Saturday, December 2, 2023

My grandmother’s reluctant contribution to World War II

The farm in southeast Iowa where I grew up had an old Victorian house with bullseye woodwork and stained glass and a big red barn with a running horse weathervane and glass lightning rod balls on the roof's ridgeline. It had sheds, corncribs and three chicken coops (a small brooder house for chicks, a bigger coop for laying hens and/or broilers and a third coop, for chicken overflow, I suppose). There were fruit trees (sour cherry, apple, apricot, pear, white peach and persimmon). There were strawberry, rhubarb and asparagus beds and a huge garden space, all the product of generations of a family who took self-sufficiency seriously.

And there were a lot of walnut trees. An approximate sh*t ton of walnut trees. That’s more than a crap load, in case you’re wondering. I never questioned why there were so many. They were just a fact of life. In the fall, I had to help pick up the fallen nuts because you could turn your ankle trying to walk on them. 


Also, you do not want to know what happens when you hit the fallen nuts with a riding lawn mower. The result is akin to a chainsaw slasher movie, only instead of blood, everything within a 20-foot vicinity is splattered with ink-like walnut juice. If that happens to be the outbuilding you spent part of your summer scraping, priming and painting (white, of course), it’s all the more horrifying.

The fruit trees, Dutch elms, red cedars and catalpa trees at my parents' farm
fell victim to severe thunderstorms, ice storms, age and disease over the years.
But the walnut trees? They're gonna live forever.


As a child, I helped (read: child labor under protest) my dad gather and run the walnuts through a hand-cranked corn sheller to remove the hulls and then they were dried, cracked and the nut meats picked out. After that, my mom proceeded to ruin years of perfectly good baked goods by putting black walnuts in everything. Once I learned to bake, I made it clear there would be no nuts in anything I made. I stand by that rule today. Walnuts have their place and it is NOT in chocolate chip cookies or brownies or quick bread or cake.


This summer, while cleaning out mom and dad's house, I decided to count the walnut trees for kicks. I quit when I got to 25 because I didn’t have the ambition to go stomping around in the grove behind the barn. So 25 is an approximation. There might be more. Or I might have counted the same one more than once, lost in a flashback of walnut gathering trauma . . . err . . . memories.


My dad’s sister, Aunt Joyce, recently shared the following story of the Hanson family walnut trees, my grandmother, Laurel, and how she nearly declared war on the U.S. Government as a result of them. 


Laurel (Gaskell) Hanson
I love this picture - it looks like she's ready to head off
on an adventure (not involving walnuts).

These are my aunt's words (mildly edited by yours truly – cuz old editors never die, they just keep rewriting the text):


By Joyce Hanson Richter Sorensen


I can’t think of more patriotic Americans during World War II than my mother—Laurel—and Aunt Myrtle and Aunt Olive (Editor: Laurel, Myrtle and Olive were sisters). They followed the rules/regulations of rationing and did all they could to support the war effort by darning socks, making feed sack material dresses, saving all metals and fats and repairing everything they could. Aunt Olive worked at the Rock Island (Illinois) arsenal making ammunition. 


And yet I well remember the one time their patriotism was put to a strong test. The three Gaskell women were in an uproar.


America was not at all prepared to go to war when the attack on Pearl Harbor forced it upon us. Our nation scrambled to find ways to provide the war materials and objects that were needed. One of the things needed were lots of guns, of all types, for our servicemen.


Our government turned to its people for help. One thing that was needed was a good strong, sturdy wood to use for the gun stocks of the M1 Garand rifle the infantry used. The wood they wanted was from a walnut tree and there was a lot of it in the pastures and forests of the Midwest. So the government sent out buyers to obtain all the walnut wood they could.


Now the problem was Mom and her sisters always collected the walnuts from those trees in the fall. They would pick them up by the bushels-full to use. They are a very hard-shelled nut about the size of a silver dollar, and when they grew, they had a thick, approximately one-half inch green soft husk covering the shell.


