Monday, February 25, 2008

That'll Do!

This Border Collie's not so smart. He didn't measure before he cut!!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

There's No Photos Like Snow Photos

Charlie is King of All He Surveys...

Dinah and Seamus enjoy a nice dessert of fresh-fallen snow...

This photo's a couple of weeks old, but the backyard still looks like this...

Concerto for Nose Honk and Tissue Box

Well, it's time to make the annual announcement: I'm officially Sick of Winter. This is true in both the figurative and the literal senses, since I'm still struggling to throw off the last remnants of a nasty virus that not only hit me once already, but backed up and ran over me again. The paper industry has me to thank for single-handedly increasing sales of facial tissues for this month.

Since I can no longer stand the sight of cold and snow, I finally cracked and bought myself a ticket to Phoenix for the first weekend in March. Every other year or so, my girlfriend Lise (a fellow Sox fan) and I escape winter in our respective areas by meeting at the home of a mutual friend of ours out in Scottsdale, Arizona. We enjoy the sunshine, watch the Cubbies in spring training, wear shades, and drink beer in the bleachers with all of the congenial snowbird Cubs fans who have also converged on Ho-Ho-Kam Park to escape winter back home for a while.

Why don't we go to Florida to see the Sox? Because Liz lives in Arizona, and we get to visit her while we're out west. We don't even know anybody in that part of Florida.

Alphabet Soup

A few weeks ago, I received my certification as an . You may now call me Tester #35219 for short. and Judy, my rally instructor, both graciously allowed me to use them as references. Thanks to them, I'm now official!

It sure didn't take long before my newly acquired services were needed. One of the reasons why I became a CGC tester was to help the with the "final exams" in their CGC classes. (Instructors may not test their own students; thus the need for an outside tester.) I'll be helping Sue with one of her classes in April -- that's my very first assignment as a CGC tester. I've also been asked to offer the test at the picnic in mid-June.

More Alphabet Soup

This week, I received my membership materials from the . One of my rally classmates has been a longtime member, and she suggested a while ago that I join. She and a Beardie buddy both sponsored me into the group. I am now a card-carrying member of the dog press -- literally -- and a pin-wearing one, too! (DWAA sent me a very nice logo pin that also says PRESS across it.)

Why did I wait so long? Although I've been writing reams and piles and miles of prose for my Web sites since the mid-'90s and started blogging in 2004, I've always been strictly a "new media" writer. I didn't feel I had a legitimate place alongside the trained journalists and other more "traditional media" folks. Now that I write the occasional piece for one local print publication and am about to contribute to an online edition of another paper, I finally have some traditional print "clips" to add to my portfolio. I sent a copy of my very first article on the CGC test for , plus printouts of posts from this blog and my .

Some years ago, one of my college friends asked me why I never wrote a book. "I have nothing to say," I told her. Wouldn't say that was exactly the case these days--!!

And In Music News...

Greg is pleased that two of his songs will be performed in New York in June at the . I forget which one will be performed on which program, but his works get to appear in two concerts this year. April is a song for SATB chorus and soloists plus piano. The Waking is scored for solo voice (mezzo-soprano or baritone) and piano, and I think the soloist for this performance is a soprano. The NYC concert is the world premiere for The Waking. April was first premiered in Boston a couple of years ago, but this performance is its New York premiere.

The best part about this year's programs is that both of the concerts with his songs occur early in that week, when the press is most likely to be present to review the works. Greg's had pieces in the ACA festival for several years now, but they have almost all taken place at the end of the week, when none of the music reviewers are around. He's hoping that maybe a reviewer from the , or even the might come to one of the concerts and include a review of one (or maybe even both) of his pieces. (Yes, I'm a member of the press now, but I don't count. It's unlikely that Downeast Dog News would be overly interested in a music critique.)

Well, At Least We Didn't Go Home Empty-Handed

In retrospect, it might have been a less-than-sane thing to do, but Dinah and I entered the trial in Manchester, ME a couple of weeks ago.

We aren't really ready for prime time as far as our agility skills are concerned. Whenever I begin showing in any new performance venue I get stage fright, tense up, and am an absolute stumblebum of a handler. My commands are off, my sense of timing is warped, and it's all my poor dog can do to figure out what I want. I do work through that given enough time, but it's rough going at first when you're as coordination-challenged as I am.

Our main objective was to get Dinah to experience the trial environment. Since she's a show dog, she's used to barking dogs, hanging out in a crate, and all manner of noise and confusion at dog events. I wanted her to be similarly used to the sounds at an agility trial: banging teeters, more barking dogs, wild applause, and all that. Dinah didn't even blink.

