16 October 2014

Kath visits Maryland and Texas

Thursday 2nd October 4:00am. An early set off to Manchester airport for the first plane journey of the day. Leaving David and the dogs at hone us always the hardest part of these trips overseas, but with David's blessing and continual support I set off.  I think actually finding the pre booked car park for terminal two was the hardest part of the journey but once found and the parking bay carefully noted for my return, including a text to David giving him details of where I had parked his car, I could catch the shuttle.  Baggage check in and security was as busy as usual and took over an hour to clear but then I could find somewhere for breakfast.  The flight in from Atlanta was slightly delayed as a replacement aircraft had to be found and that meant most boarding passes printed the day before were redundant as this plane had a different seat plan!   But we took off on time and were soon flying high on the first flight of the day.  The time passed quickly having a great selection of films to choose from.  I watched three full length movies, had a break for lunch and no sleep!

Clocks were put back five hours on boarding which meant I said hello to 5:00 am twice in one day but I'm happy to say I don't seem to suffer in anyway from these time changes.   The plane landed safely at Atlanta Airport, this is the largest and busiest airport in the World with seven terminals. Through self passport checks then onto to immigration where I had to explain what I was doing on my visit to two states in 10 days! When I explained I would be visiting two dog clubs where I was going to help them dance with their dogs,  luckily I just received a smile and they took two sets of fingerprints, two photographs and then I was given an ok pass through Immigration.

From immigration I then had to retrieve my baggage to go through security once again.  More explanations as to what and why I was there but it seemed once they knew I had a return ticket, I could carry on.  Next was to find my transfer flight on the board. Super all on time so with no time to waste I caught a Plane Train and set off to Terminal A.  Straight on to leave my checked in luggage and to the gate with just under an hour before take off.  Perfect quick connection to wifi and check in with home around 9:00 pm in GB and just 4:00pm in US.  The next flight was approx just 90 minutes, no film to watch but what a view through the aircraft window. A cloudless sky at 33,000 feet, it was so picturesque very green and actually very much like my home ground in Derbyshire!

Once landed off, once again through passport control, onto baggage collection and out of the airport.  My instructions from this point were to telephone “Linda” who had been sent to collect me, she would pick me up from wherever I was in a silver Hyundai.  I text the number and waited but soon received an "ok on my way" message.  Linda arrived and after introducing ourselves we set off for my one night at her home about an hour from the airport.  She had kennels and her own three GSD's and a little 15 yr old JR. Once she showed me my room and deposited my luggage off we went off to a restaurant for dinner.  Although I had now been awake 19 hours I was still doing ok.  We went to a Crab Cake restaurant!  My dream food and what a luxury!!!  We were back home for around 10:00 pm (GB 3:00am). Long time since I'd had such a late night and coupled with the early start 23 hours later I could now go to bed! 

Friday 3rd October 2014
After a very good night's sleep, a super shower and a walk around the kennels and Nature Trails for the dogs in residence, it was time to zip up my case and set off again on the three hour drive to Salisbury, close to the venue.
I met quite a few of those attending the weekend at Chinatown, an open Buffett meal.  Oh my!   This was my favourite food.  So many different prawns, fish and crabs!  No need for desert I was full!
I was then taken to my next "home" where I would stay until Wednesday 8th. 
Don and Dotties Home
Wow.  What a beautiful home owned by my hosts Don and Dottie.  My room had a huge bed and sumptuous ensuite.  A ceiling fan slowly rotated and I felt at home straight away.
Saturday 4th October
Fresh bagels and cream cheese for breakfast and de caffeinated Earl Grey Tea.  Goodness me, my hosts went all the way to make me feel welcome.  But we had to set off to the Salisbury Maryland Kennel Club building where I would be helping these members to progress in their sport. 
Once again USA is a country with no set KC rules.  These people had either MDSA competitions or My Way Canine Freestyle competitions.  It makes it a hard incentive to compete when progress through the classes is just under one club or the other.  The people aren't adverse to travelling, seems their clubs are usually up to a couple of hours travel each way each time they meet every week. The fuel is cheap although I had to convert our GB prices to let them know how good a deal they have.  ($1.11 per gallon!).
I started by letting them know more about me but I was pleasantly surprised just how much they knew.  I received questions about most of the routines I have done and the dogs I have and those I have lost. I always miss my dogs when I'm away, but these people made me feel very emotional and appreciative of what I have achieved.
I then found out more about them and their main problems.  They desperately needed help with choosing music, planning routines, choosing moves, where to put them, how to train the "tricks" and how we to train the GB style of heelwork.
I started very basic. Many had behavioural problems which had to be helped with in order to continue the day's programme.  I had plans for most of what I would cover but I barely touched on these and worked by instinct which proved very successful.
I think because the numbers in Maryland are quite small and most people have multi discipline dogs then they don't have the same work ethic that we seem to have.  They really needed instruction on everything from how and when to give titbits, how and when to play, training some very useful moves so they can be used in different ways.  It was great fun!
Sunday 5th October
More of the same type of training and plenty of requests.  This was good. I had opened up their minds to start thinking for themselves.  The venue was obviously purpose built with a fabulous rubber flooring of 2yd. squares. It is used most days for dog dancing, obedience, rally and agility and the floor is perfect for all.  Washable, non slip and kind to dogs when landing jumps. I spent from 9:00am till 4:00 pm each day with a good hours break for the fish soup or crab cakes and desert cakes made of pumpkin, squash, banana and blueberry.
They made copious notes which they promised to share with each other and they promised to watch each other more so that they could all be more involved with the creation of routines in the future.  There were some super dogs attending: Papillion, Shih Tzu, Rhodesian Ridgeback, GSD's, standard poodle, BC's, Australian shepherds, Border terrier, crossbreed, Lakeland terrier, smooth collie, Shelties, etc . All were working and learning at different speeds and in different ways which made it really interesting. They usually learn moves from DVDs and routines on YouTube but still needed to be taught how to teach in a positive and patient way and to add moves to their quite limited repertoire.  It was a great two days of training.
Monday 7th October
A day of rest starting with breakfast made by Dottie of maple syrup sausages and eggs. with English muffins.  All very nice and a good start to the day. Don and Dottie had the day planned out for me.  Starting with a trip to Assateague Island, a long strip of land running down the east coast of Delaware where wild horses lived.  It was a glorious day of high twenties and a fresh breeze.  The beach was white soft sand and just had a few sparse walkers along it.  Bliss.  Their Shelties Jack and Sadie loved running into the surf and letting it chase them back out!
We saw a snake sunbathing in the heat of the day and a few of the wild ponies close to the roadside but with numerous signs warning of the horses biting, kicking and charging, as sweet as they looked we were happy to drive past safely.

