Happiness Is a Brown Calf

I was sitting in my office when I got a text from Chris. It had a photo. I was confused.

Why is Kathleen feeding a tiny calf? Where is she? Why is there a yellow sticker on it?

I asked questions. Like what kind of cow is it? A bull. Where does it live? The back yard. Does it like dogs? We’ll see. Thanks, Chris, I thought. What the heck?

Vlassic was also confused.

Well. Chris went to the sale barn and bought a bottle calf, to cheer Kathleen up. She likes to hand-raise calves. How about that?

Yes, he made Kathleen happy.

So, he borrowed Ralph’s trailer and brought baby Rip home. Well, first they got a halter, a food dish, calf formula (isn’t that just cow milk?), and such. And Chris used our horse panels for a temporary fence. Okay.

Gracie and I were also happy to meet Rip.

I came home and enjoyed all the bonding and stuff. Kathleen is an expert. She held him and cuddled him, and he took a nice nap.

Nap time.

To get him to drink more, she had to make him stand up. He’s a little drowsy. Tomorrow we will get him electrolytes.

He really needed to stand up to eat. They get pneumonia otherwise.

I enjoyed feeding him. I’d never fed a calf before. I fed a little kitten a bottle once, and that’s it. Happy World Breastfeeding Month to me!

Mmm. Milk.

I sure hope baby Rip makes it. Kathleen and Chris say they’ve nursed calves in worse shape before. The guess is that he was a twin or lost his mom. Poor fellow. He will have fun with our crew, I hope. The dogs love his poop, which was not a thing I expected.

In any case, that livened up the day. Oh, so did this. It was still soft when they found it, near where Rip’s crib is.

That’s a healthy snake.

He should do fine, according to the professional family bottle calf raisers. The dogs like him, and Alfred and Clarence the guard rooster will take care of him.

I’m a scrawny baby.

What Are You Trying to Say?

Sometimes I’m really grateful for blog comments, because they can get me thinking about things that are important to me. Recently, a comment was shared by Edith on my May 6 Toxic Negativity post. In addition to some lovely personal sharing, she made this point:

 I’d be interested to hear more about what you get out of communication as well, because I believe most people do it to exchange and amplify emotions they wish to experience whereas while I do enjoy exchanging wanted emotions I mostly want to exchange ideas so sometimes I bring up something negative because I want to solve it, without realizing that not all problems are solvable and that not chewing on it might be better. 

Blog comment, July 30, 2020

This is the kind of topic a person with my background in linguistics and pragmatics lives for. What Edith’s wanting to know about is not what the things I say mean (semantics) but what I’m trying to do with my words (pragmatics). Guess what leads to confusion and mis-communication? When you say something with one intent, and your communication partner interprets it another way.

Here’s an example:

Me: There’s Alfred hair all over the floor.
Lee: Hey, I’ve been doing the books all day – I don’t have time to sweep.

So, maybe I was just noticing that the hair is there, not judging Lee’s housekeeping skills. Or, maybe I was thinking I should be doing some sweeping. Or maybe I was actually judging Lee. How to tell?

Alfred DOES shed a lot.

Well, if we were talking in person, Lee could tell by my tone of voice (stern, teasing, surprised), or he could see by my actions that I was heading to get a broom or crossing my arms in irritation. Those are among the many ways we can infer motivation to other people’s speech.

One method of communication we aren’t using so much these days. Photo by @Nodar via Twenty20

But these days, a lot of our communication comes via text, Twitter, Facebook comments, messenger app, or email. We lack a lot of those tone of voice and mannerisms tools for conveying additional meaning. We do have ALL CAPS and emojis, of course. But you can easily see how it can be a lot harder to figure out what someone is actually trying to convey outside the literal words they’ve typed.

I’m pretty sure Edith has been reading a lot of emotion-charged content lately, especially on Facebook/Twitter, etc. I see a LOT of content that repeats time-worn phrases or buzzwords that do seem to me that they aren’t intent on conveying information, but rather to vent, convey frustration, state which “team” they are on or show their disapproval of others. I even see them getting irritated when folks want to talk about what they actually SAY.

