Friday, March 31, 2006

Country Folk

The farrier (guy who works on hooves) came out today to work on the donkeys, and since Leann had to go to the shelter to work, I stayed to meet him. He's an interesting fellow, originally from England but a Texan for the last 12 years or so. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, Texas, and the guy shoeing our horses is from across the ocean. We have another pair of friends (sisters) from Australia. My boss just got back from a trip to Turkey.

These ain't your daddy's country bumpkins any more, I can tell you that much.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mo 75

When Annie and I were trying to design our house, we spent a fair amount of time driving around neighborhoods, looking at features we might want to incorporate into our new country home. On one such trip we were cruising down a very long hill in a freshly-paved brand-spanking-new subdivision.

"Oh, that's awful," Annie said from the driver's seat. "Some gang has already been through here and 'tagged' the place, and it's just been put up!"

I was a little distracted because I was trying to figure out how we missed the house we were trying to find, and attempting to decipher the completely obscure map we'd been given. "What do you mean, it's been tagged?"

"You know, they came through with their spray paint and marked it all up. There's a big white gang name right there in the middle of the road, I can't quite figure out what it is ... hmmm ... I think it's something like Mo ... Yeah, Mo 75."

"That's nice dear," I replied vaguely. What the heck is that squiggly line on the stupid map?

"I guess Mo must be the gang leader. I don't know what 75 would be though, that's odd."

"Maybe it's the year he graduated or something, or they have 75 members. I dunno." Ah to heck with it! I folded up the map and surrendered, finally looking up. We were at the top of the hill now, and facing a dead end. "Guess we better turn around and head back," I said.

She turned us around and soon we were headed back in the opposite direction from which we'd come. Finally looking now, I saw the white spray-paint in the middle of the road she'd talked about, though of course now I was seeing it upside-down from where she had. It sure looked regular -- this was one neat gang.

And then it hit me.

"Mo 75 ... MO 75 ... MO75 ... SLOW? You mean that giant white 'SLOW' painted on the road!? That's your gang tag?!" And we both dissolved into a fit of laughter that we still haven't quite recovered from.

That darn highway department is just RIFE with gang activity, we see that bastard Mo's tag all over the place now.

Annie's "Mo 75" Gang Sign:

From a different perspective:


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Upside of Idiocy

To someone like me who has no long-term memory, life is a constant series of unexpected gifts. For instance, this morning I woke up to a dreary drizzle and a muddy yard. Standing in my closet, I mused aloud to Annie that "It's days like this when I wish I had a pair of boots."

She looked at me like I was nuts. "Um, you DO have a pair of boots ..."

"I do not," I responded airily. "Those were my dad's boots, and I had to throw them out a long time ago." You'd think I'd learn after almost nine years of marriage to take her word over mine, but noooooo ...

"No," she said patiently, by now used to my disability, "you have another pair besides those. I saw them just the other day in the closet."

So I looked, just to make her happy you know, because I was sure I'd not have forgotten something as important as a pair of boots and ...

Standing there on my little shoe shelf was a pair of boots. "Wow!" I exclaimed. "I have a pair of boots!" I danced around the closet, it was like Christmas in March.

When you're an idiot, every day has the possibility of holding little gifts you didn't even know you had. I just hope Annie doesn't count this as my anniversary present ...


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pig Photos

Thanks to my lovely sister Diane, here are photos of the Dippity Pig mentioned in the post below. Enjoy!


A Pig in the Country

When we lived at our old 5 acre place in the pseudo-country, I got a call from my sister Diane. Their future son-in-law thought it would be cute to get Pappa John a baby pot-bellied pig as a gift. It turns out their dogs thought the pig was a gift for them and the poor little porker almost didn't survive the experience. Clearly, he needed a new home, and who else but soft-hearted old Uncle Jeff and Aunt Annie would take him in?

Updated photos courtesy of Diane Davidson
Whereas other country bubbas might hear "free bacon", all we heard was "free pig", so naturally I drove up to Alexandria to get him. He was really cute, even though he had a huge scar on his back where the dogs had gotten to him. I packed him into a cat carrier in the back of the truck and soon we had him in his new pen. We tried introducing him to the dogs (not good), to the horses (they didn't really notice), and to the donkeys (they tried to chase him, he turned around and chased them right back).

We liked having him around, but alas he developed some weird skin condition on his back and a strange habit of staggering around as if he were drunk. We soon diagnosed the problem as "Dippity Pig", mostly due to the symptoms but at least a little bit because it's fun to say "dippity pig". Go ahead, try it -- say Dippity Pig right out loud. Fun, isn't it? It's caused by environmental conditions, usually acorns that have something bad for pigs growing in them, and our yard was full of acorns. Reluctantly, we realized we had to give him up.

