Sunday, August 30, 2009

Has Anybody Seen the Month of August?

...and if you do, could you please tell it to come back? I'm not done with it yet.

This has been one funky summer, to be sure. The early part of the season was so cold and rainy that the mosquitoes and blackflies probably drowned. Now that we're finally seeing some decent late-summer weather, it's practically fall already. Aside from the lack of bugs, there's no justice in the world weather-wise.

Date Night at the Aggie Fair

Thanks to Sue for taking pictures and blogging about the Acton Fair -- and congrats to Sue, Sadie, Nate, Kelli, Tracey and Jay, and everyone else who won ribbons there!

Greg and I usually go after he's done with his church gig on Sundays. We love to watch the antique tractor pulls and sample the kinds of food that we can't even be seen eating anywhere else for the other 51 weekends of the year. He rhapsodizes over the Rotary Club's fried chicken livers and onions. I am continually torn between the fresh-cut French fries and the big honkin' onion blossoms. We both save room for the fresh-squeezed lemonade, and polish off our "meals" by splitting a funnel cake with heaps of confectioners' sugar.

Total: 4,028 Weight Watchers points. They'll probably throw me out on my well-padded derriere at my next meeting. Don't tell them that we tried the fried Oreos this time.

We couldn't figure out when to go to the fair this year, but decided on impulse to head down there on Friday night after one of his virtual piano gigs. Friday nights at the fair are so much fun that we plan to go on Friday night every year from now on! I ran into Sue, Nate and Kassy, the Petersens, the Barnabys, and my friend Pam from BCCME (who will eventually stay still long enough for us to get her Web site off the ground). Pam even introduced me to someone who needs maintenance done on his site, and I found a spinner/yarn shop there whom I can't wait to introduce to my friend Fran.

(It's interesting to contemplate that I couldn't buy a freakin' job as a technical writer these days, but I'm getting Web site work thrown at me right and left.)

For a kid from the suburbs who forgot all about horseback riding when she got her driver's license, I LOVE county fairs. I love tractors. I love farm animals. I love scrutinizing the handcrafts, the perfect apples, and the giant pumpkins. I petted friendly sheep, chatted about genetics in the Black and Red Angus with one of the folks from the local farm store, and was vastly entertained by the 4-H kid with the llamas who called out, carnival-barker style, "Come pet our llamas! Guaranteed not to spit!"

The sight that cracked me up most came after dark, so I'm sad about not being able to take a picture. Cattle judging had already taken place by the time we got to the fair, but sheep judging was scheduled for the next day. I caught sight of a Tunis sheep (a hair sheep) on a low grooming table, with someone clipping the stray hairs and neatening up his topline. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Bet it doesn't cost $30.00 to enter a sheep in a show.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Virtual Virtuoso and Other Stories

It's hard for me to describe the musical path Greg has been taking lately without ranging off into some musical technical terms so arcane that I don't even understand what I'm saying. Maybe the simple version is this: he's doing some exploration into pushing tonal harmony to its limits, and he's been doing much of that work through improvisation on the piano. He does record all of these works to MIDI, and I have no doubt that something of them will resurface when he gets back to good old-fashioned composition again. In the meantime, the best place to hear him do his thing is in Second Life. He plays 3-4 hour-long gigs in a given week, and he even has a booking agent who finds him concert venues and makes sure he gets paid. (Yes, the agent gets a percentage. Second Life is a reflection of real life, after all.)

I've created a tab on his Web site for Musical Improvisation, but it's up to him when he fills that page, and what he puts there. If I find out that he's uploaded something, I'll announce it in the blog.

Caffeine Makes It All Possible

On Monday, I'm taking off to New Brunswick (Canada, not New Jersey) with Dinah for a cluster of dog shows. We'll be joining our friends Val and Pat up there with Trav and Fiona -- and there should be plenty of fodder for my other blog.

As soon as I get back, I'll barely have enough time to switch out dirty clothes for clean and Dinah for Badger before it's time to jump back in the car and drive in the opposite direction to make Badger's AKC debut in Springfield. Just thinking about that schedule makes me tired already!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jef's Guide to Dog Agility

I thought I was the laziest dog trainer in history! Watch and enjoy!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Soggy Doggy Fun

Yesterday, Greg and I loaded Charlie and Dinah into the Subaru and drove to Belfast for their annual Celtic Festival. Our friends Bill and Cathy live there with their Beardie and Bouvier, and I had never seen the new place -- plus the Festival offered a showcase for Celtic dog breeds. Why not?

We encountered typical weather for this summer -- gray, alternating between rain and mere drizzle -- and ended up looking mighty bedraggled by the time we made it to the exhibition tent to give our little spiel. Charlie had a fine old time flirting with the Lassies...

When it came time for the Beardies to give their spiel, we stepped up on stage and delivered the usual stuff. I was particularly tickled that people asked questions about the AKC Canine Good Citizen program when I mentioned that Dinah was my demo dog. Of course, we fielded the usual questions about how much they shed, how much they eat, and so on. (My sister has threatened for years to make me a T-shirt with all of the standard answers to the standard questions. "Yes, we know they don't look like Lassie...")

After we finished our portion of the program, we browsed the other vendors and picked up some absolutely wonderful pulled-pork sandwiches from the BBQ vendor (whose stand kept wafting glorious scents in our direction as we waited our turn in the Celtic dog breeds demo). Greg tried the cornbread and pronounced that wonderful. We had a delightful old time, sharing beer, BBQ, and Beardies and Bouviers with a couple of my old friends. I'd never seen their Belfast house, though I'd been to visit them when they lived in Owl's Head.