Yep, sometimes technology obscures intended meaning. Image by @Mehaniq via Twenty20

In fact, I often see that when people are genuinely wanting information, they specifically say so. They’ll say, “I really want to know,” or something like it. So, it seems to me that a lot of us are interpreting things we read and even hear as just folks blowing off steam.

That’s great unless you’re someone like Edith, who doesn’t work that way, and really just wants to respond to what the words are saying, not underlying implications.

What to Do?

Well, one thing that helps is to ignore people who just seem to be blowing off steam. They don’t really want to exchange ideas, information, or heaven forbid, facts/evidence.

If you think someone may actually want to be conveying information or getting your input, though, you can always try my favorite from back when I helped mothers breastfeed, “active listening.” It includes the technique where you paraphrase what you think the other person is trying to say, and get confirmation or clarification. You say something like, “What I hear you saying is X; is that right?” and the person either confirms or explains. (Summarizing, below)

Thanks to Education Corner for the graphic.

While this can get annoying REAL fast if you repeat it throughout a conversation, used sparingly it can head off those occasions where you get ten minutes into a heated discussion only to realize you were talking about different things.

You can always try the reflecting part of active listening, “When you say X, it makes me feel Y,” which is supposed to be better than blaming, name-calling, or labeling (for example, “That was stupid”). The idea is that you’re pointing out that the words are the problem, not the person saying them. This is another technique that can easily backfire (So, don’t say, “When you say those Confederate statues are your beloved heritage, it makes me feel like you don’t think black lives matter,” because that conversation will turn ugly very quickly.)

This takes me back to the first option, which is ignoring stuff you know isn’t really about exchanging information. Occasionally, with people I know or am related to, I will ask if they really want to start a conversation about Topic X, because I actually do know something about it and can share information. There have been times where one of us learns something that affects our feelings one way or another or gets us to re-evaluate and think about the topic based on new evidence, which is the goal of a good discussion, isn’t it? (That is opposed to a good venting session, the goal of which is to get hearty agreement that our way is RIGHT, and those other people are doofuses. Sometimes we need these, but we need to know when we are in a venting or information exchange interaction!)

Fill in the blank, venting, chatting, lecturing…

I guess my conclusion is there’s lots of reasons to communicate, and lots of WAYS to communicate in addition to the face value of the words in sentences. To succeed, whether you want to share information, educate, insult, or vent, you need to first agree on the mutual goal. Otherwise, we’re just talking (or typing) at each other rather than with each other.

I don’t know if any of this has helped at all. There is more I could say, but no time to say it, since lunch is over, and I need to go to some more work meetings and nod my head and smile a lot or help someone solve a problem (I like the latter kind best).


The Next Day

Someone said they couldn’t follow this well, because it’s written, not spoken. Then I couldn’t tell if they were joking or serious, because there were no emoticons. I rest my case.

Horse Social Distancing Party

I have a big post in the works, but various work things precluded typing much. So, here’s a little Apache and Fiona update.

The best news is that I’m going to get some square bales of hay for our horses, thanks to my friend Pamela, who lives on the next ridge closer to town from us. Her hay baling person agreed to do some square so I can get them for our guys. It may be a bit fresh for Apache, but since it’s summer, the grass is pretty dry.

And Apache’s feet are doing a lot better. He’s walking pretty well, and ate in the paddock 1.5 hours or more yesterday. He’s still okay!

So, we did a longer walk yesterday, even going over the telephone poles just fine. Then we walked down the race, along with Fiona and Vlassic. Even Big Red came.

Here I come! Cluck!

All was well, and it became a party when Spice and Lakota joined us. They’re temporarily in the pasture where the cattle usually are, so they could walk along with us. What a crew! Three horses, a donkey, a dog, and a hen.

Something is interfering with my grass consumption.

All of a sudden, Vlassic decided to chase Fiona. That’s why Apache looked so concerned in the first photo. I got the phone out and caught Fiona as she flew by. I didn’t get a picture of her turning back on Vlassic, because I was too busy getting on top of him to firmly explain that Fiona is not for chasing.

I’m faster than a speeding dachshund.

He sort of moved toward her, but after I shouted again and went toward him, he tucked his tail and meekly led the procession back to the paddock. He jumped in the water bucket and graciously exited so Apache could drink.

Let’s follow Fiona! Says Spice. Maybe after I finish chewing, says Apache.

