Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Diva Makes Her Entrance...

I think Claris is getting a little too big for her britches. We have a nice, large dog-door that she can use to let herself in and out of the house anytime she wishes. Lately she has decided that this is not good enough for her, and is insisting that I let her in the front door. She will stand and bark at the door until I acquiesce and stop whatever I might be doing to let her in. At first I thought she was forgetting that she could let herself in via her own door, but I have found this to be false: If I do not get to the door before the fourth bark she will run to the back, blast through her door, rush up to me and give me a scathing look. I do believe this is her way of training me with negative reinforcement. Woof.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

There's a hole in my cat...

Poor Morty. He scratched himself on the back of his head, and then got a big abscess despite my efforts to coat him with Neosporin. Getting that cat to the vet is a struggle worthy of epic poetry. I tried getting him to the Vet early Monday morning by the last method that worked: while wearing a pair of welding gloves I quickly grab him, pop him into a set of laundry baskets and seal them up with Velcro strips. He apparently is wise to this tactic now and shredded me like cabbage for coleslaw. I felt a little foolish as I put Neosporin on the scratches he gave me; it did not work for him, why would it work for me?

So, I went to Petsmart and looked for a nice, big crate with a top and side opening. As I perused the aisle for the perfect crate I was found by one of the very helpful Petsmart employees who asked me if I needed help finding something. I asked if they sold tranquilizer dart guns; he quietly skulked away...

Tuesday morning before work I learned a few things which might come in handy someday. I learned that a cat can sense when you are looking for them and hide in places you never thought they could fit into, and they know the exact length of your arms. Morty managed to evade me for an hour, moving from bed to closet with a speed that amazed me. Even when I cornered him in one room, he proved a wily adversary and kept just out of reach. If ever I need to evade capture, I will be sure to think like a cat.

I also found out that when furious I can bench-press a queen-sized bed over my head with one arm while grabbing a cat and shoving him into a crate. So if you ever find yourself stuck under a heavy object in need of rescue, just make me very angry and I will be able to get you out. Then, I might shove you into a box and take you to the doctor, too...

I drove the yowling Morty to the Tuckahoe Veterinary Hospital, and they took great care of him. They tell me he acts like a model patient and gave them no trouble whatsoever. I think that is because he had been worn down and demoralized by our battle and his subsequent capture. He has had half of the back of his head shaved, his wound cleaned (but left open to try and let it heal; they may stitch it up later after they are sure it has fully drained and is no longer infected), and he got a shot of an antibiotic that is supposed to stay in his system for 14 days (so no pills, which would have been a daily battle that I would have won but not without physical and emotional injuries to us both).

Morty is watching me carefully, but seems to have forgiven me. Hopefully with some coaxing I can get him to not hate the new crate. I have left it in "his space" (the laundry room), open with a nice blanket in it. I will start feeding him in it to make him want to go in there, and maybe by our long Christmas vacation I will be able to get him in there and take him to Floyd with us! Hope springs eternal...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happiness is a warm sunbeam...

Claris can find a good time anywhere; I really admire her for that. A simple sunbeam through a window, a mud puddle in the trail, a field to run through; it is all grist for her mill. It may be her Labrador nature that makes her such a contented creature, but I like to think it is also her unique personality that make her so easy-going.

Labradors are known for their patience, loyalty, intelligence, and their desire to be with their humans. But as to being happy and laid back, I think that Claris has a bit more of whatever genes bring out those qualities than most. She throws herself into life and does not care how it looks, or makes her look afterward...

We hike whenever we can, and I find that I enjoy the time in nature more because she is with me. The simple pleasures she finds seem to rub off on me, and her exuberant play lifts my spirits as I watch her adventures. We should all be so lucky as to spend our lives with our noses sniffing, our ears twitching and our eyes searching out the next plaything!

On our last hike we found a few trees with apples left on them and munched on the last of our fall fruits together. Claris likes a nice apple (or pretty much anything she is allowed to have) very much, as you can see:
Interestingly enough, she would not take just any apple from the ground. She only wanted to eat those apples that I had already taken a bite out of. I guess that makes me her official taster and quality control system. Who has who well trained, I wonder?