After lunch, Greg and I decided to explore the rest of downtown. I LIKE Belfast. It still retains a little of its old "real Maine" funkiness along with all the boutiques and galleries. It definitely reminds me of how Portsmouth and Newburyport looked before Starbucks and The Gap came to town.

I sacrificed a week's worth of Weight Watchers points for a frozen yogurt in a homemade waffle cone (still warm!). Greg asked the nice woman at the counter about gelato. "Oh, we've run out," she said, "but we've just started making more in the back." They make their ice cream and gelato as well as the cones! I want to move into that shop.

(Oh, and I did find the yarn shop downtown. Great place -- small, but amazingly well-stocked, and with enough room for three regulars to hang out together and knit. They even stock local yarns!)

This Week in Web Stuff

I'm feeling a little bit better in general about my post-employment life as a freelancer these days. I'm still not earning squat, but I do have to keep an eye on what squat I do earn. Unemployment has an upper limit on the amount of money one can earn while still collecting.

The client whom I thought hated her site actually liked it a lot, but wanted to meet in person to trade thumb drives of photos and other stuff. She asked me to create another page and move some stuff, and she's actually delighted with it. I won't hear from her for a little while -- her "high season" started last Friday, and she's going to be out straight for a while.

With Greg's help, I also managed to get the site that wasn't working to run the way I wanted it to. Now that it's actually useful and usable, I've been making behind-the-scenes tweaks and additions to get the other stuff I promised online. This makes me happy.

I'm ready to start another site for a friend of mine, but she's been a bear and a half to track down. I've called, I've emailed, and I would send snail mail if I had her address. At least she doesn't appear to be in a rush to get the work done. I'll just move on to some site updates for another client and a mini-site for some friends-of-friends who really just want something simple.

I really love the work. I just wish I could make enough to live on -- I would walk away from technical writing forever if I could. In the meantime, I'm still seeking out and applying for the few jobs that are available, all of which are located in some other city where management really only wants people on-site, and less-expensive ones at that. One recruiter keeps sending me announcements of every job in Maine that he can find. He means well, but I don't think he's read my resume. Otherwise, he might think twice before sending me announcements of jobs for QA engineers in Augusta. The entire state of Maine is right next door, right?

Your Call Is Important To Us

This too shall pass, but today I think I've reached my volunteering limit. The problem with being at home, having a computer which you haven't broken yet, and belonging to any organization is that people constantly badger you for free, immediate technical support. I am currently ignoring two phone calls and an email demanding my immediate attention. It wouldn't even be so bad if I could just fix the damn problem and get off the phone, but I'm just not ready to invest a couple of hours in listening to someone else's life story AND trying to sort out their computer issues -- particularly when people aren't really interested in learning how to do things for themselves, so the phone will definitely be ringing again shortly thereafter. Sometimes I think that people should have to pass a test before buying a computer.

On top of which, I just plain got annoyed at a couple of emails I received this morning. One demanded that I sign up for yet another work detail for our National Specialty (to which I really wanted to reply, "I've been working on this show all year, too. Pick on someone who hasn't done dick yet."). Another email remarked that no matter what our financial circumstances, we ought to attend at least one of our desperately-overpriced banquets to show our support. The only way I will be able to get to the show in the first place to work all week and attend numerous lengthy and dead-boring meetings is to carpool with other people and minimize my expenses. Comp my effin ticket and I'll think about going. Otherwise, no. Ask someone else to volunteer for a change.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Animals in Showbiz

A very nice person frm SnagFilms contacted me about this 3-minute feature on canine actors. Bear with the too-many commercials and enjoy!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Every year, we look forward to the BCCME Beardie Bounce & BBQ at my friend Val's house. We set the Beardies free to romp in their big fenced yard with a couple of dozen of their friends, grill up some burgers, smooch some puppies, and see friends we haven't seen in ages. When the weather is good, it's very, very good. When the weather is bad, we try to muddle through.

Last year, we not only had to contend with rain showers, but a tornado (or a facsimile of a tornado) had visited the neighborhood only a few days before, ripping up trees, wrecking fences, and smashing a hole in Val's roof. Through the herculean efforts of Val and Pat, several family members, and some hired guns, they managed to get the yard ready for a Beardie invasion... but we still couldn't fix the weather. I've decided that I just don't enjoy holding a meeting with rain running down my back.

This year, Mother Nature did us a solid by giving us a lovely sunny day — maybe one of the two or three we've had in this region since the solstice. Apart from the fact that the winds kicked up and actually bent the legs on one of the EZ-Ups (it was tied to a tarp that tried to set sail for Portugal), our weather was perfect. It wasn't too hot, it wasn't too cold, and it wasn't too wet.

We had so much junk to bring that we barely had room for Charlie (Dinah was in the crate). He had to endure a ride sandwiched between coolers and plastic storage bins, but he refused to stay behind. I only wish we'd been able to bring all four pups, but Seamus and Badge would have had to have ridden on the roof rack or in the glove box. Every cubic inch of the Subaru was already stuffed full.

In spite of the uncomfortable ride, Charlie had a fine time.

So did Greg and Dinah Moe.

