Friday, January 26, 2024

The winter of our discontent

January has 31 days that last approximately 27 weeks. We intrepid Midwesterners are making good use of our time by shoveling snow, obsessing about that weird noise the furnace is making, checking water lines to make sure they’re not frozen, busting drifts to the LP tank to check the gauge and wondering what scientific principle causes snow to form the biggest drifts in the most inconvenient spots. 

By the way, that wheezing, gasping noise the furnace makes? Like its jeans are too tight because it ate too many sugar cookies over Christmas? Pay attention ‘cuz you’ll need to explain it to the repairman when it quits. Quits making the noise and quits making heat. Pretty much in that order.


That’s how we started the new year. Our furnace went AWOL on Jan. 1. It got fixed the next day but until then, there was about a week when the house was . . . chilly. I take a dim view of being chilly. Fortunately, I have a lot of clothes to prevent that condition. I put them all on and waddled around like the Michelin man.


The repair guy was prompt and professional. He ripped a lot of old furnace innards out and put a lot of new furnace innards in. He explained it all in great detail. The only two things I understood were “This is going to be expensive” and “You need to replace your 20-year-old air conditioner because the (insert technical explanation here) is screwing up your furnace motor.” I had a hard time thinking about air conditioners when I was swaddled in layers of silk, fleece and wool, topped off by my sexy new Carhartt vest. Hey, in farm fashion, form follows function and warm is damn sexy.


Aside from the furnace crisis, this winter got off to a slow start with a little snow here and a little snow there. In fact, we got zero snow in December which in absolutely no way prepared us for the second week of January when it started snowing and didn’t stop until sometime in March.


You may have noticed I am having problems with linear time. Winter messes with the space/time continuum and as a result, I am sure it’s been winter for at least six months and we may never see the sun again.


 As meteorologists predicted dire wolves around every corner with the coming winter storm, I did the traditional pre-storm prep. I went to the grocery store and bought milk, eggs, chocolate chips and bread. Or I would have if there’d been any bread. The shelf was bare except for a package of very tired looking hamburger buns. I guess everyone else had the same idea. I filled R2’s gas tank, which made no sense because if it snowed as much as they said it was going to, no one was going anywhere for a very long time.


Then I came home and de-pooped the dogs’ yard because I figured it might be June before I saw bare ground again. I saluted all the yard work that hadn’t gotten done in the fall, then went indoors to wait for the snow to start. I confess to harboring a secret delight while awaiting the approaching snowmageddon, like a 10-year-old, anticipating school being canceled. 


We got about 22 inches of snow, which amounted to something stupid like 75% of our normal winter snowfall coming over four days, complete with howling wind that dropped windchills to -30. Everything that could freeze solid, did. Except our furnace which chugged along like the happy little camper it was after we dropped beaucoup (everything sounds better in French) bucks on it the previous week and promised it a new air conditioning unit to keep it company, providing we didn’t freeze to death before it could be installed.


County road north of our house. (Photo by Taylor Hagen)

“No mosquitos, no alligators, no hurricanes” became my mantra as I shoveled open the back door so the dogs could get out to do their thing. For reasons known only to Ma Nature, trillions of tiny little snowflakes swirl over our house on the north wind and drop directly onto the patio in front of the back door.


Banner has always been a dog who will cheerfully pee anywhere, including on rocks, dirt, cement, asphalt and anything that is snow-covered. In an attempt to keep him from creating a frozen dog pee skating rink on the patio, I had to shovel that damn drift repeatedly. Which annoyed me. I spent a good deal of this month being annoyed.


The first round of snow was like shoveling water. The mercury hadn’t fallen out of the bottom of the thermometer yet and the relatively warm temps meant snow with a high water content and weighed about 20 pounds per scoop. I read somewhere the indigenous people of the north have multiple words for snow, depending on if it’s heavy, wet, dry, fluffy, marshmallow-flavored, etc.


I have one word for snow. Use your imagination.

The snow was pretty for about 10 minutes. And then it wasn't.
(Photo by Melinda Wichmann)


Snow before Christmas conjures images of sledding, hot cocoa, snowball fights and romantic walks with your sweetie through a forest of twinkling evergreens like a Hallmark movie. Snow in January is something that makes you swear and throw your shovel in a temper fit and start checking real estate listings south of the Mason-Dixon Line.


When it stopped snowing, winter got serious about getting its cold on. This meant the county snowplows were faced with miles of rural roads covered in eight- to 10-foot drifts the consistency of hardened cement. One county snowplow driver reported clearing two miles in an eight-hour day. Their standard operating procedure was ram it, back up and ram it again. They broke loose about six feet at a time.


We didn’t go anywhere. Everything was closed. All of it. The entire state.


