Friday, July 31, 2015

"Mutual Friend"

This year I had the best Mother’s Day ever.  And that says a whole lot because I usually do not like holidays – “Hallmark” or otherwise.  David really hit a home run: he sent me and my friend, Jen, to a divine spa in Calistoga for a day of spa treatments, wine and relaxing.  It was like stepping back into my old life, or a parallel universe, for a day – in more ways than one.  Spending a spa day with Jen in wine country was the culminating event of a very strange journey she and I have been on for 6 years.
Truth be told, Jen is “The Other Woman”: she is my ex-husband’s now ex-girlfriend, the one he left me for.  I met her about a year into their relationship, and Jen and I have been fast friends ever since.  Sure, we’ve had some “out” times but that’s to be expected – right?
It started on a Sunday morning in December 2009 when I was picking up the 5 kids from their weekend with their Dad.  The Ex met me at the bottom of his front steps, to warn me not to go in the house.  He didn’t know me very well, now did he?  “Poppy cock!” I exclaimed and bounded up the two flights of stairs to his rented flat.  There was no preparation – no time to pick an intimidating outfit, coif my hair, polish my makeup, get Botox, compose a script.  Nothing.  I went in with yoga pants, no shower, and running shoes.  The Ex trailed along.
Our breakup 10 months before was bad, to put it mildly.  Nearly as horrific as 1989 movie,  “The War of the Roses” with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito.  I highly recommend this movie for anyone in the mood for a dark comedy that hits close to home for countless couples, including us.  By the time I met Jen, The Ex and I were entrenched in the throes of negotiations moderated by a private judge and orchestrated by two of the most powerful divorce attorneys in the Bay Area.  My attorney actually retired immediately after our divorce papers were finally signed; my Ex’s attorney underwent surgery and took an extended hiatus.  We did them in.