We would go as a family in the fall after the first hard freeze, when they fell, and pick them up. The folks (Editor: my grandparents, John and Laurel (Gaskell) Hanson) always knew which trees in their pasture and the neighbors’ produced the biggest and best nuts and we picked up lots—like 80 or 90 bushels of them. (Editor: That also qualifies as a sh*t ton, in case you were wondering.)

John and Laurel (Gaskell) Hanson

They were then spread out on the roof of several sheds and the chicken house to dry. The outer green husk would eventually turn dry and then we would put them through the old hand-crank corn sheller to take this off. You couldn’t take the green husk off until dry as it had a brown liquid that would stain your skin brown for several days.


Then the nuts were stored out of the ways of varmints and after the field work was done in the fall, it became a family project to get the nut meats out of the nut. They had a very hard shell and it took a hammer to crack them, so Dad would bring a big old heavy iron anvil onto our enclosed back porch and he or one of the boys would crack them. Then Mom and the rest of us kids would sit and pick out the nut meat. Not a hard job but very boring.

I have a picture of the Hanson clan sitting around the kitchen table cracking walnuts but do you think I can find it? So enjoy this one instead: back row, from left, John N., Rosemary, Frank (my dad); front row, David, Laurel, John E. and Joyce.


However, it was to the benefit of us all, as not only did Mom use them in cooking and nothing is better than cookies with black walnuts in them (Editor: clearly, this is not a genetic preference), but she also sold the bigger pieces and the money obtained always went toward Christmas presents for us kids. People in town would call and get their names on the list for nuts.


But then the government man came around and wanted to buy all the walnut trees over a certain size in the area. I think they would pay $10 a tree and that was good money in those days. But not the way my mom and her sisters saw it. They were willing to sell some of the trees but not all as they wanted the nuts for themselves. The government didn’t see it that way. They wanted the trees. End of discussion. 


The women got pretty hot about it. Aunt Olive went to the Government War Office in Muscatine to protest. My peaceful, quiet mom wrote a letter to the War Office. All to no avail. They came and cut down most of the walnut trees in the area. And so, the ones that were left were either a stunted tree or had some defect. Those trees produced some nut but not many. And those trees were watched like hawks in the fall with signs up that kept “nut robbers” away.


However, there were other nuts we gathered in the fall, like hickory nuts, and they were in big demand. Aunt Olive was great in the woods and she located some places where the folks could go get them. Also, several years, they went down to where Uncle Charles lived south of us on the Iowa/Missouri border where there were some walnut trees he would scout for them. But that was a problem as it took gas to get down there.


Mom decided at that time that they were never going to be without walnut trees again, so she planted several bucketsful of nuts so they would grow into trees for her. She planted them all along the lane to get to the field on the other side of the railroad tracks. She would dig a hole, place a nut and them cover it up and put a small piece of wood over it so the squirrels wouldn’t dig it up. She wanted her walnut trees!


When some came up, she would water them in dry times. Unfortunately, she died before any of the trees got much more than several feet high. 


Laurel Hanson, quilting

Those trees drove Frank, my brother, (Editor: my father) nuts. Literally. He purchased the farm after Mom’s death and Dad had moved to town—but Frank inherited lots and lots of walnuts. And they had lots and lots of nuts, which created some problems. His wife, Marie (Editor: my mom) would rake up piles of them to get them off the lawn and driveway and they would take them across the road and dump them into the pasture.


How Frank hated them, and those trees again got cut, but not for money or gun stocks this time. I know Aunt Myrtle also planted trees in their pasture. Believe me, it did no good to mention to those women that their walnut sacrifice was helping win the war. It was just a subject that wasn’t discussed.


(Editor: so it remains a family mystery, if my father cut the things down after he bought the farm from my grandparents, where did the 25 +/- current walnut trees came from? Some could have been planted by industrious and forgetful squirrels but there remains a line of them along the farm lane stretching out to the fields. Perhaps re-growth from trees that were cut but stumps not pulled? Clearly my grandmother was serious about always having walnuts at her disposal!)

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Shut up and take my money!

