Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving preparations

The last week of November is here, and that means it is time for the Thanksgiving holiday. I never had a big deal with this holiday growing up, although it was by no means traumatic or anything silly like that, just not much to-do about it. Having a good meal with immediate family was how we celebrated, as well as watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV that morning. I know Chris is used to much larger family gatherings, but we have only attended one Thanksgiving together with his family (that I recall) due to the distance between us. Instead, we have a nice dinner here in Seattle, and invite any friends who care to join us, especially those with no other plans or nowhere else to go. I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 with the help of my mother, and I've done it alone every year since with various contributions from Chris and other dinner guests. Strangely enough, I actually like cooking this big dinner once a year and even have a spreadsheet set up with cooking times and a schedule, so that everything is ready on-time for dinner.

2008 Thanksgiving Menu
Herb/Oil Roasted Turkey
Bacon Wrapped Turkey
Pan-Baked Herb Stuffing
Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes
Buttermilk Rolls
Deviled Eggs
Mixed Greens with Carrots and Heirloom Tomatoes
Gluten-Free Cornbread
Pumpkin Pie (one GF, one regular)
Chocolate Pie
Homemade Vanilla Whipped Cream

Our friends Ben and Deb will be joining us, and they will be bringing an additional vegetable side dish of some sort. Chris and I are perfectly happy to have potatoes, meat, and bread, so it is good for us to have someone who actually wants a real vegetable on the table.

This afternoon I did all of my shopping, as the only things on-hand already were the two bone-in turkey breasts that Ben had brought me. I stopped by the Pike Place Market to get the herbs, potatoes, and vegetables; by Whole Foods for the bacon, eggs, cream, butter, tomatoes, and buttermilk; and by QFC for the pumpkin, evaporated milk, stuffing mix, and shortening. I also stopped by Three Dog Bakery to pick up four Thanksgiving Beast Feasts for our pack, as they love having them every year and the proceeds go to support animal charities.

So far I have made the pumpkin pies (one in a GF crust, one in a regular crust, and four single-serve glass bowls), chocolate pies (two in regular crusts), boiled the eggs, made the roll dough, and made two types of brine for the turkey breasts. I'm quite pleased with the brines that I came up with, and I hope they turn out as well as I expect. Each brine was made in a large pot on the stove, warmed until everything was dissolved and mixed thoroughly.

Savoury Brine
3 cartons organic vegetable broth
5 whole garlic cloves
whole allspice
whole peppercorns
minced toasted onion
1 1/2 cups kosher salt

Sweet Brine
1/2 gallon apple cider
maple syrup
whole allspice
one cinnamon stick
3/4 cup kosher salt

The larger of the two turkey breasts is in the savoury brine and will be roasted with herbs and oil, the smaller is in the sweet brine and will be wrapped in bacon and roasted.

Finally, I made the roll dough based on the Seattle Times recipe that Christy found last week and made for our book club. We decided that the recipe needed to be modified slightly, so I used 3/4 cup shortening and 1/4 cup unsalted butter, and added an extra teaspoon of salt. The dough tasted really great when I was done, even better than last weeks' batch, and I'm hoping the rolls come out just as well.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

flyball crazy at just four months

As usual, we went to flyball practice this past Sunday evening. The last two weeks, and probably for the forseeable future, we went early to be there at 5pm in order to work with Ezri during lesson time. This week was full of interesting new things, that's for sure!

Ezri is big enough (19 lbs or so) that she can make the training board slide, whether it's on the floor or on someone's knees, so it was time to move her up to the training frame. This is a big fake box sort of thing that Ben made last year sometime for Ari and Indy, and it is basically a fixed-angle board, much larger and higher than a real box, with velcro spots on it to hold tennis balls. This lets the young ones learn how to run up on the box to get a ball without having to deal with the shock of hitting the pedal or having to catch that fast-moving ball as it's ejected out of the box. Regular training aids (jumps, barriers, etc.) can be used with it as the dogs' age and abilities allow, and for now we have Ezri using just a little piece of something in front of it to visually cue her to jump up, she's far too little for a regular jump aid of 6". So the first thing Ezri did at practice was decide she wasn't going to turn left anymore, she wanted to turn right. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to handle this, as a left turn is faster but if the right turn is natural that's safer. We switched her over to the right after she kept turning that way anyway, and she proceeded to have a perfect turn just about every time.

