Good Grandma MoJo

Years ago when my mother was still with us, I used to joke with her about her uncanny ability to enter the parking lot of the busiest store on Christmas Eve and find the parking spot closest to the door, whether it was occupied or not.

She had perseverance, that woman did. She would bide her time and eyeball a slot, and as if by magic, it would empty as she approached it.

She was smooth too. I mean who’s gonna wrestle with a grandmother?

When I was pregnant with my son, towards the end of the pregnancy I was unable to do a whole heck of a lot. My mother would drive us anywhere we needed to go when she made the pilgrimage from Florida to stay with me the last 2 months of my term.

I used to marvel at her ability to claim the spot, most coveted by every driver, especially on those wretched days where close proximity to a door, any door, would be construed as a very good thing.

My son grew up with the stories of Grandma MoJo and to this day, when we enter a parking lot, we thank the Grandma MoJo for guiding us to a convenient spot.

We are successful more often than not, and I like to think of it as my mom’s legacy to me after her passing two years ago.

We have extended her MoJo to virtually every encounter of traffic, pulling out of our favorite watering hole, the grocery store, the gas station, the driveway; which sits precariously between a steep hill from the west and a blind curve from the east.

As we pull towards any convergence of parking area and traffic, one of us is sure to murmur “Grandma MoJo” as we merge fluidly into that traffic without hesitation in our momentum. Once we are in motion, we tend to stay in motion when The Grandma MoJo is invoked.

Much like my mother was throughout her life.

Not that Grandma MoJo would be my automotive salvation; it’s nice to know I paid attention in drivers school (taught by my mother of course, who could give top racers a run for their money, or Secret Service drivers in the commission of protecting the POTUS) and having logged well over a million miles in my lifetime, I’m a pretty fair driver behind the wheel. But it’s good to have The Grandma by my side.

Grandma MoJo is my way to remember her and I am thankful for any memory that takes me closer to my mother. We both found peace behind the wheel of a car and I find it a fitting tribute that every time I turn the key in the ignition, I divine the Grandma MoJo.

So today I decide to travel west across the Catoctin mountains to visit with Pat Nolan and see Joe do something new in someplace new. I had not seen Pat in months and I missed being in the field with the enthusiasm of the dogs and the folks who train them.

I didn’t watch the weather report closely enough before I left.

I saddle up Joe, always excited about the prospect of adventure afield, turned my back to the weather report I did see (now who really believes the weather man?) and headed out, west on 77 until it ends at 64. Only 31.7 miles of smooth sailing through some very pretty, peaceful country.

Chugging through the narrows of route 77 up through the mountains, I see the river crusted over in spots, the current running underneath the ice. It looked cold. At an ambient air temperature of 21 degrees, I imagine it’s very cold.

Over the mountaintop and down the other side into the valley that comprises Smithsburg, the clouds threaten but remain inert.

We end up on a farm road through some pristine, open land. The road itself was a tractor path to which Rocky’s old bones creaked and groaned over the ruts. We fell in behind Pat’s rig, following him through a gully with about a foot of water in it covered by some pretty heavy ice. There was a dicey moment where I thought I would be pressing Rocky into service to pull Pat’s truck out, but with all that power, it’s pretty impressive what his dually can do.

We finally park at the top of a path that bisects two fields; corn stubble on one side, what looked like soy on the other.

Looking east towards the mountains, the clouds have dropped lower and taken on the steel grey mist of precipitation. Our snow had arrived.

We ran our dogs. Joe did well enough to not embarrass me entirely, and it was genuinely good to be there, among friends.

It wasn’t a hard snow, they weren’t predicting much, but it was covering the ground quickly, and now I was west of the mountains.

The area temps had been below freezing for over a week with wind chills in the single digits. What was falling was sticking. With no preparation on the part of the D.O.T. it could get pretty ugly pretty fast.

We said our good byes and I opted to lead the way in the event that Pat had trouble at the bottom of that farm lane again.

From Smithsburg to Thurmont, route 77 has it’s share of hairpin turns, narrowing of lanes and road crowning that could easily land an unwary driver ass over teakettle in the wash comprised of house-sized boulders and deadfall from last year’s blizzard.

It is an honest road. When the signs post speed limits of 30 mph and lower, there are valid reasons. On a good day. A nice little nest of turns and twists, uncomplicated if you are smart and only moderately challenging on a motorcycle with an experienced rider. On a good day. A couple of snowflakes on an untreated surface high up the mountain amidst all those snake-like turns and it could get rough.

