Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Training Continues

I can almost read her mind.
Staying home all day is sooooo boring and the only thing to do is mess with the cats but I'm not allowed! Seriously?

Otherwise, Chase is adapting well to home life. She gets loads of attention, both positive and negative, but not owie negative (though sometimes she gets scared.) She gets to sneak cat food. She doesn't have to share her doghouse (although she has to stay in it at night.) She can vacuum the kitchen whenever she wants. There are fun new tricks to learn, like stay, though stay is very, very confusing. But getting released from stay is the best thing ever!

Bummer, though, she's had two baths this month. Two! Humans are so weird.

I'm a little worried that she might put on some weight, now that she's not chasing cars all day. She goes out about every two hours, but not for long and she's not allowed anywhere near the road, so she doesn't get past a doggie trot in speed. I'm thinking, maybe she should get a play hour in the morning and another in the evening, right around rush hour, so she can chase cars and get some exercise. My worry is, though, that she'll go right back to bullying Brian instead of going on patrol. So we'll see. If Brian came in during that hour, that would be one thing, but Brian is afraid of the floor and won't come in.

Wish us luck! So far, so good, though it's a process, like anything else.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Learning Overload

We have Chase, our OCD Border Collie mix, inside full time now. It's a lot of fun, but man oh man, it's a lot of work, too.

Chase is a rat-killer. That's her most-useful function. In her mind, though, her most important duty was to chase cars. (Hence the name.) That's how we originally got her, actually. As far as we can understand, her previous owner wasn't too concerned about her safety and just tossed her out periodically into an unfenced yard. She chased cars all the way to our place. We returned her once, after having no contact/no interest in her for a month despite fliers, asking around, and contacting the Humane Society in case someone went looking for her there. Ultimately a friendly neighbor let us know who she belonged to, and he came and picked her up.

We got the owner's phone number and the next time she turned up, we called for over a month. He didn't even bother to answer our phone calls. After consulting the Humane Society, we learned that she was essentially abandoned at that point, so we adopted her. Incidentally, the previous owner never contacted us again, though he lives less than a quarter mile from us and certainly drives by from time to time, if not daily.

She's better off here. Trust me.

Anyway, because of residual abuse issues (like I said, she's better off here) she guarded food and was generally badly or rather un-socialized as far as other animals are concerned. The food guarding gradually improved, but she started to get more and more aggressive with the other dogs. When I came home one day and saw her savaging Brian's face, that was it. She had to be indoors, full time, crated at night and while we're away from the house (to keep the cats safe) and is under constant supervision by day.

Sometimes she doesn't need us reminding her every five seconds. Those are the good times. I love having her inside all the time, but much better when she's snuggled up on the sofa with us. When she goes into endless predator stalk mode with Huntress, or gets into the cat food, or gets incredibly snuggly (as in she has to be licking your face with her forelegs on your shoulders and her body sprawled across yours) because she becomes consumed by epic levels of insecurity, confusion and general overwhelmed-ness, that's when my DH and I get really, really weary.

We can certainly separate her from all temptation. Move the cat food, keep her isolated from the cats, etc. but we want to train her, not make it so that it's not possible for her to do anything bad or bothersome ever again. And she's learning sooo fast! She's very smart. But she's bored and there's not much for her to do around here. We have to come up with stuff. For now, it's pretty much a full time job to herd our herding dog. In the meantime, she'll be stressed out some of the time because she doesn't understand all these seemingly-arbitrary rules, we'll be aggravated because it seems pretty obvious to us what we want of her, and the house will be in chaos. But chaos is okay sometimes. From chaos comes creativity, possibility, and a bunch of other -ity's. We'll discover new ways to interact with our 'difficult' dog, learn a bunch of stuff, and have the fun of having a dog around the house to play and cuddle with and to let us know when there's a horse in the orchard.

That's another story.

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Ode to Passion

Dr. Who takes Vincent to the Museum

This video has gone viral for so many reasons. For me it heals a wound I felt when, as a child, I learned about Van Gogh's art and a little about his life. I'm sure there's much more than what 'everyone knows'. Some of it can't be known because of the time period, lack of records, etc. Still, the popular portrayal of the man connects with a lot of people who struggle with rejection.

