Saturday, December 27, 2008

Random Thoughts, Random Advice

A post in which I make a very public display of my passive-aggressive-ness. Aggressive in that I am annoyed and making a point of offering advice, passive in that I am not telling anyone this directly, hoping only that stumbling across this information on an obscure farm blog will change behavior.

To Charity Groups:
We all know that the economy is not doing well. We know that the need for your services is higher than usual. My piece of advice is this: return ALL phone calls to your general voice mail, especially from someone who wants to a)Give you about half of the items on your wish list, and/or b) wants to give care packages to the people in your shelter, but needs to know how many to put together. If the person who handles this is on vacation, a short call telling the interested party this fact will make the interested caller feel better about trying to help you out. And will keep her from becoming bitter. And annoyed.

To clerks who stalk pet owners in pet stores:
-There is a fine line between helpful and annoying. If I have a newly adopted pet and you have heard that a)I have been training dogs since I was 10 and b)the dog had some unfortunate social "issues", instead of trying to (repeatedly, continually) make suggestions (use a Gentle Leader!) that are not going to help with the dog's behavior, why don't you try to talk the woman with the four pound lap dog into using something more appropriate than the huge pinch collar she has on her dog. Seriously, that would be time better spent. Did I really feel the need to use a choke collar on my dog? Yes. You can tell because I am cheap and don't like to spend money I don't absolutely have to. While clicker training is great and there are definitely advantages to it, sometimes the dog does need a correction. That's life. Again, please listen to the words that are coming out of my mouth. I know how to train dogs.

-Also, when I tell you I have trained dogs for years, do not try to get me to sign up for your beginning obedience class. It will only serve to irritate me and to convince me that you are incapable of listening. The dog that I just told you I got earlier in the day is not indicative of my training skills- she has not even spent one night at my house.

-If you try to get me to buy a Gentle Leader one more time, I will write your corporate head quarters and complain to them about the fact that you will not let me alone when I am in your store. Seriously, do you get some sort of commission just on this one item?

To Petco Specifically
It is very nice that you give a coupon book for money off of supplies to people who adopt animals from a breed rescue or the local animal shelter. However, it would be nice if you went through them occasionally to make sure the coupons haven't all expired six months or so before you handed it to the people in your store.

Also, when the people bring the book back, hoping to get one that has coupons which expire sometime in the future, make sure that your clerk can at least read at a high enough level to comprehend that just because "dog" and "cat" both have three letters, they are not, in fact, the same thing. You can give me all the coupons you want for kitty litter, but that is not going to bring me into your store.

To Farmers Market Shoppers:
In general, I love the market shoppers. There are some things about some shoppers that I would be happy to do without:

-I think it is great that people see people they haven't seen in a very long time at the market and get to catch up. However, if you decide to catch up, please do not use my table as a place to set all of your belongings, and as a place for your toddler to amuse themselves. That is not why I am at the market. I am there to sell things so I can feed my animals and pay my mortgage. You blocking my table does not do either. Please move to an unoccupied spot, or over to one of the many picnic tables provided for you.

- If you cannot use the sort of thing I am selling, do not feel compelled to come over and tell me why you cannot use soap. If you don't use soap, you are not going to be one of my customers, and there's not much I can do about it. I wonder if these same people go into ice cream stores and explain that they can't eat cold food or they will double over in pain. Uh, thanks for sharing, I guess.

-Similarly, if you have a friend who makes soap and gives you all you can use and more, there is really no need to tell me that either.

-If you are thinking of making soap, find a soap supply store that will happily give you recipes on how to make this product. Do not expect someone who is selling soap to give you their recipe- lots of research and time went into their product.

-Also, if you have children who are big fans of really ripe strawberries, please, please keep track of where they are putting their hands. Strawberry stains are very hard to remove from the fabric covering my table, and having to re-wrap soaps with stained wrappers is not fun, nor is it free.

-If you ask me if I will be here next Saturday, I (and all of the other vendors at the market) know you have no intention of actually coming back next week. There's really no need to ask us this, just because you have asked a million questions and have no intention of buying anything but feel awkward about just walking away from the booth without at least making an attempt to sound like you may be back next week to get something. We're on to you.

-If you don't think that a soap smells exactly like what you were thinking it would smell like based on the label, do feel free to let me know, and suggest what it smells like to you. After the first mention though, if you go on and on and on about the scent not matching what you were expecting, I may get somewhat annoyed. Especially if you are emphatic about it.

That is all for now on the advice front.

Random thoughts:

I seem to be unable to post comments to 98% of blogger blogs, even though I clearly have a blogger account. Many times, the letters you are supposed to type in to make sure you aren't some sort of auto-comment spider don't even show up. When they do show up, I usually have to type them in several times before the blog will post it.

Yesterday was the National Bird Count day, and I am pretty sure some memo went out to the birds. I awoke yesterday morning to find the back yard positively alive with birds, including a couple of western blue bird pairs checking out the new bird box Andy put on the post in the "lawn". Lots of finches, a woodpecker, the blue birds, ravens, gold finches, purple finches, etc all there for the counting. Last night the Great Horned owls sounded as though they were having an animated conversation about where their next nest should go, or possibly how many owlets they should aim for in 2009.