The deep grass is dying off, so access to the water and the fields is getting easier. We spent a good bit of time scouting out potential pond sites and swimming holes a few weekends ago, and came up with several places where creating deeper water without too much fuss will be possible. Claris has not had the water experience that Grommit and Deckard had when they were young, so I am looking forward to giving her a place where she can swim and play as Labs love to do.
The field at the bottom has a very marshy section, and we had not been able to get in there and explore until recently. Claris has gotten much better at navigating barbed wire fences, and I can now pay more attention to the birds, critters and plants and less on making sure she does not damage herself. She still stuffs her entire head into any interesting holes in the ground or trees to sniff out the occupants. This gives me great cause for concern, but I am sure with a little more training, we can work that one out too (I hope. The hornets nest she found was no fun for either of us...).

The Farmer's Almanac NEVER Lies...

The Farmer's Almanac says that my region will get lots of snow this winter. There are signs that the Almanac may be right; the trees have grown a bumper-crop of nuts and fruits, and the wildlife is getting a heavy coat in preparation for what may be a snowy season.

The ONE thing I love about a nice snow is the fun I have with the dogs, but sadly I worry every winter about the potential ice and snow that will slow me down, take down the power lines that feed my computers and mess up the normal flow of school days (you'd think working in education I would love a snow day; sorry, it just means more worry and more work for me).

To try and focus on the potential upcoming winter fun, I searched for pictures of the dogs playing in the snow. Oscar finally found what I was looking for, and I am now looking forward to whatever Old Man Winter can throw at me. I am even thinking that a new puppy may be a good family Christmas present... It would be great fun to see Claris romping in the snow with a little buddy (or two?!?).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Heroes Have Always Been Teachers...

I just finished a project that took me to every elementary school in the county I work for, and while I am glad all the driving around is over I am going to miss the school-based staff that made my visits so much fun. My proverbial batteries have been recharged, and my reasons for working in education have again been solidified and renewed. Spending time in the schools is like drinking deep from the well...

For the record, I could never be a teacher: I lack the patience, commitment, dedication and optimism that they all seem to have in common. Every time I travel to schools I am amazed by the work that is done and the quality of service our schools provide. If you want to start a fight with me that may end in violence, start talking smack about Public Education; it may be far from perfect but until you step in and see what is going on for yourself, I suggest you bite your tongue. Every time I work in a school I get a new amazing story that gives me hope, and tells me that while there is definitely room for improvement, we are doing many things right.

Because of the nature of what I do, I am often in the classroom as a silent witness to the lives of students and the work of staff and teachers; I sit at the computer keyboard and try very hard to stay out of their way and not interrupt their instruction. This vantage point gives me a front-row seat to what happens at a school, and I am grateful that I am allowed this window into their world.

Every school I visited I found people coming to work early, leaving late, and never stopping in between. It was wonderful to see our teachers working together as one united front; they stepped in to help each other manage classroom behavior, shared new lesson plans they found or created, and always helped each other navigate the perils, tasks and issues that come along with being an educator in the 21st-century classroom. The staff shined in their obvious desire to do the best they can for every student, and to try and find the right way to give those children the tools they need to be healthy life-long learners and productive members of this ever-evolving world we live in.

I have often found that the image non-educators have about the work of teachers is no where near reality. Comments like "it must be nice to have summers off" or "I wish I could end my work day at 3pm" now make me want to forcibly re-educate those people. Many of the teachers I worked with had to take second jobs during the summer, and some went from their school day to their part-time tutoring work. I also saw that they arrived at school early to get their classrooms (decorated on their own time and sometimes on their own dime, too) ready for their students, and stayed late to work on the next day's lessons, grade student work, or to work on new techniques to use in their classes. If they actually took time to have lunch (without eating with their students on cafeteria duty) they typically ate in the teacher's work room (call it a lounge and I will give you a serious noogie. A bathroom, soda machine, a plain table, a few uncomfortable plastic chairs and a copier doth not a lounge make, people!) and discussed their concerns and needs with the other teachers to try and work out how to deal with their most difficult issues with others who understand precisely what they are dealing with.

School staff have had to transform themselves into educators, role-models, counselors, advisers, health promoters and protectors every day. I have seen them give love, time, care and even food and clothes to their neediest students all the while providing the best instructional experience for all the students.

