Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 Iowa Renaissance Festival

Spent part of today at the Iowa Renaissance Festival in Amana. In keeping with well-established Renaissance festival tradition, it rained. At least it was 75 degree rain as opposed to last year, which was 55 degree rain.

The turkey leg was tasty, the shows were entertaining, the people watching was, um, well, seriously, you just had to be there.

Here are some highlights. And yes, the white statue lady was "real."

Friday, May 23, 2014

The breed-hopper strikes again

“You are such a breed hopper!” a friend of mine told me. She was right. I am guilty as charged - if changing breeds every time I get a puppy is cause for guilt, I should be dysfunctional with the burden of it.

Only I’m not.

I’m dysfunctional with puppy-itis. Seriously. Wickedly. Bad. Puppy-itis.

The puppies are here! Nine beautiful babies delivered safely last night to a first-time mom who outdid herself. One will be coming to Iowa in a couple of months. Color and sex are undecided at the moment although there are boy puppies and girl puppies in all sorts of lovely colors so I’m not freaking out about which one. Yet.

They are . . . drum roll please . . . red bone coonhounds!

Just kidding!

They are Australian shepherds. (I can hear the cheers of victory and the howls of defeat from Dear Readers who were breathlessly anticipating winning the not-a-contest in my last post.)

Yep. I hopped breed lines again - from tervuren to shelties back to tervuren to malinois and now into the great unknown of aussies.

Well, not totally the great unknown. It’s not like I’m importing a Short Snouted Norwegian Bear-Treeing Flueglehund.

I love my shepherd dogs. Shetland shepherds. Belgian shepherds. Australian shepherds. I’m very consistent in my inconsistency.

As Jamie quietly turned grayer and grayer and Phoenix mysteriously turned 7 years old last December, I knew at some point I needed to get a puppy if I intended to keep playing this game of dogs. I didn’t want a puppy. Really. I didn’t. I wanted my Belgians to live forever in a wonderful Belgian paradise where we were eternally happy and surrounded by nose pokes and tooth clacks and disappearing laundry because someone can’t keep his big nose out of the hamper. In spite of my denial, reality kept jabbing at me, inconveniently reminding me that my “baby dog” was 7 and my old dog was nearing 15 and this status quo was not going to last forever.

The act of starting the puppy quest was bittersweet. It meant that I knew Jamie would be leaving me in the near future. As much as I didn’t want to think about that, neither did I want to be a one-dog family for very long.

I spent a lot of time whittling down my short list. There are so many breeds I want to experience firsthand! Then I spent a ridiculously agonizingly stupidly insane amount of time on the final decision. People are blowing themselves up in the name of religion and using military power to conquer neighboring countries and I’m obsessed with what kind of dog to get next. No wonder I never have time to cause trouble. (Insert Farmer eye roll here.)

I admire people who commit their lives to one breed. Shelties. Tervuren. Malinois. Boxers. Poodles. Corgis. Labradors. I have friends who announce they are getting a puppy and I never have to ask “What breed?” I tell people I am getting a puppy and they raise their eyebrows and say, “What is it this time?”

We all play the “next dog” game, no matter how many dogs currently share our lives. I had an automatic list of breeds I would have gotten again in a heartbeat: tervuren, malinois, sheltie. Then I had a list of breeds that I seriously wanted to invite to share my life: Australian shepherd, Australian cattledog, English shepherd.


I would have loved another terv. Jamie was the sweetest, gentlest, funniest dog I’ve ever had. He was gorgeous, dignified, graceful, kind and patient. I could sit here all day and type glowing adjectives to describe him. He was also nearly 26” tall. So Tervs were off the list. Yeah, I could have gotten a bitch, who would be smaller, but I was working under the “get a boy” assumption.

If I were 25 again (or had access to mind-altering drugs and prescription strength pain killers. Just kidding. Sort of.) I would get another malinois. Phoenix is an amazing dog. He is physically incredible and mentally staggering. I love him more with every beat of my heart. I am eternally grateful for our journey together.