Back in the day, I had a T-shirt that had “All you need to do obedience is a dog, a collar and a leash” printed on the front.

On the back it said, “All you need to do obedience is a dog, a collar and a leash . . . and treats, toys, a crate, crate cover, lawn chair, cooler, water bowl, portable fan, poop bags, floor mat, crate for the car, crate for the motel, crate for the show site, dumbbell, scent articles, multiple sets of gloves, portable jumps, Cato board(s), ring gates/stanchions, backup dumbbell(s), replacement scent articles, long-line, Flexi, another lawn chair in case your phantom spouse/partner goes along, copy of the regs, obedience trial score book, training journal, breed-specific jewelry, jeans that match your dog, show-ring-only shoes, canine sports vet, new car, therapist, winning lottery ticket and/or sugar daddy/sugar mama. Alcohol optional.”


It might not have said ALL of that but hey, if you know, you know.


And I wonder why my gear bags weighs so much.


Let’s look at collars. First you have to decide if you’re going to train on a pinch collar, slip collar, buckle collar or martingale. Sub-decisions include regular or micro prongs on the pinch collar?  What about the ones with the rubber tips? Chain, leather or nylon slip collar? Leather or nylon buckle collar? Rolled or flat leather? Bling-y or plain nylon? Leather or nylon martingale?


If you have a coated breed and decide to kick it old school and train on a chain slip collar, do you prefer regular or fur saver? If you choose fur saver, do you want the big, oblong links or the sparkly hexagon jeweler's chain style? 


If you start training with a six-foot leash, you’ll soon need a four-foot leash. Once you obtain a four-foot leash, you’ll need a 36” leash. Flat? Braided? Flat braid? Double braid? Two-tone? Two-tone metallic? Latigo leather? Bridle leather? Kangaroo? (For all three non-dog trainers reading this, yes, kangaroo leather leads are a thing. An expensive thing.) Colors to match your dog or make an individual statement? 

All this to train a dog who will, if all goes as planned, spend most of his show career in the ring performing the exercises . . . without a leash. But you want it to look nice when you hand it to the gate steward, so there’s that . . .


It’s worse than ordering a meal in a restaurant where every choice requires three more choices and pretty soon you’ve forgotten what you ordered in the first place. And if you’re like me (scary), you probably bought one of each in the process of finding out which style of everything works best for you and your dog.


And just when you think you’ve got everything you need, you don’t.


You get a new dog. You try a new venue. You go to a seminar and have to buy all the presenter's recommended gear. Your old stuff wears out, breaks or gets eaten by your dog. The cat chews it up. Your spouse runs over it. Worse, you run over it. You leave it at a show site in Timbuktu, never to be seen again. The garage possum steals it. (The latter is my go-to when I lose things. Damn garage possum got it.)


Dog trainers are famous for waving wads of cash and credit cards at show vendors, Etsy shops, local crafters and even each other. “Shut up and take my money!” While we know the right leash or a new article bag won’t guarantee a 200, it makes the journey more fun.


After so many years in the sport, one tends to accumulate an overabundance (which sounds better than sh*t load) of gear we no longer use. Maybe it wasn’t quite what you wanted. Maybe it was the impulse buy you were convinced would fix that pesky training problem for once and for all, only it didn’t. Maybe it was inevitable—anyone who has trained for a CDX has experienced the ends-are-too-small, bit-is-too-wide, plastic-versus-wood, OMG-my-dog-needs-a-gold-plated-blessed-by-the-Pope-dumbbell crisis. 

OTCh. Phoenix, working hand-me-down articles,
circa 2010, before wood was approved.
(Photo by Sheryl McCormick)

 Anyone who has trained more than one UD knows the angst of trying to get multiple careers out of a set of scent articles. Articles are arguably one of the most expensive pieces of equipment obedience trainers will buy and we all pray each new dog will "fit" our existing dog's articles. More insight for my non-training readers: even if you’re buying a stock size from a retailer, a nice set of leather and/or wood/metal with spares can easily run into the triple digits. 


