Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ranger's Growing Up!

For those of you who aren't on Facebook, here's a video of Ranger taken today. It's hard to believe he will be a year old at the end of July. I am not working him more than maybe twice a week, but you can see that he's coming along pretty nicely. Thanks to Barbara Shumannfang for being videographer today.

In other news, we've finally had a break in the heat wave, though unfortunately no rain to go with it. Still it was a welcome break to have temperatures in the 80s today, and they're supposed to stay there for the rest of the week. Yahoo!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Breezy Hill Farm SDT and more

I went up to Virginia this past weekend with one of my students, who was making his trialing debut in novice-novice. The word for the weekend (well, actually, words) was hot, hot, hot. When I pulled out of the farm on Sunday afternoon at 3:30, the temperature guage on my van read 101 degrees. My student's truck recorded a temperature of 103. Either way, that's hot. Fortunately, Breezy Hill is aptly named, and for most of the weekend there was a slight breeze. I guess it helped make life less miserable than it would have been without a breeze....

Twist and Pip ran well in open, with Twist taking second on Saturday, thanks to my brain fart at the drive away panel (that's twice at two different trials now, and it's a mistake I haven't really made since I was a new open handler). Pip had a leading score on Saturday that held for quite a while, but the sheep worked a bit better later in the day, and he eventually dropped down to something like 7th. On Sunday, Twist had an unfortunate incident with the sheep racing back to the set out and splitting. Since that alone would have put us out of contention, I chose to retire rather than plug away with it as hot as it was. Pip ran next-to-last and the run before his had lost sheep to the pond. One of those sheep ran up to the corner of the pasture and hid there. In the interest of saving time, the choice was made to leave that single sheep there. Unfortunately, the cross drive was toward the pond and the baa-ing sheep, and even on a good day, the sheep tend to bolt in that direction after making or missing the drive panels. This time, they had added incentive in the shape of their buddy calling them from afar. Pip was able to catch them, but only after they had gotten to the other side of the pond, at which point the only way to bring them back was across the dam, which meant the dog had to stay directly behind the sheep and couldn't fix the line of that leg of the drive. As a result that entire drive leg was completely offline. Despite all that we stil managed to pull off a 5th place finish. The run after us had the exact same problem, only he retired because one of the sheep threatened to leap into the pond, and he didn't want that to happen. So it was an unfortunate decision that made Pip's job much more difficult, but I was proud of him for make a supreme effort in that heat and saving the run, even at the cost of a lot of points.

The real star of the weekend was Phoebe. Someone scratched from the open ranch class, so I put her in on a whim. I haven't been working her, and it has been at least 8 months, and maybe more like a year (can't remember exactly) since she's run in a trial. I was expecting the worst, but she went out and surprised me and lost just 11 points on her run to win the class. There may be hope for her yet. I'm thinking that maybe the best thing to do with her is NOT train and just trial, holding my breath, and see what happens!

The news on the job front is not good. Thanks to Congress (or at least a majority of members) deciding that those of us on unemployment are making the debt unacceptable, no more extensions will be available, because you know, we just need to get off our lazy asses and go get a job. I live in a state with the second highest unemployment rate in the country, and I have been busting my ass trying to find a job (all over the country), but apparently I'm really just a leech sucking the lifeblood from financial solvency of the United States. I want to work. I've even offered to take lower pay to the tune of one-third less than what I used to make. I've lived on unemployment--I can live on next to nothing. But even the people who pay next to nothing apparently aren't hiring. And now we hear that at least some potential employers have a policy of not even considering unemployed people, because, you know, they have no way of knowing if we are truly the victims of a bad economy or have been let go for cause. Sheesh! I'd like to let Congress know that when I have to accept food stamps and Medicaid, then I doubt I'll be costing the federal government any less than I did when I was still eligible for unemployment.

Brighter News
I am doing some freelance work, but of course it's not enough to pay the bills and I have to leave at least some time open for job hunting and applying to jobs. But it's better than nothing, and maybe potential employers will see it as me working vs. me being unemployed and not immediately toss me into the reject pile for the latter sin.