So, there I was hurdling up the stairs.  I heard the loud happy noises of the kids in the kitchen, finishing up a home cooked brunch.  I stood in the doorway and before I had a chance to rethink it (or think at all), I introduced myself to Jen with a big hug and a beaming smile.  (Sometimes I surprise myself.)  And, God bless her, Jen hugged me right back.  I told her how relieved I was to finally meet her and thanked her for taking such good care of my children.  I welcomed her with open arms into our little clan and planted the seed of a lasting friendship.
Clint Eastwood
The children and The Ex stood in stunned silence.  They must have imagined a very different scenario.  But here’s the thing: I was, and still am, eternally grateful to Jen for getting me out of a dismal marriage.  The Ex and I had been in a virtual Mexican Standoff, or staring contest, for YEARS.  We are both extraordinarily stubborn and strategic, and neither was willing to move out or admit defeat.  So we each stood our ground.  Admittedly, life at home was …. tense.  Then Jen came along, and The Ex “blinked,” so to speak.  Hallelujah!  I was so glad, that I could just hug her.  And I did.
Besides, there were a lot of other reasons to like her.  First and foremost, my kids adored her.  Charlie was 13 and little Robbie was barely 4.  They were babies and needed someone to take care of and nurture them when they were at their Dad’s.  And if she was going to be an integral part of my children’s lives, I wanted to “be in the loop” so she and I could coordinate our parenting efforts (since I certainly could not do that with The Ex).  I wanted to tell my kids that it was OK to like this new person, that they did not have to chose between us – they could have us both.  I showed them flamboyantly, effusively and theatrically that Jen and I would be friends.  Finally, Jen kept my Ex happy, and a happy Ex is a less confrontational, more compliant ex.  (OK, and being friendly with her threw my Ex off balance – always fun.) 
Over the years, Jen and I communicated regularly to manage the 5 kids: “Do you think this one is depressed? Is that one actually eating or just pretending? Do you think this one is having social issues at school? Could you take that one out for some one-on-one time shopping? Can you make sure this one does the art project due Monday?”  Jen and I routinely texted and “tag teamed” the kids, or played “good cop/bad cop” with them.  Sometimes we even had lunch on my Ex’s credit card!  A genuine friendship developed, and I came to view Jen as the little sister I never had.  She just had terrible taste in men—we could work on that. 
We attended all the kid functions together—me and Bubba, Jen and The Ex.  Like a really, really warped double date.  One of these events was a sit-down dinner to celebrate a middle school graduation.  The other couples at our table got wide-eyed as the four of us head for our seats.  “Uh oh.  Take cover,” I’m sure they all thought.  Au contraire.  Jen and I sat on one side of the table, away from both guys, and gossiped the night away.  It was at this dinner that I asked if she knew the full story of my Ex’s indiscretions (besides her, of course). “Yes! He told me EVERYTHING on our third date.  I know in my heart that he has changed his ways.”  “Oh honey, a leopard can’t change its spots.  There is nothing on this planet that is worth selling your soul for,” I counseled.  Ah, youth (Jen is ten years my junior).
Several years later, Jen texted me in the middle of the night: “You were so right.”  Damn.  It’s really hard to find a stepmother-figure as good as her and I didn’t want to train up a new one (!).  But more importantly, my friend’s heart was breaking.  I had unique insights and perspectives on what she was experiencing.  Their relationship EXPLODED with drama, no Mexican Standoff for them.  Without going into all the details, it involved police, knives, cross country drives, and Facebook unfriending.
When the dust settled, she and I had even more in common than before.  I admire her spunk, her determination, and her ability to advocate for herself.  To this day, she and I still strategize about how to raise the 5 kids and we often set up situations where she can model to the girls how to be a successful, strong, independent woman in a “man’s world.”  Telling them simply is not enough; they need to see it from someone other than their mother.  The kids still confide in Jen and value her opinion as an adult they love and trust.
“So, how does this have anything to do with goats?” you may be asking by now.  Well, one of Jen’s careers was as a filmmaker.  For a while, I had an idea to make a reality TV-show about showing goats.  Imagine “Best in Show,” just with goats instead of dogs.  If “My Cat From Hell” and “Toddlers and Tiaras” can make it, then so can “Get Your Goat.”  Right?  (Maybe I’ll still do it…!)  Anyway, Jen was going to film it for me.  We always got a huge chuckle out of that plan because The Ex doesn’t like animals, especially goats, and his girlfriend would be totally wrapped up in goats just like the rest of his family. 
Jen encouraged Katherine’s goat project, and always invited Katherine to bring whatever “bottle baby” she was managing to Jen and Ex’s house in Palo Alto.  Jen delighted in taking the children out for walks in downtown Palo Alto, with the baby goat trotting along at the end of the leash, wearing its newly acquired fashion sweater.  “Purse dogs and teacup pigs are so pass√©; everyone who’s anyone has a goat, dahling.”  She fielded questions with grace and aplomb, “Oh my god! Is that a baby llama?!” one genius asked her.
Does this look like a baby goat to you?
Jen also had a front-row seat to my only public fight with Bubba.  She had come over to celebrate a kid’s birthday with us, and at this party Bubba had flown off the handle bars at me about a snippy comment that Bella (age 16) had made to him.  “It’s all your fault! You are a terrible parent!” he screeched at me and stormed out of the room, glowering at Bella all the way.  Bella teared up instantly, and Jen and I whisked her off to a corner of the house (away from the party) to discuss the episode.  
Jen and I taught Bella all about misdirected anger and suppressed emotions in our attempt to reassure Bella that none of the imminent breakup was her fault.  Bella calmed down and went off to bed, whereupon it was my turn to be consoled and counseled. 
Honig Sauvignon Blanc - my fav
So there we were, having both moved on to new relationships, lounging by the pool at a spa in wine country, sharing a bottle of sauvignon blanc.  Cheers!  [And a shout out to David for appreciating both me AND Jen for our roles “mothering” the children.] 
Between massages and mud baths, Jen and I discussed the Ex’s new girlfriend.  We decided that the new love interest just isn’t fun enough to make the “lounge chair cut.”  We must have looked like a tableau from “The Other Woman” movie.  At one point I thought we’d get kicked out of the spa for being too loud. 
David, best boyfriend ever, had also arranged to pick up the kids from The Ex that afternoon as part of his Mother’s Day gift to me.  Jen’s boyfriend was killing time wine-tasting.  So Jen and I concluded that the two of them—the new boyfriends—should both pick up the kids from The Ex.  Now that’s a funny image!  Wine schnerfed out of our noses. 
The universe works in strange ways: the ex-wife and the ex-girlfriend, fast friends, helping each other navigate life’s treacherous course.  The kids no longer think it’s weird that we are friends—they just accept it.  And when people ask us how we know each other, we say, “mutual friend."
I hope the kids have learned two things from this oddball friendship:
1)   True friends are few and far between and you never know where your next one is going to come from; so be open minded.
2)   Happiness is a choice.  Jen and I easily could’ve chosen to be catty rivals, fanning the flames of the dysfunctional relationship that initially connected us.  But we didn’t, and look at how well that worked out! A day at the spa with a true friend.
BFF