If you need a custom size or want to fancy them up with artwork, have earplugs ready so you can’t hear your checking account screaming. (No, wait, that’s your husband, looking at the bank statement. Or maybe it’s the Garage Possum when supper is late.) If you prefer to have several sets to switch off during multi-trial weekends, take that initial investment and double or triple it. Go ahead. No one’s judging. Really.


My first and second UDs were Shelties. Due to size differences, they each had their own sets of articles. My Tervuren, Jamie, necessitated another set. When Malinois Phoenix arrived, I was delighted to discover he could use Jamie’s articles. Look at me, being all thrifty. About then, the AKC approved the use of wooden articles and I decided to switch from metal to wood. It’s only money, right? Here, take it. I’m not using it for anything important like groceries or the heating bill.

OTCh. Phoenix and OTCh. Jamie put lots of
good mojo in their handed-down set of scent articles.


Then Aussie Banner came and miracle of miracles, the Belgians’ articles fit him, too. Wow—I had three generations of UDX and/or OTCh. dogs using the same articles. I was feeling pretty clever.

The infamous "Aww, so sweet" article pic from USASA nationals in 2021.
The real translation was more like, 
"Eff you, lady, and the articles you rode in on."
Long story.
I'll tell it.
Some day.
(Photo credit: Pix 'N Pages)

These articles had logged hundreds of training and showing hours. They had been bounced off cement floors, used in wet grass, rolled in dirt, left out in the rain, run over by the lawn mower (bad trainer—bad, bad!), slobbered on, handled by stewards, judges, training friends and occasionally pounced on by barn cats. They’re cracked, gnawed, stained, scarred, the numbers have faded or peeled and the wooden ones have survived two dogs with hard mouths. They’ve seen things. They look . . . vintage . . . because “like hell” doesn’t seem very respectful to the sport.


We both know you don’t get extra points for having shiny new equipment in the ring but here I sit with Raider's Utility training progressing nicely . . . using scent articles that were purchased around the turn of the century and are on their fourth generation of dogs. 


Yeah. You know where this is going. I’m gonna buy a new set of articles for him. 

Chaos Goblins deserve new scent articles.

Which means I’ll need a new article bag, too.


Shut up and take my money! Take all of it!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Random thoughts from the driver's seat

We made it through another harvest season here at Wichmann Farms. There were the requisite amounts of heat, dust, wind, sun, cold, frost, rain, random breakdowns, late nights, miscommunication, mobile meals, chaos, mayhem and swearing. 


No one got hurt and the fire department was not involved this year, always a good thing, especially when harvesting in an area that’s been in extreme drought conditions for multiple years. 

The view never gets old.

Through it all, I logged lots of pickup-driving hours which provided lots of time to think about lots of things.




If a farmer pulling a loaded grain cart leaves a field two miles from home, how many ham sandwiches will it take before there’s a chance of rain and the feeder housing chain breaks? 


Great. It's starting to rain and I’m driving a truck where the windshield wipers were apparently installed like secret weapons in one of James Bond’s Aston Martins. I’ll just start flipping levers and see what happens.


If you want supper right now, you’re getting a ham sandwich. If you want supper in five minutes, you’re getting a hot ham sandwich. 


If you wanted your supper five minutes ago, do you want your peanut butter on white or wheat?

The view from atop my ladder, filling a fuel tank.

Here is a sweatshirt, batteries for the flashlight, the moisture test results from the co-op, a bottle of water and a sandwich with a dog hair in it so you feel at home.


Sloppy joes, barbecued beef, grilled chicken breasts, hamburgers, Casey’s pizza. Cookies, cookies, cookies. The five-star tailgate menu.


I am a very small woman driving a very big truck. Maybe if I pile up all the cast-off sweatshirts and sit on them, I’ll be able to see over the hood.


No, seriously, where are the windshield wipers in this thing?


Yes, I can give you a ride. Again. I live to serve.

I do not drive the semi.
Neither does Raider.

If you wanted me to be at a farm 15 minutes away in 5 minutes you should have called 10 minutes ago. Farm wife math is a special skill.