And even more good news: After her illness/liver problems and coming off chemotherapy, I decided to stop treating Willow for her mast cell cancer. I weighed the pros and cons of what I had been doing, and after talking to my regular vet decided that it made more sense to deal with the cancer from a palliative standpoint, given Willow's age (she just turned 13), her heart condition, and my financial status. She had recently developed another tumor on the back of her leg, which I had gotten my regular vet to check out. It was big enough--and angry enough looking--that I could see it when she walked in front of me. Fast forward approximately 6 weeks, and suddenly I stop noticing it. So I gave her a closer examination, and the tumor had shrunk dramatically. I rolled her over to check the tumor on her inner thigh, and it too had shrunk significantly--almost completely gone. So I had to take Lark and Kat in for rabies vaccines last week and decided to take Willow along to show my vet what was going on so he could make a note in her record. He tempered his comments with the caveat that he is not an oncologist and that most tumors he deals with are in horses, but said it appeared to him that Willow's immune system finally kicked in and was attacking the tumors. He said that if they continued to shrink and stayed that way for 6 months it was entirely possible that they wouldn't come back. So keep your fingers, toes, and any other relevant body parts crossed that Willow's immune system has indeed awakened and decided to do battle with her mast cell tumors and that they will go away and stay gone.

Everyone Else
All other critters are pretty much just chugging along. I worry about everyone (outside) in the heat. I'm running the a/c with the thermostat on 85 and still the unit seems to run most of the time. I don't even want to think about the next couple of electric bills. But so far the sheep and chickens are weathering the scorching heat and the weatherman is saying that we're to get a break mid-week, with temps dropping back to the mid-80s. I sure hope so.

Now I need to go refill waterers--it disappears fast!--and get everyone fed. We sure could use some rain. All the extra we got this spring has long disappeared, and this intense heat is just scorching the pastures. Sigh.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

NC State Championship Trial Update

No, this blog isn't dead. We've just had something of a hiatus while I concentrated on job hunting, lambing, and other stuff. The lambs were all born, but sad to say I still haven't found a job. I'm doing a little freelance work here and there, but unemployment rules make it difficult to actually take such jobs. I'll discuss that in another blog entry, though, as this one is meant to be a brag on Pip and Twist.

(Photo by Dan King)
(Photo by Michelle Dobbs)

Thanks to unemployment, I haven't been trialing much this year. Dr. Ben's trial is only the second trial we've attended in 2010, and the first one, Sherry Smith's up in Church Hill, MD, we ran in because we were there setting sheep. But despite the fact that we haven't been trialing much (or maybe as a result of it), we had a pretty good showing this past Memorial Day weekend.

I was asked why I wasn't running Kat: Don't worry, Kat is by no means retired. It just so happens that Pip got moved up to second open dog when Kat injured herself right before Edgeworth, and as I already have some points on both him and Twist, it made more sense to run them and try to get more points. I doubt I'll get enough to make the finals this year, but fate just has a way of doing that to a person sometimes.

Dr. Ben's field is terraced, which can be tricky for young, inexperienced dogs (and even some seasoned dogs). The right side is even steeper than the left, so on hot, humid days like we had this past weekend it made more sense to send dogs to the left to help them conserve energy in the heat. Unfortunately for me and Pip, this caused some problems.

On Saturday I walked out on the field before the sheep from the previous run were exhausted--or should I say Pip ran out on the field ahead of me and unfortunately locked on those sheep. I could tell by his body language before I ever sent him that he was going to try to go to the exhaust. However, the exhaust is well covered and is on the way (in a roundabout way) to the top, so I went ahead and sent him left. Sure enough, he kicked over toward the exhaust, but as soon as he realized no sheep were there, he continued on around and made it to the top and lifted his sheep nicely and brought them on down the field. His shenanigans on the outrun cost him three points.

The rest of the run was pretty nice, lines pretty good, panels made, shed completed, and pen made with a few seconds to spare. We ended up with a score of 82, which landed us in 13th place at the end of the day. The high score of the day was a 90 (Mark Billadeau and Peg).

