Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tails of Adventure

Geez, I didn't mean to let this much time go by between blog postings. I can write them and post from anywhere, but I haven't had sufficient mental quiet and enough time in one spot to do much writing since the last time. I'll try and make it up to you here.

The Glory That Was Grease

Greg and I visit the at this time every year to get our fair share of saturated fats and to check out the antique tractor pull, the livestock, and the craft and produce exhibits. Compared to the Nebraska State Fair, the Acton Fair is microscopic -- but it's always fun for an afternoon. I love agricultural fairs -- I love the livestock, the jam jars, and the smell of wood smoke from the wood-burning stoves on sale.

The Man lives for the one time a year he can get fried chicken livers and onions from the Rotary Club grill at the fair. I tend to regard liver as dog show bait, not intended for voluntary human consumption; I can tolerate the smell, but I refuse to eat any. My arteries scream for mercy as I grow torn between the onion blossoms and the funnel cakes. At least the fresh-squeezed lemonade and the Hawaiian shaved ice make up for these dietary indiscretions by not throwing too many more calories after the first lot.

has been known to exhibit her quilts and other handcrafted works at the Fair from time to time, though I didn't see anything with her name on it there this year. There were some lovely quilts this year, though fewer knitted items and not a lot of fine crochet. Maybe people just had less time this past year.

The Return of Rally-roo

Seamus and I haven't done a rally course together since June sometime. Our instructor's husband had a hip replacement this season and one of her Labs had a litter of puppies, so classes were suspended for a while. Between that and the fact that I've spent nearly every weekend at some dog show or other with Dinah, I haven't spent much time keeping our rally skills polished.

Since I'd already decided to eat the entries for this weekend's dog shows due to a lack of class bitches entered, Seamus and I were able to show up for class this morning. It was like Old Home Week -- all of the usual suspects were there with their dogs, and Judy was ecstatic to see us. It was hot in the sun and there were people practicing target shooting at the rod and gun club down the street, but Seamus and I managed to get through the course twice without looking too rusty. Seamus did decide to lie down and roll over in the middle of one exercise, but rally wouldn't be rally-roo without some antics from Seamus. People have come to count on him adding some comedy to the proceedings.

I've entered us in an APDT trial at the end of October at . There's nothing lie an upcoming trial to give us a little focus. We need 7 more Level 1 legs to get Seamus's Level 1 championship (RL1X), and we might even try Level 2 for the first time. Heaven help us.

The Royal Treatment

Greg and I eat at fairly often. The seafood's fresh and very reasonably priced, plus I'm a major-league sucker for their highly addictive onion rings. I'm on their email list, and I hardly remember entering the sweepstakes to win a clambake for 4 people... but I won! I received an email from their corporate office announcing that fact. When I called to give them the mailing information for the certificate, one of the executives offered to meet us at the Sanford office at dinnertime to award me the certificate in person and to take my picture for the Web site.

Would you believe it -- when Greg and I pulled up there, the huge sign in the front was emblazoned with "WELCOME, WINNER CLAMBAKE FOR 4" and my name all over the place. Or something like that. I was just amazed that they'd made such a big deal of it.

We entered the restaurant, and I mentioned to the hostess that Jeremy (the executive) was waiting to meet us. Her face lit up and she said, "He's in the kitchen, and he's waiting for you." Jeremy emerged a minute later and cheerily escorted us to our table. He brought the certificate to our table, and he, the hostess, and our waitress made sure that we had a great dinner and everything we needed.

When it came time to pay, our waitress departed the table with the check and my MasterCard, and returned a moment later saying, "Jeremy picked up the check. You don't owe anything." This was above and beyond -- we'd just been treated to two dinners instead of just one. The manager snapped pictures of Jeremy and me at two of the signs -- including the big one with my name all over it. I wish I'd worn something nicer, but it was 93 degrees out, and I wasn't feeling terribly fashionable.

Anyway, Greg and I decided to use the gift certificate when his cousin from BC and his wife come out to visit in the fall. We can show them a good time and some good seafood then.

