Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Walmart - jobs for the girls

Walmart found itself at the centre of an equal pay scandal yesterday, with six plaintiffs vying at the Supreme Court to allow the case to be heard as a class action, ie an "institutional gender discrimination" case involving over a million female employees.  I had heard about this on the radio and was awaiting the results with interest.  

Meanwhile, I was in a grump with the dog yesterday morning because he had attacked a tiny spaniel the night before.   Tock had walked past me, around my bike and past another large husky who we'd been walking with, in order to pick a fight with the tiniest, most timid dog you can imagine.  The little spaniel was so scared that he pee'd himself while the owner was screaming hysterically at me to get my dog off.  Tock did not obey me (surprise!) and ignored me yanking his choke chain.  In the end the other husky's owner intervened, pulling my angry beast upwards by the scruff of his neck.  I was horrified and embarrassed by what had happened.  I phoned the spaniel's owner later on and she told me that the little guy was ok; scared but not hurt.  She was very understanding about Tock being adopted and still getting used to city dogs.  Still, I was angry with myself for letting Tock get into that situation and so it took a lot to get me out the door the following day for his morning walk.  I also wanted to take Tock on a different route to avoid the poor little spaniel, so we swung by the Capitol and the clever husky dragged me right past the the Supreme Court just in time to see the BBC's Washington correspondent, Rajini Vaidyanatha wrapping up her broadcast, and take the photo above.

It was a surprising example of how my dog makes good things happen.  He forces me to go outside when I'd just like to curl up in a ball and sleep.  He drags me to new places (mainly pubs - good boy!)  He exercises me more reliably than any gym membership and he occasionally deigns to obey instructions in return for food. He's not perfect:  he is dog-aggressive and human-demanding.  Stubborn and disobedient (if my dog had a bumper sticker, it'd say: "I sit for belly rubs").  But I have to keep reminding myself that he is wonderful in ways I rarely notice.  Training my dog positively means rewarding positive behaviour only.  The debate rages on whether good teaching also requires rewarding the absence of negative behaviour.  Tock's lack of barking, his ability to sleep in until 9.30am without a pee break, his respect for barriers both visible and invisible and the way he now quietly sleeps through evenings while Hank and I go out; these things cannot be rewarded because the dog would have no idea what absence we were rewarding him for.   Moreover, they are things which every dog should just DO.

My reward system is the opposite of the career development system alleged to have existed in Walmart.  If the world's largest retailer truly did reward men with promotion because they had families to support and were doing not a bad job, while ignoring women who had families and were doing a better job, what did they expect this would do to their profits?  If the complaints being made against Walmart are true, they may well be about to find out the hard way, that reinforcing ONLY positive behaviour really is the best way to develop your team.  

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Standing with Japan

Four-year old dog
stands with Japan
I can barely stand to watch the news about Japan.  Another aftershock in Sendai (6.5 on the Richter Scale) but fortunately no tsunami. A small consolation. 

Last week, Hank and I attended a walk around the beautiful tidal basin, organised by the American Red Cross and the DC Cherry Blossom festival committee, called Stand With Japan.

The organisers reminded us that many families in Japan are still living in make-shift shelters.  It makes me wonder how I would manage such difficulty.

I know that if anything happened to us, Hank and I would be able to to look after ourselves but without electricity Tock's meat would turn rancid and we would run out within days.  Then what?

I thought about it really hard and then realised something shocking.  In an utterly cataclysmic incident,  I might have to kill my dog or turn him loose and hope that he could fend for himself in the wild until one day he could - and, I hope, would - come home.  

Some commentators have been really outraged at the recent attention that has been turned to saving stranded pets in affected areas of Japan.  Of course people have to come first, and they do, but people have such a close bond with their pets, particularly dogs, that the guilt an owner would feel at abandoning their pet to save themselves could become an additional burden to them.  I think it's really important to capture stray animals as soon as possible, to prevent disease and predation, yes, but also to ensure that the therapeutic benefits of a loving pet are felt by otherwise traumatised owners as soon as possible.

Some charities set out specifically to rescue animals during a crisis.  That's great but I think it's more important that owners have a plan themselves.  In my case, I'm usually home or near enough to the dog to ensure his wellbeing.  But I'll still be stocking up on emergency dog supplies and adding that to my emergency pack.  There are so many things to think about in a crisis, we should not leave it to that moment to realise something is missing. 

Stand with Japan was a moving, cathartic experience, a fitting tribute to the tragedy of recent weeks, but importantly it has also made me think about my own safety.   The Red Cross has placed donation boxes around the Washington Monument and I hope they'll use our money effectively.  