So, if you have anything to say about teachers or the state of our education system, then I ask you; what have you done to improve things? Have you joined the PTA? Have you contacted your legislators about increasing funding to our schools? Have you gone to a board meeting? Volunteered at a school? Have you even bought a single magazine, candy bar or bake sale item? I find the ones with the biggest mouths are the ones who do the least to find out what is really going on, do nothing to help better things or change what they do not like. Where do you stand?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fall into Floyd

We have been enjoying the fall weather this weekend, and the wood stove was burning at night and in the morning to fight the chill that now overtakes the mountain when the light fades and the sun sets. The leaves are showering down from the trees, the undergrowth is yellowing and dying back, and the animals are preparing for winter. A few deer hunters have tried to come up, but have been chased away when they see us (apparently they do not take the signs we posted very seriously).

The house is still being worked on, and the last of the chinking might be done this coming week. The new insulated windows are in, but the trim needs to be completed and painted. Someday the work will be done, but that day is not today...

There is more light streaming through the windows due to the foliage dropping from the trees, and the views are starting to open up again. Soon we will be able to see the ridges of our surrounding mountains appear.
The color is not as spectacular this year, probably due to the summer drought. It is also early, so the color has not reached its peak quite yet. Hopefully next weekend it will offer up more of a painter's palette then this one...

...but I am not really complaining, as it is still lovely to look at. The days are still warm, so we sit out on the screened porch, enjoy the slow breeze and watch the leaves rain down.

This weekend we have friends staying with us, and they brought their Spaniel named Sophie along. She is probably the same weight as Claris' big Lab-head, but she can hold her own and pushed Claris around. It seems that Claris is enjoying it, though. We are going to have to find her a new permanent companion soon.

Sophie loved sitting on the porch; she watched for any potential creatures to chase or bark at. She and almost fit on the ledge, and it was fun to watch her watch the world outside! Claris found a few fun things to chase in the bottom meadow:
She also had a nice visit with her buddy, Cinnamon:
I wonder what they have to talk about? They seem to be chatting about something very important. What on earth could they have in common?

The meadow was starting to dry out, but there were a few new bright colors to see. The honeysuckle bush berries were bright red against the green leaves. It is supposed to be an invasive species, but it does have its charms.

Claris enjoyed bouncing around, sniffing everything to try and find more creatures to scare up and chase. Sadly, only the deer offered up any fun. The other smaller ones were probably off trying to find a place to hunker down for the winter and had no time to play...

I cannot wait for next weekend already...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Weekend in Williamsburg

Mom and Dad came for an overnight visit last weekend and we spent the night in Williamsburg. We had a nice light lunch at Old Chickahominy House, did some shopping at the Williamsburg Pottery, ate a wonderful dinner at the Kings Arms Tavern (we cannot resist the peanut soup) and walked Colonial Williamsburg. My camera was clicking the whole time. The weather was beautiful and it was a perfect October weekend in Virginia!

It is great to walk the Colonial area early in the morning when only the locals are about...

There were still lots of flowers and greenery; things were just starting the turn to fall colors.
This crocus appears to have been a little mixed up about what it was supposed to do when, but I am not complaining!

It was definitely a surprise to see it standing alone among the English Ivy in a large bed lining a brick walkway.

This is why I keep my eyes open; you never know what you might find if you are always looking at your surroundings carefully.

The squirrels in CW are such little clowns, and they are joined by a large population of other creatures who are so used to the ever-present tourists that they barely bother to keep their distance anymore...

But the stars of Williamsburg have always been the history and the architecture. Everywhere you look stands a representative of the beauty, simplicity and the elegance of early American architecture, and the obvious signs of our ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What 700 Billion Means...

I did not want this blog to become a forum for political issues; I started it for my own enjoyment, and place for friends and family to check in on what I am doing and thinking on a weekly basis.

This $700 Billion bailout has completely overtaken my ability to keep mum on current affairs. I am sitting at home today, wallowing in my sinus-infection misery and cannot escape CNN and the commentary on the financial crisis, so I am going to have to share my pain with you.