Twist ran later in the day, around mid-afternoon. I was sure she'd give out on me about the time we got to the shedding ring, since she really isn't as fit as she should be. The sheep bolted to their left before Twist even made it around ot the top, and I was afraid I'd have trouble because the set out dog was moving too, and Twist has done enough set out that she tends to defer to the dog already working. But the set out person stoppped her dog and Twist flanked on around and got her sheep and brought them down the field nicely. The fetch and drive went really well, until we got to the cross drive panels and I realized too late that we were a little too high. That miss cost us at least 4 points and dropped us to 14th for the day, still in the money though.

I was most pleased with Twist's attitude. Over the fall and winter she had seemed rather sour at events like the international shedding clinic with Tommy Wilson. But this past weekend she seemed much like her old self, which made me very happy. Especially given how hot it was, as she would have had every reason to give out on me.

On Sunday, Twist ran first and we had a decent run. I didn't blow a whistle to her until she was at the fetch panels. We lost 5 points on the fetch, but I was quite pleased with her mostly silent gather. Her fetch might not have had "millimeter tolerance" on the center line, but she kept a pretty straight line and did all the correcting of the line herself--something I think is a valuable trait to have in a working dog. Her packet of sheep tended to be a bit herky jerky, very reactive to the least little movement on her part. That's unusual, as generally she can settle sheep. It made for a lack of smoothness throughout the entire run, and especially in the shedding ring where the sheep refused to really settle.

On the drive away, she resisted my attempts to flank her to the right (the sheep were quite heavy to the left toward the exhaust). After seven years of trialing this dog you'd think I'd have learned by now that pretty much most of the time if I head them toward panels, Twist will take them through. Oh, and as if just to spite me, at one point she stopped, gave a sniff, and squatted and lifted her leg, as if to say, "This is what I think of all this." That was a first! (What was that I said about an improved attitude? lol!) But back to the drive away. In this case, though, the panels were offset, with the inside panel back slightly further than the outside panel. I knew this and was watching the sheep closely and flanked Twist when I thought they had passed that inside panel. We did a nice tight turn--right in front of that darned panel. That's a mistake I haven't made in a long time!

Our cross drive was nice, as was the return leg to the shedding ring. In the ring, we were to make a split, taking the last two sheep on the head. Every time I got them lined out a little and moved Twist the least bit, the lead sheep of the back two would turn. I finally got a small gap and called Twist on through, with that same sheep turning at the exact moment I called Twist. The judge counted it as taking them on the head, thank goodness.

Then I made my "fatal" strategic mistake. In order for Twist to regather in the ring I had to send her around to the far side of the ring. This means she ended up opposite the sheep with respect to the draw to the exhaust. I actually stood there for a second when I realized that in the heat and at the end of her run Twist wasn't likely to catch them quickly if they bolted to the exhaust, especially with her being in the exact wrong place to have much chance of stopping them. In hindsight, instead of walking toward the pen as I flanked her, I should have walked back into the shedding ring and in front of the sheep and tried to hold them long enough for her to get around at least to the side of them. But I didn't, and as a result they bolted and she didn't catch them until they were almost at the exhaust. We timed out as she was bringing them back to the pen. I don't know where we ended up at the end, but I don't think we were too far out of the placings, even with all the mistakes and lost points.

Pip ran in mid-afternoon, around 3 p.m. It was good and hot by then, but he's white so I really don't think he gets as hot as the darker dogs. (See, there may just be an advantage to being mostly white!). I figured (hoped?) that on this day, having already successfully gathered the sheep off the top the day before, he'd do a nice outrun (which is what he normally does) and maybe we'd manage as good a run as the day before. As soon as we got to the post, he was looking toward the exhaust. Gah! When he looked that way, I told him "No!" and then when he turned to look back up the field, I said "Look." I've worked with him a lot at home to teach him to look for sheep in the direction I'm facing, even if he can't see them. So as he was now looking up the field, I sent him. And the little sucker immediately kicked over toward the exhaust. This time, instead of just letting him go and waste time running along the exhaust fenceline and then on up the field, I called his name twice. This is something I also do at home whenever he wants to run too wide (his mom is a wide outrunner, so I've been very conscious of trying to prevent that with him). He pulled back in, but then hit a terrace about a third of the way up the field and looked like he was headed for a cross over, so I stopped him and gave a redirect. He kicked out nicely at that point and went on around to get his sheep and lift them beautifully.

