Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bad, bad news

Elvis went into insulin shock tonight, and I couldn't save him despite my best efforts. He died around 10 p.m. I'm too upset to write more.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More on Elvis, and Knitting for Dummies

The good news is that Elvis actually drank some water on his own yesterday, so maybe the IV fluids are making him feel a bit better. The bad news is that he slept very soundly in bed with me last night, and I woke up, shall we say, a bit soaked. Apparently all those fluids were moving right on through, whether Elvis was with it enough to get up and visit the litterbox or not. Oh well, the bed needed changing anyway.

Today he actually sniffed at some canned food. Yes, that's cause for celebration since up till now he hasn't even wanted to look at it. So we're muddling along. I can tell you that sitting in the bathroom for 45+ minutes is boring and uncomfortable, but unlike with subQ fluids, you just can't run IV fluids in all that fast. The upside to Elvis' illness is that he's willing to lie there quietly while we drip, drip, drip. The downside? The fact that he's willing to just lie there quietly, which means he's not feeling well enough to protest the indignity of it all.

I imagine tonight I'll just pile some towels between him and me. His temp is low so I have to keep him warm somehow, and in bed with me is the easiest way--I considered a heating pad, but that's probably not a good idea for a cat who's leaking, and he won't stay put under a heated towel or a blanket (well, unless I am also under said blanket, which is why he's sleeping in bed with me right now, leakiness and all). Did you know that you can put the average towel in the microwave for a minute (longer risks scorching it) and heat it very nicely for things like holding cats to keep them warm while chilly fluids drip in? An interesting observation I've made, though, is that towels heated in the microwave always seem slightly moist when removed. I wonder if that means that the towels that seem dry really aren't? Well, my brain isn't up for that exercise today, so as long as I don't scorch towels or burn the house down, I don't think I'll worry about hidden moisture....

On other medical updates, Lark seems all better. I worked her Sunday for a long time and the injury didn't reopen and start bleeding, so I think we're in the clear there. Willow is still on strict rest, and is using her leg formerly known as "the good back leg" some, but not enough to make me really happy. But since she is getting around and her injury isn't life threatening, she's just got to wait in line till we can get Elvis straightened out (I hope). She's not happy not being allowed to go on walks with us, but that's just the way it has to be.

Jen, on the other hand, is indeed a cute little dog, but it turns out that she's also Chupacabra, Jr. (for those of you familiar with that nickname and the story behind it for Mary's Roxy). Yep, Jen likes to chase chickens. And Jen also ignores any yelling coming from the house when the chase is on. I had some vague suspicions, but things were confirmed yesterday when I got back from walking the dogs and left everyone outside while I went into the computer room. First Jen tried the gate she had crawled under once before in order to harass the ram and his wether buddy (another fun Jen adventure at Willow's Rest), but my knocking on the window made her think better of it. Then she spied a couple of chickens and the chase was on. No amount of yelling worked, so I ran to pull on some shoes (now you know why I prefer pull ons to lace ups) and I tore outside screaming like a good fishwife would. The first thing I see is Jen proudly trotting toward me with a Dominique hen in her mouth, but she quickly realized that in my book a hen in the mouth was no cause for doggy pride. She dropped the hen, who ran off, and then started Julie evasion tactics, while also trying to spit out a mouthful of feathers. No dummy she! She had quickly figured out that I was NOT A HAPPY HUMAN, and one that she should probably stay away from at all costs. By the time I managed to catch her I couldn't really do anything about the chicken incident, so instead I put her on a leash and walked her out in the barnyard amongst the chickens and dared her to even look at one. Jen's smart and she wasn't about to look at a chicken even if one had landed on her head! I checked the stall that night and all four Dominiques were there, one with a slightly disheveled look. Jen for now is allowed freedom outside only after dark when the chickens are already roosting for the night. If she were a permanent resident here, I'd work on a "don't even think about the chickens" boot camp program, but since she's going back home tomorrow, it makes more sense to just limit her access (because I seem to already have enough on my plate when it comes to the animals).

So much for a relaxing holiday, huh?

Knitting--How Hard Can It Be?
Oh, and I promised an update on the knitting. Well, not an update really, since this is a new craft I'm taking up, but last night I went over to Tony and Mary's for dinner and afterward Mary grabbed some needles and yarn and got me started on the simplest thing possible, a scarf. Yep, knitting a scarf is pretty easy, but give me a few glasses of wine while I'm knitting and see just how creative I can get. We cast on something like 25 stitches. A little later, Mary noticed that my scarf seemed to be getting wider, so she counted stitches. I don't remember the exact number, but it was in the low or mid 30s. Yep, I was just adding stitches as I went. Pretty creative, huh? And you know how I'm generally pretty anal about stuff, but I told Mary that this was part of the charm of something handmade--the imperfections (I thought it was a good excuse anyway). I think I figured out what I was doing wrong, and once we add tassles to the ends, no one will notice that one end is just a bit narrower than the other anyway. I think Mary got a kick out of me and my knitting, but hey, you gotta start somewhere! All the other craft type stuff I have requires complete concentration, which means I don't have as much time for it. If I can become proficient at knitting, everyone assures me that I can knit and do something else, say, watch dog trial or a TV program. I like the idea of projects I can work on while also doing something else. So as soon as I finish my scarf, I'm going go try my hand at making a hat, one that's long enough to keep my ears covered, and who knows, I may even decide to try felting it when I'm done knitting it. Anyway, that's the story of my beginner's knitting. After all, Laura has already knitted two scarves, not to mention all the lanyards she's made, so I really do need to get on the stick if I don't want to be left in the dust of everyone else's craftiness!

Reading Corner
I realized I haven't updated anyone on what I've been reading lately. Right now I'm plowing through two books, one nonfiction and one fiction. The nonfiction is Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron. If you watch any of the morning news programs then you've probably seen something about this story. So far it's sweet and entertaining, about as expected.

The other book I'm reading is A Lion Among Men, by Gregory Maguire. This is the third in his series based on the Wizard of Oz story, as told from the POV of the other characters, with the whole Dorothy thing being only secondary at best to the rest of the story. So we've had a volume (Wicked) about Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and a second book, Son of a Witch about her son Liir, and now this third volume which is the story of the Cowardly Lion. Maguire is a clever writer and his stories are a fun read, and I'm enjoying this one as much as I did the first two. In fact, I liked most of his books, perhaps with the exception of Lost, and if you don't read any others, I'd recommend that you at least try Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which as you may have guessed is the Cinderella story told from the stepsister's point of view.

After starting Dewey and before starting Lion I took some time out to read Stephenie Meyers' "Twilight Saga." Such books are not normally on my reading list, but after talking with a couple of folks who had seen the movie or had teenagers who read the books, I decided to give them a try. After all Harry Potter was written for the teen set, and who didn't love Harry and friends! And while I'm confessing, I'll admit that I read the entire Redwall series after getting the various books therein for my nephew (pre- and early teen years). In fact, that same nephew is also the reason I read Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance" series (the books are great; skip Eragon the movie--bleh!). The series of four "Twilight" books are what I refer to as "brain candy"--easy to read and enjoyable, but not requiring a whole lot of effort from the reader. That's fine, though, sometimes we all need a little brain candy type reading! After reading the whole series I went to see the movie, which I also liked. This is one case where I was glad to have read the book first, though, because an awful lot was left out in the movie version, largely of necessity I'm sure, but since I had read the book I was able to fill in the blanks (and overlook some of the obvious differences). I'll probably go see the others as they come out too. If you want to read a really interesting book of fiction based on vampires and vampire lore, I'd recommend The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. It's the first book about vampires that I ever picked up (off a sale rack at the book store), that not being a genre I normally read, but the historical background, the travelogue type details, and a riveting story all made the book one I would readily recommend to others.

And I think that's about it for now.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Elvis Update (or There's More Than One Way to Torture Your Poor Old Cat)

Some of you may be wondering what's going on with Elvis. Well, quite a lot actually. It became apparent by Saturday that he wasn't doing much in the way of improving. Although the extreme swelling around his face was beginning to abate, I was beginning to have serious worries that he wasn't going to survive this. He still had copious amounts of gunk coming out of his one nostril and he sounded like he was breathing through water. All this time, I'm trying to get all sorts of stuff into him--Nutrical, water, canned cat food thinned with water so that it could be sucked up into a syringe, antibiotics--and each time I dosed him with something I could tell that I was risking choking him, or worse, aspiration. His lymph node on that side was HUGE. I started thinking that maybe the amoxicillin just wasn't doing the job. Clindamycin was the first choice antibiotic, but it messes up his GI tract so badly that we had tried to avoid it. So by Saturday night I was thinking about just switching him to the Clindamycin and seeing if it made a difference. To be safe, I e-mailed my trusted vet friend, who suggested just adding the Clindamycin on top of the amoxicillin, at least for the weekend, so that's what I did starting Saturday night.

That's where we were this morning. I think the Clindamycin had helped Elvis to improve marginally, but of course he now had diarrhea--not a great situation for a cat who is also becoming dehydrated. Since Dr. Redding isn't available at Chatham except on Wednesdays, I called Tri-County to see if could catch him there. He was off today, but I went ahead and made an appointment with them because they could get me in fairly early. (Chatham and Tri-County share some, but not all, vets between them. I go to Chatham usually because it's about 10 miles closer, but will use whichever practice as needed.)

