Tuesday, September 29, 2009
And it's not like Elli is shy of people or strangers, at all! She will run out to the end of her leash to kiss up to absolutely anyone -- jump up on them, lick their hands, try to lick their faces, flop on her belly for scritchings, talk up a storm... she is NOT the more properly-temperamented, reserved type. (Which is more than a little embarrassing when I've just told said unsuspecting stranger that I do competitive obedience with my dogs. I'm sure they are terribly impressed.)
Ian, my properly reserved boy, has tried to explain to her that strangers may in fact be ax murderers. He has shown her by example time and again that, if offered goodies from a stranger's hands, she should take it to be polite and then surreptitiously deposit it on the ground, because god only knows where it came from. But no, Little Miss Love Me! continues her coquettish ways, oblivious to any possible danger from People She Doesn't Know.
When she's on the ground.
On the table, though, she's much more skittish. I don't know if it's the height issue, or if she feels like the table isn't secure underfoot, or if she just objects to people grabbing her face to look at her bite. She's slow to stand up straight, assuming a semi-crouch when I first put her on the table until I can coax her up and forward with some bait. I can't get her feet placed properly until she relaxes a bit and, unfortunately, you don't get that kind of time in the ring. If approached before I can get squared away, she's very difficult to see the bite on, and we won't even talk about what the scrunching does to her topline. (Can we say "camel?")
Sooooooooo, I think I'll be loading my grooming table into the car and setting out to lure unsuspecting strangers in public places into petting my dog on the table and feeding her string cheese. First we'll practice gaiting with distractions and speeding up the stacking process, then add in strangers: first just feeding her, then touching down her back, then looking at the bite as she becomes more comfortable. I will no doubt be labelled as strange, but I think that's a perfectly acceptable trade-off for a bomb-proof table dog.
8 more weeks till Springfield. 8 more weeks till Springfield...
Monday, September 28, 2009
My hubby came with me this time to watch this crazy dog show business I've become psycho about. He also proved to be great kennel help, setting up the ex-pen, water, etc. while I went to scope out the rings and get my number. When I came back and saw Elli there in the pen, with the sun shining off of her very black, shiny coat and level topline, it hit me: she really DID look like a show dog. Sure, she has her faults, but the perfect dog hasn't yet been born.
There were four rings in a big pulling shed, which unfortunately (for nicely shampooed and chalked white feet and chest, anyway) meant a packed dirt floor. It also meant that there were LOTS of interesting smells. It was pretty close quarters outside of the rings, and the near proximity to so many new dogs was all very exciting for Elli, so she wasn't exactly a model of decorum.
Ell was the only one in her class (9-12 mos.). The judge (David McIntyre) had me take her around the ring and then put her on the table. Elli is not the fastest dog to stack on the table, and I never really got her set before Mr. McIntyre came over to examine her, which meant that: a) she didn't look great from the side; and b) she didn't stand very well to have her bite examined. We clearly have some more work to do on the table!! The down and back was nothing to write home about either. The smells were too, too tempting, so we were, to understate things, NOT smooth. But hey, we were the only one in the class, so on to Winners.
Elli did stand and stack herself nicely when we went back in for winners. She did well on the go around because the dog in front of her was more interesting than the smells on the dirt, and she kept her gait rather than galloping. She looks like she has delusions of being a German Shepherd in the group ring out ahead of me like that but hey, I'll take it. When he had each dog do a down and back for him, though, Elli's nose hit the ground again and she did not show well. WB went to the Open bitch, which was an, um... interesting choice. Reserve went to Paula O'Donnell's blue bitch, whom I (and an unofficial public opinion poll) thought SHOULD have been WB.
After the judging, Paula gave me some great advice and a little demo about how I was baiting Elli into her free-stack, which was much appreciated. I swear, if I somehow manage to squeak into heaven when I die, handling classes there will be held in a dance studio, so there is an entire wall of mirrors to practice in front of. Little things can make a huge difference. I also saw the two puppies that Cheryl and Dotty are keeping out of their Meg-Smarty litter. Gorgeous puppies! A ton of bone, beautifully marked... I'll enjoy watching them mature.
