Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rottie AJ Loves Kitties!

The big news here is that after eight and a half years of keeping our Rottweiler, AJ, separated from the cats because we didn't feel we could trust her around them, we finally felt we could leave the doors open and let them mingle. And she loves them! And they like her. Boy cat Sparky even plays tag with her, bouncing up to her face and then bounding away. Sometimes she gets all intense about girl cat Bootsie, putting her nose right up to Bootsie's and sobbing. Bootsie eventually gets sick of this and swats the dog. Getting a nose swat from Bootsie is clearly the high point of AJ's day. It just delights her. From our point of view, having doors open means there's no longer always some critter wanting to be on the other side of a door. Plus, it's just very nice to feel like one big family.

In other critter news, Sparky has long known that unplugging my computer gets a big reaction. He has now figured out that unplugging the aquarium mechanicals is a fun thing to do. Fishies are swimming around, bloop-bloop, and suddenly no light, no heat, no fitler! Note that he doesn't go around unplugging, say, lamps. Oh no, where would be the fun in that? He unplugs things that need to be kept plugged in. Smart and evil, this kitty. Good thing he's cute . . .

Hmm . . . what else? It's been over four months since I posted, so I guess it's obvious I've been busy. Edited lots and lots of books, including a wonderful biopsych textbook from which I learned so much. I also just finished a book for critical care nurses who are preparing for a certification exam. Holy cats, I can't believe how much they are responsible for when dealing with extremely sick patients. That seems like a tough job. And I got to work on an interesting collection of scholarly essays about President Obama's foreign policy in the first part of his presidency. Coming up next is a book on bullying prevention. So lots of variety, as always. I may have even more variety soon: I just heard that I probably passed a proofreading test for a new client. However, I need to wait until the publisher approves before it's official, so it's still up in the air.

I've also been teaching GRE classes for Kaplan Test Prep -- a new one just started -- and working with several tutoring students. It's really a pleasure to work with people with high aspirations and help them achieve their goals, especially when they're willing to work hard to reach those goals.

I've even been reading for fun. I know -- hard to believe with all the reading I do for work! But fortunately I love the written word enough that I can still enjoy curling up with a book. (Haven't gotten an electronic reading device yet -- I'm waiting until the industry settles on a standard.) Still taking baby steps researching for a potential thing I might write (key words: "baby steps," "potential," and "might"). This has involved reading novels by Colette and collections of short stories by Virginia Woolf and Kate Chopin, as well as revisiting Frances Hodgson Burnett's books for children. All interesting stuff, so even if I don't take the plunge back into serious writing, I'll have gotten in a bunch of good reading.

The veggie garden was a real success this year, actually feeding us amply despite the bunny's depredations of the green beans. I guess that after years of trying, I've finally figured out how to grow vegetables! The plan is to expand it by about 50 percent next year and add broccoli and other yummies.

Truly gorgeous fall weather this week and last -- sunny and crisp to warm. Perfect!

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Baby Bunnies! Roadtrip! Gardening! Must Be Spring!

First things first: Bunnies. Much fewer than last year, thank goodness! Last year the bunny population was out-of-control nuts. If bunnies can swarm, these were swarming. And they dug up and ate things I would have preferred they not dig up and eat. Like my tulips, for example. Bunnies are adorable. But what can I say? The devouring of tulips has a negative effect on one's cuteness quotient. So far this spring, they've been seen occasionally and are, thus, incredibly cute.

Roadtrip: Ten days to New York and back with a brief stop north of Chicago where Doug worked the vendors' room at a game convention. In New York we visited with his parents, and it was awesome to see them and spend time with them. It's been ages since we've been out there -- they've been visiting us here, or we've been meeting in another city to do tourist things. And then back we came and it was great to get home. You know it's a good vacation when you couldn't wait to get away and you're happy to be back. We were blessed with good weather just about every day, arriving in NY just after big storms and just before a heat wave. I was able to work on the laptop when we were in our hotel rooms, although it's five years old, slow, reluctant to multitask, and literally falling apart. We'll be getting a new one before our next roadtrip, probably again to NY this fall.

One thing NY has that we don't have here that I really wish we did? "Greek diners." These are casual, independently owned diners with everything in the world on the menu available all day, big portions, low prices, satisfactory cooking, and briskly friendly service. I have no clue how they do it financially, but they do and it's awesome.

