Children Are Not Animals

Our small community has created facebook groups where people can post announcements and observations pertaining to the community. People will post announcements about the opening of a new restaurant, local classes that are available, and, occasionally, pictures of lost pets. We even have a facebook group specifically for venting, where people can air their frustrations. Today, a community member posted the following vent:

“[It] seems like lately I have been reprimanded for my “free-range” parenting of my very precocious 3 year old daughter. At the park for running up to your dog, at the school picnic for pretending to drive the golf cart, etc. But I read TONS of posts everyday of lost dogs on peeps & other pages! No shaming or name calling or tear-inducing rude comments to these “parents” of the dogs. For the record, I have never lost a child while at Grocery Outlet, River or park & I don’t have a leash for mine. SOOO why am I the incompetent person being shamed when other folks loose their “family members” willy nilly everywhere with no comment on their faulty parenting skills? My children are watched, loved, fed, educated & cherished. Yes, I give them freedom to explore but if you took the time to noticed beyond your bias, I am always there watching, monitoring & educating my children.”

Let me clear something up: Children and animals are different. I am not going to reprimand my cat if it decides to climb a tree during a family dinner. That is, of course, because it’s a cat.

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Children are not animals. Being a responsible pet owner and being a responsible parent requires distinctly different skill sets. Pet owners aren’t supposed to raise pets to one day successfully leave home on their own. The whole point of parenting a child is that a parent will raise a prudent, thoughtful human being who will one day safely leave the home and become a productive member of society.

This is not to say that free-thinking, creative types aren’t productive. Society needs art and it needs artists. People need music. We need song and dance and creative expression. There are lots of ways to contribute in this world. I’m all for raising creative little humans. It is important to note, however, that creative people who are successful are also hardworking.

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Developmentally, children do not have the same sense of discipline or self-restraint that functioning adults have. Children need guidance and boundaries during their development so that they can mature in the right direction. Children also need guidance and boundaries in order to stay safe.

If a three-year-old child is running up to unfamiliar dogs or sitting in the driver seats of heavy machinery, the child is not safe. If a parent, in an attempt at “free range” parenting, is allowing a child to run up to dogs or sit in the driver’s seat of heavy machinery, that parent is putting their child in danger. It is not thoughtful child-raising. It is not an attempt at unleashing a child’s creativity. It is irresponsible parenting.

If a parent wants a child to have a successful life, even at creative endeavors, the best thing a parent can teach a child is discipline. The most accomplished writers, artists, and musicians all had one thing in common: they were all disciplined. A parent is not doing a child any favors by allowing a child the freedom to be an animal.

A Gardener’s Opus

A Gardener’s Opus

I had to borrow a lawnmower from my neighbor today to mow a six-foot by ten-foot patch of lawn between two cherry trees in my yard. I can’t tell you what an incredible accomplishment this was. It made me feel so special. It made me feel like, “Oh my gosh. I have a yard!”

My friends Steve and Sheree have the most beautiful yard I have ever seen. It’s beyond breathtaking—like something out of a Martha Stewart Magazine. It’s more than 10 acres and it’s perfectly landscaped and perfectly kept. They have wonderful flowers, bushes and pathways. They have an incredible vegetable garden. They have raised beds and mulch. They have places to sit and relax. They have greenhouses. They have fencing and a porch and a water feature. They have an incredible lawn.

Steve and Sheree did the whole yard themselves, with a little help from friends here and there. When I think about my “dream garden,” I think about Steve and Sheree’s place.

And then I remember how long it took them to obtain their dream garden. When I first visited I casually asked, “How long have you been at it?” They told me. I didn’t have to do the math. It was clear. They have been working on their garden longer than I have been alive.

When I work in my garden I have to remember the Lao Tzu quote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

When my partner and I moved into our place about a year and a half ago, we inherited a little more than an acre of fenced-in yard space. It was the beginning of the summer. It was a mess. And “mess” is the polite way to put it. My grandmother would have called it something else.

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Our landlords have not had the best of luck with their tenants and they never put any effort into the yard. They usually left it to the tenants and hoped for the best. When we moved in, the yard had been neglected for years. Our landlords told us that we could do whatever we wanted with the land.

