Sunday, February 27, 2011

String Quartet Rules

I was sorting through some string quartet music in my old violin folder when I came across a sheet of paper outlining the "rules" for our quartet [incidentally, The Doppler Shift Quartet was how I met Air Boss--he was a violist and I, a violinist].

Anyway, I read these rules with a chuckle, sure that I had swiped them from somewhere and then modified them for our very amateur (but fun-loving) group.

I present to you:

Golden Rules for The Doppler Shift Quartet (March 2000)
1. Everyone should play the same piece.
2. Stop at every repeat sign and discuss in detail whether to take the repeat. The audience will love this a lot!
3. If you play a wrong note, give a nasty look to one of your partners.
4. Keep your fingering chart handy. You can always catch up with the others.
5. Carefully tune your instrument before playing. That way you can play out of tune all night with a clear conscience.
6. Take your time turning pages.
7. The right note at the wrong time is a wrong note (and vice versa).
8. If everyone gets lost except you, follow those who get lost.
9. Strive to get the maximum NPS (Notes Per Second). That way you gain the admiration of the incompetent.
10. Markings for slurs, dynamics and ornaments should not be observed. They are only there to embellish the score.
11. If a passage is difficult, slow down. If it's easy, speed it up. Everything will work itself out in the end.
12. If you are completely lost, stop everyone and say, "I think we should tune."
13. Happy are those who have not perfect pitch, for the Kingdom of Music is theirs.
14. If the ensemble has to stop because of you, explain in detail why you got lost. Everyone will be very interested.
15. A true interpretation is realized when there remains not one note of the original.
16. A wrong note played timidly is a wrong note. A wrong note played with authority is an interpretation.
17. When everyone else has finished playing, you should not play notes you have left. If you have notes left over, please play them on the way home.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Does this house look familiar?

If this is your house, are you aware that it's being "rented" out for $440 a night?!

This post is perhaps one of my more embarrassing posts as I'll share how I was almost scammed of almost $1000. Yep - I even called my mom to apologize that the Ivy League education she paid for still didn't "guarantee" me from being suckered by a scam artist.

To make a relatively brief story tediously (but hopefully helpfully) long, here are the details of my near loss (with the many mistakes I've made notated for your learning benefit--or at the very least, your amusement).

I was tasked to find a summer vacation home for my extended family. We all wanted something comfortable, clean, ideally near a beach or with a pool, pet-friendly, large enough for kids and adults alike, and reasonably priced. I found a few options on Craigslist (in hindsight, not the best place to be looking) and inquired about availability. As I waited to hear back from the home owners/listing agents, I forwarded the links to my family to see if they had any preferences.

One particularly responsive listing agent was a man by the name of "Richie." His quick email response was littered with tons of typos and spelling mistakes but he did get back to me quickly. I just assumed that he was quickly emailing from the road on his smart phone (Mistake #1).

His particular listing was the most attractive of all the options because of the sheer size of the house (8,000+ SF) and the very clean contemporary furnishings. The kitchen island in this house was bigger than my ENTIRE kitchen!

It was a good thing I did a bit of sleuthing (read "poking my nosey nose around in other people's business") as I found out more information on the property--information that lead me to discover the property was for sale and had been on the market for over a year. I figured the agent was trying to recoup some cash through renting it out as a vacation home (Mistake #2).

The agent informed me to reserve the place quickly as "there is a rush for this apartment this time" (Mistakes #3 and #4). In the 26 emails between me and Richie, he kept referring to the place as an apartment. Since when does a mansion with over 8,000 SF of living space on a lot size of 11 acres (that would be close to 450,000 SF....450 thousand!)constitute an apartment?! I kept noticing these little details but each one didn't really raise a red flag in my mind (Mistake #5) at least, not right away.

