Thursday, September 28, 2023

Retirement ramblings

 This retirement business is a lot of work. When I bowed out of the rat race, all my retired friends warned me, “You’ll be so busy you won’t know how you ever used to get everything done AND work full time.”

 Well, that was just silliness. I’d have an additional 40+ hours a week at my disposal. I would do Incredible Things. Right?


To date, very few Incredible Things have been done. The more things I do, the more things I find that need doing. Some days I just stop looking for them. If they haven't been done by now, it's not going to hurt anything to wait a few more years. I meant days.


The biggest reality check of retirement is that I can’t use the “I don’t have time” excuse to account for a cluttered house or weedy flowerbeds. Well, I can, but no one’s buying it, especially friends who are still working. Now there’s no one to blame but myself. Remember that 40+ hours of “free time” I have every week now? Boy, does that come with a lot of annoying expectation. It was much more convenient when I could blame employment for interfering with my life.


I’ve spent the first month of being retired trying to figure out what day it is. My lack of cluelessness in this area is not necessarily linked to no longer having a Monday through Sunday job. If I’m ever in an accident and the emergency responders try to determine the extent of head injuries by asking me what day it is, I figure I’ve got a one out of seven chance of getting it right. Then I’ll be bundled off to the trauma center to find out what is wrong with me. 


When I worked a job that was essentially one huge, never-ending deadline, the days were easier to keep track of. Each day of the work week had specific tasks to be done on a specific timeline and Friday sparkled like a diamond at the end of it all. Oddly, Friday is still a day to look forward too and weekends still feel like time to be treasured like a dragon guarding its hoard of gold. 


Amidst the decadence of drinking my morning coffee without the day’s deadlines looming over me, I still feel the need to Do Things and Be Productive versus drifting through another day in some imaginary bon-bon eating retirement nirvana.


 When you live with dogs and a Farmer, days of bon-bon eating nirvana are rather like unicorns. I’ve been told they exist. I have yet to see one. I still live with my planning calendar open on my desk in my home office. Call me a troglodyte—I like writing things with ink on paper. I don’t keep appointments in my phone. I’m a bit like Siegfried Farnon and James Herriott, looking at their handwritten call sheets over breakfast at Skeldale House to determine the direction of their day. (What wonderful books those were. Now I want to go back and re-read each of them.)


I’m happy to say the days of color-coded planner entries are gone. For years, I lived according to a highlighter rainbow: yellow for work appointments, orange for personal appointments, pink for dog events, green for new work deadlines (for the last year, these changed seemingly at random, as if they were another test of my mental acuity) and blue for Really Important Things That Can Not Be Forgotten.


I’m admittedly bad at doing nothing so my calendar is still scribbled full of stuff. Only now it’s stuff that (for the most part) I want to do. I’ve been an OCD list-maker since I was old enough to write and that hasn’t changed any. Each day includes a list of things I want to achieve. The best about these lists is if I don’t get everything checked off, who cares! Now I have something to put on tomorrow’s list.


With my mom’s house cleaned out, the estate sale behind me and the property on the market, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all the projects I’m going to do now that I have time to do projects. To date, I have actually done zero projects. However, I have bought supplies for much project-ing so it’s just a matter of time, right? And even though I haven’t managed to finish anything on my original list, I’ve created additional projects. 


Retired people (of which I am now one) tell me this is normal. Wow. For the first time in my life, I’m normal.





Thursday, September 21, 2023

How my grandparents ended up in the federal penitentiary

I’m totally cheating this week and sharing a story my aunt Joyce wrote. She is the official keeper of family history for the Hanson side of things and while I don’t think my family was any weirder than anyone else’s, she shares the most wonderful stories. Maybe people back in the day simply had more interesting lives, free of screen time and the other artificial constructs we deem so important in modern culture.

 I treasure these glimpses of people I know only through old photos and faded memories. I’ve edited it a bit for readability but these are her words. The “John N.” she refers to is her older brother, my uncle, John N. Hanson, to differentiate him from my grandfather, John E. Hanson.