This morning, nothing. Not a single bird in view.

In flipping through a book titled "1001 Reasons to Think Positive", I was quite surprised to see that about 30% of the one sentence "reasons" started with "don't". That seems sort of negative for a book on being positive. Also, they weren't reasons to think positive, they were more how-to oriented. I would have assumed from the title that it was a book convincing you why you should be positive (i.e. lower your blood pressure, you'll be more enjoyable to be around, friends will return your phone calls, etc.), but that turns out not to be the case. I suppose this is one of the reasons you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

I would have more random thoughts, but Stella is doing the dog equivalent of hovering behind my shoulder and asking me how much longer I need before we can leave. She's been promised a nice long walk once we have a break in the weather, and since we are having a somewhat sunny day, I must get her some exercise while I can.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice Everyone!

Not only is today the shortest day of the year, it is also the official beginning of winter.That’s right- all the cold weather you thought was winter was actually autumn giving you a little seasonal appetizer. Nice, eh?

I hate cold weather, so for me the upside of this day is the knowledge that each day will bring with it a little more daylight (yay!). The downside is that I know my patience for crappy cold temperatures will run out long before the crappy cold weather does. I know, we need the cold so we’ll get a good apple crop (yes, apples need several hundred hours of very cold weather in order to be happy), and because it kills off the flies, or at least makes them slow enough to be easy targets. Rain means that soon we’ll hear the frogs in our seasonal creek every night, and the fields certainly need lots of moisture right about now. But it also means wearing 20 pounds or so of clothing every time I leave the house, taking about seven minutes to get dressed just to go out to the barn, and a very strong urge to stay under the covers where it is nice and warm for as long as I can get away with, happy to raise a white flag in the battle against gravity. These urges do not make for productive winter days.

I’m also learning that rainy days make Stella rather restless. It doesn’t seem to me that I am spending that much more time in the house when it rains, but judging from the number and volume level of the sighs emanating from the dog, I apparently am *quite* boring to hang out with when the weather is bad.

We now break for a public service announcement:

Should you, at this time of year, bring mistletoe into the house for the holidays, please keep in mind that mistletoe is in fact a parasite. It lives by sucking the life out of the trees in which you find it. Therefore, when you go to dispose of it, please place it in the trash, and do not put it in the “green” trash with the rest of the vegetative waste from your house, and do not put it in your compost pile.

If you find mistletoe growing in any of your trees, do the tree a favor, and remove it. This usually means removing the entire branch containing the mistletoe back to the main trunk of the tree as the mistletoe has set up a network of roots in the branch- if you just knock off the green part that you can see, the mistletoe will come back very easily next year. For some reason, our area, and Vacaville in general seems to have quite a mistletoe infestation afflicting our trees. One of our black walnut trees had six very large clumps of mistletoe growing in it (each one pretty much filled an entire trash can), and in the two years since I’ve gotten rid of the last of it, the black walnut has flourished with a much thicker canopy than the first few years we lived here.

Also, poinsettias are not poisonous. If you ate the leaves off of 10 plants, you might have a bit of a tummy ache, and your family might wonder about your general state of mind, but you would not die from doing so.

I know, now you will sleep easier at night. I do what I can.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Today, I was out in my workshop area, making a few batches of soap, and listening to "Car Talk" on the radio, and one of the callers was asking a question about his daughter's car. In the course of the conversation, he mentioned that his daughter lives in California, so "of course, the car never gets all that cold". I have to assume from this comment that they were talking about a car that lives somewhere south of Santa Barbara. Say, Los Angeles, or possibly San Diego.

California is not just the greater Los Angeles-San Diego metropolitan region. It is in fact, a very large state with a huge range of climates, from Death Valley in the south east to the Lost Coast (with over 100 inches of rain annually) in the north west to the Sierra Mountains lining our eastern border. When I have lived out of state, or even gone to other countries, mentioning that I am from California is almost always invites whomever I am talking with to ask if I surf. Just in case you were wondering- no. It is way too cold, Northern California beaches are about five feet wide at low tide, and sharks like to hang out just off the coast since seals and sea lions are also fond of our shores, and are quite tasty to sharks. But again, my point is, mention California to anyone who is not from 'round here, and immediately people think of LA. Since LA is one of my least favorite areas of the state, I find this rather irksome.

Anyway, I would challenge anyone who doesn't think that it gets cold in California to spend a day with me in December or January at the Davis Farmer's Market. Yesterday (and it isn't even officially winter yet- we're still in autumn until the 21st) at the market I was wearing:

-silk long underwear (this is supposed to keep you warm in the Alps, much less at sea level)
-polyester long sleeved hiking shirt
-turtle neck
-fleece shirt
-wind breaker
-thick barn jacket with Thinsulate liner
-two layers of pants
-super thick insulating socks
-hiking boots

And I was still freaking cold. I do not know if I could put on enough clothes to stay warm in the winter. Still, we have had frost for the last week every morning, and we expect early morning temperatures in the 20s in January and February.