And then we were back, and it was time for the Friends School Plant Sale. It's kind of the rock concert of plant sales. Twenty-one years ago the local Quaker grade school sold a few plants on a table under a tree in the schoolyard to raise money. Today they take over the State Fairgrounds grandstand and rake in a $200,000 profit for scholarships.

I got in line at 8:00 a.m. so I could get a wristband shortly after 8:30. The weather was raw; those of us in line were shuffling and hopping to stay warm (yup, spring in MN). Then Doug and I went and had breakfast. Then I came back in time to get in with my wristband cohort just after the opening bell at 10:00. A volunteer yelled, "Go get 'em!" at me as I entered the grandstand. And I did! I'd already gone through the sale catalog and carefully selected what I was going to buy, then listed the plants in the most logical order given the layout of the sale. I followed my list and was very disciplined about not picking up things that weren't on it. Until I'd bought everything on the list and thought I'd spend a little time just looking at plants I'm not that familiar with, especially some of the native species (they get more for the sale every year). Uh-oh. Browsing not a good idea for my budget. Really awesome plants found their way into my hands and then into my cart. So I stopped and got in the checkout line and paid and left -- whew!

Everything's in the ground, and I'm very-very-pleased with how it's going to look. In particular, I have a hill in the front yard with a mass of red barberry on it and some empty space at the bottom, near the sidewalk. I had filled it with the groundcover carpet bugle years ago, but it's retreated from all but the sunniest spots. Now it's just begging for an intimate little woodland garden to peek out and surprise and intrigue passers-by. I'm playing with textures and shapes more than color, and I think it's going to look lovely. My fave plant? Lamium maculatum 'Beacon Silver,' a groundcover with silver-traced leaves that must have been created by elves. So pleased! :-)

I've been working lots, of course. Working on all kinds of interesting manuscripts as well as doing a bunch of "quality assurance" on instructional videos. It's a lot like copyediting, just for a different medium. Worked on my first ever book in British English a few weeks ago -- fun! All the years of doing British crosswords and listening to the BBC helped a little, I think. Wikipedia turned out to be a great resource for learning how punctuation marks are used in the UK. And I'm tutoring and teaching for Kaplan and having a blast -- awesome students, every single one of them!

Well that's it for this post. I do much better on Twitter. Communicating daily in 140-character snatches seems to work better for me than trying to put together sentences and paragraphs. Maybe because I spend all my time putting together other people's sentences and paragraphs, I don't feel motivated to write my own, LOL! Actually, I did write a short story a couple of months ago and sold it to an anthology. Once the antho has a firm publisher, title, and release date, I'll talk about it more. Was the story great? No, but it worked, and it was a joy to shake off some rust and write again. Writing definitely got easier and the prose definitely got better as I went along. I'm also in the very beginning baby-steps stage of starting to compile research for a creative nonfiction or literary fictional biography or . . . ??? book I'd like to write. We'll see . . . Kind of reactivating my old historian skills. We'll see . . .

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Huh. Where have I been for the last four months?

Well, working mostly. And on http://twitter.com/paulalfleming/ . Even when I can't begin to summon the energy to blog, I can always muster 140 characters. Have to admit -- I was a Twitter sceptic. Who the heck needs that in their lives? But I use it to follow a bunch of stuff in lieu of going to lots of separate websites. And to keep up with friends and see what cool stuff they're up to and links they're sharing and share my own discoveries.

Back to the working thing: I thought I was putting in about 80 hours/week, because that seemed like the upper limit I'd heard of a workweek being. Then in December I ran some numbers through a calculator and realized it was closer to 100 hours/week, at least for a lot of weeks. That's insane! However, with the economy the way it was last year (and still is this year, so far) and with the ever-present possibility that freelance work will suddenly dry up, I'm *not* complaining. On the other hand, I did get a little crispy in the brain. Plus, my totally sedentary lifestyle -- I see my bed . . . Now I see my desk . . . Now I see my bed again . . . -- led to my old neck injury (from bending over a laptop for six weeks during Clarion 2000) to flare up in a really bad way. Gods, but the pain and pins-and-needles were distracting!

However, I was working on all sorts of interesting and challenging stuff, including doing the equivalent of copyediting instructional videos for Kaplan's new GMAT curriculum.

