Monday, April 30, 2007

Cowboy Composer

Greg just received a letter from the that he's been accepted into their artists' residency program for two weeks in November. Needless to say, his feet haven't spent much time on the ground since then.

Ucross is located in Clearmont, Wyoming, on the 22,000-acre site of a former cattle company. Greg, as the one composer in residence, gets his own cabin, Jesse's Hideout. How many log cabins come equipped with wi-fi and a grand piano? He even found a YouTube video made by a previous composer-in-residence that shows the front of the cabin and the interior.

(FYI, literary fans: Annie Proulx wrote The Shipping News while in residency at Ucross, and the surroundings inspired her so much that she established Wyoming as her permanent base thereafter. Bad Dirt, Brokeback Mountain, and Postcards were inspired by the area.)

This trip is intended as an opportunity for Greg to do nothing else except think and create -- they even bring him his lunch every day -- so no, I won't be going along. I'll be pretty much cleaned out of vacation time by then, since I'll have spent a week apiece at both Beardie Specialties again this year, plus assorted long weekends surrounding dog shows.

Greg should have plenty of time to finish up the Brass Quintet (if it isn't done by then) and maybe get back into Ongiara while he's there. Since he tends to draw inspiration from the surroundings whenever he travels, I wouldn't be surprised if he also brought home the seeds of a new composition as well.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Crank Yankers

Mother Nature has been toying with us again. Happy Spring, everyone!

That little spring surprise turned out to be approximately 18" of heavy, wet snow that broke tree limbs, brought down power lines, and took out the local power station. Look at how little Dinah looks in comparison to the snow on our back deck:

Shortly after I posted my last blog entry, our power spluttered out and remained out for about two and a half days. I can take the dark all right, but a couple of days without heat and hot water (read: no hot coffee, no showers, and no wi-fi) are really more than I can stand. Every night was a three dog night, and so were the days. I insisted that Seamus lie down on my lap as much as possible. If I could have carried him around like a hairy, 60-pound hot water bottle, I would have.

My snowbird neighbors ended up having to move back into their camper for the duration. At least the camper had a generator, so they had lights, heat, and hot water. When I met up with the husband at the mailbox, he declared, "Next year we're coming back on May 1."

For fun (and to warm up), Greg and I ventured out to Wally World to buy a pair of hand-cranked lanterns. These puppies were the ultimate in retro-power; they even came with adapters to charge our cell phones. We cranked, and cranked, and lit up the house. We might have been frickin' freezing, but we sure had light. Too bad my fingers were too cold to do much knitting.

Easter Sunday is arguably Greg's busiest day of the church-organist year. He was so dismayed at the prospect of having to play the Easter services without having showered for a few days that he started wondering out loud who might have hot water, and who might let him shower. He nearly followed Dinah and me to Springfield for the , only for the pleasure of taking a hot shower in a heated room at the Red Roof Inn.

Bigger Than Slim Whitman!

Maybe it's because they live in a musical household, but all three of our dogs have theme songs, and they recognize them when we sing to them. (And you thought I only sang to Seamus during rally trials!)

Charlie's theme song is (no surprise here) "Charles in Charge." When Greg sings it to him, Charlie smiles and wags his tail. There's a dog who knows he's alpha.

Seamus has had a couple of theme songs in his time. For a while there, his song was "You Are My Bunny, Your Feet Are Funny" (to the tune of "We're in the Money"). At times he has also enjoyed an original tune, "Seamus, You're Gonna Be Famous." He's famous now, for sure.

Dinah currently has so many silly songs composed and sung in her honor that one of my friends has threatened to record an album of greatest hits. We've been through such immortal melodies as "Dinah Moe, Dinah Moe, going to the Beardie show" already. Right now, Dinah enjoys the first (and probably only) hip-hop "song" in the pack. With few apologies to the Pussycat Dolls, I've been singing "Don't-cha wish your pup-pies were as pret-ty as meeeeeee?"

Don't look for these to be sold on late night television any time soon.