When I showed up there, Dr. Redding just happened to have stopped in for something, and when he realized I had Elvis with me, he asked what was going on. When I got in to see Dr. Eads, Dr. Redding stopped in to consult, which was very nice of him considering it was his day off. Vets who truly care are priceless in my book (I have worked for vets who weren't so caring, so this is something that's very important to me).

Anyway, Elvis had lost another half a pound or so and was clearly dehydrated, despite my best efforts at gettig fluids into him orally. We discussed a number of options and finally settled on giving him a long-term injectable antibiotic known as Convenia (to try to avoid some of the swallowing issues he's having) and inserting a catheter so I could give him IV fluids at home. They initially wanted to keep him at the hospital for IV fluids, but I honestly believe that cats, especially, are way less stressed if they can stay in a familiar environment, and of course I am willing and able to keep an eye on him 24/7 (since he's been sleeping curled up next to me), and am willing to deal with giving fluids, etc., so that's the route we chose to take. It turns out, though, that Tri-County didn't have any Convenia on hand, so we decided to leave him on the Clavamox and just add metronidazole to cover anaerobic bacteria. Oh, and he's to continue on the Metacam for pain relief. Gah! I need a notebook and calendar to keep straight all the meds that I'm giving (an aside: I actually bought one of those seven-day, twice-a-day pill boxes for Willow so that Jimmy could easily keep Willow's meds straight when I'm out of town). Dr. Eads seemed a bit surprised when he suggested things and I'm like "I already have that at home." Yes, I am a regular veterinary pharmacy here. That's how it goes when you have a bunch of geriatrics at home (not to mention a sheep flock, which for most folks means learning to do a lot of medicating on your own since veterinary care for sheep is hard to come by--I got lucky in that Dr. Redding and his wife used to raise sheep, so he is familiar and willing to help with issues I face in that regard)....

I know Dr. Eads must think I'm a few short of a load, because he mentioned something about Elvis' heart and did he have a murmur or congestive heart failure, and my response was pretty much "God, no, don't even mention a heart murmur to me!" Of course the poor man had no way of knowing that half my animals (okay, so that's a slight exaggeration) seem to have heart murmurs. For a while, it seems every time I took someone to the vet, there was a heart murmur to be had. Fortunately, Elvis' heart sounded just fine, and his lungs also sounded pretty clear, so at least I hadn't succeeded in drowing him with kindness.

Oh, and I should mention that Dr. Eads, who is pretty new to Tri-County was astounded by Elvis' lymph node. He commented that it would make the lives of vet students at NC State much easier if they could have cases like Elvis whose lymph node was so swollen as to make it very easy to distinguish from everything else (i.e., the salivary gland). Of course all I can think of is Si and how his swollen lymph nodes ended up being a death sentence. But Elvis isn't Si, and I have to hope that the course of treatment we're going with now will do the trick.

Elvis got his first round of fluids while at the hospital. Because his temperature is abnormally low (96 point something), they suggested that I lay the extra IV tubing in a bowl of warm water while giving him his fluids. Easier said than done. If I had the IV bag hanging from the towel rack so that the extra tubing could rest in warm water, it wasn't high enough for gravity to help with getting the fluids in him, and if I put it on the shower curtain rod (which from past experience seems to be the ideal height) and sat on the toilet (lid down, naturally!) holding Elvis there was no place to set a bowl of warm water. So I opted for the shower rod and instead microwaved a towel to make it nice and warm and wrapped Elvis in that while he was getting his fluids, for which he was very patient. I also want to note that the vet made a point of getting me the "fish flavored" metronidazole for Elvis, but of course it's a liquid that has to be given orally. All I can say is that Elvis foamed at the mouth after getting his first dose, which doesn't say much for the supposed fish flavor that was intended to mask the actual nasty taste of the stuff.

I was hoping to get away from having to get so much into him via his mouth because of course to get stuff down a cat's throat, you don't have much choice but to hold it by its head and then use a finger on your free hand to pry the jaw down and then use that same hand to dispense whatever it is you're giving. All the while, even the sickest cat (at least in Elvis' case) isn't just sitting there placidly allowing all this to happen. I felt awful (still do, actually) about doing all that when he had just had a tooth removed, had a swollen face, and a huge lymph node that had to make swallowing painful. Imagine being held essentially by your face--pretty much on the spot where an infected tooth was just removed--while having various noxious substances shoved into your mouth. Nothing like torturing your cat trying to make him feel better....

Anyway, that's where we are right now. I have to go give him his next round of fluids, so I'll end this here and tell you about tonight's adventures in knitting (yes, I'm learning to knit because I have so much spare time for stuff like that) another time. Hmmmm...I probably shouldn't have had all that wine with dinner.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas "Gifts"...

...the kind you can't take back or regift; the kind only your critters can give you. Elvis has been feeling puny lately and by Monday I knew a trip the vet was in order. I had to go in to work on Tuesday, so I scheduled an appointment for Wednesday, which suited me anyway, since that's the day Dr. Redding is at the office in Siler City. By Tuesday, Elvis had yellow snot (sorry, but there's not a more tasteful description I can use here) coming out of one nostril, and I knew it had to be a sinus infection, a tooth infection (yep, that same mouth that just had dental cleaning and removal of bad teeth a mere three months ago), or both. At the vet's office, he weighed in at 7.2 pounds, which means he had lost a pound since his dentistry as well. A pound might not sound like much, but when you weigh only 8 pounds to begin with, it's a huge percentage of your body weight.

Anyway, sure enough, there was an infected molar. At first Dr. Redding suggested putting him on Clindamycin for a week and then re-evaluating things, but I nixed that idea (largely because that particular antibiotic gives Elvis blowout diarrhea within just a couple of days of starting him on it--and it's the kind of blowout that even escapes a covered cat pan). I hopefully suggested that maybe we could just pull it then (we? I'm sure Dr. Redding just loves me!). Elvis hadn't eaten since Monday, so anesthesia on a full stomach was no object. And since Dr. Redding had to be in there for a while waiting for a dog that had been in a dog fight to stabilize enough to stitch him up, he agreed to go ahead and try to remove the molar. I also asked that Elvis be given some fluids, since he seemed a bit dehydrated to me. And you know, if you're going to be spending money at the vet's the day before Christmas, you may as well go all out!

So the tooth was pulled, and sure enough one of the roots led straight into his sinus, which is why the yellow gunk was coming out of his nose. I was hoping that the extraction and the antibiotics (Clavamox) would give Elvis some quick relief, but we don't seem to be that lucky. Elvis is doing his best chipmunk expression, yellow gunk is still coming from his nose, and food still holds little interest for him. And that brings us to the next part of this fun story.

I mentioned earlier that Elvis had lost right much weight. While talking to Dr. Redding about what to feed him, we decided that if it came down to it, force feeding would have to be an option. Now, Elvis is bad enough just trying to get a dropperful of antibiotics down him, so I could just imagine how much fun I'd have trying to force feed him. But I'm sure not going to let him die of starvation over an infected tooth that's no longer in his head....

So after offering him a couple of yummy things this evening, none of which he managed to do more than a tiny bit of licking at, I decided the time had come to get some food into him. Dr. Redding had said that he needs to ingest 10 percent of his body weight daily (food and water). I did the math and figured out that this meant I must get 11 oz. of food/water into Elvis each day. Gah! That's a lot! So I took out the Royal Canin kidney diet, added water, and got out my handy 60 cc (2 oz.) syringe that goes with the feeding tube intended for weak lambs. Not being overly ambitious, I didn't fill the syringe but half full. I figured I'd be lucky to get one ounce down him ayway. Not owning a smock, I donned my bathrobe. I'm no fool--I expected that I would be wearing a good part of that ounce of semi-liquid, no matter how hard I tried not to be. I also took a towel to wrap Elvis in so he couldn't claw me to shreds while I was busy trying to save his life.

Let's just say that I succeeded in getting a good part of it in him, but it wasn't easy or very pretty. I felt like I was choking him the whole time, I did indeed end up wearing some of it (or my robe did anyway), and Elvis looked much the worse for wear when I was done than he did before we started. But he got something in his belly (at least I hope it was his belly and not parts meant for other functions, like breathing), and maybe if he'd get something in there, he'd feel a bit better, which ultimately will make him want to eat more. Or not. I hope he starts trying to eat soon, because trying to get 11 oz. down him every day is not going to be pleasant for either of us. And the alternative is a hospital stay, which I'd very much like to avoid.

Are you pitying me yet? No? Well, that's okay--I'm not done. My plan this morning was to feed all the critters inside and out, and then head up to Renee's in Madison to have Christmas dinner (mid-day) with them and go check out a place for sale (25 acres) in Mayodan, just a few miles from Renee's house. When I know the dogs are going to be crated a good part of the day, I like to try to get them one good walk before I go, and today was no exception. So I opened the gate to let the slavering (the archaic meaning of the word) pack through, and they raced for the creek as they always do. The usual scene when I get to the creek is Willow standing in the water, pulling on tree roots, and Lark crouched on the bank, waiting for me to say "Go, Larky, Go!" as her signal to jump into the stream of water coming out of the culvert that carries the creek under the road. The other dogs are usually milling around, digging holes or whatever.

The first thing I noticed when I got down to the creek was that there appeared to be blood on the bank, and enough of it that I could easily see it from a good 50 feet away. Blood is never a good sign. So I walked across the driveway and called Lark to me, since the blood was exactly where she stands while waiting for my signal. Sure enough, she has either stabbed something into her foot or somehow sliced it along the top between her outside toe and its neighbor on her right foot. Great. Well, she's not limping and I don't think she'll bleed to death, so I decide to continue the walk. So off up the road we go.