The canine guests ranged in age from 15-year-old Raleigh (who proudly sported a tam o'shanter in the Royal Stewart tartan) to 9-week-old Archie (whose paws rarely touched the ground because everyone wanted to pick him up and smooch him). Sadly for Charlie, we had no kiddie pool this year — the old one sprang a leak.

Charlie and Tucker Ashworth did set up a browns-only clubhouse in the absence of a pool...

One tradition we've continued through the first three Bounce & BBQs (this is our fourth) and all other BCCME events is the offer of free lobsters for all Beardies. A few years ago, I managed to score some of the last boxes of the old PetEdge "Daily Catch" lobster toys. Little Denbigh Marshall, who was born in Ohio and who recently moved to New England, was quick to embrace our Mainiac traditions...

The club's chefs did themselves proud by covering a groaning board with multiple fabulous hors d'oeuvres, munchies, salads, and desserts. Oh, the desserts! I probably blew my Weight Watchers points allotment completely by indulging in a single delicious homemade strawberry cupcake, but it was sooooo worth it.

Eventually, we sent home a couple of dozen tired Beardies with their people, packed up the leftovers, and declared another successful Bounce. We're fairly sure that a good time was had by all...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Don't Quit Yer Day Job! Oh, Wait... I Didn't.

Happy soggy Summer Solstice, all. I always have the best of intentions, but somehow the last entire month of spring just got away from me. Now it's summer -- and it's rainy, chilly, and sticky. Did we wake up in Washington State this morning by mistake?

It's been a real roller-coaster ride for me during the past month, and I've spent most of the time clinging on for dear life and screaming all the way down.

First, the good news: I finished a couple of important Web sites, and the recipients are very happy with them. Both clients were just wonderful to work with, and I like to think I've made some friends in the process. Sue deserves many thanks for introducing me to one of them, and for spreading the word about my work. The other client came from Dale, and she deserves huge thanks for that one. I have to finish work on another site as soon as I can, and I have a respectable list of clients in my queue. I haven't really had to advertise yet -- word of mouth is a powerful vehicle.

I have to admit that I'm quite happy with how both sites turned out, and it just cheers me to hear that the clients are equally tickled. One of them told me that his Web site is a huge hit at the local coffee shop -- all of the other early-rising professionals in town hang out there and talk shop, and they've all been to visit his Web site and loved it. Maybe some of that fan-love will turn into more work for me.

Next, the less-than-good news, of the type that makes me wonder whether I shouldn't just hang up my designing shoes and get another stinking office job. I'm getting used to the "Oh, my daughter/student/neighbor/etc. wants to do my Web site, so I've decided I don't need you any more" emails. More power to them, and to the daughters/students/neighbors. I'm beginning to think that maybe those folks would have been more trouble for less return anyway, but I'd be lying if I said that it didn't hurt my feelings just a little.

Then there's the one whom I can tell doesn't like the site I did, but who won't tell me what she wants, either. I would be happy to tweak anything at all, but thus far she's been mum on the subject. She didn't like her old Web site either, which is why she engaged me to redesign it. I haven't lost hope yet, but I have the feeling that it's going to take a small miracle to realize a dime from that effort. I did my level best to match the site to the existing corporate identity, which was probably designed in Microsoft Word circa 1985 -- and maybe that's where I went wrong. Maybe I should have tossed the whole thing out and created something from scratch that looked as though it belonged to this century. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Plus I'm getting discouraged about another site that I thought would "just work," but the technical issues are driving me to drink (and alcohol costs a lot of Weight Watchers points). I really, really like the clients and just want them to have their site, but everything I do seems to be blocked, or doesn't work correctly. I can't say "I'm sorry" enough -- nor can I get it working enough. I have to go curl up with some reference books for a while and see if I can figure out what I'm not doing right.

Mind you, I haven't abandoned hope for the stinkin' office job yet, either. I'm still trying to root them out and apply for them -- there just aren't many around. All the jobs seem destined for more junior people (read: cheaper), or are located on the West Coast and they want you on-site every day, or some other reason. The last time someone even acknowledged receiving my information was a month ago. No interviews yet. Even the headhunters have gone silent. One scheduled a call, then emailed to say she was sick and would reschedule... two weeks ago. I sure hope her illness isn't serious.

Sorry to be such a downer, but some days life in the Era of Diminished Expectations just gets to me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Dozen Years of Chuckles

Charlie (WayToMe Midsummer Knight, HIC) is 12 years old today. It hardly seems possible that my little brown fuzzball could be a canine senior citizen. It wasn't that long ago that he was jumping four feet straight up to pull the babies off my spider plant and hanging on to Doogie's ears for free rides from room to room.

His name was Charlie long before he was even a twinkle in his sire Jamie's eye. Since Beardies are Scots dogs, I was possessed of the deeply non-original idea of naming my next puppy after Bonnie Prince Charlie. Little did I know that I'd end up with Good Time Charlie instead.

Charlie might actually be my first "slacker Beardie." Maybe that's due to the experience of having shared a household with Duncan, the Border Collie in a Beardie suit, the canine A student. Maybe it's because he's brown. (In the ancient Beardie lore, the brown Beardies are the troublemakers, the dirt-rollers, the silly ones, the ones who don't play by the rules. It's part myth, part self-fulfilling prophecy, and part spot-on description.) Anyhow, Charlie was always destined to go his own way.

