Musings on m
y life as a busy opera singer, voice teacher, photographer and mom - not necessarily in that order! I consider myself immensely fortunate to have carved out a way of doing all of these things which mean so much to me - it may sometimes get a little crazy, but it's always worth it. Welcome to the madhouse!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

So about this "working on holidays" thing...

Disclaimer #1:  I have never shopped Black Friday and have no intention of joining the throngs (hate crowds and typically there are so few real bargains it's not worth it)
Disclaimer #2: I don't think stores "need" to be open on a national holiday like Thanksgiving
Disclaimer #3: Even as a committed  shopper, I'm finding the national devotion to the God of Retail disconcerting and would greatly prefer a real "day off" where it wasn't even *possible* to do stuff.
Disclaimer #4:  If the stories of employer pressure to work on holidays are true, I deplore that behaviour lock, stock and barrel. OPTING to work on a holiday is one thing; being blackmailed into with the threat of losing your job if you don't is another.

Those out of the way, I admit I'm bemused and baffled by the outrage in some quarters.  A program on NPR yesterday featured scores of distraught callers phoning in to discuss the subject (prompting this blog post).  A few responses of my own:

1.  I was impressed by the Finnish caller to NPR who pointed out that because this is a non-religious holiday it's the ONLY time that we get a cross-faith national day off  - this is valid, and a great reason to support it as a totally "dark day" holiday. It is not, however, a religious holiday. Nobody is offending anybody else's God by going to work on the 3rd Thursday in November, so please don't preach on that front (many who called in did exactly that.)

2.  To the woman who near-tearfully reported the distress of having to rearrange their family dinner to a "thanksgiving brunch" because her (employed) children needed to be at work by 6pm:  in some places, a midday meal is traditionally the biggie. Is it really that tough to move it back to 1 or 2 o'clock, still giving guests time to arrive, birds time to cook, and still have time to get to work? Isn't a turkey *lunch* a reasonable compromise?  I appreciate this may not be that family's tradition, but it seems such a simple way to have the big family event and let those who need to work do both without really causing that much disruption.

3.  Lastly, and perhaps the most personally relevant thought of mine in all of this:  many, many people ALWAYS  work on holidays.  I've accepted contracts where the requirement to work on holidays is clearly stated from the outset; it's simply part of the job.    As a performer, I have had to forego more weddings, dinner parties, holiday celebrations and family occasions than you can imagine.   That service you go to on Christmas Eve before heading home to open gifts? The choir has been rehearsing since 4pm - they don't get to have a Christmas Eve celebration unless somebody else is still at home preparing it for them.  That Broadway show you go see on Christmas day?  Yup, those performers are missing the traditional dinner the rest of their family are enjoying; they can't even get out of town to visit family on a NON holiday.  Those musical theater performers strutting down 5th avenue this morning?  Yup, that's their JOB. Sure, it's cool to be part of the Macy's Parade, but I'll bet some of those Rockettes would rather be at home in their jammies drinking mimosas and watching it on TV than freezing their elegant legs off on a float.

This is of course, not limited to performers. Doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, journalists ... there are plenty of people out there for whom working on holidays is a way of life.   As you sit down with your family to eat your turkey, think of ALL the people who have chosen a way of life that often involves working while everybody else celebrates.  Raise your glass,  give them a nod of thanks and save the last piece of pie for them to eat when they get home later.  I can assure you they'll be grateful that their family understood their dilemma and didn't lay on the guilt and make it even harder for them to do their job when much of the country was "on holiday".

Wishing you all the finest of days - no matter how or with whom you're spending your Thanksgiving, the shared experience of reflecting on what we do have instead of what we don't is a worthy national activity.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rehearsing with Washington Concert Opera...

I'm alarmed that I appear as the tallest thing on the stage (not true, and a trick of the perspective!), but still - what fun!  Truly a pleasure to sing with Maestro Walker and the team of talented musicians and singers on that stage!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

June Roundup

To start at the end instead of the beginning...