As for me, I was still coming off a raging head cold left for me by the flu monster that's been smacking me around this winter. It's really quite amazing how important a regular air supply is when you're running around a course! We ended up with three NTs (time disqualifications) and one NQ with time faults, simply because I couldn't get out of my own way and my handling was just appalling.

We did get a first-place ribbon for our one NQ run, for what it's worth. We were the best non-qualifying run in our jump height class. A leg would have been nice, but at least we got a souvenir.

At Least It Was Inspirational

Did I mention how miserably frickin' COLD it was at the trial? It was ONE lonely, wretched degree out in the early mornings when we came in, and the arena was unheated. About the only time I was comfortable was while I was running (and gasping) on the course. You could spot the handknitters in the crowd, since they were the ones sporting the best and warmest wool hats and mittens. A Sheltie person I knew lifted the cuffs of her jeans so I could admire the hand-knitted socks a friend had made for her (out of one of the Regia yarns. I have a couple of balls of that pattern in my stash, so I'd know it anywhere.) Another woman sported a chullo hat with earflaps, for which she'd spun her own yarn. I even met a couple of people from when I pulled out a sock and started to work on it during a long wait between runs. People huddled under quilts and blankets until their turn to run came. I ran score sheets for some of the runs just so I could keep moving.

Everyone was so helpful and congenial, though -- I can't wait until we're good enough to come back and collect some Qs! In the meantime, I've been scheming about an entire wardrobe of knitted survival gear: maybe a chullo hat with some agility motifs on it, flip-top mittens, sweaters, and definitely more socks.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Adventures in Caucusing

What IS a Caucus-race? said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that SOMEBODY ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

Why, said the Dodo, the best way to explain it is to do it. (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (the exact shape doesn't matter, it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no One, two, three, and away, but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out The race is over! and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, But who has won?

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.

But who is to give the prizes? quite a chorus of voices asked.

Why, SHE, of course, said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, Prizes! Prizes!

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round.

But she must have a prize herself, you know, said the Mouse.

Of course, the Dodo replied very gravely. What else have you got in your pocket? he went on, turning to Alice.

Only a thimble, said Alice sadly.

Hand it over here, said the Dodo.

Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.

Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could.

--Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

When Lewis Carroll wrote about the Caucus-race, he was deliberately satirizing the political process in England in his time. Oddly enough, a real caucus-race looks pretty much identical to the one he described, except that there weren't any birds and I never got a thimble for a prize. I did bring my knitting, anyway.

Because I'm an Independent, I've never declared membership in either political party. This means that I've never been able to participate in primaries or caucuses in any of the various states in which I've lived since reaching the age of 18. I pretty much expected that The Man (a registered Democrat) would be able to caucus today and I'd have to stay home, awaiting the results.

Come to find out, Independents may participate. We have to register as Dems for the day, but we may change our party (non-) affiliations back again afterward. This seemed like a small price to pay to a chance to stand up (literally) for what we believed in.

I packed up my knitting and Greg, and we slogged through the latest installment of snow to the local elementary school. Even though we were in the midst of the 428th snow storm of the season and there wasn't much room to park at the school, we managed to find plenty of space. Crabapple Cove is a town of roughly 2500 souls, and probably 60 of those are Democrats. Oh, excuse me -- 58 are Democrats. The guy standing behind me and I were the Independents in the crowd.

One of my neighbors greeted us as we walked through the door into the school gym. She indicated that we needed to join the check-in line before we could do anything else. We complied, got ourselves checked off on the voter rolls, and I filled out my yellow Democrat-for-a-Day card.

That was when things started to derail, though. About halfway through the very slow line ahead of us, they ran out of forms, so we were unable to fill anything out. The line to fill in ballot signatures was only a few people deep, but it didn't move at all. What's worst: they ran out of coffee. I felt sympathy for the poor guy who was attempting to run things. It was his first time at running a caucus, he didn't have many people available to help him, and no one else in the room appeared to know what to do, either.

Greg and I made it as far as the ballots and signed some, then took our seats. Our host introduced himself, solicited help from the crowd, and asked for volunteers to speak on behalf of each candidate. The volunteer who manned the laptop with the videos and monitored the ballot sheets read a statement from our state Representative.

Meanwhile, we were treated to a running commentary from a couple of crusty old farts sitting next to us. "Volunteers are great people," one of them said to the other. "I ain't one of 'em, though."