And we used some of the extra dough to buy a bed with a headboard and footboard (not just the metal frame we've always had) and a new mattress set and everything. In case you're just tuning in or lost the thread of the story, three years ago, when we got the main floor of the house remodeled, we moved all the furniture into the basement to get it out of the way. The king-sized mattress went down the steep, narrow stairs easily enough -- we could not get it back up. No way, no how, wasn't going to happen. The new bed is in a "sleigh" style, and the wood finish goes beautifully with the colors and furniture already in the bedroom. It barely fits in the room (king-sized bed to accommodate the dogs), but we don't care. Sleeping in it is incredible, amazing, beautiful, wondrous . . . It's a really comfortable bed! Definitely worth every penny.

I stumbled across an amazing massage therapist who's done wonders for my neck, I've been making time to work out most days since January 2, and as of about 24 hours ago, I've had no assignments on my plate. I get a long weekend! First thing I did? Sleep for about a day. LOL! I guess I was tired!

Update on Sparky and Bootsie: When Sparky joined our family, Bootsie wanted to rip out his liver. Now they play together every day, and if Cubby Bear is harassing Sparky, Bootsie runs out from whatever room she's in and faces down the mastiff. "Don't mess with my Sparky," seems to be her attitude.

Sparky is technology minded. He is an expert at unplugging my computer -- he figured out very quickly that gets a big reaction! He also enjoys printing test pages on the printer -- finds that quite exciting. Bootsie does that, too, but I think he's more intentional about stepping on the button. He's tried very hard to take apart Doug's laptop, removing one key for sure -- fortunately not an important one -- and working at damaging the ports along each side. He also figured out quickly that sitting atop the aquarium and flipping the lid repeatedly -- bang! bang! bang! -- gets attention. And he removed the little off trigger from the aquarium light timer, so I have to remember to turn off the light manually every day. His absolute favorite thing to do is play with his feather toy, and I try to indulge him at least once a day. Mostly, he's a big pain in the ass, but he's smart and cute and has definitely made Bootsie's life more interesting.

Now watching the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Washington, and the Australian Open (tennis) in Melbourne. Is it possible to be in all time zones at once?

Health care: Don't even get me started. Just . . . I'm not even going there.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sparky! And a hawk!

Sparky Sept 09


It is my great pleasure (and surprise!) to announce the addition of Sparky to our family. I really have no idea how we went from me looking at cute pictures of kitties at Petfinder.com to filling out an adoption form at the Animal Humane Society. It just happened (like some pregnancies -- LOL!) Doug and the 9-month-old Sparky took to each other right away, and I thought he was a nice kitty, so home he came. Sparky's been living mostly in my office until Bootsie gets used to the idea, and I adore him. Starting about Day 3, couldn't imagine life without him. Today is Day 8. He loves to sleep on my book or keyboard with his head on my hand. Or slung over my shoulder with my hand supporting his bottom. How can I possibly push him aside to work? Cuddling him is a much higher calling.

Need to give equal visibility to Bootsie. Here's a picture Doug shot a couple of years ago, I think. She loves the back windows in summer when the ivy grows over them, giving her a "jungle screen" to lurk behind as she watches the birds and furry critters that visit our backyard. She is sort of OK with Sparky as long as he doesn't try to play with her or enter her domain upstairs. Unfortunately, he wants to do both those things very much. So they're going to be separate for a while.

Bootsie 07


AJ is very interested in the new cat, and Cubby Bear is absolutely over the moon at having another kitty friend. Sparky was wary at first, but now he has discovered that Cubby's huge brush of a tail makes a great toy.

This summer, we were visited for about a week by a juvenile Cooper's hawk. He perched right outside my office window for hours! I've always joked that my utter lack of care of the backyard and its subsequent run to weeds was an effort to create an ecosystem. Well, I guess it worked! The hawk eventually caught a baby rabbit! Then s/he took off. They like to nest in Douglas firs, apparently, and our next-door neighbor has a beautiful one, so fingers crossed that s/he remembers that tasty bunny and the nice tree and maybe comes back someday to raise baby hawks. Photo below by Gerry Dewaghe.

Coopers Hawk


Otherwise, life has been about working . . . and working . . . and working . . . and . . . Did I mention I've been working a lot? I'm guessing about 70-80 hours/week. So much housework and yardwork isn't getting done, it's not funny. But with the economy the way it is, and the way it's likely to be for a while, I'm not complaining. One of my clients sent me a chilled box of See's Candy for working on a series of challenging projects -- how sweet! Do you know that See's Candy comes with a nutritional leaflet? That's just wrong! It went into recycling unread.