Ezri did plenty of "full runs" on the puppy course consisting of 3" jumps and the fixed box-trainer, run in sets of five with at least 1o and usually 20 minutes between sets. She ran two sets for me, two sets for Chris, and one set for Julie with successful runs in every set. Next week I hope to get Jeff and Rudy to run her for some experience with additional handlers, especially since Chris is the only guy she's run for. She's doing pretty well holding her ball and going over the jumps, with a reminder holdback at the beginning, but does occasionally get too excited and drop her ball before she crosses the finish line. We're being careful to make sure she's not rewarded for that and the incidence of that particular foible lessed over the course of the evening. She has got the whole "border collie stop" down pat as she hits her tuggy toy at full speed and swings out without ever braking. Hopefully I can switch her from the TugIt with the squeaky toy to a regular fleece tug in the next few weeks, as if Ezri gets much more invovled with the tugging the trainer TugIt isn't going to last much longer.

Finally, we learned just how much Ezri loves flyball now...she climbed out of the e-pen! We were running the second set of tournament lineups, with Jadzia and Curzon both on the same team in start and cleanup, respectively. During the last heat I recalled Jadzia and looked over to see Chris drop Curzon's harness and race over to catch a flailing Ezri who had climbed up to the top of the e-pen and was about to drop out over the side onto the concrete - a four foot drop. I grabbed Curzon and ran him while Chris dealt with the puppy, and luckily nobody (and no dog!) was hurt. Ezri tried the climbing escape again a few minutes later, and Chris saw her and leaned the e-pen wall backwards so she fell off without warning (landing on the thick dog bed safely). She looked rather emotionally wounded and pathetic for the rest of the night, but didn't even try to stand up against the e-pen wall again so that's just fine with us. If need be we'll leash her to another dog when she's in the pen, like another teammate has to do with her bouncy girl border collie, but I'm hoping she has learned her lesson.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

vet visit yesterday

Yesterday I took Jadzia in to the vet for a followup to her thyroid/endocrine blood panel from a few weeks ago as well as her annual exam. The results from the thyroid blood panel showed very low T3 and low-ish but still in range T4 numbers, indicating that she may have a thyroid problem but probably not. Jackie did a physical exam, finding no problems whatsoever, and drew blood to do a regular/geriatric test panel just to be sure. She's not expecting to find any problems, and her guess is that Jadzia's thyroid is slightly underactive and if there are no issues with the new panel then she'll have us put her on a mild thyroid support supplement to basically "feed" the thyroid and help it behave properly. Jadzia weighed 35.4 lbs yesterday, up from 35.0 lbs just two weeks ago despite cutting her food to 7oz, so I hope that a supplement will help her out. I don't want to cut her food again, though perhaps cutting another ounce of meat and replacing it with pumpkin would not be amiss.

Since I was going to the vet anyway, I took all four dogs with me to weigh them all. Phoebe came in at 9.1 lbs (perfect), Curzon came in at 40.1 lbs (perfect, at last!), and Ezri came in at 18.7 lbs (up 1.5 lbs in two weeks). Because I am a nerd and I use Excel an awful lot anyway, I made a graph of the growth pattern information that I have for Curzon, Indigo, and Ezri.

It's shrunk down a little in this post, but if you click on it it should open in a larger size. Basically Ezri looks to be tracking Indigo pretty closely in weight so far, with a slight difference in when they hit their growth spurts in the 3-4 month age range. She's well under Curzon's weight at the same age, which is good. Looks like she'll probably be dead on with Indigo in size, which is just fine with me!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

holiday plans are filling up the calendar

It's hard to believe, but it's just one week until Thanksgiving and just five weeks until Christmas! Our calendar has really filled up over the past few days, and I think we will have just the right combination of external activities, friends and family time, and alone time to have a very nice holiday season. Some of our activities are annual, some are special occasions, and some are new additions to our calendar. So, what are we doing for the holidays this season?

November 8 - TSO concert (as posted about previously)
November 27 - Thanksgiving Dinner with Ben, Deb, and Ari joining us
November 29 - Chris' birthday dinner
December 2 - Chris' birthday
December 6-7 - Dogwood Pacesetters Christmas flyball tournament
December 9 - Child's Play Charity Dinner and Auction
December 13 - Christmas Tree selection and decoration
December 14 - Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis
December 15 - Seattle Men's Chorus holiday concert
December 20 - My mother and sister arrive for Christmas

I'm very excited about our plans for this year, especially our tickets for the Child's Play Charity auction and dinner. This is the charity that Chris and I donate to every year, and you can learn more about what they do at In a nutshell, Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade set this up in response to claims that gamers are a blight on society, and the aim of the charity is to donate games and other items to children's hospitals. The first year include just Children's in Seattle, and it has grown every year since then to include children's hospitals across the USA and now around the world. They provide Amazon wishlists and Paypal links to each hospital, and donors select what they want and send it directly to the hospital of their choice, so the CPC guys don't need to put much overhead cost into the charity drive at all. If you'd like to give back to your community, this is a nice direct way to do so - it's wonderful knowing that I picked out a Game Boy and four board games for a hospital, instead of just writing a check.

