while punishment represses wrong forms.

Example is swearing.  The curse word might be initially reinforced/strengthened by a parent that swears often.  When the child utters the bad word in front of the wrong person the resultant punishment will supress the curse word.

2.  Intentionality Model

The tension between wanting to share intentions with others, and the ability to do so drives language learning.

Example I used is a child who asks someone to zip them up.

3.  Competeition Model

Multiple forms of language compete, and the reinforced forms are strengthened.

Evidenced by over-generalization (applying the rules too much).

My group talked about language developing normally in a positive communication environment that strengthens correct forms by singing, story-telling, and chants vs. disordered/non-exsistent language in cases of neglect.

4.  Social-Interactionist Model

Language emerges through social interaction with a more capable person, then is internalized on a psychological plane.

Example is a teacher scaffolding with a child to walk them to to correct answer.

Book example was a mother asking what rhymes with cat and the child couldn’t answer.  So mom said, “Does cat rhyme with book?  Suit?  Hat?  And the child could say cat rhymed with hat.

Zone of Proximal Development-The difference between the childs current development (based on individual problem solving) and the potential level of development (collaborative problem solving with a more capable person).

5.  Cognitive Theory

Cognitive development milestones must precede language learning.  

This makes sense when you think of the order of acquisition of phonemes.  The bilabials are first because the infant has control of their lips at an early age.  The alveolars are later, because they require more precision and children’s motor skills can’t handle that until later.

Children’s speech moves from egocentric to dialogue.

6.  Usage-Based Theory

Children attend to, and understand intention, and mimic communication actions to learn language.

Example is a baby that laughs (even though they don’t understand what is being said) just because two adults are laughing during an adult conversation.

Nature (Genetic):

1.  Modularity Theory

Language is innate and localized in specific structures of the brain.

Example is people that have a stroke in the left hemisphere (language side) but still have speech and language skills.

Another Example is when a child has a language impairment in one area, but excels in another area of language.

2.  Universal Grammar

Children are born knowing general rules of grammar and catagories common to all languages.  Input gives them parameters of own language that supplements their innate knowledge.

Example is comparison to Alex the talking bird.  Alex was taught a lot of phrases through years of training and work.  Still, his language skills are equal to a young elementary-aged child, AND he does not put together sentences, have syntax, or understand grammar.  Children know these things without formal instruction.

3.  Semantic Bootstrapping

The child uses contextual words to figure out an unknown word.

Example:  Gaven will figure out medical jargon based on other words in the sentence.

4.  Syntactic Bootstrapping

The child ascertains the unknown words part of speech based on its position in a sentence and uses that grammatical context to learn the new word.

Example is when Gaven was given a comparison of the verb, spayed, to figure out what neuter meant.  He used contextual grammar to learn the unfamiliar word.


1.  Connectionist Theory

The brain is composed of connections and nodes.  Input strengthens connections.


Rule #3 of Animal Restraint: Be a Cheerleader

26 Sep

As a restrainer of animals, being anything aside from positive, supportive, calm, and patient is counterproductive.  Everybody involved needs you to be miss Sunshine-super-patient to maximize chance of success, and minimize strife and injury.

Cheer on the animal (and it’s owner) you’re restraining, by telling it reassuring things in a gentle voice.  This should be constant and second-nature.

It’s very important to be supportive to the DO-er when you’re the restrainer.  Say, “Good job,” “You can do this,” etc. . . when things are going better then expected.  When things are worse, let the do-er know it’s hard, the animal is not cooperative, the task is a high level of difficulty, you’ve seen others mess it up more in the past.  No use in making someone feel bad or frustrated with their efforts.  It just makes future tasks more difficult.

Don’t be a bossy holder.  Let the DO-er perform the task in the way the usually do, and the way they are most comfortable doing it.  Let them take the lead on the thing, and direct YOU how they want the animal held and positioned.  There is more then one way to skin a cat. . .

Don’t sigh or show impatience when the task is taking a long time.  Even if you feel annoyed inside.  Buckle down.  Showing annoyance only makes the DO-er more nervous and agitated then they already are.  And they will likely struggle more.

On this same note, if you are the restrainer, don’t insist on switching.  Let the DO-er tell you when they cannot accomplish the task and need you to do it.  DO-ers, DO NOT poke an animal 80 times, or otherwise torture a pet if it is just not happening for you that day.  Know when to stop and ask someone else to jump in.