But I am honestly not up for another journey of this magnitude. Maybe all mals are not all like him. Maybe they are. People who live with malinois will understand. There is normal normal and there is Malinois normal which does not come anywhere near close to normal normal. They are not for the faint of heart. Phoenix stands almost 24” and I am serious about getting a smaller dog so malinois were off the list.

Three breeds emerged successfully from the “GET A SMALLER DOG” filter: sheltie, Aussie and cattle dog. The English shepherds were still in the running, sort of, kind of, for awhile.

English shepherds intrigued me. I love their “farm dog” look. I love the air of good, old-fashioned, common sense they have. But ES are not an AKC-recognized breed. That is neither here nor there but I mostly show in AKC events so would have to register one as an “All American Dog” and it would eliminate me from being able to show at any AKC trials not allowing “All American Dogs.”

We could go the UKC route for trials, but UKC trials are not abundant in this part of the country. Plus ES come in a staggering variety of sizes which is understandable in a breed valued for working ability vs conforming to aesthetic values. I’m sure there are smaller lines but with my luck, I figured I’d end up with another 24 or 25” tall dog.

Shelties. Sigh. Smile. Sigh. I will have a sheltie again some day. But I’m not ready to go THAT small yet.

Australian cattle dogs fascinate me. Family members have had them. The Farmer had one when we first met. They have a lot of the same qualities that attracted me to malinois. Practical. Tough. Herding dog smart. Agile. Low maintenance coat. They have adorable smiles. (Oh come on, they do!) On one of my journeys with Phoenix, I met a retired K9 officer who had both a malinois and an ACD. ACDs are like mini malinois, she said. Hmmm . . . maybe . . . then reality smacked me up side the head.

What’s my favorite sport? Obedience! When was the last time you saw an ACD in an obedience ring? That would be . . . 20 years before God made dirt. Seriously. Yes, I know there are a couple of OTCh. ACDs. There are a whole lot more who aren’t. I know ACDs can be brilliant in that conniving, manipulating, controlling way of herding dogs who are happy to do whatever you ask unless they think they have a better reason not to do it. Along with a smaller dog, I am also looking for one who is a tiny bit more biddable and less inclined to argue about who is right and who is wrong and whose ideas are best on any given day.

And so we have arrived at Aussies. Sealey, Kina and Julia - this is all your fault. Over the last 15 years, you wiggled your cute butts through my classes and stopped at agility trials to say hit. You were sweet, bright, athletic, silly and gorgeous. I watched you learn during classes and if you thought your owners were dumber than a loaf of bread for wanting you to do stuff like fetch dumbbells they kept throwing away, well, you kept it to yourself and fetched the dumbbells because it made your people happy. You were enthusiastic and energetic without requiring anyone to put the paramedics on standby. You cared without arguing. You were diplomatic in your disagreements.

And now eight very long weeks begin.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The short list

Decided on a breed. Check.

Contacted a breeder. Check. (It's too cool that she is someone I met back in the day when we were both just starting out and showing shelties in obedience. We've moved on to other breeds and additional venues but continued to bump into each other at performance events over the years.)

Breeding planned. Check.

Breeding accomplished. Check.

Ultrasound to confirm breeding was successful. Check.

Wait. Wait. Freaking wait some more. Check.

X-rays to count puppy skulls and spines yesterday. Check. (Any weird noise you hear in the background is the breeder gasping for air when she saw HOW MANY of the little critters are packed in there.)

Now we wait. Until Thursday. Or Friday. Or Saturday.

Since the Blessed Event is finally within shouting distance, thought I'd present you, Dear Readers, with the short list of breeds that might be Phoenix's new little bro or sis.

Here they are, in no particular order. Cast your vote and you'll be entered for a grand prize drawing to win . . . um . . . nothing. Sorry. I got excited.

1) Belgian tervuren

2) Shetland sheepdog

3) Australian cattledog

4) Australian shepherd

5) Belgian malinois

5) English shepherd

Tell me why you think I might choose that particular breed. (Yeah, I clearly have a strong herding dog bias.) Some of you already know. In spite of my determination not to publicly go batshit puppy-itis crazy until the litter was safely delivered, well, you what it's like trying to keep a secret in the dog community.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


I initially wrote this as a newspaper column focused on advice for the high school graduating class of 2014. Then I tweaked it a little for dog folk.