"Volunteerin' don't pay too good," replied his companion. "Who'd want to take a job that don't pay?"

"Nope," agreed the first one. "That don't make no sense."

After much discussion both at the front and at the back of the room, it finally came time to exemplify that old cliche "stand up and be counted." The Obama supporters lined up on one side of the room. The Clinton supporters lined up on the other side. The three Undecided voters clustered together in the middle, looking a bit like prey animals waiting for an attack from a predator.

The harried man-in-charge did his best to count the number of supporters on both sides, gave up, and had us count off the way we did in grade-school gym class. Meanwhile, supporters for each candidate approached the Undecided voters and tried to persuade them to declare support for one candidate or another. One Obama supporter left to join the Clinton side. Greg emerged from the restroom and joined the Obama side. Two of the Undecided voters left their neutral territory in the middle of the gym, one for each side. One lone Undecided voter remained. The woman standing next to me waved to her husband across the room. "We were undecided until we got here," she told me.

Next, we all sat down again. The man-in-charge read the numbers from his tally sheet, and declared that Obama had won three delegates to Clinton's two. Next, we needed to separate again to choose delegates and alternates to represent the town at the state (and possibly the national) conventions.

"When are the dates of the state convention?" called someone. "June 10th?" "No, not June 10th. It's three days." "When is it again?" It took a great deal of scrambling, but eventually the dates of May 29 and 30 and June 1 were retrieved and offered up. Just then, three more people came into the gym. After some argument, it was decided that the three latecomers could join their respective sides, but that a formal recount wouldn't happen, since some people had already left the building. Two latecomers left the Undecided area to join the Clinton side. The last latecomer kept the other lone Undecided company in the middle of the room.

Eventually, delegates and alternates were chosen for both sides, and people returned to their seats to pick up their coats. The man-in-charge asked people to donate money toward the refreshments and to the Clean Election fund, and reminded people to sign the ballot sheets. Folks were already streaming out the door to brush off their cars and fight the snow on the way home. This whole process had only taken about an hour, but it felt like a week. I sent a text message to to let her know that we were done caucusing. Assuming the weather ever improved, we were free to meet her and Val for a beer.

I later heard from Dale that her experience caucusing in her town was vastly different. Although it sounded like fun being able to chant for your candidate to convince the Undecideds, their caucus involved standing in long lines in the snow and move-your-vehicle requests from the local constabulary. They didn't finish until 4. Dale volunteered to be a delegate to the state convention, so she can do some more chanting for Hillary. It worked for her town's Undecideds, anyway.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Ugly Quintet

Once upon a time, there was a brass quintet that was so difficult that none of the brass instruments wanted to play it. Its composer was ashamed of it, and embarrassed by all of the insulting things the brass players said about it. The brass quintet lived in a distant, dark, cobwebby corner of the computer's hard disk where no one had to look at it, let alone play it. Other, luckier compositions got to come out to play, to be worked on, or performed, or even recorded... but the poor ugly brass quintet just sat all alone in the hard disk, day after day, wondering if it would ever see the light of day again.

One day, the composer got an Idea. He brought up the ugly brass quintet from the depths of the hard disk, dusted it off, and rescored it for string ensemble. Just then, a magical thing happened! The ugly brass quintet, with just a touch of transposition, magically turned into a beautiful piece for strings! All the strings adored the beautiful new piece, and the composer was very proud. He decided right then that he would add some double stops and other detail work, and see whether he could get the new piece premiered in NYC in 2009.

And they all played happily ever after. The End.

Of course, this fairy tale is based on a true story. Greg had been wondering what to do about the brass quintet for months. He'd shown it to one ensemble that rejected it completely. A couple of brass players he knew at his alma mater looked it over and kindly replied that it was extremely technically difficult, even for an expert horn player. The quintet ended up getting consigned to the compositional "frog pond", and Greg despaired of ever getting it played.

It just goes to show what a sudden inspiration can do to transform something. Just today, a wild notion occurred to him to rescore the piece. He thought about clarinets, but then tried the strings... and something just clicked. Greg couldn't be more tickled. Now that he has a beautiful, shiny new piece for strings almost ready for prime time, he's just thrilled, and as proud of the piece now as he was troubled by it earlier. The transformation really is amazing; it sounds as though it had always been a string quintet.

I guess if there's a moral to the story, it's that you should never throw an idea away. You never know when you might be able to find the exactly correct use for it. Oh, and recycling is good.