Juggling Music News

Greg has been working on three different pieces simultaneously. I don't know how he does it. Most of the time, he focuses on one at a time and develops it until it's either finished or until another piece takes higher priority. These days, he's been juggling not only compositions, but music reviews. He's been writing those by the bucketload, both for CDs and for sheet music.

One of his curently-forming compositions is an art song for voice (soprano or tenor) and piano called The Waking. I've mentioned this one before -- it's based on a poem of the same name by Theodore Roethke. Greg did a semi-draft version of the song one semester while he was at BU, as part of a class assignment from Lukas Foss. He has decided to flesh the song out more fully, so it's back in the compositional queue.

He was also inspired to start another piano piece called Les Sept Merveilles (The Seven Wonders). He had been watching a special on TV about the Seven Wonders of the World -- this happened while I was in BC and my clothes were in London -- and he decided to start a piano suite using the idea. It's going to be a big, big piece, and he'll be at it a while. He's also eager to explore some compositional ideas that mark his return to the French models (Ravel and Debussy). He's been immersed in Beethoven (and before him, Bach) for a while, but he finds that it's time for a change.

He's also still banging on the Brass Quintet some. He's asked a couple of brass players he knows from Curtis to look over the piece, since Pine Tree Brass won't be able to play it. He wants to make sure that it actually is playable by sufficiently experienced brass players before he dismantles it for parts. One horn player replied that he thought it was very difficult, but certainly playable. The other one is still thinking on it.

Sheep Thrills

Dinah Moe and I have been practicing herding, as much as we can in the heat. Since she's still wearing a full show coat, she doesn't feel like doing much when the sun is pounding down. I'm hoping for cooler weather when we go to our very first herding trial on Labor Day weekend. Otherwise, she's liable to just seek the shade and let me herd the damn sheep myself. I only hope we don't stink out there. We really aren't prepared for this.

All This and Knitting Too

It's been too hot to read yarn catalogs, let alone pick up the actual physical stuff and knit. I have been making progress in baby steps on two different socks, though. I've reached the gusset decrease on the second of Joyce's Tofutsies socks. I still don't understand how two socks from the same ball can look so drastically different, but I'll try to pass it off as a by-product of that old handmade charm. At least the colors haven't pooled - they just present two completely different patterns under the exact same conditions.

For "idiot knitting," I've also cast on the cuff for the second Sockotta sock, from a pair I started ages ago. I love this yarn, even if cotton isn't as forgiving to knit as wool. At least it gives you predictable results, anyway -- the second sock in this pair is going to look just like the first sock. Quiz time: guess which brand of yarn I'll buy again...

Bogus Journey, Eh?

A couple of weeks ago, I took a week of vacation time and headed off to the out in Victoria, BC. I'd been promising my friend Ann that I'd come to see her new house on Vancouver Island anyway, so the Specialty seemed like just the right time to pay a visit. In addition, this was the show where Dinah won Best Puppy in Show last year, so I felt the need to come back and support this year's entries. (I supported them in a monetary sense, too -- I underwrote the cost of the trophies for Best Puppy and Senior Puppy Bitch.)

Greg likes to play word games, and will do so at any opportunity. He adores puns, spoonerisms, twisting letters around, and any other play on words (or parts thereof). That's probably what makes him such a crack Scrabble player, but some days it's also like friggin' Final Jeopardy just trying to decipher what he's saying when he's being clever. Anyway, it came as no surprise when he referred to the airline I'd be taking to Vancouver as "Untied Airlines." Maybe he's not so much a punster as a prophet.

Even though I showed up an hour and a half before my flight, the automated check-in kiosk at Manchester Airport informed me that I was too late to check in my bag, and that I would have to do so at the gate. After the usual security checks and other stuff, I arrived at the gate and offered my bag to be checked. The gate agent was none too pleased, but she understood the situation and tagged my bag for me. Perhaps she was the one who scribbled in the secret airline code meaning "Lose this one." I'll never know for sure.

