Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

We didn't see any snow from the most recent cold front, though areas in Texas north of us did. A "White Christmas" almost never comes to central Texas, and this year is no exception.

We did get ridiculously high winds, some up to 50 mph, and the inevitable happened... Byrd had to work on Christmas Eve. The wind destroyed four of his intersections, so his work phone started ringing just as we were preparing to go to his family's Christmas Eve party. He didn't get home until 3 am today.

It happens every year without fail. Weather or drunk drivers manage to wreck something, and off Byrd goes to fix it, usually right smack in the middle of a family gathering. He's always on call. It sucks.

Dozer had his knee surgery a few days ago and he's doing fine. He got the torn meniscus repaired, and they also removed a plate that was in his leg, left over from the TPLO.

I keep meaning to update Dozer's blog, but I lost my camera. Well, I thought I'd lost it. I looked all over the house with no luck. Then I finally decided to ask Byrd about it, though I was pretty sure he'd have no idea, because he never knows where my stuff is. He rarely knows where his own stuff is.

But he was like "oh yeah, it's on top of the fridge" as if that was the most natural place in the world for it to be. (!!) I suppose for a guy that's 6' 6", the top of the fridge is a reasonable place to put things. So, mystery solved.

We didn't decorate at all for Christmas this year. Not a tree or lights or anything. Just too busy. :( We got some cards from some of Dozer's blog pals--thank you guys so much! Byrd was astonished. He relented just a bit with his "your blogging is a waste of time" attitude. And Dozer was sooo excited to have something to open and sniff.

Merry Christmas to you! I hope you are all warm, safe, healthy, and happy.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Season of Joy

I thought it might be a good idea to post a bit about the great things happening, since previous posts might have implied that I'm really sad or discouraged. :)

It is crazy around here (Dozer), and stressful (Dozer!), but believe it or not, I'm having the best time of my life. My educational websites are performing satisfactorily, and my volunteer activities (fostering, etc.) are time-consuming but very rewarding. My job is kick-ass awesome; I get told daily how great my work is, and that feels really good. And my home life is certainly not boring.

Daisy's mom is very sweet; she's worried about Dozer's most recent mishap (that I Tweeted about), so I thought I'd update.

Yesterday I got home from work and noticed Dozer itching a lot. So I got a closer look and he was covered in blotches all over his stomach. In an hour this went from blotches to lumps, and in three hours when he started looking like a marshmallow, Byrd and I packed him over to the emergency vet.

At the emergency vet, they gave him three injections (two cortisone and one Benadryl) and sent me home with Prednisone and orders to give him 4 capsules of Benadryl twice a day as well.

We don't have any idea how this reaction happened or what caused it. It's supposed to clear up in a few days. The drugs have made Dozer very sleepy, so it's peaceful around here right now. :)

I've been told that this incident won't interfere with his surgery for the torn meniscus, which is scheduled for December 23.

Sigh. Dear God, I would like the random surprise disasters to stop now, please. Sincerely, Jennifer.


For my rather large extended family, the period between Thanksgiving and New Years' is a time for reflection, thanks-giving, good food and good company, goal-setting, and reminiscing.

Here is my earnest wish for the coming year. It is my hope that everyone will take up a volunteer role of some sort. Even a very small role, or a short-term one. Every volunteer minute is a valuable one, and many organizations are in desperate need. (For those who are already volunteering or donating in some way--thank you so much!)

And of course, I wish the best for you, my readers, and your families and friends in 2010.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dozer's Christmas present

Dozer turned nine last month. I promised him a birthday party, but that didn't happen. Not even a little present, unless you count the allergy shots he's getting every three days or so (hey, he gets cheese as a treat for taking his shots so well).

Nine years is decidedly senior for a big dog like him (90 lbs). But he doesn't show his age, except that he's slowly falling apart physically.

Last week he had a major allergy episode, and had a staph breakout. He's on antibiotics.

He's also on a special prescription shampoo. I have to bathe him every 3 days. I gave him the first bath on Friday and he sloughed more fur than I've ever seen him shed before. I had a Chihuahua-sized pile of fur on the shower floor at the end, and Dozer continued to drop huge dust bunnies as I dried him.

Dozer also has an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon--finally--to officially diagnose what appears to be a torn meniscus in his leg (the one that previously had a torn ACL and subsequent surgery).

If it is a torn meniscus, Dozer will probably have surgery the week before Christmas. Yes, another surgery.

So his Christmas present--and ours--will be... surgery! Yay!

I'm still recovering from the bill for his dental surgery to remove his cracked tooth. And it looks like we'll need another surgery in the future because of an odd growth on his front leg.

I'm still working two jobs. Actually, the freelance job is on break for the holidays--but that only helps me in that I don't have to come home from work and do more paid work. I come home from work and do unpaid work instead.

Byrd swore up and down that, if I went back to a regular job, he would absolutely help out with the housework, cooking, and all that jazz. Let me give credit where credit is due: Byrd has done 1 load of laundry (his pants only) and 2 loads of dishes in the last two months. (Note: At our house, I fill a dishwasher in two days, and do about ten loads of laundry a week. So Byrd has assisted with 3% of dishes and 2.5% of laundry in last 2 months.) He also cooked three meals in a row! (7.5% of meals) OK, you get the point. I still love him. I just wish he understood how much time gets sucked out of my evenings and weekends by chores.

I've worked full time before, and it seems like Byrd was a lot more helpful then. Or maybe I had more time for chores, because I wasn't as involved with volunteer work, website maintenance, and the like. Maybe it was a combination of both.

Anyway, the discouraging thing is that all of the money I'm making from my awesome new full-time job is going straight to vet bills. I can only give my most heartfelt thanks--and a sparkly greeting card from Target--to the people who hired me just when I needed the money the most.

Happy Holidays to you all! May you have a surgery-free vacation. :)

Friday, November 27, 2009

ICL Surgery Update: I have glasses

My post(s) about my ICL surgery back in December 06 (see My ICL Eye Surgery Experience, Part I and My ICL Experience, Part II) have had longevity. (In fact, do a Google search for ICL surgery and my blog is the third result, yikes!) I occasionally get requests for updates about how things are going, usually from people considering the surgery themselves, and since it's been almost three years at this point, I think I should probably oblige.

So if the dog-oriented followers will bear with me...

ICL (implantable contact lens or intracorneal lens), also known as IOL (intraocular lens), is essentially a contact lens that is surgically implanted into one's eyeball in order to correct vision. ICL is an alternative to Lasik when Lasik isn't possible because a person has extreme near- or farsightedness.

Before I had the ICL procedure done, I was -11D in my right eye and -12.5D in my left. If I had gone with Lasik, I would have had to have it done twice to get to 20/20--and unfortunately, my cornea wasn't thick enough to handle Lasik twice.

You can read more about the procedure and my early impressions of the surgery at the links above. I came out of the surgery with 20/20 vision that lasted for about two years. (My left eye was not quite 20/20, but my right eye made up for it.)

Three years later, my vision has shifted somewhat. This wasn't unexpected. First, my vision is eternally creeping further into the negative Ds, especially in my weak left eye. And second, even the slightest shift of the implanted lenses can cause blurriness.

But the change is minor. I don't need glasses for anything except driving. Even then, I'm not legally required to wear the glasses. I just feel a little more comfortable with them on when I'm in a strange place trying to read street name signs, or when I'm driving at night.

It was actually sort of neat to walk into an Eyemasters and buy a pair of basic frames and basic lenses for $50. I've never gotten glasses at that price before. With my old prescription, I used to buy special lightweight lenses, special frames for the lenses, special non-reflective coating, special frosting on the edge to cut down on refraction, and on and on. The cost was always around $400+. And I had to wait 2 weeks turnaround, because everything had to be special ordered. Now, my prescription is so tiny, I can get the cheapest possible option and it works great.

I do still have halos around light sources in many situations. This is a result of a misplaced hole in my left iris during the initial preparation for the ICL (the YAG iridotomy). It's not a big deal for me, though it makes nighttime activities, movies, and laser tag a little challenging.

