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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

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Location: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

100 things about me

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

I have not yet begun to pose


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Beauty can be very, very noisy.

Babies cry.  Puppies are babies.  Puppies cry.

It occurred to me the other day -- as I withstood a yowling that would qualify as acoustic torture under the Geneva convention -- that it somehow seems normal to be less tolerant of puppies whining than we are of babies crying.  We don't like it when babies cry, but we expect it. And we mostly give babies a pass.  After a few days with a puppy, however, enough is enough, right?  "When will this dog learn to shut up?"

So, we expect puppies to learn faster than babies.  We're expecting an animal with a fraction of human intelligence to learn faster than humans.  And we think we're pretty smart.

The ones learning fastest are Flame-Haired Angel and me.  A little bit of sleep lost, but so far we haven't had to call in the puppy super nanny.

We're all learning each other's rhythms and finding out what's fun and what's not.

And one of us is looking less like an under-stuffed sausage and more like a dog. But only just.

Taco at 8 weeks old and 1 week home.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I like blue-eyed red-heads

Taco's eyes will eventually change to be the same beautiful caramel colour as her coat.  But until then: wowzers!

Totally OK with being a ridiculous dog-parent

Being a childless couple in our mid-forties, we are an easy target.  Proclaim our besotted-ness with Taco to be the obsessive fulfillment of unsatisfied parental instinct, and most would presume you've got a prima facie case.  But I reckon it's barking up the wrong playpen.  I've been dog-obsessed my whole adult life, and baby-obsessed...well, never.  Having put off being a dog-parent until I felt my life stable enough to have the dog relationship I want, I've been hankering a long time.  So far as I know, it's not baby substitution.  It's simple wish fulfillment.

But I can't say it'd make any difference.  I am just as crazy about her either way.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Taco's first day home

There are words, but the pictures are better.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Introducing Taco Spencer

We finally chose.

Two weeks from now, one of the puppies will come home with us.  But we hadn't yet chosen between the two girl pups in the litter.  We had been waiting as long as possible before choosing, so we could get a better sense of any difference in temperament between the two girl pups.

Yesterday, the breeder -- Sara Egan at Waldecke Gundogs -- told us she had someone else interested in the girls.  So, now we had to choose.

Sara has been great.  We've been talking with her since late last year, and she had given us our pick of the girls.  But with someone else wanting a girl, we wanted to give Sara certainty.  We zoomed over, last night, before anyone else got their heart set.

There wasn't much in it, in the end.  Both girls are gorgeous.  Both sweet and curious: neither pushy nor timid.  But one just seemed more comfortable than the other, and Sarah advised us that pup was slightly closer in appearance to the pup's mom -- a dog Flame-Haired Angel loves.  So, that was that.

And here she is: Taco (posing with my other favourite red-head).

She's not yet entirely comfortable away from her litter-mates.

But her brothers don't seem the least bit fussed that she's getting all the attention.

Taco comes home in two weeks.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Our first visit with the puppies.

We went to visit the girls, today.  Their brothers were there, of course.  One big pile of four-week-old Vizsla puppies.  But we were pretty focused on meeting the girls.  And figuring out which one would be coming with us three weeks from now.

We thought we'd meet, introduce ourselves, and, somehow, choose.

We met. We introduced ourselves. We held. We played. We fondled.  We became smitten.  They napped.

But we didn't choose.  Yet.

But here they are in the pink collars: the girls.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

One of these puppies

Either the second from the left, or the farthest right is ours.

Two weeks old.

Thursday, June 05, 2014


A few days ago, at 1 week old.

Now just a little more than 6 weeks until mayhem at Badger's Craic.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A laid-back way to become 47

A lovely day to stroll through London with my sweetie, go on a little adventure, and relax with friends at the end of the day.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On May 24, these puppies were born.

Unbeknownst to one of them, she will be making mayhem in Badger's Craic when she's seven weeks old.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mongolians say "Spring has many faces."

Yesterday, it was sunny in Ulaanbaatar, with a diamond-cutting blue sky, and air so warm the river ice broke open to clear water for the first time this year.

This morning, I swept back the curtains to a complete white-out of driving snow.

The Mongolians say "Spring has many faces."