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Winged Menace (continued)


He's at it again, The Winged Menace.  I’ve been doing more research about Guinea Fowl online and I am finding more and more articles titled things like “Fourteen Reasons Not To Raise Guinea Fowl.”  Stupid is usually high up on the list.  Rather than go into that analysis again, I refer you, dear reader, to my previous post “The Winged Menace (Part1)."  

A quick summary: Purple (my guinea fowl) chases cars down the road and then veers into the winery next door where he harasses well-heeled tourists who have never seen such a strange bird.  My crazy bird is now stopping traffic on the road in front of my house.

This is my open letter to those drivers:


Dear Driver(s)-Stopped-on-the-Road:

First of all, thank you so much for not running down my crazy-assed bird.  He’s not the brightest cookie in the crayon box so I really do appreciate you taking the initiative.  He’s the lone survivor of our flock of 20, so he holds a special place in our hearts (kind of).

I see that you are stopped dead in your tracks, with a crazed Guinea Fowl running laps around your car.  Chances are you don't even know what the hell kind of bird that is.  Two more cars have screeched to a halt behind you; their drivers are gesticulating wildly because they don't see the bird blocking your path.  I'm pretty sure the other cars won't rear-end you. At least, I hope not.

In the iconic words of the Talking Heads (May 1986), “… you may ask yourself--Well…How did I get here?”  Here are some ideas.


Bugs

  • Maybe the bird’s hungry?  He’s down there pecking the bugs out of your grill and off of your tire rims. Don't worry, though - your car will be fine.  He will not ruin the paint job OR pop the tires. Phew.
  • Maybe the bird’s vain and/or lonely?  He’s checking himself out in the reflection of your clean car. Does he think its a girlfriend?
  • Maybe the bird thinks you are an invader? He is squawking up a storm. LEAVE! LEAVE! LEAVE!
  • Maybe the bird’s just on some sort of power trip? “Aha! The metal beast submits to my superior avian will!  I shall conquer the world!” 
  • Maybe the bird’s just stupid? Yep.

I think the real reason that The Winged Menace has stopped you on the road is: 
Because. He. Can.
I know that you just saw me speed away toward the stoplight, and you probably think I am a wicked, bird-hating person.  Some of you will even catch up to me and pull me over to tell me that my “weird turkey bird” is in the road (yes, thanks, I see that).  But here’s the thing: once you stop, you are trapped.
Purple epitomizes the word “Survivor.”  Just keep going!  DO NOT STOP!  The bird will move – he has every time… so far. 
With most sincere thanks,

AG


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Goat Named Henry

As a child, I divided my time between my parents, one of whom lived in a mid-sized city on the East Coast and the other who lived in a small rural town also on the East Coast.  I was an only child and got shuttled around between my parents and grandparents for most of my childhood.  My life wasn’t exactly privileged in comparison with all the other little girls in my crowd, but compared to the rest of the world it was pretty good.  I had dogs, cats, a guinea pig, fish.  Ordinary pets.  There was, however, one glimmer of my goat herding future in the form of a goat named Henry. 

When I was six I went to the County Fair with my mom and her then-boyfriend.  My mom had grown up as one of ten kids on a farm and had put herself through college and grad school AND law school.  She was quite the academic overachiever, but remained a “country girl” at heart.  There we were at the Fair, in the petting zoo to be specific (she was probably more excited about it than I was). 

Petting Zoo
In hindsight, I realize that The Boyfriend must have been relatively new at the time and was probably still trying to impress her.  Ah, dating.  So when Mom said how cute the baby goat was, he snuck off and bought it.