So here we go, as told by Joyce (Hanson) Sorenson:


This is a funny story—at least as a family we thought so, but my dad didn't—about my parents, baby Rosemary and 3-year-old John N. and how they ended up in the Iowa State Federal Penitentiary in Ft. Madison, Iowa, in 1928. Mother loved to tell the story and saw much humor in it.

My grandfather, John E. Hanson, 1927

 In 1927, after the death of their oldest child, Grace, my mom and dad put all their belongings in storage, sold their house in Burlington, Iowa, and embarked on a trip with a Model T car and a tent. They left Iowa, my dad working the crops through the West, harvesting wheat in Nebraska, cherries in Colorado, apples and hops in Washington, lumber mill in Washington, and so on until they got to Alexandria, Louisiana, where Rosemary was born in January 1928.  


In the spring of that year, they decided it was time to return to Iowa and dad would start tenant farming until they could buy a farm of their own. Now, Iowa farms traditionally change tenant farmers in March, and dad had an opportunity to go to a farm near Burlington at that time so they loaded the kids into the Model T and started north, driving up what is call the Mississippi River Road or Highway 61.  

My grandparents, Laurel and John E. Hanson and and their oldest son, John N., 1927

At that time, it was more of a gravel cow path, mud when it rained. There were no cement highways. About the time they got around St. Louis, Mo., it started to be spring rains and the roads became muddier, but they pushed on. They were driving through deep clay ruts that were clinging to the wooden wheel car spokes and they were sliding all over, but had managed to stay out of the ditch. 

This is a random pic I found online but suspect it's representative
of "highway" conditions my grandparents encountered as they
made their way home to Iowa in the spring of 1928.

 It was the middle of the afternoon when they crossed the Missouri/Iowa border headed north and thought they were about 40 miles from home in Burlington, Iowa, and hoped to make it closer that day. Instead, they slid into the ditch. Dad couldn't get them out, and there was no other traffic on the muddy road, so dad said he would walk to the nearest place to get help and borrow a team of horses to pull the Model T out, or at least pull it level to sleep in if necessary.  


He left the pistol he was carrying with mom and the babies and started walking. Took him awhile and the first place he came to was the Iowa State Federal Penitentiary in the middle of nowhere outside of Ft. Madison, Iowa. He figured maybe he could borrow a team of horses, so went up and pounded on the big penitentiary gates. Soon someone opened the peep window in the door to find out what he wanted.  

The outer wall of the old federal penitentiary at Ft. Madison, Iowa.
A new facility has since replaced this one, which still stands today.

The warden himself came and they talked. The warden agreed that it was not safe for them to sit in the ditch overnight and that dad should go back to the car and wait and he would send some help with a team of horses. So dad did, and soon down the road came a four horse team with a bunch of men to help. They hitched onto the Model T and got it out of the ditch and then kept pulling it, with dad yelling at them to stop.  


They ignored him, and pulled the car up to the penitentiary gates, which opened, and much to dad’s horror, they continued to pull the Model T and all its passengers into the main compound with the gates closing after them. The warden explained they would have to get the car checked out and that he had arranged for the visitors’ bedroom to be fixed for them to stay in until the roads improved. Dad was not at all impressed and wanted out. 


It ended up with mom and the children going to a beautifully furnished room with the most beautiful hand-carved dark walnut furniture mom had ever seen. She said they were treated like royalty, and had a hot meal brought to them, with extra milk and toast for John N. at bedtime. Women brought hot water to for her to bath in, and they bathed both Rosemary and John N. for her. She said one woman sat and read to John N. while she nursed Rosemary and then the kids were put to bed.  


When they woke in the morning, their clothes had been washed and pressed, and a hot breakfast brought to them. During this time mom said dad paced the floor and said he wanted out as this was “where they hung people."  He never went to bed or took his clothes off, but mom said he did eat breakfast.  