Willow always follows after us, because she has to give that tree root--the one she's been fighting for months and months--a few last good tugs. So I usually just keep an eye out for her to pass on by, and soon enough she does just that. But what's up with her gait? Oh, she's walking--or should I say hobbling--on her bad hind leg, and packing the leg formerly known as "the good hind leg." Aaaahhhhh! These are not the kinds of "gifts" I would have wished for on Christmas day. But Willow has done this sort of thing before, so once again I figure I'll just go ahead and continue the walk. After all, there are still seven dogs yet uninjured, so why not give them all equal opportunity to somehow damage themselves on the walk that's turning into a bloodbath?

Amazingly, we made the rest of the circuit and back to the house with everyone else intact. I still had to pull up the three sheep I wanted to have ready for Ishmael, since he swore they'd be here today to get another sheep (you've probably already guessed that they never showed up). I put the various lame dogs in the house and decided to use Phoebe to gather the flock and bring them to the round pen. While the job wasn't done as neatly as it would have been done had I used one of my experienced dogs, it did get done in good order, and once I had given those sheep some hay and water, I went back in the house to work on Lark.

The advantage of a small dog is that I could hold her up to the kitchen sink, put her paw under the running spigot, soap it up really well, and rinse it without too much trouble. Of course, all this stuff takes time, and I was pushing up against the time I should have been leaving to make the trip to my sister's. I decided I'd finish examining/treating Lark at Renee's. I hoped that being crated for the day would help Willow with what ailed her, put the dogs up, loaded Lark in the van, along with my first aid supplies, gifts, food, etc., and took off.

At Renee's, I found Elvis' human counterpart in my nephew Jordan. It turns out that his father's health insurance is changing, and he will no longer be covered. Since he has dental coverage now, he took advantage of that to have all four wisdom teeth pulled on Tuesday. He also had the chipmunk face look going, and the poor thing can't eat much, so I guess I wasn't the only one having a not-so-merry health-issue-filled Christmas. At least in my case, the only thing that was really suffering (or soon to be suffering) is my pocketbook. I can eat (and ate plenty!), which means that life isn't all bad, right? And of course my Christmas cards with IOUs were a big hit (you know how it is when you seldom write checks and so don't realize you're out until you need to write a check, as in checks for Christmas, and of course the new checks you've ordered haven't yet arrived). Oh well, it's just more fuel to add the the fire of the "Crazy Auntie" lore....

While at Renee's, I got out the clippers and clipped the hair around Lark's wound. It looked like a puncture and a tear, but it was hard to really examine, because when I started messing with it, it started to bleed pretty heavily again. I opted to put some neosporin on it and just wrap it to apply some pressure. Lark made a big deal of the wrapped foot, refusing to put weight on it. The play for sympathy seemed to work, since she got plenty of handouts (ham only, please; none of that other so-called food).

After eating, we drove out to take a look at that farm property. It's very near a large park, so development potential around it is limited. The house itself is cute, but there is a neighboring compound that is rather unsightly. That's probably why the property was reasonably priced for 25 acres. We couldn't tell if the part of the property that's behind the tree line was open or overgrown, and the satellite image we pulled up on Google when we got back to the house was pretty unhelpful. I'm going to have to call the real estate agent and find out what that back part of the property is. It looked pretty open from what we could see through the trees, but we couldn't just get out and go look because the owners were home and probably wouldn't have appreciated several strangers poking around their property.

By the time we got back to Renee's it was getting late enough that I needed to head home if I wanted to get chores done before dark. When I got back here, I cut the bandage off Lark's foot, and it had bled quite a bit. She's still barely using it. If she's still as bad in the morning, I guess we'll be off to the vet. Merry Christmas to me!

Willow was also still pretty gimpy. But she gets a nightly dose of Previcox, so I figure I can wait with her, keep her on crate rest for a week, and give the NSAID time to do its work and then re-evaluate her. At least that way, I will have gotten another paycheck!

So my Christmas was certainly interesting. And I think I can say "'Tis better to give than recieve," because I seem to be on the receiving end of the neverending vet bill, thanks to the "gifts" my critters have bestowed on me this Christmas. Still, we're all here, and mostly in one piece, and we can count our many blessings. But, please, dogs, cats, and everyone else, could you cut me a break in the New Year?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Road Trip

Yesterday was my friend Toom Forrester's 78th birthday party (his actual birthday is December 23). Every year on the Saturday before his birthday, Tom invites a bunch of folks to his place at Mt. Pleasant Farm in Strasburg, VA, for a birthday bash, and this year was no exception. Tom's daughter Joan does the cooking, which means wonderful food, including fried oysters (yuck) and spiced steamed shrimp, and plenty of it. It's an interesting group that shows up at Tom's--his stock working friends, dressed in normal farm attire; his work friends, who certainly don't look like farmers; and his family and neighbors. All of them are nice people, and it's neat that they all come together to celebrate with one opinionated crusty old stockman and shearer. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

But it is a nearly five hour trip up there, and at times yesterday that trip was a bit harrowing. As I noted in an earlier entry, it's beginning to feel like a rain forest (or the PNW) around here, and Saturday was yet another cloudy, foggy, drizzly day. In some ways, there isn't a better time to be whiling away the time on the highway--at least I didn't have to feel sorry for myself that I was missing good dog working or chore weather, but when I got to Afton Mountain and couldn't see the yellow caution light for the turn from 250 onto the exit for 64 W until I was right on top of it, it was a bit out of my comfort zone to say the least. I had to turn onto the exit hoping that cars coming from the other direction had their lights on (some crazies didn't) and then merge onto 64 without being able to really see what was coming down the highway behind me. Thank goodness I don't have to make that trip often, because apparently fog is pretty standard fare on that part of the Blue Ridge.

I didn't want to brave all that on the return trip late at night when I was tired, so I stayed in a hotel in Winchester. It rained overnight and the van was covered in ice when I started loading back up this morning. I nearly busted my butt stepping on the icy running board to put some stuff in one of the dog crates. But of course up in that area the roads were well salted/sanded so there weren't any problems on 81 for the trip back south. I stopped back in Strasburg and had breakfast with Tom before finally getting on the road for real around 9 a.m.

Long trips are when I really enjoy things like books of tape. In fact, one book I listened to and absolutely adored on the way home from Sturgis, SD, in 2005 was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. The CD version had something like 27 CDs, which took me all the way across the country and then some. It helped a great deal that the story was wonderful, engaging, and extremely entertaining. Here's a quote from Wikipedia describing the novel: "The book is set in an alternate 19th-century Britain, during the Napoleonic Wars. The story is based on the premise of magic returning to England after hundreds of years of desuetude, and the tumultuous relationship between two magicians of the time. It incorporates historical events and people into its fictional alternate reality." So if you ever have a chance to read or listen to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I highly recommend it. If I decide to make the trip to the cattle finals in Nebraska in May, I may just listen to it again.

But back to my trip this weekend. There are parts of southern Virginia where you just can't get a good NPR station, which is my radio of choice. But last year I discovered that from somewhere south of Lynchburg, maybe around Tightsqueeze (yes, that's an actual place) to somewhere up in Amherst County I can get a all-bluegrass public radio station. I am a huge bluegrass fan, and my only complaint is that I can get the station for such a short span of the drive.

Coming home today, I really wanted to hear some Christmas music. I'm not really one for all the trappings of the holidays, but I was in the mood to entertain myself by singing along to some holiday favorites. Only I couldn't tune in a single station that was playing anything remotely related to Christmas music. (What's up with that? Everywhere else it's been all Christmas, all the time, since sometime right after Halloween.) I had already decided not to pick up the cell phone and harrass my friends, so that left digging through my CD collection for some sing-along type music.

So now it's true confession time. The CD I chose to listen to and sing along with was from a lifetime collection of John Denver. Yes, you read that right--I said John Denver. The first album (back in the dark ages when 8-track tapes and vinyl records still existed) I ever bought for myself was a John Denver album. I can't remember if it was "Back Home Again" or an earlier one, but John Denver was definitely the first artist whose music I ever wanted to own. I admit that it was an odd choice for a person of my age at the time (early-to-mid 70s or thereabouts), and I seriously doubt that any of my friends were listening to him (FYI, I got plenty of Elton John from my oldest sister, so I wasn't completely out of the mainstream), but I loved him then and I love him (his music, that is) to this day. So I spent the last couple of hours of my drive singing along with my old best friend John, and although the music wasn't exactly seasonal, it still touched a chord that resonated with all the things that are dear to me, and isn't that in some ways what this season is about?

Okay, so now that I've admitted to that, I am going to go celebrate the longest night of the year by watching yet another Sex and the City DVD (I'm closing in on the last episodes) and probably stay up way later than I should, given the packed week ahead that I'm facing. I'm looking forward to the holidays as a chance to get some dog working in, along with some much needed chores (cleaning stalls, cleaning the chicken house--you know, fun stuff like that). And maybe I can even work off some of the gastronomic excesses I've indulged in way too much lately.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eggs, Pelts

It's not what you think! No one is being pelted with eggs. But I do have eggs now--nice big brown ones.Yep, my Rhode Island Reds are finally laying (or at least finally laying in a place where I can find them). I put up some nest boxes in the ram's stall, and while they have knocked one down, they are using the other. So far, over the past two days I've gathered up eight eggs. Now I guess I need to start cooking again....