The Busy Man

Greg has so much going on right now that I'm hard-pressed to be able to report it all without confusing or forgetting things. He's in the process of doing all of the following:

  • Finishing up the Brass Quintet (working title: Theme and Variations from "Ongiara"). If he gets it done with enough time to spare, the folks who will be premiering it will do so at Carnegie Recital Hall.
  • Getting parts together for a performance of Water by the Holyoke Symphony.
  • Coordinating the details of the recording session for the Sax Quartets CD.
  • Talking to the violinist who will be playing Clayton Runaround at the this June.
  • Putting the very final touches on Louis, Louis.

Stuff on the Needles

posted a picture showing both pairs of mittens that I knitted for her. I'm glad she had the presence of mind to do that, since I completely forgot to take pictures before boxing them up and shipping them off.

What a great coincidence that they should arrive on her birthday! (I stink at remembering birthdays. I thought hers was in April sometime, but the Post Office had my back!) At the time I sent them, I thought that mittens made a lame birthday present for someone born in the spring. Little did I realize that she'll be able to put them to good use this year!! (Stay in the South a little while longer, Sue! We have sun, but no warmth!)

My sister asked me to create something really, really girly-looking for her pink Motorola RAZR. (If you knew my sister, you'd understand how funny this request really is.) She's working at becoming a practicing vegan, but she asked for something that looked convincingly like angora. It turned out that I had just the stuff in my stash -- a leftover from a scarf I once made for a former co-worker -- and I whipped up a little rectangular pouch. With a suitably girly button for decoration and some snaps or Velcro to hold the thing closed, this thing ought to store her phone in hilariously sweet style.

Continuing education news: I've just signed up for a knitting class with Lucy Neatby in Fryeburg in mid-June. I'd been hoping that it would be a sock class, but this session covers multiple types of buttonholes in the morning, and flourishes in the afternoon. The class coordinator mailed me a copy of my homework assignment a few days ago. I need to create a small bunch of knitted samples to work on in class. Too bad Pam can't come out for her vacation until a couple of weeks later. (We plan to drive up toward Nova Scotia to see Lucy there, if she's back home by then.)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Foolish April

Just as the swallows return to Capistrano every year, so do the snowbirds return to Maine every spring. Bless their recently-retired hearts, my snowbird across-the-street neighbors, their Labrador, and their leviathan-class camper returned to the neighborhood yesterday. We didn't have the nicest weather available to greet them, but the husband reported that they were glad to be home again anyway. Kodiak, the Lab, must have thought he would never see Maine again. When he clambered out of the camper into his front yard, he was so happy to see the old homestead that he ran around the yard howling for joy.

I can only imagine what went through our snowbirds' heads this morning when they awoke to their first morning back at home to see this...

...but I won't publish a transcript of what they must have said. This is a family blog, after all.

The Public Has Spoken

I don't know why it's so hard for me to realize that other people actually do read my blog, and that they even check for updates. People actually have called me to ask me if I'm okay because I haven't pubished in a while, and and have been sending emails, wondering what's been up.

The answer: A helluva lot. It's been Deadline Time here at the Baa & Grille, which means I've been spending so much time creating my famed immortal prose for work that the last thing I've wanted to do after work is -- you guessed it -- more writing. I'm happy to announce that after a year's worth of development, my project finally shipped yesterday. I'm taking tomorrow and Friday off to celebrate, and then it'll be time to get started on the next one.

I promise to be more chatty online now that things are a tad quieter at work. I also promise to do something about my desk! At the moment, it looks like the returns counter at Best Buy crossed with an explosion at an office-supply outlet. I have a hard disk here, a wireless print server there, another one over there... all waiting to be installed, and waiting for the piles of papers and documents atop their boxes to find other, more organized homes.

Talk about a busman's holiday -- or at least a geek's holiday: The other thing I've been trying to do in my laughable spare time is to teach myself some more about Web design and its underpinnings. I can drop photos into iWeb with the best of 'em, but my knowledge of the latest tweaks and technologies is dropping far, far behind. It's time to bring myself back from the Stone Age.

