Friday, December 30, 2011

Ditching the "Worst-Case Scenario"

Throughout childhood, my education, and all the corporate career years, I was well-indoctrinated into the common practice of preparing for the "worst case scenario." Who among us didn't have a parent who told us we had to wear clean, un-tattered underpants because if we got hurt, the rescuer or doctor would discover the quality of your "drawers." My mom wouldn't let me wear blue or purple nail polish because if they found me after an accident, they would get one look at my nails and think I was in cardiac arrest. Never mind that my fingernails could have been perfect accessories to some cool outfit, we had to act as if the worst thing would actually happen!

My college degrees are both in Engineering, which at its core, applies science and math towards solving problems. The discipline is aimed at finding solutions, but the art is to find a good solution. Engineers are stereotypically a risk-averse bunch, and much thought goes into minimizing the risk of bad outcomes, also known as worst case scenarios. If any of you non-Engineers are glazing over at this point, I'll simply offer exhibit A, which I'm sure you're familiar with.

You'll probably agree that most of us, whether we know it or not, are in the habit of anticipating that things will go wrong. This way, we can play it safe! I still recall one of the key principles I learned in Dale Carnegie's "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" training back in the mid 1980's: 

----> When you're making a decision or a change in direction, first identify 
the worst case scenario. Accept that as an outcome. And then improve on it. 

That is, start with thinking about the worst thing that could happen. Then, after you accept that as what could happen, start working on what you want as a better result. And this principle was offered to help you "stop worrying" over the worst thing that could happen!

A couple of months ago, on a bike ride, my friend Sherry and I were deeply engaged in conversation about "the law of attraction," which basically says that you attract into your life whatever you think about, and that your dominant thoughts will find a way to manifest. So as we pedaled, it occurred to us that if you're making decisions and living life with a mindset of avoiding the worst-case scenario, then the very idea of investing mental energy in the worst-case scenario could easily lead to the manifestation of that worst case! WHAT IF, we thought, you assume and plan for the best possible outcome? What could life be like? What if we stopped worrying about what bad or scary things might happen and start imagining all the amazing things you could bring about?

I decided to put this into practice last month after John and I received the news that the many cracks in the facade of our 7 year old house were not the cause of water damage, they were a symptom of something a lot more serious: construction flaws that allowed rainwater to get behind the high-tech coating and moisture barrier system and start rotting the wood panels underneath in the frame of the house. It had to get fixed, and sooner was deemed to be definitely better than later. The "old me" would have freaked out, looked for finger-pointing opportunities, obsessed about the extent of the damage and potential cost, and worried about starting such a project at the start of our rainy season and just prior to an extended home exchange where other people will be living in our house for 6 weeks in January and February! Instead, I accepted this event as an opportunity to practice the assumption of the best case scenario. Who knew that a former engineer (not to mention an old dog!) like me could let go of all those ingrained habits and work on preparing myself for experiencing the best possible outcome?

Emotionally, intellectually, and physically, I consciously "let go" of involvement in the project, choosing instead to focus on expecting and envisioning progress and on-time completion. Husband John liaised and built an alliance with the contractor, our original builder and our architect, who all rallied around the project and agreed to financially support the project. They set goals to get the problems corrected by the end of the year without the involvement of lawyers and insurance companies. We knew it would be smoother, more collaborative, and less costly for everyone to spend our time and money on fixing the problem, not paying attorney fees and wasting time in litigation.

Scaffolding up, exterior stripped down to the wood
Six weeks ago, the scaffolding went up. We had to duck to go in and out of the front sliding doors and the garage entry/exit was tricky! The day after Thanksgiving, demolition began as the layers of exterior coatings were chiseled off, from the color-impregnated acrylic coating, to the 1.5" thick white styrofoam insulation, to the black paper coating atop the wood. Then they started pulling out nails to remove and replace the sheets of plywood, and they removed and resealed each one of our 16 windows. It was noisy, it was messy. But every morning, anywhere from 3-7 guys started arrived and began working between 7:30 and 8. They (mostly) cleaned up after themselves, they were polite and pleasant, and they worked hard. I asked questions and John gave me updates, but I pretty much stayed out of it. When the contractor came over to check progress and talk with his crews, I talked with him, but never about details, and mostly about life in general and how pleased I was with the work and his guys.

So how did it turn out?