On the cross drive, one sheep turned to face him. This is where we had problems at Sherry's trial (despite him having no trouble setting sheep all weekend), so I was a little worried here, but he kept walking right in to her, and she turned, at which point he looked over at me as if to say, "See? I've got it under control." The rest of the run was clean and uneventful, and we ended up with a score of 81. Those 8 points we lost on the outrun killed us not once, but twice. First, it dropped our score from what would have been third of fourth to ninth. And second, it left us with a combined score of 163, which tied us for fourth for the double lift final, for which only the top three dogs go back. I would have loved to have tried him in the double lift.

So overall it was a successful trial. Maybe all the time we've had off has actually helped the dogs. It sure was nice to be out there again, though, even if those of us who were tent camping were nearly washed away by the torrential rains of a Friday night thunderstorm. You know, a tent seems awful flimsy when lightning is flashing all around....

I have a couple of chicken stories to tell, as well as an elaboration on my comments about unemployment above, but I'll include those in future posts. I promise to let little time lapse between this post and the next few!

Friday, February 26, 2010

May I Have that To Go, Please?

(Photo by Dan King)

Laura, this one's for you!

I cook in spurts, freeze all the leftovers, and then have plenty of food to sustain myself for a period of time. I even like what I cook. But there's nothing better than going out to dinner with friends--especially friends who like to try new places and cuisines. Laura is good for that, and we probably eat out close to once a week, sometimes more often. I think Laura also enjoys going out to dinner with me, except for one glaring fault I have.

No, I'm not talking about the fact that occasionally I arrive wherever we're eating having come straight from doing chores, perhaps a little muddy, perhaps with wisps of hay in my hair, or perhaps even smelling vaguely like livestock. Nor am I referring to the occasions when I wear my embarassing high-water jeans or when I haven't bothered to wash my hair in a couple of days. (Okay, all that sounds much worse than it really is!)

So how is it that I manage to get Laura's eyes rolling in embarassment? It's simple. At the end of the meal, when we usually get to-go boxes because we do try to control our portion sizes, I usually also ask for a to-go cup for my drink. Mortifying, isn't it? I figure I tip well (and I even let Laura see what I'm tipping so she doesn't tip less and then feel like a cheapskate for it) and if I want a simple cup of soda--which probably costs the restaurant pennies--why not?

Last night, Laura, Sandy, and I were finishing dinner at an Italian place when I made my usual request and Laura just rolled her eyes. But then Sandy requested a to-go cup for Laura, who did not turn it down. I of course jumped all over that!

Once, I was driving to Raleigh to meet my sister and brother-in-law for dinner. It so happens that Laura and Robin decided to go to one of our favorite pizza places that same evening. Boo! But I really didn't want to pass up dinner with family, so Laura graciously offered to pick me up my favorite pizza to go, and then I could get it from her later, as I was going to be picking up Ranger, whom she'd been babysitting for the weekend anyway. I told her I'd think about it. Then I called her back and said, "I think I'll skip the pizza, but could you get me a to-go cup of diet Coke?" Poor Laura hesitated just a fraction of a second before responding, "Sure I can try to do that." Ha! Poor girl--I think I'm wearing her down. Later that evening I called to say I was on my way to get Ranger, having just finished a wonderful dinner at the Angus Barn, I decided to make her feel better about my proclivity for asking for to-go cups.

Says me to Laura, "I have to confess something." Laura says, "What?" And I said, "Well, even I didn't have the balls to ask for a to-go cup at the Angus Barn." I think I might have made her evening with that confession!

So the next time you're out at dinner with friends and they're perhaps apologizing for their state of dress, or their timeliness, or whatever, just smile to yourself and think: that's all okay, as long as you don't ask for a to-go cup!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Out of Hibernation

I've been on quite a hiatus from this blog, though I didn't really intend to do so. And now of course so much has happened that I'll be able to hit only the highlights. But I am planning to do better here in the future; otherwise what's the point in blogging, right?