Samurai Obedience Handler

Perhaps I'm dating myself when I ask whether you remember John Belushi's old "Samurai" skits from the days when Saturday Night Live was still funny. Of course you do -- pretty much everyone who reads my blog is a baby boomer, and everyone else has DVD players and YouTube. Anyway, whenever something would go wrong and the customer would complain, John Belushi would pull out his trusty wakizashi and commit seppuku on the spot. (Don't get me started about what I think outsourced customer support ought to do!)

Anyway, I'm thinking maybe a wakizashi would make a fine addition to the equipment I take to obedience trials. After Seamus's and my last appearance at the Charles River trial, committing seppuku seemed like the only honorable way out.

The gods have punished me for my hubris. There I was, looking over the trial at the easiest rally course I've ever seen, and thinking we were going to take home all the ribbons in the rainbow. I agonized with my fellow competitors when their dogs didn't respond right away to commands, or if they started to wander, and I was sure that Seamus and I would execute our performance with a precision seen only at military drills or at performances of the Rockettes. (You pick.) When my friend Alison and her Beardie scored "only" an 87, I commiserated, hoping she wouldn't feel too bad when Seamus and I flew through the course with a near-flawless performance. I could have aced that course with my cat. I should have entered with my cat.

Fatal mistake: I forgot to consult Seamus about this. Now, we've been taking rally classes every single Sunday since last May when we completed our RN, hoping to complete our Advanced title this spring before it came time to hit the conformation road with Dinah again. We worked out our bugs at the start line. We practiced our off-lead work again and again and again. I struggled to refine my handwork, my footwork, my posture, my eye contact... everything. We were (I thought) ready.

Honestogod, I never saw it coming. When it came our turn, we lined up at the start. I removed Seamus's lead and handed it to the steward. He held his sit at my heel. His eyes never left mine. The judge, who appeared to be a nice, friendly person as well as the designer of nice, friendly courses, asked, "Are you ready?" I indicated that we indeed were.


Seamus took off as though shot from a circus cannon. He raced around the course, sniffing in all the corners, snarfing the food out of the bowls on the offset Figure 8, jumping on the judge, and dancing around to show all the spectators what fun rally was. He seemed to have completely forgotten all he knew about rally *obedience* -- heck, he completely forgot who I was! I must have gone to fetch him back to heel 20 times for 14 stations, and each time he'd follow me to a station and then take off again.

There are two things you're never supposed to do in the AKC rally ring -- well, three, actually. You get the big "thank you" if you touch your dog, raise your voice, or utter the f*** word even when you need to the most. Since I started my performance "career" in herding, I come from the school of thought that maintains that as long as the clock is still ticking, there's still hope of salvaging a performance on the brink of going wrong. Here's where I should have taken out the wakizashi instead and ended my misery, or at least taken Seamus by the collar and thanked the judge... but noooooo. I actually tried to salvage that performance. I sang to Seamus, and my voice reached a few operatic highs that couldn't quite be construed as raising my voice to my dog... but it sure did wonders for my budding opera career. Stubbornly, I continued around the course, trying to fetch him back to me to perform even one or two of the stations. (We did very well on the jump and the serpentine.) I muttered to myself that someday I would see this as funny. I was careful not to mutter the F word.

Maybe the judge should have given me the hook long before the finish, but she could see that I was trying, anyway. Seamus was very trying.

Finally, we reached the end, where Seamus sat proudly at the exit gate to sympathetic applause. I praised him for at least stopping correctly, gave him a pat and a treat, and then made a hasty departure. Simply disappearing into the air wouldn't have been quick enough for me at that point.

As I carried my camp chair and crate to the car, a friendly-looking woman with a Golden Retriever asked me, "Are you the owner of the Famous Seamus?" I made a motion as though slashing my wrists.

Bless her heart, she went on: "I just want you to know that we've all been there. My first attempt at off-leash handling went pretty much the same way. It will get better."

Then she went on: "But no one will ever forget Famous Seamus. I sure won't."

Neither will I. I've pulled our entries from the two other trials we would have entered this spring, and we're going back to class to do three things to improve our performance: train, train, train.