The warden wanted them to stay until the roads dried but dad insisted on leaving, so they did. They furnished them with a container of milk and bread and meat as they left. The guards checked the Model T, got the clay mud off the car spokes, opened the big gates and dad chugged out, much relieved when the big gates closed behind them.   


Mom thought it was great, but not dad, he never saw any humor in it, but did admit they helped when needed. Years later when I was in Corpus Christi, Texas, talking with John N., he laughed about it, and said when he flew planes for the CIA and had to pass so many security checks that he always hesitated when he checked the box "no," he had never been in a federal prison.  

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Heeling down memory lane

I spent last weekend at the Des Moines dog show cluster held annually in early September in (surprise) Des Moines, Iowa. Sitting in air conditioned comfort at the show site, listening to the drone of the ventilation system and eating chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the concessionaire’s oven, I couldn’t help but think back on the first time I attended those shows.

I showed at the Varied Industries Building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds for the first time in 1977 with my beagle. I was 11. She was 9. We got our 2nd CD leg. It was a huge, open-air building back then, dark and industrial, with exposed steel roof girders and a cracked cement floor that would send the unwary sprawling. The local Boy Scout troop ran the concession stand and you could get anything you wanted as long as it was a hotdog or homemade sloppy joe. 


If I remember correctly, there were six obedience rings, three to a side on the east end of the building, separated by a central aisle. This was back in the days before agility, nosework, dock diving, barn hunt, herding, lure coursing, earthdog, FAST CAT and all the other sports dog trainers can explore today. There was just obedience. And it was big.


For many years, there were two sections of Open B at the Des Moines Obedience Training Club’s Saturday trial because it was not unusual to have an Open B entry of over 100 dogs. The trial was considered one of the largest in the country. I’m proud to have shown eight generations of dogs there. In spite of frequently being too hot, too cold and always plagued with sugar-crazed yellow jacket wasps around the trash cans, it was a September pilgrimage I made through high school, college, as a young adult, a newlywed and still now, 47 years after the family beagle started it all.


Exhibitors and spectators alike sat on gray-painted wooden benches around the rings, waiting their turn or just watching. This ringside seating was popular and it wasn’t unusual to strike up a conversation with a total stranger, either to discuss a judge’s heeling pattern with a fellow exhibitor or explain in layman’s terms to a family from Indianola how the dogs were expected to perform. The building was enclosed at some point in the early 2000s and is now climate controlled with a bright, white interior and glossy smooth floor. The chipped gray wooden benches remained for a few years. They’re gone now.


So are the Boy Scouts. Now, the food vendor serves chicken strips, tenderloins, nachos, cinnamon rolls, breakfast sandwiches, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. There are three obedience rings instead of six, and one of them is for rally only. The vendor booths, which once easily numbered in the double digits, take up only a fraction of the space they used to. My friends and I used to make shopping lists of supplies we needed to purchase at that cluster because the wonderful variety offered nearly everything dog people needed in an open air market. My favorite vendors were Dogwise and J and J Dog Supply (the original Jack Godsil business). Oh, how I looked forward to buying the latest titles from Dogwise and drooling over the beautiful leather goods at J and J. Both are gone now. Time marches on.


When I started showing dogs as a renegade 4-H kid in the 1970s, cluster shows were virtually unheard of. We went to Show A on Saturday and schlepped all our stuff into the site. At the end of the day, we schlepped it all back out to our cars and drove to Show B on Sunday in a different town where we did it all over again. I think we were all skinnier back then because we got more exercise hauling metal crates around (cloth crates hadn’t come into fashion yet) and food vendors weren’t hawking ice cream and nachos so we ate homemade ham sandwiches out of a cooler at noon.