 I routinely re-shoveled the drift outside the back door so the dogs could get out and so Banner wouldn’t kill us all when we slipped on frozen dog pee on the patio and wiped out. Dog owners know this is a thing. The struggle is real.


I wish I had taken more pictures but there was the whole frostbite issue, not to mention the dogs wouldn’t stay outside longer than it took to do what needed doing, so the photo ops weren’t great.


When we finally DID get out, driving was kind of like bumper bowling.
(Photo by Melinda Wichmann)

Just when we got dug out and the IDOT started using the term “normal winter driving conditions” with a sort of desperate optimism, here came the freezing rain to put a nice little ice glaze over the top of everything. And fog so thick even Rudolph would have filed a complaint with his union rep.


By some predestined marketing miracle, there were no cattle on Wichmann Farms’ yards for the first winter in 32 years when the shi-, um snowstorm, hit. This meant no twice-a-day livestock chores made more difficult by having to clear snow and deal with frozen gates, waterers, tractors, silo unloaders, feeder wagons and body parts.

The Farmer, who admitted to feeling kind of lazy (an unheard term, when applied to farmers in general and this Farmer in particular) without any cattle on feed in December when the sun was shining and the temps floated merrily in the 40s, looked out the window on the first -30 windchill morning with snow screaming across the plains, smiled broadly and sat back down to watch Good Morning America. 


And here we are now, amidst the over-hyped January thaw, slopping through the rotten snow and rain and slush and mush and everything is wet and cold and dirty and we’re all crabby.


The key to keeping my sanity? Garden catalogs. And maybe a little tipple of Bailey’s in my hot cocoa.


I think the HVAC guys are coming to install our new air conditioner next week.

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .
(Photo by Melinda Wichmann)




Thursday, December 28, 2023

It's a wrap

In a nutshell, 2023 was six months of desperation followed by two months of sweat and exhaustion, ending with wondering what day it was and trying to exorcise the demons that demanded I be frantically busy from morning to night.

The new year started by doubling down on cleaning out Mom’s house (hereafter known as The House), following her passing in late 2022. I didn’t have an end game in sight beyond a vague notion of a sale at some point. I literally couldn’t think beyond the immediate need to sort through the accumulation of six decades that filled each room. And the garages, barn, chicken house, granary and machine shed. They say nothing will make you a minimalist faster than having to clean out your parents’ house. They are right.


Also, the ancient furnace at The House went out. Multiple times. My immersion into being an absentee landlord (even for a vacant house) was not a kind and gentle one. I had the local plumbing and heating service on speed dial. January involved a lot of coffee.


 And there was a tornado in Iowa County. A freaking tornado in January. Guess who took this photo? It was not me. I was in the basement with the dogs, like any good NWS-trained storm spotter who is not interested in doing an intercept on her back porch, which was exactly where that thing was headed until it had the good sense to lift about a mile southwest of our house. It was rated an EF0 or EF1 but still managed to tear up some neighbors’ trees and buildings and flip a semi on Interstate 80.


 February was a 28-day repeat of January, including the coffee and furnace issues at The House but minus the tornado. 


In March, Banner threw up a nail. I have no idea why he ate a nail in the first place. It is further proof this dog would survive the zombie apocalypse. He would eat the zombies before they ate him.



March brought another round of wild weather, with a severe thunderstorm that did a number on our trees and farm buildings. The storm also left a spectacular display of mammatus clouds in its wake. This delighted me because until then, I’d only seen mammatus while watching reruns of “Storm Chasers.” 


 Things started to get a little twitchy with my job in the spring. The shine had gone off the new publisher’s promises to make everything sparkly and golden in my ragged little newspaper kingdom. Opinions were voiced. Things were said. I was handed a fifth paper to run, in addition to the four I was already struggling to keep afloat as the sole full-time editor/reporter/photographer and chief mugwump. 


April was a blur. I went to dog shows and kept cleaning out The House. I also made a Big Decision.


May brought a trip to USASA nationals, a delightful escape from reality, confirming my decision to follow the meme and build a life I didn’t need to escape from.


I came home from nationals and quit my job. I’d been running the papers solo since 2019, with a few dedicated stringers who kept me from totally losing my mind but it was clear the corporate cavalry was never going to send reinforcements. I was burned out, stressed out, up to my eyeballs in dealing with The House and my parents’ farm, being executor for Mom’s estate and acting as care advocate for my aunt in a care center. I was living on iced coffee and Mt. Dew. This was not a sustainable life plan.


I smiled as I walked out of the office for the last time. No regrets. Zero ducks to give.


 Summer was a whirlwind of cleaning and decisions at The House. What to keep? What to sell? What is this worth? What IS this? 


I brought home a few special pieces and let the rest go. One of the best discoveries was this flower garden quilt, hand-pieced by my grandma Hanson, who died before I was born.