Especially in an 11-year-old Expedition named Rocky with less than perfect front tires and rear brakes that needed replacing probably about a year ago.

If there was ever a time to invoke The MoJo, it was now.

It would seem that traveling 25 mph through the mountains may be an irritant to some folks, but I had a family to think about and I intended to arrive alive.

The vast majority of the trip down to Thurmont I was unaccompanied, with the exception of the dolt in the little silver toy SUV who was eager to go much faster. As I banked precariously to the right to allow him to pass, I conferred him some MoJo too, because at 7600 pounds and with only two good tires, Rocky was still better equipped that this poor guy. I waved him on and continued as slowly as I wanted.

Catching the brakes occasionally to reassure myself that I still had them, I would test the road surface and feel enough of a drag to realize that the ice was building up pretty quickly. But being in a state where common sense seems to abandon drivers with the threat of a rain drop or snow flake was a much greater concern to me.

Sure enough, the little silver toy truck was nose-first at the bottom of the mountain in somebodies front yard just before the SR 15 overpass in Thurmont.

I resisted the urge to wave.

Four wheel drive does absolutely nothing in icy conditions. It may not have been icy at RT 77 and RT 64, but it was icy on the mountain.

I hadn’t even engaged mine. At over 3.5 tons, I didn’t really feel the need…

But it does require dexterity behind the wheel and a modicum of common sense.

Thing is, the roads weren’t that bad. But if one was foolish, they could be very bad. Just an inch of snow on a frozen, untreated road surface should be sufficient to trigger some common sense. But this is Maryland.

Beyond Keymar, I ran into the bus traffic from the county releasing the kids early from school. Buses stopping and starting on hills to let kids out sent drivers skittering left and right if they were too close or traveling too fast. Me and Rocky and The MoJo stayed out of trouble.

As I pulled into the driveway, my husband was coming down the hill from the house with one of the pups. I invited him out to run some errands after he finished up.

Our final errand found us at the gas station and as we pulled away from the pumps into Route 140 traffic, my husband obligingly thanked the good Grandma MoJo.

I silently thanked her too.



Filed under Soup Of The Day, Uncategorized

Porch Chickens

Chickens,backyard chickens,free range poultry

Truly 'Free-Range' birds

With all the kerfuffle about the meaning or “free range” and setting humane standards for production egg layers and meat birds, I have provided a few images of what a free range bird looks like.

As in free. To range.

These are some of my porch chickens. Because, you know, they’re free, to range…



Free Range rooster in the literal and figurative sense of the word

Looking to score some pesticide free apples...

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Filed under agriculture, Animal Welfare, Back Yard Chickens, Chickens, Chikin TeeVee, Food, Locavore, Poultry, Soup Of The Day, Sustainable Agriculture

My Chicken Hound

Retiree ‘Cotton’ helps drive the chickens home to roost. The chokeberries across the way are their favorites, putting the birds at risk for predators, including careless cars.

Driving poultry isn’t a very traditional job for a Pointer, but he loves it and it allows him to express his natural desire to hunt for and locate game. He’s still pretty steady and he still quarters, even though he hasn’t been ahead of a gun in quite a few years.

When the weather is bad, we send him on to locate the birds and round them up to their shelter. He doesn’t mind, since he is rewarded with his favorite shirt and a cozy place by the big couch. A priveledge few others get to enjoy.

He has successfully tracked truant birds and has learned quite on his own how to turn them towards home as opposed to drive them further afield.

I take him for granted. Like a favorite jacket or my car keys. Always there, always ready to do…SOMEthing….

Career disruptions, injuries and finances kept this dog from being great.

A sire of champions when he, himself is unfinished, protector and companion to my only child and demonstration dog/helpmate in the training of thousands of dogs over the course of the last eight years.

His uncanny ability to read dogs and his tolerance for puppies and foolish youth are legendary and the most valuable asset in my training arsenal. He is an indespensable, integral component of my personal success as a dog trainer and he deserves more credit than he’s gotten.

My best friend and one of the most versatile dogs I have ever owned.

Good boy, Cotton.

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Filed under Back Yard Chickens, Chickens, dog training, Hunting Dogs, Poultry, Soup Of The Day, Uncategorized

Warning, Gene Pool Repair Ahead…

Well duh, you wouldn't expect them to actually address the real problem would you?