I tried every activity in dogdom with Charlie, looking to find something he and I could enjoy. He enjoyed puppy-K and basic obedience classes, but more for the social aspect than for any genuine educational value. Sure, he did what he was asked and looked really cute in his POC mortarboard, but he made it clear that obedience just wasn't his thing. At the Canine Good Citizen test, he jumped on the examiners -- but passed all of the other, harder tests. He didn't want to be seen as an overachiever.

Herding was my first love as a dog sport, and Duncan lived for it. I started taking Charlie along to herding lessons. He half-heartedly moved the sheep around a little and then went off to splash around in the stock tank. Although he did earn an HIC (Herding Instinct Certificate) from the BCCA, he never really thought much of sheep. The stock he was given to work in his instinct test had been ripped on all day by at least a dozen Malinois, and it was the hottest day of the year. No way were they moving for anybody, least of all a Beardie puppy. The passing score was more or less a gift. (Not that Charlie can't herd. He's tried it since as an adult, and is good enough at it. He could just take it or leave it.)

We tried agility for a while, too. He would run the course perfectly and end up at the door. "All right, I've done this. Let's get out of here." He did enjoy flirting with the pretty Rough Collie babes, so at least agility class had a few perks. At agility trials, he'd run the course, head straight for the kiddie pool, and start splashing.

Next, we tried tracking. Charlie actually did a brilliant job and found all of the objects on his trail. He also found the swamp closest to the tracking field, plunged in, and emerged grinning, looking like The Creature from the Black Lagoon's dog. People recoiled at the sight of him.

Charlie loved many activities in his youth, however -- and he still does. He's always enjoyed hiking, and is far more obedient off-leash than he has ever been on-leash. Most of his favorite activities involve dirt, water, or a combination of both. At Beardie Bounces, the hosts always filled the pool for Charlie. He'd spend the day in it, and would invite other Beardies (preferably clean, well-trained ones) to share it. No matter the season, he'd never pass up a chance to jump into the waves on the beach and lie down to let the surf roll over his back. To this day, he's never so happy as when he's running on the sand and splashing in the surf.

He also possesses a great fondness for rolling in stinky stuff, a habit he learned from his dad Jamie. Be it big or be it small, he would never pass up a chance to roll onto -- or in -- something smelly. He'd try to roll on dead earthworms in the driveway. He'd roll in deer and fox poo on the trail. His ultimate score was the very, very dead seagull he once found on the beach. If I could have, I'd have driven the car home with my head out the window.

These days, Chuckles presides over the household as elder statesman. From the age of about 9 months, he held the post of alpha dog of the pack. Although it appears that Badger might want to take over the day-to-day operation of running the dog pack, Charlie still surveys his domain like the king he is -- even if he is King of the Slackers.

Happy Birthday, Cheeseball, and here's hoping for many more!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If It Weren't For Twitter, I'd Have No Blog at All

It seems like forever since I've taken the time to update this blog. Sorry for the long silence! If it weren't for the Twitter stream on the right side of the page, there would have been no signs of life here. Because spring is here and the show season won't be too far behind, I started by updating my other blog.

In my own defense, I did have some sort of flu for the past week or so, and was too busy coughing to blog about it. Greg had it first, and the two of us are still coughing some. Aside from getting tired easily, we're both over it at this point.

We did get some spring cleaning done, so to speak. Dinah went to the groomer's...

And so did Badger. Doesn't he clean up nicely?

Then Seamus and Charlie got all spiffed up...

Brief Man Update

The Man's Sax Quartet has reached the final stage of editing, and will be released shortly. We heard it last night, and it never fails to amaze me how much depth and color a piece gains when you hear it played by real instruments for the first time -- even if you know every note of the MIDI version by heart.

Likewise, we're still waiting on the release of the Water Suite and the String Quintet, but those should happen Any Day Now.

Greg isn't actually composing anything at the moment, but he's been buried deep in his study of harmony. He has also been taking on more piano students, plus one adult organ student. He's pleased to discover that he actually enjoys teaching children, and he has a small herd of kids to teach now.

And In Yarn News...

One of the red Happy Feet socks is now complete. Once I've finished the pair, they'll go to Jody (who loves red) -- just in time for flip-flop weather (timing was never my strong suit). Happy Feet is such a pleasure to knit with, and it creates a terrific fabric. I might have to knit a pair in every color!

Not content to cast on just one, I'm also working on a pair of blue, black, and white socks for my friend Lynne, who put me up on my trip south to pick up Badger. I had some Sock It To Me yarn that was looking for an excuse to get made into something, and so I'm working on cuffs as my current "idiot knitting" project.

As far as non-idiot knitting goes... I'm still taking my Wednesday morning knitting class. This time I've tackled a more complicated (but still simple) lace project, and have finally mastered it. Lace knitting requires decent light and concentration, so it's highly doubtful that I'll ever be able to do any here at home. When I do take the time to count everything correctly, though, it's fun to see the pattern emerging.

Other Stuff

Job hunt: Don't ask. I'm still trapped in a horrible inertia as far as updating my resume goes. Now that the severance has come in and I've been well and truly set adrift from Sun, I have to get working on it. Maybe I'm just having trouble working up the enthusiasm; I don't know.

Friday, April 03, 2009

It's a Sheepdog Circus!

This is just what my house looks like in the morning, only my Beardies bark more.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Whole Miscellany of News

(as you can see, Badger has fit in perfectly here. Doesn't he clean up nicely?)