I have since been to many petting zoos and cannot for the life of me imagine why someone would sell one of their petting animals, especially one as cute as a baby goat; that’s their bread-and-butter for Pete’s sake. The Boyfriend must have paid through the nose for that kid.

Anyway, Mom was thrilled and let me name the goat.  I chose “Henry” after my favorite 2nd cousin.  Fortunately for family politics, my cousin was flattered and we still laugh about the naming to this day.  Henry (the goat) came home to live with us.  And by “with us” I mean INSIDE the house.  We lived in a small house in a small town with a small yard.  I was six so it didn’t occur to me to ask why the goat did not live outside…. six year-olds just roll with it.  Maybe adults should learn to do the same.
1972 VW Bug

So Henry lived with us like a dog.  He rode in the backseat of Mom’s 1972 Volkswagen Beetle (“Hey lady, is that a goat in your car?”).  He trotted around the house with his little cloven hooves – clickety clack.  He came when he was called - maah.  Henry eventually learned to climb the stairs and could jump over any obstacle meant to deter him (gates, tables, dressers—you get the idea).  Unfortunately for my mother, housetraining was not in the cards.  But, as I said, I was six and I just rolled with it.

When we got Henry he was probably about 8 weeks old and the size of a small dog.  I have since learned that he was a breed of dairy goat called a Toggenburg.  According to Wikipedia, they are “good as pets,” although I don’t think Wiki meant house pets per se.  Another web site (www.hobbyfarms.com) describes “Toggs” as standing 34-38” tall and weighing 150 to 200 pounds.  They are “marvelous dairy goats” – by which they probably mean OUTSIDE.  Lets think about that for a moment: a single mother with a young child living in a small (rental) house with a 150-pound goat. 

One day I came home from school and Henry was gone.  He had moved to a farm “to live with other goats.”  I was six…I just rolled with it of course.  But I never forgot Henry.

Thirty-three years later I was going through a divorce from my husband of 18 years and I was bumbling through a first date with Bubba.  We had known each other casually for some time, but on this date I learned a whole lot more about him – notably that he was a goat farmer.  I was hooked.  It must be a genetic weakness that I inherited from my mother: all a man needed to do to pick me up at that fragile point in my life was say “goat.”
Not my Henry, but, look! someone else on Pinterest has a Henry, too!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Little Sister's in the Garage with a Bucket

Katherine is away at summer camp for EIGHT (count ‘em, 8) weeks on the other side of the country and she left me in charge of her dog, her cat, her fish and her goatherd.   I swear the goats watched her leave and made a plan.
They waited two weeks, so I could feel like I had things under control.  “I got this,” I congratulated myself one day when I finished feeding the gang.  “No problem-o.” The very next morning it started.  Of course it was the 4th of July.
I had on my cute little sundress, wedge sandals, and makeup (mon dieu!).  I was ready for the parade, the picnic and the fireworks downtown.  So why did I think that it was the perfect moment to go feed?  I do not know.  Cocky, I suppose.  So I pushed my wheelbarrow from the hay barn to the buck pen to the doe pen to the baby pen and finally to the adolescent pen.  In each pen I did a quick head count, like everyday. 
Sponge Bob
Everyone was present and accounted for…until I got to the adolescent pen.  Uh oh.  The littlest goat on the property (3 months old) was M-I-A.  Oh Lord, not that one.  She is the only baby doe Katherine kept out of the last kidding batch and the only baby doe we have ever gotten out of one of our Fancy (pinky up) goats.   Her name is Little Sister (that’s her barn name—I can’t remember her show name, whatev’). 
My mind raced through scenarios: Mountain Lion? Unlikely -- it would’ve had to jump three fences and run through two livestock guardian dogs.  Too much work.  Fox? Little Sister isn’t that little.  Hawk? Maybe…A friend recently posted on her Facebook page about a raptor taking a Chihuahua.  Roughly the same size.  I looked everywhere; and as Murphy’s Law asserts, she was in the last place I looked.
She didn’t look so good…

I scooped her up and put her in the “quarantine pen” in the far corner of the property – tip toeing through the poopy field in my sandals, of course.  I refilled her trough with fresh water and gave her a little pat on the head.  Good goaty.
Tippy toe back to the waiting car.  “Are you sure you want to go?” David asked.  “Yeah,” I answered hesitantly.