One of the more memorable achievements of The House’s clean-out was orchestrating the move of a walnut blanket chest handmade by my grandfather down the suicide stairs from the second floor. The Farmer said it wouldn’t fit. I said it would. The chest was 27 inches wide. The staircase was 27.5 inches wide. I was careful not to point out who was right because I needed the person who was wrong to help move the thing. The move was accomplished without getting 911 involved and both the Farmer and my bro-in-law are still speaking to me.


The end was in sight. We hauled over a ton of junk to the landfill. Wonderful friends helped me box and price what remained. So. Many. Boxes. I may have developed an unnatural inclination to fondle boxes while whispering, "My precious."

They also helped carry things down from the second floor and no one took a header down the stairs, which is saying quite a bit. A Sawzall was involved in order to get a few things out. I am not kidding. Seriously. I continued to be grateful we'd come this far without getting a trauma center involved and was confident I was marching toward victory in the battle of Woman vs. House.


 In spite of the prep for the estate sale dominating nearly every aspect of my life through the summer, I stuck with my goal of training with Raider in two new places each week from May 1 through Sept. 1. I cannot emphasize how effectively this knocked my rose-colored “He’s perfect at home so he knows how to do it, right?” glasses right off my face. We worked through rabbits in the Conroy Park, squirrels in the Williamsburg Park and ghosts at the Homestead Church Museum. Raid thinks this chunk of sidewalk in Williamsburg belongs to him. It has his name on it and everything. 


 In August, my folks' estate sale was blessed with decent weather, fantastic turn-out and tons of help from incredible friends. And if I never have to do another one, it will be too soon.


By Sept. 1, The House was listed with a realtor. I celebrated another trip around the sun with a homemade chocolate cake. It was extra good because I put it on my grandma’s antique cut glass cake stand. 


Autumn arrived and Raider and I enjoyed more trials. He was good and he was bad and he got some ribbons and pieces of paper that claim he Knows Things. He is the best Chaos Goblin ever.


(Photo by Pix 'N Pages)

In November, I signed the final papers, passing The House to a new owner. The relief was palpable and bittersweet.  


So now I’m sitting here as the old year fades, relieved that a lot of really hard things are behind me and thankful for the friends (and dogs and coffee) who helped me put them there. I’m not sure what retirement is supposed to feel like but I can appreciate the deadlines I live by now are of my own creation. And I’m getting a little better at doing nothing some days and being happily exhausted from it.


(Photo by Kathy Davidson)

Wishing you all the very best in the coming year.

Friday, December 15, 2023

So long, farewell

I signed the papers to sell Mom and Dad’s house a few weeks ago. This closed a 15-month saga that involved a serious relationship with the Louisa County solid waste department, my first (and last) estate sale and an education about deeds, abstracts, surveyors, realtors, subdivision regulations and the county board of supervisors, not to mention prospective buyers who made absurd offers as if they did not understand the concept of math. 

My grandmother, Laurel Hanson, at The House

The House (yes, uppercase, it was a law unto itself and deserving of being a proper noun) and farm in southeast Iowa were home to three generations of my family, starting with my grandparents, John E. and Laurel (Gaskell) Hanson, who settled there in the 1930s.


John and Laurel Hanson, my grandparents.
If I were a better family historian, I'd be able to
provide a date but am guessing it was taken in the 1950s.

Signing the final paperwork to sell the newly surveyed acreage (house and farm outbuildings) was bittersweet. Even though I hadn’t lived there for 40 years and the place had given me more gray hair in the last year than any of my dogs and The Farmer combined, it was hard to accept that every signature on every document made it that much closer to no longer being mine.

The House fell squarely on my shoulders after mom’s death. Her sister, who had lived with her since my father died, had moved to a care center and the place was sitting empty (figuratively speaking), never a healthy situation for houses in the country. If anything was to be done with the family farmstead, I was going to have to do the doing. 


From October of 2022 through late summer of this year, I spent most weekends making the 200-mile round trip to The House to clean and sort and pitch. It was an odyssey of garbage bags and WTF discoveries and childhood memories.


Mom was a saver and not a terribly organized one. I’ll just leave it at that. I’d find cash stashed in boxes filled with yellowed recipe clippings and 10-year-old receipts for Casey’s pizza. This meant every dusty box, envelope and file folder had to be sifted through, lest I toss Ulysses S. Grant and Ben Franklin out with the bathwater.


My dad, Frank Hanson, before his service in the Korean War


We’re not going to talk about Mom's will, which I may or may not have thrown out. There WAS a will. I found multiple copies, all carefully stamped COPY in red ink. Where the original dwelt remains a mystery for the ages. It was not in any of the appropriate places where one might put one’s will—like on file at the lawyer’s office or a safe deposit box in the bank. Mom’s sister swore it was in an envelope on the kitchen counter.