Maple Mania

Today is Maine Maple Sunday, one of my favorite times of the year. No matter how crappy the weather might be, the very fact that the sap is rising means that spring is just around the corner. Next, the daffodils will come up and the Red Sox will return to Fenway. Only then can we truly declare the winter to be past in this latitude.

Real spring in this region rarely if ever coincides with the vernal equinox; the coming of March 20 is merely a signal that we're headed in the right direction.

I just love Maple Sunday, though -- it's one of my favorite holidays in the springtime calendar. All the local sugar houses are open, and the air smells of boiling maple sap. You can sample pancakes with maple syrup, maple cream on crackers, hot dogs boiled in maple sap with maple syrup on top (hey, don't knock it till you try it), maple syrup on ice cream, maple baked beans, maple whoopie pies, maple fudge, and even maple cotton candy. Of course, the 2009 crop is also available for sale, and Greg and I usually stock up for the year.

It should be a good day for the sugar houses. The weather is beautiful, today is not Easter Sunday, and everybody has at least a touch of cabin fever. Hope that sales will be good in spite of the sucky economy. At least more people are conscious of what it means to buy local these days, and I'm hoping that helps the farmers as well.

And in Woolen News

My dad went completely bonkers for the gray Scheepjes socks. I finally finished them just before heading to Richmond, and gave them to him on the southbound trek. By the time I made it back north a few days later, he had them on his feet and was wondering whether I could make him another pair, or two, or a few. His feet get cold enough so that wool-blend socks are welcome at any time of year -- so now I have a standing order for as many men's socks as I care to knit.

Greg has hinted that a few more watch caps would not be unwelcome, too -- so I have my knitting orders for a good while.

My friend Fran and I signed up for a Wednesday-morning knitting class offered through the local school district's adult education program. The instructor is an old friend of ours from the days when Bumblebee Quilts was still open in Waterboro, so it's been like going to a reunion every week. (One of the good things about not working is that you have the time to do stuff like this.) I finished a class dishcloth project, and have been tackling a lace bookmark using leftover sock yarn.

I've also been working on another pair for Jody in red Happy Feet yarn. Know how there are some yarns that you just love working with? Knitting with Happy feet is just a pleasure; I enjoy the heck out of every stitch. I just like the feel of the yarn, its substance, the feel of the knitted fabric, and the fact that it doesn't split easily. I need to make at least one pair in every color.

And in Music News

You have to love technology. Last week, Greg's String Quintet was recorded over in the Czech Republic. The producer set up a laptop running Skype in the studio so Greg could see the string players and interact with everybody there. He was able to talk to them about interpretation of certain passages and other inputs, and they were able to respond. The whole session was simply amazing, and everyone went away delighted with the result.

I'll add more in a subsequent post. Blogger is having technical difficulties, and I'm afraid that if I don't push the button now, I'll lose everything in this post.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Travels with Badger Blue

Meet Badger (Breaksea Revolution)! He's handsome and sweet, he's 6 years old, and he fits into our pack as though he's always been here. He also has a fine appreciation of music, including that old Irving Berlin tune "Blue Guy's smiling at me...".

When I met up with Badge down in Virginia a couple of weeks ago, I didn't know whether I could ever help fix this poor dog. His owner had died at the end of January. He seemed sad and lost, as though his heart had been broken and he didn't belong anywhere any more. The light appeared to have gone out of him. He started to perk up a bit after a night's sleepover with my dad and sister in Massachusetts, but he refused to eat or pee, and he still seemed timid.

However, when we walked into the house here and he was introduced to the three resident Beardies, he turned and gave me the biggest, toothiest grin I've ever received from one of these shaggy buggers. He knew he was home. He simply fit into the pack and was accepted instantly -- no doggie-fraternity hazing, no discussions on pack hierarchy... none of that. Dinah loved him instantly because she never met a man she didn't like, but even the boys were romping around the dog yard with him within minutes.

I didn't fix this poor dog's broken heart -- my other dogs did. All he wanted was a pack to call his own. Now he's the Mayor of Everything, Mr. Hail-Fellow-Well-Met. Everyone loves him -- people, puppies, even a few cats here and there. I thought I would have to hard-sell Greg on the concept of a fourth dog, but Greg is as smitten with him as the rest of us are. Badger will be Greg's new running buddy.

Of course, only I could leave Maine for the South and get snowed on down there. Mother Nature laughs at me; we were visited with 10-18 inches of the horrendous white crap that i thought I'd left at home! I ended up staying an extra day in Virginia before the roads were cleared, but we made it home eventually.

Even though I could have made it to Richmond in one 11-hour stretch, it sure was nice to be able to break up the traveling into pieces and to see friends all along the way. This might be as close as I get to a vacation this year, so I'm glad I was able to mix in a little fun between rest stops.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Missions of Mercy

I would enjoy this not-working thing if only it paid better. Actually, I'm not un-employed, but under-employed -- I'm working part-time as a Web monkey for an office services company and taking on a bunch of fun Web site work. A month into my kiss-off from Sun, and I've been so busy that I haven't had the time to apply much serious effort toward looking for a full-time job. I've attended a couple of webinars (the person who invented that term ought to be slapped with a dictionary), talked with my outplacement counselor, and done some networking. My resume is still rusty and covered with cobwebs, though. That's the next task. I've just been too busy working to look for work.