Our yard is on a slope. When we moved in, we could hardly see the wire fence at the back of the property line. I didn’t notice the cherries trees for at least a month. The yard was full of trash, mixed in with blackberries, dandelions, burdock and dead walnut branches. There were piles of dead plants, dying shrubs, logs and branches. There were weeds taller than me. There were piles of rocks, broken glass, and pieces of brick and concrete littered throughout the yard.

For my partner and I, it was our third move in almost as many years and I was losing hope for having a yard. We had tried to put in a garden at all of our rentals. As renters, it is hard to want to put in effort for land that you will one day have to abandon. I was still sad about the plum tree that we had left at the last place. But my desire for wanting a garden won out.

Shortly after moving in to the place we live now, I hired a man with a large, gated trailer to help with the debris. It took me more than a week, working all day every day, to rake and separate the trash from the green waste. I held to my dreams of one day having a garden. It took three over-full trailer trips filled with green waste and one trailer trip full or trash to complete the initial clearing.

The initial clearing didn’t make as much of a difference as I had hoped. After the trash and larger woody material were cleared, we borrowed goats to help with the weeds.

As the goats started to clear some of the weeds, we started to see the landscape more clearly. We realized that the yard had some incredible dips and mounds. There were random and treacherous holes throughout the yard, as though someone had started to dig holes for large trees but never found the trees. There were giant mounds of dirt that looked like they might have been the start of a garden but could have just as easily been the shallow graves of strangers’ dead bodies.

We live in Gold Country, in the heart of the Wild West. A couple living not too far from us, found a bag of gold in their backyard. Old human skulls have been found in the park nearby. I wasn’t ruling anything out.

After the goats returned home, I went to the task of digging out the blackberry crowns. I added more holes to the garden and made more piles of dying shrubs. Beneath the soil I found broken pipes, old barn wood, glass shards, ceramic pieces and the occasional earthworm. I started to put the trinkets I found along a retaining wall on the side of the yard. They were like little trophies to help remind me of the strides that I had made.

After I had started to make discernible progress, and had started to rake and level out the yard somewhat, my friend Eldon, a tree man, brought me a truckload of wood chips. He piled them on my driveway one morning and I spent the next three weeks distributing them throughout my yard. By then, it was the middle of winter.

I made little pathways with the wood chips and outlined little garden beds. I poured layers of wood chips where the blackberries were the most fearsome. I set a little space in the corner of the yard for chairs to sit. I ran out of wood chips.

I used the rocks I found in the soil to make retaining walls and paths for water run-off. I used the bricks I found to make steps into the garden. I used paving stones that my father brought me to make the start of a patio.

When spring came this year, I planted vegetables and flowers where ever I could, even if the garden beds were nondescript and only halfway completed. Some of my vegetables and flowers struggled in the shade. Some of them thrived in the sun. I planted thirteen cucumber plants from seed in just the right spot and had nine of them survive. I made six cases of pickles this year. It was a victory.

My partner and I got ambitious as summer progressed. We decided that we wanted a little “lawn” area for our nieces and nephews to be able run around, and for us to stick our feet in. I had dug and raked every part of the yard and I was confident that I had gotten most the broken glass and rusty nails. We decided to plant a lawn of creeping thyme (a more drought resistant plant) between the two cherry trees and I made an extra effort to sift through the soil to make it safe. After digging, sifting, and leveling for a month, we sectioned off the dirt between the cherry trees and planted thyme from seed.

We waited.

We watered.

And we waited.

But nothing happened.

Our cats made a point of jumping over our barrier and peeing in our lawn area. We couldn’t afford sod and we really didn’t want to plant grass in a drought. We realized, however, that the thyme was a lost cause.

Then my neighbor showed up. He had just planted a new drought-resistant lawn for his kids and he had rolls of sod left over on a cart in his driveway. He had posted an ad on freecycle and I knew right away that it was him. I ran over to his house and knocked on his door. He smiled as he stood on his porch and looked over at a cart full of a few leftover rolls of sod. He asked me, “Could you use those?”