I hope everyone is having fun planning out their holiday season! While we will not be visiting the East Coast during the holidays this year, we are tentatively planning to come out next year. We will definitely be at Dan's wedding in September in Ohio, and we hope to be able to swing another trip in December for Christmas. As always, however, we will have to wait and see!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

four months old in puppy world

Last Saturday was November 15th and Ezri's four-month birthday. She's thoroughly out of the infant/toddler puppy stage and is probably pushing the late child / early pre-teen stage judging by her behavior. Physically she's slimmed down a lot due to growing and has completely lost the puppy pudge she originally had, and looks more like a small dog than a baby puppy. She's got a waist already, from both side and top views, and her tail is flagging out more each day. Her nose has lengthened and her ears are fully pricked, leaving her looking so much like her sister Indigo it's a little surreal. As for coloring, her merle is darkening more thus making it much more visible, and her eyes have held steady at the light honey top / light ice blue bottoms, which is a very striking combination. All in all, Ezri is quite a pretty little girl.

Last Monday (11/10) was her last puppy kindergarten class, and she passed with no issues and is approved for Intermediate Puppy if I choose to take that option. It has been interesting to watch how she interacts with the other puppies, as she seems to be unsure what to do with them and is much more comfortable around adult dogs. If she wasn't getting enough attention in class (say while the instructor was talking), she would yip to get attention, so we spent a lot of time working on "good quiet" and "treats from heaven" for lying quietly. Command-wise, Ezri has a firm grasp of sit, wait, and spin (both directions) and is improving her down, beg, come, and bang commands as well. She still needs more work on leash to walk politely, and attention work outside especially with Curzon around to learn that she needs to pay attention to us and not to him. It's handy to know that she will follow him right back to us if we are working offleash, but that's not a crutch I want to keep for much longer - she has the habit of watching him exclusively while ignoring us, which is not good. Curzon has always watched Jadzia more than me, but he will watch me if I ask for his attention, and that's where I want to get Ezri. Of course, it is amusing to think of the border collie chain - Ezri watching Curzon watching Jadzia watching me!

As for useful behaviors around the house, Ezri has fully mastered the "sit and wait" for her dinner, so that we can have all four dogs sitting quietly and waiting for release to eat their meal. She also understands that she has to sit (and sometimes wait) before going outside, and she's now sitting and waiting quietly with the other three when I open the garage in the morning before releasing them to run out into the kennel. We can now confidently let her potty offleash in the front yard, although I wouldn't leave her completely unsupervised just yet, and she hasn't had any avoidable accidents in the house for a couple of weeks. Last Monday she did have an incident where I had let them out of their crates and gone directly to the front door (as per our morning SOP), and she just couldn't wait for me to get downstairs and peed a little in front of the door. That is a physical housebreaking issue and not a mental one, so we aren't counting that as a major problem. We are still gating the dogs close to us to cut off any avenues of sneak potty attacks, but I almost prefer doing that and may continue to do so even after Ezri is fully trained and trustworthy.

We had flyball practice for the first time in four weeks on Sunday, due to two tournaments and a scheduling conflict, so Ezri needed a little reminder to go over the jumps before she was running happily again. She needs more work on her baby boxturn on the board, so I plan to work on that a lot next Sunday and maybe borrow the board again to work at home. She definitely has the idea down of going over the jumps, getting a ball, and returning over the jumps to her tuggie toy, so that's great! I do need to have other people handle her, as she's bonded strongly to me but also needs to respond better to Chris as well as other teammates, so I think I'll work on that next week as well. Training is neverending, after all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

what I did this weekend

Let's see here, it's been a busy weekend in Azeroth as we invade the newly rediscovered contintent of Northrend. First, a picture taken last week of my beautiful new flying horse as we flew through the night skies of Nagrand. Soon we will be flying throughout the chilly skies of Dragonblight!

Well, even if I can't fly in Northrend yet, I can find other ways to go zooming through the air. How about harpoon surfing near Valgarde Keep? This was one of the most fun things I have done to date in this game, and from what I hear I can go back and repeat the experience any time I want. Now THAT is service!