The questions–why did he paint, and what ultimately caused him to end his own life–go beyond one man's art and life. Every person exists with their own questions, whether they look at them or not. Why do we do the things we do, and what keeps us going? In some ways, it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh had more consciousness and control, even amid the chaos that seems to have been his life, than most people who just drift. To act, to create with purpose and will, and to struggle to live every day, is the story of humanity and is linked the survival of our species. Those that fight and strive do great things. Not necessarily memorable things. Farmers that kept their families and communities alive don't have their life's work displayed in a museum. But their success, their art (and a well-managed farm is a wonder to behold) sustained the people all around them.

When you take away the struggle, when you take away the pain, that is wonderful and good and comforting to the animal part of us that needs food, shelter, water, etc. (And, apparently, a smart phone ....) But will a person who is always in such a good place ever become strong, ever create anything of their own? Maybe. When there's no struggle to survive, no necessity to run, to hunt, to invent things, to come up with new solutions to really tough problems, what becomes of us?

The Russians sent stuff and people into space first. If that hadn't happened, would the United States Space Program have achieved what it did? And when the U.S. got really far, far ahead of everyone else, what happened to the program? It gradually dwindled. In fact, it's dwindled world wide as other massive problems needed to be addressed.

And within these problems, there are people who are suffering ... and innovating, and struggling to live day to day. While big governments move the pieces around on the chess board, somewhere there's a man who is putting all his will and all his strength into keeping himself and his family alive every single day. He's lost in a sea of humanity, unknown, uncelebrated. Maybe he writes poetry in the quiet hours, expressing himself as a form of comfort or because he has no choice. It's in his blood. No one may ever find that poetry. No one else may hear his wife sing, or watch his daughter work out a better way to defend the family from invaders, or witness an innovation developed by this man and his friends. Their work could all be crushed. And maybe it may become too much to keep on going. In dark hours, exhausted, seeing no point in going on and finding it all too unbearable, because one by one family dies all around them or because they're isolated and ignored or told they're worthless, subhuman, disgusting, tainted ... sometimes they take their own lives. Perhaps it's to escape. Perhaps it's the last bit of control they'll have before others enslave or torture them or kill them at their own pleasure.

We all die. Maybe nothing we do, be it art or endless video gaming, murder or callous bullying, makes any difference to anyone. Someday, Vincent Van Gogh's paintings will crumble completely apart. All our works, all our lives, will be forgotten. So what's the point?

Vincent, and oddly the video, explains it all. Because it all goes away in the end, it matters all the more. Every day, every breath. And those that don't have to fight for it might not realize that until it's too late. Vincent didn't realize what an impact his life and work would have. He gave up everything. Even if he'd lived longer, eventually he would have died. But every moment he lived was precious to the art world, to the spiritual world, to so many of us that the number of people who adore his work can't be counted. So many people wish that he'd lived longer, produced more work. So many people who are dying right now wish for another moment, another breath, beyond all hope, one more day in which they could do something, see something remarkable, laugh one more time, hold their loved ones close, write another page in the manuscript. So many people, watching helplessly as a beloved friend or family member is taken away from the world, wish for five more minutes.

Loads of people have those moments, those days, those opportunities but don't take them because each moment doesn't feel imperative, there's no imminent threat, and they're not driven by a passion. Those with passion, under threat of loss or destruction or no, create anyway. Those with a passion for life live with an enviable exuberance. Those who love deeply and feel unworthy of that love and grace feel blessed and never-ending gratitude. Those who recognize the fragility of peace, good weather, and a safe harbor appreciate the cup of coffee early in the morning and that precious sense of being home. The video clip doesn't just heal a tiny but elemental fragment of the wound made in the world by Vincent Van Gogh's art, suffering, and suicide. It reveals the essence of life and living, art and love, struggle, achievement, and loss.

It's all bound together in a gift we're given the moment we're born. Time. What will you do with yours?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not Quite an Edwardian Farm

It's that overwhelming time of year when farm work goes completely nuts. You'd think that with the weather changing and everything going dormant, we'd be pretty much done for the year. Time for hot chocolate and some quality writing time, right?