Would I do the surgery again, even knowing that I'd have to use glasses to drive three years down the road? Even knowing I'd have halos forever?

Yes. Absolutely.

I spent twenty years trapped in glasses and/or contacts. The freedom I gained from the ICL is difficult to describe. Some nights I still reach for my face to put my glasses on the bedside table, only to grasp air.

Not everyone will feel the same way, I'm sure. But I'm pleased with my results--looking back with the benefit of three years' retrospect.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Always on the job

The scene: Sunday evening. Our living room. Byrd and I are sitting on the couch discussing what to eat for dinner.

Byrd [shifting uncomfortably]: Hmm, something in my front pocket is stabbing me in the thigh.

Me: Yeah, it's probably your keys.

Byrd [digging in his pocket]: I don't think my keys are in my pocket.

Me: Possibly it's the corner of your cell phone, then?

Byrd [stands up, still digging]: Hang on, I found the culprit.

Byrd pulls a wrench, three screwdrivers, and a handful of bolts out of his front pants pocket.

Me: . . . !

Byrd: Ah, much better.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Adopted!

No sooner do I start stressing about Dubby, then he's gone. Just like that. Poof.

Dubby got adopted yesterday. The organization I am fostering for has a same-day adoption policy, so if everything checks out, the dog goes home with the new family right then and there.

I got the news while I was at the vet with another chicken (Bawk Bawk, who has a yeast overgrowth in her crop, nothing serious). I finished at the vet, raced home and dropped off the chicken, and sped to the adoption site, hoping to get to say goodbye.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw Dubby's little tail as he was lifted into a car. The back seat was piled high with a brand new crate and tons of dog toys. I parked and raced over, but the car was already gone.

I felt like someone had just stolen my dog. The adoption counselor reassured me that the people were very nice, had asked excellent questions, and had spent a very long time playing with Dubby. I guess all I can do now is hope that the new family loves him as much as I do. That's the suckiest part of fostering; you have to have faith in the goodness of other people, or else the guilt and worry will tear you apart.

Dubby was wearing the tie Princess sent him, for the first time at an adoption site. I hadn't put it on him previously for site because I didn't want him (or his penmate) to mess it up; but he had finally grown out of all his other outfits and I felt like he needed to wear something to site. I guess it was a lucky tie!


Last night I cried into Dozer's fur for a long time. He really hates when I do that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Life hurts, but not as much as a needle in the finger

When I stabbed myself in the finger with a syringe full of ivermectin this evening, it was sort of the last straw. Byrd didn't really understand why I was crying. "You're not going to die from a little poke," he told me. "It didn't really hurt that badly, did it?"

But the last two weeks have been full of ups and downs that have put strain on my heart.

Dozer's limping on his leg--the one that had TPLO surgery. The vet isn't sure why. X-rays are the next step, if the anti-inflammatories don't work (and they're not). Dozer's vet bills for the leg alone have reached almost $4K... And his allergy test results are still out. That dog is determined to drive us to poverty.

Star has been a very rude dog lately, and her prey drive has noticeably increased, so I'm taking her to remedial behavior classes. It was hard to hear the trainer say that I'm letting Star control too many situations. But it's true; I got lazy after having a couple of "easy" dogs who would bend over backward to please me. Even during the first session, I could see just how lazy I'd gotten. I really wasn't in charge, and Star was doing whatever she wanted. No wonder I was only getting compliance from her half of the time. So things are changing for Star, as I dust off the Boss hat.

National Pit Bull Awareness Weekend encompassed more than just a weekend. It started with a visit to city hall for a mayoral proclamation on Thursday--and I was late due to rush hour traffic (we don't have traffic in my outlying part of town, so I miscalculated my drive time).

Then there were two days of events. It was a really successful weekend in my book. I got to meet a lot of people and have some great discussions. And I even met a really nice pit bull owner who is practically a neighbor--she lives two streets over and I didn't even know it!

The aftermath of the weekend has started to crash on me. I have a newsletter to write, and the group has future events to plan. The Love-A-Bull website needs updating; I have a dozen emails asking me to post such-and-so on the site. I also have 300+ names/addresses, gathered over the weekend, to enter into a database.

Unfortunately, no one's adopted Dubby yet. He's had a few lookers, but there's always something in the way. The most promising family was denied by their landlord because Dubby is a "vicious breed." I hate crap like that sooo much. Here's that vicious beast in a purple monkey costume. He was not very pleased with the monkey-head cap but he kept his composure--even though most of the other dogs mistook him for a giant moving stuffy.

Yesterday, I had to euthanize one of my chickens, Squawkers. She had some sort of growth that was compressing her organs, and after several hundred dollars and x-rays, the vet gave me a grim diagnosis: imminent heart failure. I buried her in the backyard next to Penny the prairie dog and Cluckers, another chicken.

Piling on to the stress, I'm working two freelance jobs right now.

Then today, my old boss proposed that I come back to work for them as a contract labor copyeditor, with a possible permanent position coming soon. Of course, I totally said yes to that, because it means: 1) benefits, 2) steady paycheck, 3) Byrd gets off my back about "eating bon bons and watching soap operas all day long" (because to him, it's not work unless you're actually making money at an office).

Then I had to stop and think about how on earth I was going to do two freelance jobs, keep up with my websites and blogs, shuttle Dubby to and from the adoption site every day, volunteer with Love-A-Bull, AND work a full time position. And what about organizing my photos, cleaning my house, gardening, playing video games, reading, writing my never-finished novel, drawing, watching all The Office and Heroes DVDs I borrowed from my sister, doing training with Star, cooking edible meals, and going to the grocery store? Not to mention incidental events like vet visits, doctor appointments, meetups with the Love-A-Bull group...

My brain exploded.

By the end of the day, I had a bad headache. Possibly due to brain explosion, but hey, I'm not a doctor.

Then the syringe stabbed me, as if to say "Hey, you're a clumsy idiot. You have more work than you have time. Your chicken is dead. You're a lousy dog owner. You're a goody-two-shoes volunteer when you should be working, making a living. And you think this new job is a good thing, but it's just going to take you farther away from your family and your dreams." Such harsh words from such a hurtful needle! And I cried.

Let me tell you, it didn't help the headache at all.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How to Organize Photos?

Here's a question for the folks who have a zillion photos on their computer.

What's the easiest, fastest way to organize them? (I have Windows XP and Vista.)

My now-dead disk drive had a LOT more pictures than I thought. I spent hours last night moving all the photos into my Photo folder on my desktop.

Right now, I have them all parceled out into folders, though the organization is not uniform at all. Some pictures are in folders based on the year ("1987"). Some are in folders based on the topic ("Pets"), then usually separated into subtopics, sub-subtopics, and quite possibly even dates from there. Some are labeled based on where I got them from ("Scans," "From camera," "From phone," etc.). And there's also a giant "Misc" folder that has another kajillion pictures sort of randomly crammed in it.

It's hard to search for a particular photo. Some of the pictures are actually named based on the subject shown. Others are named based on the date the picture was taken. And the most recent pictures still bear their camera-imposed number.

My sister recommends dumping all my pictures into one folder and using Windows Photo Gallery (which comes with Vista) to slap tags on each picture.

Which is fine, but it's going to take a lot of time and effort. So I want to be sure that's the best thing to do, before I do it.

How do you organize your digital photos? Do you use a special program, and if so, which one?

Tell me your secrets, or the puppy gets it!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My dad's a frikkin genius

So about three years ago, my computer's hard drive crashed and died fantastically. By some ridiculous coincidence, this happened about a week after my external backup drive also took a turn for the worse, and I hadn't had time to buy a new backup drive.

The end result was that I lost ALL my files. This included about a zillion digital photos of my dogs, including great pics of the late and beloved Felanie, adolescent Dozer, and our old foster dogs. I had taken all these pics with a digital camera, loaded them onto the computer, and kept them there without printing them, so I didn't have a hard copy.

Thus, my actual photo record only goes up to about 2001 (printed photos in photo albums), then there's a gaping hole from January 2001 to December 2005.