Never fear, I have not been alone through my journey. Here is a shot of Chris and I as we wait for the ski lift to take us up from the Tuskarr village back to the cliffs of Howling Fjord. He is quite proud of his new kitty mount, even if she is quite toothy! We've had quite a lot of fun exploring both the Fjord and the Tundra, and we should be moving in to Dragonblight later this week. He's a little behind me right now since he's leveling a death knight, but Volnek will catch up to Bretak and I soon enough!

I have visited the Nexus in Coldarra, Borean Tundra, quite a few times this weekend as well. I even pulled out my magic broom for one last picture before it faded away until next Hallows Eve. Thankfully my awesome horse is not a temporary mount, but rather is one I will keep forever! The Nexus is the most beautiful instance I've seen to date, and I wish I could live there in the beautiful Librarium. Having pet dragons would also be quite awesome, of course.

Speaking of horses, I got to borrow this horse from some crazy death knight for a quest for a while. It's a little unnerving being on a horse who is just taking you somewhere without you having any input on the decisions whatsoever...but the horse was pretty smart after all and took me right to help her master, and I saw one of my friends there at the same time to boot!

And finally, the ultimate in insane cuteness - I rescued a bunch of murloc tadpoles from their evil captors, giving me an entire entourage of babies following me around! Sadly I cannot take pictures of sound, but they make the CUTEST sounds ever, I wish I could keep one permanently! I don't think Luineleuca (my flying serpent) would be quite so thrilled about that, however, she's much like Jadzia in her dislike of babies. Chris was also less than thrilled by the amount of squee that these murloc babies produce, but well too bad for him. CUTE!!

So I hope you enjoyed these postcards from Northrend. Wish you were here!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

the holiday season has officially begun

My junior year in college, we were poking around on the internet and found this awesome song entitled "Christmas Eve / Sarejevo" which was basically a rock version of the classic "Carol of the Bells." I LOVED that song and listened to it an awful lot, probably driving everyone around me absolutely batty. The copy we found was listed as being by a group called Savatage, but we couldn't find any more music like it, so we figured it was a one-off they had done and just enjoyed what we had. In November of 2001, I was in the lab at the PDF one day when that song came on the radio, followed by the DJ announcing that "we just played 'Christmas Eve / Sarejevo 12/24' by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra." Cue the frantic scrambling to the computer for Google, and I discovered that TSO was the band we'd been looking for all that time, and they had two Christmas albums out. Much happiness was had that year!

The following year (2002) we discovered that TSO does a holiday tour every year, and so we decided to go to their show. It was at Mercer Arena at Seattle Center, and we wound up with 14th row tickets after miscommunication lost us our 2nd row tickets. The show was utterly fantastic, more than the CDs and DVD could have ever prepared us for, and Chris and I decided on the spot that this was how we would celebrate the holiday season every year. Some people go to the Nutcracker ballet, we go to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. We've gone six out of the last seven years, only missing 2004 due to our Christmas trip east already planned with tickets bought before the TSO tour schedule was announced - and I seriously considered flying to LA to see the show on my own!

This past Saturday was the annual TSO show, and despite it being "early" for a Christmas show we of course eagerly got our tickets during the fan presale in September, made our reservations for a dinner out, and missed a flyball tournament to attend. This year we were in the seventh row center, and it was a great location just barely off from last year's epic third row seats. Every year the band does the same plan for the show - the first half is the full "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" storyline, and the second half is when they introduce the band and do a setlist from their entire catalog plus some other songs like "Carmina Burana." This year the sound balance was perfect, the pyrotechnics were phenomenal, and the show was utterly fantastic with absolutely no sour notes.

With the repetition of the main storyline each year, the group often does little things to freshen up the routine. This year it was a combination of being exceedingly clean and adding in extra riffs and solos, as well as a few specialty "duets" including the two violinists playing one violin (she was fingering the strings, he was using the bow) and the two keyboardists playing a duet on one keyboard. Unfortunately the lead guitarist, Al Pitrelli, had injured himself just a few days before our show by jumping off the stage onto a dais, in the process shattering his knee and tearing his ACL (according to Tommy's introduction), so he was limited to a chair on stage instead of his usual rock star presence. The only thing this affected musically, however, was that we missed his beautiful harmonizing with Tommy on "Ornament," which is impressive - all of his solos were just as beautiful and technical as ever, and he was fully in the moment like few other artists are.