My guess is he won’t be chasing Fiona again. I certainly cured him of chicken chasing after one firm discussion. I’m sure he was playing, but prey animals don’t find that fun!

Nontoxic Equanimity

Having written posts on toxic negativity and positivity in the past, I was really happy to hear the last part of an NPR presentation on toxic positivity this morning. I wanted to hear it, so I searched and couldn’t find it. I was bummed, because I liked the fact that the therapist being interviewed talked about how not all positivity is bad and that some negativity may well be justified.

angry suna
This was my sweaty face of negativity when I found out someone spoofed my Instagram account yesterday.

Finally, my brain kicked in and I found the article on the website of my local station, KUT. They have great original programming, too! If you get a chance, read the transcript or listen to the interview.

So, in her discussion with the KUT reporter, Junice Rockman makes the point that a lot of us are looking for the good things in life right now, since there’s so much ickiness going on in 2020 (obviously she didn’t say ickiness). And that’s fine. As the interview pointed out:

“…there is nothing wrong with positivity, as long as it is not used to:

  • deny
  • disconnect
  • disregard
  • disassociate, or
  • dismiss someone else’s ideas.”

That rang true to me. Some of the things I’ve heard and memes I’ve read seem to insist that you’re not good enough if you can’t always be positive. Your just not trying hard enough, don’t love yourself enough, or are just trying to be Debbie Downer.

Who me? I’m Penney Positive!

The heart of the matter is that it’s unrealistic to expect people to be either happy all the time, or eternally sad failures. To me that’s just common sense. Rockman says this kind of all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t work.

It’s like a pendulum. It has to be all one thing or not. It’s helpful for us to move away from that all-or-nothing thinking. It doesn’t have to be either-or. It can be both.

Junice Rockman, KUT, 7/29/2020
By the way, to make me positive, just show me a picture of my son and his little family. Aww. Photo shamelessly appropriated and used without permission.

And that’s it. We can be positive about one thing and negative about another, and they can coexist! These days a lot of us are having a hard time. We have lost jobs, are lonely, are sick, or upset by the news. That is absolutely okay, and it can’t hurt to also find what’s still pretty good. Really, isn’t life always this way?

Even in good times we have challenges. My goal is to have a healthy viewpoint and put my feelings into perspective. That means when I climb out of despair, I don’t run straight up Pollyanna Mountain! When I talk to people in my life, I’m going to mention things that bother me as well as things that bring joy.

And if someone judges me for veering off to one side or another, they may need to check for their own toxicity and cut me some slack. I’ll return the favor. My brain is too full to be all judgy right now. I love everybody who’s doing the best they can.

Now, onto the challenges of the day!

Bumming with Bovines

I am just going to share what makes life worth living these days, and that’s my charming ranch companions. It’s really fun to go for walks with the cows (and horses). You’re reminded that humans are just part of this world, and that every other living being is also out there having adventures.

I didn’t have a bovine traffic jam this afternoon, but probably because I walked.

Reminder of going to work yesterday.

Instead I enjoyed the greetings of my favorite heifers, who are now getting ready for babies of their own. As always, the great and bold 18-1 came right up to say hi. She’s just a golden cow.

Even the clouds love her.

After greeting her and the others, I checked on Apache and Fiona. Apache seems to be gradually improving, even when I let him out to graze a good while every evening. On the other hand, now Fiona seems a little stiff. My plan is a thorough foot check tomorrow.

Apache and I have fun on our walks. I sing him songs, and that gets him walking faster. Perhaps he’s trying to escape the singing. In any event, I’m happy he’s getting exercise and I get to pet and love on him.

Look! You can see his ribs!

On the way back, I was wiping the sweat off my eyes, and saw a brown blur over by the cabin. Hey, that’s a heifer on this side of the fence. She must have jumped the cattle guard.

I went up and saw it was good ole 18-2! She has a cute blonde tail. I said, “You know you aren’t supposed to be here!” I swear she gave me the same look Penney gives when she’s guilty. And she ambled over to the cattle guard and jumped over!

I did it. I’m proud.

Tyler V says she’s done it before. It doesn’t hurt anything for her to be over there, unless she breaks into the silage or something. She couldn’t get away, because there’s a gate farther down right now.