Trade off.  Do not always jump to take ALL the blood draws, place all catheters, whatever.  Share back and forth.  Otherwise, one of you becomes the bitch-holder and the subservient.  And no one likes that.  Also realize, if you’re new to a place–you are likely going to ending up doing more holding then doing for awhile.  It’s also a good idea to trade off, not only for fairness purposes, but so that both people are good at both restraint and the tasks needing performed.  Vet tech skills are definitely a use it or lose it deal, and no one should become rusty on either side of the animal.  Practice both restraint and the tasks equally to really hone both skills.  Especially, if someone is sick, or quits, or if you need to switch positions for a vet or new staff--you need to be competent everywhere.

That said, if you know you’re not great at something, or you know your co-worker is a star at one particular task, back off and let them do it.  You should practice and take hints from the super-star, but only on nice animals, during slower times, and not to the point of hurting the animal in order to learn.

And that all there is to restraint.  Mind the hierarchy, keep it cool, and remember team-work.  Good luck, animal workers!


Rule #2 of Animal Restraint: Stay Calm

24 Sep

As I said (repeatedly) in the last post, this is imperative, but difficult to do.  Practice and confidence in your skills is ultimately the best way to feel calm when restraining a fractious animal.  Here are some tips:

Do what you need to and extricate any FEAR of a furious cat/animal.  Being afraid will only hold you back and make this process, just worse.  You can’t be calm and execute your best skill-set and mental preparedness plan if you are busy being scared of sharp-edges.

Gather yourself before jumping in.  When I am about to take vitals (or do anything) with an obviously irate animal, I’ll just leave it in the carrier at first.  I’ll give everyone a little time and see if things calm down.  Usually the owners are just as ramped up as their pet, so I’ll open the kennel door, but leave the growling cat in its carrier and start taking the history.

While you’re doing that keep an eye on the cat and read its body language.  You can ascertain if the cat CAN calm down with slow and quiet procedure, or if it is going to aggress.  Some times the cat will walk out on its own accord, take in its surroundings, and be manageable.  Yanking a stressed cat out of the box right after it gets out of the car and into a new hospital, is NOT the way to maximize success.

A truly fractious animal won’t calm down no matter how much time it is given to acclimate to its new surroundings.  But you can–and you can help the owners slow down, by s-l-o-w-i-n-g down.  It sounds super-hokey, but I actually take the time to get out the lavender oil and spread it on a paper towel.  I have no idea if the aromatherapy works, but it’s time taken to slow things down, and I think it at the very least shows the owner you care about their cat’s comfort.  And maybe it works to soothe the owners +/- the cat. . .  Ask the owner about the history in a quieter voice, and if they’re still reaching in to try to yank their cat–tell them to just leave it, you’ll ask them some questions first.  Take control of the situation, which will make you feel better and calmer.

Next, I prepare.  Get everything out that you will need.  Before having a sharp, loaded object in my hands, I’ll grab towel and gloves.  I’ll formulate my emergency plan then too.  Also, get out the supplies needed for the task.  Gather yourself by taking a deep breath.  Then restrain away.

If people around you are getting as excited as the cat, just remember to breathe and make deliberate movements.  A fractious cat HATES movement, so find a good grip then try to stay still.  It’s all about the cat’s body language and what it will tolerate best.

Control your adrenaline, by doing the opposite of what you feel like doing:  Make an effort to move slow, talk quietly–since adrenaline is coursing through your body, you’re also all speeded up–so what feels super slow at the time, is just normal speed.

That’s it for tips on this section.  Staying calm in a situation that is not soothing in the least is difficult and an acquired skill.  And probably based a lot on temperament (yours, your vets, and any co-workers, and owners to a lessor extent) and environment.  If you are able to master it, it will make you excellent at restraint though.

Part three finale will be next:  Cheerleading-yay!


Rule #1 of Animal Restraint: Remember the Hierarchy

22 Sep

Remember the hierarchy:

Owner–>Vet–>You/co-workers (obviously animal throughout).

A]  Owner

When holding an animal in proximity to an owner the number one rule is–do NOT let the owner get bit. Or scratched or harmed in any way. It’s a bad scene and owners can SUE. Even if they are injured by their own animal. Even if they did something stupid to deserve their injury. Once they are in the hospital’s driveway, it is up to the staff to take away all risk as best as possible. Easier said then done.