Sunday: Ring time wasn't until 1:15, which meant closer to 2:30 since Cardis were at the very tail end of their group, and I believe the last breed judged before groups commenced. I spritzed Elli and blew her out again before going, but we didn't leave until about noon. Had the weather been nice I would have gone earlier to watch some of the show, but with the rain I couldn't set Ell up in her ex-pen, and I didn't want to leave her crated for hours.
Elli was once again a little over-excited outside the ring waiting to go in. I was asked if I had tried herding with her yet and told that she would probably be great at it. I think this was a polite way of saying, "Your dog is a total spaz case," which, yeah.
This judge (Robert Slay) had me start by putting Elli on the table. She landed a little better this time, but I still didn't really get her set like I wanted before the judge had his hands in her mouth. The down and back were definitely better than Saturday, as was the around, so I was pleased with the improvement.
Elli again did well with the others in the Winners class, and she hopefully looked better free-stacked since I took Paula's advice and baited her much lower. She again did the German Shepherd thing when we all went around, but she at least looks showy that way. WB went to Paula's bitch this time, with Reserve going to Pixie's bred-by bitch.
The weekend all in all: It was a good learning experience for both of us, probably for me more than for Elli. It gave me the opportunity to see what we need to work on, and a little confidence in how she looks stacked up against other competition in the ring. At no time did I feel like she had no business in a show ring; I think she can hold her own, and as she matures more I think we will find some judges who like her. We need to do lots of work on the table thing before the Thanksgiving shows down in Springfield. I also need to come up with some focus games to play while we wait ringside, and some more "no sniff!" training, but overall I got what I wanted out of the weekend.
Eight weeks until the next show!!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Yeah, I went a little Martha Stewart on the presentation, but that's fun to do sometimes. Full belly, clean kitchen -- time for some serious relaxation.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
After the last few handling classes, I've been feeling pretty cocky about Elli at least showing herself nicely this weekend, even if I don't expect her to win. So I took her to Ian's class to have multiples people handle her on the table during the sit and down stays. Cocky now? Not so much.
I thought she had gotten better about being examined on the table, but it turns out she's only gotten better about DONNA examining her on the table. I guess I've got more work to do with keeping her still to have her bite examined. Nothing like an 11-month old puppy to keep you humble!
On the ground, she's obviously having delusions of grandeur: she thinks she's a German Shepherd, and a group dog. Before the down and back, she glances over at the line as if to say, "Are you ready? Are you all watching this?" She flies out to the end of her lead -- the picture of Little Miss Confidence. And boy, you should see the strut she puts on when she hears applause! If the judging were based on attitude, she'd have it in the bag.
Ah, well. Whatever happens, it'll be a learning experience. For both of us.
Ian was such a happy, happy worker at class, other than having to hold that pesky glove in his mouth. He came the first time I called him on both recalls, and he's doing better on his pivots and his get-backs, but I can see the effects of his injury on his rear-end coordination when he backs up in a straight line: before, I could back him all the way across the room at pretty much full speed; his steps are slower and sloppier now, like either he isn't completely sure where his feet are, or he's telling them to move but they're not going exactly where he wants them. It won't effect his ability to work in the obedience ring as long as he's able to jump, but I'm not even going to try him on the jumps for a while. As to whether his gait will come back to the point where I can finish him... time will tell.
*yawn* Long day. Time to crash.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
sigh* Cardis are in at 10:00 on Saturday, so no worries there. But on Sunday, they're listed at 1:30 -- and they are last in that block, so based on the entry before them we probably won't hit the ring until 2:30 or after. Which means I either need to skip Sunday's show or do cartwheels to get someone to work for me. Damn you, Murphy. Damn you!!
Also in the Who'da Thunk? category: Cardis have the 4th highest entry in the show. There's a 4-point major in bitches on Saturday, 3 points on Sunday. (Only a point available in dogs each day.)
Oh, and Cheryl will have her litter of Smarty puppies there -- can't wait to see the little ones!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a Cardi get-together at Paula O'Donnell's summer camp in Holden, Maine. It meant splitting my normal work shift of 3:00-11:00 into two pieces: 7:00-10:00 and then 6:00-11:00, but OH was it worth it.