Of course, being animal lovers, we couldn't just pass him off to anyone with a hankering for a ham sandwich. No, we did it right, bringing him to the feed store and putting him in a petting pen. We held a contest where people could write an essay about why they would be a good home for him. We read through dozens, and finally picked a nice man who already had one pig, a sow recently widowed by the natural death of her long-time mate.

We took our pig (whom we had named "Pig" in a burst of creative genius) to his new home and he seemed very happy. We checked in a week later to see how he was doing, and his new owner said Pig was fine, the Dippity Pig syndrome was gone. "I do have to ask though," he said hesitantly, "you did say this pig was neutered right?" After assuring him that I was the only male allowed to own testicles at the ranch, he still seemed puzzled. "Well that's mighty strange, because the day he got here he mounted that sow and started humping away like the Energizer Bunny. He went non-stop for four days, and right now he's lying there, spent -- he hasn't moved in three days and I was a little worried about him."

It isn't often you can say this about an animal, but we can honestly say that Pig found a much -- MUCH -- better home than he'd had here. He certainly turned out to be (ahem) a real porker.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

More Illustrations

Here are two more character illustrations I did last week. I think this is probably my best work to date (he said modestly). I hope you enjoy them. Like last time, the art direction is given along with a thumbnail -- click on the image for a larger version.

Character Name: Brother Stern
Profession: Priest of Heldar
Age: 50
Sex: Male
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 290

Black guy,Black and grey hair, full beard, built like a bear, broken nose, he wields a huge (possibly magical) axe that he calls "Red Pilgrim" he wears chain mail armor over a studded leather vest.

Character Name: Risa
Profession: Archer
Age: 20
Sex: female
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 110

Sexy Asian chick- you think I would have a game without a sexy Asian chick? like a horse archer (with a) mogolian style hornbow


Saturday, March 25, 2006

A More Spectacular Failure

Texas wasn't the only incredible example of crashing and burning today -- the SpaceX rocket failed in its first attempted launch today. Apparently there was a fuel leak that shut the rocket down before it could reach orbit.

But that's not the cool part.

The cool part is that the rocket landed just 250 feet away from the launch pad on a coral reef and is at least partly salvageable. 250 feet after almost getting into space!

But even that isn't the really cool part.

The really cool part is that the satellite that was on top of the rocket, the payload it was trying to put into orbit, got ejected from the crash and flew way up in the air and then crashed through the roof of the machine shop of the rocket company, landing on the very floor where some of its parts were made! How's that for an unlikely shot!

A big ol' rocket crashes and its payload busts a hole in a machine shop. If there's a better example of tech geek meeting bubba I almost can't imagine it.


It's Over

LSU beat Texas today, so the Longhorns are out of the tournament. Feh. I'll be grumpy and mean-spirited for the rest of the day and a few hours tomorrow and then hopefully I'll get over it and can start supporting the Tigers in the Final Four.

I hate that I am so typically male about these things. I was stomping around slamming doors with a black cloud over my head for two hours after the final buzzer sounded. Did you know that murder rates spike in cities where the home team loses a big game? What a messed up gender we men are sometimes.

I'd wax philosophical about the whole man-sports-violence thing but I think instead I'll just go kick something.

Double feh.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Cry Havoc! And release the dogs of WAR!

It has begun.

Already I have a message on my cell phone from one sibling taunting "The Cow Whisperer", a commenter on this site, for being oh-so-wrong about LSU's chances against Duke. In his defense, Whisperer called last night in the last seconds of the game giving props to the Tigers as Duke left the court.

I think it's going to be an interesting two days, and by interesting I mean "Nasty Vicious Ugly Trash-Talking Old School No Mercy Tauntage".

I can't wait! Saturday, March 24, 2006, Atlanta, Georgia, University of Texas Longhorns versus the Louisiana State Tigers in the NCAA Elite Eight.

Bring it on, baby!


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Legends of Steel

This will be of interest to very few of you, but hey, it's what's going on in the "nerd" part of my life so it's fair game.

A friend of mine whom I only know online, Jeff Mejia, is working on a new Role-Playing Game (RPG) he's calling "Legends of Steel". At some point I'll write a post explaing what an RPG is and why I like them, but for now just know that it's basically "Dungeons & Dragons". Hey, I said this was a nerd thing!

If you're interested in that sort of thing, click the link below. Otherwise, thanks for stopping by and you should probably just mosey on down the information superhighway. Check back later, though, for an exciting tale I like to call "Annie vs. The Horse Trailer" that'll probably be more up your alley.