Tony, Mary, and I sent a few lambs to be butchered on Monday and we got the pelts back Tuesday. I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning trimming and salting them. Probably by the time they're ready to go it will be Christmas and Bucks County Fur Products will be closed for the holidays, so it will probably be after the 1st before we can send them off. I still have the two nice karakul pelts to send off, but figured I'd wait and send them all together. These aren't big pelts, but they'll make nice chair pads or crib pads, or, if I want to be very generous, maybe a cat bed for poor old Elvis.

ETA: I forgot to tell the best part of this story! I took my two pelts up to the old chicken house yesterday evening, stacked a bunch of pallets to make a handy "workbench" and then salted them down. There's no way you can do all that without sort of smelling like the pelts themselves (trust me, it's not pleasant). I needed more salt, so I took off to the Food Lion in Liberty. Well you know I work from home mainly, so I don't really worry about being a fashionista, and yesterday was no different. I was wearing a quite attractive get up: high-water sweat pants, coupled with pull on ankle-high rubber muck boots (hey, at least the two overlapped), which were also coated in red mud from the dirt floor of the chicken house and a much-stained sweatshirt over a beat-up t-shirt. My hair was probably looking a little wild too. I realized the picture I made, of course, but had no desire to take the time to go home and make myself presentable, so off I went, hoping that the time of day (before 5 p.m.) would save me from too much embarassment. Since I was already going to be out, I decided to stop by the local Chinese place and pick myself up some dinner. I give the folks there credit for not staring, though I'm sure they didn't much appreciate the red boot prints I left on their entrance rug. While I waited for my dinner, I scooted over to the Food Lion to pick up a bag of salt and a few other items. The place was packed! Where had all these people come from? And what were they thinking when they saw me in my lovely attire? Probably they thought I was just one more character: a piece of work who didn't know better than not to leave home like that. Oh well, at least I didn't have to worry about anyone jostling me in the busy store. Most folks gave me a wide berth....

Other than that, we're just slogging through grey, dreary days here. I don't think I've seen the sun in a week, and that's just depressing. I'd never make it in the PNW, that's for sure!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lost (or Ode to a Shepherd's Whistle)

No, I'm not talking about the TV show--I'm talking about my lost whistle. Losing a whistle may not seem like a big deal, but as with many things, we tend to get attached to specific items we own, and in the case of a whistle, sometimes it's more than just an emotional attachment. This whistle I lost was made by Dave Arnold, who is no longer making shepherd's whistles, so in one sense it was irreplaceable. I do happen to have a second, back-up Arnold whistle, but the gap is slightly different and I never liked it as much as the one I used daily. Now I don't have a choice, of course, so I'll get used to the other whistle, and presumably the dogs will too, since it doesn't have quite the same tone (thanks to the different gap) as the old one.

I know Rob Drummond has made copies of the Arnold whistle, and I even have a brass one that I bought while in Gettysburg at the 2007 sheepdog finals. But that brass whistle is a lot thicker than the stainless steel Arnolds I have and it feels really odd in my mouth. Note to anyone who gets a new whistle like that: Don't wait till a really important trial to pull it out and use it for the first time. That's what I did with that brass whistle at Edgeworth last year. Brass whistles are supposed to carry further, and Edgeworth is a big course, with a 600-yard outrun. So I grabbed the new brass whistle and walked to the post. I put it in my mouth, noticed the oddness of the feel, and then proceeded to try to "talk" to my dog with it. On my first attempt, I didnt' even get a sound! Gah! The fact that the whistle was thicker meant that I had to figure out a different way to hold my tongue against it to get the same sounds I was used to from my SS whistle. Standing at the post at a big trial is NOT the place to do that!

If I try using the replacement Arnold and find I can't live with the sound then I may try a copy from Bordercollics Anonymous--but I'll be sure to take measurements of the whistle I have to make sure that what they have is no thicker than what I'm used to.

So what happened to bring about all this angst? I honestly don't know how I lost my whistle. I wear it daily because whenever I didn't do so, there would be a situation when I needed it, so I just made it part of my daily getting-dressed routine. The other day was warm, perhaps in the 60s and I was out walking the dogs on the "back 40." On the way back down the path by the creek, I decided to remove the shirt I had on under my sweatshirt--without taking off the sweatshirt first, of course. The only thing I can fiugre is that my lanyard got caught up in the undershirt and was pulled off along with the shirt. Only I have been over that section of the path repeatedly, and even the path I take around the pasture all the way back to the house and have seen no sign of my beloved Arnold whistle. It's hard to see a well-worn braided leather lanyard among the dirt, grass, and leaves, and at first I thought the SS whistle would stand out, but it's amazing how many leaves have a silverish cast to them as well.

I even went through my hamper and all the clothes I had on that day in case it might have gotten caught up in my clothing, but no joy there either.

I haven't given up all hope of finding it, but it's looking pretty dim right now. And in case you're wondering "Why all the fuss about a simple stainless steel shepherd's whistle?" well I guess it's like any other superstitious sort of thing--I've been using that same whistle for close to 8 years now. It's like a part of me, along with my training stick that was splintered in the middle early on by someone sorting at a gate and then taped back up with green tape. I have a lovely handmade crook and I have other whistles, but none can replace the "magic" of the whistle I lost or the stick with the green tape on it. Just as people in other sports have particular items of clothing they must always wear when they compete,that whistle and stick were my crutches. I finally managed to give up the stick for the most part, but I never realized I'd have to give up the whistle too....

Sunday, December 14, 2008

So You Think You're a Cow Dog?

After a busy week where I got no dog working done, I crawled out of bed at the insanely early hour of 4 a.m. Saturday morning to head up to Breezy Hill Farm in Rustburg, VA, for a cattle trial. My dogs have worked cattle all of once since the last cattle trial back in May, so I wasn't expecting much, but just thought it would be fun because it is so different from sheep trialing. It's a way to let the dogs have a little more fun on a trial course where precision isn't quite so important (at least not between the obstacles), and that means you don't have to screw down so tight to ensure a good performance.

Last May Twist was not running well and I ended up pulling her from the trial and throwing Pip in instead. Poor Pip was not yet two and in over his head. I'll give him credit that he at least tried to get the calves down the field to me, but that's about all I can say about it. The other dog I ran in May was Lark. She really seemed to enjoy it, even if we didn't have stellar runs that weekend.

So fast forward to now, and I've decided to try them again. A few weeks ago, we went out to Laura's BF's place and worked his heifers. Pip got kicked in the face for hanging on to a hock, among other things. Lark, on the other hand, got out there and worked them like a pro. We had been working on getting her to settle in behind sheep and push straight in on the drive and she translated it right over to the heifers beautifully.

So on Saturday, I had entered Pip, Phoebe, and Lark, and I ran them in that order. The calves had been pastured overnight but apparently had bothered to drink water that morning and so fought the dogs to get to the pond and creek for a drink while out on the field. Pip got his calves and brought them up the field but then they decided to go for the pond and although he could get one or two of them moving, he couldn't get all three. The calves tended to have one lagger and two that would run (and this happened a lot), so if you could get two going, invariably as soon as you turned your dog on the lagger, the other two would try to make good their escape. Dog after dog fell to this problem. Anyway, when it became clear that we weren't going to get the three calves to stick together I left the post and went down to help him. Phoebe had similar luck. One calf bolted for the creek for a drink while the other two headed for the exhaust in the barn. I couldn't lose those two, so I sent Phoebe after them and left the third calf drinking, hoping it would eventually follow its mates. Phoebe did a great job preventing the two from getting to the barn and brought them on around the handler's post and past the time line. My plan was to push them over toward the pen on that side and then send Phoebe back for the lagger, who by this time had started coming on up the field to join the other two, having had its fill of water. I waited for it to get a little closer to the post, then turned Phoebe off the two and flanked her back for the one. The minute she came off the pressure on the two, one of them bolted down the field toward the set out. I flanked her out after that one, who was being followed by the second of the pair, but it pretty much just ran right over Phoebe despite all she was doing to stop it. At that point, I once again left the post to go help my poor dog....

Later it was Lark's turn. I sort of figured it would be more of the same, but Lark got behind the calves and marched them straight of the field and through the lift and fetch gates with almost no input from me. We made a nice turn around the post and I started thinking maybe we could do it. One calf tried to break back toward the barn at that point, but I flanked Lark around hard and she caught it on the face and stopped it. We started the drive away and I had to keep Lark hard to the right to keep them for bolting for the set out. But then they would turn just enough to look like they were going to miss the panels high, and so we zigged and zagged and in the end just missed making the panels. At this point, if you were in a sheep trial, you'd have to flank your dog around to the left to catch the sheep and turn them for the left hand drive. With cattle, because it doesn't matter if you cross your course, the smart thing to do was flank her on around to the right, since she was already on that side, letting her get to their heads more quickly and turn them for the cross drive. This I did, and even so, they still drifted pretty high, but we were able to catch them before the missed the cross drive panels and pushed them through on an angle, with Lark holding her side well and preventing them from getting to the stream, which flowed just past the panels. She brought them up to the Y chute, but since I forget that in a cattle trial you can move all around the chute, I wasn't able to effectively help her and so we missed the chute (if the calves break the plane of the exit of the chute, you've missed the obstacle and have to move on. That just left the pen. Again, my lack of experience with cattle trialing caught up with me, since with cattle you don't have to hold on to the rope on the gate but can move around the pen to help your dog. So I ended up making Lark do most of the work when I could have been helping her more. She paid me back though, because we got the cattle in the pen, and as I was shutting the gate I had taken my eyes off Lark and when next I looked for her, there she was behind the pen, which of course pushed the calves back out (don't I know better than to forget where my dog is when we're penning? Gah!) Anyway, Lark had gathered them back up and was proceeding to push them in a second time when time was called.

