• Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
    Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
    by David Allen
  • Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction
    Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction
    by Robert F. Mager
  • The Perfect Puppy: How to Choose Your Dog by Its Behavior
    The Perfect Puppy: How to Choose Your Dog by Its Behavior
    by Benjamin L. Hart, Lynette A. Hart

    This book includes super helpful graphs describing 56 common dog breeds in terms of 13 traits, including playfulness.

  • Mother Knows Best: The Natural Way to Train Your Dog
    Mother Knows Best: The Natural Way to Train Your Dog
    by Carol Lea Benjamin

    My favorite book on dog training.

Thoughts on instructional design, my dog, and life


Adopting an Orchid

Have you ever received an orchid as a gift, only to feel deficient because it immediately drops its beautiful blooms or dies altogether? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a mini how-to guide, written specifically for gift recipients?

Country Girl Orchid

I have in mind something along the lines of:

How to receive a live orchid into your home:

  1. Set your expectations.

    Even the healthiest orchid will react to the change in environment with yellow and dropped leaves. It's also normal for the orchid to not bloom again for a year or more. (Did you know that your orchid was probably grown in a hot house and hydroponics? Your home is most likely quite a bit dryer, to say nothing of differences in light and temperature.)

    And, of course, orchids enjoy the reputation of being temperamental and very difficult to keep. It's perfectly fine to simply enjoy your gift while it lives and compost it without regret.

    Dropped Flowers

  2. Follow the instructions on the tag.

    The nicer quality plants come with generous tags, like this one for a Country Girl (Nobile Dendrobium).
    Orchid Tag Front Orchid Tag Back

    So, start with placing your new plant in the temperature and sun exposure the tag suggests.

    Give your plant water and food per the tag. A helpful lady at our local San Lorenzo garden center lifted my plant from its pot and showed me how the roots look. Like verdant udon noodles. "That's how you know your plant has enough water."

    If you didn’t get a sufficiently helpful tag, you’ll have to do some research (see step 4).

  3. Watch for new shoots.

    If your orchid is happy in its new location, it will put up new shoots. Try googling “new shoots <orchid type> orchid images” to see what new shoots look like for your orchid.

    New blooms come from new shoots. Older stalks will bloom too, but on a longer cycle. It’s common for orchids to not bloom again on the same stalk. It could be a year or more before your orchid blooms again. In the meantime, relax, observe, and be curious.

    If your orchid isn’t putting up new shoots, it probably needs more water, and maybe food. Also, you can try switching to distilled water which is more like how orchids get their moisture in nature: from rain on their exposed roots.

    Phalaenopsis, Philippinensis National Orchid Garden, Singapore

  4. Enjoy the learning process.

    I was lucky enough to unearth in my own library a classic Sunset book, Orchids. (I’ve always loved Sunset books, not least because Jean and Bill Lane endowed the wonderful Lane Lecture Series at Stanford.)

    Sunset Orchids Book Cover
    I was also delighted to find repotme.com, a colorful site with all sorts of interesting topics to explore, including an eye-opening array of root-exposing pots, for when your orchid is ready for a new (or more suitable) pot.

A big thank you to Hank Charlton for his orchid gift and expertise.


Training Cientos for Conformation

Not long after I started training Cientos in obedience, I asked my breeder if I could show him in conformation. He was so gorgeous when he ran I thought he deserved a Ch. before his name, as well as a UD after it.

Cientos winning his Championship

 Being a training person, though, I wanted to “train” Cientos for the conformation ring, despite the conventional wisdom that training a dog in any way, and especially for obedience, ruined him for the conformation ring. “Obedience dogs don’t do well in the show ring, they sit when you stop!” went the complaint.

If you’re familiar with obedience competition, you know your dog stays on your left, and, among other things, sits automatically when you stop moving. And the best obedience dogs keep their eyes on you, the handler. In the conformation ring, the dog is sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right, never sits, and looks ahead.

No problem, I thought, I’ll just develop a separate set of commands. Instead of HEEL, I used STRUT in the conformation ring. I used STAND for both rings, because I liked the idea of Cientos standing like he owned the ring in either ring.

I also used commands when grooming him, rather than doing the work myself of shifting him from one side to the other, or getting him on and off the grooming table.

Cientos got his championship, and though nobody admitted they could be wrong about mixing obedience and conformation, the handlers and groomers commented on how wonderful Cientos was to work with, easy and responsive.

Don’t be afraid to buck the system, but buck thoughtfully.