This is the oldest photo of Felanie that I have on my computer, from February 2006 (she was almost 8 years old):


Still, even though I swapped out the dead disk drive for a nice shiny new one, I held on to the old one, determined that some day, I would scrape up the money to send my poor drive to a disk-recovery service and beg them to salvage my precious memories. At the time, I think the disk-recovery people were charging anywhere from $1K to $3K to save dead drives; I don't have any idea what it costs nowadays.

I held on to the dead disk for three years. I clutched it in my arms and shrieked when Byrd suggested throwing it out. "Never!!" Some day, I would revive it! Byrd sighed and told me that when I threw out his broken computer equipment, I was applying a double standard. Preposterous! His stuff was broken. My disk was only sleeping.

Last week, my dad started chatting about his new computer setup at his house. He'd gotten some sort of thing called a Drobo that could hold four drives and ghost each other and blah blah blah about something or other. It clicked: "Hey, my dad's a computer scientist. My dad is a doctor of electrical engineering. Maybe he can fix my disk!"

I totally interrupted whatever the hell he was yapping about, ran upstairs, and dug out my dead, I mean sleeping, disk drive. I pressed my precious cargo into his arms and begged him to save it. "You can rebuild it. You can make it faster, better, stronger! Or at the very least, get my pictures off of it! Use your Drawbot or whatever you were just talking about."

"Er... Well, that's not what a Drobo is for..." He studied the naked, dusty disk drive dubiously, but he took it home with him.

That evening, he sent me this photo of my dead hardware, which he dubbed "Frankendrive."

At first I thought he was making some sort of ransom demand ("Pay me now and your precious drive won't get hurt anymore!"), but then he explained that the complicated getup was necessary in order to hook up my old-fashioned drive to a modern computer. Its three-year coma was apparently enough to leave it out of step with current technology.

Dad said he had made a first attempt to access the drive with his Windows machine (my drive had originally been running Windows XP), but it kept crashing and complaining about corrupt command files. Instead, he was downloading files from it without much trouble using his Linux box as the go-between.

And though it took all night, Dad got everything off in good shape.

So guess what that means? I gots me some photos!! (Well, not quite yet; I have to go over to his house and copy them onto a flash drive or something.) I don't even really remember what's on there, but hopefully there will be some good pics to share here.

The first photo that Dad got off my old disk drive:

Hmm, well, okay, this actually isn't from the 2001-2006 time frame at all. This is a scanned photo of the backyard of our house in Pittsburgh, where we lived when I was four and five years old. This is where I was bitten on the hand by a squirrel (I was trying to pet it by luring it with a tasty walnut), which at that age felt just as awful and scary as if the squirrel had bitten my entire hand off, thus instilling a terrible fear of the furry-tailed rodents for the next fifteen years.

I did finally decide to drop the fear when I started as a freshman at UT and realized that there was just not going to be any way to avoid squirrels if I wanted to survive on campus. This point was driven home when a campus squirrel--I kid you not--tried to BEAT ME UP for my peanut butter sandwich one day. I am dead serious--this squirrel punched me in the back, threw acorns at me, jumped on my leg, and hung off my arm until I lobbed half my sandwich at him. When he came back for the Fritos, I crammed as many chips into my mouth as I could and fled into a nearby building, leaving the spoils for the victor. Peering out the window at the little mugger, who was looking quite pleased with himself as he dug into the abandoned Fritos bag, I vowed to never waver in the face of squirrel hostility again.

Anyway, my Dad totally rocks.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Catching Up

I went the Ballet Austin season opener this weekend with Byrd. It was the first one he's ever seen. And he actually said he enjoyed it! (A huge improvement over his initial reaction when I asked him to come with me, not appropriate for reprint here.)

Oh yes, folks, a couple of pit bull owners went to the ballet (gasp!)! And we dressed up real fancy and refrained from dealing drugs during intermission and we did not bust a cap in the orchestra conductor or... okay, I'm too tired to come up with any more stereotypical imagery but you get the idea.

Star continues to have her ups and downs in agility. One minute she's focused and excited and ready to go, and the next she's totally distracted by cows in a neighboring field or the dog next to her or a bug that landed on her butt.

Dozer's leg has healed up enough that he can run around a bit, and he seems to know it. Allergies are his biggest problem right now.

Dubby is doing much better at the adoption site now that he has fur (no more sunburns), and now that he evidently realizes I'm coming back later. The adoption counselors tell me he sleeps most of the day. He goes to an adoption site that is much closer to my house, now, so my total daily driving time has been cut from almost 2 hrs to about 20 minutes. I drop Dub off at site every day at 11 am and pick him up every day at 7 pm.

I've had yet another bout of sore throat mystery disease, though this one lacked the fever and other symptoms. This time, I raced in to the ENT, who took some samples of the whatever and sent it off to the lab. Hopefully I'll have some answers by mid-week. In the meantime, I'm on steroids, which promptly kicked the mystery disease's ass. Hurray.

And on top of all this, there's the freelance work. After months of waiting around for this particular job, it is suddenly pouring down on me with a fury. I can't keep up!

So every day for me, for several weeks now, has gone:

Morning: Wake up, shower (maybe), check e-mail, do morning chores (chickens, dogs, dishes, laundry), get Dubby to adoption site

Noon: Make lunch, start copyediting

Afternoon: Copyedit, yell at Star to stop ringing the back doorbell over and over because it's too wet outside and she doesn't really want to go out and she knows it

Evening: Copyedit, prepare dinner, evening chores (dishes, laundry, chickens, dogs), pick up Dubby from adoption site

Late evening: Copyedit, do late evening chores (medicate dogs, close up chicken coop), dream about catching up with my favorite blogs

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Aw, he's so cute!!

That's what they all say.

But not a single serious inquiry about adoption to date. :(

We spent two hours at a pet fair today; Dubby wore a big "Adopt Me" vest that draped over his back and made him look like a tiny horse.

He was in fine form, performed some tricks, and generally ran and tumbled like a cute little puppy. He got nice and muddy, chewed some other dogs' faces, got trampled by a few big dogs (and loved it), and on the 3K benefit walk he swerved and veered and entangled everyone's legs with his leash without a care in the world, just happy with his newfound freedom (this was only his second major excursion on a leash, since he just finished his vaccinations yesterday).

By the end of the event, Dubby was so tired that he actually conked out in the grass while I was doing a short interview for our pit bull Meetup group. He looked so precious, snoozing there in the sun on top of my muddy blue canvas bag while people strolled past.

Then he came home and crashed on our bed.

We love him. Whoever adopts him will love him. It's impossible not to love him. Everyone here is quite attached to him, especially Byrd, who literally goes into Dubby Withdrawal if Dubby is not around.

This is one more reason why he needs to go home with someone quickly. It will make the foster bond a little easier to break. The longer he stays, the stronger the bond.

Some people wonder why we don't keep Dubby, if we love him so much. The answer is simple: Dozer won't let us. Dozer tolerates puppies, but he won't put up with another adult male dog on his turf. And Dubby will be an adult male dog some day.

Besides, we love every dog that we foster. If we kept them all, we'd have way too many dogs and not enough time to spend with each of them. Two dogs is my limit, and I'm sticking to it for the benefit of all.

But I know someone out there has space for a dog. Someone's looking. Here's hoping they'll fall head over heels for Dubby some day soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Freelance Copyediting Process

Hi there! Pit bull owner here. Unfortunately, I'm not a drug dealer, gang member, or antisocial thug... unfortunately for you, anyway, because otherwise this description of my job might be a little more interesting!

No, the cold, hard truth is that I heart love grammar.

My experience is with textbooks, specifically middle school and high school literature textbooks. But I've also been on a copyediting team for a technology RFP (a work proposal for the state), and I've done a bit of history, social studies, and psychology textbook copyediting as well.

Sometimes I work on hard copy (paper) and sometimes I work on PDFs or Word documents. It just depends on the job.

This stack of paper below is a grade 9 test handbook; it is what teachers use to give tests at the end of each unit in the textbook. It also has an answer key and a skills chart (that the teacher can review to see what state skills the students are learning).

I usually work on my dining table, or on the living room couch. Byrd built me a huge desk where I can spread the papers out, but then he took over half of it!