What an awesome idea it was when clubs starting joining forces to hold multiple shows at a single site. Joy! The stuff-schlepping was cut in half, praise Jesus! Don’t laugh—it’s a big deal and the older I get, the bigger it becomes. I loitered at a recent trial for several hours, visiting with friends and eating cookies, while I worked up the ambition to load up all my stuff and haul it back out to my car.


We showed outside back in the day, too. (Cue dramatic music. Or horror music. Your choice.) I know in some parts of the country where Mother Nature does not routinely try to kill you, outdoor trials are the norm but you’d be hard pressed to find many in the Midwest. 


You knew you loved the sport if you were willing to be wet, cold and miserable to play it. Not to dis today’s exhibitors but some of you have never shown in the snow in late October in an open-sided, dirt-floored cattle barn at a county fairground on the Illinois prairie and it shows. The survivors of that era are today’s trial chairs who organize events in climate-controlled buildings with rings covered in sport turf or cushy foam matting.


I saw someone earn a 200 for the first time in the early 1990s. Back then, 200s were unicorns—mythical creatures that allegedly existed but few of us had ever seen one. When I was showing my first Sheltie, you could win an upper level class and go High In Trial with a 195 or 196. A score of 197 or 198 drew gasps of admiration when the judge announced it. Nowadays, 200s are almost commonplace and a 198 may get you little more than a green qualifying ribbon. I recently attended a trial where fourth place in Open B was 199, after run-offs. I’ve seen 4 200s in the last few months alone. The sport has evolved that much.


Equipment has changed, too. Wooden article boxes gave way to cloth bags. I wish I’d kept my wooden box. Yeah, it was big and clunky and hard to pack in the car but I was so proud when I carried it into a show site. It was a status symbol. I had a Utility dog! Cloth bags are much more user friendly but don't carry that same vibe of achievement.


Custom dumbbells in all colors of the rainbow and scent articles with specialized artwork are now the norm. Few exhibitors use six-foot leashes beyond the Novice group exercise requirement and you can order leashes in custom lengths, colors, braiding styles and even made out of kangaroo leather. Bling-y collars, some woven from intricate beadwork or sparkling with Swarovski crystals, have replaced the standard slip chain. None of this makes our dogs work any better but pretty things make the sport more fun.


I could go on and on with memories of show sites that no longer exist and favorite trials that have faded into the sunset but this has gotten plenty long enough. Go train your dogs—see you later.



Thursday, September 7, 2023

You don't know what you don't know

Back in May, the Chaos Goblin and I embarked on a self-inflicted summer training challenge inspired by my friends at the Good Dog Center in Decorah, Iowa. Those fine folks up north embraced the challenge of documenting training sessions with their dogs in 50 new places by the end of September. Trainers who successfully complete the challenge receive a free obedience class at the GDC. You’d better believe if I lived closer, I’d have been all over it because they have excellent instructors. But the trek to the land of rosemaling and Norwegian culture is a bit much to drive weekly, even by my "On the road again" lifestyle (cue Willie Nelson, you're welcome for the ear worm), so I decided Raider and I would craft the east central Iowa version.

In the event you don’t know what rosemaling is, here’s an example from the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah. It has nothing to do with dog training but it's pretty.

My goal was to get my butt off the couch and train in two new places each week, from the first weekend in May through Labor Day. That would equal 34 new sites in addition to training at home and other familiar places. There was no free class waiting at the end of the rainbow but exposing my dog to working in 34 new sites would help Team Chaos Goblin tremendously going into the fall shows.

It’s so easy to train at home and call it good. You know that. I know that. We go out in the back yard and go through the motions and call it a training session when all we really did was give our dogs treats for not having to think very hard because it’s the back yard. Ouch. That stings. Guilty.

I’d like to think my backyard is a bit more demanding than most, since it includes beef cattle, tractors, farmers and dog-proof farm cats who love to be in the middle of everything. I could open a Rent-A-Cat business. Cats available in varying nuisance levels.

Gryffindor and Raider - not sure what they're doing but one of them is doing it wrong.