There are some good things about winter- for one thing, the flies in the barn get slow and easier to kill, and I've dried off the girls so I spend a little less time doing chores in the morning, and quite a bit less time in the evening. Farm life is good in that it keeps you looking forward- I am always thinking about several months from now... when kids hit the ground, when show season starts, when we need to plant our next set of trees that we'll struggle to keep alive during the harsh heat spikes of the summer, etc. At least it keeps my mind off of how cold it is, and how long it takes me to get ready to go out to the barn because of the layering that is needed. I know it would look weird, but it would be sort of nice to just grow a layer of cashmere in the fall like the goats do so I didn't have to put on 20 lbs. of clothing every time I need to spend more than five minutes out side.

Oh and one more thing- as you are doing your Christmas shopping, strongly consider buying locally, from small businesses and from those of us who hand make useful gifts. Unlike shopping at a corporate store, the vast majority of the money you give local crafters stays in the local economy and doesn't go to some far away headquarters. Also, take some time to visit your local farmer's market where, even with the cold, there is still plenty of produce in season, such as: squash, persimmons, parsnips, turnips, lettuce, mandarins, oranges, lemons, boc choi, apples (near the end of the apple season, but still quite a few varieties available), peas, green beans, chestnuts, and of course, almonds. We have had several very good salads recently with the lettuce from our garden, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that the pea plants produce soon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


See? I told you she was cute.

I decided years ago that if/when we added a canine to the farm that a Border Collie would be perfect, and that a perfect name for that dog would be Stella. I have no idea why- just sounded like a name I would like using for many years.

Also, there was already cinematic evidence that Stella sounds good when being yelled. After listening to the neighbors yell various dog names over the years, this seemed to be an important element of the dog's name.

Anyway, the rescue people asked me if I had thought about a name for our soon to be addition, I said I had been thinking of Stella-- at that moment Stella's head jerked up and she looked right at me as if to say, how did you know? So, that name stuck.

We of course cannot know for sure what Stella's life was like before she was found wandering around Calusa, with what the shelter people figured was her sister. My guess, based on her behavior, is that she and her sister were owned by a young man who lived with an older woman (this is based on the way she reacts especially positively to men of a certain age, and how much more negatively she reacts to women of a certain age). She gets very playful around 6pm, which I would guess means that said young man would play with the dogs when he got home from his job. With the way she fears brushes, and the be-socked feet of my mother-in-law, I would guess these were used against Stella.

Anyway, we started on clicker training today and it seems to be going pretty well, although she does get so excited about getting her reward when she is retrieving that she tends to drop whatever is in her mouth in anticipation of getting her reward when she is only half way to me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


So, I thought I would next post about summer, the AGS National show and our first Linear Appraisal. This is the time of year when I am extra busy with the business and with trying to get the does bred for spring and have composed many posts in my head, but have not gotten them up on the blog.

But, I am pretty excited about the newest addition to the farm. Thanks to the good folks at Northern California Border Collie Rescue, we have our very own eight-month old(ish) puppy now learning the ropes on the farm. For some reason, Blogger won't let me upload her picture, but trust me, she is cute. She is a smooth coated, black and white girl, on the smaller side of the size spectrum at only 32 pounds as of yesterday.

She likes:
Green lamb toy
Penut Butter
Chickens (a little too much)
Alfalfa stems

She Dislikes:
Most women (unless they *really* like dogs)
Retrieving citrus fruit

In the last three weeks she has learned:
Leave It
Not for Dogs
Come (about 90% reliable)
Go potty
Take it
That'll do (about 70% reliable)

I have to say, I was quite surprised by the fear of women thing. She even barks at the television when a woman is on giving the news of the day. We are working to socialize her so she will be better about this "issue", but the vet told us that the more into live stock border collies tend to be, the less social they are. The first ten days or so that she was here, it was like I had adopted a Secret Service agent instead of a dog. I could not even go from one side of the kitchen to the other with out her following me the few steps. She is starting to figure out that she doesn't have to keep her eye on me quite so closely, but definitely likes to stay in the same room.

As she is getting more comfortable here, her herding instincts are bubbling to the surface. She has started exhibiting some of the "eye" that border collies are known for, and is dropping to the ground on her own at least once a session when we are up with the bucks. She is really eager to work every day when we go out to do chores, she is very eager to get out and try to get the animals to move. The mature does have given her a few good hits, and Stella is a bit intimidated by them. Last night, Sky Lupine decided to turn the tables on Stella, running her out of the feeding area of the barn and confining her to about a five foot wide space. Forget Babe- the pig who could herd sheep-- I apparently have a goat who can herd dogs! In a way, I actually find the doe aggression towards dogs somewhat of a relief- if one of our llamas falls asleep on the job, at least I know I have a few does who will take a stand against the coyotes or stray dogs that may get into our pasture.

It is really neat to see Stella working- just how strong her instincts are, and that any time we go for a walk and she sees sheep (more common than goats along the roads we walk on), her whole attitude changes, she's focused, and ready to round those critters up. We haven't seen any evidence of her wanting to herd anything other than small ruminents, but she is still young.