Secondly, make everything you’re doing seem gentle and effortless. No client wants you manhandling their pet, and very few understand firm holding techniques. If you scruff the cat, flatten your hand and move the fingers so to the owner it looks more like petting. If you have the cat under a towel–just talk out loud and say soothing things to the animal so it doesn’t seem so horrid (to the owner). The owner doesn’t need to know you are pressing into their crazy beast with as much strength as you can muster.

Third–remain calm. And this is hard. Especially when an animal is really acting naughty and stressed and doing their best to get away or aggress. It’s pretty common for the cat to be stressed, which ramps up the owner, which in turn makes the cat MORE anxious and ornery, which makes the staff nervous, and soon everyone is a ball of nerves.  This is counterproductive.  Try to keep in your internal calm place. A calm exterior can help everyone involved feel more soothed. You’d be surprised how many pets will also calm down if you use a quiet voice, and slow deliberate movements. Even if the fractious animal doesn’t calm down, the people around you will. Your calmness instills confidence. No matter how tired you are or how much your adrenaline is pumping.

B]  When holding an animal for a vet:

The number one rule is–do not let the vet get bit.

Secondly, don’t let them get scratched. If the vet does get (even slight) injury, classically they will make a fuss.  They might shout out, and they will certainly bring it up that YOU got them hurt throughout the day/week/lifespan of your employment.  Nobody wants this.  So really make an effort to HOLD the animal–dare I say it even to the detriment of yourself.  Though you should make yourself second priority when restraining for a vet (most likely your employer) DO have an escape plan in mind.  Put a towel in proximity.  Plan to hastily push the fractious sharp-edged animal in a nearby kennel/carrier/sink if need be.  Don’t be afraid to hold up the show and ask to re-position so you have a better and safer grip.  And never be afraid to speak up and request the gloves or something that will make you safer and more successful.  Still, don’t let the vet get any teeth and claw. . .

C]  If you’re holding for another co-worker, just try to have fast hands and avoid anyone getting the teeth and claw, while avoiding a rodeo as best as possible.

The way I see it, this is all about repore.  Each person is responsible for themselves more then the first two instances of restraint (owner and vet).  Whoever is holding needs to concentrate on not getting the do-er hurt, while maximizing chances for success on the task.  And seriously, don’t ever, ever abandon a hold and let the animal frenzy and bite/scratch/hurt your co-worker.  This is one of the cardinal sins of restraint–you never just give up and let go.  Like above, have a plan to minimize the risk of all.

Whoever is DOing, needs to get it done fast, competently, and without drama.  They should not wait until a crazy animal is in the perfect position and still, or try to get a huge blood sample on a difficult draw if a couple drops will do, or say–I can only do such and such with my right hand in this terribly specific position that this particular animal HATES and refuses to do.

Finally, never be a super-douche and tell other people how your co-worker might have struggled. This helps builds trust and repore.

EDIT–> I recently thought of an important addition to this restraint post:

D]  Bystanders

The point is–if you are in the vicinity of a restraint situation, there is no such thing as an inattentive, inactive observer.  Also, there is no hierarchy when someone is about to/in the process of getting injured.  It does not matter your position in the hospital (vet, assistant/tech, receptionist, volunteer) YOU need to pay attention.  Which is a good idea inside a vet hospital ALL the time.  Just be aware and ready.  Especially if someone is in the process of getting hurt, it’s time to act.  Don’t stand there staring at the holder struggling or losing control of the scene.  Grab a towel or gloves for them or yourself.  Shur doors to decrease the area in which an animal can run.  Shout out instructions–such as, “throw it in the sink/kennel!”  Or, “Let go!”  If you have restraint skills, and are in a good position, run over and lend a hand.  Obviously only do that if you’re certain you also won’t get hurt.

If you DO get hurt despite best efforts not to–minimize your reaction.  Especially if the pet owner, vet, or others are in proximity.  A good tech does not scream, curse, or otherwise make a scene when given the teeth and claw.  Most times, these injuries are minor and will heal fine in a day or two.  This is part of the job and bound to happen–maybe frequently.  Man-up.

After the procedure is finished and the animal is safely secured, go wash with clorhexidine/betadine or both.  Really scrub, no matter how it hurts at the time.  You’ll be glad you did the next day when it no longer hurts.   If it’s really bad (warrents leaving work right away to go to the doctor, is my benchmark) immediately tell someone important.

So that’s the basic hierarchy of restraint.  Important stuff, huh?  Next up, how to get into your internal calm place.