I wish.

Because the animals are spending more time indoors in their various barns, coops and stalls, that means more cleaning. The cooler weather means everyone is eating more, too. That means more trips to the feed store, or alternatively, setting up the barn to store extra feed in such a way that the rats can't infest and spoil it. I haven't decided which route to go, which means I have some feed in a half-assed situation that is sort of okay, and some feed that I'll have to keep running down to the feed store to re-buy every three weeks or so.

Shorter days means fewer daylight hours in which to do this stuff. It was dark at 7pm today. And when I woke at 7am, it was pretty darned dim outside. Plus, I have a long list of things I want done before spring. Remember the anti-deer fence around the vegetable garden? Didn't get finished. Now there's a new-ish plan that hopefully will be better in the long run, but there are some potential issues that have to be addressed if the plan is going to work.

I've been watching BBC's Edwardian Farm, and it's actually helped me a lot as far as trying to sort out priorities and setting things up so that they'll work more efficiently (which means less work for me in the long run.) All technology has done has taken some of the back-breaking out of the work. The work itself remains the same. And since we don't have nifty things like tractors around here (or horses, alas,) then any and all insights that might help are very welcome.

The farm on the show is both simplified and more complicated, probably to make for more interesting viewing and to make sure that a lot of history gets some stage time that it otherwise might not. After all, in the end, the show is an educational venture first and foremost. It's been doing a splendid job, and I'm learning a lot from watching. Small details jump out at me, like the depth of turned earth when they're plowing to suit various crops, and how their schedules adapt to the seasons. They take advantage of every single moment of every day. That inspires me to attempt to do the same, or at least look at how I budget my time.

For a while I used to get up early so that I could work out and have some quiet time in which to write. Now I'm thinking about getting up early to try to get some of those farm chores that just aren't getting done often enough (like cleaning and repairs) as a form of exercise and using the remaining time before work to write. Gone are the days when I could do some chores after work. Even when I work 'early' there's too little daylight left by the time I get home to do anything except maybe race around and make sure the animals are all okay.

This all means that even when I retire, I'll still have more work than I know what to do with. Typical farm life. I love it, but there are times when I think about how lovely it would be to sleep in or have a day off. But I would miss my animals, and I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. Good work, no regrets.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Genius Thief

I got to babysit a shoplifter. Apparently, he was a bad-ass and had done prison time (he'd recently turned 18) though he repeatedly asked if he could call his mother, and was quite concerned about whether or not he would be put under arrest.

The thing is, he was already under arrest. This was difficult for him to understand, though it was explained to him several times.

There were a lot of things he found difficult to understand.

For example, he didn't think he was a thief. When our loss prevention guy pointed out that he'd stolen stuff, and that, by definition, makes him a thief, he tried to wheedle around it saying that he's not only a thief. I didn't want to ruffle his little baby feathers, but it did sort of beg the question as far as what else he might be. Fashion model? I think not.

When asked why he stole, he replied that he wanted to go fishing. Okay, then.

When asked if he had money to pay for stuff, he said he had a dollar. (He took about twenty dollars worth of stuff.) He said he intended to pay for one of the items. It was worth more than a dollar. Hmm. He wanted to know if he could just pay for the stuff and leave. No, he couldn't, but out of curiosity, how would he pay for it? He would ask his friend for money. Did his friend have money, he was asked? He hung his head and mumbled no, his friend didn't have money either.

I realized then that I was in the presence of a mastermind criminal.

When asked what he did prison time for, he said that someone's uncle was on the property being scary and that he'd threatened him with a gun to get him to leave. When asked what kind of gun, he paused for a very long time, and finally came up with an airsoft gun. I guess it's possible that this may have actually happened. He was seventeen at the time and said he did three months. And he wasn't afraid of jail, he said, just prison.

He did look like a very, very sad kitty when the officer arrived and put him in cuffs.

So there you have it. A typical criminal, who now has an arrest and citation on his record, should he ever seek employment beyond fishing, which seems unlikely but hey, he may want some sort of job someday. Eventually. Maybe.

