Saturday, July 2, 2011

Settling In

State Government Shut Down - Day 2 aka Lay Off - Day 2
Wow, I could get into this if it weren't for one little issue - money.  Like so many others, my lifestyle is based on my disposable income.  A full pay check yesterday (we have direct deposit), a partial paycheck in two weeks, and then nada.  We were assigned a specific day to apply for Unemployment, based on the last digit of our SS number, so I will be applying on-line on Wednesday.  Having never applied for UI before, this will be a whole new experience.  Apparently I have to go one week with no pay at all, then I will receive 50% of my regular pay for x number of weeks/months.  Let's not go there - hopefully this will not be for THAT long.

This stool will benefit from being refinished!
My list of projects is getting longer, not shorter, but it now includes little things that I would never get around to otherwise, like stripping and refinishing an antique (well at least it's OLD) stool that is currently covered in layers of chipped blue paint. Because it is solid wood and not a veneer, it should be quite nice when stripped, sanded, wood-filled, and repainted.

Yesterday was spent bumming, running errands, and checking out a new place I've been wanting to visit called The Betta Store.  The young owners are very nice and I wish them well in this venture.  Hard to believe they can sell enough Bettas (they also carry a few other fish plus supplies) to make a go of it, but because of our large Asian population, "fighters" are big sellers, especially the Five Star Fighters who are large, solid, short-finned fish supposedly bred for fighting.  Fish fighting is presumably illegal, but it is said to be very widespread in this area. Like dog fighting and cock fighting, bets are placed on the fish.  Does it bother me?  No, actually it does not.  I am totally against dog fighting, and not so sure about cock fighting, but I would not mind going to a fish fight. 

Aggression is very common in many species of fish, and it's mostly about territories.  It is not "meaness" but the way a species is able to survive, find suitable spawning sites, and sufficient nutrition.  Many of the Rift Lake Cichlids are extremely aggressive, and that is true also of Bettas.  In the wild, Bettas live in shallow ponds and mudholes.  They are anabantoids (air breathers) because warm shallow water does not contain sufficient oxygen to support other types of fish.  The males fight for spots to build their bubble nests, and guard the sites and nests from other fish. 

Long finned Bettas retain some of this aggression but are not bred for aggressiveness.  Even so, it's almost impossible to keep two male Bettas in the same tank, although multiple females can live together if given enough room and some hiding spots.  Bettas are fine with other fish, just aggressive with their own kind.  Short-finned Bettas are known in the trade as Plakats, and fighters are just Plakats bred for aggressiveness.  They tend to be stocky, drab and particularly hardy.  Plakats can also be bred for ornamental purposes, rather than fighting ability, and are much different in appearance than the "fighters".

Did I buy a fish?  Well . . .   Yes I did. I purchased an ornamental Plakat, suckered in my his handsome appearance, great attitude and the fact that he was red, white & blue!  The store also carries Giants, the first I have seen.  The ones in stock were rather plain looking (but large!) fish, but apparently the store gets attractively marked fish from time to time.  Guess I will have to go back!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Practicing For Retirement

Lay Off - Day One
Here I am at home on a Friday, a day I would normally be working.  There was no last minute budget resolution, so the State Of Minnesota is basically closed for business.  Troopers, prison guards & other people essential to the safety of Minnesotans are still working, and there is a skeleton crew of MNDOT people to take care of road safety issues such as pavement blowups which will most certainly occur today as the temperatures move into the mid-90s again.  There was no last minute Lights On Bill to keep the state running for a few more days.  The Governor had said he would not go that route because it would only postpone the real problems, and he was as good as his word.  The Republicans vowed there would be no tax increase, not even for the wealthiest Minnesotans, and they did not back down either.  So the rich will continue to be rich, and the middle class and under classes will continue to get poorer.  Such a sad state of affairs . . .

Our office has been under an enormous amount of stress recently as so much needed to be done to prepare for the lay offs, in addition to all the training and testing required for the new accounting system which was to have gone live - today.  All the contractors sent in up-to-the-minute bills as they often need their payments to meet their payrolls.  So much paperwork to be done in notifying all the state's vendors and so many payments to be made.  In my area we had a number of large upcoming condemnation actions that required payment during July, and and those had to be taken care of (just in case) and even yesterday I was making payment for parcels in the Central Corridor Light Rail project.  Payments would have been due in August, but who knows if we would be back in time, and the Central Corridor project continues.  All regular road construction is cancelled for now, but not the Light Rail which is a Metropolitan Council project (but we purchase the right of way for them).