This is one of those times when having a wide network of friends and acquaintances, many of whom have experienced the same situation at one time or another, will save one's sanity. I've been in touch with several friends who have experienced the same thing. They've supplied me with help, advice, leads to writing gigs, links to useful articles, and so on. One friend got me my current part-time job as a Web monkey for a virtual-office company. Dale has been more than helpful and generous, funneling a number of Web projects my way. Sue recommended that I talk to her neighbor about a site, and a whole new friendship is evolving thanks to her. If it weren't for the people I know, I probably would still be cowering under the blankets. Thanks, everybody, from the bottom of my heart.

Got Nothing But Time -- Oh, Don't Have That, Either

Spinoza knew what he was talking about when he coined the famous phrase "Nature abhors a vacuum" -- and he wasn't talking about our crappy old Electrolux, either. The very second I lost my job, dozens of tasks rushed in to fill the space where work used to be. How did I ever work 8+ hours a day and take care of all of the things that needed taking care of? Oh, yeah, that's right. I juggled. I juggled then as I do now, only twice as much and twice as crazily.

A couple of weeks ago, Dale and I were having a breakfast meeting at her favorite local hangout (the cafe at the local airport). That place serves up a pretty mean breakfast for not too much money, plus you get to watch planes come and go. Can't hate that! Anyway, while we were sitting there, I received a message on my Blackberry from Dinah's breeder in the UK saying that a mutual friend of ours had died in January. He owned a Breaksea dog (Dinah's uncle Badger), and did I know anyone who could help with the dog?

A few texts, some emails, and a bunch of phone calls later, and all was set: I would go to Virginia to pick up Badger and bring him here. I knew Badger back when he was living in the Old Country, and he became one of my best buddies when I went over to bring Dinah home. If I didn't have Dinah's dad Danny on my lap, I had her uncle Badger (Danny's half-brother).

Sure, Badger could have found a home in the area. The National Capital Bearded Collie Club has a crack network of rescue volunteers, and a number of people offered homes when they heard that our friend had died. I admit to being selfish about this one, though: I love Badger and didn't want him to go anyplace else. Greg will probably take us all to the animal shelter when he realizes that Badger isn't just here temporarily (if I can help it), but he's actually been fine with the idea thus far.

Since I'm technically out of work, I have the opportunity to make a mini-vacation out of the trip. I could just drive the 11-12 hours straight, pick Badger up, and beat it home, but why rush? I can visit people along the way -- stop in to see my dad in Massachusetts and give my sister some time off, crash overnight near Baltimore with a Beardie friend and go to a huge local craft fair, visit another friend's new house in the DC suburbs, and enjoy my time in Richmond seeing old friends. If Mother Nature cooperates, it could be a fine little excursion. Badger's a good traveler and gets along well with everybody -- we could celebrate our first road trip together.

That's the thing about being laid off -- the first instinct is to berate oneself for not getting a new job right away, coupled with the fear of what happens if you don't find one before the severance package runs out. It takes some time before you can look past that fear to the opportunities beyond. Having time is a vastly underrated opportunity. I can't say as I've used it all wisely in this first month, but at least I understand that my time is now mine to make use of, or to squander, as I decide.

More On the Time Thing

Although I haven't realized my dream of going straight back to art school as soon as I became newly unemployed, I did sign up for a daytime knitting class with a friend of mine. It's nice to be able to get out of the house and concentrate on nothing but knitting for a couple of hours. The instructor is a mutual friend of ours who once worked at our late lamented local yarn shop, and who has been teaching multiple knitting and crochet classes for the local adult education department since then.

I've taken the opportunity to learn lace knitting. Sure, I can do yarnovers with the best of them, but I've been averse to taking on projects that involve much counting just because I am constantly interrupted here. Any time I have to set down my work mid-row to answer the phone/answer Greg/let the dogs out/go to the door/change channels on the TV, I'm lost. This explains why I've had a simple basketweave throw sitting in a bag in the Frog Pond since the 2004 World Series -- being able to concentrate on anything here for more and a minute at a time is impossible. If I were smart, I'd just frog the poor thing and take it with me to class.

Anyway, the prospect of doing some dedicated lace knitting is exciting. I'll be making something tiny like a bookmark, but no matter. The important thing is that I get to devote two hours to nothing but lace knitting.

Bittersweet Man News

Greg says that he's almost finished with the editing of the recordings for the Sax Quartets CD. He took on the editing tasks for his piece and that of his former professor at BU, Lukas Foss. This past week, we got word that Lukas had died on February 1. We had known he'd been in declining health for a while, and the New Hudson Sax Quartet had to record his piece at Lukas's apartment in New York because he wasn't able to go to them. Still, it's sad news. I never met Lukas, though I answered the phone a couple of times when he called looking for Greg. Sad to think that Lukas won't be around when this CD comes out.

The same label that is issuing the Sax Quartets recording is also recording and releasing Greg's String Quintet. You might remember this piece from my post about "The Ugly Quintet." Anyway, in its new and beautiful form as a piece for strings, the Quintet will be recorded in the Czech Republic sometime soon (if it hasn't already), and will be released at some point. I have no idea whether the piece will be included in another collection, released on its own, or whether it will be part of an all-Greg CD. The label has a whole spiderweb of distribution agreements with Naxos Records, iTunes, and a gazillion other musical outlets. I've been promising that all these CDs in the works will be released Any Time Now, so I'm not going to make any more announcements until I have a copy in one hand and am typing into this blog with the other.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Diary of a Bad Housewife

It's been a week since my job of 11+ years and I parted ways, and it's been one of the strangest, busiest weeks I've endured in a very long time. I wish I could tell you that things were falling into place, and that I'm adjusting to my new status as an economic statistic, but I just haven't made it that far yet. There's still so much to do, and organize, and think through -- and I haven't even had a spare moment to compile a to-do list or four.