Since my thing is drawing, I've been working on illustrations for some of the "sample characters" Jeff is going to be including in the game. Here they are, along with the art direction I was given by Jeff.

Note that you can click on the small thumbnail image for a larger version.

Character Name: Anteus
Profession: Gladiator
Age: 30
Sex: male
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220

Anteus is a large framed, muscular, bald headed man. Like that big Russian wrestler in the Olympics a few years ago.

He has made a name for himself in the fighting pits and has graduated to the arenas of the land. Unlike most gladiators Anteus is a Freeman. His favorite forms of combat are boxing and wrestling where his prodigious strength can be best displayed. Despite his size he is lightning quick.

Character Name: Talon Ironhawk
Profession: Warrior (dispossesed prince)
Age: 19
Sex: male
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 168

Talon is a handsome young man, with a slim build, wavy brown hair, and steel grey eyes. Caucasian but tans well. He dresses in the fashion of a young Blade, and sports a saber as his weapon of preference.

Character Name: Talena
Profession: Pirate/Brigand
Age: 22
Sex: Female

Jeff didn't give me any art direction in words for this character, but he did use the HeroMachine to create an image of what he wanted her to look like. Here is that image:

One of the things I found interesting about the Talena sketch is to compare how much nicer a truly custom illustration is than a HeroMachine-generated one. The constraints on a paper-doll-like application like HeroMachine are significant -- the body has to be in kind of an unnatural pose, you can't vary head or hand placement, etc. etc. Plus I did those drawings a number of years ago, and I'm a lot more skillful now.

Finally, I am in the middle of working on another Legends of Steel character, Brother Stern, but we're still discussing the right mix of features. I need to uncurl his beard and adjust the hairstyle, and add his holy symbol to his breastplate.

Character Name: Brother Stern
Profession: Priest of Heldar
Age: 50
Sex: Male
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 290

Black guy, Black and grey hair, full beard, built like a bear, broken nose, he wields a huge (possibly magical) axe that he calls "Red Pilgrim" he wears chain mail armor over a studded leather vest.

So that's three and a half drawings down, and three and a half left to go. It's been fun doing these, I feel like I am finally starting to settle into a style of drawing that's comfortable and gives results I like. My "inking" is getting a lot stronger, and I'm paying a lot more attention to what I used to think of as "boring details" like belt buckles, stitching on clothing, etc. The color work has gone a lot better than usual, too.

Quitting World of Warcraft has definitely spurred me to get back into a more active creative role and I am very thankful for that. I also appreciate Jeff Mejia letting me horn in on his baby. Keep up the good work, Jeff!


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Animal Sightings

When I lived in the city, I rarely thought about animals. I'd occasionally see a dog or a cat, and of course sometimes birds would fly around, but that was about it. As a marker of just how different it is where I live now, I thought I would list all the animals I saw yesterday on my way to and from work, about 60 miles round trip.

  1. Dogs - Obviously, we have five of them.

  2. Horses - Our own three and numerous others on the way that belong to neighbors

  3. Donkeys (standard and miniature) - Again, both our own and others'.

  4. Cows - Including a very proud and swingin' bull.

  5. Llamas - When you first see a llama in a herd of cattle or goats, you think somehow an afghan blanket has gotten blown into the field.

  6. Goats - A family of ten or so goats is standing in the middle of the road every evening when I come home, including babies that are about the size of a double handful.

  7. Deer - Sometimes dead on the side of the road, sadly, but often a family bounds across the street as I approach.

  8. Vultures - They were dining on the remains of the deer. Sad, but necessary.

  9. Rabbits - A little baby cottontail dashed across the driveway on my way out of the house. He needs to be careful, the dogs love to hunt rabbits.

  10. Buffalo - One of our neighbors has invested in a buffalo mother and calf and has it grazing their property at the end of the neighborhood.

  11. Bats - One of the largest bat colonies in the southwest lives under the Round Rock Interstate 35 overpass. At this time of year you see them streaming out from their nests like billowing clouds of smoke on your way north on the highway.

  12. Hawk (or is it a falcon?) - I don't know for sure which species it is, but a predatory bird flew right past my windshield as I was on the access road for the highway. Pretty amazing.

  13. African antelopes - There's an exotic game ranch on my way to work and these tiny little antelopes are always munching away behind their giant fence.

  14. Emus - There are two male emus, each on one side of Highway 29. They pace each other in parallel up and down the fenceline every day, intent on making sure the other one knows just how tough they are. I am sure there's a metaphor for how human males strut in the same way, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. Insert your own snark here.