I have been trying to figure out a way to grasp the value of such a huge sum of money. In terms of raw cash, it adds up to $10,000 for every American. Or should I say, FROM every American. It would provide medical care free of charge to everyone who currently cannot afford it and have $600 billion to spare. You could rebuild all of the dilapidated and antiquated schools across the entire nation. You could fix every road and bridge in need of repair. You could send 5 million students to Public Universities. You could buy and build 7 Million Cusato Cottages ( including buying the land to put them on to house the homeless and take people out of unsafe living conditions. I could go on for days...

Each of the ideas mentioned above would provide jobs, services, education and wellness care for a substantial number of Americans who are currently doing without the basic tenants of the American Dream. We have spent TRILLIONS on the Iraq War, the Drug War, and the War on Terror. Whatever happened to the War on Poverty? Who will this bailout help? Unless the plan is to keep people in their homes (and what about the people who have already been thrown into the street), it would surprise me if this bailout touched the lives of those that need the most help. They do not own stock, or a home, or a 401k plan. What is there for them to lose?

Today in America there is hunger, homelessness, ignorance, and a lack of quality health care. How are we supposed to compete in the global economic market when our basic needs are unmet and our infrastructure is crumbling from the bottom up? When the great organization, RAM (, has now made a whole program to provide free basic medical care to Americans (they used to focus on only "Third World" Nations, but guess what...), and food pantries are now serving food to the same people that used to be their core donors, something must change.

Friends, we MUST take our country back. The leadership we elected has failed us. We must make our voices heard and we must "Act Now" (to steal a quote from our Treasury Secretary). Our taxes are being spent to wage wars, put non-violent people in jail (which takes them out of the economy AND costs us over $25,000 per incarcerated person per year), bail out failing businesses (Airlines, Auto Industry, Financial Industry, ad infinitum), provide tax benefits to those that do not need them (can you say "BIG OIL"), and cutting the budget of our fail-safe programs and infrastructure while continuing to give tax benefits and exemptions to developers and corporations.

Start doing something today. You can contact your representation so easily in this modern age:

Your Representative can be found here:

Your Senator can be found here:

Your Governor can be found here:

Take a minute to voice your opinion and tell them what you want YOUR Country to be. Then take more action: get to know your candidates, and get out and vote. Make sure your friends vote, too.

Finally, find an organization that supports a LOCAL social cause that you believe in, something that moves you. If you cannot volunteer for them then make a donation that you can afford to help them help others! Taking the time to do this pays you back in ways you cannot begin to enumerate, and puts your time and money to positive solutions to the problems around us.

Thanks for "listening"...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Harbingers of Fall

Once again, the summer is coming to an end and one of my favorite plants is in bloom. The Crepe Myrtle is a Southern thing; I had not experienced them while I was living "Up North". I fell in love with them after moving to Richmond and experiencing their bright beauty in places from parking lot planters to manicured yards. They can handle the worst that the south can dish up: heat, wet, dry, sun, poor soil. Nothing seems to faze them and they are one of the last powerful bloomers you can find. They truly give you some serious "bang for the buck", with colors from white through pink to red and purple.

Our Crepe Myrtle is pink and has a prominent spot in the front yard. Oscar cut it back last year to give the Leyland Cypress behind it a little more light but it keeps fighting back and requires a good trim every few weeks. We had another out front but it was in the way of some landscaping plans so Oscar cut it down. From the stumps that were left little sprigs continue to try and grow all the time! THAT is one tenacious plant!

Fall is coming and I am grateful for this last burst of flowering beauty before the leaves turn, the air turns crisp and the cold creeps in...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Alien Pod Creatures!!!

I was playing in the weeds at the bottom-land at Dogs Days and noticed these little critters on the seed pods of one of the flowering plants in the field. It was interesting how these insects were all gathered together, so brightly colored and visible against the green of the pods. They MUST taste terrible or they would never make it with all of the bug-hungry birds down there!

Whew! First week of school over...

It was quite a crazy week: starting the school year off is always lots of fun and a big heap of work for those of us in educational technology. There are always new things added to our systems and thus new bugs to work out. This weekend we stayed in Goochland to rest up, enjoy the rains brought by Tropical Storm Hannah (I SWEAR I heard slurping noises from the water-starved trees in the yard), and get ready for our second week's start. Faith's team is still working on the logs at Dog Days, so it is probably was better I did not see the construction scene anyhow....