18-2 stands majestically in her field.

My guess is that when she’s full size and all pregnant, there will be no more jumping. I do enjoy this group of young ladies I’ve enjoyed since birth.

The Dreaded Negativity Spiral

In her newsletter today, Nataly Kogan of Happier Now, shared this tidbit that spoke to me:

Here’s the question I ask myself that helps me to immediately pause my negative thought spiral when I get caught in one:

Is this way of thinking helpful?

The answer is always no. Every single time. It’s amazing how simple yet powerful this question is.

Once I realize that indulging my negative thoughts isn’t helpful, I can make a choice to shift. It’s not always easy, but it’s absolutely possible.

Happier, with Nataly Kogan, July 28, 2020

At this very moment, I’m not in a negativity spiral; in fact I’m feeling as normal as a person getting ready for a reorg and dealing with sick people all around me can feel. But, from what I hear and from my own experience, the negativity can jump out and make its presence known quite suddenly and quickly. I think even the most resilient among us is finding it challenging to keep looking to the bright side these days.

The shift from negativity that Kogan refers to is what intrigues me. It seems like there may be lots of ways to accomplish this, and I’d be interested in knowing how some of you do it.

A couple of my strategies are:

  • Get going with the supportive self talk. Remind yourself that you are doing your best and your best is good enough, in fact, great!
  • If it’s someone’s actions or words that send you toward negativity, see if you can come up with a possible motivation or intent that is positive; remembering things don’t always come across the way people intend them to.
  • If you’re overcome with a mood out of nowhere, quickly engage in your favorite mood-changing activities: take a walk, do deep breathing, sing, visit your favorite funny meme or video site. The sooner you do it, the less chance that a mood can grip you for long.

Being good to ourselves really helps us be more resilient and optimistic (okay, some of us are aiming for neutral, I know). Nataly Kogan also gave out these ideas today, so I’ll share them, too:

Thanks, Nataly!

While I’m at it, I’m going to reach out to a couple of people I know are not feeling well, which always helps me feel more positive, myself.

Onward in good cheer!

New Stuff! Why?

I’ve always loved getting new stuff. I didn’t get a lot in my early years, and in my twenties I spent a lot of time being creative with tables made of boxes and furniture rescued from the dumpster. It was fine. I had fun, and all my new stuff was new books and records.

In grad school, I would have re-used an old mirror left in an apartment, just like we did at the Pope house.

I’m positive my extreme enjoyment of new things made me look like I was bragging. I know that, because my beloved high school sweetheart told me so. I was so mortified that I over-reacted and tried real hard to play anything I acquired down. I’ve had my car since 2017 and never wrote an ode to British Racing Green. That took a lot of restraint.

Not my car, but the color is right.

All the remodeling we’ve done over the past decade or so has let me get shiny new things, then pass them on. I think that’s ideal.

I’ve got to pick a lot of shiny sinks, but I don’t have to own them all. It’s still fun to open the box.

Still, nothing cheers me up like a tiny indulgence. So, back in April I ordered this extra cute keyboard and mouse off a Facebook ad. Now, I could tell it was coming from China. So I didn’t buy the most expensive one.

This was the ad I saw. PINK!

I waited and waited. The tracker kept saying it was in the same place. I finally contacted the company, expecting no response and a chance to write a bad review. But no, they said they’d look into it.

A week later I got a note saying it was lost somehow. Did I want my money back, or could they expedite me one? Sure, send it. By this time, I’d forgotten what I ordered.

It only took ten days to rush across the ocean and get to me, after a wee customs delay. Look at all those stickers.

It’s been around the world.

Ooh, the box was pretty!

Candy!

And look at that hilarious Candy keyboard! What was I thinking? On the other hand, it will add a jolt of pink to my new office when it’s done.

It came with a little brush to clean the keys and some cute little Chinese stickers.

Thankfully, the cute and clacky mechanical keyboard is fun to use, once you get used to it. And the mouse is just fine.

Ready to clackety-clack!

In conclusion, that was fun. And I can use the old keyboard at the ranch, where I have a giant, awkward keyboard I’ve never gotten used to. So yeah, I got a frivolous keyboard and it brightened my day.

Guess I have to give that company a good review.