  • Do you remember I mentioned we are at the start of our rainy season? Every single day during the demolition and re-construction was sunny. The mornings started in the mid-high 30 degree range, but quickly warmed up to high 50s and up. So the weather was even better than we could have even hoped for. 
  • There were no rain delays and mild temperatures allowed the new exterior coatings to be applied and dry/cure easily. 
  • John and I were able to go about our business of getting the vineyard ready for the next growing season, confident that the work would get done without our hovering.
  • The color match is perfect. 
  • The landscaping around the scaffolding is pretty much unscathed, save for lots of tiny bits of styrofoam in the mulch.
  • The final detail steps were completed on December 28 and the scaffolding was removed on the 29th, before the end of the year, as planned.
  • John, ever my hero, steered the process like a champ, and joined me in assuming the positive outcome.
  • I stayed calm, eerily and deliciously serene, throughout the whole process. I marveled both inside and aloud at how well the project was progressing, and regularly "checked in with myself" around the fact that I was consciously practicing assuming that the best case scenario would happen.
This born-and-bred East Coast gal, formerly "type A to the max," did it! I practiced the law of attraction and I planned for the best case scenario, and it happened that way! Cycling partner and native LA gal, Sherry, pronounced that I am now officially a Californian (After 20 years here, I know she meant that in the nicest and grooviest way!) I'm not sure how I could ever again feel like planning for the worst case is the right choice for me. Sure, things may not always go the way I think they should or could, but I know that I can take things as they come and adjust as needed. 

So while I will always wear clean underwear and will probably abstain from blue or purple nail polish, I'm not preparing for the worst anymore! And I know this is an improvement -- I am a better, a free-er, and a happier person for the experience of planning for the best.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Meaning of Christmas

Even though I was born and raised "a nice Jewish girl," my mom, brother and I always celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas.  In our rendition of Christmas, there was obviously no religious connection, but we always had a Christmas tree (with presents underneath) in the living room, a big styrofoam Santa Claus face hanging on the front door, and a sprig of mistletoe hanging in the kitchen. We knew all the words to every Christmas carol, faith-based and seasonal, and sang them heartily.
Christmas morning, 1969, with my mom and 7 year old brother.
Note the "irreverent" pregnant angel topping the tree.

In college, by my junior year, I was living in an apartment, and my roommate and I got a tree and hosted a tree trimming party (any excuse to have a party and serve cocktails!) We thoroughly enjoyed our first "adult" tree in our own place.  Sharon and I strung popcorn garlands with our friends, received some very cute ornaments (I still have the skiing teddy bear), and took advantage of some strategically placed mistletoe.
Christmas 1980: Catching my friend Tommy, under said mistletoe.

Over the years, without the pressure of kids in my child-free household, I've sometimes skipped the whole tree and decorating thing at Christmas, but more often, John and I have gone to tree farms and cut ours down. Despite the fact that there is a tree farm 1/2 mile from our house, and we don't even have to go on a public road to get there, I just am not "feeling it" this year.  

Ditto with the exchanging of gifts.  I did select and order books to be shipped across the country as gifts for our young nephews, and I feel good about that.  But I just feel kind of... I can't come up with the right word for it, and I don't know how to spell the sound coming from my mouth, but I just don't feel like buying "things" for people. I'd much rather "do things" with people, and enjoy their company, but this is difficult with both our families and many of our friends thousands of miles away.

I'm feeling a little baffled by this gift-giving disdain, because I've always loved Christmas! Yet kind of like Linus Van Pelt, I am turned off by how over-commercialized Christmas has become in our country. Decorations and music in the stores by late October. The 2+ month flood of television commercials (which at least I can fast-forward through!) 24 hours of Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Huge stacks of advertising inserted in the newspaper. Coupons stuffed in the mailbox. Everything on sale in the stores. Spend, spend, and spend more. I mean, why do I have to buy "more stuff" for the people I love? To prove what? Do they really need anything? I simply don't want to buy presents just to check off that I did so or just because I have always given gifts. Will they be upset or feel slighted if I don't buy them gifts? And if they do, how do I feel about that? Actually, just putting these thoughts into words is helpful and rather liberating.

Turning inward, I feel very happy and secure this holiday season.  I'm healthy, grateful for what I have, and engaged in activities and groups of friends that I enjoy.  I see plenty of people around me who are not so fortunate, whether their despair is economic,  poor physical health and/or diminished emotional well-being, and it troubles me. I have been volunteering some of my time and money, and trying to offer kindness and compassion, yet I know I can't save the world, or even substantively help very many people. 