Willow: Plan B

Willow went to VSH to see the oncologist for her 8-week check up last week and the news was not good, as I suspected, since I had asked to speak to Dr. Kozicki having not seen any real progress in tumor reduction over the past two months.

Sure enough, her tumor is progressing, which means that she has become resistant to the c-kit inhibitor action of Palladia. There is another similar drug on the market, approved only in Europe so far, but it is different enough that Dr. Kozicki recommended that we try it, given that Willow did have a good initial response to the Palladia. So she has sent a "compassionate care" request to the manufacturer in France and I should be able to pick the new medicine up late this week or early the following week. If the new Rx doesn't wok, our only recourse will be to go to the more traditional chemotherapy methods. So keep your fingers crossed that the new meds will do the trick.

Otherwise, Willow is doing well. She gives no sign that the (re)growing tumor(s) are bothering her, which gives me hope that whatever we can't see going on internally is not affecting her quality of life at this point.

Ranger is Growing Up

Here's Ranger working sheep yesterday. He's now 6.5 months old and bigger than several of my females at 36 pounds. He's got quite a rough coat on him (no real surprise there, given his sire and dam), and he's quite keen to work. He's finally getting to the age where he can take some training pressure, though I still won't take him out more than a couple of times a week, if that. I don't intimidate him as much as Robin does, but he was trying to work with us yesterday and not just race around like a puppy with a lot of yeeha in him. In this photo, he's actually flanking nicely around the sheep. We were in a larger paddock for the first time. His other exposures to sheep have all been in the round pen. Robin worked his littermate Tug as well, and we were well pleased with both of them. I am looking forward to spring and being able to start training him in earnest.

Birthday Dogs

Aside from getting more snow this winter than I can ever remember (and we weren't hit nearly as hard as our neighbors in Virginia and Maryland), we also celebrated two birthdays (not counting my own). Lark (top) turned 4 on January 31. It's hard to believe that the wee little puppy that came to me from Kay is all grown up. She's got a bit much eye and tends to be sticky, so she's still running at the ranch level, though she can do open work. She's still as spoiled as ever, loves to work the chickens (but no more ducks as they were just exacerbating the problem with too much eye), and of course keeps close track of "her" kitties, JellyBean (who is all recovered now, though it took him quite a while to start eating well again) and Chili Pepper.

Farleigh turned 11 on December 18th. He's as snarley and grumpy as ever, but he knows his place is here for life and we all just tolerate all his craziness and foibles. The unhappy face above is because Ranger was harassing him while I tried to take his picture. He really does need a shave, but the winter has been so cold and wet that he's gotten a reprieve till spring.

Life at Home

See what I have to deal with every night when I try to go to bed? Dogs and cats everywhere (note that Lark is keeping a close eye on Chili Pepper). Every night someone parks him/herself in the middle of the bed and I have to tell them to move so I can get in. You'd think they'd learn, but perhaps they just like forcing me to tell them to move over every night. I resurrected one of Twist's whicker baskets, so she now sleeps in it instead of on the bed (yes! one less dog!), but Lark, Pip, Phoebe (who was at the foot of the bed and so didn't get in the picture), and Chili are my regular nightly bedmates (because I keep the thermostat quite low, every night is a three-dog night at my house!).

Other Stuff

I am still waiting on my mule ewes to lamb. I was looking at the gestation chart this morning, and since I pulled the ram out on September 30, they really are supposed to be done lambing by around February 21. That means I should really get some lambs this coming week, unless these particular ewes have an extra-long gestation for some reason. I keep thinking they're waiting for bad weather to pass, but we keep getting more bad weather. I think I jinxed myself in the weather department the minute I decided to lamb early this year. Anyway, most of them are bagged up, so it's just a matter of being patient waiting for lambs.

In other animal health news, I took Boy in a couple of weeks ago to have a blood panel done just to check on things. The good news is that his bloodwork looked great. He had a urinary tract infection, though, and so was treated for that. On recheck last week, most of the bacteria were gone, but not all, so he's on a second round of antibiotics. According to the vet, he's in remarkably good shape, and although I see what could be early signs of cognitive disorder and he has trouble navigating the house in the dark, it looks like he's going to sail into next month and his 15th birthday reasonably healthy and happy.