• Follow your passion. Don’t do something just because everybody else is doing it.

• Not everyone you meet is going to be supportive and encouraging. Most will, but a few won’t be able to think beyond their own insecurities. Don’t take it personally. Grudges are just one more thing you have to haul around and if you’re involved in dog sports, you’ve already got enough gear to schlepp.

• Every time someone is rude or downright nasty to you, pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. Especially people you don’t even know.

• You never know how you can touch someone’s life with a smile or small act of kindness.

• If it doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, it probably isn’t.

• You’ve only got one body. Take care of it. You’re not going to be 18 (or 38 or 48) forever so start making good habits now. You’re breakable. Medical science can repair, replace and prevent a lot of things but it can’t cure stupid. Don’t be stupid. This applies to your dog’s body, too.

• Practice tolerance. There is a whole planet full of people out there who may not share your world view. You’ll set yourself up for a lifetime of misery by disapproving of everyone who doesn’t agree with you.

• Keep your mind open and your mouth shut.

• Smile, laugh, sing out loud. Kiss your dog. Kiss your partner. Hug your friends.

• Don’t be so worried about tomorrow that you can’t enjoy today.

• Be responsible. You’re an adult. Your actions have consequences and you have to live with them.

• Judge not. Unless you have a license and a club has hired you.

•  Be determined. Be persistent. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you refuse to give up.

• No one owes you anything. You want it? You make it happen.

• It’s okay to be frustrated, pissed off and disappointed. Go sit in your car and pound on the steering wheel and shed some tears, but don’t take it out on your dog or your friends. Nobody wants to see it. Then let it go and figure out how to make it not happen again.

• You’re going to make bad decisions and screw stuff up. Learn from those mistakes. Make new ones next time.

• You can't fix a problem using the same thinking that created it.

• Be yourself. It’s who you were meant to be. Trying to be someone else doesn’t work. If you’re trying to be someone else to please someone else, that especially doesn’t work.

• You are a unique individual - celebrate the gifts you have been given. Share them with others whenever you can.

• If you have a job, good health, a sound dog and disposable income to spend on dog sports, you have more than a lot of people.

• Count your blessings and never take your support network for granted.

There’s a popular graphic circulating on Facebook that reads, “When I was little, I couldn’t wait to be an adult. This shit isn’t what I expected.”

Yeah, there are days when being an adult (dog trainer) is overrated, but it’s a journey that’s going to last for the rest of your life so look for the good stuff and you’ll find it.

The door has been opened, walk through it with your dog and begin that journey.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Free For All Friday

Today's post is brought to you by my iPhone. Because how did we ever exist as a human race before we could snap pics of random things on the spur of the moment to share with the world?

I had to buy this plant. Had. To. Could you have resisted? 
We're talking CHOCOLATE here, people!

This is Phoenix's butt. And Bonus Cat. 
Yes, he has the leash in his mouth. This is how we roll.

"I caught this for you. It was trying to hide in the bottom 
of a gear bag on top of some furniture but I caught it."

The call of the wild is a beautiful thing.
Possessed. But beautiful.

What? You don't keep your cats in galvanized buckets?
(Siren is now Assistant Gardener In Charge of Buckets)

Stormfront approaching.

Brief update on things: corn planting marathon is complete. Farmer's Brother is still in hospital. Soybean planting has commenced. Skinny Little Dog and I are off to do AKC obedience this weekend. Bonus Cat will not be going with us. Not even in a bucket.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

La vida loca

I'm pretty sure Ricky Martin has never been through a spring planting season on an Iowa farm in his life but the title to his hit song is appropriate for life here at Wichmann Manor. This would account for the near abandonment of this blog in recent weeks. Got stuff I'd love to share. Got no time to do it.

The Farmer farms in partnership with his brother, hereafter known as Farmer's Brother. A few weeks ago, Farmer's Brother got rammed by a steer. Apparently he went airborne before landing hard on his butt on a cement feed lot. Ouch. There's a reason farming is consistently listed among the most dangerous professions.