If you’re tired of saying, “Here, take my money” to show superintendents while your dog laughs hysterically at the concept of qualifying consistently, you understand the power of training in new places. Imparting the wisdom to your dog that he is expected to Do All The Things, no matter where he is, is priceless. It's a dandy way to find out you don't know what you don't know in a hurry.

So off we went.

We went to the park where Raid nearly dislocated my shoulder when he decided “Get it” applied equally to dumbbells and rabbits. It did not. 

To the museum lawn I swear was full of ghosts because Raid spent a lot of time looking at Things That Were Not There. Or maybe they were. 

To parking lots. I am happy to report neither of us got run over but we did get stared at a lot.

Because nothing beats working figure 8s around a giant springy duck head.

To parks, where we damn near got run over by a renegade deer who bolted right through the middle of things like that was the ONLY way to get where it was going. Raid held his stay until he didn’t and a merry chase ensued. Yes, he came when he was called. No, he did not come the first time I called him. I’m sure they heard me in East Amana. RAIDER MACALLAN!

The livestock pavilion at the Iowa State Fair is home to the combined 4-H and open dog shows every August during the fair. The site has everything you could want in a training opportunity: six rings, crowds, noise, an unintelligible loud speaker and dirt with questionable substances in it. And corndogs.

To livestock pavilions, outlet malls, fairgrounds and sidewalks near restaurants (pro tip: do NOT train near restaurants in the evening because the scent of fried chicken and sauerbraten wafting on the air is not conducive to clear mental focus. Raider had trouble working, too.)

To dog-friendly businesses where someone inevitably asked, “Do you train husbands, too?” No, ma’am, I do not. Having experience with only one of the species, I do not feel qualified to dispense advice. 

We weren’t perfect. In fact, we looked pretty awful more than once and I was okay with that because it told me what I needed to know. I’d rather find out my dog can’t do a stay in a park for free than pay an entry fee, gas and motel to find out he can’t do it in the show ring. If you think your dog is ready for prime time, take him to a park on a summer afternoon when kids are screaming on the playground equipment, teens are zooming past on bicycles and the Squirrel Mafia is marching around like they own the place and see what you’ve got.

And train THAT dog in THAT moment. Not the dog I think I should have. Not the dog I want to have in a year. The dog I have NOW - the one who needs feedback and direction and help so he can become everything I want him to be.

When the sun set on Labor Day, Raid and I had trained in 28 new places, six short of my target of 34. I’m pleased, even though we didn’t reach my goal. Twenty-eight times, I put my dog and my gear bag in the car and went somewhere that was not our back yard and asked him to do the things I will ask him to do in the show ring.

Yeah. It took commitment. Yeah. There were nights I didn’t want to go. Yeah, life got in the way. Hateful hell weather, prep for my parents’ estate sale, the sale itself, the aftermath of said sale, more hateful hell weather, training my replacement at work and days I was so damn tired I couldn’t see straight meant sometimes I just said screw it and we stayed home and trained in the back yard. Or stayed home and ate ice cream. 

Braining in new places takes a lot out of a guy.

   Thanks to my friends at the GDC and members of the Upper Iowa Training Club. Following your progress through the summer inspired me to keep going!


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

'Some assembly required'

DATELINE: HOMESTEAD, IOWA—Woman constructs shelving unit, no one injured

            I admit, I’ve spent the better part of my marriage avoiding tasks that involve assembling anything more complicated than a hamburger with help from my husband. I love the man but we have two very separate approaches when it comes to “Assembly required.”

            He opens the box, looks at the pieces, ignores the instructions, then proceeds to put the item together as if he possessed a Ph.D. in structural engineering. Which he does not.

            I open the box (usually involves a struggle), look at the pieces (express doubt they will actually create the item pictured on the box), try to interpret the instructions (fail), try to read them in the additional languages provided since the English version wasn’t helpful (also fail), then proceed to put the item together as if I possessed a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Which I do.

            We both get the job done with a usable product at the end. 