The Finns say, "There is no such thing as bad weather; only inappropriate clothing."

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Mink Malgai*

1 measure Bailey's
1/2 measure Vodka
1/2 measure Courvoisier
Splash Kahlua
Small scoop of good vanilla ice cream
...in a tumbler

Best accompanied by banana bread.

*"Malgai" is Mongolian for "hat"

Sunday, December 09, 2012

New Grass: Sleepy Man Banjo Boys

For different reasons, this is for my mother, my father, and Margot.  Watch it all.  The power break at the end of the second song is just beautiful -- whether that kid is 10 or 100.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An Ulaanbaatar reminder of a Canadian memory

I am reminded that I like winter mornings.  I haven't lived with many since a grumbling youth in Canada, a youth that railed against morning.

But here they are again, in a long string, those mornings that have a little blue to their light, and the promise of idle hours of tea and books and not going much of anywhere, because it's too damn cold outside.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Once more, with Heart

One of my secret dorky music indulgences, entirely sentimental and wholly authentic, is the 70's rock band, Heart.

They were no more a part of my growing up than dozens of other bands.  But where so many others have fallen away into sweetly impotent memory, Heart has somehow grown in power and significance for me.  I never would have predicted that, 30 years later, I would exalt Ann and Nancy Wilson -- the sisters who founded and fronted the group -- as among the most personally inspiring figures in rock and roll.

Yet, every 18 months or so, I find myself hours into a refreshed immersion in both the music and the energy of the women who made it.  I sit -- as I have done tonight -- watching them on video, listening to the power chords, beguiled by the physical commitment, and reverberating with the declarative high notes. Nancy is perhaps the most compelling female rock guitar stage presence ever (albeit among an admittedly, and sadly, small field), and Anne dishes out one of the most gripping rock voices of her generation -- the bastard child inheritor of Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin.

I just sat here and watched six different live performances of the song "Crazy On You", back to back.  They were recorded 25 years apart. But, each time, at exactly the same point in the song, my whole body shivered.

I cannot watch the Wilson sisters without thrilling in the beauty and power of their brand of femininity.

"We didn't want to be the girlfriends of the Beatles. We wanted to *be* the Beatles."  Nancy Wilson

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Big Lovin' Easy-Bake Oven

For my beloved friend, Bill Stuart, who died yesterday.

I am in Ulaanbaatar burning candles for you, Bill Stuart. On the other side of the world, Billy-Bill, there are candles lit for your insanely beautiful life.

Ours was a bromance. We smoked cigars, drank Kickin’ Chickin’, and talked about cars, women, God and symbolic interactionism.

I preceded you in grad school by a year. Then spent the next year learning from you.

You proved to me that humility and a big personality are not incompatible.

Your faith, your love, your patience, your silliness, your selflessness, your indefatigable, incorrigible, irreverence all schooled me.

You once offered that you admired me. I told you that was all kinds of the wrong way ‘round.

You wrote love on every surface around you, and on every soul you crossed with your smile. You loved on everyone. Everyone. And every now and then you'd let us kiss your head.

I adored watching you become Dr B, and then watching Dr B become mentor, inspiration and example. But I also adored that, to me, you never stopped being Big Lovin' Easy-Bake Oven.

But there was never greater joy, in my love for you, Billy-Bill, than watching you become husband and father -- proof to anyone who ever needed it that even the largest love can grow a thousand fold.

All these people you touched, Billy-Bill, we know how to live this life a little deeper 'cause of you.

God damn I loved you.

Peace for all time, beloved friend.


Sunday, September 02, 2012

Thrilled by death's demography

Some weeks back, in the throes of the Mongolian elections, I caught myself walking the empty evening hallways of our Ulaanbaatar offices relieved that the dead man was Filipino.  And relieved that he died in his sleep.

I was, for a moment, that person who forgets what loss means, and so had lost myself.

I manage communications for a mining company.  Slow news days are good days.  When I heard someone died at the mine site, my first two thoughts were, "How did he die?" and "Where was he from?"