June 29, 2012 brought some pretty awful storms to the region. Our area was one of the worst-hit, with trees down pretty much on every block; we consider ourselves beyond lucky that neither of the two big elms in the front yard came down on our house and that we suffered no material damage.  Still, no power for 4 days and 16hrs - during a 3-digit heatwave - is a whole lot of not fun (and, at writing, some people are STILL waiting to be restored nearly a week after the event).  Short version: never underestimate a thunderstorm, and if your weather channel ever says the word "derecho", check your insurance policy, hunker down, and make sure you have somewhere to go after the fact.  Every bit as bad - or worse - than a hurricane, and more like tornado damage.

Earlier in the month, our daughter graduated middle school and moves on to high school in September. When did THAT happen?! Last time I looked she was a cute little grade-schooler with gappy teeth, and now there's a beautiful young woman living in our upstairs bedroom. Every parent says it, but it's so true: it goes so fast!

Her June got off to a bang with a production of Les Miserables with a local professional youth theatre company; as a member of JCo (the "junior company") she was invited to join the ensemble of this extraordinary production which was so completely sold out that they had to extend the run! Quite an achievement, and richly deserved. These young people not only sang and performed well but managed to dig into the heart of a huge piece, bringing every emotion to life. A thoroughly enjoyable night in the theatre, a triumph for the kids and a wonderful experience for her.

Not content with letting the 2-foot kid take the limelight, Cooper the Bearded Collie made his first two appearances in the show ring this month. While I've had my reservations about conformation showing, I can't deny that he loves the environment, and the training involved is just what he needs - the focus on stillness and a bit of self-control for the show ring is pretty much exactly what we emphasise in our general work with him anyway, and it's been very beneficial all round.  Even though he's still as green as can be, he won his class at his second show; it seems that we're going to be assimilated into the world of the dog show despite our expectations!

If I can extend June to have begun with the end of May, it included a wonderful production of Puccini's Il Trittico with Baltimore Concert Opera.  I started to blog about the experience at the time but couldn't quite find the words; I was flying for days afterwards and found it difficult to process my thoughts without merely gushing. Oh, I knew it would be fun - these were roles I've been dying to sing for ages, and with as many friends as I had in the cast I knew I'd have a good time - but  it was more than that.  Definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the (already exceptional) parts.  It shouldn't have been a surprise. I've known these people for years as musical colleagues on the stage. I worked with them as their "official photographer" for their first couple of seasons.  They're friends.  But  nothing could have prepared me for the sheer musical and emotional joy of those particular performances and I'm so grateful I had the chance to be part of something really special.

The reason I include this in a post about June is that this month Brendan Cooke announced his appointment as the new General Director of Opera Delaware. All I can say is that Delaware is one lucky company and town to have him, and those of us who have known and worked with him for years are pretty darned proud of his achievement!  (Also congratulations to him and his wife Julia on the birth of their second son, just a few days before the big career news broke - what a month for them!)
And now, July. Frankly, at this point I'm more than ready for a few quiet days at the beach.... 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What a gift!!

How wonderful to see these broadcasts from Glyndebourne! Highly recommended.

And, as always, The Cunning Little Vixen (just broadcast as at writing) leaves me breathless, tearful, and smiling.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dog training for singers?

It's another of those periods where I've had so many thoughts rattling around my head that I struggle to write them down in any coherent manner. This isn't helped by the fact that I almost always think of blog posts while I'm driving, and by the time I'm somewhere I could actually write it down, I've forgotten what it was. (No wonder businessmen love to dictate!).  In any case, this morning, a moment to try and pull these thoughts together.  

The steaming race to the semester finish line has been a doozy.  Our scholarship auditions were earlier than usual to accommodate some staff schedules, which meant for the first time students had to be ready for this important performance before finals/juries/recital week, with necessary extra rehearsals and lessons; I had 5 in for that (and am delighted to say they all did very well indeed).  Immediately following that event, eleven students performed in our end-of term recital, by far the largest number of people I've ever put in for the evening performance.

It would be difficult to express my immense pride in what these students achieved this semester. They sang challenging repertoire - this was not the typical program of "student" pieces, but included difficult blockbuster arias (several of them written by the most technically exposing of all: Mozart), hard-to-interpret Mahler, 20th century songs and a bunch else.  To say they exceeded my expectations is an understatement. While we may "only" be a 2-yr institution, every single one of these young performers - many of whom only started studying a year or two ago! - hit a home run and could easily have held their own at any larger university (and even some conservatories).  I'm still on cloud 9.  They worked hard, they made technical progress, they faced their own demons in the eye and they DELIVERED.   