Here are the supplies I use to copyedit: a mechanical pencil (or a colored pen), an eraser, a ton of small sticky notes, some "sticky finger" wax, and page flags. The page flags are cut from the small sticky notes.

Here's the copyediting in high gear. I've split up the pages so I can check cross references--that is, references to other pages in the book. I also have to check the answer key and the skills chart for each question.

I'm checking for grammatical errors, typos, incorrect answers, style inconsistencies, and pretty much anything that doesn't work or make sense. I mark and correct most of the little issues directly on the page. I put queries--questions for the editors, usually about issues I can't resolve because they are too big for a quick fix--on sticky notes on the page.

Any page with any sort of mark or query must have a page flag, so the editor knows the page has been "touched."

This particular document was supposed to be "mostly clean"--that is, it wasn't supposed to have a whole lot of problems. But you can see from the page flags that "clean" is a subjective term!
Here are some other important supplies: a big bag of pecans and a tray of cinnamon rolls. Other staples include Coke, Oreos, chips or popcorn, apples, cheese and crackers, and anything else I can stuff in my mouth with one hand while writing and turning pages with the other.
Of course, it's important to have a laptop or computer on hand. Not only do I use an online dictionary/thesaurus, the online Chicago Manual of Style, and research sources for fact checking, I also listen to J-pop (Japanese pop music) on Web radio while I work.

Why J-pop, you ask? Aside from the fact that I like it ("NERD!"), it's also very difficult for me to sing along. When you're trying to read and edit a document in English, the last thing you want to do is listen to music in English. Pretty soon, you're so busy rocking out to the lyrics that you've lost concentration (and probably missed a bunch of grammatical errors). With J-pop, I get a nice tune that keeps me awake without confounding my language skills.

And yes, I've tried classical music, which has no lyrics at all. It puts me to sleep!

So, there you have it. After I'm done with the entire document, I turn it all in and wait for the next job.

If you're thinking this is sort of an unusual occupation for a pit bull owner, let me break it to you gently. You should know that most of us actually do have normal, boring jobs as teachers, writers, technology experts, doctors, and so on.

Sorry to disappoint.


Here comes the rain!

A sight we haven't seen here in Austin for an eternity...


The rain showed up a few days ago. Not a cute little sprinkle, oh no. No, you know what they say... everything's bigger in Texas. Our weather is always ridiculously dramatic.


We went from roasting in one of the worst droughts, at some of the hottest temperatures I can remember, to downright flooded in a matter of hours.

Yesterday and today I had the misfortune to be on the highway during the afternoon downpours. Of course, I was NOT taking pictures with my cell phone then--I was trying to see the road! The rain came down so hard, all I could see was gray, and the occasional red light of someone braking ahead of me.

But I did take some shots while Byrd was driving, a few days before. This drive was 13 minutes long. We started on dry road... then about three minutes into it--here's what started:

Five minutes later Byrd had the wipers going full speed and we still couldn't see.

And three minutes up the road, it was dry as a bone again.

That's Texas weather for ya!

Most of our area got a mega-downpour today, not the spotty drenchings of the past few days. We needed the rain, but the downside is that the dirt that was our backyard (our grass being dead and all) is now MUD.

So we're all trapped inside the house--still! Over the summer, the heat kept us in. Now, we're trying to avoid the rain and the mud.

I think Star is going to go bonkers. I haven't taken her on a walk in weeks; agility class keeps getting canceled due to weather; and no trips to the pet store, as I try to save some money. She has developed this weird habit of chasing shadows.

Here's what I mean. I swear to you--THERE WAS NOTHING THERE.

video

She does this every night, too. It's a little creepy to see her standing there staring at the wall, or stomping on some invisible insect, or wedging herself into a corner to poke at the carpet. Although I will admit she found--and smashed--a little house gecko this way once. :(

Take me on a walk... pleeeease... I'm SO BORED!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Adoption Daze

Update 9/11/09: I found out from the adoption coordinator that what happened was that Dubby got beat up by another puppy. His bare skin is too sensitive to sharp puppy teeth! So the coordinators have issued special instructions to the on-site counselors--and I reiterate these instrux every morning at dropoff--that Dubby cannot play with rough puppies. And he MUST have sunscreen reapplied every day!

Dubby came home from the adoption site today with a bunch of scrapes on his face and a gash on his leg. My sister picked him up like this, but failed to get the scoop.

He's also sunburned. I drop him off every morning covered in sunscreen, and every day he comes back a little more red. I can tell the staff isn't applying sunscreen, even though I make that request every morning. I even left a tube of sunscreen there earlier in the week, to make it easy for them.

I feel so bad for Dubby. He shrieks something awful when I drop him off every morning. And he passes out from exhaustion every day on the ride home. And now this.

He's not having a fun time or a good experience, sitting there in his pen. I wish someone would adopt him already!

I'm not having much fun either; the adoption site is a 40 min drive away. I have to drive there twice a day--once to drop off (11 am), once to pick up (7 pm). I'm exhausted from all the driving. I don't know how people deal with such a commute on a regular basis; I've been known to turn down temp jobs if they take longer than 20 minutes for me to get to.

Blogging is taking a back seat this week as I struggle with two freelance jobs, an assortment of extracurricular commitments, the foster puppy, and of course, daily life. I shouldn't even be writing this post right now!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oregon


Half my family lives in Oregon, so I go up there every couple years to visit, usually with my sister and my dad and his crew.

This year I was excited to drive up there with Byrd, sightseeing along the way, but at the last minute, the company he works for decided they really needed him to stay and work. So I flew up there without him, and stayed for a week.

I eagerly anticipated that I'd be getting out of the Texas heat and into some pleasant weather. Come to find out, they're having a heat wave up there. Eugene's temperatures weren't much cooler than the 100s in Texas, but here's the big difference: low humidity and a cool breeze. In Texas, we have high humidity and the sort of breeze that hits your face when you open an oven door.

So even though my grandma didn't have air conditioning, it got cool enough at night to leave windows open, and the house retained that coolness throughout the day. That's unheard of where I live, at least in the summer. I even had to fix the settings on Grandma's A/C in her car, because she never used it.

My sis walking Grandma's dog out in the heat...

We spent the first several days at Grandma's house fixing things. My sis and I tackled some of the dirtier work, including cleaning out the garage/shed and recarpeting the vegetable garden.

Now, there are two things in this world that I really feel that I can do without. One is roaches. And the other is spiders. These two things are the only critters that can send me running and screaming like a two-year-old.

And let me tell you, working at my Grandma's house, I have never seen so many spiders in my life. The climate was really favorable for them this year or something.

Here we are gingerly peeling back the old carpet that was acting as a weed barrier in Grandma's garden...

We piled up the old carpet (notice the strawberry plant that had rooted itself to the carpet) and the spiders were even happier to have this fancy new home full of hidey-holes:

Well the last laugh's on you, spiders! (We took the carpet to the dump, spiders and all.)

And here's the garage, partway done. We got everything out of the smack middle, but there will never be enough room for Grandma's car unless she manages to find someone to buy the approx. 300 boxed-up collectible glass whiskey decanters that line the back of her garage (not pictured here).

We found three boxes of old magazines that Grandma said she just hadn't had the time to read. We tore off the address labels and recycled them. The boxes were full of spiders.

Even when I sought some respite from the dirty jobs of cleaning and organizing, there were spiders. I went to pick blueberries and found out the bushes were fave hangouts for spiders.

By the way, if you are ever in Eugene, there's this great little place there called Off the Waffle. EAT A WAFFLE THERE. You will not regret it. We found it purely by chance on our first day in town, and ate those waffles every single day we were in the city. I came back to Texas, bought a waffle maker, and made waffles (liege waffles to be precise) for the first time in my life because of that place. I would tell you how good these waffles are, but if you cannot go to Eugene and eat one, then my description will only make you horribly, possibly incurably, depressed. So I'll just say they were rockin'.

After three days of spiders, screams, and swearing, a group of us went on a little road trip to Crater Lake.

We took the boat tour of the lake. The boat ride around Crater Lake was educational and entertaining, and gave us great closeups of the lake's features.