I was delighted to hear from the Japanese Ambassador, who spoke at the event, that 70% of the aid pledged to Japan has come from the USA.  Yet another reason to love this country.  I might even forgive the US Government for all that immigration paperwork they made me do.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

When a toddler put her hand in my husky's mouth

Tock was hanging out behind a barrier while I weeded the lawn.  A little girl of around five years of age came running up our garden path and asked her mum and me if she could pet the dog.  We agreed and before I could move over to the barrier she had squeezed around it and was playing with Tock.  I watched in horror as she put her ENTIRE hand in his mouth - right between those teeth that crunch through chicken drumsticks as if they were Daim bars.  I froze, and in the time it took me to get over to the dog, the following happened:


Tock held his mouth open while the girl's hand was in there, closing it gently as she withdrew.

The old Tock is back in town.  Sometimes I just love Huskies.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Panic! The moment Hank nearly made me leave the country.

I found what looked like a little blob of muddy straw by the back door.  Hank came over to examine it and casually commented out loud that it was a dead spider.  

I moved away VERY quickly.  

Hank took the dead spider outside in a tissue, dropped it down the drain and came back indoors looking rather pale.  "The spider" he said, "was quite hairy and stripey like a tarantula!... Obviously not a tarantula, though but looked a lot like one."

Free Clipart Picture of a Black Widow Spider
Hank is as uncomfortable around spiders as I am, so at this point he really deserves some serious kudos for tackling that terrifying thing.  Plus, we have a "crawl space" under the house which we cannot access, so our imagination often runs wild on the subject of what might be incubating down there.

But what Hank told me next about my new host country was unforgivable.

"You have hairy spiders in this country?!?!" I whispered.

"Oh yeah, loads of 'em.  Don't worry though, no tarantulas,  I don't think.  This one had a red bit on it but it's not like it was a black widow or anything!"

"Well, duh of course it wasn't a black widow, you don't have ....  Oh no.  No!  Tell me you don't have black widows in this country!  TELL ME YOU DON'T!"

"Erm, ok ....  We ..... We.... uh .... We ... don't?"

"You're lying to me! I'm not stupid, you know!!!"

"Erm, I ..... Erm, well, they're very rare in the USA and only about ten people a year get bitten by them.  Mainly they find them in garages and underground"

[Now hysterical] "Like when I am digging my garden?!!  That's underground!"

"Oh no, no, no, darling, [using his don't-startle-the-horses voice] you have to go out into the countryside, I think.  They probably don't even live in DC."

"Well do your parents have them in New Jersey?  Are there black widows in Princeton?"

I confess, I was ready never to visit the in-laws again if the answer was yes.

"No. Well, maybe.  Erm I don't know."

I was hyperventilating by now and demanding to move back to the UK immediately.  

Eventually I calmed down enough to consult Wikipedia, and was relieved to find a report (any report) indicating that black widows tend not be found further east than Illinois.  

A relief.  For a while there, someone's husband was definitely on the menu for dinner.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

From Civil Service Manager to Cleaning Lady

Hank would pay for a domestic maid but I just cannot justify it.  I'm at home all day and although I can't vacuum (it scares the dog into peeing on the rug - like he needs an excuse!), I just have so much time on my hands it'd be utterly wasteful of me not to keep the house in good shape.  So I'm always grateful for tips on cleaning and (let's be honest) emergency tidying up for guests - just to make it clear I have not spent all day playing Angry Birds.  

This How To video caught my attention with tips like using a fabric softener dryer sheet to dust.

Being a live-in cleaner may suck the big one, but doing the garden yesterday for six hours was satisfying.  Unlike housework, the fruits of garden labour (ha ha) are visible for the rest of the year, if not forever, much like the genuinely excellent DIY Hank does in our house.  The tedious thing about cleaning is that the minute you've done it, someone who doesn't do the cleaning themselves (or some thing in the dog's case) renders hours of your hard work obsolete.  The wooden floor I had just mopped gets marked with paw prints and dribble.  Within minutes, dog odours materialise on the newly-laundered dog blanket.  A red spotty bowl, a tupperware lunchbox, a coffee mug and a cereal bowl appear in the sink I just cleaned, or in the dishwasher I just emptied. Freshly-folded laundry migrates inexorably to the linen basket.  Yep, cleaning would be a lot more satisfying if stuff just stayed clean.  Ok, admittedly, then we wouldn't need to clean at all, but you get my point.  

To make things harder, Hank does not perceive a need for - or any value in - cleaning.  Don't get me wrong, he does help with chores.  He just cooked dinner two nights in a row and takes full responsibility for the dog's evening 5-mile runs, which is no mean feat after work.  But to my husband, a clean bathroom looks the same as a limescale-ridden one; it's only mess that he notices.  