Oh holy hell, did something just fly out of the back of the pickup? 


Swear he said to pick him up at the east corner of the 40 on the north road. Or was it the north corner of 40 on the east road?


Crapweasel, the fuel gauge is on E. This is only marginally better than the check-engine light coming on randomly.

Iowa traffic jam.

There’s a field gate along here somewhere, right? In the dark. And the dust. Okay, I’m turning, that gate had better be where I left it or this is gonna be real not fun in a hurry.


Holy mother of God, why can’t GM put the $#@! wipers in the same place in all its vehicles?



Being a farm wife means you speak fluent Farmer. It’s not so much a different language, just requires a different skill set when it comes to interpretation. Most of it involves directions. Folks who live in town will struggle to appreciate this because for much of the civilized world, addresses are exactly that—1028 North Willow Street—and the like.


It’s a bit different out here in the hinterlands. 


“Can you walk out and get the Gator? It’s just over that hill” translates to “Better start now, it’ll be dark soon.”

Banner is not allowed to drive the Gator
even though he is sure he could.


“I’ll be in for supper at 7:30.” Do not get excited about this as no specific day is mentioned.


“I’m gonna need a ride to (insert obscure location somewhere in the county) after chores.” Do not believe this for a minute. Nothing is as simple as a single ride. Ever. There is always another farm, another field, another bin site, another tractor that needs to be ferried from Farm A to Farm B and wherever your Farmer is, he needs to be somewhere else.

“Can you come pick me up at the Jefferson 80? That’s south of Trenton’s past the Immanuel Church on the west side of the section.” The fact I know exactly where this is means after three decades plus of being a Farm Wife, my super power is that I can get in a pickup and actually FIND the Farmer at virtually any time of day or night, under any weather conditions with directions like these. 


Just saying "the Jefferson 80” would be sufficient but I think he gives the additional specifics because once, a very long time ago, he neglected to and it did not end well.


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

'We train at dawn!'

 Happy whatever day this is. I admit to having to consult my phone to confirm it is now Nov. 1 and the Christmas season has launched in all its Hallmark-y, consumer-driven glory. Bah, humbug. It's still meteorological fall and I’m sticking to that for another 30 days. 

 Harvest madness, obedience trials, a mild case of The Plague and a family member’s routine surgery, followed by violently un-routine complications, have had the Gypsy running around like a headless chicken the last few weeks. As a result, this week’s post may be a collection of random thoughts captured as they speed past with no guarantee of cohesion. Writerly people make it a point of avoiding that but I’m flying by the seat of my pants this morning. You have been warned.


Gnomes. Valet parking at UIHC. Incinerated electronics panel on the grain dryer.


See? And for the record, I had nothing to do with that last one.


So . . . last spring some wonderful friends at the Good Dog Center in Decorah, Iowa (look out girls, I’m naming names) launched a summer training challenge to encourage students to work their dogs in different places. Cuz we all know about the perfect backyard 200 dogs that disappear the second we step into the show ring.


The Chaos Goblin may or may not have nibbled on his winged training buddy
during the taking of this picture.

Students who documented training sessions in 50 new sites during a spring through autumn timeframe got a free class at the training center. For those who tackled the challenge with the intent of completing it, it no doubt paid dividends that went beyond the free class. If you are an instructor, you know how blessedly hard it is to get students to train in new places. Because. It’s. Work. And sometimes our dogs look at us like we’re speaking a foreign language when we ask them to perform away from the confines of a familiar training building.


I decided to create my own version of the challenge: train in two new places each week from Memorial Day through Labor Day. That would equal 36 new places away from home over three months. It wasn’t so much about setting up training equipment and creating perfect run-through as it was about continuing to build Goblin engagement under the pressure of people walking by, kids on playground equipment, squirrels doing squirrelly things, etc.


Raid thinks the sidewalk was named after him.
I did not tell him otherwise.

To make a long story short(er), Raider and I made it to 32 new places. The final prep for mom’s estate sale in late summer and a few weeks of truly hateful hell weather kept me from achieving 100% of my goal but I felt good about what we managed.