Devil's Spine:


Wizard Island (large island to one side of the Lake):

My favorite, Phantom Ship (smaller island):

Just a few tips from me if you ever plan to stay at Crater Lake.

One, either bring your own food, or prepare to PAY for your meals. They have a captive audience there, and they know it. No civilization for hours in any direction.

Two, don't do the boat tour if you can't handle a serious climb afterwards. The path down is sandy, slippery, and steep. It doesn't change coming back up, and you've just spent two hours in a boat, likely developing hunger and thirst along the way. For the same reason, do the morning tour rather than the afternoon ones, especially in the late summer--earlier tour means a cooler temperature when you climb back up.

Three, take advantage of the ranger-led seminars that are usually offered in the evening. We went to one I thought would be really boring, but it turned out quite interesting.

Four, if you have any interest in stars--this is the place to look. We were there at the tail end of the annual Perseid meteor shower and got to see some really nice shooting stars (but it gets cold at night!).

The next day we were at the coast, and caught a Mail Boat speed boat ride on the Rogue River. Fun stuff! We got to see bald eagles, otters, turtles, a mink, fish, blue herons, and a lot of campers, fishers, and park rangers--and our fine captain did donuts in the river, which got quite a few people along the edges of the boat wet (if you want to stay dry(er), sit in the middle toward the back).

First otter I've ever seen in the wild:


Possibly the most fun job ever--biologist park ranger? These guys were catching fish to weigh and measure. Suddenly I'm thinking of a career change.

Bald eagle flying off a nest. There's another one roosting in the tree, if you look close.

After all this entertainment, we headed back to Grandma's. No more spiders for me--we headed north to Portland and the airport shortly after. A great trip and a nice break.

Came home to 179 unopened emails.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Demodectic Mange

Good news! Well, I suppose it's not really "good" to have mange, but let's just say the news is better than the alternative: Dubby has demodectic mange, the non-contagious kind.

Looks like we'll probably have Dubby for at least a couple weeks. He must be neutered before he can go to adoption events, and he has to get a little healthier and grow some fur before he can be neutered.

Learning that Dubby was not contagious (at least, not to healthy dogs that aren't being constantly exposed to his mite-infested body), I decided to let Star and Dubby meet during a potty break.

Star's reaction was completely opposite my expectations, especially since she'd been soooo curious about Dubby at first, during the time when we didn't know if he was contagious and kept them totally separated. She wanted to see and smell and touch, and I just said "no no no no" all the time while body blocking her as we passed on the way to the back yard for pee breaks.

So, at last, she got her chance!! Yes, she wanted to smell!! And then she did, and this look came over her face like "OMG, eww, this thing stinks! What a creepy nasty thing! Nope, changed my mind, I don't want anything to do with it. BYE!!!" and she ran off.

Honestly, he does stink. He smells just like every dog at an animal shelter, like cleaning products, animal byproducts, fear, and death. If you've ever been to a shelter, you know the smell I mean. And if dogs have flashbacks, then I'm sure Star would have been remembering her own frightening experiences at the shelter as she sniffed this pink little critter.

On top of that, there is the odor from the mange and the crusty skin infections.

Needless to say, I'm going to give him a bath tomorrow morning.

Dubby will be up for adoption at some point, so be sure to tell all your friends! ;) He rides great in the car (in his cardboard box), has a calm and quiet demeanor, hasn't had any accidents in the house, and is very attentive and curious.

Dubby napping in the car in his cardboard box.

Thank you for all the nice comments on the last post, btw. I love fostering, and I'd do it all the time if Dozer would let me.

I believe that since I don't hold down a steady job or make a living wage (which makes it hard for me to donate money), I should at least spend my time in ways that benefit the world somehow, even on a small scale. That's why I run my websites, volunteer for shelters/advocacy groups, help out at charity events, and foster when I can.

If anything, I think my husband is the real hero, because he's the one dealing with a crap job so we can have food and a roof over our heads. I couldn't do this stuff without his support. :)

Okay, so the next post will be about Oregon. It will be dull, unless you like hearing about other people's trips. And spiders. There will be spiders.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New foster

I'm back from a week-long trip to Oregon (visit with family) and will have plenty to share about that trip in a bit... but thought I would share this breaking news since it's way more exciting and a lot cuter.

We have a new foster puppy. This nameless little guy is about 11 weeks old and has some sort of mange. I have just started fostering for a local rescue group, Austin Pets Alive, and when they sent out the alert about him, I went and pulled him from the local kill shelter. At this shelter, most unclaimed dogs with medical problems (esp. mange) are euthanized unless pulled by a rescue group, so this little guy's life depended on finding a foster.

Since we don't yet know whether the mange is demodectic (not contagious) or sarcoptic (contagious), he's in isolation in our bathtub until we find out, presumably on Monday when we can take him to the vet.

Our dogs aren't allowed near him; the bathroom's been closed off with a baby gate to add an extra layer of separation. I also wash my hands every time I touch the puppy, and I have one of Byrd's large shirts in the bathroom, worn like a smock when carrying or handling the puppy. I sure hope the mange is demodex... it'll be hard to keep this up for several weeks if it is contagious.

I've decided to name him Dubby if allowed. This is because, a while back, there was another little puppy at APA that could have been this guy's double, mange and all.

I take him out to potty in the extra dog kennel, the one that previously housed Peepers when he was sick, the one that has also been used for doggy "time out" and for temporary containment of stray dogs and injured wild birds. I remind Byrd about this every time he talks about dismantling "that useless kennel."

Dubby is so cute, sweet, smart, and surprisingly quiet. I don't know how long it will last, but I presume he will start acting a bit more rowdy once his mange gets treated and he feels better. So, of course, I'm taking this opportunity to teach him some basic obedience.

Star would love to play with him, I'm sure, but that will have to wait for a while.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Miracle

A bonafide miracle happened today. You won't believe it even if I tell you but I'm going to tell you anyway.

Byrd went to the grocery store. By himself.

This is a man who, despite his intimidating stature, is borderline agoraphobic and has panic attacks at the grocery store, so the last time he went was... hmm... it's been about two years, I think. And I went with him that time. He hasn't been alone in a store in a decade.

He said he wanted to take care of me, seeing as how I'm into a bedridden fifth day of high fever and occasional delerium. Awww, isn't he just sho shweet!! (Actually, I know the real reason he wanted to go--he finished off the last pint of his favorite ice cream the other day.)

I helped him with the grocery list, knowing he wouldn't stick to it--he's a compulsive shopper and will buy pretty much anything that looks edible when there's no one (me) around to restrain him.

And off he went, forgetting the recycling (which is conveniently on the way to the store), forgetting the canvas bags, almost forgetting the list.

After an hour with no word, I got a little worried. Then he called. He couldn't find applesauce, or yogurt, and he had been overwhelmed by brands of bodywash (for him!), and what flavor of cough drops did I want?

He came home looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, evidently having whole new worlds opened up due to his expedition to Planet Grocery. I was then treated to a show-and-tell in the bedroom as he hauled in find after find: here were some instant noodles for me, and look at the TV dinners he'd found, and can you believe they have tiny bottles of Coke with resealable caps!?

I don't think I'm strong enough to go into the kitchen and see what insane things he pulled off the store shelves. At least he covered the list.

And I'm not one to complain about a miracle.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dogs as smart as 2 year olds

http://www.livescience.com/animals/090808-smart-dogs.html

Dogs as Smart as 2-year-old Kids

LiveScience.com
Jeanna Bryner
Senior Writer
Sat Aug 8, 2:05 pm ET

The canine IQ test results are in: Even the average dog has the mental abilities of a 2-year-old child.

The finding is based on a language development test, revealing average dogs can learn 165 words (similar to a 2-year-old child), including signals and gestures, and dogs in the top 20 percent in intelligence can learn 250 words.

And the smartest?

Border collies, poodles, and German shepherds, in that order, says Stanley Coren, a canine expert and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia. Those breeds have been created recently compared with other dog breeds and may be smarter in part because we've trained and bred them to be so, Coren said. The dogs at the top of the pack are on par with a 2.5-year-old.