In the midst of all of this (while concurrently preparing for my next role as a Crazy Cat Lady!), I started a new training class with the furry member of the family, Canine Nosework. This had been recommended to us as a great way of getting a smart but distractable dog to concentrate and focus better - since that pretty much describes Cooper to a tee, we decided to give it a try.  (Bear with me here - this does relate to the previous paragraphs if you read to the end!)

Nosework is different to any other dog training we've done (we did obedience and agility back in the UK, and have done some pet obedience training here).  For one thing, the DOG is in charge once you're working - instead of teaching the animal what your commands mean, you only teach one specific command: "Go find it", and then let them get on with what they would do anyway - use their smarts and their nose to find the prize (in this early stage of training, a yummy treat)!

In just two classes, I've learned a bunch of things, all of which are enormously helpful in continuing to train this Beardie teenager:

1.  Even though it sometimes feels like he's been paying no attention at all, he really has. Whenever he has been confused in this class, or unsure what to do, his first reaction is to look to me for instruction. Getting this smart, butterfly-brain boy's attention during this first year of training has been one of THE biggest challenges we've faced, so it is extremely rewarding to know that the work has paid off better than I realised.   Once he knows what he's doing, he's delighted to be independent, but sometimes he needs to be shown what to do.

2.  He's a barker; we  knew that.  But it has been extremely educational to see how often his barking is not a "demand", but because he's confused, or just plain frustrated.  Realising that makes it a lot easier to redirect his attention to something productive instead of "fight" him on it.

3.  It's just plain FUN.  What a great dog sport!  You don't need any particular skills or equipment, just a willingness to think and learn along with your dog. I'm absolutely loving it.

Interestingly, watching the dogs take the lead and seeing how they parse information is not irrelevant to teaching.  I am definitely not one of those teachers who teaches everybody the same way, or wants them to become dependent on me and my own way of singing/interpreting as some kind of "One True Path". Instead, I want to give them tools which let them make their OWN decisions, and give them the freedom to succeed no matter where their lives and voices take them. At this early stage, this is sometimes hard to get this across - particularly to a generation raised on a "teach to test" principle - and I think some students are surprised and even unsettled by how much I encourage (sometimes even push) them to think for themselves and make their own connections.  But,  if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then it sure worked this semester!

Definitely food for thought for us as teachers; while we are, for sure, there to be guides and ensure they know what's expected of them and how to achieve it (which of course sometimes necessitate specific, proscribed methods and exercises, and even "tough love" on occasion), we do them a disservice if we only teach them to "do as they're told".  Singers shouldn't be trained to be puppets who can only respond when their strings are pulled. Just like the nosework dogs.  Let them sniff out the treat for themselves - it's more fun for everybody that way, and by encouraging and observing what they do, we as teachers can learn just as much about working with them, as they do about working with themselves.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Too many divas and not enough staff....

I'm losing track of whether I'm living a double, triple, quadruple or other -ple life these days!  It's been pretty crazy - in a good way, I hasten to add, but crazy!

Last weekend was singing what may be my favorite work in the entire world: the Verdi Requiem.  I'm a fan of most of what Mr Joe Green gave us, but the Requiem is extra special (and especially for the mezzo).  The schedule this time out was very compressed and singing a massive work like this (the equivalent of a full opera, and then some!) four times in three days definitely demanded every ounce of stamina I posess,  but so worth every single moment. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

This is the third time I've been privileged to sing this extraordinary piece, and each time I've discovered new things not only in the music, but in my own singing. I've found reserves of strength, stamina, colour and nuance I didn't know I had - could anything be more satisfying than that?  I only wish I could sing it more often. I once joked that if I sang nothing but the Verdi Requiem and 3rd Lady (in Mozart's Magic Flute) for the rest of my life, I could still feel musically fulfilled, but I'm not sure it's such a joke - it really is the most immensely satisfying music to sing.

In the midst of this, the Bearded Collie Specialty was in town (a "Specialty" is a dog show which only focuses on one breed, in this case, Beardies).  Not only did we want to head up to say hello to some old friends who we hadn't seen in way too long, but our breeder had heard through the Beardie grapevine that our boy was growing into himself as a rather handsome prospect, and she wanted to see him for herself with a view to possibly showing him. 