Rules of Restraint: The Intro

20 Sep

The animal kind, that is.  It’s so important to any sort of animal work that I’m going to write a three part series on the MOST important (as I see it, and as my experience dictates) aspects of animal restraint.  Specifically cats, since that’s what I’m working with currently.

I was trying to figure out what percent of my day as a veterinary assistant is devoted to animal restraint. I couldn’t decide if it was 20% or 80%. Between that and cleaning–it’s the vast majority.  And surprisingly, a lot of people are incompetent at it.  Even the best techs and workers and vets sometimes struggle.  Here are just some of the things to consider:

Don’t get anyone bit

Don’t get yourself bit/scratched

Do not manhandle the pet OR let the owner perceive that you are

Don’t let the animal get away

Close doors

Don’t let the animal injure itself

Diffuse the situation

Don’t show stress

Don’t get frustrated

Don’t get angry

Be supportive

Don’t be impatient

Be gentle, yet firm

Be slow, yet have fast hands

Stay quiet

Talk soothingly

Position (and re-position) the animal for whatever procedure

Change that position if necessary

Utilize help (other holder, distraction, towel, gloves, net, box, sedation. . .).

Hold the animal still

Distract the pet

Utilize the “Kitty Earthquake” trademarked by me

So upcoming:  My 3-part series on animal (cat, in particular) restraint.

Horror on the Home-front

18 Sep

Another person was attacked less then a mile from where I live. On the trail I regularly run on–just ran on the day of the newest attack. Where Cool and I walk ALL the time. And they think this attacker was the same one who killed that gal late spring–a football field’s distance from my balcony.

I’ll share the details as the story builds, but for now I just want to say:  I would be so pissed to get killed in Spo-Compton. I do not want to die in this crummy “city” with it’s cigarette smokers, constant unruly kids taking over every public space, dilapidated buildings, and frequent poor air quality issues. I want to get somewhere that I WANT to be. Not just somewhere I was born, dragged, or HAD to live in for school or career.

I fully expect to die relatively young, given my relatives, and (lack of) health, but I had better hold on until I reach Colorado! Except, I have been coaching Cool that if ever I need to be put in diapers–just euthanize me. I’m serious–I would have no independence or dignity at that point, so I would just WANT to be put out of my misery. But not HERE. . .

The Higher the Volume, the More Quality is Sacrificed

16 Sep

Yeah, I said it.  I’m a big believer in that statement.  In all areas:  The more time you spend exercising, the less time there is for studying.  The more you work on your car, the less time you’re spending with the family.  The more kids you have, the less quality time each one of those kids is allotted.  More clients that come in the door means less time for each individual animal.

I especially, think it’s true that quality of care begins to suffer when you can not, will not, or do not say no to people.  I’m talking about work at a vet hospital now.  People want an appointment on the same day they call, with all the high quality service and care available–and for free if they can get it.  That does NOT mean they should be accommodated on all those fronts.

I’m worried that saying anything about this makes people perceive me as incompetent at my job.  Which, in most cases, is NOT true.  I work as fast as I can and do a good job at what I attempt.  I would say the only way I could work any faster is to get to work an hour earlier earlier then I already do, take NO lunch at all, and stay late.  Which would stress me out!  I would hate that a lot.  I have many skills.  I really, don’t have to type all of them out for you.  If I did not have an appropriate skill set, I would not have gotten so many jobs at small animal private practices.  And I would not have kept those jobs.

It seems there is scuttle on all sides of my current job that people want MORE patients to care for:  The book-keeper implicitly states this by never saying no to anyone.  No matter how busy the schedule, how overwhelmed she (and we) feels, or whether it’s a never-seen-before client without money–they get in that same day most times.  The main receptionist wants concurrent tech appointments with the vet appointments, and the brand new assistant wants to do higher difficulty skills such as cystos and intibations (I don’t know how to spell that, obviously).

I feel like instead of trying to get MORE people in the door to our small-staffed, and limited size hospital, we should focus instead on improving our current standards of care.  We can always be better at we we are doing NOW.  And be better about the computer and maintenance items.  When we do not completely bleach out isolation, surgery, or possibly contagious cat areas EVERY time, I don’t think we should be bringing in MORE clients.  When we do not make confirmation phone calls, send welcome letters to new clients, and have all the inventory codes fixed in the computer system, I don’t think we should try to double book people.  When one person is trying to keep up on inventory, one on all the book-work, and the vets can’t keep their pile of doom–write ups and phone calls to a minimum–I don’t think we should add more volume to it.  It’s not that we currently do a BAD job.  But certainly things can be better, run more smoothly, and the standard of care can always be raised.  Always.