I didn't keep track of obstacles made or missed and figured we hadn't really done anything (although we were I think the only team to get the cattle in the pen--only to have Lark push them back out again!), so I was quite surprised when Roy told me he thought we had tied for first place. And sure enough we had. Lark and I lost the tie on time (that's how ties are broken in cattle trials--Roy and Chip got their calves across the time line at the turn around the post faster than Lark and I did), but still the placement in the top 20% qualified Lark for the nursery finals.

The second trial of the day was held in the arena. The arena is easier in many respects because without the wide open spaces and heavy draws in the field, the calves are a bit more inclined to stay together, making it easier to get them through the obstacles. The down side is of course that in a smaller space, if you are about to miss an obstacle, it's much more difficult to get your dog around and turn the calves in time to save it. Pip and Phoebe did pretty well in the arena--at least managing to complete the course and repen the cattle. Lark had a great run going until I had a moment of insanity at the Z chute and managed to let all three calves run past it, for no points for that obstacle. We finished the run beautifully, but that missed chute cost us the win. Instead, we tied for second and lost on time (again) to place third. That was still another point earned toward the open cattle finals. And I was just really proud of Lark. She clearly enjoys working cattle and she's so tiny that it's just fun to watch her move the behemoths around and do it easily and well.

Will we go to the cattle finals? I don't know. The sheep finals are all the way in Oregon, so even though Twist has plenty of open points to qualify and Pip is qualified in nursery (and Phoebe just needs one more top 20% placing to qualify), I just don't see myself being able to cover the time and expense to go. The cattle finals are in Nebraska, which still isn't all that close, but if I ran just in nursery, I could do the whole thing in a week (compared to three for the sheep finals). So we'll see. In practical terms, I don't keep cattle here and so my dogs rarely get to work them. I don't want to bring in cattle and feed them over the winter just so Lark has something to practice on. It might work that my neighbor just down the road would lease me some of his beef cattle, if he has a suitable place on his farm to keep them separated so I could work them. The main reason I quit cattle trialing (for the most part) is because it seemed a waste given how seldom my dogs work cattle. But if Lark is good at it, then maybe I should really try to give her the opportunity. We'll see. Tom Forrester's comment after Lark's run in the arena: "Needle Nose [his nickname for her] is hell on wheels!" Coming from Tom, that's a big compliment! (Lark is actually a granddaughter to his Pete, and although he'd never come straight out and admit it, he has a soft spot for her, even if she does have a needle nose!).

Lesson Day
Today Robin came down and gave lessons at my place. We had already scheduled lessons before the cattle trial was announced, which is why I just did the trial yesterday. We had some new folks out, who live west of here and for whom the drive to my place offered a real time savings. It's always great to meet new folks who have similar interests! Anyway, we worked on the fence and in the corner with the lamb flock to help Pip with his confidence issues coming in on sheep's heads. He loves to bit hocks (or tails), so while on the fence we mainly worked on walking up and then covering when a few sheep bolted in response to his pressure. In the corners, we had him walking up into their faces and gripping noses as needed and of course covering the sheep that broke due to the pressure. For Phoebe we worked on her lie downs. The idea is that I need to do more stop-and-go type work with her at this stage and age rather than insisting on pace--because we don't want to undermine her confidence by trying to force her to be less pushy. If I can get her comfortable stopping and nudging the sheep, then we can work on small flanks from behind and hopefully keep our drive lines straighter and have calmer work all around. As she matures, we can work on better flow, but the main thing right now is to not take her confidence away by insisting on pace. It's a lot to think about, and it will take some effort on my part, because it's not how I'm used to (or prefer to) running a dog, but it's what's best for Phoebe right now, so that's what's on our plate for the next couple of weeks. Robin will be back down for lessons in early January and we'll evaluate where we are then.

So it's been a long weekend. I had to pull up three lambs to go to the butcher tomorrow, and Mary and Tony sent two of theirs over as well. I've got them in the round pen, and I'll load them on the trailer tomorrow and then Jimmy will take them down to Chaudhry's for us. It's certainly helping to get my numbers down, which is a good thing, because if Mary and Tony decide to sell their tunis, I'll probably buy back the ewes I sold them earlier this year. They are too nice to go to slaughter and I have a better market for tunis lambs than karakul lambs so I want to try and keep equal numbers of each.

All the other critters are well, but I'm exhausted, so it's times to think about bed and work tomorrow, ugh.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Broken Back Ranch SDT and Other Stuff

The first thing I'd like to report from this weekend at Broken Back Ranch in Cowpens, SC, is that it was damn cold. I live in the south because I hate being cold (okay, so that's not the entire reason--I was born and raised in Virginia--but it would take a heckuva lot to get me to move north because I don't like being cold). So of course it was frigid this weekend. Two pairs of socks, multiple layers underneath the bib overalls, plus a heavy jacket, scarf, wool hat, and thinsulate gloves cold. I'd never last north of the Mason-Dixon line. A burn barrel would have been nice. A personal portable heater would have been awesome too. Instead we kept moving around to try to stay warm, stuck those chemical hand warmers in our socks, and drank hot drinks (thanks to the Boy Scout concession, at least on Saturday).

As for the trial itself, this was my first opportunity to run my dogs on Steve Godfrey's lovely field. The outrun was just over 400 yards for the open class, and the field was pretty straightforward, except for a swale into which dogs sent right would disappear on the outrun and of course dogs and sheep would disappear on the fetch (oh, and the former pond on the left side, ringed by trees, which is now a muck bog with two 18-foot deep spring heads--off course, naturally, and a danger to both sheep and dogs). I don't know how long the total drive was, but the cross drive was immense. And there were no real features on the field by which to judge the cross drive line, so you just had to get into your zen moment and feel that line. To save time with short daylight and 50 dogs, the fetch ended with a turn around a round bale about 150 yards from the handler's post. Right-hand drive on Saturday with a pen and then a split, and left-hand drive on Sunday with a Maltese cross in place of the pen and shed. The nursery course was a bit shorter--I had heard a 200 yard outrun, but it might have been a bit longer, since I don't think there was a hundred yards between the two handler's posts and it was difficult to judge the set out point, but it didn't appear to be 100 yards from the open set out (but I'll admit that distances can be decieving and I'm no great judge of such things). The drive was definitely shorter.

And then there were the sheep. Oh, the sheep. Such heartbreakers they were. They were texel ewes and lambs (I don't know if the rams were run, but I'd guess not). Reacting to strong draws known only to them around the field (well, we all recognized the draws to the set out and the exhaust, but apparently there were other, less obvious, draws as well). Turning on a dime if the dog overflanked by so much as a hair. Stopping to stare at dogs that went to their heads to stop them on their flights to the various draws and then testing the dog by refusing to move unless the dog was willing to walk steadily in to their faces. They were happy to run, but in close work wanted to hang onto the handler and had no compunctions about walking right over top of the human, which made penning and shedding interesting to say the least. But we all like a good challenge, don't we?

So despite the cold and some really surprising behavior out of normally steady, solid dogs, it was a great trial. I had mixed success with my dogs. Pip ran well in the first nursery run, placing third with a 73 (tie for third broken on the outwork) out of 18 dogs to get his second qualification, although his problem with not wanting to push straight from behind and instead flank to the heads--which of course stops the sheep and causes them to turn on him--resurfaced. This problem rears its head at trials, so now I have to figure out how to work on it at home, where it doesn't happen. I've discussed it with Robin and she gave me some ideas to try, so we'll see what I can do. His second run was much shakier than the first, with the stopping and starting issue looming even larger. His outwork is lovely, and his pen work is pretty good too, so we just need to figure out the driving issue. The work starts this weekend, if not sooner.

Phoebe, the dear freight train, was her usual self in the first run. She nearly crossed over on the outrun, but took a beautiful stop and redirect (huh? she actually stopped when I asked her to? there's a first!), but it pretty much went downhill from there, as she was much too pushy, wasn't listening to my flanks and in general just being a butthead. We did make it around the course, but our score of 44 was one of the lowest, not counting the retires and DQs. Ah, Phoebe, what to do with you? Her second outrun was much better, as seems to be a habit with her (run tight the first go--though not usually to the point of crossing over--and then do a nice outrun the second go round). Then she completely surprised me by taking most of the lie downs I gave her (maybe not lying down, but at least stopping or slowing down), showed a little pace when asked (okay, so "asked" may be too gentle of a term, but whatever, at least she was acting more sensible than normal), and not choosing to take her own flanks instead of the ones I was giving her. We had a really nice drive and cross drive, but at the turn back to the pen, the sheep started heading for the exhaust and Phoebe needed to take a hard away flank to stop them. Only she wanted to take the shortest route--the one that would cross her course--and go come bye. After several stops and repeated requests for that away flank, she finally gave up and did it my way. The result was a pretty wide turn at the cross drive panels, but other than that, the run was really nice and I think we ended up with a score in the low 80s (81 maybe) for a third place and her first nursery qualification (she was also tied for third and won based on her outwork). I wish I could believe she's turned a corner, but the next trial will tell I suppose. Still I was very happy with her for finally listening and doing so well on a tough nursery course.