For one thing, the weather was perfect. Sunny and in the 60's, giving it that crisp tang of fall. The drive up Route 1 was, if not the Autobahn, at least tolerable compared to the near-crawl it becomes in July and August. Once I turned onto Paula's road, I met up with Gail and Lucybell, so we rolled down the dirt lane parade-style. And rolled. And rolled. We finally hit a little single lane causeway across a narrow point in the pond, and came up to Paula's gate. Being in the lead, I got out to open the gate. Misjudged my distance from the gate and how wide it was, and had to back up a little to swing it open. Rolled through and continued to the end where Paula's camp is. A pack of Cardis (I think I counted 7 or 8) formed the welcoming party, along with Paula's husband.
Dotty, Nancy and Nola were already there, and Amanda arrived shortly thereafter. There was a fire crackling in the fireplace, just perfect for a fall day. We greeted and were greeted by the corgwyn delegation, who were every bit as pretty as they are in their photos. It was so cool to meet the "dogs in the magazines" and to see them in action. I'm glad to know that even centerfolds will occasionally take the opportunity presented by chicken left unattended, just like my own, less flashy heathens.
Over shrimp cocktail and crackers with a cream cheese & chutney spread, we got caught up on who's showing whom; who's been bred or will be bred; who has puppies on the ground and potential puppy buyers for said puppies; and some harrowing tales of sperm shipments and road construction (bad combo).
As we moved on to grilled chicken and prime rib, homemade applesauce and biscuits, a truly revelatory sweet potato dish, pasta salad, curried chicken salad, fresh garden veggies, etc., Nancy talked to us about trends she's seen in the ring in various parts of the country where she has judged. As someone who is new to the breed and to conformation in general, it was very valuable to me to hear about where the breed was several years ago and where we've come since then. And also the differences in what's being shown in the east versus the midwest vs. the northwest. Talk turned to judging and people's experiences under different judges, then to the virtues of different dog foods and feeding plans, then to veterinary experiences -- basically all the stuff that comes up anytime you get two or more show people within a few feet of one another. I tried to keep my ears open and my mouth shut as much as possible, and soak in the combined knowledge and experience in the room. I can't think of a better way to learn.
We enjoyed some lemon cake, pumpkin squares and turtle cheesecake for dessert, and then we went outside to go over some of Paula's dogs. Smarty was first on the table (and quite eager to be there after some recent donations of "Instant Puppy"), followed by two bitch puppies that Paula is growing out. I appreciated the opportunity to go over them and learn what to feel for as well as what to look for. We also watched them move, and I learned some great stuff about how what I had just felt on the table affected what I saw on the ground. All the videos and illustrated standards in the world are not as useful as that tactile and visual experience up close.
The afternoon ended all too soon and I headed back down the winding lane and to work, but I can't thank all of these ladies enough for the perfect afternoon of fun, laughter, conversation, and learning. I'll remember this experience for a long time.
Can't wait for next year!!
Friday, September 18, 2009
I'm mulling over whether I can set up Smalltyme Cardigans as a separate business entity for tax purposes. We all know that breeding and showing dogs is not what you'd call a profitable venture, but I'm wondering if I can offset some of the associated costs by deducting them as business expenses. To my (unBELIEVEably limited) knowledge, I would need to come up with something like a 5-year business plan; and I would need to set up a separate bank account, pay all show related expenses from it, and keep all of the receipts. But I'm still fuzzy on where the IRS draws the line between what is legitimately a business in its own right, and what is considered a hobby and therefore not deductible.
Does anyone out in the blogosphere have any knowledge or experience in this?
Thursday, September 17, 2009
So, this kennel-without-a-kennel is seriously considering building a, you know, kennel.
My husband and I are thinking that next spring we may build a freestanding, 16' by 18' kennel building. If it goes according to the plan in my head, it will have:
- 6 indoor/outdoor runs: 3'x6' pens inside with 3'x10' outside runs that have outer gates to allow access to the large fenced-in yard when appropriate
- Rinnai heater
- Air-conditioner for the summer
- Built-in storage for agility and obedience equipment: tall cabinet for jump uprights, chute barrel, tire jump parts and tunnel; pegboard-and-bungee set up to keep teeter board, dog walk and A-frame parts upright and out of the way; and an overhead hanger thingie for jump bars and boards
- Counter with cabinets and drawers for grooming supplies
- Space for the grooming table with an outlet built into the floor underneath for the blow dryer
- Space for a future large puppy pen
I have absolutely NO intention of my dogs, current or future, living out there, but I do want a viable work-day alternative to depending on my Mom to perform doggy daycare duties. It's great that she's always happy to have her grand-dogs, and I love her for doing it, but there are times when she really isn't feeling up to it, and it would be nice to have another workable solution.