The first few days have been somewhere beyond weird. My head's been spinning with all of the strange and unfamiliar tasks I've had to do, plus I've experienced a different emotion every five minutes. I'm told this is a normal part of the process, but it doesn't please me or comfort me much that I'm having to go through it in the first place.

One of the weirder tasks involved having to pack up all of the company-owned equipment here in my home office and drive it down to the office building, then surrender it (along with my badge, my access card, and my Amex corporate card) to one of the security guards. The guards were very sweet to me; it's just that I realized that I was now a guest in the building, and not allowed beyond the front lobby any more. I'm somewhat glad that I didn't run into anyone I know. That would have made for more awkwardness that I think I could have handled.

The Universe does provide, though. When word got out that I was out of work, I was deluged with offers of Web site work -- so many that I need another to-do list just to keep them all organized. In a way, you might say that I got my wish. At one point, I was working on one Web site or another and thinking, "I LOVE this stuff. I wish I could do this for a living." At least for now, that's what I'm doing. The going rate for such work is approximately half what I was making, though -- so I'm afraid that Web work will always have to be part-time for me. I'll have to find another full-time gig doing what I was doing. In the meantime, I have as much "fun work" ahead of me as I can possibly handle. (Thanks to Sue and Dale for getting things started. I am grateful.)

Another thing I caught myself saying was, "If I only had a little time off, I could REALLY straighten up this house." That hasn't happened yet, either. I've been so taken up with all of the crazy details of work (new and old) that I've only been able to keep up with the bare minimum of routine tasks, let alone tackle any of the real messes.

At least cooking is fun again. While I've been working, much of the day-to-day meal prep has fallen to Greg. He can cook better than he thinks he can, but his big meal is breakfast. There are two camps of cooks: those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. Greg is an Eat-to-Live. I'm a Live-to-Eat. In my version of Hell, you get served microwaved spaghetti topped with Ragu every single night. At least this whole new spare-time phenomenon means that I can get to the fish market before it closes, so we've been eating more salmon and less pasta.

My youngest sister sent me a call for help this past week that will result in some more cooking -- only not for us. She lives with my dad, and as his health issues get more complicated, she has had to assume more of his day-to-day care: food preparation, getting him to appointments, listening to the doctors, coping with the increasing number of emergencies, and so on. She asked me to drive down there and take Dad out to lunch a couple of times a month so she can have a respite and some time to herself, and also to make some food that agrees with his diet, freeze it, and bring that. It isn't really so much to ask, aside from the 300-mile round trip drive. My siblings have been helping some, and it's just my turn.

At Least the Knitting Statistics Are Showing an Upward Trend

Thus far, I haven't indulged my very small-but-sweet fantasy of spending an entire day just knitting. I did manage to finish another scarf for Susannah out of some pretty reddish-bronze ribbon yarn in my stash, and I've shipped it off to her. I've pulled some skinny chenille yarn from the same stash and have cast it on for the next scarf (I loathe chenille yarn, but the colors were irresistible). I've also turned the heel on the second of my dad's Scheepjes socks and am making my way slowly down the foot. At the rate I'm going, he might actually be able to wear them before the vernal equinox.

Greg mentioned how much he loves watch caps. At least now I know what I can knit for him that he actually would wear. Now, if only I could find where my Denise needles got off to...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This Too Shall Pass

Yesterday was my birthday. I like to think that I can now bid good riddance to a bad year -- or, as Queen Elizabeth said about the year 1992, "it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis."

Just in time for the celebration, I was laid off from my job of 11+ years. I knew I was in trouble the minute my boss, who has always been friendly and chatty during our phone meetings, launched into reading a script: "As you know, Sun has been going through some changes...". In better times, I simply would have laughed, thanked her for the paid time off, and picked up a contract job to tide me over while I looked for a suitable permanent gig. However, this is early 2009, and we're still cleaning off the residue of the last 8 years of plutocratic rule. No doubt about it, I'm going to have to work hard to find another gig, and I am less than 100% confident that I'll find one very soon in these times. I do get a severance package, but it's hardly generous. Wish me luck.

In between (frequent) bouts of terror, though, I actually welcome a chance to regroup. I've had a long list of things that I hoped to do someday. Once I cross off the ones (such as "vacation in Tahiti") that would cost money, there are still plenty of things I never had time to do. I can spend more time on freelance articles! I can knit in the middle of the day -- and can even take a morning knitting class with my friend Fran! If the weather didn't suck, I could take long walks with the dogs and tire them out for a change. I can even take morning classes with them, if I can find the money. I can go to the gym -- the one I've been paying membership fees to all this time. I have time to get back into learning PHP, which I was just starting to do.

Plus, bless everybody's hearts, I now have a bunch of Web sites to do. I LOVE doing Web work, and would sit here at the computer at night, thinking, "I just LOVE this. I wish this were my day job." Well, at least for now, it is. I just wish it paid anything like my previous gig. If I could make a living at it, I'd never go back.