My desired dates were confirmed to be available (surprise, surprise) and the contract was emailed to me. The contract had tons of spelling and formatting mistakes (Mistake #6) - the teacher in me even corrected the formatting and spelling as I filled out the form. There was a pet clause in the contract and it wasn't filled out. I inquired about how much the pet fee would be and a couple of other things that were even downright ambiguous on the contract. Richie now seemed annoyed. He responded that there are no additional fees even with a pet and the cleaning fee was already included as with all other expenses. When I tried to call him on his number, which turned out to be an obscure upstate New York Magic Jack number (Mistake #7), I didn't bother leaving a message. I tried to Google his business and his name and check the Better Business Bureau website but nothing came up (Mistake #8).

Perhaps what clinched it for me (as if all the other indicators weren't enough) was the dollar amounts on the contract. Dollar amounts were notated with a colon, so my security deposit of $300 was notated as $300:00 and my nightly rate was notated as $440:00 (Mistake #9).

What a dolt! The light bulb above my head began to flicker on (granted it was a low 20 watt bulb). I went back on Craigslist and found several other listings with Richie's name on it. All his "rental properties" coincidentally were high-end properties for sale with photos posted on the internet. Undoubtedly he lifted the description (verbatim), details, and images straight from the listings.
Anyway, I'm now steering clear of Craiglist postings unless they also have listings with a reputable rental site. I feel like suck a sucker. Att least there wasn't a Nigerian Prince involved, right....?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I'm learning these days

Okay - so "dog" is very much on my mind these days. Guess it has something to do with having a dog in the house and the fact that I've never owned a dog before. Let's just say that old dogs (me) CAN learn new tricks (or how to co-exist with a canine in the house).

What I've learned about myself:
1) I'm not OCD (I already knew this but others may not) as I only wash my hands only after I've petted Skye, or after she's licked me, or after I've touched her food (or toys or anything else she's touched), or after I've groomed her, or after I've looked at her. All other times, I don't bother to wash my hands.

2) I do not need to have a SUPER clean house as I see dog hair all over the floor. I only vacuum once a day (with the pet cleaning system attachment on the vacuum cleaner). Kids using the light-weight vacuum don't really count. Swiffering, using the vacuum without the pet attachment, and hand-mopping do not count toward the daily vacuuming as well.

3) I am not a control freak as I do let Skye come into and out of the house as she pleases, provided she rings the bell by our back slider and sits and waits for permission to enter/exit (and gets all her paws wiped before she enters the house).

What I've learned about Skye:
1) She's very sweet and mild (as long as there are no furry creatures around)

2) She is very well-behved (as long as there are no furry creatures around)

3) She loves stuffed furry creatures which (sadly) may already belong to 'Shroom or Lolli [note to self: I better tell them not to bring their precious George and Mimi downstairs where Skye will claim them as her own]

4) She does not care to fetch (with or without furry creatures around)

5) At the dog park, she loves other dogs to chase her so she can have an excuse to run top speed

6) She can jump really high (which is kind of scary)

7) She can poop white crumbly stuff after eating bones

8) She can howl (when furry creatures are around) and bark (which has happened very rarely so far)

What I've learned since becoming a dog-owner:
1) A mild, dainty dog can have a nasty snarl when another dog tries to take away a stuffed animal

2) Many people do not like dogs and are scared of "wolf-looking" dogs (our neighbor); Air Boss thinks it's the black "eye-liner" that makes her look fierce

Skye with her "black eye-liner" fierce eyes.

3) The staff at PetSmart are super helpful and great with dogs (I wonder if dog-ownership is a pre-requisite to employment with them)

4) Dogs do not necessarily die when they jump over huge dogs charging at them and land sideways on their head (another scary moment)

5) People are not shy in coming up and complimenting on how beautiful Skye is (I had an impromptu conversation by the side of the street as a truck pulled over; there was a 5 minute one-sided conversation as the driver gushed about huskies)

My favorite Air Boss and Skye photo taken over the weekend

(The Strand, Hermosa Beach, CA)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The doggie search has ended

Our search for a family dog ended rather unexpectedly. What was supposed to be a quick trip to the local shelter during Air Boss' lunch break last weekend (just to see what new dogs have come in during the two days since our last visit), ended with a dog coming home with us.