I have never been involved in the conformation dogshow world, and this boy was always intended to join us as a family member rather than a show dog. I had no idea how he'd react to all the hubbub of a show environment; he typically gets way overexcited around other dogs and new experiences (rather than fearful - he's absurdly confident) but even though he was interested in all that was going on around him, he was clearly in his element.   I shouldn't have been surprised - he's a real little showoff when he knows he's being admired,  and you can't take him for a walk down the street without somebody stopping to ooh and ahh over him.   But seeing him "switch on" the way he did made it no surprise to learn that he is indeed full of show potential, and that she does indeed want to take him for a spin in the ring.    I'm not sure if I'm bemused or terrified to have another performer in the family (hence the title of this post) - that makes all four of us!  Heaven help us the weekend we all have conflicting performances....

In the meantime, in yet another strand of our lives it is our daughter's 14th birthday (FOURTEENTH?!?!?), and as I write this we're in the midst of a big sleepover party.  It's been several days of battening down the hatches and baking cakes, but judging by the laughter coming from next door, it was worth it.   Singing Verdi is satisfying, all right, but so is the sound of girlie giggles coming from the next room, as well as a cold wet nose bumping my arm for some attention.  Some weeks you really do get to have it all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tables Turned

(Disclaimer: Mom, I adore you, and am grateful to you for everything you've ever done to educate me to this point, and for allowing me to continue to challenge things, to learn and to grow .... even when you vigorously disagree with my opinion!)

It's been typically busy (seems like it's seldom anything else these days, with both the pros and cons which come with it!), but my parents somehow managed to find a date when we could all go and see a splendid production of Sondheim's Into the Woods together.  We all enjoyed it immensely - my husband and I have long been fans of Sondheim's work in general, and particularly this show - it was a treat to take our daughter to a top-notch performance of a work she hadn't seen before,  and even my Sondheim-resistant parents agreed that perhaps they had been hasty in describing him as "tuneless" and "not their thing" as they loved absolutely every minute of the performance as much as we did (kudos to the piece and the production!).

Inevitably, our after-show discussion wound up comparing "new musicals" to "the old days" of Golden Age Broadway musicals, G&S and other styles with which they had grown up. Absolutely valid styles, but  now separate enough to have created their own niche under the "music theater" banner,  distinguishing them from the musical and vocal directions taken by more recent shows.

Curiously, what struck me most was that my opera-afficianado mother's main objection was, almost verbatim, exactly the kind of thing that non-classical-musicians think they won't like about opera.  She said, "Sondheim is very wordy - I only enjoyed it because I'd taken the time to read the script and listen to the music first".   Interesting, huh?   Pretty much exactly what any opera newbie is advised to do.  If you know the plot and are at least passingly familiar with the music before you go, your enjoyment will be great enhanced.  Why not apply that same logic to a show, particularly one by a composer known for complex word-play and emotionally-challenging themes?

The topic of mics also came up.  She is vigorously opposed to vocal amplification, but admitted that the cast's diction and vocal presence had been exemplary. She was still put off by the mics however and (once again comparing it to those iconic mid-20th-century musicals of her youth) argued that they could "only" achieve what they did with an electronic "cheat", that it was a "copout", that "opera singers don't need it, why should any properly trained voice?"

Applied to opera, it's a fair comment - the point of opera is to sing UNamplified.  For that matter, "light opera" and Gilbert & Sullivan, too, since the sound expected is far closer to Verdi than Hammerstein.  There's no doubt that the Golden Age musicals - having grown out of the "light opera" style - were still relying on acoustic "legit" vocal production for the most part.  BUT (and I don't know the exact date - anybody who does, please comment with that info!), you can be sure that musicals written after 1980 assumed that the performers would be amplified.   It is expected within that later style.  As soon as you accept that this is merely "different" rather than "bad", it's suddenly another matter completely. It's not "wrong", just.... different.