Plus, logistically, we could barely do any more then we already anyway.  Just for space issues alone: 2 exam rooms, 19 kennels (IF we rearranged 6 of them), one treatment table.  Getting more people in there would just be. . .  Worse.

Anyway, no matter my skills as an assistant–or I would dare say no matter the skills if even an LVT–we are not vets.  There is a reason vets have to maintain a license to practice.  The states set up education and career standards for good reason as well.  Vet school curriculum teaches and tests certain areas for the same well-thought reasons.  I don’t really think we techs/assistants should be doing the highly skilled tasks.  Confidence does not equate to skill.  And confidence does not automatically equal actual knowledge.  I (and the clients) like a very personally invested veterinarian who takes the time to look at even non-critical cases that do not specifically require their license.  It’s called personalized care–and that’s one of the best things about the veterinary field.  But you get a higher volume that emphasizes speed and business over the personal touch, and it turns to Banfield in a hurry.

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Clogging Starts

14 Sep

Potential directions to take my scholarship essay.  I’ll try to narrow it down from here:

1}  About to Perform:

Using my peripheral vision, I scanned right and left, to make sure I was lined up in perfect formation with my teammates.  Despite the downward angle of my head, I could tell the lights were bright.  Staring at my own, freshly polished white leather performance shoes, I could only hear the chatter and rustling of the audience that had amassed in the large auditorium earlier in the day.  I tried to remain calm and collected, but I could hear my own tense breathing as I anticipated the first notes of the song, which would cue the beginning of the dance.  I worried the stage would be slick under my taps, but assuaged my  nerves by reminding myself the sticky Pepsi they had poured over the stage was sure to do its job and provide traction.  I adjusted my arm just slightly, feeling the sequence of my fuchsia and turquoise lycra costume brush my shoulder as I did.

2}  The basic step–into history of the dance and my teaching of it

Scuff your toe toward the ground as if you’re trying to get bubblegum off the bottom of your shoe.  Harder-really throw your foot toward the ground.  Yes, that’s it there’s the double.  Now double.  Step.  Toe.  Step.  That is the basic clog step!”  I heard and said those words so many times, I could not possibly tally them.  When I took my first clogging class as a second grader, and when I taught my first students as a fifth grader that was always the initial introduction to the Appalachian dance.

3}  Performance Logistics–and the lessons learned

There were quick costume changes, that required throwing off clothes and hastily pulling on the next routine’s accessories.  My least favorite shows had a bigger crowd behind the stage then watching the dancing.  Often weather conditions were not optimal for being dancing outside in lycra and sequence.  There were times when the flooring was make-shift, or slippery.  Other times, our music was cued wrong, or too quiet, or playing at a different speed then we had practiced.  Sometimes nerves would cause team members to wander off track-and you would have to steer them back in the right direction—or pretend you were having fun and there was no problem at all.  A lot of the time, I had to warm up the audience and convey the message we were illicit through my facial expressions, movements, or steps.

4}  The Car Ride TO clogging

Eating my “dinner” or string cheese, a cracker pack, and an apple, I spelled the fourteenth word on my spelling list.  My mom was quizzing me during the twenty minute car ride into Carson City for clogging class.  We would not have time for homework after class, because it went right up to my bedtime, and tomorrow would be an early morning.

During my years of clogging activities, my family and I had to maximize our time.  Every moment was utilized, because with clogging and school, there was not a lot of time to spare.  This taught me valuable, life-long planning skills.  I am now able to balance many activities because I did it with dance for so many years.

5}  Duets

Maybe we should start out with a double-double at the chorus, I suggested to Allie, my duet partner.  We were at the studio an hour before the little girls’ show class began to work on choreographing our steps to “My Mind,” a catchy Ace of Base Song.  We wanted our duet to have crowd appeal for shows, but be technically strong so we could perform it for the judges at Broadway Bound.  Incorporating both aspects, as well as agreeing with each other was not always easy.

6}  Putting together shoes or hair + makeup and how those things display characteristics of my personality.