I thought I was ready for this and would enjoy a "vacation" but when I turned in my badge, put prepared messages on my phone and computer, when I made arrangements for my office plants, rechecked to make sure I had everything completed, and packed up any personal items I might need at home, I felt sick.  As if I had been kicked in the stomach, and perhaps in the heart.  This kind of thing should NOT be happening in a civilized country.  In a civilized state.  When did things get so crazy?

It was a pretty glum evening too, but this morning I am OK with everything.  I feel so bad for the people who will be affected by this much more than I will.  I have some savings, and will be able to collect unemployment which will help, and I've never had a REAL vacation at home as I normally use my days off for dogs shows, and generally just a few at a time.   Like most of the rest of my office I NEED a vacation, a chance to get my head together, and get caught up on my sleep before the new accounting system goes live. 

Lots of projects lined up, but first - breakfast!  No more peanut butter toast breakfasts for me.  Today we are starting with an asparagus, onion, red pepper & tomato omelet.

The giant blue Hosta does not fare well in the heat
Then off to set up a sun tarp to protect my gorgeous blue Hosta which really suffers in the hot sun.  The sprinkler is already running in the alley garden and the rest of the flower beds need watering.  Then I'll take a look at the multi-page To Do List.  Yep, I plan to make the best of this, and yes I will make a point of doing a blog entry every morning.  No excuses now!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Alley Gardens

An Alley Garden award flag

Many years ago our Mac/Groveland Community Council started giving out Alley Garden Awards, in part "to prevent crime and encourage residents to clean up and beautify their alleys, the community's most neglected spaces."  I won an award the first year, before I even knew the program existed, but since then have kept the alley area weeded and mowed but nothing more. I enjoy "doing alleys" when I walk the dogs and admire the winners every year.

When the new fence went in last month I decided to work toward an award.  The alley already had hostas & ferns and reasonably good grass, but there were no flowers, and the area near the garage door was a pile of discarded sod & soil covered with weeds.  Ugh!  When the half barrel planter proved too large to fit in the area where I had to move the side fence, it was moved to the alley (what a chore that was), planted and mulched.  The heap of soil was dug up, weeded, smoothed out and planted as well, and rocks were added along the sides to keep the soil from washing.  It was heavily mulched since that area is hot and dry and hard to reach with a hose.

Judging is a mysterious process, with flags suddenly appearing when its been completed.  When I came home last Friday, there was a note in my door telling me that I had (almost) won, but was missing one piece.  One of the requirements (I've never seen the requirements before) was house numbers prominently displayed which is apparently a law.  Who knew.  The note said to get that taken care of and notify the Council for rejudging.  Argh!  So close!   No way to put the numbers in a readable location on a stone garage with minimal wood trim (which is why there were no numbers there) so they were put on the fence even though I cringed at the idea of pounding nails in my new fence.  A quick email went off to the chairman, and a few days later the flag was in place and there was a note in my door inviting me to an awards ceremony in the fall and asking permission to take pictures if they wished.

Just a small thing really, but something I wanted to accomplish, and something that gives me great pleasure.  When Argus and I go for our evening walk, we'll stop to admire all the award winners in the area and perhaps get some new ideas for next year.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Friends & Family

The guest room is ready and waiting for Laurie & Nikon who will be coming for a visit, just in time for my birthday.  They're driving from Virginia to visit relatives north of the Twin Cities, then staying here for a few days.  Laurie is originally from the Twin Cities, but we were introduced years ago by an mutual friend when she was already living on the east coast.  Nikon is one of Coral's daughters, one of Argus's "ex-wives" and mother of Penny.  Both are great houseguests and we always have such a good time.  Because Ron is a typical close-mouthed Finlander, it's also nice to have someone around to talk to, other than the dogs of course.  (Yes, I talk to my dogs as if they were people.  Don't you?)
Duderino & friend

An email from my brother to see which weekends I'll be home this summer.  All of them, I told him.  No money, no plans.  Al is planning to come up from Costa Rica for a week or ten days, stay with mom, get together with family and visit old friends.  He also stocks up on things I can not buy in Costa Rica, although they have an increasingly large number of "American items" available - which probably means they were made in China.  We all wish that his wife Alison would come along too, but she's content to stay in Costa Rica and tend to her projects and their pets.  Their newest family member, who I refer to as Al's foster son, is pictured above - a Capuchin Monkey, aka Organ Grinder Monkey.  Duderino is a "rescue" who was illegally owned, and because Alison is involved in dog rescue she was asked to take in the monkey who can not be returned to the wild.  My mother says that Al has many humorous stories about their adventures with Duderino, so I'm sure I'll have a few to relate.  The monkey spends his days outdoors swinging from the trees and harassing the dogs, but he comes when called, eats anything except bananas (!) and takes twenty foot leaps from lamp to lamp.  Very glad that Duderino will not be traveling with Al!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Puppies In Ohio