Due to the usual bad weather in Chicago, our plane sat on the runway for 45 minutes or an hour after its scheduled takeoff time -- just long enough so that most of the people on my flight missed their connections, and I just barely made mine. The plane from Chicago to Vancouver was stuffed full of humanity, just as most flights are these days. I got to share the back end of the cabin with about a million crying babies, including a pair of twins right behind me who kept kicking my seat back, and who smelled pretty friggin' ripe after 4 hours in the air between diaper changes. I listened to my iPod, tried to hold my breath, and made significant progress on the second of Joyce's Tofutsies socks.

When I arrived at Vancouver, I discovered that my bag had been lost (big surprise there), and that I would have to fly my final leg on the seaplane to the island without it. This wasn't the first, or the fifth, or the 25th time that my luggage has been lost, so I filled out the usual forms, left the usual instructions, and proceeded to the seaplane terminal. In times past, my bag has usually caught up with me that same night or the next day. I wasn't terribly worried.

The seaplane was an E-ticket ride if there ever was one -- smooth, beautiful, and the Absolute Best Way Ever to see the area between Vancouver City and Vancouver Island. If I'd packed my camera, it would have been lost anyway -- but I still regret not being able to get any decent pictures from the air. The tiny camera on my cell phone just wouldn't have done the view justice.

Ann and Ray met me at the seaplane terminal on the island -- and they brought Penny, the world's silliest Old English Sheepdog, to greet me. Penny and I have had a long-standing mutual admiration society going. Even though we hadn't seen each other for a couple of years, Penny was still so excited to see me that she whimpered as she slimed me all over. That dog has always given a mean free facial, however slimy.

Vancouver Island is gorgeous, and my gracious hosts took me around to show me the sights, including in Coombs, BC, where they have goats grazing on the sod roof. I searched for some tacky postcards and couldn't find any, sad to say. They had some Wicked Good "Goats on the Roof" T-shirts, and I should have bought one -- but little did I know that my clothing situation was about to turn desperate.

In between jaunts out to see the island, I spent time on the phone to United -- er, Untied -- Airlines, trying to determine the whereabouts of my bag. My cell phone and Blackberry had already started showing the red logos meaning "Charge us now or you'll be sorry." Did I mention that my chargers were in the bag?

Every time I called the airline, I would be put on hold for a minimum of 20 minutes, waiting for some support rep in India to pick up the phone. (I have come to the conclusion that companies who outsource their customer support in India basically don't want their customers to bother them -- or they don't want customers at all, for that matter.) In typical fashion, the people I did speak to were unfailingly polite and unfailingly unable to help. In the meantime, my bag hadn't shown up for 3 days, and we weren't going to be home to sign for the bag if it were to arrive. We were headed to the dog show, and I had nothing but some very old and smelly clothes on my back.

Ann took me to the local Wal-Mart to buy enough shirts, socks, underwear, and toiletries to get by. I was also able to find chargers for my phone and Blackberry, so I was at least able to shed my stinky traveling clothes and get back in touch with the outside world. I have never in my life bought clothes at Wal-Mart -- for which I should sue the airline for pain and suffering -- but I'm glad they were there when I needed them. I found some that weren't too horrible, plus an emergency backup pair of black jeans (since my nice trousers were on tour, and we had a banquet to attend).

We attended a bag-stuffing party on the island the night before we left for the show. Ray and another generous Beardie person had put up the funds for the show's souvenir gift bags, and we would all be recruited to come to the show chair's house, enjoy a fabulous buffet, and help to fill the bags with all of the goodies collected from various sources and donors. We drank, we ate, we shared laughs with the Australian visitors, and had a great time smooching all the Beardies. Some hosts have the ability to treat an entire household of guests like one large extended family. Our hosts that night certainly did -- I feel as though we were all kinfolks by evening's end.

I called the airline yet again, sat drumming my fingers on hold for the obligatory 20 minutes, and was relieved beyond measure when a woman with an identifiably Southern accent finally picked up the phone. At last -- I'd found a support rep who was not only polite, but who understood my situation. I explained to her that we were leaving town, so no one would be home to sign for my bag. "First, let me find out where your bag actually is," she told me. This, after three days where no one knew where it was. She punched a few keys on a computer keyboard. "Apparently your bag is in London." She paused for a minute, expecting me to start shouting and spouting obscenities.