If you have a dog who can train routinely in one or two sites, then go into the ring and score 40-point heeling, that’s fan-freaking-tastic. My hat is off to you. I have never had that dog. I love a fully matted, climate-controlled training building as much as the next guy but that’s not within the scope of my reality. I am absolutely sparkling chartreuse green with envy (not a good look, trust me) of folks who live in metro areas where they can attend drop-in training, run-throughs and rent ring time in a variety of training centers every week.


Over the summer, we trained in parking lots, city squares, local parks, fairgrounds and on business district sidewalks. I asked Raid to work under some odd conditions and we struggled. I am sure passersby were thinking, “That woman needs to get professional help with that dog.” We did not look ring ready. Some days, he didn’t even look leash trained.


I swore one site was plagued by ghosts. It was the front lawn of a museum sited in a local historic building so I suppose anything is possible. Raid spent a lot of time staring at the doorway and I don’t think he was fascinated by the gorgeous hydrangea planted there.


No ghosts here. Move along. Nothing to see.

We encountered the Squirrel Mafia in a local park. You think I’m kidding. I am not. The squirrels there are large and in charge. They are fearless. It is their park and they know it. They sat on the picnic tables and hurled insults as we heeled by. A couple of times, they threw nuts at us from the trees. Or maybe it was just gravity but when you get a nut bounced off your head, you suspect the worst. I kept expecting one of the little tree rats to accost me and demand a toll for walking on his sidewalk. 


Other summer highlights included the rabbit . . . err . . . dumbbell . . . retrieve incident that nearly dislocated my shoulder. And a deer running straight through the “ring” at a local park. 


Pro tip: if planning to utilize sidewalks near restaurants, time your training NOT to coordinate with peak dining hours. It is not easy to focus on heeling when the scent of fried chicken, sauerbraten and wienerschnitzel is wafting from the Amana Colonies’ finest commercial kitchens.


The sidewalks in a nearby tourism-driven town are not,
in fact, rolled up in the evening.

 Some sessions went well. Others . . . went. Either way, Raider is an absolute riot to train and it is a privilege to have him at my side. I enjoyed our summer outings because they improved our teamwork AND gave me a respite from the on-going clean-out at my parents' house.


Will we ever show at a site that is rife with ghosts or wildlife? Probably not. And that’s not the point. The biggest benefit was learning Raid is generally a red hot mess when he arrives at any training site. That’s just who he is. He’ll never be the dog who can arrive at a trial and go straight into the ring. (Like that would ever happen—he’s owned by the woman who is genetically programmed to “get there early to get a good parking spot.”)


And now here we are, sipping coffee and eating Halloween candy for breakfast on All Saints Day (don’t judge, someone has to eat the leftover miniature peanut butter cups.) For all intents and purposes, outdoor training season is done here in the upper Midwest. This winter I hope to explore more retail sites that welcome dogs.


Whew. That was more cohesive than I thought. Have a grand whatever day this is. I think eating Halloween candy will clarified the thought process . . .



Raid and fren.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Get well soon - before I have to bite you

Over the years, I’ve lived with dogs who were genuinely concerned when I got sick or injured. My Terv, Jamie, was a gentle soul who would have been a medical doctor if he’d been a human. Even Phoenix, the crazy-ass Malinois, was incredibly perceptive when I wasn’t feeling well.

I’ve also lived with dogs looked at me in disappointment when my health was less than five stars. I could hear them thinking, “Damn. Who’s gonna feed us if she expires?” I currently live with dogs whose style of nursing care may reduce the number of days on this planet I’ve been allotted.


Earlier this week I came down with The Plague: chills, fatigue and horrible chest congestion. I did what any sensible person would do—staggered out of bed to take care of the dogs, ransacked the medicine cabinet for OTC remedies and went back to bed. The Farmer was exempt from applying TLC because any good farm wife knows she’d need to be waving a severed limb in order to justify getting him out of the tractor this time of year.