The best outcome for the head of communications would be a death from natural causes, in bed, with no-one else around.  Even better would be a foreigner -- meaning anyone not Mongolian.  A foreigner's quiet, unremarkable death would pass virtually unreported.  A Mongolian death, under any circumstances, would be fodder for speculative conspiracy stories for days, maybe weeks.  A death on the job would shake the organisation to its core and raise plenty of questions about international expertise and standards: purported benefits that come from working with a big, global mining company.

The middle-aged Filipino man had a heart condition.  He was simply still and cold in the morning, when his friends came to rouse him.

And I felt super.  Dodged a bullet and all that.  It took me longer than I like to admit to focus on the other part of his story.

That there was a woman in the Philippines who last saw him get on a plane to Mongolia to go to work, and who would never see him again.  That he would never again see or hear or smell home, and the people who loved him enough to make it his home could never say goodbye.  That his last day had nothing in common with any of the ways he might have imagined it: among mostly strangers, in a strange place, with not even a morgue in which to lay waiting for what would come next.

My team and I took a moment's silence in our morning meeting, the following day.  Because he was one of us.  And, even more, because he was someone else's.


"I'm afraid I don't have a Lama on my org chart."

A few days ago, I wrote that, without irony, in a serious corporate email.  

Forty-eight hours later, I had a Lama on my org chart.

Job title: Spiritual Advisor.

True story.

This has now topped, in the ridiculous stakes, that time a few years back when I managed doctors.  Yeah: me, I supervise a Buddhist Lama.  

Capitalism takes some strange turns.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Office quote of the day from the heart of the Mongolian mining industry

"The cost of wild ass has been excluded."

Not kidding.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Important message to every little girl in the world

It has now become my experience that, if you wait long enough, someone will eventually give you a pony for your birthday.

It only took me forty-five years.

The horse's name is Sarel, which means both Grey and Wolf.  I don't know how to begin to express my gratitude to my team for their extraordinary gift.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

If this is Mongolia, why are all the signs in Russian?

Whilst I sometimes pride myself on how many countries I've visited or lived in, it's a sign of just how un-worldly I am that I was surprised to find, upon landing for the first time in Ulaanbaatar some months back, that all the signs are in Russian.

Which, of course, they're not.  They're in Mongolian, a language that is nothing at all -- not even remotely -- like Russian, nor anything like Mandarin Chinese.  The language of the Mongols shares nothing in common with either it's northern or southern linguistic neighbours.  So, then, why do all the signs in Ulaanbaatar look like they've been ripped off 1970's Moscow store-fronts?

The Mongolian language has a rather idiosyncratic historical relationship with writing.  Ghengis Khan was illiterate, himself, because, well, there was no Mongolian writing before him.  During his conquests, however, he encountered this interesting technology by which words could be frozen on paper, and he immediately recognised its value for law-making, governance, and administration.  Not content to adapt the written language of another people, he commissioned a writing system to be developed for the Mongolian language.  The result, based on a Uighur script from what is now western China, was an alphabetic system, meaning that it had different letters for consonants and vowels.  That distinguishes it from so many other Asian languages that are either phonetic, like Japanese hiragana, or symbolic, like Chinese characters and Japanese kanji.

It's strikingly beautiful.  To the western eye, it might seem to have visual elements of both Asian writing and Arabic calligraphy.  Although Genghis never did learn to read or write, he vigorously promoted the practice of writing and documentation, which flourished under him, and thereafter throughout the Mongol empire.

But none of the signs in Ulaanbaatar are in this beautiful script.  They all look Russian.  Which they're not.  They're Mongolian.  But they're written in the same alphabet as Russian: Cyrillic.

Cyrillic isn't nearly as beautiful as Mongolian, but it's readable -- at least the sounds can be made out -- by many more people.  It was introduced into Mongolia in the middle of the 20th century when Mongolia came under the protection (or control) of the Soviet Union.  For the same reason Ghangis wanted a writing system -- ease of administration -- the Soviets imposed their alphabet on Mongolia.  And Mongolians have been writing in Cyrillic ever since.

The signs don't make any more sense to a Russian speaker than they do to me, but the Russian has the advantage of knowing roughly what the foreign words sound like.