I would also really like to become active in Rescue, but right now I live in a 1200 sq. ft. ranch with no good way to keep a strange dog separated from mine if necessary. Having the kennel would give me some flexibility in being able to foster a dog in need.
The great news is that my wonderful hubby is very good with building things. He and my father-in-law built the Weaving Shed below for my mother-in-law to house her Maine Island Rag Rugs business (she does a fantastic job!):
This building is, I believe, an 8'x10', so it's smaller than what I have in mind, but similar idea. It has the Rinnai, the air conditioner, and electric, and it is is abso-freaking-lutely adorable. And they built it for around $2,000. My in-laws have some great ideas for cutting costs, so the cost of building the kennel should be ouch but not OUCH! It helps that Dear Hubby is also quite skilled with electrical work, so we won't need to hire anyone to do that.
Since it will be a freestanding building and not an addition to the house (which would be MUCHO more expensive), it will unfortunately NOT have any plumbing. That's a major bummer, as I'd give my eye teeth for a raised tub, but that will have to wait for a future remodeling when we can swing it.
Interior flooring will most likely be linoleum. I'd love any recommendations for surfacing the outdoor runs. Concrete is not an option. But small grain crushed rock? Wood decking? Gravel? Grass? Anything else I'm not thinking of right now that should be included?
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
She didn't get any of the above crustacean (Mine!), but I did give her a steamed clam. She thought it was very weird, but eventually finished playing with it and ate it. Probably only because the cat wanted it.
Elli will be in her second-ever show next weekend at the Lewiston-Auburn KC shows. There's a 4-point major if the entry holds. I think she looks better than she did at 7 1/2 months, and she sure BEHAVES better than she did in June. Thank you, handling classes!! I'm looking forward to seeing how she does in the ring -- not so much how she places, but how she shows herself and how she looks all show-groomed, since those are the only things I hold any sway over. The rest is up to the judge! But if attitude counts for anything, boy does she have that in spades!!!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, time will tell if Ian's rear comes back together enough to show him for those last two points. He would probably be fine showing inside, although I'm not sure if he would recover his gait immediately if he left the mat and hit the slippery floor. We'll be working on it over the next couple of months, and if he's doing well I may enter him at the Springfield shows in November. I have absolutely no plans to breed him, but I'd hate to give up on finishing him when he's got his majors (plus a bonus major) and only needs a couple singles. It would feel very satisfying to be able to say I finished my first show dog, all owner-handled.
Ian will return to obedience class tonight, though I won't be jumping him for the next several weeks; we'll work instead on heeling, straight sits and finishes, retrieve on the flat, drop on recall, hand signals, get-backs, and get started on the gloves and go-outs. I did a quick front-and-finish with him this morning, and the boy practically turned himself inside-out with glee. You've gotta love a dog that wants to work that bad! Fingers crossed that there will indeed be a CDX in his future.
Monday, September 14, 2009
And, she is happy to report that it has been an overwhelming success. She now simply deposits the bone in my husband's lap, or drops it on his foot (as a mild correction for losing focus), and he holds it for her. No more need to chase it around the rug or prop it against the chair leg. No more getting it covered with hair as it slides across the kitchen floor. No more losing it under the couch or loveseat. Just nudge and drop into the outstretched hand.
Coming Soon: Now you too can train your human to hold bones, throw a ball, and give cookies on command! Sign up today for "The Longing Stare", and receive a 50% off voucher on "Cute Vocalizations For Fun and Profit."
Elli is a transplant to Maine after moving here from Virginia in December of 2008. She has requested her own Taxpayer ID number and is currently shopping for a web host for HowToTrainYourHuman.com. She will soon be offering Webinars on Human Obedience 101. Reserve your spot today!
Friday, September 11, 2009
I still maintain that they are the first wave of an alien invasion. (It may also be possible that a watch too many of those really bad Syfy network movies.)