Better at math and socializing

While dogs ranked with the 2-year-olds in language, they would trump a 3- or 4-year-old in basic arithmetic, Coren found. In terms of social smarts, our drooling furballs fare even better.

"The social life of dogs is much more complex, much more like human teenagers at that stage, interested in who is moving up in the pack and who is sleeping with who and that sort of thing," Coren told LiveScience.

Coren, who has written more than a half-dozen books on dogs and dog behavior, will present an overview of various studies on dog smarts at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in Toronto.

"We all want insight into how our furry companions think, and we want to understand the silly, quirky and apparently irrational behaviors [that] Lassie or Rover demonstrate," Coren said. "Their stunning flashes of brilliance and creativity are reminders that they may not be Einsteins but are sure closer to humans than we thought."

Math test

To get inside the noggin of man's best friend, scientists are modifying tests for dogs that were originally developed to measure skills in children.

Here's one: In an arithmetic test, dogs watch as one treat and then another treat are lowered down behind a screen. When the screen gets lifted, the dogs, if they get arithmetic (1+1=2), will expect to see two treats. (For toddlers, other objects would be used.)

But say the scientist swipes one of the treats, or adds another so the end result is one, or three treats, respectively. "Now we're giving him the wrong equation which is 1+1=1, or 1+1=3," Coren said. Sure enough, studies show the dogs get it. "The dog acts surprised and stares at it for a longer period of time, just like a human kid would," he said.

These studies suggest dogs have a basic understanding of arithmetic, and they can count to four or five.

Basic emotions

Other studies Coren notes have found that dogs show spatial problem-solving skills. For instance, they can locate valued items, such as treats, find better routes in the environment, such as the fastest way to a favorite chair, and figure out how to operate latches and simple machines.

Like human toddlers, dogs also show some basic emotions, such as happiness, anger and disgust. But more complex emotions, such as guilt, are not in a dog's toolbox. (What humans once thought was guilt was found to be doggy fear, Coren noted.)

And while dogs know whether they're being treated fairly, they don't grasp the concept of equity. Coren recalls a study in which dogs get a treat for "giving a paw."

When one dog gets a treat and the other doesn't, the unrewarded dog stops performing the trick and avoids making eye contact with the trainer. But if one dog, say, gets rewarded with a juicy steak while the other snags a measly piece of bread, on average the dogs don't care about the inequality of the treats.

Top dogs

To find out which dogs had the top school smarts, Coren collected data from more than 200 dog obedience judges from the United States and Canada.

He found the top dogs, in order of their doggy IQ are:
Border collies Poodles German shepherds Golden retrievers Dobermans Shetland sheepdogs Labrador retrievers

At the bottom of the intelligence barrel, Coren would include many of the hounds, such as the bassett hound and the Afghan hound, along with the bulldog, beagle and basenji (a hunting dog).

"It's important to note that these breeds which don't do as well tend to be considerably older breeds," he said. "They were developed when the task of a hound was to find something by smell or sight." These dogs might fare better on tests of so-called instinctive intelligence, which measure how well dogs do what they are bred to do.

"The dogs that are the brightest dogs in terms of school learning ability tend to be the dogs that are much more recently developed," Coren said. He added that there's a "high probability that we've been breeding dogs so they're more responsive to human beings and human signals." So the most recently bred dogs would be more human-friendly and rank higher on school smarts.

Many of these smarty-pants are also the most popular pets. "We like dogs that understand us," Coren said.

We also love the beagle, which made it to the top 10 list of most popular dog breeds in 2008 by the American Kennel Club. That's because they are so sweet and socialable, Coren said. "Sometimes people love the dumb blonde," Coren said.

And sometimes the dim-wits make better pets. While a smart dog will figure out everything you want it to know, your super pet will also learn everything it can get away with, Coren warns.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Insensitive mongrels

Being deathly ill (ok, maybe not, but you know how it feels when you're really sick) is bad enough, but having two dogs that could care less... If I had the strength, I would wring their adorable little necks.

Dozer cries and lobs pathetic gazes at me without pause. He wants attention. Star barks and throws toys everywhere. She wants to play.

They don't want to sleep, which means no sleep for me, either.

It apparently hasn't occurred to them that "something is wrong with Mommy, because she's been in bed for five days and didn't even get up to greet the pizza guy." (Which I called for Byrd, since I wasn't in any shape to cook.)

Thank god my mom is coming over here today to feed me and entertain these awful, selfish beasts.

I went to the doctor yesterday--it took four days of worsening symptoms, but I finally developed an actual fever, which is my sign to seek medical help--with sore throat, achiness, swollen lymph nodes, and general malaise. As always when I get these sore throats, the doctor tested for strep (negative, of course), the flu (most painful diagnostic test on the planet), and then declared it some sort of mysterious noncontagious infection, prescribed antibiotics, and sent me home. Thanks, doctor.

This is a pattern. Every four months or so, this happens. They have my medical records, they should see this. And I keep telling them: "Oh, yeah, I can already tell you, it's not strep, mumps, mono, or flu. And ultimately, you're going to shrug, say something vague, and prescribe me amoxicillin. Just like the last six times this happened." WTF? Anyone want to suggest a real answer to this?

I'm recording each instance in my blog so I can track the frequency and record some of the details. I know it's not the most interesting post. Sorry.

Anyway, on to day five, and the fever's going up instead of down (lovely). Sure hope the antibiotics kick in soon. I've got two nutcase dogs and a flock of chickens that are starting to act like they're neglected.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A "pit bull" by any other name...

I've always hated the term "pit bull." The connotations are unavoidable, almost subconscious: vicious, fighting, aggressive. I hate saying it; I know my listeners are struggling with the same connotations in their own heads. I hate thinking it. It's like a dirty word.

The problems with "pit bull" are numerous, beginning with the fact that it is essentially undefinable. There is no agreed-upon definition. What is a "pit bull"?

Is it an American Pit Bull Terrier? An American Staffordshire Terrier? A Staffordshire Bull Terrier?

Is it a Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, English Bulldog, Boston Terrier, French Bulldog, Boxer, or any other dog that is somewhat related to the now-extinct Old English Bulldog that used to fight bulls, bears, and other dogs?

A recent news article headline screamed "Child bit by pit bull" when the body of the same article stated the dog in question was a Rottweiler. Dog bite articles in the past have labeled Dogo Argentinos, Cane Corsos, German Shepherds, Labs, and other unrelated breeds as "pit bulls." Are "pit bulls" any dog that bites?

Lakewood (OH) and Miami-Dade County (FL) are just two municipalities to make recent headlines after their breed bans resulted in confiscation of "pit bulls" that DNA tests subsequently proved were not "pit bulls," nor even "pit bull" mixes. Not that it mattered; these dogs were still prohibited because they retained the appearance of a "pit bull."

To municipalities with breed-specific legislation, it's not really about breed or type at all--it's about a dog's appearance. Any short-haired, mixed-breed dog can be labeled a "pit bull" in these places, depending on who is doing the judging. It is impossible to prove that one's dog is not a "pit bull" because the legal definition of "pit bull" is subjective (based on an individual's assessment of a dog's appearance).

The most recent embarrassment in Lakewood involved Otis, a dog that was obviously a Boxer, a breed that is not banned in Lakewood. The city nevertheless declared Otis a "pit bull" and kicked him out, unmoved by public outcry. While his owner prepares to move out of the city to join his dog, Otis is staying at... guess where... a Boxer rescue!

There's so much fuss and confusion over what it means to be a "pit bull" that the term feels worthless.

Yet, it's unavoidable in conversation. On the other side, people are trying to help these dogs known as "pit bulls." There are low-cost and free spay/neuter and training classes just for "pit bulls." There are advocates and rescue groups for "pit bulls."

How do we talk about saving "pit bulls" if we can't, or don't try to, define that term? So advocates come up with their own definitions for the term. They don't all agree, either.

Because of the negative connotations attached to the term "pit bull," some groups have proposed calling these dogs by another name--something more positive, more removed from violence and death. This has been attempted in the past, as well, with terms like "St. Francis Terrier."

