Observations of the Transient Canine Population on Capitol Street, Charleston, West Virginia

Friday evening on Capitol Street (especially during a holiday weekend) is not an easy time to find a parking spot. So, even though I needed only pop into my office for a second to grab a book I'd left behind -- yeah, that's right. I've got books. Hardcover. Lots of words. So even though I only needed one of those parking spots for about a minute, the ideal combination of right-place-right-time just weren't working out for me.

On my second go around the block, I saw a red Jeep Cherokee in front of me with this huge dog inside. Just to get its head outside the window, the dog was hunched over like really, really tall guy going down a low staircase. It had a really big, round head that reminded me of the Akita I used to have -- but it was brownish-gray and fluffy with what appeared to be a thick, winter coat of fur. Despite the dog's substantial size (and likely ability to do just about whatever it wanted), the truck window was down all the way and the dog looked friendly, at ease, and...at least at that moment...well-behaved.

So I was thinking, "That looks so familiar. What kind of dog is it?" And then I thought, "Holy crap, that's a wolf!" And then I was certain. I'm not saying I'm right, but I was certain, if that makes any sense. (I used to have a boss about whom we'd say, "Often wrong, never in doubt.") And, you know what? There was a family in Boone County who used to keep Timber Wolves in their fenced yard -- something I actually saw with me own eyes. It was a little scary but interesting how different these dogs looked than a typical, domesticated dog. They had incredibly long, knobby legs even compared to their large bodies, from the neck down giving them a little bit of a horse-like shape. They ambled, graceful and aloof, along the perimeter of the fence and, for obvious reasons, never appeared concerned about potential intruders.

Back to 2008...the red Cherokee was circling the block, too, obviously looking for a spot. I stayed behind him for about two more rotations before he gave up and went another direction. Had he stopped, I was going to stop and ask him if the dog was a wolf. I usually try and avoid questions like, "Bolton! Are you related to Michael Bolton?" but this time I didn't care! Alas, I missed my chance.

I did notice that the vehicle had West Virginia plates, though. Since the dog didn't look like the Timber Wolves I'd seen in Boone County, I did a little bit of research when I got home. Although I didn't find any blog entitled "Red-Cherokee-Fred-And-His-Pet-Wolf-from-WV" or anything, I did find at least one person in West Virginia selling wolf-dog hybrids. The ginormous dog I saw on Capitol Street looked like a combination of "Mac" and "Timber" here on this page.

Maybe I was right, then. (I guess if it was a hybrid it would make me more like 90-98% right.) I'd still like to know for sure.

Home Confinement on Thanksgiving

To my left is a sleeping four-year-old. To her left, a sleeping six-year-old. The four-year-old is tired...just getting over being sick for about five days. The six-year-old is tired...just starting to be sick today. The six-year-old will occasionally get up and run to the bathroom. She's very private about things like throwing up -- or really just being in the bathroom. Plus, being nauseated, she doesn't want to be touched. Since she has no fever, we're really just letting her sleep and keeping an eye on her for dehydration.

And...we were supposed to do Thanksgiving tonight at my in-laws because they're flying away for vacation early Friday morning. It looks like we'll be self-quarantined here, though, until at least Friday. Even if both kids were to feel great tomorrow, it's too risky to expose my in-laws to the potential germs since they're headed out for vacation.

Isn't it interesting how parents seem to develop a super-duper germ resistance? Of course, aside from medical professionals, we're probably exposed to germs only less than people who work in schools.

So, for us, this Thanksgiving will be spent at home. For no particular reason, I'm thinking that might be okay. No businesses will be open so this day at home might actually be spent...at home!

When Life Gives You A Lake-Effect Snowstorm, Make Snowballs

(Cheesy? Yes. The only semi-clever title could think of? Yes.)

After our scary Scrabble-travel-adventure last week, I forgot to post the follow-up with this fun picture. This was taken the morning after we had gotten some sleep and we had not died on a snow-packed highway.

And I have to ask...is my nose that crooked or are my glasses that crooked...or both? If it were both, then would my glasses sit straight?

Can A Woman For Equality Participate in Women-Only Events?

I've been known to play some poker here and there. Since they opened the poker room at the Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center, it's been a good place to occasionally sit for a while and forget about any stressors aside from a bad beat. Often when I get back up from that table, I've got a little more money than I started with, and sometimes walk away with a lot more (but, of course, sometimes I walk away with nothing).

And I'm sure you'd guess that, as far as attendance, this poker room of the casino is a male-dominated place. Women probably comprise just about 2-5% of the players, on average there (but more like 60% out where the slots are). So when the casino started having a Friday night women-only tournament, the dealers and some of the players asked me if I was going to play. At first I just said, "Naahh...I don't think I will." The question keeps coming, though, and I have to ask myself why I won't play in it. Yesterday I realized that I would freak out if women were excluded from a particular tournament...so why should I be okay with men being excluded?