I suppose in a way it shouldn't be a surprise -- I do live at the end of a cul-de-sac and am bordered on two sides by woods, so bunnies and raccoons and birds are not unexpected. And I thought surely it had to be one of those critters who so blithely robbed me of my autumnal bliss, for no mere insect could possibly have completely eaten the better part of a large tomato.And it turns out I was right: no mere insect did eat my tomatoes -- they were freaking GIANT RABID MUTANT NINJA CATERPILLARS FROM OUTER SPACE!!!!
These extraterrestrials are bigger around than my finger!! With wicked little barbs on their asses! And they cling to my tomato vines like inadvertent velcro on your best lace panties!! I have not yet found the spacecraft that deposited these beings in my garden, but I'm on the lookout. I would lend them my cell to phone home, but they'd probably eat that too! Freaking beam them up already, Scotty!!
Oh, my poor tomatoes. :-(
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Exactly what expertise does she have in the music industry? She has a freaking talk show where they play music while she dances (badly). How does this make her qualified to judge singers? And if her guest judge stint on So You Think You Can Dance is any indication, she is going to do the exact opposite of helping to bring the show in on time.
I could maybe see having her host the show, but judge? It's bad enough that Randy is completely useless; now we have to have Ellen too?
Wow. That was a really BIG shark, and American Idol cleared it by a country mile.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Elli has very much missed snuggling with her big brother. She has also very much missed being able to take his toys away from him. He and they are now safely behind bars, where no amount of whining, pawing, or flopping on her back with her hoohah in his face will net her The Good Bone (which is defined by Webster's Dictionary as "Whatever bone the other dog has at any given time.") I can only wish I had had my camera in hand when she had her lips curled back and one canine through the bars as she tried to get his squeaky toy, or when she was squishing her tongue between bars to try and drink The Good Water
My major focus now is on prevention: What can I do to keep Ian from having a recurrence, and to lower the chances that Elli will suffer a similar incident in the future? For starters, my wonderful hubby spent his Labor Day weekend building a ramp for the back porch. It's only three steps from the deck to the ground, but over the course of a day it adds up.
We have also instituted a strict No Dogs On The Furniture policy; not yet an issue with Ian as he's in the ex pen, but Elli is having a hard time coming to grips with this new draconian measure. If I don't put a gate up between the kitchen and living room to keep her in the former, I no sooner turn my back than she's up on the couch. And not just on the couch, but on the BACK of the couch. I found her up there after a trip to the bathroom this morning. I scolded her and set her on the floor, where I swear she gave the cat a very pointed look, and then looked at me as if to say, "But HE gets to do it!" Poor little princess; Ian's injury has been very hard on her.
Now I need some recommendations on supplements, chiropractic, therapy regimens, etc. I would love to swim Ian, but there is no place anywhere near here that has a pool or PT place for dogs, and it's getting a little cool to be swimming outside now. Anyone have some good suggestions for post-IVDD recovery?
Thursday, September 3, 2009
But anyway, the doctor looked at the x-rays I brought with me, then had me walk Ian around the exam room for a bit so he could watch him. There wasn't a ton of room, but we did what we could. I also had Ian back up for him; I wasn't sure if he would be able to with his rear still a little wobbly, but he did just fine. Then the doc had me put him on the table so he could examine him. He turned his neck this way and that, felt all along the spine, examined his eyes for dilation, etc. Ian showed no sign of pain at any of the neck manipulation or at the spinal palpation. He does show some mild ataxia in the rear; it seems to take a few extra seconds for his brain to realize where his hind feet are. So there was definitely some nerve involvement somewhere along the way, but he was unable to locate exactly where with no sign of pain and based on the symptoms alone.
Because there was no indication of pain, and because his symptoms are quite mild, Dr. Potthoff said there were basically two approaches we can take: 1) Do some diagnostic work (which will involved anesthesia and perhaps a spinal tap if they do myelogram vs. MRI); or 2) Take a conservative approach and see if the situation can be managed with a course of Prednisone and rest. Because Ian has improved a lot on crate rest and the NSAID, he advised that we take the latter course. He did say to give him a few short walks each day (which is basically what he gets when he goes out to potty), because the brain and the muscles need to re-establish good communication (retraining the nerve pathways).