So when is it all enough? When are love and compassion and gratitude the gifts that are the most meaningful? And will I be able to give those things to everyone who is open to receiving them? And can I make this the way I live my life, and not just the way I live Christmas?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Spiders and Snakes

I was never what you would call a "girly girl," but I was also never very fond of bugs while I was growing up. Many childhood "bug" memories stick with me, and most of them still kind of make my skin crawl.
  • My childhood home was in an apartment in Langley Park, Maryland, just "over the line" from the city limits of northeast Washington, DC. Heat and humidity define summers there, and our air conditioner was always running on high. I remember some sort of leak and the resulting wet areas of a rug. When I lifted the corner of the rug, several large cockroaches scurried out. Ewwww!
  • The cockroach disdain grew from there! In 10th grade biology class, we were assigned a project to collect and mount insects from all the different classifications. The insects were placed in a "kill jar" and then mounted to a foam display board, with a straight pin piercing the insect's middle (thorax!) section. I captured a cockroach, committed insecticide with the kill-jar and then mounted it. I was awakened in the middle of the night by a scratching sound. When I turned on the light, I found the cockroach alive and spinning in place around the pin, using his legs to propel the rotations. I kid you not! General disgust of cockroaches notwithstanding, I had extra reasons for really hating those things.
  • I was a Girl Scout for only one year, at age 11, because my softball and basketball team practices were scheduled to be on the same days as scout meetings. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, and I chose to go for sporting glory over badge-earning endeavors. Anyway, Girl Scout cookie-selling season came around and my mom volunteered to take charge of cookie delivery and storage for our troop. Imagine hundreds of boxes of cookies in our apartment-size living room! The individual cookie packages were packed inside large cardboard boxes, which were stacked everywhere. A few days into this, we saw ants on the wood floor around the boxes. Moving the boxes revealed more ants, and finally, we discovered armies of ants inside the boxes. Zillions of ants marching all over the cookie packages... Ugh!
  • Another ant incident comes to mind -- I'd forgotten I even had this memory! Raisin Bran cereal... Pieces of raisin skin would rise to the top in my cereal bowl, floating around in the milk. I swear for the longest time I was convinced they were ants! And I still won't eat Raisin Bran. And candied dates, which we always had at our house during the Passover holiday, looked like cockroaches to me.
  • Finally, snakes have always been part of my consciousness.  And courtesy of my mom, not in a good way! She is an ophidiophobe, one with an irrational fear of snakes.  It's as true now as it was then that even when she sees a snake on TV, she screams. Whether it's Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the animated "Jungle Book" movie, or a National Geographic documentary, you know the scream is coming.  Even when we went to the National Zoo, she would warn us to stay away from the snakes.
So I'd never been a big fan of the creepy or the crawly or the slithery creatures. I thought nothing of squishing them, swatting them, and disposing of them down the toilet. When I started practicing yoga and exposing myself to some Buddhist teachings, my stance softened. After all, "they are sentient beings" just like you and me. And "I am not separate" from them. When I moved up to the Vineyard -- the "country" -- I really changed my thinking.

In and around my house, landscaping, garden and vineyard, there are spiders of every kind. I'm pretty sure they view our property as an arachnid safe haven, and invite all their friends and family to move in. I still draw the line at scorpions (and black widows!) inside the house. All of those are scooped up and relocated outdoors. But spiders are okay! We have reached an understanding, a détente, and we coexist mostly peacefully, indoors and out.

Spider at home in its web in the syrah vines
As for snakes, they've played some new roles in my life. Turns out that my husband collected snakes as a kid, so he's comfortable around snakes and can quickly identify beneficial and harmless snakes from the nuisance and dangerous snakes. Rattlesnakes have a frequent summer presence here in the heated rocky foothills. I've found them in the vineyard, in the sheep pasture, in the garage, and sunbathing in the driveway. After my dog was bitten on the nose (and survived) and my cat was bitten on the neck (and didn't survive), rattlesnakes get no slack, zero tolerance. Farmer John whacks them with a hoe, slicing off their heads. DONE.

A rattler, with the hoe that felled him
But gopher snakes, garter snakes, sharp-tailed snakes, and king snakes are welcome here.