I took his leftovers and rolled out a real lawn between our two cherry trees. It was a perfect fit, exactly what we had hoped for, for the thyme. It fit perfectly between the two cherry trees. We didn’t have the tools to set the sod into the ground and my partner and I walked along and stomped the sod into the ground ourselves.

Our lawn has grown mostly out of control this entire summer. It has been green and wonderful but we have been afraid to walk on it for fear that we might kill it. Every so often I would use our kitchen scissors and trim our “lawn” by hand. I looked for a push mower at second-hand stores this summer but I never found one so I just let our lawn grow and grow.

We live in the Sierra Foothills and fall is upon us. I’ve been pulling our vegetables and cutting back our flowers in the past few weeks to get ready for fall. Back in June, our Grocery Outlet sold some depressing and dying blueberry plants for $.99. I had bought twelve of them and planted them on our steepest hill in hopes that they could provide some run-off control. They didn’t do well this summer but nine of them survived and I put rice straw on the hill to help them this winter. I’ve been mulching and getting ready for cold season

Today I knew that I had to cut our “lawn.” Like, really cut it. I couldn’t just go out there with scissors again and hope for the best.

This morning I looked out into our garden and a gray, chirpy squirrel was pulling out our lawn. He was swishing his tail and pulling out our lawn by its roots. He stuffed strands of grass into his jowls and hopped away to use the grass for winter nesting. The squirrel made giggling sounds as it ran off with our feeble lawn. I had to do something.

I walked up the street and knocked on the door of my generous sod-giving neighbor and asked if I could use his lawn mower. (I could only assume that he had one.) He gave me a quick lesson and let me walk his mower down the street to my yard.

I vroomed the mower and let my lawn meet its destiny.

It took less than five minutes. I swooped the mower one way. And then another. And then another. And that was it. The lawn was trimmed.

I walked the mower back to my neighbor and thanked him.

I thanked him and I thought.

I have been working on my yard for a year and a half. It was an awful mess when I started. We even borrowed goats. I wasn’t sure about my garden beds or the soil health or the sunlight. But I went for it. I grew vegetables this year. I had some incredible tomatoes. I had enough cucumbers to make pickles. I had some beautiful dhalias and snap dragons. I had some lovely daisies. I even had a lawn.

A Prayer for Green Tomatoes

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Now that fall’s upon us,

And hotter days have passed,

It’s time for me to pick you,

A summer just can’t last.

 

I’m sorry you’re not riper,

I’m sorry you’re still green,

I had wished you much more sunshine,

The shade was unforeseen.

 

The walnut tree grew bushy,

The cherry tree grew tall,

And suddenly your sunny bed,

Seemed dark and oh so small.

 

Still I pushed you through the summer,

With hope and fingers crossed,

But now the days are chilly,

And hope is all but lost.

 

So I pick you with my sorrow,

You’re compost, yes, I fear,

I wish for you more sunlight,

And better luck next year.

 

But wait! A silver lining!

There’s a chutney recipe?

Fear not my green tomatoes!

I’ve found your destiny!

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Quit Your Yelping

In March of this year, the Sacramento News and Review published an article called “The Yelp Factor” by Nick Miller. Its subheading read, “After 10 years of crowd-sourced criticism, one-star missives and exclusive Elite parties, many Sacramento shop and restaurant owners pretty much hate Yelp.” As a regular Yelp user, Nick Miller’s subheading immediately pissed me off. Yelp is fairly straight forward. Good businesses get good reviews. Bad businesses get bad reviews. Businesses and restaurant owners need to quit whining and face the facts. If a business has several poor reviews on Yelp, it’s time for that business to review its policies. If a restaurant has 67 reviews on Yelp and a two-star rating, it is most likely because that restaurant is a two-star restaurant. The crowds don’t lie.

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For those who are not familiar with Yelp.com, or simply “Yelp,” it is a website and app that is open to the public and allows regular people to rate and review stores, services and restaurants- everything from pet food suppliers to auto-parts manufacturers to sushi bars and beyond. Yelp users can give a business a 1-5 star rating and can additionally write quick tips or lengthy reviews. It is a crowd-sourced website and anyone can join. People using the Yelp app on their cell phone can check local listings for reviews, search for businesses near their phone using GPS, and can additionally “check in” to a location to get discounts. It is especially helpful when traveling to a new town or when looking for something new to do near home.