Maybe it's overboard but...I don't know. Despite any little jabs I might take at men-folk as a group, I believe that men and women are equal (which does not mean I think we're that much alike). So, if I insist on complete equality, should I ever accept a simple card game that leaves the men out? What about GLBT folks? What about that guy who dresses like a woman, carries a purse, and wears makeup but claims to be sexually-attracted to women?

Last night someone sort of laughed when I told them I didn't think I'd ever play in a tournament that excluded a certain group. He's lucky I love the First Amendment but chose just to let him use it and keep my thoughts to myself. But, seriously...I think the idea of the tournament is that women can't compete as well as men at poker. If we want complete equality, that kind of thinking needs thrown in the muck.

I'm Not Sure Why We Bought Them Beds

Because obviously they prefer to sleep on the hardwood floor:

There's a child under that shiny, pink blanket. It's my youngest...who started out the night on her bed. By morning, she'll be at least halfway out into the hall. Her sister is about five feet to the left, also on the floor. She also started out on the bed. I've tried to put them back on their beds, but they don't stay. I've asked them why they sleep on the floor...but they just use the standard kid answer. ("I dunnooh.")

I don't remember ever preferring a cold, hard floor over a soft, warm bed. Eric says that, as a child, he liked to sleep on the floor a lot of the time. With these two, I'll find the older one sleeping there maybe 40% of the time and the younger one almost 100% of the time.

So is this something most kids like or is it just some King Family trait?

2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour: Safe and Comfortable in Erie, PA

Boy, today has been rough. It was the second day of the MOO Scrabble tournament in Mississauga, Ontario and all of my group were anticipating some decent results, based on Day 1. Although three of the four of us who attended the tournament maybe didn't plow over the opponents as we'd hoped, we each gained a nice number of ratings points. The fourth Scrabble friend came down with the flu last night and couldn't play today. (What a nightmare. Away from home, unable to finish a tournament, feeling like crap, and having to travel with a bunch of people.)

The games aren't a huge focus for me right now, though. I'm coming down off a serious stress-attack. After our fourth game today, I went to pick up my friends Sara and Jennifer who came along to do the tourist thing. And guess what? I got lost....for two hours. There are lots of things that could have improved the situation, but by the time I realized that I could not get myself going in the right direction, I felt like I was so far off the mark that even stopping for directions wouldn't have helped (because there would be too many details). Plus, at that point I was in tears and very, very upset.

Anyway, I made it back to the tournament after missing the entire first game following lunch. I was so shell-shocked that I racked up three huge losses in the last three games. Thank you to everyone who was concerned while I was MIA and who offered me comfort when I returned. (By the way, the tournament people did try to call me when I didn't come back from lunch but my phone didn't ring, most likely because I was in Canada.)

After a long, long day, the crew piled back into the van, each of us ready to get to our respective homes. We knew there were some winter weather warnings to the south...but there was really no other direction to go. Since we weren't quite ready (or invited) to relocate to Canada permanently, we headed out. Following some fast food dinner, a gas tank fill-up, and maybe 120 miles on the road, we found that winter weather.

With Dallas navigating, and offering a great deal in the way of calm, solid driving advice, and consultation on our travel decisions, I drove on for an hour or so. The stormy weather faded in and out, allowing us to build up to a slow-but-reasonable speed and then forcing us back down to 15 miles an hour. When the high parts of the snow tracks started scraping the bottom of the van, I started to lose my energy for it again. While I know there was little chance of a problem, I was fretting primarily over the safety of my five passengers. Secondarily, I was concerned about our comfort (as in how uncomfortable it would be to be stuck in a snow bank with a non-operational vehicle). In a tie for third place, I worried about the happiness of my co-travelers and about maintaining my van in its non-wrecked state.

After a while, I pulled over to let Dallas drive. The decision had been to push on a little way and see if the weather got any better (and if the trip got any better with a fresh driver). We took a break at a gas station, allowing people to make some phone calls and get snacks.

As soon as Dallas' shift started, the roads began to clear. We built up a little speed...up to about 45 miles an hour. As if we had driven through some tiny little sheltered stretch of road, we emerged into a road in bad condition just like it had been. I'm not sure if I should say Dallas is a more confident driver or just a less nervous driver (and I'm not sure if there's any difference) but he seemed to be doing just fine. For no obvious reason (other than your average packing of snow and ice), we started into one of those sideways, spinning slides. Dallas brought the vehicle back into control right away and, right away, it was decided that we would pull off at the next exit and get hotel rooms.

Now we're safe and sound (and starting to relax) outside of Erie, PA. The rooms weren't too expensive and it wasn't absolutely critical that any of us be at work tomorrow. In the frustration of the moment, I wasn't sure if it was better to stop for a hotel or if I was overreacting. Now that we're here, I'm glad.

There's a slight tapping sound on the window where snow and ice are hitting it. By tomorrow morning, though, the roads will be treated and it will be daylight (as implied by the term "morning"). With at least a fairly decent night's rest, we'll press on toward home and hopefully feel better about the process.