One of the reasons I love TSO so is because they are all so happy to be up on stage performing, not only for the audience but for each other. They are clearly friends, have played together for years (over 20 in some cases), and are just out to have a great time. This comes across so clearly in their music and in how they interact with each other that you can't help but grin when they play. Watching Al and his wife Jane interact is also usually pretty entertaining, as they definitely have a loving yet playful relationship - this year Al introduced Jane with "The first time I heard her play she stopped my heart, and then six months later she had the misfortune of marrying me. It's been ten years and she still stops my heart." So, so sweet. :) A few years ago Tommy made some snarky comment about Jane marrying Al and not him as well, so clearly a well-worn friendship in place, which makes the show that much better.

There are two touring companies, one for the east coast and one for the west coast, and the major players have stayed the same for every year we've gone - Tommy Farese on vocals, Al Pitrelli on lead guitar, Angus Clark on guitar, Jane Mangini on keyboards (Al's wife), Kristin Gorman on vocals, and Anthony Gaynor as narrator. With so many key players staying the same from tour to tour, it is a bit like seeing old friends every year and makes it that much more personal to me. The band is kind enough to have a meet & greet after every show open to anyone who attended, and we went our first year (2002) and again this year (2008). This picture above shows the signatures from both of these years, and I also have a book of piano music from "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" that was signed in 2002. All of the band members are kind and gracious, and I truly wish I could spend an evening in their company to just listen to their stories. I'm sure many fans feel the same way, however, and I think it is wonderful that they do put as much of their personal time out with the fans as they do. Not many bands are willing to do so, and it is very special that TSO does.

This year when we stayed back to meet the band, it was not too bad of a wait and it was really nice to have a moment with each of the members. We were able to wish Al a speedy recovery and tell him how much his show means to us - that it's not Christmas until they play, which seemed to touch him a bit. I was able to talk to the drummer (John O'Reilly) about his choice of ride cymbals, and one of the singers really liked my dragon pendant. The narrator (Anthony) and Tommy were the last at the table, and I was able to tell Anthony how much he adds to the show, while he was quite impressed with my tanzanite ring. As we wrapped up, we told Tommy thanks so much and that this was our sixth show - to which he said "Oh wow, I've got to do something for that...." and pulled out two pre-show passes for us to have as souveneirs. Combined with the printed guitar picks the guitarists had out for us, we had a truly unique souveneir of our evening. Every member of this band is a class act, and I am thankful that they are willing to spend their holiday season touring and entertaining us every year. May they have a smooth tour this year, and I look forward to seeing them again in 2009.

And now the holidays have begun!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

vet visit and behavior training

Yesterday I took both Ezri and Jadzia to the vet, with the latter tagging along to see if she could be squeezed in during my trip. I lucked out and Jackie had time to see Jadzia, saving me another trip out to Mercer Island later this week.

Ezri is sixteen weeks old today, and weighed 17.2 pounds yesterday. This is an increase of only two pounds over four weeks, but I think she has been putting most of her energy into lengthening and less into putting on weight, so that's fine. She's well under Curzon's weight at that age (about 22lbs) and just under Indigo's weight at that age (about 18lbs), which tracks out very well. She got her distemper shot yesterday, which is her last vaccine until her rabies at a year of age, and also got microchipped. I updated Facebook with her 12/13/14 week photos on Sunday and will put up her 15/16 week photos tonight after I take the 16 week set.

Jadzia got to go along because she is fat and cutting her food hasn't done much good, so I wanted to get her thyroid checked out. She weighs 35 pounds, which is [b]well[/b] over what she should weigh at about 30 pounds. They did a blood draw on her and will send it to California for a comprehensive endocrine panel, and I should get the results back in a week or so. Meanwhile I'm going to cut her food slightly more to just 7 ounces per meal and see if that produces any change. Jadzia also got a chiropractic adjustment, with her L4 vertebrae being stuck and limiting movement, so that will hopefully help improve her flyball times at practice and at the December tournament. Jackie said that everything else looks really good joint-wise, and she's very muscular and strong despite her extra padding. So that is great news, as I was a little worried she was falling apart on us at just 6.5 years of age!

The last week or two have really shown great strides in Ezri's behavior and learning, with her really following the house rules very well especially in the last few days. She is sitting and waiting for her food with the other two border collies (Phoebe is under special "shut-the-heck-up" training at meals right now), and also sitting and waiting at the door when it's time to go out. She has learned that some mornings we sleep late and not to fuss when we do so, and also has had very few accidents in the house in the past week, and those were all our fault. It's still very frustrating that she holds #2 until she's back inside at times, but if we keep her tethered to us that nixes her instinct to run off and do business elsewhere in the house. I'm hoping that by Christmas she will have free run of the house and be fully potty trained.


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