I really thought I was going to start shouting too, but I opened my mouth to reply -- and started to laugh instead. It was all I could do. I didn't have an obscenity left in me.

Finally, when I could stop hooting and the nice Southern lady realized I wasn't capable of killing her, I gasped, "My bag got a better vacation than I did!". She joined in the giggles, and then arranged with me to just have my bag sent back to Manchester. I could pick it up on my way home. (I had to take it on faith that the bag would not then be routed to Manchester, England. At least I could have had someone there retrieve it for me.)

A load of laundry and a borrowed duffel bag later, and we (and Molly and Summer, Ann and Ray's two Beardie girls) were off to Victoria for the dog show. Although I'd left my camera at home because I worried that my (lost) bag would already exceed the seaplane's 25-poun weight limit, I did try to snap some pictures with my cell phone. Here's a shot of the harbor where we waited for the ferry.

Pretty, isn't it? What you can't see is that there are not one -- not two -- but three bald eagles in that picture. Two are in the trees, and one is perched on a tree stump down near the water. (Ray couldn't capture them with his ultra-mega-zoom lens at this distance, either.)

We had a great time at the show. Ann and Summer received High in Trial in obedience and also qualified in CKC rally. Little Bess Burfitt (Breaksea Another Song), Dinah and Buffy's half-sister, was at the show with all of her co-owners -- plus Travis, another relative whose dad was Breaksea Gone West (Dylan). Bess is a carbon copy of Dinah and Buffy, and I was compelled to smooch her the entire weekend. She took first in her class at the specialty. There were all-breed shows going on at the fairgrounds at the same time, but I don't know how she fared in those. She might have taken at least one first place there as well. She didn't get to Winners Bitch, though. Bess is right at the stage where Dinah was this spring: obviously adolescent, and not likely to attract notice from judges looking for more mature specimens. I reassured her mom that Dinah had gone through the exact same thing, and Dinah was now starting to win shows again. Travis took Winners Dog at the Specialty from a very competitive field, and Laura (his mom) was so hapy she stood in the first-place slot, wiping her eyes. Travis also won a few times at the all-breed shows, but I'm not sure whether he advanced far enough to finish his Canadian championship while he was there.

One evening we were invited to dinner at the home of a friend who lives nearby. Diane is the local rescue coordinator for Beardies in that part of the world, and she was the one who got the call when Molly (Ann and Ray's three-legged Beardie rescue) was in need of help. Diane introduced us to Blue, a 12-year-old Beardie boy who had been neglected in his previous home. His people didn't take very good care of him, and they'd let him wander. The poor boy was bony and had some sort of problem with infected nails and feet, but he was sweet as anything and leaned on anyone who would scratch his ears. He looked exactly like my Duncan. I would have taken him home in an instant, only the airline probably would have lost him on me. Ann and Ray said they'd "think about it," but by the next morning, it was obvious that Blue was coming home to their house.

We also had the great pleasure of running into some friends of ours from Washington State and their handsome brown Beardie boy, Beo (short for Beowulf). Dinah met Beo at last year's US Specialty and thought he was mighty handsome. She even gave him the little ear-sniff she reserves for only her very favorite Beardie boys. His people, Pam and Geoff, are two of the nicest folks you'd ever want to meet. I only see them every year or every other year, but it's as though we just saw one another the week before.

Here's Beo (who has a CDX and at least one rally title, by the way):

After the show was over and we said our goodbyes to everyone, Pam and Geoff and Beo caravanned with us back to Ann and Ray's house. (We drove back instead of taking the ferry -- and it was scenic!) This photo is supposed to show the end of the bay where the ferry docks:

So much for the power of a VGA cell phone camera. Trust me, it was gorgeous. You could even see Mount Baker in the distance, and just the teeniest glimpse of the city of Vancouver.

Pam and Geoff own a VW camper van, and they camped out in Ann and Ray's yard for the night before heading out to see the sights of the island. We shared a couple of meals and a few beers at a pub the night before they departed.