I wonder now, if there just weren't as many animals around when I was in the city, or if I just didn't notice. Either way, I'm grateful to have my eyes open now -- they're pretty cool.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Texas Registration Application

I moved to Texas when I was 18 to go to college, and since I am now 36 that means I have been here ... hang on, doing math ... ummm .. let's see, carry the two ... 18 years! In other words I've been in Texas just as long as I was not in Texas. Does that make me a Texan? Let me see, I think I have my official State Registration Application here somewhere ... ah! Here we go, let me just fill this out here:

  1. Do you own a truck?
    Heck yeah, two of 'em.

  2. Do you have animals with hooves living on your property?
    Try ten of 'em.

  3. Do you own a cowboy hat and have you ever worn it someplace other than a mall?
    You're allowed to wear your cowboy hat to the stinkin' MALL?! That's an outrage!

  4. Do you own a firearm and have you ever discharged it -- on purpose?
    Damn skippy I do and yes I have.

  5. Did you hit anything with it that wasn't another hunter?
    Do I LOOK like Dick Cheney?

  6. All right then smart-ass, what did you hit?
    I've killed two rattlers and a rabbit. OK, granted, the rabbit had been hit by a car and I was just putting it out of its misery. And it took me four shots to finally hit it while it laid there already half-dead. I didn't say I was a good shot, I just said I've shot!

  7. Have you ever ridden a horse?
    Yes, several times. I even own saddles!

  8. Did you stay on?
    I stayed on, it was the horse that slid out from under me.

Welp, reckon I oughta send that sucker in, I'd sure like to be official. Like the bumper sticker says, I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Civil War, Basketball Style

I've created a bracket for the NCAA men's college basketball tournament this year for the first time in a long time, and I fear it might lead to civil war.

I don't follow college ball much, but I did watch as many Texas games as I could this season, and caught most of the end-of-year conference championships. I'm doing a lot better than I could have ever expected, since most of my picks were based on "Gee, I like that state" sorts of reasons. I'm currently number 2 in my online group of people mostly from

I've got a dilemma coming up, though -- LSU plays Duke in the Sweet 16. I sweated over that one while filling out my bracket because I did go to LSU for a semester and my family are a bunch of die-hard Tiger Fans. I'd love to see LSU do well, but I thought (and still think) Duke is probably going to win. I won't be shocked if it goes the other way, and I'll be very happy for my brothers, but unfortunately that will set up a big conflict during the Elite Eight.

That would mean Louisiana State University would then play the University of Texas in the next round, assuming UT makes it past West Virginia. More significantly, I would be an unwilling participant in a civil war with my family.

You've got to understand how fanatical they are about their Tigers. They have season tickets to the football games and rarely, if ever, miss. Generally speaking, death is the only acceptable reason for an absence, and technically only the demise of the actual person holding the ticket is a valid excuse. Direct blood relatives might qualify, depending on just how close the blood is.

My brother-in-law Jimmy actually stops his vehicle on the LSU-arch-rival University of Alabama campus during family vacation drives between Virginia (where he lives now) and Baton Rouge so they can all go to the bathroom there. He tells his kids "If you're gonna leave it anywhere, leave it at 'Bama."

Roll Tide, indeed.

So I'd be completely torn. I'd want LSU to win because I know how happy it would make my family. But I'm a UT fan now, and I very much want them to win, too. Of course this all assumes UT makes it past West Virginia, which is going to be very difficult anyway ... Oh well, I guess the best thing is for me to root for LSU against Duke and let the chips fall where they may; my family's more important than a sport, after all.

Unfortunately I'm not so sure they feel the same way about me ... Ah, to hell with it -- HOOK 'EM HORNS!!


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Playing chase

I was watching the dogs run around the place this morning and I realized that they play "chase" just like we used to do in elementary school. There's the "Duck and Doge" maneuver, where you get the other guy to come strong at you while you stand still, then at the last moment you twist your body around, ducking your head down, and slip by and past him. He has to screech to a halt and come back your way, but of course by then you've got a lead.

There's the "Titanic Gambit", where when somone gets too close, you brush them off by ramming them into somone else who's standing still. The resulting pileup gives you a chance to scamper off and has the added advantage of enraging and engaging an innocent bystander, which is always a plus. For the dogs the role of the glacier in the "Titanic Gambit" is usually Flash the Shiloh, for whom the word "lumbering" was seemingly invented.