The Yelp website is supervised for fraud and trolls. It is maintained for business information accuracy. While anyone can post a review, the reviews are monitored. If a review seems fake, made-up, retaliatory, or insincere, the employees at Yelp will take the review down. For example, if a person opens a restaurant and suddenly there are fifteen reviews from new users, all with the same last name as the owner, it’s probably a safe bet that the owner’s family is trying to boost the Yelp rating and some or all of the reviews may be taken down. Additionally, if the reviews contain personal attacks or inappropriate language, the reviews can be flagged for removal. Businesses can pay for ads on the website to get listed at the top of the page but the ads are marked and do not change the ratings for the business. It’s not an entirely perfect system but it is a very useful tool for basic information and when looking for specific businesses or services.

My partner and I were in Truckee, California yesterday for the first time and we used Yelp to choose our lunch destination. We went to a place called Moody’s. It didn’t have a perfect Yelp rating but it had good reviews and the reviews mentioned French Fries tossed in truffle oil. We couldn’t resist. The food was great. The restaurant was in a great location. We ate lunch, wrote postcards, and had a fantastic afternoon.

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There is a lot of information on Yelp and it’s good to know how to sort through it. When looking at Yelp reviews for guidance, be sure to note how many reviews have been submitted. If a business has less than ten reviews, the rating probably isn’t very accurate because the sampling is too small. It’s also a good idea to look at the reviews by date and to take note of the more recent reviews and any obvious changes. If, for example, a restaurant has a four-star rating but five out of the last six reviews gave the restaurant a one-star rating, it might be going though a management change or a staffing update that should be avoided. It’s always best to read some of the more extensive commentary and decide if a specific business or restaurant might suit your tastes. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Still, if a business has one-star and two-star ratings over and over and over, don’t be surprised if you have a one-star or two-star experience. Sometimes a place just sucks.

While more and more consumers and patrons are turning to Yelp for advice, it seems that the media is siding with whiney store owners and adopting a Yelp-hating attitude. There have been several recent articles about restaurant owners feeling oppressed by their poor Yelp ratings. In September, USA Today highlighted a story about Botto Bistro, an Italian Restaurant in Richmond, California. USA Today reported that the restaurant “launched a deliberate attempt to show the world that the restaurant doesn’t care what the world thinks of its Italian cuisine.” The restaurant is championing their bad attitude by asking that restaurant goers give the restaurant a one-star review on Yelp. I’m not Stephen Covey but I’m pretty sure that not giving a shit about what your customers think is a bad business strategy.

I can understand why print media, news outlets, TV journalism and radio stations might have a hard time swallowing the “Yelp factor.” It wasn’t that long ago that these institutions were the keepers of the keys to culture. These organizations would review businesses, cafes, bars, and restaurants. They would send snooty food critics out into the world to review a dining experience and judge it using a refined pallet, exquisite manners, and superfluous sentences strung together with overly-large words that signified nothing. Restaurants and businesses used to be reviewed by “experts.” Now they are reviewed by the public.

A business owner or restauranteur can rail against Yelp all day long but it won’t fix their business.

Yelp gives a voice and a platform to the consumer class and to the community. Yelp isn’t produced by a bunch of highfalutin entrepreneurs or restaurant snobs, sommeliers and graduates of the Cordon Bleu. Yelp is the ultimate Shark Tank and Top Chef and regular people are the judges. The website and app are free to access. Reviews are written 365 days out of the year. The Yelp community includes a diverse population. Each reviewer comes from a different background and has different standards, values, and tastes. The reviews are plenty and enough of them are honest enough to be accurate.

If you are a business owner or restaurant manager and have a bad review on Yelp, it’s not the fault of Yelp. It’s not the fault of the reviewers. It’s not the fault of the community. It’s your fault. Stop blaming others. Take ownership. Stop whining. Make changes. Get better. Get better reviews. The crowds don’t lie.