We showed up three minutes after the shelter opened up and we were amazed at the full parking lot and the TONS of people who were already there--it was busier than on the weekend! We walked up a down the sad, dark corridors of dog kennels and saw some familiar faces and some new. And then we saw her . . .

We had seen her on our first visit and were disappointed to discover that someone was in the process of adopting her. On our second visit (it was just Air Boss), Air Boss noticed the dog was still there but this time with two families standing "guard" in front of her kennel and blocking others from seeing her. Someone had even removed the paper with her tag number and information, as if they didn't want anyone to discover this dog.

Well, somehow, she still wasn't adopted by the time we came around on the third visit. What?!?! What happened? Turns out the "hold" on her from the first family expired and her back-up family didn't know she was released back for adoption. She was ours for the taking if we wanted.

Long story short, we brought her home and didn't "tell" the kids until they walked through the door and saw her in the dining room. They couldn't believe their eyes!

Lolli's mouth sort of hung open and she later told us that she thought it was "a picture of a dog" (I'm assuming she meant something like a cardboard cut-out). Air Boss video taped their reaction when they met the dog for the first time.

We didn't have a name for her and the shelter didn't have a recorded name for her either (she was a stray found on the street). We took a big gamble because we knew NOTHING about this dog. Since she's been with us, we've discovered that she is house trained, does know a few commands, and is very dainty and polite--provided there are no furry animals around. She loves stuffed animals and will not fetch even if her life depended on it.

After booking a vet appointment for the following day (I had named her "Sami" on the fly in order to have an appointment under SOME name), I let the kids choose a name for her. Lolli thought it would be quite apropos to name her "Skye" because of her eyes. So . . . Skye it is!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Looking for a friend (of the four-legged variety)

Today marked our second consecutive weekend we spent looking for a dog to add to our family. As a family, we've been looking to adopt a rescue dog since the end of November/beginning of December. We've held off getting a dog for Christmas (we knew we would be traveling during the holidays) and during the month of January (Air Boss would be away on business for almost two weeks and I didn't want to figure out how to "work a dog" while he was away).

Now that we're planning on staying put for awhile, our dog search has ramped up. We've--I guess it's been primarily me--been combing through and even Craigslist to see what is out there. In addition, I've been looking into different breeds to see what would be most compatible to our lifestyle (i.e. which dogs don't shed, don't gnaw, don't poop, and don't require more exercise than walking from dog bowl to bed and back). Alas, I'm still looking for that elusive dog . . .

Kidding aside, we've narrowed our choices and started checking out websites. I've made several phone calls and inquiries about specific dogs. We were believing that doggie would be coming home with us last weekend that we bought the biggest Costco-sized doggie bed and threw it in the back of our Blackhawk van. 'Shroom and Lolli had a blast riding through Costco in the big over-sized shopping cart on a doggie bed.

No dog. Our top two dogs were already adopted.

Today, I told the kids that if we don't find a dog today (Saturday is a popular day to find adoption events at local pet stores), we may need to postpone the doggie search for another month or so. Even though we don't have any trips planned, I'll be starting a new job soon and I don't want to add a changing schedule to a newly-adopted-possibly-high-strung-dog.

Two adoption events, a trip to a local county shelter, and a phone call to a foster home yielded no dog. It was a tough day emotionally as we came very close to closing an adoption. At the local shelter, we had spent close to a half-hour with Shelly, a four year old shepherd/lab mix, in a private enclosed yard. As Air Boss and the kids stayed behind to continue playing with Shelly, I went to the office with checkbook in hand ready to close the deal.

As the paperwork was about the be processed, I had inquired about the reason why Shelly was turned in by her owner. A form was produced which the previous owner had filled out. To my dismay, I read that she was an outdoor dog, does not walk well on a leash (I figured this out), had no training (figured this out too), and could not be trusted to be indoors. My heart sank. I don't have the confidence to untrain 4 years of habits and retrain a dog. It was a no-go for me and for Air Boss (after I showed him the paperwork). Shelly was our third choice at the shelter (previous two had adoptions pending).