The answering machine light was blinking when Ann and Ray and I got back to the house. Ray started listening to the messages. One began with, "This is Air Canada at Nanaimo Airport. We have a bag here...". Apparently my long-lost bag had finally made it to the island after all.

When I called Air Canada, the man in Baggage explained that he'd sent my bag back to Manchester when no one answered, and that the bag would be there waiting for me when I arrived home. I never did hear whether it had a nice time in London. As I packed my borrowed duffel bag for the trip home, I swore to myself that it would fit in the overhead compartment in the cabin. I even mailed some things home to ensure that the bag would remain unstuffed enough to maintain carry-on status.

My flight home on Air Canada was fairly uneventful, though I grew a bit tense in Toronto when it looked as though the long line at Customs might prevent me from making my connecting flight to Manchester in time. As it turned out, all of the other passengers on my flight were in the same line (and the same situation) as I was.

When I arrived in Manchester, the baggage office was (of course) closed. I peered in through the glass and found -- wonder of wonders! -- my long-lost bag standing with a flock of other bags. I returned to the check-in counter and stood in a mob, awaiting a chance to ask a clerk to send someone to open the baggage counter.

A surly woman arrived, displeased at the prospect of having to help people, and stomped off to the baggage counter, with those of us who'd lost bags flocking behind like ducklings. When we got there, another man had opened the counter and was reuniting bags with owners. The woman stomped off again, muttering. He brought my world-traveling bag out to me and mentioned that the airline was fairly good about honoring reimbursement requests. He reminded me to save all my receipts, and I mentioned that I had.

Finally, I dragged both bags out to the car and drove home, pulled into the garage, and yanked out my bags. I swore a solemn oath that this bag would never fly the friendly skies again. I'm not entirely sure I'm willing to give Untied Airlines another go, myself.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Puppy Love

Dinah had a play date with Angus this morning. We went over to Maryann's to herd some sheep, but the highlight of the day for the two pupsters was that they got to romp together. Angus has a major crush on Dinah -- his owner Elizabeth says that his whole demeanor changes when she shows up someplace. She kind of likes him too.

Here's Dinah waiting her turn at the sheep:

Don't these two make a cute pair?

Harry Potter and the Air-Conditioned Chamber

Not a lot has been going on in the household of late. It's been insanely sticky out, and we've been taking refuge in one or the other of our two air-conditioned rooms. Every evening, we've been ordering take-out subs from the general store, and then holing up in front of the AC with my trusty old boom box and the CD audio edition of the seventh Harry Potter book. The dogs curl up around us, gnawing on bones or snoozing. Charlie, as alpha dog, claims the spot right in front of the fan.

It's been a good time for sock production, anyway. I finished Greg's gray Jawoll socks and one of Joyce's Tofutsies socks. It's hard to get excited about a nice pair of woolen socks during the hottest week of the year, but Greg tried his best. He tried them on, proclaimed them a perfect fit, and pulled them off as soon as he could. Come wintertime, he'll be tickled to bits to have those puppies -- and he knows it. I can live with delayed appreciation.

I snapped my very first knitting needle on Greg's socks Friday night. I was using short size #1 Brittany birch dpns, which are the approximate size and thickness of the toothpick I received in Friday night's sandwich (only without the little cellophane frou-frou on one end). I'm not an especially tight or tense knitter, but I struggled a little with one of those infernal k2tbls and snapped my needle. Grrrrrr. There's another reason why nickel-plated steel circulars rule for knitting socks. I haven't snapped an Addi yet.

The proverbial jury-of-one is still proverbially out on the Tofutsies yarn. I love the colors and the softness of the knitted product, but the yarn isn't as tightly twisted as the propaganda would have you believe -- which means that I have to knit more slowly because the stitches will split if you're not staring right at them. I'm using size 1s, and the results are lovely, but still loose enough that I'm wondering what the socks would look like if knitted on size zeroes. Heaven help me. Zeroes!