This is where Disney-esque dogs would leap into action, curling close to keep their beloved owner warm as she sleeps. Treating her with gentle concern. Displaying their utmost devotion during her hour of need.


My dogs are less Walt Disney and more Stephen King.


In the last two weeks, Banner has come into the house smeared with blood after dispatching a rat, then dispatching and partially consuming a tree rat. This dog will literally eat anything that will not eat him first. He would survive the zombie apocalypse in fine form.


Raider, well, Chaos Goblins are generally not known for their nursemaid qualities.

Gratuitous photo of my questionable caregivers.


For a minute, I questioned the wisdom of falling asleep—ill and weak or just plain mentally feeble—without putting the dogs in their crates but in my feverish state, I thought they would just curl up with me and we’d all have a nice nap.


So I crawled back under the blankets and contemplated imminent death. The dogs were busy barking at the Farmer through the front window as if they had never, ever in their lives seen him drive around on a tractor, doing morning chores. 


When the tractor entertainment vanished down the lane, Banner came to check on me. To his credit, he gave me a careful sniffing and licked my nose. Possibly to see if I was still alive or a candidate for second breakfast. I made a grumbly sound that soon turned into trying to cough up a lung and Banner decided he wasn’t having any of that nonsense. However, being allowed on the bed is not a privilege to be wasted so he went to the corner as far away from my infected carcass as he could get and went to sleep. I had no idea where Raider was or what he was doing but the house didn’t seem to be on the brink of imminent collapse so I didn't worry. Too much. Raid does have house manners. Most of them are bad.


Banner napped and I napped and everything was good until Raider ceased whatever mayhem he was committing in another part of the house. He bounced into the bedroom. And onto the bed. And after assessing the situation, onto my head. Because jumping on your owner’s head never fails to generate some sort of response.


I suspect it was not the response he wanted.


I managed to croak, “WTF are you doing?” and he backed off. Then he belly crawled to within an inch of my face and stared at me. I had one second to think, “Aww, he knows I’m sick and he’s actually going to calm and sensible for a—,” before he raised a paw and poked me on the nose. When I failed to respond, he did it again. 


More grumbly noises ensued. Banner stomped across the bed to put the smack down on the noisy offender(s) who were spoiling his nap. This resulted in much chaos being committed in a single space, most of which I was already occupying. It also resulted in me being treated to repeated, up-close views of male dog anatomy. 


My wheezing, rattling lungs eventually imparted the message I did not want dog nuts in my face and would their owner please take them somewhere else. He did. I didn’t know what Raider was doing and as long as the house wasn’t on fire, I didn’t really care. Banner went back to his corner and peace ensued for about three minutes, just long enough for me to drift into a chemically-induced dream state where my loved ones were not trying to suffocate me by sitting on my face. 


Then Raider came back. Not discouraged by my previous lack of enthusiasm, he decided to display his affection by sticking his nose into the neckline of my hoodie. This is very sweet if the dog just gives you a quick snuffle, then cuddles in for a nap. It is not sweet at all if the dog starts burrowing like a badger on crack. I don’t remember what I said. It probably included four-letter words but my dogs have heard them so often, they are rather impervious. But they both left. Fine. Go kill something. Preferably not each other. 


Then Raider came back and jumped on the bed. He took one look at me, flopped over and rolled on me. Literally. On top of me, on his back, feet in the air. Paws and legs and all parts of anatomy waving madly around.


He also rolls on dead bugs in exactly this fashion, so I didn’t find this to be an encouraging expression of get well wishes.


Eventually, I fell asleep. I have no idea what the dogs did while I coasted along in pharmaceutical dreamland but the house was still standing when I woke up and there weren’t any firetrucks on the yard so I’ll take that as a win.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Can you hear me now?

When the Farmer and I got married in 1991, we had one landline phone in our house. We didn’t call it a landline phone, just a phone-phone, because there weren't any other phone options. It sat on a little stand in the kitchen. The receiver was attached to the base (for you youngsters, phones had two parts back then—the handset and the base) by an umbilical cord that, if untangled, probably would have reached out to the barn.