For once in my life, I had no children! I know, it’s hard to imagine.  David and I had slept in, I had put on makeup, I had fed the goats, I had sequestered Little Sister.  We started off down the road for the parade.  We were off schedule by about 20 minutes (I hate that), but we had a secret parking spot at David’s office so we weren’t too worried.
Traffic slowed to a crawl several miles out of town, but we forged ahead. Pioneers in the storm, heads bowed against the wind.  I should explain here that my town really gets into the Fourth of July.  It has been ranked one of the “Top 10 Small Town 4th of July Celebrations.”  People stake their claims to seats along the parade route as early as 6:00 AM.  The longer you wait, the worse your view – and the harder it is to park.  Then we hit the police roadblock, detouring people away from the parade route--and blocking our secret parking spot.
All the while, my anxiety level about Little Sister crept upwards.  What if she took a turn for the worse while I was out lollygagging at the parade?  I could never forgive myself—neither would Katherine.
“It’s a sign – let’s go back,” I said.

Back at home, Little Sister was lying down in the middle of the pen, exactly where I had left her.  Looking most woebegone.   I was out of the car and up the stairs to my room, changing into sweatpants before David had even parked the car.  With my hair pulled back and my legs suitably covered, I was ready to take on the sick goat.
Elastrator
Remember now, the goats are Katherine’s deal—not mine.  She gives them shots, treats their ailments, manages their feed schedule, enters them in shows, grooms them, disbuds them, neuters them.  Yup, neuters – in the goat world it’s called “wethering.”  I’ll tell you all about it in another blog, I promise; here’s a hint √† 



I know nothing.  I drive the trailer and sign the checks.  I pick up meds at the vet according to whatever shopping list Katherine has given me; I usually just hand the receptionist Katherine’s list and my credit card at the same time.  I toss hay out of the wheelbarrow.  So what do I know about a sick baby goat?  Nada, zilch, niente.

Of course it’s a Saturday AND a holiday, so my chance of getting our goat vet to come out was next to none.  Besides, who needs no stinkin’ vet?  I’m a goat herder.  Yee haw.  David and I could figure this out.  We are both well educated, clever adults.
So I set up Little Sister in the garage in an “x-pen” with a fresh bucket of water and a little blankie (cozy cozy).  She stood there just the same—head hanging, eyes half closed, tail drooping.  While David whipped out his phone to do some online research, I ran around the property looking for all of Katherine’s stashes of goat meds.
It turns out Katherine keeps the goat meds all over the place.  There’s the batch in the refrigerator, there’s the batch in the green box in the garage, there’s the batch in the toolbox in the kidding barn, there are the random bottles on shelves in the barn and the garage and Katherine’s bedroom.  I gathered them all up and lined them up on the floor of the garage, along with the boxes of syringes and needles.  God Bless Katherine, the refrigerator box included a notecard with a (partial) inventory.  But it didn’t say what the various meds do.  Hmm. 

Katherine has done a ton of online research about medications and vaccinations and supplements and schedules, etc. etc. And I know she has told me about her findings in great detail at many dinners over the past year.  But, truly, the information went in one ear and out the other.  It’s her deal; I’m just a supportive mother.
Now I was sitting on the garage floor trying to channel my “Inner-Katherine.”  What would she do in this situation? Besides get on the Internet… which David was already doing (she’d have been proud of him).  I checked in with my goat pals via text: they asked hard questions like, “what’s the goat’s temperature?” and “what does she weigh?”  Ugh.  I found the thermometer.  Unpleasant for both me and Little Sister, but I determined that she only had a low-grade fever.
Symptoms: distended belly, lethargy, not eating or drinking, dull coat, depressed. Aha! BLOAT!  I’ve heard of that one.  Ok, now what to do about it?
Goat Bloat Game
(why would you create a video game about taking your goat to the vet, I ask you? People are weird.)