The Job Front

I still haven't had any luck finding a job. It's frustrating because there are jobs out there that I know I could perform easily, but because I may lack one "must have" I can't even get my foot in the door. I feel quite sure that if I could actually talk to someone I could sell myself and make it clear that the particular "must have" isn't a real stumbling block, but without it, I can never get to the next step. But I keep trying, and have expanded my search around the country. Of course in those circumstances I'm sure the folks hiring are going to give a closer look to folks who are already nearby, but I'm hoping someone will give me the opportunity to make a move for a job if I am well-suited for the position.

At least unemployment hasn't run out.

Reading Corner

With all the bad weather, I've been doing a lot of reading. I have a stack of books a mile high, thanks to all sorts of gift certificates and the like from Christmas as well. I'm sure I'm going to leave some out, but here's some of what I've read and enjoyed over the past couple of months.

  • The Music Room, a memoir by William Fiennes in which he tells the story of how his brother's epilepsy set the rhythm of their lives growing up in a castle in England.
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is a lovely little book and I truly regret that the author died before its publication as I would have looked forward to her sophomore effort.
  • South of Broad, by Pat Conroy. Conroy is a beautiful writer and his writing in this latest novel is as lovely as that in his previous books. I found the story a little over the top, but enjoyed it just the same.
  • Gentleman and Players, by Joanne Harris. It took me a while to really get into this book, but once I did, I had a hard time putting it down. I can usually see things coming in a novel, but the surprise twist in this one caught me by, well, surprise! My favorite book of Harris' is Five Quarters of the Orange, followed by Chocolat and Coastliners, and this new novel is as different from the others as they are from each other, which serves to illustrate Harris' creativity and imagination as a writer.
  • High Society, by Donald Spoto. I'm not a huge reader of biographies, but I was in the library one day and saw this in the new books section, and since Grace Kelly's is such an unusual story, I picked it up to read. I certainly learned more about her life and career than I had known before, and the author was a long-time friend who had access to Princess Grace that no one else did, but I still felt oddly dissatisfied with the mystery that still surrounds a large part of her life.
  • The Day the Falls Stood Still, by Cathy Marie Buchanan. This is another one I happened on in the library. Fiction based in historical fact, the story tells of a riverman Tom Cole who was raised along the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and had a special affinity for the ways of the water and fought to save the falls from the progress (electricity generation) that he knew would destroy them. The story is told from the point of view of a young woman named Bess Heath, whose father was director of the Niagara Power Company until his removal from the job and her chance meeting of Tom changes her and her family's life forever. This is another one I found hard to put down.
  • Food Rules, by Michael Pollan. I have reviewed this book over on the Fat Girlz blog, so check it out over there:

I am currently reading The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova. I loved her debut novel, The Historian, and although this is an entirely differnt sort of story and I've just started the book, it's already sucked me right in!

I'm sure I've left out a library book or two, but for anyone looking for reading recommendations, this should give you a good start.

Books in the "to read" stack include the following:

  • Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving
  • The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
  • The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (I'll admit that I started this one and couldn't get into it, so put it down to try again later.)
  • The Commoner, by John Burnham Schwartz
  • The Witch of Portobello, by Paolo Coelho
  • Half Broke Horses, by Jeanette Walls
  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe
  • The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, by Syrie James
  • All Over but the Shoutin', by Rick Bragg
  • People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
  • The Magician and Mrs. Quent, by Galen Beckett
  • The Ancestor's Tale, by Richard Dawkins
  • The Daily Coyote, by Shreve Stockton
  • Alex & Me, by Irene M. Pepperberg
  • Mind of the Raven, by Bernd Heinrich
  • Condor, by John Nielson
  • The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

Whew! That's a lot of books. There are others I want to read, but there's no sense in adding them until I've delved into these (not to mention the stack of fantasy novels Jean and Bernie also sent my way). The last five were sent to me by my sister Jean. I'm saving those for later because I want to trade back to her some of the books I've just read or that are still on my list, and I plan to see her in Kentucky in May. She can then pass them on to our other sister. One of the joys of owning books and having family members who are also avid readers is that we can trade good finds!