Greg has really been a rock since the whole thing happened. He's been coming up with plenty of ideas how we can both make money and save it. In spite of the impending austerity of our future existence, he took me out to a sumptuous dinner at 555 in Portland for my birthday. The food was exquisite and imaginatively prepared and presented, the service was attentive, and we had ourselves a grand old time. We made a reservation for Valentine's Day, and I'm hoping that times will get better soon enough that we can return on a regular basis. We haven't had a meal like that since the chef from Windows on the Water retired. I feel guilty that Greg spent that much money on a dinner while we're on the edge of some mighty hard times, but I hope that we'll have something to celebrate soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rally: It Really Is a Sport for Everyone!

A friend of mine sent this video to me with the comment, "When they get a monkey to do this, we're in big trouble."

If this doesn't make me get off the couch and train, I don't know what will.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Cult of Elvis

Thursday the 8th was Elvis Presley's 74th birthday. The mind boggles. Makes you wonder what his Las Vegas act would have been like if he were alive today.

Mind you, I am not an Elvis fan. I was in diapers when his music was popular, and it wasn't until many years later, seeing the old video of the Ed Sullivan show, that I caught even an inkling of why people thought he was so cool or controversial back in the early '60s. The dancing fight scenes in West Side Story looked a whole lot more dangerous to me, frankly -- not to mention more interesting musically. I'm much more into Elvis Costello than Elvis Presley.

The only thing I've understood less than the attraction of Elvis is his continuing popularity. I mean, sure, he had a good voice and made some records that sold lots of copies -- but he's freakin' DEAD, people. He's not living in Africa with JFK and Jim Morrison. (Neither are they.) He should be a poster boy for the dangers of high cholesterol -- and bad fashion.

On the other hand, I've always had a major-league fascination for pop-culture kitsch -- and since The King's untimely demise while on the throne back in 1977, a whole industry has sprung up around the production, marketing, and sale of Elvis-related crap. Porcelain collector plates! T-shirts with sequins and glitter! Figurines! Light-up mirrors with roses painted on them! "LOOK at this!" I'd call out to my youngest sister. "They're actually selling this stuff -- but not in any store!" We'd laugh our butts off. We love Elvis impersonators. The movie Bubba-Ho-Tep was okay by itself, but the DVD audio commentary by Bruce Campbell was (and is -- buy the DVD!) absolutely hilarious. I can't even describe the Graceland scene from This is Spinal Tap without howling.

And then there was the day when someone gave me a freakin' velvet Elvis as a gag gift -- I forget whether it was for Christmas, my birthday, Be Kind to Animals Week, or whatever. I laughed until I couldn't stand it any more, and then awarded it pride of place in my front hall closet. A few years ago, I posted a condensed version of the Saga of the Velvet Elvis to this blog. The condensed version is enough; you really had to be there to appreciate the details. Suffice it to sat that the velvet Elvis, now parted from its distinctive faux driftwood frame, is still living in a barn in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I dread this particular Return of the King.

Ever since people witnessed the gift of the velvet Elvis, I've been dragged into the Cult of Elvis. People still give me Elvis crap, and it still strikes me funny. I have Elvis playing cards, Elvis lunch boxes, at least one nasty-looking Elvis T-shirt (never worn) with glitter on it, Elvis Christmas CDs, Elvis fridge magnets, and more fine products from the Elvis-crap industry. This Christmas, I received a particularly fine (and hilarious) Elvis purse made out of a recycled tin can and festooned with a bottle-cap clasp -- and lots of blue rhinestones. Will it ever see the light of day (or of neon)? HELL NO. I can still take it out, lovingly undo the tissue paper wrappings, and laugh. I am SO going to Graceland one of these days -- preferably with my sister and a bottle of Captain Morgan.

To be honest, I wish people would give me stuff I can actually use, rather than stuff I keep hidden away lest anyone (the electrician, the UPS man, any of my friends not in on the joke) see it. One main problem with having any Elvis crap at all is that it breeds in captivity. People see you have anything at all with Elvis's image on it, and they rush out and buy you more Elvis crap! Before you know it, you're overwhelmed with the stuff -- and too chicken to sell it on eBay, for fear the giver sees it up for auction and takes offense -- or worse still, buys you more crap to keep the other crap company.

All the same, I still laugh my butt off every time I look at any of it, and laughs are hard to come by these days.

I have a co-worker who is about my age, and who actually is an Elvis fan. He has even gone to Graceland with a straight face, and without the Captain Morgan. When he had an office in one of the company buildings, it was generally regarded as one of the great landmarks of our little slice of Silicon Valley. It was a complete shrine to Elvis, from the life-sized cardboard cutout standing in the window to the horrendous tapestries hanging on the walls. His collection of Elvis crap made mine look pathetic. (Okay, it was pathetic anyway.)

I asked him about the collection, and he admitted that he had never bought a single article of Elvis junk for himself, either. Everything in the shrine had been given to him as gifts from other people who spied the junk he already had, and then gave him more of it. When he left the company for a startup gig, he probably needed to get a moving truck just to transport all the Elvis crap. He's back at the company again, but works from home now. I wonder whether his home office contains any of the original decor. Probably not. He probably has boxes of the stuff breeding in his garage, and someday it will burst from its container and overwhelm his entire neighborhood. eBay is looking better all the time.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Please Vote for The Man!

Greg submitted his "Dona nobis pacem" variation to this site, and would love to win a chance to collaborate with Yo-Yo Ma. If you feel thusly inclined, please vote for him...