I grew up in a very "classical music" household. Where other kids were drooling over Donny Osmond, I was being introduced to Miguel Fleta and Jussi Bjoeling; I liked the singers and the music well enough so it was no hardship (and certainly gave me a wonderful foundation for a future career!), but it does mean that my musical perspective at home was always rather one-sided! My husband, on the other hand, is the most "pan-genre" musician imaginable (he is also entirely brilliant and has probably forgotten more about music than most of us will ever know); after 20 years of broadening my horizons he's still amazed at how much outside the classical canon I don't know (it's a bit of a running joke, in fact) but, as I heard myself defending microphones and alternate musical styles, I realised just how much I really have grown. 

Listening to my mom's arguments I was forced to admit to myself that some of those biases used to be my own, too.  But with that came a flash of understanding:  none of it actually matters.  We need to see music as just... MUSIC.   There are indeed differences between genres - significant ones - but even with that, the similarities of intention are, in fact, greater than the differences of execution.  Whether it's Purcell or the Beatles, Sondheim or Stockhausen, Verdi or Lady GaGA, the point of song - be it in an opera, a musical, or on the radio - is emotional communication through the power of the human voice. It can be done in myriad ways (and we may not actually like all of them, which is ok too) but the goals are the same, really: 

Share the emotion.  Tell the story.

The rest is details.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Musical interlude

Hard at work  in rehearsals for my next show at the moment, but still found a few moments to pull out the little s95 point-and-shoot camera that I always have with me.  One of my cast-mates is also a photographer and has been doing a great job of documenting our rehearsal period more formally, but I couldn't resist taking a few quick snaps myself; it's a side of  the process that people don't always get to see even though to those of us who work in the theater it's simply a normal work environment.

One of the best things about this rehearsal space is NATURAL LIGHT.  Many rehearsal rooms are in cinder-block basements and bunkers, so to see daylight every day is a real treat. There are a lot more people in the rehearsal room than you might think:  in addition to the cast, there's the director, conductor, assistant conductor, pianist, stage manager, two assistant stage managers and, in this shot, our artistic director had also stopped by to watch for a little while.

  It's not as "hurry up and wait" as  when filming - and this director is terrific about using people's time very efficiently - but there's still a lot of hanging around when you're rehearsing.

No matter how hard we all work (and, while artistic and satisfying, rehearsing is often very real work demanding both intense mental concentration and  serious physical involvement!), NOBODY puts in more hours and effort than the repetiteur. 

No matter who is called or what section is being rehearsed, that is the person who has to be "on" all the time...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

'Scuse this interruption

This post has nothing to do with singing, parenting (2- or 4-foot), photography, or any other stated brief.

It's about paint.

You know, that stuff that people put on their walls because it's "cheap" and (as the magazines cheerfully say) "such an easy facelift!". I have friends who paint regularly. And by "regularly", I mean pretty much as often as the Pottery Barn catalog comes out, or a new colour-scheme suddenly takes their fancy.

In theory, I think this is a great idea. But the reality of it is that we are not "paint to change your mood" people. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if we're even competent homeowners.

Apparently, I completely and totally SUCK at choosing paint. When we did our renovation four years ago I went through about 15 sample pots before I found one I really liked (love, in fact). This time round, our weird variable light was complicated by a need to sometimes use the living room room for photoshoots, meaning I wanted to avoid a marked colour-cast. I also wanted it to be different enough from the dining room that they didn't just blend into each other. The rich, creamy beiges that looked so fabulous on the chip turned foundation-makeup pink or sickly-sage on our walls.

Finally, however - after a lot of paintchips (four years worth, in fact. No, seriously. The living room looked so sad next to the freshly-painted walls of the renovation, that I was determined to do something about it. FOUR YEARS AGO. We have lived for four years with paintchips on the walls, much to the amusement of my family and friends) - I landed on Benjamin Moore's Muslin, aka OC-12 or 1037. No, it isn't the rich milky-chocolate I'd love to see (IF my room weren't tiny, and IF it wasn't occasionally used as a studio). Yes, it's a neutral - boring, some might even say. BUT... it is NEUTRAL. No. Colour. Cast. It goes on beige, and stays beige. Score!