OK, dig through the box: Therabloat sounds promising.  Of course nothing has directions on it.  More Internet searching for dosages.  David found video clips on YouTube and lots of blogs and websites about goat treatments.  He was vocalizing a stream-of-consciousness thing in the background while I fumbled through the bottles and vials trying to remember when I had seen Katherine use them.
Then David stumbled on a word I had heard from Katherine before: ANTITOXIN.  I remembered a conversation Katherine had at the large animal vet clinic (not our normal goat vet that we love and respect, but one that took care of my horses):
Katherine: “Um, hi. Um. Could we get some, um, {mumble-mumble}-antitoxin…for our, um, goats?”
Vet: “Why?”
Katherine: “Um, ‘cause we need it if the babies are, um, sick?”
Vet: “What?”
Katherine: “Yeah, I read on the, um, Internet that it can help sick bottle babies?”
Vet: “There is no reason that you would ever need to treat a baby goat with that strong of a medicine.  It wouldn’t work.  So, no.” [Translation: go away]
Katherine: “Um, ok.”
Back in the car Katherine fumed.  This encounter was early in her goat herding career and she was just building up her confidence, so I suspect she was as flustered at her own nervousness as she was with not getting the medication that she wanted.  She is, by nature, quite shy.  But she is also quite resourceful.  So at home she logged onto the Internet and found the contraband drug at www.valleyvetsupply.com.  (Why didn’t we do that first? Why did I have to drive 30 miles to the vet? Anyway…can’t wait until she gets her driver’s license.) 

Shazam! That’s the answer.  Antitoxin.  I dug through the refrigerated box again and pulled out a little vial of something-or-other antitoxin and I drew up a bit into a syringe.  Two problems there: I totally guessed at the dosage (“that looks about right”) and I had no idea that there are at least TWO types of antitoxins.  Antitoxin, schm-antitoxin. 

I was poised to inject Little Sister while David talked away in the background… “Not sure that’s the right one…something medical-ish (David’s a doctor)…something chemistry-ish….something about countering a reaction in the rumen….something about tetanus antitoxin being used to treat a deep penetrating wound.”  Hold on a minute.  No deep penetrating wounds here.  I had drawn up Tetanus Antitoxin thinking it was the same as CD Antitoxin.

Breadwig
I'm pretty stubborn and once I get an idea in my head it’s hard to sway me from my course on pretty much anything—dating, child rearing, marriage, injecting goats.  But what David said and the way he said it so calmly and so logically got through to me.  I put the needle down and rifled through the box again.  There it was: CD-Antitoxin.  Well, hot damn.


Chalk one up to med school.  David explained the basics of “enterotoxaemia” to me.  Basically, the goat eats so much that its rumen [read: stomach] can’t keep up with the digestive process so it just gives up.  Then the naturally occurring “Clostridium perfringen” bacteria, always present in the rumen at some level, grow way out of control and eat through the intestinal wall into the peritoneal cavity.  Then it’s all over for the poor little goaty.  Very painful, says www.goatworld.com.  I imagine so.  (David figured this all out on his own while sitting on a desk chair in my garage, reading from his phone.  I was impressed!)  Enterotoxemia article... if you want to know more

I remember Katherine talking about being able to diagnose baby goats with this disease by their terrible smell.  The smell of death and rotting.  Fortunately for Little Sister, she did not yet have “the smell of death.”


Next question: dosage.  Dr. David to the rescue again.  He’s good at math, too.  I drew up the CD-Antitoxin, and injected Little Sister without a second thought.  I distinctly remember a time when I could not, would not give a shot.  I erroneously believed that only vets are able (allowed? capable? smart enough?) to give shots.   But Katherine inspires me—if she can do it, so can I.   
Crisis averted, I sent Katherine an email at camp.  Usually I send her goofy cards via snail-mail with the weather report and tales of the farm.  But this situation demanded a degree of urgency, so I clicked the “email your camper” on the camp website.
So, the email arrives at the office at camp, they print it out and deliver it to the camper.  I can only imagine what the Camp Director thinks of us…”Little Sister bloated and I gave her Therabloat and  5 cc of CD-Antitoxin subcutaneously.  She’s in a pen in the garage with a bucket of water.”  Good thing they didn’t call Child Protective Services on me.  
Other moms are probably writing, “The country club snack bar had gelato yesterday!  Cape Cod isn’t the same without you.”  Not me.  Not anymore.
(postscript:  Little Sister is doing much better and fully recovered from her bloat! Katherine is still at camp and now I am dealing with pink eye in goats...)