Of course you can't play "chase" without a home base, where you could holler "Safe!" and be free from harassment for a bit. For us it was usually a teacher, which worked because no one wants to make the adults mad for fear they'll cancel the game. At our place this morning, of course, I was the closest thing to a grown-up (Annie was out of town), so I becamse base. Sadly, dogs don't stop as well as children -- there's nothing like having five big dog bodies flinging themselves at your legs while you're walking. The only one who didn't feel "safe" was me.

When all else fails, of course, and the other guy is whipping your butt, you have to go hide somewhere. For me as a kid it was the top of the monkey bars -- it was hard for the bigger kids to get to and I still had a great view and an escape route. For the dogs, it's under the porch for much the same reasons. Unfortunately, Radar the border collie discovered today that Ashley the foster-dog-Shepherd can fit under the porch, too.

Looks like it's time for a new hiding place.

Then recess time is over and everyone comes flying back, panting and flushed with exertion, chests heaving with joy and the need for air. After the snacks pass out, so do the little chasers, flopping down on the nearest mat for a well-deserved nap.

Which sounds like a pretty good idea to me, too. Now where did I put that blankie ... ?


Thursday, March 16, 2006


There's a great article called "Caring for Your Introvert: The habits and needs of a little-understood group" by Jonathan Rauch at "The Atlantic Online" that perfectly sums up my personality. Here's a brief excerpt from the beginning that lays it out pretty well:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren't caring for him properly.

I also loved this line:

Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts.

I think a lot of people misunderstand what introverts are, mistaking it for shyness, or arrogance, or rudeness, or some other social malady. It isn't necessarily any of those things, as Rauch explains:

Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say "Hell is other people at breakfast." Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses." (emphasis mine)

That is so me it's not even funny. I have a very outgoing persona with people in a group setting, telling jokes and keeping people laughing. I have been known in the past to be the life of the party, even, so it's not that I don't know how to get along in social situations. It's that doing so completely wears me out. I lose energy doing it, whereas extroverts gain energy from it.

I highly recommend the entire article, as I would bet that you have an introvert somewhere in your life that you are unaware of and, as Rauch says, you're probably driving them nuts. The link again is here.. Now I need to go take a nap, all this interacting has worn me out!


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Happy Contrails To You

We say we live in the middle of nowhere, and that civilization is just a memory. We feel like we're close to nature, in tune with the non-manmade world and all it has to offer. But the truth is that technology is never far away, and the influence of cities reaches to every corner of our world.

The two photos seen here are sunsets as seen from our back yard. Notice that there's a contrail slashing across them, an angry white line scarring the clouds and sky. While I sat there in my little country enclave, a giant metal tube full of people from all over the country was flying through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour, hurtling on to other cities and places.

There are vanishingly few places on this planet where you can really "get away from it all" – our tendrils are touching everyplace and everything and everyone in a stunning number of ways. That's good and bad both, I suppose, but it makes me sad to think that even a sunset isn't free any more.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006


A friend asked me the other day, "What one little item that you don't really have a use for would you still not get rid of, even if you were having a huge sale to clear out your house of clutter?" I didn't even have to think twice about it -- the answer is the Superman you see here.

My big brother made him for me when I was very young, around 8 or 9. He was in dental school at the time, and they had access to ceramics. There was something weird with the machine that extruded the putty, and it only came out in thin strings, so he had to build up his sculpture from bunches of these strands stacked on top of each other.

I like the look of it, from the gigantic disco bellbottoms to the psychadelic spiral belt to the 70's-era standard-issue brown color. I like the look on his face, the small eyes and mouth, the rugged chin and cheekbones.

Yes, I like how it looks, but that's not why I've kept it for almost 30 years. I did some figuring, and it's been with me through 13 separate moves. That's 13 times packing and unpacking it. 13 U-Hauls or small cars jammed with stuff, including a bunch of moves back and forth to various college dorm rooms when you've barely got space to store your underwear, much less statuary. 13 chances to lose it, break it, forget it back at home, leave it shoved in the back of a suitcase somewhere.

Or looked at another way, I've had it for 28 years. I've had it longer than some of my teeth. It's been around long after my hair abandoned me. I've been through seven different vehicles since it's been around, countless pieces of clothing, a number of women, two states, and a bunch of jobs. And through all the changes it has remained, perched on a windowsill, always in sight wherever I might end up.

In fact, except for some comic books that my brothers had collected and passed down to me, it is probably the item I have owned the longest out of any of the things I have ever had.

Yes, I like how it looks, but that's not why I've kept it so long.

I keep it because my big brother made it for me.