Then there was open. Kat was the first dog I ran on Saturday. True to form she was very pushy, and oddly she didn't stop at the top any of the three times I asked her to! Usually if I get on her a bit I can get her to notch it down and pace a bit better, and we actually didn't have too bad of a run, at least until we got to the shedding ring, the shed being our usual bugaboo. As I noted, these sheep really wanted to cling to the handler and weren't concerned if you stomped at them or swung a stick in their faces or anything like that. We got to the shedding ring with a little more than 4 minutes left (of a 10 minute course), and despite my best efforts, with two failed shed attempts, the clock finally ran out, leaving us with a score of 76. This has been Kat's usual story. We have a decent run up to the shed, and if it's at all difficult we don't manage it and the lost 10 points are just enough to keep us out of the placings. This day was no exception.

Twist has been on Lixotinic on the theory that perhaps her lack of spark at trials lately is the result of borderline anemia (she has a normal red blood cell count, but it's as low as it can be and still be considered normal). Lixotinic contains iron and B vitimins and the idea is that by supplementing her we should be able to help her body produce more of the oxygen-carrying red blood cells that she needs, especially when peak performance is required. I am happy to report that her performance level was much improved this weekend. You can't make a judgement based on just one data point, but I'd say the difference in performance level was definitely noticeable.

Christine Henry had already run with Bess and scored a 97, which was going to be hard to beat. But Twist laid down a beautiful run--my cross drive zen was working and we lost just a couple of points on the drive. The sheep were a bit difficult at the pen, which cost us a point or two, and her split was lovely. I was able to call her through a small hole and even though she was well back off the sheep, trying to keep them from folding around me, she came through like lightning and held her group off nicely. We ended up with a 92 and third place. Most amazing of all was the fact that when we had completed our run, we still had nearly two minutes left on the clock. Twist is generally not a superfast dog, and combined with her very wide outrunning style, we generally get to the last element, pen or shed, with little time remaining and so require quick and precise action at that point. Having nearly two minutes left is just unheard of, especially on courses with big outruns. And I can't help but wonder if the supplement is helping.

Sunday's runs were nothing to brag about. Twist, like many other dogs, was slow to get over to the left on the fetch and put the sheep back online. Our turn around the hay bale was nice (where a lot of dogs had trouble, and consequently, really wide turns) as was our drive away. I actually had a good line going on the cross drive, but somehow at the end the sheep started to drift down as they had on every other run and I was slow on the uptake and couldn't flank Twist around fast enough to save it, so we missed the panels low. At the cross, we had one sheep that insisted on clinging to me even as the others entered the cross. I had to flank Twist behind me to try to push the one off, which of course left the other side of the cross uncovered by anyone and the sheep took the opportunity to exit the wrong leg of the cross. On the third try we finally got them all through, but by then I was getting exasperated and my exasperation was clearly being expressed in my voice. Twist is seven and I've been trialling her since she was a year old. I know how she reacts to aggravation in my voice--she gets slower and wider. And that's exactly what happened as we tried to get the sheep lined up for the second leg of the cross. The slower and wider she got, the more exasperated I got and you can guess the end result: we timed out without ever getting that second leg. I was annoyed with her at the time because she's generally very good at such obstacles, but on reflection, all I probably would have needed to do was switch from voice to whistle and I might have saved it. So really I have no one but myself to blame for our run on Sunday. We ended up with a score of 70, which left us in 16th place.

Kat ran dead last on Sunday, and boy was that a run worth waiting for! Not. She got behind them nicely, but wouldn't really take the come bye flank hard enough to get them back online. We finally did get them back at the fetch panels (just past, I should note) and I thought "Okay, we're set up to make a decent turn and we'll just try to recover from here." But Kat apparently had other plans. The sheep had been really heavy to the exhaust all day, with the result that many had really huge turns, like almost to the handler's feet and then back out to the drive panels as dog after dog failed to get around quickly on that left flank to turn the sheep back on line. Kat, taking a page out of Phoebe's book, decided that a right flank was really what needed doing, and she blew off multiple left flank whistles. Finally I yelled at her to lie down. All this time, the sheep are casually strolling toward the exhaust. It's not as if they didn't give Kat plenty of time to catch them if only she would have picked her brain back up, put it in place, and taken a left flank. So after I finally got her to lie down, with the sheep clearly in front of her downfield, she decided to take a left flank after all, back up the field. I'll admit that at that point I had actually yelled "Come bye!" but really I don't think "come bye" sounds much like "look back" and she doesn't have a look back whistle, so it's not as if she could have confused things there. But for whatever reason, she was determined that despite four sheep being maybe 50 yards in front of her and clearly the focus of all our attention up to that point, she was going back up the field for more sheep. At that point I realized she had me beat and we retired. I think she knew I wanted to choke her, but those "death to the dog" moments pass fairly quickly and we're all good now. But, really, did I wait all day in the cold for that?

And what was going on at home while I was having such fun in South Carolina? Well the Cooper's hawk was having a hey day. I had always thought that my larger chickens were relatively safe given their size. But apparently one of the Dominiques was not lucky, as Jimmy found what was left of her out in the yard on Friday. On Saturday he heard a commotion and saw one of the OEG roosters rushing the chick pen and then running back, only to rush again. When he looked out, there was the hawk, mantling his wings over one of my hens that looks like a Sebright. If you've got to kill my chickens, could you please at least take the friggin' roosters? Anyway, Jimmy was able to chase him off and save the hen. I noticed she's got one eye shut this morning, but that seems to be the worst of the damage. It looks like I'm going to have to confine chickens for a couple of weeks until the hawk gives up and goes elsewhere looking for an easy meal.

On to Cattle
So we got one day of practice on cattle a week ago and we're heading up to Roy Johnson's cattle trial on Saturday. I entered only the young dogs, so it should be interesting. Lark truly seems to enjoy working cattle. Pip and Phoebe like it too, but they seem to like it more from the standpoint of "Wheee! Hocks to bite; tails to grab," which isn't always conducive to good stockwork (or to the dog remaining intact). I want to see if Pip has the same problem on cattle that he does on sheep, and if it's apparent in our first go on cattle then I may pull him from his second run and put Twist in instead (I didn't enter Twist because I wanted to see how she performed this weekend). Of course it might all be academic as last time we really worked on just bringing all the cattle up the field, so driving them was not even a consideration. Maybe with seven months of maturity under their figurative belts, they'll manage to do a little better this time!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

I could have done all sorts of useful things today, including catching up on work for my paid job, but there's something about grey, rainy weather that just makes me want to lose myself in another world, and so about mid-morning I decided to go to a matinee. I don't often go to movies because I think they are overpriced, and I'm not so in need of instant gratification that I can't wait till it comes out on DVD and I can watch it at home nearly for free from Netflix. But today just seemed like a movie kind of day. Darci recommended Twilight, which she and her son had just seen, and someone else mentioned that they thought Australia would be good and that it had gotten good reviews, but the movie that drew me was The Secret Life of Bees. I had read the book, by Sue Monk Kidd, some time ago and had loved it. Sometimes loving a book will set you up for disappointment when it's finally interpreted as a movie, but that wasn't the case today.

I picked a great time to go--most people were out Christmas shopping and it was early, so the theater was pretty empty. I won't give away the story if you've not read the book or seen the movie, but I will say that you won't be able to help but cry (even the men in the audience were sniffling). It's a lovely story, beautifully retold for the big screen. But even the sorrow you'll feel won't dampen the ultimate triumph of this story. It's not a blockbuster, but it's a lovely little uplifting tale, and well worth the watching. If you get a chance, go see it. Better yet, read the book first.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I just have to share this because I think it's lovely. Back in August, Twist won the overall (for the weekend) open championship at the Breezy Hill Sheepdog Trial. The prize was supposed to be a chair with a painting on the back by Kay Sander, which is something Kay has done for a number of trial hosts. Kay had tried to paint chairs before the trial, but whatever new material/coating was on the chairs wreaked havoc with her paint, which would not stick. So the plan was that Kay would paint chairs after the fact, and since then she'd know who the winners were, she'd paint the winner's portraits on the chair backs. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Kay tried different brands of chair and different paints, even special ordering some paints, but nothing worked--the paint peeled off the minute it dried. So she called me on the phone and asked if there was anything else I'd like instead of a chair. Kay has also painted slates as prizes, so we discussed that, and then she mentioned that she had some canvas board and we discussed just painting a regular portrait that I could frame. Normally a painted prize would have the trial name, date, and class on it, but I told Kay I wasn't really concerned about that and we could put it on the back of the portrait if I needed a reminder. I've wanted to have Kay do some portraits for me anyway, so I sent her one of my favorite working photos of Twist, taken by Christine Henry, and she started working on it. (She is also doing a portrait of Laura's Nick, who was the overall pro-novice champion and one of my Lark, though I haven't sent her the photo yet, who was overall open ranch champion.) The other day, she sent me a photo of the work in progress. I think it's lovely, and it's certainly going to be the best prize I ever won at a dog trial! You can see the original photo she's working from at the bottom of the painting. I think it's priceless.