He got up, dusted himself off, said some bad words and went on about his business. Now he is in the hospital, barely able to walk and battling a bacterial infection deep in his muscles. The doctors are guessing it trauma from being tossed by the steer. No word about when he will be released or any kind of estimated recovery time.

Back at the ranch, the Farmer has planted about 600 acres of corn with help from his trusty sidekick, the Farmer's Wife (that would be me) and a brother-in-law who, THANK GOD AND PRAISE JESUS, was able to take the last week off from his regular job to help.

Two men planting 600 acres of corn in 5 days translates to working 16 to 18 hour days. We're about two weeks behind on getting this year's crop in the ground and May 10 is looming large. May 10 is the mythical (or not so much) date after which you start to loose a progressively larger and larger percentage of yield if you don't have your corn planted by then.

Stress levels are high, the weather is a constant threat and the logistics of getting manpower, equipment, seed, fertilizer and chemicals at the correct place at the correct time is staggering even on a good year. This has not been a good year. Cold soil temps and drenching rain kept the Farmer out of the field through most of April. Now his bro is in the hospital, he has double livestock chores and on top of that, we're still calving.

Dewey eyed idealism about living in an agrarian utopia aside, here are some samples of the romantic things the Farmer has said to me over the last week. Most of these conversations were over the phone, since we're all going six ways from Sunday. Sometimes we have 5 minutes of meaningful conversation in the cab of a pickup while I'm ferrying him from farm to farm. I do not know how we ever managed to farm before cell phones. The phone calls start coming the minute I clock out of my day job.

"A guy's coming to pick up those calves at 6 o'clock. Can you go out to the barn and make sure he takes the right ones?" Then he hangs up without telling me which ones are the right ones.

"Can you come pick me up at the Iburg farm in 5 minutes?" Sure. The Iburg farm is 10 minutes away.

"Is it going to rain?" This, from the man who bought an iPhone and downloaded weather apps so he could get radar and weather forecasts, but still calls me to find out what the weather is going to do.

A lot of what I do this time of year is providing taxi service from one farm field to the next. This involves bumping along in assorted farm pickups down gravel roads, across fields and through waterways at all hours of the day and night. This is always good for a few comments.

"Can you drive a little faster, honey? I'm in a hurry. We haven't got all day. Speed it up a bit. We're burning daylight. SLOW DOWN ARE YOU CRAZY?"

A lot of what else I do involves food prep. Feeding farmers on the move could drive a saint to distraction and I am not anywhere near sainthood to start with. But I know that long hours of hard work requires fuel and it's not exactly like they expect gourmet meals. This is the season of the ham sandwich.

"Can you bring me a sandwich? I'm down by the creek west of the silo. " By the time I make and deliver said sandwich, he is on the other side of the creek south of the silo. Any estimated location is accurate give or take 5 to 10 acres. 

When we first got married and I was still learning the location of the various farms (all tagged with names like the Huedepohl 80, Chipmans' 40, the South Place, down by the creek, east of the pond - there was more than one pond - and other clever markers that often left me wondering where the hell I was going), I lived in terror of delivering food to the wrong guy, in the wrong field. Although I'm sure any of our neighbors would have happily welcomed a ham sandwich and brownies and Thermos of milk.

"I'll be in for supper after chores in 45 minutes, can you have it ready then? No, wait, Scott and I will be here for supper in 30 minutes. No, wait, we're headed to the Madoerin farm. Can you bring supper over there in an hour? No, wait, can you just put some sandwiches in a cooler and bring them out? We'll be there in 15 minutes." As long as I have ham and bread, the world will continue to spin.

If I'm not fixing human meals, I'm fixing bovine meals.

"Get that bottle of colostrum out of the fridge in my office, then take that little bucket of milk out of there, too, then get the bottle and nipple out of the alleyway in the barn and clean it up and heat up the milk and fill the bottle and have it ready when I get there. I'm pulling up the lane right now." Sure, just let me find my time-turner first.

This whirlwind will spin itself out soon. The crops will get planted. Then we can sit down to a meal together at a table that is not a pickup tailgate and eat food that is not ham sandwiches off plates that are not made of paper and speak in about things that are not farm related. But for now, it's la vida loca in the heartland.