Compliments of Ron Hogan over at PopFi

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Filed under Soup Of The Day, The Absurd

Got an emergency? Don’t dial 911

…if you are a California resident.

Several municipalities are trying to close their budget deficits by enacting fees for 911 emergency calls.

In the town of Tracy, 60 miles east of San Francisco; local government officials have decided to enact a once-a-year $48.00 per family fee for “unlimited” calls for 911 emergency services, $300.00 per call for residents who opt out of the service and as much as $400.00 for “Good Samaritan” callers in an attempt to close the $9 million budget deficit.

Kevin Martinez of the website writes “At of the end of 2009, unemployment stood at 9.5 percent in Tracy. The city’s population has been significantly affected by the jobs crisis in Northern California. The area has many residents who commute to San Francisco for employment, with workers choosing Tracy as a place to live because it offered lower housing costs compared to cities closer to the metropolitan region.”

Read more here.

In Ventura, residents will be expected to pay a monthly fee, or be charged up to $50.00 for emergency services.

It would seem to me that perhaps government officials could think of another way to reduce the bloated deficit.  Like I dunno, maybe taking a pay cut?




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Filed under The Absurd, WTF??

Why Mike Rowe is a hero

Mike Rowe

In order to be green, you gotta get brown

I love Dirty Jobs. The TeeVee show and the actual thought of going out and getting my hands dirty.

Let’s face it. When we bought this place, we knew it was going to be hell to pay to get it into any sort of shape for living let alone self-sustenance.

Every time I have to go outside and slog through the swollen creek in fear of losing my garage or free a door for the chickens to roam across the landscape, I think about the millions of unsung heroes, workers across the globe; pressing on in their daily chores to make our lives easier.

In a conversation I was involved in with some associates, I came across this and discovered that Mike is well, interesting. Ever since his episode on the Green movement I figured there was more to this guy than being a talking head.

With candor, he admits to the human failing  of simply being wrong and admits with eye opening clarity the danger of believing everything without question, or experiencing first hand.

Well done, Mr Rowe.  Well done indeed.


Filed under agriculture, Animal Rights, Stone Soup Diaries, Sustainable Agriculture

Why would a man buy an $800.00 suit

… and then put Alpo in his pocket to feed a dog?” Joe Garagiola, February 18, 1998.

Yet again, I tortured myself and my family; ignored my telephone, my crackberry and my own private admonitions that watching this was going to be a consummate waste of time bad idea.

Announcer Jim Fagan was clearly out of his element, butchering the names of many of the breeds, mumbling incoherently about nothing it would seem and bypassing the courtesy of at least getting the numbers and the breeds right when announcing the Best in Show winners as they entered the ring for the final time. I think I heard “This is dog number 22” at least three times as the first few of the seven group winners entered the Best in Show ring.

But that is nothing in comparison to the  torturous  colorless commentary by Frei and his co-host Tamron Hall.  Absent were the casual asides about the character of the breeds and their suitability as working dogs and or pets.  Although there were some, the mindless chatter that passes as usable information was thankfully lacking.  There were generous amounts of how people interested in pets from these breeds would probably want to “keep the coats trimmed in puppy cuts” but decidedly absent were the remarks about work ethic and purpose. More on the admission that the show dogs have been bred away from their original purposes as in the case of the Dobe.

Pedigreed Dogs Exposed getting to ya?

It was nice to see a large contingent of dogs from Maryland represented in all of the groups; with as many as 8 in the working group. A few from my old homeland of Earlville, New York were represented in the Terrier group.

I was pleased to see Earlville was not a figment of my imagination. In the neighboring town of Hamilton, home of Colgate University, there used to be a wonderful sub shop.  But I digress.

Is Vin-Melca the only breeder of Norwegian Elkhounds in the world? Pat Trotter is known for her dogs doing well in the show ring, but one has to wonder if anything but a Vin-Melca dog can win. Although I thought the Whippet was nice, I preferred the Ridgeback for his power and his wonderful conditioning and ring presence. He got lost in the kerfuffle.

The Toy breeds always bring out the ‘awww’ factor in people. I was not surprised with the Poodle’s win, although I thought there were better dogs out there. Pretty hair makes for a nice presentation I guess, as historically, most of the Best in Show winners are hair breeds that take a lot of time and effort.