Although I like the idea, I think it cannot work for practical reasons. It's already confusing enough without a whole new term to add to the mix. I don't know how I would reach people who are looking for information on "pit bulls" if I were calling them something totally different. I don't know how we could fight BSL if we weren't combating the public perception of "pit bulls" as naturally aggressive beasts.

Renaming to remove connotations doesn't really solve the fundamental problem. If people still believe that certain breeds or types of dogs are genetically inclined to "snap," eat babies, maul grandmothers, etc., then we still have a problem--total lack of public education regarding dog behavior. All the cutesy labelling in the world won't solve that. It just means people will add the "new breed" to their list of "dangerous" dogs.

Despite my pessimism, I wouldn't fight such an attempt to rename. I'd still like to see a well-thought-out plan implemented--something that would bring a unified, accepted definition of these dogs to the table. The most important part, I think, and the most difficult, is to get everyone on the same page. Whatever the new term may be, it cannot be applied subjectively and inconsistently, as "pit bull" is today.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Now I've heard it all

And I have nothing to say about this. If you need me, I'll be in my bed, under the sheets, avoiding the rest of mankind.

http://www.fox43.com/news/wtic-shelton-bird-fighting-ring-0726,0,602678.story

Police Bust Canary Fighting Ring In Shelton

Nick Caito Fox 61
5:47 PM EDT, July 26, 2009

SHELTON - Multiple state law enforcement agencies busted up a bird fighting ring in the town of Shelton Sunday morning. However the birds involved are known more for their voice than violence.

Police confiscated nearly 150 songbirds- canaries and saffron finches- from a home at 176 Ripton Road. Police say the birds were being prepared to fight. The raid was led by Shelton Police with help from the Department of Agriculture and officers from Bridgeport, Ansonia, Fairfield, and State Police departments.

"They have a cage in the middle that's set up like a ring, where the two will go into one cage and fight." said Shelton Police Sergeant Robert Kozlowsky. "It's looking like animal cruelty and illegal gambling. They [officers] have found a large amount of currency also at this scene."

Animal control officers were seen carrying cages upon cages filled with birds from the residence. According to a relative, the homeowner claimed to be collecting the birds to breed and sell. Neighbors who witnessed the raid were surprised at both the multi-agency response and the unorthodox nature of the bird fighting.

"Am I being punk'd?" asked neighbor John Coniglio, referring to a television show famous for playing pranks on celebrities. "I mean, this is crazy. I've never heard of a canary ring. I can't picture little canaries with razor blades taped to their feet or anything."

The raid christened 19 jailbirds along with $8,000 cash.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm not allergic to dogs

Working two jobs over the last week has been pretty awful for me. Using the computer aggravates my constant headaches, and of course, both my jobs require the use of the computer for long periods of time. So I have headaches daily from about noon until I collapse at nine or ten at night.

On the occasional day that I break from work early, I try to get away from the computer--which means I haven't been blogging or writing or doing much of anything else. Last night, even though I was really curious about the term "shoemaker's children" (used by a New Zealander to refer to his coworkers), I couldn't even bring myself to look it up on Wikipedia.


The headaches are just one of a litany of symptoms that have been making day-to-day operations miserable for several years. I have finally begun to suspect allergies as the primary culprit.

But the symptoms that I'm dealing with are all a bit offbeat (headaches, itchy skin, exhaustion, perpetually swollen lymph nodes, recurring sore throats) and don't sync up to any particular season. They aren't the classic respiratory symptoms associated with hay fever (runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes).

So I've been hesitant to tell doctors that I have allergies, and it's apparently never occurred to my doctors that I might actually have them. Instead, I've been sent to one specialist after another: a neurologist for the headaches, an ENT for the recurring sore throats, and a dermatologist for the skin. It's become a tangled mess of diagnoses and medications.

Thus, I decided myself to get an allergy test to see if I have allergies, and if so, to what. Then I could request a single medication to treat allergies, and this would hopefully kick the crap out of all the allergy-related symptoms at once.

I told my plan to Byrd. Apparently Byrd had an allergy test when he was a kid. Kindhearted soul that he is, he described his horrific experience in graphic detail, then glibly added, "But I wasn't scarred for life, so I guess it wasn't that bad."

Consequently, I arrived at the allergy testing site with shaking hands and dry mouth, under the impression--courtesy of Byrd--that I was about to get eighty painful injections of toxic substances that would cause my skin to blister and peel off. (I later learned he was just toying with me, rotten bastard.)

The nurse must have noticed my tightly clenched fist and my grinding teeth. She patted my arm lightly and said, "Oh, honey, don't worry, it only takes fifteen minutes and I'll give you an antihistamine after that, if you react to anything."

Fifteen minutes later (after an easy test that didn't involve a needle or anything painful), it was pretty obvious I had allergies. My arms had itchy red welts all over them. A passing nurse started to ask, "So how did your allergy test go?" but ended up saying, "So how did your aller--oooooh yikes." My doctor called the results "impressive."

I reacted to the standard central Texas allergens: cedar and oak. Also on the list: perennial rye, Bermuda grass, some coastal grasses, various molds, and dust mites.

The biggest surprise was that I didn't react at all to cat or dog allergens. The doctor retested the dog allergen since I live with dogs; I guess he wanted to be very sure that my beloved pets weren't contributing to my troubles.

The re-test really did involve a needle, and this time it hurt a little (but still not as bad as Byrd led me to believe). The allergen is injected right under the skin in the shoulder area, and the reaction measured. Presumably, even a mild allergy would cause some sort of welt. But I still didn't react to the dog allergen.

So the good news is that I get to keep the dogs! (I'm kidding, of course. I would never give the dogs up just because I'm allergic to them.)

The bad news is that I'm allergic to my house and my yard and basically everything else in my environment. :(

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What is "too hot" for a walk?

Dogs need to go on walks, right? I hear that from pretty much every dog trainer I interact with. Everyone agrees: dogs need to walk. They need it for exercise, socialization, and training purposes.

So up until this ungodly summer, I was walking Star regularly. And it was going pretty well. Star walks great on a leash, and I've found her to be very reliable in worst-case scenarios (off-leash dogs charging us) as long as I keep my cool, say "leave it," and keep walking.

But now it's in the 100s every day. We have no sidewalks; you either walk on the asphalt or the grass. At these temperatures, asphalt is not an option for dog paws, and the grass isn't really grass, it's sticker burrs, fire ant mounds, broken glass, and automobile fluids.

I've been walking with Star at 10 PM for the last few nights, when the temperature drops into the 90s... but the asphalt still feels hot beneath my feet, and it's so dark that I can't see the broken glass, ant mounds, and all the rest. It's also too dark to see loose dogs and suspicious people; thank goodness the dog we ran into last night was a bit lost and frightened, but not really aggressive (Star and I helped it find its home after I made sure it was friendly). And because we're not walking on a sidewalk, it's not much distance between us and passing cars.

Walking in the morning might be a better option, because it's only in the 80s and the pavement is cooler. But I'm not a morning person...

And then there's Star. She's got no stamina at all. She's good on a walk for about five minutes, then she's just HOT. I swear she acts just like a two-year-old child, dragging her feet and mentally willing me to pick her up and carry her.

My final option is to build an enormous mirror and reflect all the heat back toward the sun, a la Futurama.

RAGE

Byrd and I planned to go up to Oregon to visit family. We would have had to drive, since Byrd doesn't fly, so the whole trip was going to take two weeks. We were going to see things like Yellowstone, Mt. Ranier, Devil's Tower, and so much more along the way. Stuff I've never seen before.

We were going to go in early August.

So in May--yes, MAY--Byrd submitted his vacation request for the two weeks in August we'd picked for the trip.

I planned the itinerary, reserved hotels, mapped our driving route, went to AAA and got a bunch of maps and travel books, and got totally riled up about seeing Prairie Dog Town. Byrd was excited about the prospect of a vacation unaffected by hurricanes.

Then today, a mere three weeks from our departure date, Byrd's higher ups suddenly said he can't have the time off after all!

WTF. Is that even legal??!?