Mongolian sounds are a whole 'nuther story.  It's genuinely hard to describe what Mongolian sounds like to my anglophonic ear without coming across as, at least, condescending and, at worst, insulting.  It's a sound unlike any I've heard before in my life.  I speak a little Chinese, a little Japanese, and smatterings of romance languages.  Mongolian, however, sounds to me like something from another planet.  As well it might, since it was the basis for Star Trek script writers when they came up with the sounds Klingons make.  Think what Klingons might sound like making romantic small talk, and you've got my hearing of Mongolian.

Do blonde camels have more fun?

The people of the Gobi desert call them "white" camels.  They're more blonde -- or very light tan -- but they are distinctive and rare.  It is good luck to encounter one.

The more I see of these bactrian beasts, the more fond of them I grow.  They look like something that might arise as the love child of Dr Seuss and George Lucas.  Especially the babies.

Photo credit: Taylor Buonocore, from the back of a Land Cruiser piloted by a very amused driver who humoured the dogged photographer despite the camels being, to him, like so many squirrels.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Don't work. Be hated. Love someone.

Enjoyed this very much.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Reason We're Here

Blue rocks and big trucks.


On the road from Dalanzadgad to Khanbogd

Firsts, this week:
Drinking camel milk
Eating dried camel curds
Drinking salted tea
Hearing the horse-head fiddle accompany the Mongolian long song
Driving across the Gobi desert, from Dalanzadgad to Khandbogd

Australians could be forgiven for thinking that the Gobi looks like a slightly less red version of the outback.

My intrepid driver, Tsevenbaatar, who has a rather eclectic taste in pop music.  I should correct that: He was not my driver; I was his passenger.

Camels grazing in the Gobi.


Ulaanbaatar: Deel Or No Deel

You could describe Ulaanbaatar as a polluted post-Soviet mining boomtown in the middle of a desert.  And you’d be pretty right.  You could also call it the capital of one of the most historically successful people in the world and the centre of what is currently the hottest economy on the planet.

I’ve been living and working here for just a fortnight.  Last week, the ex-President of the country was arrested on corruption charges and neo-Nazis showed up at my office, while Lady Gaga and Jessie J thumped from the open windows of massive SUVs.  There is no way of describing this town in terms that make sense to those of us who’ve always neatly presumed that nations are either “developed” or “developing”.  This week, I have crunched on dried camel curds with a man wearing a traditional deel (pronounced "dell"), and also dined on fresh-off-the-plane Australian seafood with a woman wearing an Alexander McQueen dress.

There was also an unexpected dinner with a former finance minister: a man whom the Soviets threw in prison for distributing hand-typed copies of Solzhenitsyn, who has since published the Encyclopedia Britannica in Mongolian and is now personally translating Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. He pointed out that Mongolia only has about 400 laws. His point was that that’s a whole lot more than the United States had when it was only 20 years old.

It’s a country in the midst of defining its modern self, and idiosyncratically making it up as it goes along.  How history fits with modernity is in flux.  It turns out, for example, that the neo-Nazis who dropped by my office are an officially registered NGO, albeit a heartily tattooed and leather-clad NGO.  The xenophobic politics are familiar, but the swastika is culturally nuanced in a place that was never touched by the Third Reich.  The only historic anti-Semitism in this country occurred when Russians were killing other (Jewish) Russians in the pogroms.  And then you have to go through the looking glass: The swastika is, of course, a revered Buddhist symbol when you turn the pinwheel the other way, and the oppressed minority in Mongolia were the Buddhists, whom the Soviets killed by the thousands. So the same symbol that makes us queasy in the west is a symbol of an oppressed minority, here.  And, um, also the symbol of the neo-Nazis.

As a result of this real-time sense-making – or, in some cases, nonsense-making – it’s a place of fast-forward cultural appropriation.  The signs are all in Cyrillic – so look Russian to ignorant foreigners like me -- Chinese goods dominate, French luxury products confer status, American and British culture are everywhere, and the most numerous restaurants are Korean.

But not everything is shifting.  If American identity harkens back to individualistic cowboys, and all Australians are, deep down, the Man From Snowy River, then this country isn’t that far distant from us.  It’s a vast, unfenced wilderness whose people, no matter how city-bound, all have nomadic hearts on horseback.  Just what that means I don’t yet know.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A day in Terelj, outside Ulaanbaatar