A long garter snake made an appearance while brother and S-I-L,
Lawrence and Nelli, were here. John had to convince them it wasn't a rattler.
I enjoy seeing these snakes around. It's become a game with us to see who spots them first, and I always do a "victory dance" when it's me!  When I see a spider in the house (like, every day), I'll often say hello to it, hoping they don't mind that I call them all by the same name (Spidey.)  

Who knew, when I said "I Do," that I would ever actually view spiders and snakes as salutary creatures, let alone worthy co-inhabitants of my home and planet Earth? I've come a long way baby!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bring on the Party, I Got My Shoes

My mom likes to tell the story of my first pair of "big girl dress-up party shoes." Apparently they were a pair of Stride Rite white patent leather Mary Janes, kind of like these.
With her still fresh-out-of-Boston accent, she was excitedly telling a friend all about my new party shoes. How would "party shoes" sound with such an accent? Well, imagine the way Matt Damon pronounced the name of the 2006 movie he starred in, "The Departed." Or the name of the baseball stadium where the Red Sox play, Fenway Park. Or the prototypical statement often associated with Boston, "Pahk the Cah in the Hah-vud Yahd." So yes, the friend was baffled and asked my mom why I needed special shoes to go to the bathroom!

So any dress-up shoes, from then on, have always been thought of as "potty shoes." And I never imagined that I would ever again have a pair of white patent leather potty shoes. But yesterday, which just happened to be "Small Business Saturday," I went to my local bike shop to make the long-overdue purchase of new cycling shoes. The third pair I tried on fit perfectly, but I almost needed a pair of sunglasses to dampen the glare of the white patent leather trim on the toe, straps and heel cup!

I grinned to myself as I purchased them and mentally labeled them my new "potty shoes." Who knew my view of party shoe and definition of party would evolve to this?!

And it's fitting too. Most of my bike rides feature at least one happy or celebratory exclamation of "Woohoo!" There aren't many cycling days left this year, but I'm anticipating a few more during which I'll scuff up these new, shiny white beauties. Pah-ty ON!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Counting Sheep, Part III

Nearly a full year of shepherding passed before I was confronted with "the first rule of livestock farming." To put that a little differently, a full year passed before I ever heard of the "first rule of livestock farming." When you raise livestock, that first rule is simple and stark: Livestock Dies. It's not exactly like losing a beloved pet, but for me, it was not exactly not like that either.

We had this vision, you see, of growing our flock of babydoll sheep in the time-honored way: through breeding our ram, Farley, with our ewes each October, and eventually, in a few years, trading Farley with another nearby breeder to bring in some genetic diversity. By the time the first lambing season was over in Spring 2007, we had 4 ewes, two unrelated to Farley and two born to Farley's son Tupper. The two experienced ewes were a "given" for continued breeding, Agnes would be bred for the first time later in the Fall, and baby Sylvia would be kept apart from him for another year while she matured. And so the flock would grow...

Farley, doing the lip curl that indicates he's... um, interested.  
[Note: We neutered our other two new ram lambs, Roy and Todd, 
leaving them free to grow and happily graze, but not free to sire
any new lambs or challenge Farley for dominance. We also sold the
other 3 "intact" rams acquired in our original flock to prevent fighting.]

So we had a happy summer with the 7 sheep, and sure enough, when the number of daylight hours started noticeably decreasing by late September, Farley started spending a lot more time sniffing around the ewes. One morning I witnessed the mating dance between him and Lana. I have to admit that it was simultaneously fascinating and repulsive. Who knew, when I said "I Do," that I'd become a barnyard-peeping Deb? The two consenting adult sheep kept at it for a while, and I was pretty sure there had been a successful coupling. A day later, I saw Farley and Una seal the deal, and two weeks later, Agnes was bred by Farley as well.

I've always thought of this photo's caption as "Agnes Ha Ha,"
her reaction when I told her what was about to happen to her!

Even prior to all of the barnyard "activity," there was a concern we had with Farley; more specifically, a physical condition he was sporting. Farley's scrotum was huge (and that's an understatement), and hanging very low, practically dragging on the ground. He waddled when he walked, and there were several scrapes on the bottom of the scrotum from hitting rocks. When breeding was over, I had a vet come out to take a look. 