Nati and friends

Love this picture of Nati, who long time readers may remember as Naughtia, the puppy I kept from the Argus & Boji litter.  When she was about 5 months old Naughtia went to live in Ohio with Ann & Dave.  Ann's family had shown Dals and raised a few litters of pups, and Ann thought she "might" want to get back into the sport.  I sold the pup with the agreement that she could be shown and eventually bred if Ann was truly interested.   Shortly after Nati joined their family, Ann & Dave came to the Dal National and watched Argus go Best Of Breed.  Welcome back to dog shows!

Fast forward three years.  Nati is now a GCh with a CHIC # and is expecting her first litter of pups in August. Ann DID get hooked on showing, finished Nati's Championship with a specialty major, and then continued on to her Grand Championship.  She also completed all of Nati's health testing, including eyes, hips, elbows, thyroid & cardiac (the BAER hearing test was done here when Nati was a pup) and Nati received her CHIC # for that.

Nati was bred to a handsome, well-bred Champion Dalmatian who also has all of his health testing.  James comes from a "good family" and we are all anticipating a nice litter.  Hope to be able to see the pups before the go to new homes.

Have fun, Ann & Dave!

Monday, June 27, 2011

So Where Did My Weekend Go?

Charlie Brown at two.

Got lots accomplished this weekend, so why is my To Do List still so long?  Maybe I am subconsciously planning for the upcoming layoff.  Only four more days of work unless a budget agreement is in place very soon, and the list of projects to be done during an "enforced vacation" continues to grow.

I went to the office on Sunday morning intending to stay for "a couple of hours", but ended up staying for five.  Way to waste a weekend, BUT I got so much done!  End of fiscal year, preparing for shut down, new accounting system soon to be launched, AND doing a second job as well as my own makes it impossible to keep up during a normal work week.   Actually, NOTHING is normal right now.  Just wish I got paid for overtime.

On Saturday Jess & I met up at Charlie Brown's to get some current pictures.  We had not seen him since last fall and he was in beautiful condition.  Brook & Michael have done such a good job with Charlie.  Wish all puppy buyers would listen, ask questions, and follow through as they have done.  Charlie is well socialized, has nice manners, and is in perfect condition.  And he knows that he is a dog.  They have not treated him like a child, which will make it so much easier on everyone if they have children some day.  Dogs do NOT benefit from being referred to and treated like Fur Persons.
Reebok with 2+ weeks to go.

After doing pictures of Charlie, Jess came over to meet Reebok and help me get some pictures of her.  Thanks Jess!  I have not had any company since Reebok came to stay, so I wanted to see her reaction.  Excellent!  She was incredibly friendly and acted as if she had known Jess all her life.  Just wanted to be sure that Reebok did indeed have the kind of personality I breed for - friendly, outgoing, enthusiastic and silly!  She passed with flying colors.

Argus and I went walking along the Mississippi later that day, but he did not get to swim off leash.  Had to content himself with swimming and splashing while on a Flexi Lead.  With all the rain, the river is flowing strongly, and he's not (yet) an experienced swimmer.

It was a great weekend for Argus kids, with lovely Tia going WB at the Mt. Hood Specialty to finish her Championship (with 2 specialty majors, 2 Bests In Sweeps, and 2 Group placings).  Number 13 for Argus.  Son Wills picked up a couple more points, daughter Cassie picked up 11 more points & 3 majors towards her Grand Championship, and both Pauli & Krash earned Bests Of Breed.  I considered driving up to Cambridge to cheer Pauli on, but decided that I am better off staying away from dog shows so I am not tempted to enter shows I don't need to enter.

Discovered a lump on Coral's back on Saturday, a small dark lump that at first looked like a wood tick, but oozed when we fussed with it.  She's due for a blood panel anyway, so I'll get it looked at this week.  Hopefully it can be removed with a local anesthetic as I can't see subjecting a 13-year old to more than that.

Time to get ready for work.  Going in early and donating more time to the Minnesota taxpayers.  Bet they won't thank me either. . .