After we walked around a bit more to see if we could find another dog (as expected, no new dogs had been turned in during the 30 minutes we were with Shelly), I remembered I still had an ace up my sleeve. I had been provided the name and number of a woman fostering two beautiful huskies.

As I suspected, the foster mom would only adopt them to a family willing to take the pair. I think adopting one dog is already enough of a big change to our non-dog family. Air Boss and I weren't feeling up to the challenge in taking in two very active dogs.

Five hours after we saw our first dog of the day, we were finally heading home with no dog for our doggie bed. 'Shroom started crying in the car and his tears showed the disappointment for all of us. When we got home, he took out his bucket of dinosaur bones (which I had made him clean up before we left so that they wouldn't pose a choking hazard to our dog), and dumped the contents all over the floor. "I don't care if I make a mess because we're never going to get a dog!" he cried as he--well, made a mess.

Right now, he's sleeping in his bed with his stuffed friend, Teddy, who is a Webkins pug (complete with a real dog collar). Lolli has been dealing with her disappointment in a different way but it's just as present for her as it is for 'Shroom.

For now, I'm going to lay low on the dog search. It's been so disappointing for the kids--I didn't realize how much I've gotten their hopes up. In the meantime, we're a dog-less family with an empty doggie bed. Maybe we'll use it as a big floor pillow while we watch the Superbowl tomorrow. =/

Sunday, 2/6/11 Update:
This morning, 'Shroom woke up and drew himself this picture. He's been carrying it around all day today. It's a picture of the dog he'll have one day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

January Books

I'm a little late in recording the books I read this past January. But, better late than never!

1. A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller (4.0 out of 5 stars)
I don't typically read books on prayer cover to cover but this book was a great reminder about the persistence of prayer. Focus and intentionality were highlighted and I especially appreciated Miller's personal anecdotes and struggles with his daughter's autism. It resonated with me and reminded me that the most valuable thing I can do for 'Shroom as he struggles with his learning disability is to pray for him.

2) The Successful Home Business Guide by Will Limkemann (3.2 out of 5 stars)
I put this book on my reading list because I wanted to explore home business options. This is the most current book (2009) that I've read on this topic so already it was a good read. While there were some very basic tips (make sure you have a business plan written, see who your competition is), there were some tips that were new and helpful to me (websites for search engine optimization (SEO's), the difference between marketing and sales, the importance of mission and vision statements).

1) Always the Baker, Never the Bride by Sandra Bricker(2.8 out of 5 stars)
This was a cute romance with the main character being a single 34-year old diabetic baker. It's a sweet (in more ways than one) story of how Emma (the baker) and Jake (owner of a destination hotel) meet and fall in love. It's a very wholesome book (no make-out scenes and I think the furthest they "go" is first base) and it's sprinkled with recipes, wedding planning advice and tips. The story itself is a bit bland and somewhat predictable but then again, I typically don't read romance books so consider this a good rating from me for this genre.

2) The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan (4.8 out of 5 stars)
This was a great book to start of Lolli's and 'Shroom's 2011. This is perhaps the longest book I've read aloud with them (almost 400 pages and all of it text - not one little picture in it). This first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (5 books in all) was a page turner and the kids wouldn't let me read "just one chapter" in a sitting. During the 10 days Air Boss was away on business, we would often have snacks and or dinner reading from the book. It became a great incentive for them to quickly do their homework so we could read the book together.

3) The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (4.7 out of 5 stars)
We are definitely hooked. One great book may be a fluke but the second one is just as good. 'Shroom and Lolli (and okay, I as well) loved the humor in this book. Now we knew what to expect (lots of trouble and monsters) and the characters were well familiar (Percy, Annabeth, Chiron, Luke), we jumped right into the story as if there was never a break. To this day, the kids still say "Honeypie" in Polyphemus' voice (at least the way I read it to them) and "Yes dear?" in a high falsetto (which was my imitation of Grover acting as a nervous bride. We can't wait to start The Titan's Curse which is the third book in the series.