            However, these two different mindsets should never, ever work together unless one is willing to keep his/her mouth clamped shut for the duration of the project. “For better, for worse” and “in sickness and health” are null and void when it comes to free-standing storage units and computer desks. 

            When I recently bought a very large set of utility shelves (post on living in a house with virtually zero closets will come later), I decided before I ever handed my credit card to the store clerk that I would ask the Farmer to put them together for me. Without me. I even had a day picked out for him to do it. A day when I would not be home. A day when I would not even be in the same county. I could do my thing and he could do his thing and I would come home to my shelves, assembled and ready for use.

                So of course I ended up doing it myself because I couldn’t wait.

            The hardest part, as it turned out, was getting the unassembled pieces out of the box.  The shelves, poles and all the accompanying hardware were jammed in that box so tightly they might as well have been welded together and the cardboard shrink-wrapped around them. Think “10 pounds of sausage in a 5 pound casing.” 

           I tipped the box up on end, hoping things would slide out. They did not. I bounced the box. Nothing. Picture a 5’ 4” woman grappling with a 5’ tall box. My initial goal was to get things out of the box without breaking anything—either on me or in the house. I finally got a pair of scissors and with surgical precision, opened the box and carefully extracted the pieces.

            Not carefully enough. 

When the pressure was released, little black rubber discs went flying. Dismayed, I figured a parts bag had gotten torn in spite of my caution. I gathered up all the pieces and set them aside, then laid out the shelves, uprights and accompanying hardware, all sealed safely in plastic bags.

I read the directions. I should just shut up at this point and be glad there WERE directions. So many things these days come with instructions to visit for directions. I nearly lost my shit several years ago when, while installing a new router for our internet service, the package instructions directed me to an online site for help. I guess they overlooked the likelihood if you were installing a new internet router, maybe it is because you DO NOT HAVE INTERNET ACCESS.

Ahem. Sorry.

 My delight in printed directions was short lived. I swear, companies hire technical writers who excel in obfuscation. And the diagrams were a microscopic blur, even with my glasses on. So I decided to wing it, since the Unhelpful Directions seemed to suggest a free spirited, adventuresome approach. Worst case scenario, the shelves would end up looking like a Pablo Picasso painting and I would have to go slinking back to the Farmer for help.

The instructions assured me no tools were required. They immediately contradicted themselves by suggesting a rubber mallet could be helpful. The directions did not specify exactly HOW the rubber mallet was to be implemented. I suspect it was the manufacturer’s way of covering their butt in the event a couple should tackle the project together. A rubber mallet causes a lot less damage than a regular hammer. Do not ask me how I know this. You are talking to the woman who went into a local farm store earlier this summer and purchased duct tape, zip ties, a large tarp and a shovel. The cashier didn’t even blink.

            In any event, I assembled the shelves with help from Raider and Banner, who were slightly more help than the printed instructions and a lot cuter. The finished product was sturdy and level and I didn’t have any pieces left over.

            No. Wait. 

            Oh, holy hell.

            Remember those little disc thingies that went flying when I finally convinced the box to yield its contents? Yeah. Those. There they sat, looking at me. I counted them. There were 16. That seemed important. I re-read the Unhelpful Directions. There was no mention of disc thingies.

            I studied the shelves but could not fathom where they should have fit in. After much angst, I decided since they’d burst from the box with joyous abandon, not having been confined to a baggie like the Important Pieces, they must have been used as spacers to keep the shelves from rubbing.

            That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Life is what happens while you're busy making plans

 The Gypsy is mildly repentant at how long she’s neglected these pages and thanks her stalwart readers (all three of them) for encouraging her to take pen in hand again.

To sum things up, it’s been a helluva year. Highlights included showing the Red Chaos Goblin. Yeah, he’s still really young and green but I was desperate for something fun amidst many weekends spent doing not-fun things, one of which was cleaning out my childhood home (zero stars, do not recommend). I’ve also been settling my mom’s estate (do not ask about the missing will, just don’t, okay I’ll tell you all about it but not now). And I quit my job (a long overdue decision that came with no regrets).