 After a couple if hours walking we left the Island and went to Ocean city where it was very windy but again it was well into the thirties so the breeze was very welcome. 

The shops along the Boardwalk were very seaside town like but with a good mixture and no amusement arcades!  
On the beach were a couple of men digging and making sand sculptures but how they were managing to do this was incredible with such a strong wind blowing.
It was time to leave Ocean City and call at Pefars for lunch. Squash soup with sunflower seeds and a turkey panini. The Americans are changing their diets and it's all becoming much more natural and healthy!
Home from the day out we sat on the porch and admired the woodland Don and Dottie's house is built in whilst drinking iced tea. But it was soon time to leave to go visit the local nursing home. Don and Dottie visit the home on a weekly basis with the Shelties registered as Pets on Wheels, the equivalent of our PAT dogs and I asked if I could go along to the huge nursing home with over 200 residents.  Room numbers of those wanting dog visits are in the Volunteer Signing in Book so no one misses out.  Don and Dottie had so many to visit they split and I chose to go with Don to the Alzheimer's rooms.  Don was wonderful with all these people who were very pleased to have visitors.  I felt like I was one of the dogs as they came and hugged me as if a long lost friend.  It was a sad visit but heart warming to see what a difference Jack's visit made. Back on the ward, we called in to see a gentleman of 92 yrs old just recovering from throat cancer.  He was pleased to see Jack and asked to give him some teats. Jack settled by his chair and Don introduced me as coming from England. This man was very pleased to meet me and he started telling us stories from World War Two when he was sent to England to serve. Don was amazed at the stories and how clear he was in his tales even though having to use a vibration tool to speak. He recounted some awful things but he said he was still proud he went to war and wouldn't ever wish to have changed things. It's nice that my visit opened up a whole new world for him to speak about and the manner in which he spoke about England made me feel more homesick!
Tuesday 7th October
Barbara and Gary Walls who had invited me to Maryland took time out of working as Fire Department Medics to spend a day with them a Lewes Town, the first town of the first state of Delaware.
A beautiful place, with manicured gardens and lovely, albeit expensive, shops for their tourist trade.  There was a township of old houses which had been moved into one area for people to follow the history of the type of buildings.  There we visited a museum built in honour of the Dutch who had helped them set up the town. There was a beautiful harbour with some superb yachts anchored. It was yet another hot sunny day but the breeze was still there making it perfect.  Fiddler crabs were running around the mud flats as oysters kept spurting jets of water. Another perfect day.
On our return to Don and Dot’s I had to finish packing as I now started my journey to Texas!  My flight from Baltimore was around 10:00 am but there is a busy toll bridge en route which can add an hour onto a journey so the decision was made for Don and Dot to drive me the two hours to the airport.  I couldn't have asked for anything better, they made sure I was safely in the hotel before we said a fond farewell.
Wednesday 8th October
I had to catch a shuttle to the airport at 7:50am and went to bed early since I had no one to talk to but I caught up with emails and a bit on Facebook. Of course I woke very early at 4:00am not wanting to sleep over but I had set two alarms and booked an early morning call. But by 6:00 am I decided to get up, shower and pack once again before going to breakfast. Once finished I asked about the shuttles and one was due to leave in 10 mins so I thought I'd catch that and spend a bit longer in the safety of the airport. I checked in my luggage, found the gate and off I flew back to Atlanta. The flight was almost two hours but this soon passed as I could watch the world we flew over, so green and clear with one or two swimming pools lighting up the ground in turquoise blue.  The land below looked like an immense model village with each house have plenty of space. We landed in Atlantis on time which meant I had a three hour wait for the next plane but with seven terminals to negotiate including the plane train, time soon passed and the flight to Houston Hobby was boarding.
I had received an email to say Emily the lady who had invited me over would have to work but she would send "a couple of the gals" to meet and great me!  Luckily I knew one of them, Bridgette, I had met at Crufts 2014 so at least it would be a familiar face to look out for at arrivals! Upon my arrival in Houston, I made my way to baggage collection and found Bridgette and her friend Marilyn sitting in a waiting area. I collected the luggage and we made our way to find their car.  However they had lost where they parked it, so I suggested they press the remote and yes the car was not too far away from where they thought!  We had an interesting journey to MexTex where I would meet Emily. They really do not trust their sat navs in Texas and seem to be arguing with it incessantly however we made our way to the restaurant where I had a truly Mexican meal. It was wonderful.
We made friends and met Emily and soon it was time to go to my hotel and sleep.  What a wonderful hotel they had booked me into.  I had a suite with sofa, full kitchen and plenty of room for a party!
Thursday 9th October
My first sightseeing trip in Texas and I was taken directly to NASA Space Centre. Having seen a lot of this "history" on TV it was an amazing place to visit.
 We actually sat in Mission Control, a quiet area behind the workers where the dignitaries and family of spacemen would spend anxious hours.  We saw the Shuttle, the Apollo and I learnt quite a lot about space travel. 
The computers in Mission Control were huge, there were just four of these main frame computers and between them they held the capacity to hold an equivalent of just ten digital photos!   Times have changed.
In the afternoon we visited Kemah Bay, a delightful old feeling town on the coast. At 84 degrees this was the warmest weather I had been in for a long while!
Friday 10th October
Emily collected me from the hotel for a long walk in Brazos Bend State Park. We took her three dogs, Sunny, Henrietta and Olivia.  I learnt the Olivia had gone blind just over a year ago but she was dealing with it quite well.  We spent quite some time chatting and looking for wildlife and we were not disappointed as we spotted several alligators, one on the dry land, snakes and beautiful birds.