Happiness Is New Life

As I was reading my morning news/opinion pieces, I was reminded by the Rev. Jim Rigby that it’s important to remember that there’s good stuff going on today. Go to his Facebook page to see his ten reasons to be grateful today. What struck me was this:

What a shame it would be if we forgot to celebrate the fact we are alive, that we are all connected to each other, or that underneath all our problems we are still expressions of a cosmic process. What a shame if, in the middle of this terrible storm we did not pause to appreciate the courage and nobility of those who struggle on our behalf. 

Jim Rigby, Facebook, July 27, 2020

To that I want to add that we continue to celebrate that life and death go on, regardless. While I heard of the death of an old colleague this morning, I also saw beaming baby photos from three other friends.

My morning also featured this new heifer, who doesn’t seem to understand that cars have the right of way! The old ones politely moved.

And last night, when I went out with Lee to look at the frogs, he asked me what a particular plant growing up out of the disturbed earth was. Usually what we see are the plants that typically come up in disturbed soil, but this one looked familiar.

It’s a leaf, all right. I didn’t take a picture of the whole thing.

It was not a hackberry or a cedar elm, even if the leaves have serrated edges. It looked like, hmm, what is that tree in the field on the other side of the woods? Thank goodness I have iNaturalist!

Sure enough, it’s a cottonwood, which is also a native tree, but we only have ONE on our property. We had just been talking about how we REALLY need some trees. And boom, we have one! New life to be happy about.

We may or may not move it. It might look nice next to the little pond. I know their seeds are a big messy, but I love the way the leaves shimmer in the wind and the seeds fly around like snow. We only have the one tree, because cattle eat up any saplings in the pasture. Now we have one with a chance to become a nice shade tree, eventually.

The rain that fell all over the county completely missed our ranch. There was a little peninsula of nothingness, and we were in it. But we got a nice sunset.

Now I just have to mark it so no one will weed-eat it or pull it up! I’ll just stay optimistic about this, and carry it into the rest of life today. Back to work on the ole kanban cards.

Boop, Boop, Boopie, Boopedon

Prairie boopies are fascinating grasshoppers, really!

I figure I better follow up a review of a controversial with a discussion of a controversial natural object: the grasshopper. This is one of those love it or hate it topics. I seem to know an awful lot of people who are really wigged out at the appearance of a grasshopper (many in my own family). I have naturalist friends who are fascinated by them and know a LOT more about them than I do.

This being a big year for the hoppers, I thought I’d learn more about the ones here at the Hermits’ Rest, and I’ve been sharing some photos here and there, and did a post on their cool names. I am not able to get them by net (even though I keep saying I’ll buy one, I forget), so most of my photos are rather blurry, but I’ve had fun identifying them, with help from my expert friend Eric on iNaturalist.

Most of the grasshoppers you see around the ranch are boopedons, a name you just have to love. More on them later.

By the dark color and size, I now know this is a male.

I did find a really pretty grasshopper (if you think they can be pretty) with a cool name over by our church office on Friday. These are the Obscure Bird grasshoppers (Schistocerca obscura). The stripes on their backs and the dots on their legs make them very striking.

Back at the ranch, today I went on a hunt, and only found one grasshopper-like insects that weren’t Boopedon (to be precise, the prairie boopie, the best name ever), a katydid.

It turns out that male and female prairie boopies (Boopedon gracile) look very different, so what I’d thought was a different species, was, indeed, just a female of the same species. I learned this when I FINALLY found a detailed article on them.

I also learned that “Prairie boopies are typically found in dense grasses, including prairies, rangeland, and savanna habitats. In Oklahoma, this species was reported to be more abundant in overgrazed prairies than natural ones.” (This is from Grasshoppers of the Western US, a really interesting site.) I’m happy to know they aren’t officially classified as pests (unless you hate grasshoppers, I guess).

Anyhow, as I went about observing away, I realized the front field was a like a sea, with little bobbing boopie boats on it.

Every brown thing you see is a grasshopper. Bobbing boopies.

Then I noticed that they were very fond of the nightshade plants next to the driveway.

Twelve boopies jumped off this plant when I took another step closer.

I quickly realized these grasshoppers are at the height of adulthood. Most of them were mating. They don’t need privacy (being grasshoppers). You can see how different the female looks in this picture.