 New owners bought my newspapers in the summer of 2022. I thought things would get better, mostly because they couldn’t get worse. I was wrong. I still panicked on a weekly basis about filling four papers as the only editor/reporter/photographer/columnist/chief bottle washer on staff. Wait. There was no staff. There was me. Then the new owners bought a fifth local paper and guess who got to be in charge of that one, too? 


 This one-editorial-employee-for-five-newspapers plan was not a sustainable business model. I said as much but it didn’t seem to bother anyone else. That was not a hill I was prepared to die on. Yet. So I kept my mouth shut and worked nights, weekends and holidays and put out five papers a week. Life went on. Subtle clues kept popping up to indicate perhaps after 35 years, it was time to get out.


Life made a lot of decisions without consulting me first. Mom died in October of 2022. I took a long look at my own mental health and decided there was no way in actual hell I was doing this job for any longer than I had to. I quit. Or stepped down. Or walked away. Or retired. Call it whatever you want.


It took about a year of dealing with mom’s estate and getting my financial ducks in a row before I could confidently put my day job in the rearview mirror. Geez. You have to have money for everything. So annoying.


During that time, I emptied mom’s house. If you’ve done this, you know the process of cleaning and sorting and disposing could be a full-time job. I developed questionable (but satisfactory) coping mechanisms involving Mt. Dew, Sterzings potato chips (southeast Iowans, if you know, you know) and setting things on fire. Burning big piles of stuff is very cathartic. Going to the landfill with a hydraulic-lift dump trailer and getting stupidly excited over the scale ticket showing how many pounds of junk I'd hauled out was almost as good. 


Yeah. It was like the above cartoon. Only worse. Not just the garage. The entire house. Basement to attic. Three-stall attached garage. Two-stall unattached garage. Barn. Outbuildings. The experience is a post in itself. Or five. Or ten. I laughed. I cried. I used a lot of four-letter words in creative combinations. Usually “Holy . . .” followed by another four-letter word of my choosing.


In the middle of it, I started showing Raider (aka, the Chaos Goblin) in several different venues. No one got hurt and he was a very good goblin. He grew up kinda pretty, dontcha think? And he has been the absolute Elixir Of Life when it came to getting me through this last year. Him and the Farmer, who is hands down Husband Of The Year for helping with The House.



See you next time. Writers gotta write and the Gypsy is happy to once again have pen in hand.



Saturday, December 4, 2021

The struggle is real

This week’s topic falls into the category of Things Normal People Do Not Spend Stupid Amounts of Time Obsessing About. (Which honestly could apply to a lot of things in my life.)

 Dog ears.


When I got my first sheltie, I had no idea the lengths breeders went to in pursuit of the perfect ear set. I joined the local sheltie club and watched with fascination as members used elaborate constructions of moleskin, duct tape, twine and/or fabric glue to ensure beautiful ear set and tip on their puppies. 


When they did it, it looked high and tight. When I did it, it looked like a third-grade science fair project gone bad. Jesse’s ears never stood a chance.


By Sheltie #2, I’d learned a few things. Thanks to my amateur efforts, Connor’s ears might not have been breed-ring quality but at least they tipped.


During the Belgian years, I shoved the duct tape and scissors in a drawer and breathed a sigh of relief. You don’t do anything with Belgian ears except wait for them to defy gravity, which they do on their own.

Phoenix, I miss you and your wonderful satellite dish ears.

When Banner came on the scene, ignorance was bliss. I had NO IDEA you had to mess with Aussie ears. I mean, they hang down so gravity just takes care of things, right?


His breeder gently disabused me of that notion. Aussie ears are not subject to Earth’s gravity. They will fly up, back and sideways like chickens escaping a coop unless you wrangle them into compliance.