This was not helpful intelligence.


However, since there were about 5,000 other assorted items piled in teetering stacks on the kitchen counter, I’m sure it was perfectly safe there. No one would have ever found it, including me. By the time I’d started sorting through the archaeological dig that was the kitchen, I’d already stumbled across a box of cash totaling $4,973 in small bills so I was wise to my mother’s proclivities. I threw out nothing without examining it closely first.


Nonetheless, the will remained AWOL.


I admit to harboring uncharitable thoughts about how much easier my life would be if a natural disaster were to reduce The House to ash or rubble. Through the spring and summer of 2023, I held my breath every time a tornado warning was issued for Louisa County. At first, I prayed a nice, short track EF5 would decimate the whole place and turn it into little more than an insurance claim and a phone call to a guy with a bulldozer. As the summer progressed, my thoughts changed to pure panic whenever severe weather rolled through. I was terrified that was exactly what would happen and all my dusty weekend hours of filling trash bags would be for naught.


Spring - 1980s; we never sprayed for dandelions.
The bees must have been so happy.

In the end, The House withstood everything Mother Nature threw at it, just like it had for the last 100+ years. The Farmer and I finished cleaning it and outbuildings, held an estate sale, then hired the services of an estate buyer who waved his magic wand and made everything that didn’t sell, vanish. Including the garbage. Seriously. He was marvelous. I could have hugged him if it hadn’t been August and I was sweating like a water buffalo. By that point I was close to losing my ever-loving sh*t if I had to deal with another box of 1960s kitchenware or the hulk of some antique whatchamacallit that threatened to dissolve into rust if we had to move it one more time. 


I met the new owner for exactly 45 minutes at the closing. He was genuinely delighted with the property and even though I think his pleasure was geared more to the barn and outbuildings than The House, his  obvious joy made it easier to hand over the keys. I signed the last document and shook his hand, suddenly wanting to tell him about the bee tree in the north corner of the grove behind the barn and how I used to sit near it and listen to bees humming merrily away and if I was brave enough to get close, I could see the combs, dripping honey deep in the trunk. I wondered if it was still there. How long do bees stay in one place?


And how there used to be a row of red cedar trees lining the driveway until straight-line winds (it was a derecho before anyone knew what derechos were) in June of 1998 dropped a couple of them on The House and my parents had them all cut down.


And how the original pocket doors from the first floor were still out in the granary, their fanciful Victorian hardware rusting away, a victim of the energy crisis in the 1970s, when The House’s high ceilings were lowered and the pocket doors removed.


Pocket door hardware. The House had
doorknobs and hinges to match.


And how the second floor bedroom, the one painted Pepto Bismol pink, was mine—my eyrie at the top of The House where I spent endless hours lost in books, only slightly disappointed my parents would not allow me to have a television in my room although my friends thought this was the height of neglect.


And that the draft horse harnesses used by my Grandpa Hanson were still hanging in the loft of the century-old barn with its pegged mortise and tenon joints.


And about all the time I spent in that barn, looking for nests of kittens in the spring.


And the endless parade of wildlife that routinely marches across the lawn between The House and the adjacent field on its way to and from the business of wild creatures in the river bottoms—deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, raccoons, skunks, possums and the occasional fox and coyote.


And the front porch, with its curlicue millwork, where my mom used to sit and watch while I trained my 4-H project dogs on the lawn on summer evenings.


And all the fruit trees (apple, cherry, apricot and persimmon), the asparagus and strawberry beds and rhubarb patch that my parents used to cultivate.


And how the kitchen smell of melted wax when I blew out the candles on my birthday cakes—homemade angel food with Mom’s sticky white frosting—and of tart, sweet fruit and sugar when she and Dad made jam in the summers.


The House

And about the 25+ black walnut trees that still are, thanks to my Grandma Hanson’s love of walnuts. (The guy didn’t look stupid. He’ll figure that out in a hurry.)


And the scent of a fresh cut river bottom cedar tree filling The House at Christmas.


And the suicide stairs to the second floor. Okay, they're the only stairs to the second floor. You got used to them.


And why there is a plaster bust of Native American Chief Keomah sitting in front of the attic door because if you don’t prop the door open when you go inside, it swings shut and even though it doesn’t latch, believe me, when you are 13 years old and already reading too much Steven King and the attic door closes of its own accord, you learn not to take chances. (Chief Keomah’s plaster likeness was a showmanship prize at a dog show back in the 1970s. I hope the new owner appreciates his door stop abilities.)


But in the end, I didn’t say any of it because these were my memories to treasure and didn’t need to be shared with strangers. The new owners will make their own and if any of them overlap, then I hope the discoveries bring them as much happiness as I found there.


The House, autumn 2023


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!