This veterinarian was a nearby guy who typically treated horses, but he told me he had experience with sheep too. It's still painful for me to tell this story. So to make it easier than relating all the ugly details, the vet injected Farley with an anesthetic to do what should have been a simple surgical repair. Unfortunately, he overdosed the drug, and Farley died within about 30 seconds. The vet calculated the dosage based on animal weight, but he did not take into enough consideration the difference between horses and sheep. I screamed, then bawled, but it was over. The vet clearly did not do it purposely, but he did truly f*#k up. He called a service to come remove Farley, and at least had the sense not to send me a bill. But Farley was gone, and we were now down to 6 sheep and no ram.

Here's Farley the day before he died. He was the center
of attention for a troop of Girl Scout Brownies that
visited us as part of a project they were working on.

A new ram came to us a month later, through a woman I'd met a year earlier in one of the online sheep discussion groups. She was downsizing her flock of babydolls to focus on her alpacas and also on her soon-to-arrive baby daughter. John and I drove 150 miles down to Gilroy, CA, where we met Kimberly B. and purchased Gus, a nearly 5 year old ram. We saw pictures of several of Gus' offspring, and they were beautiful animals. We brought Gus home, kept him separated from the rest of our sheep and the dog for 4-5 days, and then let him go free with everyone else out in the vineyard.  

Gus, December 2007

Gus was very friendly, and soon became the most popular sheep with us and our visitors, in large part because he loved to be petted and fed handfuls of grass or spare leaves of our garden crops. He never made a sound, but he did burp a lot. He never ever butted me, but he did frequently come over to rub his head on my knees.
In the barn with my buddies, Gus and Francesco

So at the end of the first full year with sheep, we were back to a population of 7: the 4 ewes, 2 wethers, and Gus the ram. Winter was now upon us, and the new year would be bringing plenty of "storms" and accompanying stories.
To be continued, for better and for worse...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Counting Sheep, Part II

This story is just crying out for a subtitle. Something like: "How I found myself as a sheep midwife" or "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no lambies!" With the acquisition of an instant flock of sheep, and two of the ewes presumed pregnant, I was feeling a little panicked. Reading those chapters in the shepherd's "bible," also known as "Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep," made me feel weak-kneed, dizzy, and slightly nauseous. I'd never seen anything born before and never expected to.

I fretted on and off all winter, helpless in the absence of experience, and nervous because I didn't know when the ewes were "due" or even if they were actually pregnant! In mid February (2007), their udders started filling with milk and it was pretty obvious. Then, one sunny Sunday morning, I looked up from the Sunday newspaper and saw a big dark red/purple bag suspended from the back end of Lana, who was calmly munching on grass in the vinerows. I ran to get the binoculars, and a minute later there was a lamb on the ground, then another.

With Lana and the newborn twins.
John and I were giddy with delight and relieved that we didn't have to do a thing! Except name them... We had discussed the idea of eating a lamb some day when we had more new lambs than we needed for grazing the vineyard. But no sooner were these two lambs up on all fours and getting their first milk from mom when I announced, "That's Roy. That's Sylvia. And we're NOT eating them." We slowly carried the twins to the barn, with Lana following behind, calling out to her babies the whole time. After observing the three of them in the barn for 3 days, we inserted ear tags, docked their tails, and injected them with their first vaccine. Who knew, when I said "I Do," that I'd be cooing over my own lambs and piercing their ears and giving them shots?! I'm so squeamish I can't even look when I get injections or have blood drawn.

With three-day old Sylvia, clad in my "lamb suit," which fits over my clothes.
So that's the first birth event under my belt. What about Ms. Una? Two weeks later, on another nice Sunday morning, I saw her straining, a sure sign that she was in labor. A short while later, the birthing "bag" appeared and through binoculars, I thought I saw a head emerge. And then, for at least 20 minutes, nothing. Uh-oh. We went outside to check on her progress, our livestock guardian puppy Francesco in tow. The lamb's head, just barely sticking out of the ewe, was covered with the birth sac and Francesco started licking the lamb's face, which started the lamb's breathing. But he was obviously stuck. I was too upset to take photos at the time, but picture the classic creature encountered by Dr. Doolittle: the PushMePullYou. Una had a head attached to her neck and another sticking out of her rear. It's funnier now than it was then!

To make a long story short, I did don long plastic gloves and lubed up to see if I could figure out any way to get the lambs front legs out. (Yeah, who knew?) Fighting panic, but soon realizing I couldn't facilitate, John called the vet, who was an hour away. John and I stood there trying to keep the ewe standing quietly and the puppy waiting calmly. A vet in her mobile clinic finally arrived; she had to push the lamb back inside the ewe and then find all his legs and pull him back out. She had to swing the lamb around by his front legs (like a lasso) to get him breathing, and she was pretty sure we were going to lose the lamb and maybe the ewe too.