I felt a little bad for him, but you know, it's all about choices. Children take things that don't belong to them because they aren't socialized, and when they can't have what they want right now they kick and scream and put up a fuss or sneak it later. Adults recognize things like ownership, community, responsibility ... and these things are awesome, wonderful things. To a thief they're things that get in the way of immediate gratification, and are stupid. But an adult sees that:

With ownership, I can keep and take care of things. With no agreement of ownership, anyone can take anything and there's no point in taking care of stuff, having nice things, or even assurance of some safety within the home. In fact, the concept of home is fragile and one of the things that thieves destroy is a sense of personal space and haven. Thieves are, of course, outraged and upset when people break into their homes and take their stuff ....

Community: awesome. People looking out for each other, watching each others' backs, helping uphold rules that make things like homes and ownership work. Having a community is core to being able to have celebrations, conducting business, and finding help with jobs that are too big or complicated to do by ourselves. Thief boy doesn't get that his mode of providing for himself relies on the existence of a community. Without it, he wouldn't have a store to steal from. He can disdain law-abiding citizens all he wants, but without them he would be taking his life into his own hands to go onto private property in a non-community, isolated area where the resident is accustomed to protecting his own property by him or herself and takes care of their own business.

Responsibility. It sounds like a drag until you realize it has two sides: the stuff you need to do, and the fact that you can do it – you are able to respond. Responsibility sounds initially like slavery, but it is in fact freedom. Responsible people have options, capability, and by accepting the requirements of society, grow to become more and more able through practice of taking responsibility. By being a responsible mother, I become a better parent. By being a responsible animal owner, I can't help but become a better livestock owner and cat lover. When you take action to fulfill your to-do list, through action and practice you become better at things like your job, and fishing, and keeping house, and managing money. If you practice. If you work at it. If you learn and grow and change and adapt. These aren't easy things to do, btw. It's easier just to grab and demand and whine and spend most of your time sleeping both literally and figuratively, like a child. Thankfully, most children instinctively learn and adapt and change. But some get stuck at one stage or another and feel that they have all the resources and knowledge required to get by. I find it odd that so many of them get stuck at a stage when they have almost no resources or knowledge that can help them provide for themselves.

Thieves tend to consider themselves smarter than us idiots who pay for stuff that's so easy to take. I doubt he ever thought through the idea that if everyone stole, there would be no place to steal from because there would be no point in having things like stores and possessions and ... anyway.

So I gazed in wonder upon the genius before me, and thanked the stars that I am a fool.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Fan Robber

Sometimes it saves my sanity to look at it all as good blogging material when customers do things that might make me crazy if I thought about it too much.

So this guy comes in wielding a fan. Not carrying, not holding. He looks like he's ready to use this fan as a weapon. He wants to get a new fan, because apparently the fan he's wielding doesn't work. (I feel safer already.) Do we have any fans?

I have a few fans, but not the kind that redistribute air. I say, no, we have no fans. I resist mentioning that we've had no fans for a month because it appears that he bought this fan when we actually had them, and therefore, he hasn't actually done this to himself. He has no receipt, no box, just the fan. We look it up. We can give him $6.99 for it, since he has no receipt. He claims he paid $12.99. I'm not unsympathetic, but he has no proof of that, so .... $6.99, is all we can offer. Sorry.

But that's not acceptable for him. He wants a fan. Again, not unsympathetic here, but we have no fans. At all. There may not be any fans in our quadrant of the universe. I don't suggest this, but it occurs to me that he should take the $6.99 and see what he can get on Amazon. Which won't help him today, but hey, at least he'll have a fan. Besides, big box arriving in the mail – who doesn't like that?

He sees a fan sitting on top of the counter. What about that fan? he asks. Sorry, we can't trade for that fan. That fan is for store use. 

Well, you owe me a fan. Technically, yes, but that fan belongs to someone. We can't just give you someone else's fan. I'm afraid all we can offer you is a refund.

This is where he crosses into jerk territory. I don't care. I want that fan. We can't give that fan to you, my boss explains again. Someone else paid for it. It isn't our fan to give you. 

He sees another fan. What about that fan?