That’s four of them. And do you see why I am annoyed all the rain skirted us today?

As I walk along, I tend to send boopies flying away (but only males, because I just learned the females are flightless!). Here’s video proof. Warning: I think I sing. Lucky for you it’s only 35 seconds long.

Other than how hard these guys feel when they hit me as I drive Hilda, I’ve gotten fond of these guys. Both Vlassic and the chickens love to eat them, and at the moment I don’t have any tender plants they will kill.

It’s been fun watching them grow, and I guess somewhere out there will soon be a lot of grasshopper eggs. I’ll have to look those up next…sigh, no I won’t. I’m crushed: “Little is known about the reproduction of prairie boopies” (from the above web link). Well, we have plenty of them here, even though they apparently aren’t often found in high densities (I beg to differ).

I’d call that a high density.

I guess I’ll be booping along now. That’s all I know about the prairie boopie. I lie. They are also known as the graceful range grasshopper, and were identified by Rehn in 1904.

I bet I’d get an A on this report in high school. (Get me away from the keyboard.)

Book Report: Too Much and Never Enough

Book reports are not the most popular of my blog posts. The one from yesterday got 9 whole hits. But, if I ever need to know what books I was reading starting in 2018, I know where to look!

I had a feeling I’d read Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, by Mary L. Trump all in one sitting. I came close. Was it some sort of morbid curiosity? I guess so. But I have always wondered how the bellicose and supremely self-confident persona of the person currently serving as US President came about. I figured he must have had a really weird family.

I cut off his face. You’re welcome.

Yes. He had a really weird family. The fact that his father was a gen-u-ine psychopath and narcissist and his mother was emotionally (and physically) not there during his formative years explains a lot. Also, you know, genetics probably played a role; he seems to have gotten more of his dad’s stuff than some of his other siblings, who each didn’t fare well in their household of origin to varying extents.

You can read Mary Trump’s assessment for yourself, so that’s enough about him for me. I was more interested in Mary (forgive me, but I’m not good at typing her last name). When a family member writes a tell-all, you tend to think, hmm, what is their agenda here? What’s their beef? And Mary, to her credit, completely admits she has a beef or two, like how her father was treated by the family patriarch, how no one did jack shit to help the current President deal with any of his issues and learn that anything whatsoever counted other than himself and looking good, how any disagreement with the family’s current lies about itself was punished incredibly harshly (like not mentioned in obituaries, written out of wills, etc.).

She’s NOT an impartial observer, but only someone who has been IN the family could write about it, thus, we get her viewpoint. I think she does a pretty good job at being fair, and you can see she loves many of her family members.

While acknowledging her part in the family drama, Mary kept me riveted while laying out the series of events that got us to where we are today, and like one of my friends who has also already finished the book, you almost feel sorry for young DJT. He didn’t stand a chance. I just wanted to know what horror that family would perpetuate next as I sped from chapter to chapter.

Two of my favorite bits in the book come toward the end, so let me share:

“Nobody has failed upward as consistently and spectacularly as the ostensible leader of the shrinking free world…Donald today is as much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning, or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his responses, or take in and synthesize information.”

p. 197

Happy days. I read this just before reading about Federal troops continuing to detain peaceful protesters around the country, just before reading that some random angry dude in Austin shot and killed a protester who was trying to stop him from driving into a crowd that included his paraplegic wife, just before reading about yet another party full of mask-less people hugging and celebrating in my town. Yow.

It’s frequently suggested that we just look for the good in life right now, and not worry about things beyond our control. And I’m all for remembering that it’s not all bad, I have amazing friends and family, and the universe is amazing. However, not to acknowledge what is going on, to hope it will all go away (like so many people are doing with respect to the Narcissist in Chief) seems to me like fiddling while Rome burns.

Hey, look, actual tweet.

If everyone sticks their heads in the sand, we’ll suffocate. Mary Trump’s book begs the people of this country and the world to actually DO something to help us get leadership with a focus on making life good for all, not just looking good for one’s long-dead father.


PS: These are my opinions and interpretations. I have no intentions of trying to change anyone’s minds on any political topic. Everyone makes their own decisions based on their upbringing and values. It’s okay.