I went to my sister Renee's house for Thanksgiving. All her kids were home, along with Aaron's wife, Emily, and Jordan's finacee, Emily. Yep, that makes for some confusion, but it's the fun kind. I haven't seen Jesse in ages, and she's gotten quite tall--model tall. She's turned into a beautiful young woman at 13. There was enough food to feed Coxey's Army, but we managed to put a pretty good dent in it. Jordan and Emily had to leave fairly early to go to one of her relatives' house for dinner (we ate in the middle of the day) and were planning to head to Emily's family home in Georgia the next day. Later in the afternoon, we played Taboo, which was pretty fun, especially since the my team, the "Curmudgeons" (Renee and Aaron were my teammates, playing against Jesse, Sam, and Emily). I headed back home in late afternoon in time to get chores done before dark and although I was invited to Jimmy's mom's house for another Thanksgiving dinner, instead decided to take it easy and stay home.

Working Dogs

Weekends aren't complete unless I can get some good dog working in. We discovered the last time Robin was down here that the lamb flock (a group of about 19 or so) actually work really well. Usually lambs tend to be difficult to work because they are leaderless without an adult sheep and so just behave rather squirrely. So when we first worked them, I had Robin get out one of her experienced open dogs Jet, but it turned out that they worked beautifully. That gives us something in addition to the hair sheep--a little lighter and a little more difficult, without being nigh on impossible like the main ewe flock. Laura came over around 10 a.m. and between the two of us (I had started early and had already worked Twist, Kat--the maniac, and Pip before Laura got there), we got eight dogs worked before lunch. I was still working on driving--pushing straight from behind in a positive manner--with all my youngsters. With Kat, the work was on driving too, only the problem was the opposite--trying to get her to give me a little pace and not push the sheep at breakneck speed.

Last night Laura, who was farmsitting for Mary and Tony, had her BF and me over for dinner. She had made Becca's lamb and apple stew and corn muffins, and on request I brought over the candied yams I'd made for Thanksgiving. It was an excellent repast, and we topped off the evening by watching Alasdair MacRae's shedding clinic video. Laura has been working to learn to shed with Nick and is getting some good instruction from Robin, with practical dog help from Spottie. So we watched the video and got inspired. Laura noted how good the sheep were for shedding practice, and I told her that I thought we could replicate that in my flock by combining the hair sheep and the wool lambs. None of them are bad about running, and I figured the hair sheep would make good leaders to help line the whole group out and take a few lambs with them at a normal pace to enable good-sized holes to open up for us to call the youngsters through so we could work on the basic mechanics of shedding with them.

So this morning I pulled Twist out and sorted sheep, putting the ewe flock in the alleyway paddock, the lambs in the round pen, and the hair sheep out at the far end of the pasture next to the lone pine tree. This was fun work for Twist because the main flock was at the hay bale, so we gathered everyone into the round pen and then gate sorted the ewes back out. We then took them to the alley. The hair sheep and their four buddy karakul lambs were back in the woods across the ditch, so I sent Twist into the woods from the barn end of the field and she pushed them back out to where they could cross over and then brought them back down the field to me. I shed off the four lambs, but then realized that I had the hair sheep between me and the alleyway where I wanted to put the lambs, so I had Twist push the lambs up to the corner by the round pen, then take the hair sheep and push them around the corner back toward the woods, and then go gather the lambs back up and bring them to the gate at the alleyway. The hair sheep were within sight, and so presented a strong draw for the lambs, but Twist is good on the pressure for stuff like that and kept the lambs from joining the hair sheep and we got them put back in the alley.

I worked Lark for a bit on her driving and then got the lambs out of the round pen to practice what we had learned from the video last night. The whole group was good for this, as I had hoped. Lark has a hard time with the shed because she has a lot of eye and really wants to keep the two groups together, but I got her coming through pretty good. I hadn't planned to work Kat as she was a bit gimpy from overdoing it the day before, but the flock was working so well for this exercise and Kat's big weak spot is shedding, so I got her out and started calling her through. Her biggest problem is that she'll hesitate when you call on her, but today she was doing an excellent job. I shed of six or seven lambs and then had Kat push them out to the pine tree where they could work as a draw for the other sheep. I then took the rest of the sheep and put them back together, and did another shed so that I had three groups. I had Kat push the group she had control of toward the sheep under the pine and then flanked her around at the last second to prevent them from joining up. We did the same exercise coming back the other way as Kat's group tried to rejoin the group we had shed them from. I then regrouped the sheep and did several more sheds with her, concentrating on calling her through to my left hand on an away flank, since that is both of our weak spots. (I tend to prefer to call a dog through to my right hand, which means the dog is coming through on a left flank, and since I recognize that I tend to do that, I'm making a real effort to work both sides so that my dogs don't become one-sided on the shed. Kat had issues shedding when I got her, and I had the most success with a "quick and dirty" fix that had me always calling her through on a come bye flank, but of course that makes my job harder in the shedding ring as I was always having to set up the shed so that I could call her through in that direction, so that's why I decided to make sure we were also coming through on the side that was uncomfortable for both of us). I did the same sorts of drills with Pip and Phoebe. I was sure Phoebe was going to be bad about stopping and wanting to take the flank she thought I might want (or that she wanted) instead of waiting to hear what I had to say about the matter, but she was surprisingly good today and took to the shedding very nicely. Pip had a grand time, although he did get a bit overenthusiastic once or twice.

Laura stopped by and worked Nick and Spottie. Nick was less obstreperous than he had been the day before (I think some of his wildness and disobedience had to do with raging hormones as Spottie is in heat and also partly the result of working Tony and Mary's sheep, which are bad about wanting to run and so tend to "gee" a dog up). He did some really nice sheds with Laura. Spottie was looking pretty darn awesome too. When Laura was done working Spottie, I had her shed off the hair sheep and a few of the lambs and put everything else back in the round pen, so I could work Raven on a smaller number of sheep.

Raven's driving is coming along pretty good. She was pushing out in front of me about 30 yards and was taking her downs and inside flanks nicely. But when I had her bring the sheep back the other way and they got close to me, then Raven started to get confused and resistant to the inside flanks. It's like the pressure of me being close was more than she wanted to deal with and so the sheep did some curling around me while I tried to get her sorted out. Once I got her a little ways away and pushing again, then she was better with the flanks too. So we ended our session by having her push the sheep through the chute a few times as doing so required her to take her flanks with me close by, and when she did it right, she got the reward of getting to push the sheep through. She was clearly enjoying herself, especially once she figured out that when the sheep were in the chute she wasn't supposed to flank around on the outside to their heads but was supposed to follow/push them through. She had so much fun on the pushing part that the last time through, she pushed right under one of the lambs in her enthusiasm to get those sheep on through!

Hawk Surprise

So this evening when I went out to feed, I decided to put my experimental nest boxes up. I wanted to try something like milk crates hanging on the wall (the nest boxes in the chicken house are bantam-sized and won't do for the Dominques and Rhode Island Reds). The only thing I could find at WalMart were small plastic laundry baskets, about hen sized. So I nailed those on the wall near the perches in the ram's stall. I don't know how sturdy they'll be, but if the chickens show interest in using them, I'll eventually replace them with something sturdier like milk crates. Once I had gotten the baskets nailed up, I walked through the barn gate to get some laft over hay out of the ewe paddock to use as nest material. As I turned from latching the gate, I heard a rush of wings behind me. My first thought was that I had disturbed a chicken when I came through the gate, but then a Cooper's hawk flew practically right over my shoulder and alit on a tree down by the creek. I don't need to worry about my big chickens, but something got one of the roosters a few days ago (no terrible loss there, but still) and I suspect this Cooper's might be the culprit. I figured he was out of the chance for dinner tonight though, because I had a bit more to do out there and the chickens were busy getting themselves to their roosts (speeded along by Lark) so I figured he wouldn't chance an attack with me and the dogs right there.

Injured Ewe Update (and Meet Freckles)

And speaking of the ewe paddock, the ewe who injured herself by running into a gate seems pretty much back to normal. If she gets panicky, she'll act spastic, but considering I was worried she'd never walk again, I have to say that I'm very pleased with her recovery. She first stood up about five days after I started her on dexamethasone, but it was very wobbly and she wasn't terribly coordinated in the front. By the time I finished the dex (another five days), she was spending more time on her feet than not, though still not as coordinated as I'd like. Last weekend, when we all went up to Robin's, Darci brought me a katahdin cross ewe lamb who is probably bred. I had been keeping a wether in with the injured ewe and I left him in there a few days longer, but Darci had been feeding her sheep quite a bit, and given that the ewe lamb is likely pregnant, I didn't want to drop off on her feed and risk ketosis, but I also didn't need little Mr. Wether to become so fat he couldn't move, so he got booted back out to the main flock. Frackles, as Darci called her, will keep #97 company for the next month or so. According to Darci, Freckles should lamb in the next four to six weeks. By then I'm hoping she will have bonded well enough with #97 and will remember the wether lamb so that when she goes out with the flock she can be worked with the hair sheep and stick with them. #97 is looking good enough that I think she'll be able to be worked again in the future, though I may keep her just for field work and not use her in the round pen. So Freckles was really meant to be a replacement for #97 in case she didn't recover. But all looks well now. Dr. Redding said that spinal cord injuries can take 3-6 months to heal completely (back when I was talking to him about how long I should wait and treat before deciding to cull her if necessary). If I'm lucky, Freckles will give me a ram lamb (who will be at least half St. Croix) that I can then use on the rest of my hair sheep in the spring or next fall.