Tomorrow he starts on Prednisone. I've upgraded him from the crate to an ex-pen so he can stand up and move a little, but not run around and raise hell, which is what he would really like to do. He obviously feels like himself -- bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to FRAP at a moment's notice. What a far cry from a week ago!!
So, one McDonald's hamburger (no onions) and a new fleecy toy later, Ian is resting comfortably in his ex-pen. Happy birthday, my sweet boy. Here's to many, many more!
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Last Wednesday I went to the Cumberland Fairgrounds (an hour and a half drive one way) to help get set-up for the four-day show cluster held by Central Maine and Midcoast Kennel Clubs. We normally hold our shows in Union, which is just 10 minutes away, but the AKC calendar gave us a conflict this year with the fair, so we had to make alternate arrangements.
On Thursday, the first day of the cluster, I got up at 5:00 a.m. to shower and head back down to Cumberland. But, when we got up, Ian wouldn't pick his head up, and acted as though his neck was really hurting. I knew I was scheduled to steward all day, but I put a panic call in to Central Maine's obedience chair and said I needed to take Ian to vet, and I'd be there when and if I could.
Ian had an x-ray and all looked well, despite him obviously being in pain, so the vet put him on crate rest and an NSAID. I got him settled and reached the showgrounds at around 1:00 p.m., happy that it only appeared to be a soft-tissue injury that would heal up over time.
Friday dawned, and I was once again up at 5:00 and headed toward Cumberland. This time I was only there until 1:00, because I had to get back home and go to work from 3:00 to 11:00 at my part time job, since I only had vacation from the full-time one. When I stopped home between the show and going to work, I could see that Ian was having trouble walking and keeping his rear end under him.
Having Cardis, I've read plenty about IVDD, and was pretty sure that's what was going on. I called my vet on the way to work and asked for a referral to a neurologist, called the neurologist from work, and got an appointment for this week, and an emergency number to call in case his symptoms worsened before then.
Needless to say, my mind was not on work. How I managed to get through the 8-hour shift without bursting into tears I'll never know. I got home and got to bed by midnight after a good crying jag, and then yes, up at 5:00 to go to Cumberland once more. Ian was about the same, no worse and not really much better. Saturday and Sunday it was my turn to be Obedience Chair. My friend Ashley went with me to steward, but we were only able to stay until 1:00 because, yup, I had to work Saturday night. Thank god for my friend Donna Cassista, who not only chaired obedience and Rally for Central Maine but took over for me as well on Saturday and Sunday. I know I couldn't have done it without her.
Sunday morning was more of the same. Ashley had gotten ill and was not able to go with me to steward, so that duty once again fell on poor Donna. I owe her a really big present. I cried most of the way down to Cumberland but managed to pull it together once I got there. There was a Cardigan in the Open A Obedience class who was our only qualifier. It was both delightful and heartbreaking to watch her work, knowing that Ian and I would have been competing in our first Open trial in three weeks. Now, I was just hoping he'd be able to walk again.
I left again on Sunday at 1:00 to go to my third weekend shift at work, sobbing during the ride home, feeling badly for not being there for clean-up and take down after the events along with the rest of the crew.
Yesterday, things started looking up. I got more than 4-5 hours of sleep, for one thing. And when I did get up and take Ian out, he was walking much better, only wobbling a little bit if he got too excited. And this morning, he's walking better still. He's clearly feeling like himself -- bright-eyed, wagging his tail, and really, really wanting out of his crate, which isn't going to happen. Sorry, buddy. We'll go to the neurologist Thursday morning where I expect they'll do a CT scan or a myelogram, and we'll go from there. Given what I've already seen for improvement, though, I'm hopeful that this can be managed with crate rest and a course of steroids, rather than surgery, and I'll be talking with folks who have been through IVDD about a supplement and exercise regimen to prevent this from happening again.
While I'm very happy things are looking better with Ian, this is still a sad day, because our 11 year-old Siamese cat has left us. About nine months ago, he had to go to the vet for a manual extraction after becoming very constipated. Despite a change in diet and a laxative medication, it occurred again and he went to the vet yesterday. This time, the vet found two masses in his abdomen that are the likely cause of the issue to begin with. After talking with the vet about various outcomes, my husband and I made the decision to let him go.
Boy, do I dread the inevitable question when I return to my full-time job next week: "Hey, how was your vacation?"