After the successful intervention in the birth of Todd

But the extra-large lamb was fine, mama Una was fine, and we named the lamb Todd the BigHead Monster. Francesco probably saved the lamb's life the first time, clearing his nose and mouth to breathe. To this day, Todd is our largest sheep, and I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for him. He is the only one that lets me walk up to him and pet him, scratch his chin, and pull stickers and foxtails off his face.

Una and Todd, resting in the barn.

The lambing experience that Spring was what convinced me that "there oughta be someone" who could teach people about sheep and lambs and what to expect. As we used to say in the corporate world: Let no good idea go unpunished. But who knew that one of "the someones" would soon be me?!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Counting Sheep, Part I

It wasn't so long ago that I was afraid of most dogs, let alone real farm animals. I've never ridden a horse, and I got chased across a field by cows when my college roommate took me home for Thanksgiving in Vermont. So when my husband first brought up the subject of getting a flock of sheep to live and graze in our organic vineyard, I hemmed and hawed for a while.

From The Wizard of Oz:
Cowardly Lion: I haven't slept in weeks.
Tin Man: Why don't you try counting sheep?
Cowardly Lion: That doesn't do any good — I'm afraid of 'em.
But he played "the green card" of how much better it would be for the vineyard and the environment than running the diesel tractor/mower and the manual, noisy, gas-powered weed whackers. And way better than chemical herbicide. Besides, he reasoned, the sheep would leave natural fertilizer too! So we visited a nearby sheep ranch and I not only became smitten with the small "Babydoll" sheep (aka Olde English Babydoll Southdowns), I also fell in love with the Maremma livestock guardian dogs that lived in the pasture with the sheep.

In a month's time we found a nearby breeder with a small flock of babydolls that he was selling after he had expanded his own (human) family. And then we found a Maremma breeder who had imported a male and female from Italy a year earlier, and who had just had a litter of 7 adorable pups.

I couldn't resist the Maremma puffballs... er, puppies.

Fast-forward another month and we found ourselves with a flock of 7 sheep: 4 rams--two of which were 7 month old lambs, and 3 ewes--two of which were presumed to be pregnant and one a seven month old lamb. The owner offered us a package deal price, including delivery, that we couldn't refuse! We negotiated for the puppy to stay on the goat farm with his parents and siblings until he was a little older, and we were ready to bring him to his new home and job.

Our neighbor graciously allowed us to temporarily put the sheep out in one of their fenced-in, but unused pastures. Good thing, as we had no place to put them up at the Vineyard! We'd go over several times a day to feed, check on, and marvel at the wooly beasts. Who knew, when I said "I Do," that I would become a shepherd?! My friends and family's reactions spanned the range from amused to aghast.

7 Babydoll sheep, grazing on The Jones' hillside
Whereas just prior to the flock's arrival I was in a blissful state of "un-conscious incompetence," by the time the first week was over I was fairly overwhelmed with my certainty of "conscious incompetence." Three incidents fueled those feelings and also put me on my way to learning quickly under fire.

1. A mountain lion was spotted cruising the fence where the Jones' goats grazed in the pasture just across the road from the sheep. John sketched a rough design for a "barn," and we dashed off to the lumber yard the day before Thanksgiving to get the materials to build said barn... or more accurately, shed. We built the 8x10 barn in an afternoon, the first thing I'd ever (helped) built. We got the sheep into the barn at dusk, wrapped our newly arrived electro-net fence around it, and went to bed exhausted.

The barn in its first iteration. We herded and then secured
all 7 sheep in the barn every night for a couple of months.
2. The alpha ram, a regal beast that we named Farley, butted me hard from behind on my behind while I was (obviously) not being attentive. I learned the critical shepherd lesson #1: Never turn your back on a ram.

3. When we came out to feed and check up on the sheep one afternoon, we found the two adult rams, Farley and his son Tupper, butting the heck out of each other using their heads as "battering rams." It left no doubt in my mind where the term had originated. Over and over the two backed up, faced off, and then ran at each other, ramming their heads together until the two of them looked like their brains were spilling out of the tops of their heads. That night we did a RUSH order on two ram shields to block their forward vision--which prevented the rams from charging us or each other. 