This indifference to "dirt" but anxiety about "mess" is common among my girlfriends' spouses:  my former boss once had to cancel a holiday after her husband cleared away a pile of messy papers, which unknowingly included his passport.  He threw the pile out and the mistake was only noticed the day before the vacation.  My guess is that he - a notorious "surface cleaner" - probably didn't dust under the passport before throwing the papers away ;-)

In January (after living in this house for two months) Hank cleaned the spare bathroom and clearly hated it.  We had never used that room but it was a little mildewy from the last inhabitants, who'd evidently shared Hank's love of surface-only cleaning.  Hank kept saying we should get a cleaning lady because he understandably doesn't want to clean after a full day's work.  Which brings me back to square one.  

Would most couples get a cleaner if it was the man who was not permitted to work?  The wife, as sole breadwinner, would surely not be expected to keep the house clean.  But would the husband?  How would a man justify not doing the housework in my situation? (I ask because I'd like to use those excuses myself).  Seriously, I'd love to know what male ex-pats in my situation have done, especially those who did switch from career Managers to domestic managers, even if temporarily.

Better get on with mopping the floors, but my back is complaining.  Six hours of gardening and five hours of dog walking, running and cycling yesterday are obviously taking their toll.  Perhaps I need a break from my break from Work.  Actually, my eyelids are growing heavy and I could really do with a little snooze.  The dog's sleeping and the house is quiet, so why not?   Ooh and then I might have some of that Ben & Jerry's from the freezer for lunch.

Maybe unemployment does have its perks after all.

Monday, 21 March 2011

A reservation forgets to be reserved

We slayed the Kraken (pictured) on Saturday night with fellow DC residents Curt and Lisa and even got yelled at by the Capitol Police for open container drinking on the Mall - just like naughty teenagers.  Hank, Tock and I then spent Sunday recovering in the spring sunshine at Mount Vernon, the Virginia waterfront home of George Washington.  It was another one of those days when I realise just how attached I already am to this beautiful capital city, so happily located between the rolling countryside of Virginia and Maryland and the Potomac river.  But a slight chink appeared in the otherwise impenetrable armour of US customer service when Hank reserved a large SUV, only to find out at the car rental lot that the reservation did not in fact mean that they had actually reserved the car for him.  Strangely, it seems a car rental reservation in the USA puts the rental company under no obligation whatsoever.  It just means the customer is obliged to visit the rental office at the agreed time and fork out the same amount regardless of what size vehicle happens to be available.  Now for me, from a UK perspective, that is pretty serious liberty taking.  We may not have the greatest track record on customer service but when a Brit takes a reservation, crikey chaps, we honour it!  At least Seinfeld understands my frustration:


Fortunately, in lieu of the SUV, Hank managed to secure a Jeep Patriot, big enough for me, the dog, a month's groceries, three pot plants, four 72-hole seed trays and two large bags of compost.  Garden supplies, yes, because I'm planting up for spring.  That last bastion of the stay-at-home wife! It's like being retired.  Perhaps I should do some pensioners' bus tours.  Watch out, readers, the blog which you have come to know and love for it's dog poo-related content could become a geriatric gardening journal.  

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A new friend on St Patrick's Day

I took the dog to the pub at lunchtime today (well it is Saint Patrick's day so I don't mind admitting that it may have been a little before midday) and made a new friend at the Argonaut, on the increasingly awesome H Street Corridor.  Maybe I put her off by ranting about how "building condominiums in old neighbourhoods destroys local people's chances of being able to afford to raise a family there" only to find she lives in one such condo - oopsy!

This new friend, a former husky owner herself, is keen to explore the neighbourhood with me and Tock. It was of course Tock who dragged me over to H Street - he seems to love it there.  What is it about H Street that appeals to hounds?  Maybe all the digging for the new streetcar tracks, or the abundance of jerk chicken joints (hmm my money is on the latter).