It was lovely to see so many different aspects on this visit.

Saturday 11th October
Emily collected me from the hotel and off we went on the 45 minute journey to the training venue.  Wow, this was good. Rubber matting floor and air conditioned with the biggest ceiling fan I had ever seen.
The handlers arrived in good time to meet and greet and the day began.  What a good bunch they all were with another great mix of breeds: Vizlas, boxers, BC's, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, dachshund, cross breeds – a wonderful mix and good to work with.  We covered all aspects of HTM and Freestyle and I found out they do not split classes for HTM or Freestyle. But they were really interested to create better routines and learn as much as I could pass to them.
After the training we all went to Emily's house where her mum and sister had prepared dinner.  What a beautiful evening, still showing 82 on the thermometers!  They were so pleased I was there they brought out a tray of Red Martinis and the Union Flag to raise a toast to their new British Friend.
Sunday 12th October
The last day of training and we managed to cover everything they had requested including use of props, new moves and safe ways to teach.
Monday 13th October.
This was to be my final day in Houston, however, storms were forecast and Emily decided that she should get me to the airport early as the roads in the surrounding areas were subject to flooding during such storms.  I arrived early but the storms soon followed and visibility dropped to 10 feet!  No planes were arriving and no planes were taking off.  All the gates showed delayed flights and the only thing I could do was to join the queue at Delta Airlines to find out what I could do to get home.   The only option was to fly to Atlanta and then be on standby for a plane leaving later that day to Amsterdam and then transfer to another flight bound for Manchester.  I decided to decline that offer and the Delta staff booked me on the similar flights to the ones delayed but scheduled for Tuesday.  I had no option but to smile and say thank you.  They then showed me the details of my flight and they had upgraded me to Business Class!!  Every cloud …………………………  A quick email to Emily and she returned to collect me from the airport for a night at her house!   I was blessed to have met such lovely people!
Tuesday 14th October
Was this to be my final day in Texas?  The storm had moved North and was now attacking Atlanta where I had to fly for my Manchester flight! 
Whilst waiting at the airport I was entertained by the Security staff who were training their sniffer dogs.
But the plane arrived with only a minor delay however once boarded we were then grounded for 2 hours until the storms left Atlanta – then it was up in the air and I was on my way home.
I arrived at Atlanta with just one hour to board – but luckily this was my third visit to this airport in 12 days and I knew my way around the seven terminals!  I was soon boarding Business Class!!   Champagne?  Oh yes please!!!  A five course dinner on china with metal cutlery!!! 
And soon after that time to recline my seat into the flat bed with pillow and blanket!   I was soon asleep and ready for breakfast the next morning! 
Home sweet home!!  24 hours later than planned but I wouldn’t have missed this trip for anything.

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