Our home is small; we love it, but we live in every square inch of it (and then some). This makes painting a furnished room more like a slider puzzle than anything else, and the Rubik's Cube involved in getting AT the walls in a small space is infuriating. The armchair went on the porch, and the dog in the yard which gave us a few more square feet to move but even so, it's been a very complicated dance to get the job done. A huge bookcase and media cabinet had to be emptied before we could even start, and the heavy pieces then had to be shifted (and let's not even mention the dust behind them!) so we could get at the walls themselves . Comments like, "Ok, after I've done this little section, I can move the sofa over and then you can slide the ladder past me to get at the bit in the corner" have been a common refrain over the last two days.

It seems to have paid off, though. Boring Beige or not, I absolutely love the results (we're not quite done, but near enough that I can see what we've got). No longer the dirty white the previous owner put up when selling, it actually looks pretty darned classy.

And I noticed that when I went to pick up the second can of paint we needed to finish the job, I found myself no longer looking at beige and tan, but at blues and purples as possible options for the bathroom and then bedroom. Apparently I need paintchips somewhere in my house for it to feel like home. Maybe this time I'll manage to pick a colour in less than four years....

Monday, January 2, 2012

And now it's 2012

I am regularly reminded by my Dad that I have taken blogging Epic Failure to a whole new level. Five months without a post? Pathetic.

I've thought long and hard about why I've found it so hard to write this year. I've half-started any number of posts (at last count, I think there are at least 6 in my "drafts" folder, and those are only the ones I actually got so far as to start writing down), but none of them seemed to gel.

Part of the logjam has been diverted attention: 2011 was unquestionably our "Year of the Puppy", and that young, fluffy bundle of energy has taken up A LOT of time. Last puppy we raised was in 1994, and we lived in the middle of nowhere in the UK, with loads of footpaths and hills at our disposal; there's no denying that doing the same thing (with the same high-energy breed!) in a US suburb has been a very different - and time consuming - experience!

It's been wonderful, though. For those who've only known me since university and, more specifically, since our return to the US the year our daughter was born, I think it's been a bit of a surprise seeing me go into full-blown animal-focused, outdoorsy action. That was something never entirely set-aside, but certainly put on the back burner in 1998, when a new baby and frantic career schedule put the other stuff on hold. But, really, this is in so many ways been a return to something that was always a focus of my life. As a teenager, at least 4/7 days a week (7/7 during holidays) were spent out at the stables training and prepping, and my weekends hubbed around my showing commitments. Sure, that was horses instead of dogs, but there are a lot of similarities, not least of which the extensive time spent outdoors.

What's most interesting about this change is how perspective shifts along with it. Any pet owner will tell you that animals are wonderfully grounding - it doesn't matter what else is going on in the world, they still want their needs met without reference to politics, recessions, or artistic merit. Given the huge shift in my professional-personal landscape in the last 2 years - there's no way around the fact that the operatic industry is at best changing, at worst crumbling away under our feet - the certain and simple needs of our furry young boy have been a welcome "fixed point in the universe".

About that artistic landscape. So hard to know what to say. I've been lucky in having a ridiculously full teaching schedule as well as continued performing work - if not as much, not booked as far ahead, and certainly with far fewer opportunities to pursue - but it's so difficult to stay upbeat and optimistic when there are clear signs things are still in flux (at best) and at times being a classical singer feels almost like being part of a species extinction. There have been bright spots - the phoenix of Lyric Opera Baltimore rising out of the ashes of the former Baltimore Opera Company - but there has also been so much terrible news in this industry as well. NYCO is in dire straits, Boston Opera and Opera Vivente both look to have closed their doors for good in the last 3 months, and there's grapevine gossip about any number of other companies which are rumoured to be facing significant financial difficulties. Not to mention the universal message to donors, audiences, and even singers that they need to pony up to ensure that other companies don't go the same route! As an "in the trenches" singer - employed and employable, but certainly not famous or well-enough established to ride out this storm like those at the very top of the profession - it's uncomfortable knowing just how precarious the situation is.

And so, another new year. I hesitate to assign any particular hopes and aspirations to 2012; I feel like these days making plans is a surefire recipe for disappointment! I suspect that 100 years from now this period will mark a transition to something new, although I'm not yet sure what that will be.... In the meantime, we press on. We continue to believe in the power of music, and the power of the human voice. There is still a song to sing, even if it may not have quite the same refrain as before.

And no matter what, there is always, always a furry mountain of unconditional love at home. Somehow, that makes everything right again.