Rambo With a Spray Can

I've never been a big fan of stinging insects (although I make an exception for honeybees, which have a purpose in life -- and bumblebees because they're cute and non-aggressive). Wasps, hornets, yellowjackets... these have no reason whatsoever to live, and certainly not within my property lines. I ran afoul of these little horrors fairly often as a tree-climbing kid, and now that I'm much bigger, I try to give back a little of what I received. I'm still afraid of the little suckers, but I'm much braver when brandishing a shoe or a spray can.

A couple of days ago, I saw Dinah curiously sniffing the back of a wooden bench on our deck. I went out to see what she was up to, and she was sniffing an enormous, Boeing-757 hornet in the process of building a nest on the back of the bench, not 6 inches from the back door. I shooed the dogs away, sprinted for my industrial-sized spray can of Raid, and let 'em have it with both barrels -- actually, with just the one can. I feel a little dirty every time I spray insecticide, but covering a hornet's proto-nest with white foam gives me just a teeny bit more satisfaction than I probably deserve.

Dog Stuff

Well, I've gone and done it. I've entered The Lovely One in her very first herding events over Labor Day weekend. Wish us luck! We haven't had much chance to practice, but if the sheep are sufficiently tame, I just might be able to get us through the HT without too much problem. We've had such wild and unresponsive sheep the last times we've tried to go herding -- and if they won't come to the handler, the sheep certainly won't be much help to an inexperienced dog. We shall see. At worst, I've just paid for three very expensive lessons and a chance to look really silly in front of three judges I deeply respect.

Rally class has started up again, so Seamus and I will be resuming our Sunday morning "rally-roo" times at Judy's house. We would have gone today, but I overslept. Dinah has a play date with Angus later this morning, so I decided to stay home and get ready for that, rather than speed down to class, stay a short while, then speed back and try to get up the street with Dinah by 11:30. Sundays are not supposed to be stressful. They're supposed to involve coffee, breakfast, and newspapers.

The town's water department installed a fire hydrant on our front yard this week. I let Charlie out to have a look. He sniffed the hydrant curiously, then walked over to the closest tree and peed on that instead. Once a country boy, always a country boy.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Good Intentions are Overrated

"I musta woke up this morning with a bug up my ass.
I think I'll just haul off and belt the next jerk that I pass."

--Todd Rundgren

Geez, it's no coincidence that I've just received information in the mail about my upcoming colonoscopy appointment (talk about a "rite of passage"!). Thanks to good intentions gone terribly awry, I've been feeling lately like I'm already undergoing the procedure -- only without anesthesia. Now hear this: the Favors Office is closed until further notice.

First, the chair of the judges' selection committee from my local kennel club sends me the email equivalent of a flaming bag of dog poo left on the doorstep (a practice generally referred to in the Dilbert business world as "seagull management"). It basically stated, "I'm too busy to select judges for obedience and rally, so you do it." No "please". No "Would you mind helping?". Just "Hey, you. Your time's worth less than mine." I try to be a good sport, so I made an effort to swallow the first two-word response (hint: not "Merry Christmas") that rose to my lips, and attempted to finish the job that had just been arrogantly and unceremoniously dumped on me. FYI, I'm not even the rally chair.

I called some judges, finally got one on the phone who wasn't already snapped up by another club for that weekend, and reported back to the chair -- who then called me up and proceeded to ream me out for picking someone she didn't like. Sorry I left my crystal ball at the office, or I would have known whom not to call. "Merry Christmas."

Next... it seems to be raining rescues lately, after a long period of time when there were none in our region. Our local regional rep is a saint and a half, and she has helped hundreds of dogs in bad situations. She emailed about a dog wasting away in a shelter on Nantucket. Mind you, Nantucket is (per Mapquest) 194.24 miles from here. I tried to reach someone I knew on Martha's Vineyard, but apparently she's moved and left no way to get in touch. So... I called the one person I know who lives on Nantucket, and reported back that I'd made contact. What do I get but an email saying, "You should have contacted somebody else."?! Excuse me, but where's that crystal ball again?

Just be warned, innocent bystanders, that I've just plumb run out of Nice for the time being. If you want something done, better find another psychic -- or at least someone who's better able to guess What Not To Do. "Merry Christmas."