Now I'm sitting here cancelling hotel reservations that I made months ago--some of them nonrefundable--watching our happy vacation crumble while simultaneously wondering just how bad it could be to be in jail. Cause I am this close to a destructive rampage in the corporate offices.

Hey Mom, good news: You won't have to babysit the dogs for two weeks. :'(

Friday, July 10, 2009

Just kidding... Back to work NOW

Job #1 is still scheduled to start next week.

Then an old client of mine called me up yesterday and asked for help on a project.

I totally accepted. Hey, I like money.

But that makes Job #2.

I'm desperately trying to get Job #2 done this weekend, but it doesn't look likely. Which means I'll be working two jobs next week.

Still, I feel a little selfish.

Am I a bad person for taking on two jobs when so many other copyeditors are desperate for work?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Back to work

My new contract job starts next week. It will last for a year, if all goes as planned.

Yay! I'm actually glad. And not just because I love copyediting.

I didn't think I'd get tired of sitting around all day doing my own projects. But when you don't have a "real job," suddenly you don't have an excuse to avoid all those things you've been procrastinating about.

I didn't want to file six months' worth of papers. I didn't want to update Byrd's Quicken (four months out of date and hand-entry required for three of the four months). I didn't want to weed the driveway. I didn't want to clean out all the kitchen cabinets. I didn't want to organize the closet.

But I did. Because they were on The List I Created (Of Things I Really Wished Someone Else Would Do) and I couldn't think of a reason not to do them.

Starting next week, I can go back to procrastinating. Cause I'll have a "real job" again.

Whew.

In other news, Star got her CGC certificate in the mail.


She is really not very photogenic. She always looks really pissed or freaked out or bored in photos, and unlike Dozer, she doesn't react to words, so I can't get her excited just by saying "treat."

Dozer responds to about a dozen different voice commands and he knows the names of all of his various toys (he will bring the correct toy when given its name). He's one of those dogs I have to spell around, to keep him from getting excited about r-i-d-e-s in the c-a-r. He's also really good at observing the interplay of tone of voice, body language, speech patterns, and more, so even when he doesn't understand the words, he knows what's going on.

Star, on the other hand, just sort of stares, no matter what I say. She's learned to respond to voice commands, but doesn't seem to know the difference between them unless I use hand signals as well. This is starting to be a problem in agility, where, if I don't get my body language precise, she's just as apt to take the tunnel than to go over the A-frame, even if I'm shouting "A! A!"

The only words she clearly knows are "Star," "No!," "Leave It!" and "Yes!" She seems to understand positive versus negative tone of voice, too.

I'm a bit confounded by this apparent language barrier. It requires a whole new set of communication skills on my part. I'm used to having dogs that speak English. :)

With luck, agility classes will help. I'm hoping it will eventually click with her that the sounds coming out of my mouth actually mean something.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trip to Japan 1999

June 1999 -- I went to Japan for two weeks as part of a high school student exchange program--with a twist.

I had just finished my sophomore year in college, but I got to go with a group of American high school students, in part because my younger sister was signed up for the trip.

The upshot was that I was the only person in the group to have two years of college-level Japanese under my belt. Which came in handy for the few times that we did not have a Japanese chaperon--especially in the hectic train stations!

Obviously, I have a lot of pictures and awesome memories, but I'll spare you every little detail. Here are the highlights.

We spent the first few days of our trip exploring Kyoto.

One significant thing about Japan: there are temples and shrines everywhere. You might be walking down a busy market street, turn a corner, and BAM! There's a gorgeous temple nestled in lush greenery and tall trees.

Here is one of the more famous ones, the Golden Pavilion Temple (Kinkaku-ji). Our group posed in front of it; that's a twenty-year-old me kneeling on the left.

Notice the second guy from left, with the afro. His hair made him the most popular guy of our group. Even little old ladies on the bus wanted to touch his 'fro.

Here's another temple. This one is part of a large complex of temple buildings on top of a hill in Kyoto, and the views are amazing. I'm very sorry to say that I cannot remember the name of it. It might have been part of Kyomizu-dera.

Here's a dragon water fountain at the entrance to the temple. With the ladle, you are supposed to wash your hands to purify yourself.

I spotted this sign while we were walking the city streets. So cute! I think it had something to do with cleaning up your garbage, but I don't know enough Japanese to translate anything other than the word "yamereon," which means "chameleon." Obviously.

This was a lovely statue in one of the Buddhist temples we visited.

We also went to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, an incredibly sobering experience.

This is Ground Zero, the A-Bomb Dome (once the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall). I stood right here, took this picture, breathed the air... it was incredibly quiet here.

This is one of the many monuments at the park, the Statue of the A-Bomb Children or the Children's Peace Monument. You probably have heard the story of Sadako Sasaki, who believed she would be cured of radiation sickness if she folded 1,000 paper cranes. There are chains of colorful paper cranes surrounding this monument, sent from around the world.

Here is another temple. I believe this one is in Oita, where we finally met up with our host families and began attending high school.

This is a women's toilet in Japan! Fortunately for us, there were usually "western style" toilets available, though sometimes it was only in one stall and we had to take turns using it. None of us were brave enough to try using this Japanese style toilet.

We were like local rock stars; we met the mayor of Oita (who gave us t-shirts that said "I love Oita"!), the high school had a HUGE welcoming ceremony for us, and we even got into the local newspaper. This is very different from the way we Americans treat our exchange students! I've never seen a news article about exchange students visiting here.

Then it was time to start school. We went to a high school in Oita for over a week. Ever wonder why the students in Japan don't have issues with being overweight? Here's one reason: they bike or walk EVERYWHERE.

I rode a bike to school for the first time in my life. Not just a couple miles, either. It was a hardcore up-and-downhill ride, about an hour long, every morning and every night. No matter what the weather.

The school was at the top of an incredibly steep hill. It felt more like a mountain when you were walking up it. We had to leave the bikes at the bike rack, which was at the bottom of the hill.

Up and up and up... The Japanese kids took it in stride, but I thought I was going to die.

OMG where does this hill end???

In Japan, you don't wear outdoor shoes in homes or schools. Once at school, we changed from our regular outdoor shoes to some clog-type shoes that were for indoors only. That's my sis on the right, me on the left.

Here's the view from one of the school balconies (aka hallways). The view was amazing. If only you didn't have to climb up that hill!

Students clean the school during a regular cleaning time each day. There are no janitors. This ensures that students don't litter or mess up the school, because they're the ones who will have to pick it up.

These are the high school "punks." They were fooling around during a break. That kid in the purplish shirt was really daring for violating school dress code! (He put his white shirt back on after the break was over.)

One of the field trips we Americans went on while our Japanese counterparts were stuck in school--we went to a local park! It was really for little kids, but we had a lot of fun. Look at this funny old man sitting on this animal... he let me be in a photo with him. I don't know who he was, but he looks sort of like a baseball coach.

Here was one of the rides--some sort of trolley that you sit on and ride down. I have never seen one of these in the U.S. (at least, not at a public park without any supervision)... maybe because they practically scream "lawsuit" over here.

It had recently rained. My sis bravely rode the thing back over a massive mud puddle.

And here are the monkeys! I can't remember the name of this place, but I think it was something like "Monkey Mountain." There were monkeys everywhere in the park.


The monkeys could go anywhere they wanted and do anything they pleased. Ain't nobody gonna stop them.

Here's a momma monkey and her tiny baby:

There were signs everywhere that said (according to our Japanese hosts) "Don't touch the monkeys," and "Don't feed the monkeys." Apparently, the monkeys could be extremely nasty if they felt like it, up to and including killing us.

But there were some very pretty places in this park, so we ventured bravely in among the monkeys and took some pictures of us in front of big flowery bushes. Here is my sis trying to hold very still and not enrage the monkey in front of her, while still looking happy and relaxed for the camera. Not an easy task.

At the end of our stay, the Japanese school kids held yet another party for us. They drew pictures of us on the board.

There's my sis next to her likeness. And my likeness next to hers. And a big blue bunny saying "Oh--!!"

The trip to Japan was officially my Best. Trip. Ever.