For the exactly three non-dog people reading this, ear set in Aussies is a cosmetic concern. Having perfect ears does not ensure good health or increase their intelligence. If you do performance sports, no one cares whether your dog’s ears are set high, low or backwards. Performance trainers spend more time wondering if there’s actually anything between our dogs’ ears than how said ears are attached to their head.

Raider, 8 weeks, with perfectly perfect ears

But as a friend of mine is fond of saying, it costs just as much to feed a pretty dog as it does an ugly one and the classic “button ear” is desirable in Aussies. Some lines do this naturally while others need a little encouragement. It’s not a dramatic procedure. It’s not painful. It mostly requires long-term commitment and an unnatural dexterity with duct tape. Don’t worry. If you commit to the former, you’ll get plenty of practice with the latter.


Puppies have adorably ideal ear sets until teething starts and then their ears begin bouncing all over the place like demented squirrels. The rule of thumb is “Tape early, tape often” and like everything else when it comes to dogs, there are at least a half dozen ways to do it.

Raid, 3 months, ears still au naturale.

One breeder swears by duct tape, another uses only glue. The universal goal, no matter the method, is to pull the ear leather down and slightly forward and hold it in place in the months during and after teething while the cartilage hardens.

Simple concept, right? Sure. You just keep telling yourself that.

Ear brace? I don't need no stinkin' ear brace.

I did much better with Banner’s ears than I did with either of my Shelties. Sheltie ear contraptions are perverse things designed to make the ear leather both stand up AND tip over at the same time. The single-minded goal with Aussie ears is just to keep them down, not winging off into a twisty side-ways presentation called a “rose ear.”


This is achieved by attaching a duct tape chin strap to the inside of both ears. Simple in theory, slightly more complex in execution. While Banner was going through his ear-taping stage, my Malinois Phoenix thought this strap made a great handle to grab him with and drag him around the yard. The result was a lot of ripped out ear tapes.

Banner, too sexy for his ears since 2014.


Banner shows no interest in removing Raider’s ear tape. If asked, he would probably like to remove Raider entirely. Raid is 8 months old now, has gained a slight edge on Bann in both terms of height and weight and, not to put too fine a point on it, can be a bit of a dickhead in that charming way of adolescent males who think it’s all about them. 

Raid, 4 months, when things were starting to go awry in the ear department.
Banner is mortified.
"Put your ear down, kid. Don't you know that's not proper?"

 In spite of Raider’s damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead approach to life, he is an absolute darling about having his ears taped. This is a good thing because the process is somewhat akin to putting sandals on an octopus in the dark. We do it about once a week, when the oil in his skin loosens the moleskin and one side or another pulls out. This is heralded by him racing around the house, chomping merrily on the flapping strap.


Raider thinks ear taping falls into the same category as having his nails clipped. It’s a quick procedure, mildly annoying but painless and involves cookies. To produce lasting results, his ears need to be taped constantly until they can hang correctly on their own, and that means NOT taking a hit and miss approach when it comes to keeping his little chin strap attached. Regarding ears that go wonky after a few days of freedom, his breeder warned, “Don’t let them practice bad behavior.” 

Raid, 4-5 months.
His ears proved they COULD behave untapped, if only for brief periods of time.

I miss seeing his ears in their natural state but we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, Raid has worn his ear braces with such consistency, I’m starting to think he looks funny when his ears AREN’T taped.


Like so many things with dogs, timing is everything. When it’s time to re-tape, I wait until after he’s had a good long training session, a good long hike in the timber and a good long four quarters of helping the Farmer watch a college basketball game. When I say, “Let’s fix your ears!” he leaps onto the grooming table and collapses in a happy, tired pile of red fur. 


With the moleskin ear pieces and duct tape chin strap cut ahead of time, I can have his ears taped in less than two minutes.


It’s is another of those life skills you can’t expect just anyone to appreciate. 

Sometimes I wonder if I should sleep with one eye open.