Where's Tina?

We've finally moved back into a home of our own! That's a change back in the right direction -- and nice in so many ways but I'll write more about that later. In the meantime, my access to the Internet is iffy. What's more, I'm working about 11 hours a day right now so I don't have much time at the office to write.

Soon (but not soon enough) our Internet access at home will be activated and I'll be back in the loop! By then, I should have some news about the second-to-last stop in my 2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour...the MOO!

What's Obama Wearing on November 5, 2008?


change his clothes

Scrabble Tour: Lexington, Kentucky

Obviously the key for my good Scrabble play is comfort level. I've always played my very best games against friends and people I really like, in general. Get me in a tournament game, though, and my brain locks up like an engine with no oil. But, you know, there are many ways to achieve a good result based on this theory.

Of course, I could play only my friends and people I know I really like. I could also waste my Scrabble word list memorizing time with goofy things like "meditation" or "yoga" or "healthy exercise." Seriously...quit talking such craziness. Just stop it.

Although it sounds like the words of a situational alcoholic in the making, during this weekend's tournament in Lexington, Kentucky my relaxation came in the form of cranberry and vodka. I'm not talking about doing shots after every bingo or anything...just one drink over the course of the afternoon purchased at the golf course snack bar. And I tell you what, it was just the thing! I didn't freak out, I didn't get upset, I stayed calm in the face of an opponent's opening bingo...and I won some games.

Actually, this weekend was my personal best, performance-wise. Starting off with my more typical 25-50% wins, once things became more chill, I was able to rehabilitate my record and end at 9-and-6 (and a kick-ass spread of +468)! Not only did I not finish last, only 121 spread points kept me from my first "in-the-money" tournament.

I have no idea what will happen to my rating, though. I guess it will go up a little but there are at least three potential factors:

First, we were seeded based on ratings which did not yet include results for those of us who played in Durham last week (a tournament in which I took a ratings hit). Second, we had four unrated players in the bottom division. Two of them did very well, finishing first and third, which kind of skews the numeric results (as far as ratings go). Third, there are the results of the "Late Bird" tournament (which was early in the morning) to squeeze in. In that tournament, I was slated to win about two games (which I did).

Some highlights (for me):

Best win
- 458 for me to my opponent's 224 (a 234-point spread).

Best bingo
- STAMPING for 108 points.

Best ice cream
- Graeter's with friends.

Best overheard comment in a hushed narrator's voice
- "Today...we've secretly replaced Ken's prozac with highly-potent equine steroids. Let's see what happens."

Best setting for a game
- the patio outside the clubhouse during a beautiful, 70-degree afternoon.

Best special day - Jeff Clark's birthday on Sunday, November 2nd. (Happy birthday, Jeff! I totally forgot to tell you that on Sunday.)

Best moments overall - Traveling with my NSA Club #620 crew and figuring out how to get the Sirius radio activated without wrecking the Super-Duper Minivan in the process.

Best thing to look forward to next in the 2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour - The MOO!

So, you know...even though I don't yet know the technical result as far as my rating and all, I know that I consider this tournament a personal V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!!

As for the alcohol, I suspect the effect will be about the same as that time when I was in middle school softball and ran into a long string of strike-outs because I was afraid to swing at pitches which could, in any small way, be out of the strike zone. The coach made me practice swinging at each and every pitch, no matter how far out of the zone it was. I learned that I could decently hit almost all of them, even if I had to sort of jump over the plate to reach it. It was fun and it served to release the hold the anxiety of the situation had on me. I think this will be about the same. I'm really figuring out just how much not worrying about it helps me play.

And, hey...if I get freaked out again, I'll enjoy my game with a little cranberry-flavored assistance. Who cares? I got ID!

Atlas Loves Scrabble

Tonight finds me in Lexington, Kentucky for the Ironman Tournament (which I like to call the Ironwoman Tournament). I guess if I really go all in, I'd say it's the Ironperson Tournament. Nonetheless, this stop on my 2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour is going pretty well so far. It's likely that I won't walk away too disappointed like some other times. We'll talk about more of that later.

But this downtime gives me a chance to show you the newest piece of original art in my vast collection. His name: Atlas.

Atlas is made of Scrabble tiles...and Atlas was made by Joe Larson. Check out Joe's site on MySpace, which includes not only pictures of his Scrabble tile art, but his paintings. (The paintings aren't Scrabble-related, though. Joe was an artist first, then a Scrabble player.)

So now Atlas is living on the desk in my office, in a far corner where he's safe from notebooks and giant folders. It makes me happy to be working on something boring or generally uninspiring and then look up...and remember that I have a life outside of those walls.

Again, check out Joe's stuff. You might find something you really like, or find an inspiration for a custom piece.

If you want to contact Joe, you can do so via his MySpace
site, which includes his e-mail address.