As it was, it reached about 12 inches because the rest of it was a snarly mess that looked like it had been mauled by a rabid badger. I routinely forgot this and would go walking around the kitchen with the receiver, mid-call, only to drag the base off the little stand and have it crash onto the floor. That was the original “dropped call.” 


But it was a slimline, push-button phone which was a 110 percent improvement over the rotary dial phone anchored to the wall in the house where I grew up. Those of you who remember rotary dial phones will remember the very real possibility you could forget where you were in the string of digits you were dialing by the time the dial completed its spin and was ready for the next digit. Forget winning any radio call-in contests if you had a rotary phone. Girls’ teen magazines of the era recommended using a pencil so you didn’t chip your nail polish while dialing.


 n those early years, Jeff spent a lot of time coming into the house to make calls as needed during the course of the farming day. If I was home, I spent a lot of time carrying the phone out to him on the back porch so he didn’t have to take his boots off to come inside. If you raise cattle, you understand this.


If someone called for Jeff and he wasn’t in the house (which was 98% of the time), I had to take a message. Depending on the urgency of the call, I had the option of waiting until he came in for a meal or jumping in a pickup and going out on a recon mission to find him. If he deemed the message important, he would come home to return the call. How did we ever get anything done back then?


After the derecho in 1998 flattened a machine shed on the home place (that was back before derechos were a Thing like they are now—we just called them straight line winds and everyone went on about their business), we built a new machine shed and had a phone line trenched in to the office there. Talk about the height of luxury! No more “Honey, can you bring me the phone?”


I don’t remember what year we got our first cordless phone but boy wasn’t that exciting! Now we (and by we, I mean ME) didn’t have to get up and run to the kitchen to answer the phone when it rang in the middle of “Friends.” Kids today will never understand the concept of having to go to another room to answer the phone.


Now we could be interrupted 18 times a night by telemarketers without ever having to get up out of our La-Z-Boys. This new technology also created the risk of losing the phone when it got buried under last week’s newspapers on the end table or in a blanket, something that never happened when it was firmly attached to the base by 27 feet of badger-mauled cord.


 At some point, we got a phone with multiple handsets. One could stay on the base in the kitchen, while a second handset could sit on a charger right next to a recliner in the living room. 


Soon after that, I bought an answering machine and became a professional call screener (also known as hiding from people who can’t see you in the first place). Wowza—were we on the cutting edge of space age technology or what?


The answering machine was a tremendous time-saver as we no longer had to find the TV remote, turn the volume down on the TV, answer the phone and listen to the spiel for some oddball product or service we didn’t want. Nope. Now we turned the volume down on the TV and sat holding our breath in silence, waiting to hear if it was some loony sales pitch or a real, live person we wanted to talk to. If it was the latter, we had to wait until they committed to leaving a message, then there was a mad scramble to pick up the handset and punch the “talk” button while yelling “Hey, I’m here, don’t hang up!”


Somewhere in all of this, we had a bag phone in one of the farm pickups. This was all fine and good but if whoever was in the pickup was calling whoever was in the house, and that person wasn’t in the house, we were right back where we started. Carrier pigeons might have been easier.


I got my first cell (an LG flip phone) in the early 2000’s and Jeff got one not too long after that. We kept the house landline because the home computer we had at the time required it. I can still hear the electronic beeps and buzzes of that 56K modem connecting. By the time we’d traded our flip phones for the early series iPhones, we’d found an internet provider who could bounce a signal from a tower to somewhere in the general vicinity of our house and on a good day, we could catch hold of it and connect. We finally ditched the landline phone because the only people who called us on it were telemarketers.


 Now we have satellite internet out here in our cornfield in the back of beyond. Jeff and I each have a cell phone and a laptop. I can sit outdoors on the patio on fine evenings and order things from Amazon and Chewy to my heart’s content because the Wifi signal reaches that far. My cell has replaced our landline, answering machine, telephone book, hand-held calculator, and to some degree, the TV. 


And I remember the days we were excited to have a phone in the machine shed.