And I think that catches things up here for now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catching Up

Sometimes I think I have a hard time keeping up here because I write for a living and so never find the time to write for myself. A lot has happened in the past several weeks, but fortunately for anyone reading this, I'm not going to try to relate it all here now.

What's that I See Out the Window? It's Snow!
Last week we got some snow. Not much, but snow is rare enough here in the central Piedmont to make any snowfall exciting. It was already melting by the time I went out to feed, but I grabbed the camera and tried to get a few shots of the white stuff and whatever critters happened to be around.

It was probably 9 a.m. when I took this photo and you can see that the snow has already melted on the eastern side of the barn. The Rhode Island Red hen dwarfs the OEG bantams following along behind her.

Some of the karakul ewes.

Maia waiting for her breakfast.



Lark and Phoebe

Lark and Phoebe playing.

Mother and son

Farleigh has grown his coat back and is no longer the Liberty Lavender Dog. I think I'll let him stay fluffy until spring.

Working Dogs
The past two weeks has been pretty busy on the dog working front as well. Becca had surgery and asked me to keep Ted while she was recuperating, so I was up to 11 border collies here. Ted needs to get regular work, so it made sense for me to keep him since I can just walk out the door and do a little work with him. It's always fun to get a different dog in to play with.

In early November we went up to Tom Forrester's Mount Pleasant Farm trial. I ran Twist and Kat in open, Lark in ranch, and Phoebe in pro-novice. I had entered Pip, but he had hurt his toe a few days before the trial. He as lame off and on and I tried wrapping his foot really well and running him that Saturday, but it was obvious it was hurting him, so I retired him and pulled him from Sunday's line up. My dogs did reasonably well given the difficulty of the sheep and the fact that much happened over a hill where the handler couldn't see what was going on. There was some confusion here and there, like when Lark decided that an away flank was meant to be a look back and kept trying to go for the sheep in the exhaust instead of flanking toward me to turn the sheep at the drive panels for the cross drive. I couldn't get her turned back on the appropriate sheep and had to retire. The next day, her sheep escaped the exhaust after making the cross drive panels (a common theme of the weekend). The exhaust was behind a hill so the handler couldn't see what was happening there. You just had to stand and hope and wait. I waited at the pen a while and then decided she must not be bringing them and so walked away, retiring myself. As soon as I stepped away from the pen, I could see the sheep's ears coming over the hill. Oh well, too late then. The folks who could see what was going on said that Lark did a really nice job with one ewe who kept breaking back to the exhaust, covering her and pushing her back to the other two as she tried to bring them back over the hill to me. Ten or fifteen more seconds was all she needed, but of course when you can't see what's happening you have to make a decision and that's that. Still I was pleased with the work she gave me. Twist placed both days. Phoebe placed on Saturday. So all-in-all not a bad weekend.

With Dog Work Comes Good Eating
Whenever we have a get together at Robin's, it seems good food is always part and parcel of the activity. This past Saturday was no exception. Saturday was dog exchange with Becca and Christine. Darci rode up with me, and we crammed 10 dogs and their various and sundry items in the van with us. Lynn was going from Darci back to Becca. Ted was going from me to Christine for a month's training before going back to Becca. We got a bunch of dogs worked and ate Laura's wonderful chili and some chicken pie that Christine brought along. Sherry brought an amazing chocolate cake, Darci and I contributed biscuits and corn bread, and Anet contributed all sorts of chili accoutrements. Of course there were munchies too. Hey, you gotta occupy yourself somehow while awaiting your turn to work a dog!

Both Pip and Lark looked a lot better driving--staying behind the sheep and pushing on well. The exercises Robin suggested we try at home are clearly paying off with dogs who are driving with a happier and more positive attitude. Phoebe was her usual "bit in the teeth" self. If I can ever get her to listen a bit better, I think she'll turn out just fine, but for now it's like trying to keep a runaway freight train on course....

Who's a Cow Dog?
On Sunday, Tony, Mary, and I rode over to Chuck's place to work dogs on his sheep and cattle. There's a cattle trial coming up next month and since I don't have cattle here, I thought it might be beneficial to at least give the youngsters a go on Chuck's hereford heifers. They have been lightly dogged by Laura and Nick and were a good challenge for the dogs--behaving a lot like the cattle we meet at trials. Larky looked awesome. She really likes working cattle and has a sensible, direct approach with them. The same can't be said for Pip and Phoebe, who apparently have a lot of their daddy in them when it comes to working cows. They both relish the thought of grabbing hocks and heels and both got kicked for their trouble. Once again, Phoebe was more of a barely controlled freight train, but she worked the cattle reasonably well and I'll probably give her a go at Roy's.

Pip got kicked in the face and ended up with a bloodshot eye. Although it made him a bit leery of going around behind the cattle for a short while afterward, he soon was back to the antics that got him in trouble in the first place. You'd think after a good whallop to the head that you'd back off a bit, but Pip thinks that cow tails are made for swinging from (just like his daddy) and still tried a bit of that nonsense even after being hit. At least he didn't just quit, but it would be nice if he learned a little more quickly from his mistakes. I've decided to run all three youngsters at Roy's. It's really a bit much for them since it's the full open course and none of them are running at the open level, but it will be good for them I think.

I also worked Twist a little on the cattle before working anyone else and then took her over to the sheep and did a bunch of shedding with her. She's a great shedding dog and proved it again and again on these difficult-to-shed sheep. She still is missing some spark in her work. Her thyroid test came back basically normal (only abnormality was a low free T3, which apparently is insignificant).

When I had Dr. Redding check Pip's eye (all is well there) we also discussed Twist. We decided to go ahead and put her on Lixotinic to boost her iron, since she's at the extreme low end of normal for red blood cell count, and iron in the red blood cells are what carry oxygen, the lack of which could affect stamina and other work. Since we're not finding anything obvious on any of the tests we've done, this is just another "let's try it and see if it makes a change" kind of thing.

Kat was extremely pushy working sheep on Sunday. It seems that lack of regular work has made her forget things like pace, but I forgave all that when she came through on a really nice shed to both of our bad sides. (You can call a dog through into your right side or your left side, depending which what you're facing. I usually find myself calling a dog through into my right hand on a left flank out of habit, but the way things worked out, I called her into my left hand on an away flank and she did a beautiful job. That's just awesome for a dog with a shaky shed.)

Mary worked Raven and did a really nice job setting her up for outruns and doing a bit of wearing and driving. Raven worked for Mary despite both me and Laura being there (both of us have worked her). That's a good thing because I think it means that when Hilary gets her back, Raven will not try to cheat Hilary but will work for her honestly too.

The weekend before last also turned out to be a dog work filled weekend. Robin came down and met Laura and me for lunch at the Wild Onion (yum!). Since it wasn't raining as had been predicted, we went back to my place and worked dogs. That Sunday, Laura came down again and we went over to Tony's and worked dogs with him. That's the value of having friends with working dogs and sheep--even when you're not feeling like doing much, they're likely to get you out and working dogs despite yourself!

Since Laura is farm sitting for Mary and Tony for Thanksgiving, I imagine there will be plenty more dog working to be done over this weekend. We have our last sheepdog trial of the season the following weekend, so this is good prep, especially for the youngsters, whom I seriously considered pulling from nursery because of various issues we've been having. Now it's too late, and we'll just have to plow ahead (that's figuratively speaking, Phoebe!).

Big Buck and the Story of a Vegetarian
Jimmy killed a really big buck last week--it was a near-record size, probably about 250 pounds. I had Jimmy save the unwanted parts for a friend but she couldn't get over her to pick it up, so this morning instead of feeding everyone their regular breakfast I went out to the box of parts and just doled stuff out. Even the chickens got in on it. There were deer parts all over the yard.
Later I went into the fridge for something and saw a plastic container of broccoli and figured it was time to throw it out, so I tossed it on the yard for the chickens. When I looked out later, there was Farleigh, picking through the grass and munching on broccoli--with venison all around this dog chose veggies. I always knew he was a strange one....

I won't go into the details about how aromatic it is in here with all the dogs lying around with bellies full of venison.

Reading Corner
If you want to read a dog-related story that's hard to put down, get yourself a copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (HarperCollins, 2008). It's a dark story in many respects, and even when you have a good idea about what's coming and think you'd rather not know what you suspect will be, you still won't be able to turn away or put the book down. It's a gripping tale about a family that raises its own type of dog, the Sawtelle dog, and of Edgar, a boy born mute who speaks only in sign. Edgar helps raise the dogs on the family farm in Wisconsin and lives a happy childhood until the death of his father. When Edgar discovers the truth behind that death, his actions set off a chain of events that lead to the ultimate--and both expected and unexpected--conclusion to the story. This is one book that moved me emotionally in a way that much fiction doesn't. If you're not afraid of beautifully written, evocative stories that don't always turn out the way you'd like them to, then Edgar Sawtelle is definitely a book worth your time.

For a complete change of pace, the book I'm currently reading is Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation by David A. Price (Vintage Books, 2003). It's an account of the interrelationships among not only the English colonists but also with the Native Americans they first try to live in harmony with. I'll let you know what I think when I've finished it.

Oh, and for those of you who remember mention of the book I was reading before Edgar Sawtelle it was The Forger's Spell. It's another book I'd recommend as a riveting account of how art forgeries are pulled off and how one forger in particular was able to full some of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals of his time. What I came away with from this book was a sense of wonder that we are ever truly able to say "This is a Vermeer, and this is not." I'll never look at art the same way again....