The French Bulldog certainly had his fans, but truth be told, although I am a fan of the breed I think there were better dogs in the breed ring. The dog that took the breed is Canadian bred, judged by a Canadian judge. That explains the breed ring, but in the group judging it was easy to get lost. I probably would have ended up with the Lhasa. Beautiful handling and presentation, nice dog moving too.

It was nice to see Linda More get the Herding assignment. I had worked for Linda and Eliot More in the way distant past so it was easy to see where she would go with the judging. I probably would have done the same thing with the exception of leaving the German Shepherd out entirely in favor of the Sheltie since movement didn’t seem to be that much of a criterion.  I have never seen such a collection of sickle hocks in my life.

In a trip back through the wayback machine  I vividly recall a conversation with a prominent handler and soon-to-be judge that “Most of the big winners are sickle hocked.  It makes for a spectacular outline and better side gait.”

Uh, ok…

By this time my husband is ‘getting it’. After several decades, he now knows why I  want to twist off my own head  stopped showing dogs.

The second day greets us with  what was the most atrocious collection of  sporting dogs  ever assembled under one roof  on the green carpet.

Suffice it to say that my breeds of choice, the Flatcoat, the Weimeraner, the Griffon and the Chessy would have been the top contenders, with the Brittany somewhere in the mix. Out of the four dogs in the final cut, it was easy to see the Brittany winning. The better dogs were shown the door.

The working dogs at least offered a better variety of unsoundness from which to choose.  Again, a Skansen’s Giant Schnauzer represents, leaving pause to wonder if there are any other breeders of this breed anywhere?

I will not complain about the Dobe, nor the Boxer. Although the Boxer was a little long for my taste, moving she was clean and sound. There was another dog that should have made it into the final lineup however; the Rottweiler. A magnificent dog who had the misfortune of being owned by a first-time dog owner and a first time competitor, as stated by our hosts when he took his turn under the judge’s hand.

Any number of terriers could have won their group.  The Terrier breeds are always fun to watch. I remember back inna day when the judges would allow them to go toe-to-toe and ‘spar’ which is obviously frowned on today.  My principal concern was an issue of questionable character from the AmStaff and a little spar between the Norwich and the eventual winner after the final selection was made, beyond the less-than-obvious ones linked to in the next paragraph.

I’ll not go into detail about the ultimate winner. There are a few links from bloggers here and here who were kind enough to beat me to the punch.

The Garden is not about dogs. I am not convinced it ever really was, although I played my part in it for many years.  I did not intend this to be a screed about the condition of purebred dogs today or ever, but it kinda ended up that way.

I deliberately removed myself from show dogs in favor of other, more gratifying and meaningful pursuits many years ago.  It pains me that  so much has changed, so little has changed  nothing has changed.

In a variety of articles in the Canine Chronicle, show dog luminaries dissect what they feel is ‘wrong’with the sport as recently as January of this year. I apologize for not supplying links, it seems that the links that were made available to me are no longer functioning.

With the current angst over the recent documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the rapid decline in the AKC’s individual registrations and dog show entries overall, it comes as no surprise to me at least that there may well be changes in the future.

The recent interest in registering mix breed dogs is an indicator that maybe the AKC is grasping.  Either with the reality that they can no longer survive as “the Dog’s Champion” or the “Only U.S.registry ‘that matters'” or that the public have finally come to the realization that a pup with AKC papers is no guarantee of anything.

The misrepresentation of dog shows as a showcase of dogs bred to perform jobs they were originally designed for is no more or less critical here than elsewhere. The consummate insult is when the AKC insists that what they do is good for dogs.

Breeders are still the most responsible for the tragic state of purebred dogs, breeding for the show ring and mindless of the risks of concentrating their bloodlines on one or two specific animals. If the vast majority of purebred dogs end up in pet homes, it is of the ultimate importance for any breeder to consider the importance of sound temperament and health in their planning.

I leave the readers with this, conjured up from the wayback machine when I was researching a conversation that had transpired between Joe Garagiola and Roger Caras at the Garden many years ago, inspired by an exchange between myself and Heather Houlihan over at Raised by Wolves.

I met Captain Haggerty two years later at my very first visit of many to the Garden and over the many years that followed, I had the opportunity to get to know him through some of the same email lists and associations we shared in common.

It is so very sad to see that although the names have changed, so much is still the same.

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Filed under Breeding Dogs, Dog Genetics, Dog Politics, Purebred Dogs, Show Dogs, Uncategorized