Endless Rewriting

You may have noticed I haven’t published a new post in a while. What happened?

I was writing a blog post on how to adopt an orchid plant. I researched, rewrote, researched, rewrote. Weeks, then months, went by without publishing anything. Recriminations abounded. Blog posts are supposed to be more frequent and less time consuming.

I was stuck.

Here it is over two years later and I’ve picked up my blogging notebook. Reading over the last draft of the orchid article, I’m struck by how much work I put into it, and how much better it is than how my memory branded it.

What have I learned from this experience?

  1. Pay attention to that small quiet voice that tells you you’re stuck.
  2. When you’re stuck, force yourself to set the piece aside.
    That other voice, the one that urges you to check just one more thing, isn’t a friend. You can’t climb out of the hole. Instead, transport yourself to another place for a while. When you come back, the hole is much shallower, maybe even astonishingly so.

Tasks for Dobby the House-Elf

What would you do if you had a house-elf (as in from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels)?

I recently fantasized about what I would have Dobby do, if he served my family:


  • Clean the kitchen after each meal
  • Help with Spring and Fall cleanings
  • Stay on top the Year-Round Maintenance Chart of home maintenance tasks
  • Package the Christmas gifts and get them shipped so they arrive by Christmas day
  • Get us great seats at the ballet (I guess he’d have to have access to our gold for that, hmm)
  • Find the best flight or other transportation to Sedona for Thanksgiving, and stay on top of deals that we could take advantage of
  • Pick up library books as they come in and return the ones we’re done with
  • Fill the gas tank and keep the car clean inside and out
  • Take the car to the repair shop and pick it up when it’s ready
  • Do the laundry and, especially, put away the clean clothes, towels, sheets, etc.
  • Change the bedclothes every couple of weeks and keep the linen closet tidy and organized (with the linen folded per the Marie Kondo method)
  • Help me sort and purge file folders, and use his magic to rearrange the heavy furniture in my office
  • Magically organize all my folders and distribute them evenly among my filing cabinets (per David Allen’s recommendation)
  • Magically sense the folders I haven’t touched in over a year so I can purge them
  • Magically transport archive stuff neatly to the attic
  • Flush and clean my fountain pens when they run out of ink
  • Keep the Dremel (for the dogs’s toenails) in good working order
  • Keep the cobwebs away in the garage and at the front entrance
  • Replace blown light bulbs as soon as they go out
  • Keep the gutters clean
  • Organize the arborist to come every year and take care of our trees
  • Keep our shoes clean, in good repair, and polished
  • Package and sell eBay stuff that no longer serves me


Plenty of work to keep Dobby happy!

What would you have a house-elf do? Would you have a Winky, a Dobby, a Kreacher?


Getting Unstuck

Mager's The Performance SystemWhen I look at the tasks I brainstormed while writing about enticing teenagers, I feel stuck. That’s when I reach for the instructional design job aids I keep in my planner: Mager’s The Performance System, and Practical Management’s Design Sequence. Design Sequence job aid

Now, I can start to extract order from chaos. My list goes from this:

  • How do you make a class on managing your money exciting to a teenager?
  • Change the course name
  • Consider a window shopping field trip
  • Make sure students have money and some sort of bank account
  • Break down main learning objectives/draw skills hierarchy
  • Fill out a final student performance worksheet

To this:

Brainstormed List Organized List
How do you make a class on managing your money exciting to such a teenager? Determine/test relevance
i.e., analysis: target population
Change the course name Experiment/test course name
i.e., design/development: try out/revise
Consider a window shopping field trip Get as close to real life tasks as possible
i.e., analysis: task
Make sure students have money and some sort of bank account Determine prerequisites
i.e., design/development: describe learning environment
Break down main learning objectives/draw skills hierarchy Determine learning objectives
i.e., design/development: derive instructional outcomes

Draft skills hierarchy
i.e., analysis: task

Fill out a final student performance worksheet Complete Final Student Performance worksheet
i.e., analysis: performance, content

From this, I can tell that my next actions should be:

  1. Do a target population analysis
  2. Do a task analysis
  3. Draft a skills hierarchy
  4. Do performance & content analyses, document on Final Student Performance worksheet
  5. Derive instructional outcomes
  6. Describe the learning environment
  7. Try out/revise the course name

(That is, analysis tasks, then design tasks, then development tasks, etc.)

Of course, I’ve found that committing to more than about three tasks doesn’t make sense because so many things change in the course of time and/or completing the earlier tasks, but at least having gone through this process, I feel confident I’m working on the best three tasks.