When you're the youngest of seven, it's like your older siblings are part of a different family. Hell, they might as well be part of a different universe. My father was distant with me, when he wasn't yelling, and there weren't a lot of other kids in our neighborhood. Super-heroes and comic books were my real friends, my escape, my shelter. They were the one thing my father and siblings had in common, as my dad would bring home big stacks of comic books for us all to read together (Superman and Sergeant Rock for the boys, Betty & Veronica and Archie comics for the girls).

My brother Jimmy is the oldest boy in the family. By the time I was old enough to remember he was already out of the house, going to college, so I don't have a lot of memories of him growing up. Like my dad, he was sort of a present-but-absent figure. While he was in dental school he was married and had a son, and they were scrambling to make ends meet. He was studying, working, supporting the family, and in general had a lot going on in his life.

And yet he took the time to make something for his little brother that was tied in to the one bond we shared.

He took the time for me. ME. He cared. Right there in my hand was evidence that my big brother knew who I was, what I liked, and that I mattered to him.

Oh no, I'm not getting rid of this Superman.

My big brother made him for me.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

To Herd or Not To Herd?

Yesterday Annie and I took the border collies to be tested for admission to a herding group hereabouts. Basically this is a group of people who train their dogs to "work" sheep, kind of like the pig in "Babe". Border Collies are sort of the world champions at this kind of thing -- it's what they're bred for and they're extremely good at it.

At least, in theory.

There were three people there, one woman with an older border collie and an Australian shepherd, and another woman with a brown and white border collie with only three legs. Then there was the woman running the show, the woman who owned the place we were at, and Annie.

Yes, once again, I was the only uncut male in attendance. I am nervous that one day one of these women is going to pull a pair of wire snippers out of her back pocket and announce their new "Fixed Males Only" policy.

Anyway, we anxiously awaited our turn like nervous parents at their child's first recital. The dogs are young, just a year old, was it too early? They love pacing the fenceline and act very ferocious, would they try to kill the sheep? Would they (most likely) be instant masters at it and earn us untold fame and fortune?

As it turns out, all the time I spent worrying about how the dogs would do might have been better spent wondering how I would do. I lost Radar's leash twice, once having to dive after him as he lunged at the sheep from outside the round pen where the sheep were. I scraped up my leg pretty good while managing to look like a completely ungraceful clod. Another time he leapt up and around me and I just lost the handle on the leash and he went barking and leaping around the pen.

It turns out they're just too young, and need some more seasoning and confidence before we'll know whether they're cut out to be herding dogs or not. There's that word again, "cut out". After my pathetic performance holding the leash, I can feel the snippers getting closer and closer ... Maybe from now on Annie should go to these things alone before I go from a stallion to a stud with one cut.


Friday, March 10, 2006


My wife Annie is one of the smartest, funniest, most caring people I've ever known. She founded what would eventually become a multi-million-dollar business, helped authors achieve international fame, and keeps our place running like clockwork.

She has never, however, met a phrase she couldn't mangle. Mrs. Malaprop's got nothin' on Annie. Instead of "Six of one, half-dozen of another" we get "Six of one, twelve dozen of another." So I thought every now and then I'd share a little bit of "Annie's Words of Wisdom" with you.

Our neighbors had gone out of town for a week or two, and their Spanish-speaking maid was taking care of their horses and house. Because Annie lived in Spain for a while and speaks Spanish well, we're the ones she calls if anything goes awry. So one evening she called and told Annie that one of the horses might be hurt, could we come over to take a look?

We hopped in the truck and discovered one of their most gorgeous and expensive horses, a black Friesian, had gotten her legs caught up in the stall gate at feeding time and scraped herself up pretty good.

In discussing what had happened, Annie tried to say in Spansish that she loved the black horse. But what she actually said was:

"I love the black cowboys."

The maid's look was, frankly, astonished. I'm not sure if she thought Annie wanted her to go round up some hot black cowboy stud in payment of her pseudo-vet services or what, but our visit concluded very quickly after that.

The poor thing still hasn't called us back in the weeks since. I can only imagine what she thinks of us and our crazy Americano hedonistic ways.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Time & Change

The stereotype of city vs. country is that city folks are always in a terrible rush, while country people take things so slow they're almost torpid.

Sometimes, sterotypes are right.

The pace out here is definitely different than when I lived in a more urban area. In a city, you're surrounded only by man-made things -- buildings, cars, pavement, artificial plants and lighting, the sky covered by roofs, the grass covered in cement. Without an external frame of reference you come to rely on clocks and watches, parsing your day into exquisitely precise and short units. The alarm clock sounds to wake you, get in the car early to beat the other commuters, punch in with your time card, take no more than one hour for your lunch, the whistle blows to end your day, gotta get home in time to catch that favorite show.