Anyway, the Argonaut rocked.  For $7.70 I got a lemonade and a large plate of scrummy french fries with aioli and curry dips, plus a complimentary bowl of water for Tock.  Very dog friendly.  Only humans can sit out on the terrace at the Argonaut, but dogs can be tethered just on the other side of the railings.  I think I'll visit again tomorrow as it's supposed to be another beautiful spring day.  I'll do whatever it takes to keep that dog happy.  I'm good like that, y'know.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Just one last Visa Waiver

Wangled my way back into DC yesterday afternoon, after just a week away.  This is my third tourist (waiver) visa in six months.   I was so nervous that they wouldn't let me back in but the thought of my dog's anxiety about being home alone kept me focused.  I think it helped that the first time that I entered the USA during my application processing time, I'd brought a letter from my boss, proving that I was still employed at that point.  Also, working in Law Enforcement probably helped, as did originating in a Visa Waiver country.  This time round, thanks are no doubt also due to my good friend Emma in London who practiced her new trade (eyelash extensions) on me before I left - I'm pretty sure they helped the guy at the immigration desk decide to let me in, and are probably also behind the free slice of pizza a server gave me at We The Pizza last night.  While we were there the owner, Top Chef's Spike Mendelsohn, swung by in his Bentley looking super cool and chatted with the staff and customers.  Hank had noticed the car pull up and I asked him if he though the driver was the owner.  He said the driver was definitely the driver but he wasn't sure who owned the car.  This made me chuckle at our difference: Hank focused on the Bentley, me The Pizza. 

Better go feed the chow hound.  He's doing a lot better now that he is not home alone.  His walker (Carly from FurPals) was amazing with him and very patient.  The only reason I can see for his persistent "elimination" in the house is separation anxiety.  Apparently it's very common in huskies, and this boy has not been alone in a house for years, if ever.  It hardly bears thinking about but if we cannot train him to stay at home and relax while Hank and I are out, we may have to get ....  a second husky.

I know.  Trust me.  That's the last resort.

PS Big shout out to Ryan and Tanya, new readers of my blog and to Bailey, the big chocolate lab. 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The escaping dog

Good news: Tock seems to be recovering from the doggy squits.  Bad news: he bolted out of the side gate when Hank was very carefully getting his bicycle out yesterday.  The crazed dog then ran across five lanes of (fortunately stationary) traffic before stopping for a pee, at which point Hank managed to grab him.

That dog can squeeze through the tiniest of spaces.  We were warned that huskies are escapologists but it was inevitable we would also find that out for ourselves.  Poor Hank must have been terrified.  If the dog had run out ten seconds later, those five lanes of traffic would have been moving very quickly.

A few days before I left DC, I was having dinner at We The Pizza on Capitol Hill with some (coincidentally dog-loving) friends.  Kosmo's dad's dog-accustomed eye spotted a mutt running across the street, across several lanes of fast-moving traffic and we all instinctively gave chase.  It transpires that the dog had squeezed out of the house of a couple who had been dog-sitting it (uh-oh), it was their BOSS's dog (UH-OH) and it was also not wearing a collar (D'OH).  Oh, and the escape artist was from Baltimore, meaning there was little chance of finding it sitting patiently on its owner's doorstep the next morning.

We sprinted on (at times like this I realise I really must do more cardio) and we caught sight of the dog again at Lincoln Dog Park about twenty minutes later.  But the crazy animal took off again and was lost for the night.

We wandered the streets until nearly midnight like a band of vigilantes, pockets full of dog treats, me rattling Tock's large chewing bone and Hank optimistically walking Tock alongside us (hey, maybe Tock could get in a fight with that missing dog just long enough for us to tie a collar around its neck?) But we found nothing.

In the end it was not the ability to entice or run after the missing dog which recovered him.  It was the insight and quick thinking of Kosmo's mum.  After the search team had gone to bed with heavy hearts, she posted the missing dog's description and the dog sitter's cell phone number on a local ListServ; when the sitters resumed their search at dawn, they started to receive calls from people who had recently spotted the missing hound on such-and-such a street.  A stream of real-time intelligence led them to the dog, who they eventually cornered in an alleyway.  So the hero of the day was Kosmo's mum; not much of a runner, but the most effective dog catcher on the block.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Grief for Japan

It's a dark day in Japan today.  The seventh worst earthquake in recorded history has hit them, bringing a tsunami that has swept away towns, highways and ships.  The death toll is already in the hundreds, with many more hundreds missing.

During my two years in that incredible country I experienced a typhoon and several small earthquakes.  They were scary but never really dangerous.  During the typhoon of September 2000 I was in Kyoto, hiking in the hills around the ancient capital with Steve, my then boyfriend.  It was only my second month in Japan.  We'd started the hike on a slightly overcast day.  As we walked around the hills, we had noticed that we were coming across fewer and fewer people.  Some Japanese walkers had tried to tell us something but my language skills were not advanced enough to understand that they were warning us to get off the hill.   So we carried on.  Then the wind and rain started to lash down on us and suddenly we felt a long way from civilisation.  Our map was basic and we had no supplies.  Eventually we stumbled on a man in a day-glo emergency vest who directed us aggressively towards safety.  Presumably he was out on the mountain looking for moronic foreigners who don't know a typhoon when they stumble right into one (maybe my boss phoned ahead and told him we were coming).   Steve and I ended up huddled in the train station with about a thousand other people, with no trains going anywhere and no roads yet visible above the flooding.  We spent most of the night sleeping fitfully at the station, kept awake by the rain and a rising sense of foreboding.  Fortunately our inability to communicate with those around us meant we didn't realise how serious the situation was, until we were safe.   It was only when I got back to the office and casually enquired why the Police had moved cars into rice paddy fields beside the freeway that I was told those paddy fields were in fact parking lots where cars were floating beside partly-submerged buildings.