I took the white canvas shoe and aligned the silver, double tap on the toe.  This part was always the most difficult.  I smeared the “Shoe-Goo” liberally on the underside of the toe and quickly placed the tap in the middle of the glop, glue squeezing out around the edges.  Hurriedly, I used my rag to clean the excess glue so it wouldn’t dry or muck up the tap.  Then I carefully folded the rag and put it on the top side of the toe so when I placed my metal C-clamp over the tap and shoe, and tightened it down, there would not be an ugly mark.  Three more taps to go.  I repeated the procedure carefully. Tediously.  Then, the worst part of the process waiting 24-48 hours for the glue to dry.  It was always heart-wrenching to wait for the taps to dry on, remove the C-clamp at least, eager to put the shoes on and practice, only to untwist the clamp and have the tap drop to the floor.  Later, I would worry about polishing the scuff marks off the shoes using the thin, white dye–or I wouldn’t.  Maybe these would just be my practice shoes.

My stick-straight, blonde hair never did hold a curl.  For clogging performances, all the girls in my group had to apply blue eye shadow and bright red lipstick so our features could be made out under the harsh lights.  The stage makeup was ugly close-up, but you could see that we had eyes and lips when we were on stage.  We also had to wear our hair in high ponytails with the strands in back falling down in curls.  My hair wanted no part of these acrobatics.

My mother would put curlers in my ponytail early that morning.  While I patiently sat on the toilet lid, she would roll small strands of my hair in the spongy, pink curlers.  I hated pink.  Then showers of sticky hairspray would coat the locks.  Fumes choking everyone in the vicinity.  I would wear my pink curlers until I was in the wings of the stage, with my coach frantically yanking and untwisting the curlers back out.  By the time the three minute song was over, eleven little girls with stage makeup and curly pony tails would come off the stage.  One little girl (me) would have straight hair. . .

7}  Go through the practice schedule and detail a practice.  Tell what that did for me.

We drove a half hour to get to the blue two story Pinkerton’s Studio of Dance.  All of the lean and graceful ballerinas leaned nimbly on the benches in the hallway.  Jazz dancers in black spandex pants and soft shoes stretched on the floor.  The tap dancers with their shiny black shoes did homework on the stairs between classes.  And then there were us cloggers.  We had a hardier build, and were loud, and crude compared to the lithe, graceful dancers within Pinkerton’s walls.

I walked into the mirrored room and put on my worn, white practice shoes, tying the purple sparkled laces extra tight.  The toes of my shoes were black from working on my buck steps and a hole was just starting to form on the ball of both shoes, since the majority of the steps required slamming the ball of my foot to the floor.  Since most of the other types of dance required leotards for practice, the studio was uncomfortably warm for my tee shirt and gym shorts.  I was sweating already.

Our teacher switched on a country song to warm us up.  It sounded extra loud and twangy over the soft, classical echoing down the hallway.  We had to have loud music to hear the beat over our tapping.  We danced “Twist and Shout,” one of the first songs you ever learn as a clogger, and went into “The sign.”  After dancing a few easy performance songs, we stopped the music in preparation of learning the steps to our new performance routine.  It was always to the latest pop music so the crowd would get more involved.

I stood in the back line studying my reflection in the mirror, while my clogging teacher watched our feet.  Once my class got the step down, we added the arm movement.

8}  Mention something I missed out on due to clogging, but why it was worth it and what it taught me.

My friends at school would talk about “The Simpsons.”  To this day I have never seen a full episode, so at recess when the subject would come up, I would be lost.  As my best friends laughed about Bart’s latest antics and Homer’s ineptitude, I would just listen, not having anything to contribute to the conversation.

While my friends were gathered around their television watching cartoons with their family, I was at clogging practice.  Or studying my spelling words in the car as my mom drove us to clogging practice.  Or at some performance at a festival in a park somewhere.  Maybe I was just out in the driveway, shoes on, practicing my steps for our newest dance.

Though it was no fun to be in the dark about the coolest shows of the time, I do not regret my enthusiastic participation in dance.  While my friends were sitting, I was working my calf muscles and strengthening my lungs by doing a series of fast double-steps, stomps, and windmills.  Instead of mindlessly watching the sit-coms, I was using my mind to memorize not only countless steps, but a wide variety of songs, as well as choreography that went with each different routine.  By missing that family-time in the evenings, I was learning to work with a diverse group of people in a team, adapting to dissimilar audiences, and taking instruction (and criticism) from clogging instructors and judges.

Aside from not knowing who exactly Krusty the Clown is, whatever happened to Lisa’s saxophone, or if Marge ever got a hair cut, I think I fared pretty well with the life skills I accrued.