I can imagine S.'s expression if we gave this guy her fan. Sorry, but we can't give you that fan either. That belongs to someone. It's bought and paid for.

What about that fan?

Now everyone is losing their patience. Sir, that fan is also owned by an employee, who bought and paid for it with their own money, just like all the other fans you see at the registers. We can't give you that fan. There are no fans available in this store at all. All we can offer you, without a receipt, is $6.99. 

He stormed out with his fan. I felt badly for him, and yet ... was he really suggesting that we just take K.'s or S.'s or A.'s fan? I suppose we could reimburse them, but then they'd have no fan, and as I mentioned earlier, there are no fans to be had anywhere nearby. I know he wants a fan very badly, and the store does owe him a fan, but that doesn't justify stealing someone else's fan, though he probably didn't see it that way. After all, we owe him a fan.

If I was a mean person, I might have taken a sheet of paper and folded him a fan (for free!) but I let him go with his weapon fan and sincerely hoped he found a better solution than demanding other people's property. Maybe he didn't truly understand. Or maybe he didn't distinguish between the store and the employees, who work together but are in fact separate things with separate budgets and separate forms of existence.*

Or maybe, he just didn't care.

* I've even heard that employees have families and get to go home and stuff, and that they can take their personal possessions, like purses and shoes and even fans, home with them if they want. Crazy, I know!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thinking Ahead More Than Two Seconds

Okay, people. You've made me cranky again. Not you, my devoted readers, but those other people who drive me crazy sometimes, despite my best efforts to be kind, understanding, compassionate, etc.

I was at the Warehouse Store Which Shall Not Be Invoked (okay, maybe I will. It's Costco) putting my stuff into the trunk of my car, minding my own business. The folks in the neighboring car seemed unable to mind theirs, however. I put stuff from the cart into reusable bags, since they didn't give me a box. Didn't even offer, but that's okay. The last thing I need is one more box to burn. He noticed that I loaded slippers, and said, "Slippers. It's ninety degree weather."


Can some people not think ahead for more than two seconds? Seriously. It's September. Guess what? In two months it's going to get cold, if it even takes that long. Three months and we're starting to get uncomfortably chilly. Four months and it's going to be sixty-mile-an-hour gusts, snow and ice, wind chill down below zero F and guess what? You will not find a single slipper at Costco then.

I see this at my store all the time. The intelligent people see fans in March and go oh, hmm. Is my fan still working? And they go home and dig it out and test it and lo and behold! It doesn't work. And they deal with it the following week by picking up a new fan. Meanwhile, the grasshopper people go, hey, look at the idiots buying fans in March. It's cold out there! And the first hot day in July they run to the store, looking for a fan, and complain about the lack of selection. Or worse, they show up on the first 100+F degree day, looking for a fan, and there are none to be found. What about swimming pools? Sold out. Swimming pool toys? Got some divers and squirt guns, nothing else. Goggles? Gone. Flip flops? Do you wear size 4?

They are so used to getting exactly what they want exactly when they want, they have no idea what to do with places like Costco and my store where there isn't room to store the entire universe, and even if there was, the warehouses and distributors don't have the room to have it either. Yes, they keep pushing the seasons earlier and earlier. It's supply and demand. Manufacturers produce only so much stuff. Buyers buy them as soon as manufacturers offer them for sale, before they're sold out. They don't want to hold them in their warehouses because that costs money, so they ship it out and buy the next thing available. This will never change.

This will never change.

Those who wait, be it the customer, the store, or the distributor, will not get what they need. They might get the dregs if they're lucky.

Our ancestors grew up with this concept thoroughly ingrained. InGRAINed. If they didn't store grain over the winter, they starved. They couldn't go pick it up at the store. If they needed a coat for winter, they made it during the summer because they couldn't buy it in winter. They had to make it.

Even the super-huge massive stores like Walmart often don't carry everything year-round. Sometimes, due to the manufacturing and distribution schedules, it simply isn't available. And even if it is available, who is to say that you could battle your way through the ice and snow to get to it? I wonder how many awful wrecks would be avoided if people didn't rush to the stores after the snow has already started to fall to buy necessities that they could have stocked up on in, you know, October.