Today is a good time to reflect on the many blessings in my life.

I'm going to give my mum a big hug.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Cheese and a gas problem

easy-cheeseI'm missing DC.  This causes me to reflect on life in the USA.  In my opinion, the best things about American life can be ranked as follows:

1.  DC's petrol (gas) costs $3.50 per gallon and you're convinced that's a rip-off.  You DON'T KNOW HOW GOOD YOU HAVE IT!!!  It's $9 per gallon in London right now, my friends.  Believe it!

2.  Customer service.  Your tip-based economy gets those service industry employees all fired up and working hard!  So, although I still struggle to calculate the tip in my head, it's always worth paying. 

3. My Hank.   (Hmmm maybe he should have been listed first?)

The hardest things about the USA can be ranked as follows:

1.  Surprisingly bland chocolate.

2.  A lack of tasty cheese, the absence of which would surely have sparked a revolution in Europe.

The cheese problem is so serious that, since returning to London, I have eaten cheese on toast four times in two days.  The other two meals included moussaka (with cheese sauce) and a cheddar cheese roll.

Accepting that you have a problem is the first step towards ignoring it, so I'm proud to declare my cheese problem publicly on this blog. 

You think you can take me on and take the cheese biscuit?  Try this test, cheese-aholics! 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

In the UK again

So here I am back in the UK, playing with my friends' chocolate labrador and dreaming of Tock.  Tock has been "revarnishing" the hallway floor now that he is home alone every afternoon since I left DC.  So I've booked a return flight to DC for Tuesday and am just hoping that the nice US Immigration Officer will let me in just one last time under the Visa Waiver, since my final spousal/fiance visa is still several months away.  That visa will not be ready until I've completed lots more forms, an interview with the US Consulate in London, received a UK Police check, shelled out about $600 in addition to the $450 the Embassy already charged us and undergone a medical including x-rays and an "external genital inspection", no less.  I can't leave the dog (or Hank!) for long enough to do all that in one UK trip, however curious I am to see if my external genitalia can stop immigration traffic in its tracks.  So I will try to leave London on Tuesday and let's see how far we get on a Waiver and a prayer...

Trying to distract myself from this visa nonsense, I've just had a great evening reminiscing about Vegas with some of the London-based guests who were kind enough to fly out specially for the ceremony.  Hank and I are truly privileged to have so many people love us enough to fly all that way.  I've honestly never had as much fun in my life as we did in Vegas.  And certainly never had as many late nights in a row before!  Even the times when I thought, ok, let's take it easy (Sunday afternoon?) turned into party marathons.  Because our guests threw themselves into the spirit of Vegas, it never felt like a drag to me no matter how tired or jet-lagged I was feeling; I hope the other guests felt the same.  Vegas really only is as good as the company you keep and we were in the best company a bride could possibly hope for.  I am still grinning from ear to ear.  You guys rock.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Back on the blog

It has been too long, friends.

In the two weeks since I last blogged, Hank and I have toured the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, ridden horses around the Red Rock Canyon, shot four different machine guns and a 50 calibre Desert Eagle, solved a Las Vegas Mystery Adventure, drunk too much at the Hofbrauhaus, ate too much at buffets (everywhere), got "married" by Elvis, ridden around town in an open top bus singing along to our favourite tunes with our pals, partied in the wraparound terrace suite at the Cosmopolitan Hotel with awesome views over the strip, drunk bubbling red liquid from an improbably large challis at the Rio's VooDoo lounge, eaten dinner in the Stratosphere's revolving restaurant, got "comped" at the MGM to a high roller suite with an outdoor jacuzzi on the terrace ... and so much more.

Where to begin?  You'll surely be wanting photos and those of you who know me personally should get in touch for the full (edited) album in due course. For everyone else, the least offensive pics are being uploaded, a few at a time onto their very own page.


PS If you are wondering where the pictures of the wedding itself are, the answer is that we don't yet own the copyright to them.  We are negotiating with the King and will let you know the outcome.

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