Wrapped up my GRE class for Kaplan Test Prep. Enjoyed teaching very, very much. It definitely got me the interpersonal contact I needed and used the presentation skills that would otherwise atrophy. Plus I met remarkable people and got to know their dreams and goals and maybe help them a little toward them. I hope they all do great on the test!!! Now I am tutoring a wonderful guy, also on the GRE. I hope to teach a class again in November, but that will depend on enrollment. I'm looking forward to fine-tuning my teaching and continuing to improve in my next class.

It hasn't all been work. At the end of August, we did go on a sort of vacation to Kansas City, where we met Doug's parents for a couple of days. Visited some museums, ate some barbeque. I alternately worked and crashed, worked and crashed. Afraid I wasn't exactly the life of the party. I'd lost 5 pounds since May, but I gained 3 of it back over that vacation -- bleh. How discouraging.

Also carved out some time to watch the U.S. Open. Men's champion Juan del Potro seems like a really nice guy with a great game, so glad he won. And Kim Clijsters -- good grief, just her third tournament back from "maternity leave," and she wins a Grand Slam! I remember her as being mentally fragile, but she was incredibly focused here. And now Justine Henin is planning a return. Hurray for women's tennis!

Garden update: Bunny ate most of what would have been a great crop of broccoli, but tomatoes are producing like crazy, despite the drought. (We've had only 0.01 inch of rain so far in September!) Without time to cook, I've been just slicing them up on a plate and sprinkling salt over them.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Birds, Butterflies, and Books

American Goldfinches
Stepped out onto my front porch yesterday and saw four gorgeous little yellow birds, two a bright, bright yellow, clinging to my Pincushion Flowers (Scabiosa) and delighting themselves with the seeds. American Goldfinches! Two males, two females. As I've been relandscaping, I've been trying to use a lot of bird- and butterfly-friendly plants -- how cool that it works!

Also, about a week ago, saw a beautiful little butterfly on my bed of native yarrow. The undersides/outsides of its wings were slate gray; the topsides/insides were an intense lilac blue. When it fluttered about, it looked like a flower in flight.

Am sick as a dog: Doug went to Origins in Columbus, Ohio, to sell games and brought back a virus with him. He's been sick, too. Bleh. That's really a pain because . . .

I'm currently working on six books with another arriving Monday and more in the pipeline after that. Not a good time to be sick! Just finished editing a book with a lot of organic chemistry in it. I don't know the first thing about organic chemistry, so it was very challenging, but I think that with the help of Google, I ended up doing a good job.

Sarah Palin is an utter flake. Here's just one of the analyses with which I agree; this one is by Ruth Marcus.

When not working, have been enjoying Wimbledon. Amazing women's semifinal between Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva. Amazing quarterfinal and semifinal between Andy Roddick and a resurgent Lleyton Hewitt and co-favorite Andy Roddick, respectively, and then yet another classic Wimbledon final, this time between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer. Being sick, I dozed off early in the fourth set. Woke up quite a while later, saw the score line, and went WTF!?!? and was wide awake. Federer finally won 16–14 in the fifth set. This is his 15th Grand Slam title, and he's now one of a handful of men who have won the French Open (on clay) and Wimbledon (a few weeks later on grass) in the same year.

Funny dog stuff: AJ is perfectly capable of pushing through the swinging kitchen door. She does it from the kitchen side all the time, and she'll do it from the dining room side if I'm standing right there with her. Nonetheless, when Doug is making a snack and she wants to follow him (or rather his food), she never fails to charge into my office, make it very clear that I am to follow her, and lead me to the door, which she makes very clear I am to open for her. Sometimes even when the door is propped wide open, she insists I escort her through it. Funny!

Fun:

  • You must view this slideshow at the public radio show Speaking of Faith Web site. A male polar bear encounters chained huskies in northern Canada. The animals proceed to play with each other. The bear came back every day for a week to play with the dogs. Other researchers have observed the same behavior between grizzly bears and wolves in the wild.
  • There is a World Worm Charming Championships. It is held each year in Willaston, Cheshire, England. The record now stands at 567 worms. Something to aspire to?
  • Therapy chickens! Like therapy dogs, but poultry. This brief article will make you say, "Awwww."
  • "Male hummingbirds, swooping in an effort to impress females, achieve speeds 'faster than fighter jets,' [as measured in body lengths] according to a study." Photo below by C. Clark.

    Hummingbird Dive

  • Stickleback fish have been determined to use a "hill-climbing" learning strategy. Individual fish learn to find food faster from the failures and successes of their peers. Geez, I could have told them fish do this.

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