Out here at the ranch, though, the drummer we march to in natural, not man-made. We get up when the sun rises and shines through the windows, unblocked by other buildings. Because the time the sun rises changes slowly throughout the year, our wake-up call is a bit different every day. Grass is starting to grow in the pastures. Wild plum and cherry trees are sending out brilliant white flowers. Oaks are starting a heavy leaf drop. Winter coats on the horses are shedding.

Every day things change here, but in their own time and at their own pace. It's constant change at a slower rhythm.

So yes, things move slower out here in the country. I'm starting to worry that maybe I am tainting that with all of my man-made devices, my TIVOs and satellite radios, my internet towers and Bobcats. These are man-made things, working to man-made rhythms, and I desperately hope that I don't ruin the beat.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tech Phone Support, Playboy Style

(NOTE: I posted this as a comment over at Ed Brayton's "Dispatches From the Culture Wars" in response to a thread about voice mail systems.)

I used to work for Dell Computers in phone technical support on the night shift. We took all the calls from all the different 800 numbers that during the day went to departments dedicated to supporting just that one product. We got server calls, laptop calls, workstation calls, you name it.

One night I picked up a call and saw from my little LCD display that the customer had been on hold for something like two and a half hours (not unusual) and that he had called in on our Latitude (laptop) support line. During the entire time on hold, of course, he had to sit through the endlessly looping "We at Dell Computers value your call, and a computer support technician will be with you as soon as possible!"

So finally the call rolls onto my phone, and I say "Thanks for calling Dell Computers, my name is Jeff, how may I help you?" "Um, yeah," he says in a husky voice, "are there, um, any girls there?" Nonplussed, I looked around the cube farm. The night shift in computer technical support in the mid-80's was not exactly Chick Country, you know? "Well, yes, there's one, but she's on the phone right now. I'm sure I could help you, what's the problem?" But he just hung up.

Weird, I thought. Why wait all that time and then hang up when you finally get someone? I mentioned it to a buddy of mine in the daytime Latitude queue the next morning and he laughed until he almost peed in his pants. "Dude," he said, catching his breath, "if you swap the last two digits of the Latitude support number you get a phone sex line! That's why he wanted to talk to a girl, he thought you were porn!"

I had to wash my phone down with anti-bacterial soap, I felt so dirty. Although looking back on it, I wish I'd had the presence of mind to ask him for his credit card number. Anyone horny enough to sit through two hours of a recorded "This is Dell Computers" message on the chance he'd get to talk to a girl is someone who I could make a lot of money from.


The Best Part of Waking Up ...

Ah, there's nothing like waking up in the morning to the pungent, bitter smell of fresh-ground java beans. Unless, of course, it's not actually Folger's in your cup but rather skunk musk. And the scent is not coming from your Mr. Coffee but from your dog's face and the time is not a civilized 7 in the morning but rather a hellish 2 AM.

Yes, the same dog who got a snout full of porcupine quills just got another blast in the puss, this time from a skunk. Why he can't leave these critters alone I don't know. He's inside the house 90% of the time, and alone outsize hardly ever. But in those rare hours during the week where he's flying solo he manages to find every repellent and dangerous creature that crosses the property.

We (and by "we" I mean "Annie" -- sometimes having a job off the property is a blessing) have tried Sprite, hydrogen peroxide, and tomato juice baths (no, not all at once) and the smell is out of his coat. The problem is his face, we're not sure how to keep the liquids out of his eyes and that's really where he got sprayed the worst. So he's exiled to the back yard for a few days, which has greatly offended his Doggie Dignity. He stares mournfully in the windows as if wondering what happened to his happy little world.

I can almost hear his thoughts -- "I thought you guys LIKED the smell of coffee!"


Monday, March 06, 2006

Bobcat vs. Donkey

At one point during my weekend-long cedar-whacking extravaganza, the donkeys and horses came over to see what I was doing in that loud, clattering contraption. I always thought equines were prey animals and, as such, ran from anything in the least bit out of the ordinary. (And if me working on a weekend isn't out of the ordinary, I don't know what is!) But on the contrary, they're very curious, so they sauntered over to check out the Bobcat.

The thing is, I didn't want them to be comfortable around it. You can't see very well in it, and I was fearful that I'd accidentally run over a donkey, or drop a tree on a horse, or mistake someone for a cedar and try to shear it. So I was in the awkward position of having to scare away these creatures who in general trust me very much.