Amateur hour; me trying to adjust the straps on Farley's shield

The fact that Tupper quickly learned how to escape from his shield is a mere detail... But having Farley in his shield removed him from the duel. Tupper stopped initiating the charges when Farley couldn't play his role. Lesson learned: Rams are aggressive toward each other when ewes go into heat, even when the rams are father and son, and even when you assumed a first year ewe wouldn't go into heat! Who knew?!

What I did know is that I had a lot to learn and that there would be a lot of "oh sh*t" moments while I learned them. I also was starting to learn that I could tell these 7 sheep apart pretty quickly, and recognize behavioral traits and which sheep hung out with which other sheep out in the pasture. And so began my journey as a shepherd.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday, Monday

The first day of the week has a bad rap, and for many years, I was right in there with all the Monday-phobes. For a while, Mondays were so disheartening that I began to dislike Sunday night too. And then, towards the beginning-of-the-end of my "professional" career, I didn't like Sunday at all, that's how much I was not looking forward to Monday.

During two lengthy sabbatical leaves from work, my feelings toward the maligned Monday started to change. Mondays were good because everyone else had to go to work, and I could get the stuff done that I didn't want to waste my weekends on! And when I finally permanently "quit my day job," and moved up to the vineyard to live and farm full time, Monday took on a whole new and wonderful rhythm.

Who knew, when I said I Do, that I would eventually come around to love Mondays?
  • On Monday, the newspaper (I read two every day) is thin, so I can read them cover-to-cover by about 8 am.
  • The crossword puzzle, which I love to do every day, is easiest on Monday. After the challenging Sunday NYTimes version, I love feeling super-smart on Monday!
  • I love that tourists love my home area in Wine Country, but I am hesitant to take long bike rides with all the weekend wine tasters (drinkers?) out on the road. Monday is blissfully calm for cyclists.
  • The new work week has a positive connotation for me. I look forward to the week of vineyard work ahead and also documenting and crossing tasks off the list.
I think I'm making up now for the lost time... 1/7 of my working lifespan was kind of wasted, not even counting the lost hours of Sunday appreciation. I now practice the enlightening sports of "being present," living in the "Now," and non-resistance to "what is." And it's working! I'm happy, feel free, and yes, I love Mondays! Who knew?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rock Star

In my teens and twenties, I had a fantasy about being a rock star. Hearing Pat Benatar singing "Heartbreaker" or "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," Ann Wilson with "Magic Man," or Joan Jett's "I Love Rock & Roll" all made me break out my air guitar and start rockin' on the imagined stage! A few months after my wedding, when I was almost 30, I remember hearing Dave Edmunds singing "I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll," and hoped that I would continue to be eager and enthusiastic about rocking out!

10 months into my marriage, I'm still rockin' ...
This is with my NC gal pals, beach weekend, summer 1990

In the 20 years that I've been living in California, I've met many different kinds  of "rock stars," from celebrity chefs and winemakers to famous technology innovators and world class athletes. I'm grateful that my definition of rock star has expanded, since I now recognize that my personal fantasy of being a rock star has just been realized. Who knew, when I said "I Do," that my chances for becoming a rock star were actually increasing instead of decreasing?

This past Friday, we delivered the bounty from our eighth harvest, the 2011 crop of syrah and grenache, to Robert Biale Vineyards. My sisters-in-law and I stationed ourselves on the winery crushpad, helping to sort the fruit as it traveled from the 1/2-ton bins to the crusher. Eponymous winery co-founder, Bob Biale, asked if John and I would come sign 4 cases of wine bottles for them.

We took pens filled with metallic silver ink, and signed each bottle with a flourish. There were two cases each of Biale's 2007 and 2008 vintages of Kiger Family Vineyard Syrah. The winery will sell these bottles to their enthusiastic customers who really enjoy making a more personal connection with... you guessed it... the rock-star winegrowers! They're talking about doing a special event in the Spring when the 2008 bottles are actually released for sale, and John and I would come to the winery and pour our wine and talk to "The Biale Beloved."

Who knew that I would ever really get my chance to be (or at least feel like!) a rock star?! I better start thinking about my costume now.... Hmmm, wellies or sequins?