Or September.

So, ignoramuses of the universe, take heed. If you have slippers, fine, don't buy them in September (which to me doesn't seem unreasonably early anyway.) But don't come crying to me if you can't get nice ones for a decent price in January. At the very least, don't make fun of me for buying mine early, when I see really nice ones for a very, very nice price.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


We built a new shed for our baby boy goaties! The days are growing shorter, which means young goat hearts are turning to thoughts of love. The baby girls are much to young to be mommies, so we had to separate our buckling, Thurston, from the others. Goats don't do well alone, so Gilligan, the wether we got at the same time as Thurston, will be keeping him company. And although goats are very hardy, they still need things like shelter, a source of fresh water, a small daily ration of grain, salts, baking soda, hoof trimming, stable spray when the flies get too bad, lice control, and daily health checks.

All the goats share a fence line, so they can still see each other and graze close together provided both groups are willing. In January we'll be able to put them all together again. In the meantime, every few hours or so, Gilligan and Thurston realize they're 'alone' and bawl. That usually gets the girls bawling back at them. I've had some short nights as a result.

There's one huge bonus to isolating two goats in the lower pasture. Thurston and Gilligan have been spending most of their time eating blackberries. They've really done a good job getting the brush down in a very short time. That whole section was starting to overgrow, and now it's reasonable again. I can foresee a day when the lower pasture is all grass like the upper pasture, and another large patch of this invasive weed will be eradicated. Yay!

In other news, we have at least three feral kittens living in and near the barn, and we're officially on chick watch, as it's getting close to time for some eggs to hatch. We just got a good tip about feed from our neighbors which will help our hatch-through considerably. Sadly, it may be too late for this group, but we're keeping our fingers crossed.

Stay tuned: we're going to try to trap the kittens so that they can be taken to the vet for shots, spaying/neutering, and a general health check. This is the plan, but they're sly little cuties and we may not be able to catch them. Wish us, and the kittens, luck.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Garden and Two Spiders

A couple of things about spiders ....

I'm an arachnophobe. It took decades for me to be able to be around them whilst remaining somewhat rational. I was even afraid of killing them. I'm generally averse to killing things just because I don't like them or because I'm afraid of them, but I was also so physically revolted and terrified of them that their deaths and dead bodies were just as bad as the living things.

Years later, through education and working on being around them and observing, I'm now able to garden with them. It's not easy. They have to be 'my' spiders, the spiders that live outside in my garden and who generally leave me alone and if they happened to hitch a ride on me by accident, they're as eager to get away from me as I am to have them off of me.

I want to mention a couple in particular today.

The first is the so-called common garden spider, which I've found to be somewhat uncommon in my area.

I love these spiders. They're huge, which makes them somewhat easy to spot (so I can keep my distance) and they tend to make their webs in or around very tall grass, at least in my garden, so they've never once (so far) stretched their webs across one of my paths and nailed me in the face.

They're also artists. They weave something down the middle of their orb web to look like something an insect might want to land on, or that at least blends in a bit with the wheat and other grasses they prefer.

The other kind, although I garden with them side-by-side all the time (not by choice, they're extremely profuse) I'm not so fond of. They lurk on pale flowers and kill bees. Now, if it was a bee here and a bee there, I wouldn't mind so much. But these are first-rate bee killers, and they don't seem to have an off switch. I've seen one kill a bee when it had several dead ones already, and I can't imagine a spider that size needing that much food. But, what do I know? Maybe they lay a single egg on each one or something like that. I call them white crab spiders, but I'm not sure what they're really called. This time of year most of the ones I found were tiny. In spring, when I have my first flush of rose blossoms, they're all over the white roses, and the cream and apricot ones, and they also lurk near the pale pollen on my giant tree peonies.

I won't go on an active campaign to destroy them all, but I also don't care for them and given half of an excuse to mush one, I will. I also snip flowers that are the least bit faded that have them on them and put them in the compost. I'm sure that doesn't do much to them, but maybe, on their way to find a new pale flower, they'll be eaten by the heaps of jumping spiders and other hunting-style spiders that roam through the grass.

Happy gardening!