I started out slow, just tooting the (incredibly pathetic-sounding) horn. No dice, they just twitched an ear. I stepped it up to driving towards them at top speed which, in a Bobcat, is about 2 mph. Again no deal, they seemed to think I was coming to play. Finally I raised the shears high overhead and waggled them back and forth, giving rise to a fierce clanging. At last the animals reacted with appropriate dread, and ran for their lives.

But it made me realize that I am just not a frightening individual. No one is scared of me. For the love of Pete I had a hard time alarming a herd of prey animals with a multi-ton bulldozer strapped around me!

This has always been true, even back in high school. For instance, our "Wilderness Club" had taken a weekend trip Ship Island in Louisiana to clean up the beaches and then soak up the sun for a few hours. The girls had wandered out into the deeper water until it was up to their necks, and had taken their tops off, waving them above their heads to taunt any hapless male members of the group who might walk by on the beach. One of the guys, Scott, made as if to charge into the water after them and the girls squealed and giggled with mock horror and delight, hurriedly redressing until he peeled off and resumed his walk down the beach.

So here I come, walking down the beach, and the top-waggling resumes. "I'm comin' in!" I yell, splashing towards heaven on earth. "Eeeek, look out, let's -- oh, it's just Jeff. Come on in!"

"Just Jeff, come on in"?! What am I, chopped beef? An extra from Brokeback Mountain? Apparently I just missed out on the whole "This guy is trouble" gene somehow. I don't think I could scare a basket of kittens if I had a dog costume on.

Next time I'm definitely renting a bigger bulldozer. I think I'm gonna need it in case I run into a mouse or something really ferocious and need to scare it off.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Shaken, Not Stirred

In my ongoing quest to acquire experience with as much Bubba tech as possible to compare it with the Nerd tech I am more familiar with, this weekend I have rented a Bobcat with pneumatic shears which slice through trees like butter. Like very hard, very tall, very heavy butter that will give you an allergic reaction or fall on you and crush you to death, whichever comes first.

But I digress. Let me just relate a few things I have learned about Bobcatting:

  1. Chopping down cedar trees when you are allergic to cedar trees is stupid.
  2. You can chop down trees larger than the width of your shears if you are very patient and chop, charge in, chop some more, repeat.
  3. If you try to rip a tree out of the ground while it is still attached to the ground, you run a very high risk of flipping your Bobcat over.
  4. Like the comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite, a mechanical Bocat is also loud and irritating and will make you deaf if you are around it too long (or in the case of Goldthwaite, will make you WISH you were deaf)
  5. We have a lot of f'ing cedar trees on our property.
After a full 8 hours of getting shaken, beaten, greased on, almost killed by flipping machinery, shedding black tears from pollen inundating every orifice I own, and tearing giant chunks of pasture up with hardened, puncture-proof tires, all I can say is this:

Bubba tech is cool.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Asses on Slate

I haven't done this yet, but it's a venerable tradition in blogging (can an activity less than five years old really have a "tradition", much less a "venerable" one?) to post links to other things you and your readers might find interesting. So in that spirit, here's a post on Slate that I think captures a lot of the reason why we have donkeys on our farm. Money quote:

"That's a lot of hay," one of my incredulous farmer neighbors observed. "Especially for animals that don't do anything."

But he's wrong. They do a lot for me. They connect me to nature and to history. They're dutiful watchdonkeys and affectionate companions. They exude patience and calm. In many ways, they're the heart and soul of my farm.

The link is


Thursday, March 02, 2006


My boss came in the office the other day and told me that he can't tell the difference in smell between fresh-roasted coffee grinds and a dead skunk.

A lot of our conversations are like this, it's a very interesting place to work.

I naturally thought he was nuts. My own sense of smell is worse than a twenty-year veteran line worker at a bean-eating factory, but even I know a dead skunk stinks.

Of course it got me wondering, and fortunately (for me, not so much for them) there are always dead skunks along my 45-minute commute from the country to the city. Yesterday I paid particular attention, and to my shock discovered he was right -- dead skunks DO smell like fresh coffee grinds.

I knew something stunk about paying six bucks for a cup of coffee at Starbuck's. Now I know what it is.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Horse Dentists

The other day we had the horse dentist out to the property.

Yes, you are reading that correctly -- there are vets whose only job is to work on horse teeth.

I was going to make a crack about how we're going to have the Horse Chiropractor out next week, but it turns out that we really are having the Horse Chiropractor out next week.

So now we have people who do the whole horse, people who do just the horse's hooves, people who just make shoes for horses (not metal horseshoes, but literally boots that fit over a horse's feet), people who do chiropractic realignments on horse spines, and people who work on nothing but horse teeth.

The one thing they all have in common: Every damn one of them will be more than happy to work on your wallet.