John and I pouring "Kiger wine" at a Biale event in 2010

At the winery in 2010 with the barrels of not-yet-bottled Kiger 2008 Syrah

Monday, October 17, 2011

For most of my working/corporate life, I maintained two distinctly separate wardrobes: one side of the closet for work clothes, one side for play. There was little-to-no interchangeability between them. And then there were the shoes... I won't claim to have been competing with Imelda Marcos, or even Sara (!), but I did love shoes and had many pairs, each in its own box, consisting mainly of "pumps" of every color and heel height for work. Today, I still maintain two distinctly separate sets of clothes: one set that is presentable in public, and the other set for working in the vineyard, garden, or with the animals.

My work clothes are what I tend to reach for first in the morning, even for times like right now while I'm "up in my office, working" on my iMac. There are t-shirts of every color, long sleeved and short, including many with old corporate logos and project slogans. Hand-me-down t-shirts from old work-friends. Jeans that have frayed and old chinos that I just don't want to wear "out" anymore make their way to my work-clothes pile. But the shoes... that's the theme for this posting.

Out in the garage, in the single-car bay that houses much of our farm equipment and Wally (our John Deere Gator), is a rack of shoes. They are mostly mine, a few of John's, and there are even a few stray pairs left by various in-laws! There are a few pairs of my work boots, a few pairs of old sneakers and clogs, old flip flops, and then there are my Wellies.

Who knew, when I said "I do," that my favorite pair of shoes would be my blue Lands' End Wellie boots? I slip them on at least twice a day, all year long. With or without socks, in shorts or long pants, and occasionally even while wearing a skirt.

With Jackie, our (now deceased) black ram lamb. Jeans tucked into Wellies.

They are comfortable, even for hours at a time. My feet stay reasonably warm, but don't overheat. My feet easily slip in and out of them, they have good traction, and they keep my feet dry. I even keep an extra pair around for visitors who volunteer to work, including my parents. 

Mom, in my spare pair, preparing the wine bottles
Dad, wearing my Wellies in the vineyard

My Wellies are the outdoor version of my favorite comfy slippers. Who knew how far from my shoe-crazy roots I would fall? Or maybe, in a more enlightened way of thinking, I could ask who knew how far I would progress? And who knew that I would still feel just as attractive and engaging in my Wellies as in my high heels?! (And I think John agrees :-)

Toasting our 22nd wedding anniversary last week just after
we finished crushing and pressing the grapes for the 2011 Rosé.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I was crawling around on all fours the other day, halfway between the vegetable garden and the vineyard, happily pulling weeds. The ground was softened from the first rain of the season the day before, allowing me to easily pull out the entire weed and its roots. I was blowing away stray strands of hair from my ponytail and humming a tune that was stuck in my head. Even inside the work gloves, my hands were dirty.

Not for the first time, a thought occurred to me: Who knew that I would be so content crawling around in the dirt, ridding my world of these evil weeds? Who could have guessed that I even could be? I was smiling, giggling to myself, and imagining myself saying these things out loud.

Who knew, when I said "I do," that I would someday choose to spend hours systematically eliminating weeds one-by-one with my own formerly manicured hands? On my own land, in my own vineyard, and in the dreamscape that I live in with my husband and menagerie. It all started as his idea, his passions, and his study and inspiration more than 14 years ago. I was a willing participant, but I never imagined what life would be like to live on a farm or a ranch or a vineyard, let alone work on a farm or ranch or vineyard, let alone MY OWN farm/ranch/vineyard! Yet here I am, six years after quitting my "day job," blossoming as both a person and a farmer/rancher/winegrower.

The number of "who knew" items on my list has been growing by the day and week, and I think a few out there might enjoy following along. My mother-in-law has been telling me for a while that I ought to write a book, but that's only because she doesn't yet know what a blog is. 

So here it is, my first post: Who knew, when I said "I do," that I'd happily spend hours pulling weeds? I know it's an illusion to think even for a moment that I can actually control the weed population in my organic vineyard and surrounding land. But the satisfaction of pulling a nasty weed and all its nasty, neighboring spawn was very real. It was a tangible effort, satisfying the analytical and quantitative parts of my brain. It was tactile, and I have the callouses to prove it! The smell of the moist earth, the nearby lavender, and the recently-spread wood mulch were delicious. And the resulting "tidiness" brought me joy, even if it is just a temporary visual state. And at least all of the new weeds will be from old seeds, making it that much easier to remove them before they make any new seeds.

I relish the chance to share my tales, life lived by me: a farmer, a farmer's wife, and a woman learning and practicing to truly love "what is."