The Art Of Candy Making

Today is my wedding anniversary. Despite the fact that my partner and I are both a bit stressed, short on money, and have several deadlines in front of us, we made today a really special day. We decided to take the day off and go out for a fancy lunch near our home town.

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A fancy lunch is much less expensive than a fancy dinner. It’s also quieter.

My partner and I got to spend some much needed time gazing into each others’ eyes and setting goals for the next year. We brought our wedding photo album with us to lunch. We waited for our food to arrive and we reviewed our wedding day and reaffirmed our vows. We laughed at the pictures of our friends and family and gave thanks for the incredible support that we have in our lives. We made a pact to always review our album and vows each year on our anniversary.

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Lunch was delicious. It was filling and it was plentiful, so much so that we boxed it up and ate it for dinner this evening.

This afternoon, after lunch at the restaurant, our server asked us about dessert. We requested the dessert menu and perused it. After a few moments of mutual ambivalence I looked up at my partner and said, “Why don’t we just go get truffles?”

“Yes!”

We walked a few blocks from the restaurant. I went to get us some chocolate and my partner ducked into a coffee shop to order us some coffee. We met at the coffee shop to eat our chocolate and have a cup of coffee. It was quiet and romantic and wonderful. Afterward, we walked around town. We didn’t finish all the candy I had bought. (I might have overdone it.)

This evening, my partner and I sat outside on our porch with our cats and tried to address some of our stress and looming deadlines. I sent a few emails. My partner worked on a paper for a class. We both drank more coffee.

At 8pm, I got out our leftover candy and set out our remaining truffles. I joked about the fact that I had probably eaten more truffles in the past year than I had in all the years prior.

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We have two favorite candy stores nearby, the Lazy Dog Chocolateria in Grass Valley and The Nevada City Chocolate Shoppe. Both stores are unique and offer an assortment of traditional and gourmet candies. Both shops specialize in artisan chocolate. Both shops possess an amazing talent for crafting delicious chocolates and candies. Both shops are less than five miles from our house.

I have never thought of myself as a “candy person.” I don’t eat regular candy bars. I was never much of a trick-or-treater as a kid. But now that I have become accustomed to fine candy, I’m learning that I enjoy it.

My marriage is similar. My partner and I make every effort to only put the fine ingredients into our marriage. No additives, no artificial sugar, no artificial coloring. We work at our marriage and make every attempt to add only the finest elements.

This is not to say that we are not without argument. For example, I prefer toffee and she enjoys marzipan. I like maple crisp and she would rather have a coconut cream. Similarly, I prefer to do the cooking and she prefers to drive.

In our marriage, we allow each other to add our finer qualities to the relationship. We give the best of ourselves each day and we allow each other the freedom to contribute the best of what we have to offer. It’s not always perfect. Neither of us like sugared marshmallows. And we both hate having to do the dishes. But we do our best.

The best is all anyone can do.

With chocolate and with my marriage, I have found that when a person puts in fine ingredients the result is a sweetness that couldn’t have been predicted.

Our Shelter Baby, Our Shelter

Three years ago my partner and I adopted the sweetest kitty from Sammie’s Friends, a local community animal shelter that helps our County Animal Control agency with adoptions of stray and abandoned pets. Our cat was very timid and, honestly, it wasn’t love at first sight. He was an adult kitty, very fat, quite handsome, and very fluffy. We wanted an adult kitty but he was so shy and there just wasn’t much personality there. When we first met him, we liked him but we didn’t know if we loved him. We went searching for other kitties. We looked at a number of other shelters. At least a week passed. Maybe two. Maybe three. But there was this twinge in our heart for that fat, fluffy kitty at Sammie’s Friends. One day, when I had some time, I went back just to see. I took our fat, fluffy prospect out of the cage and started brushing him. He purred like a beefy motorcycle. It was almost embarrassing how loud he purred. I was sure that the receptionist in the next room could hear him. But I just kept on brushing him because I knew that he needed it.

Our fat and fluffy kitty.  We named him after Utah Phillips, a story-teller, folk-singer and homeless-rights activist.

Our fat and fluffy kitty. We named him after Utah Phillips, a story-teller, folk-singer and homeless-rights activist.

After about 45 minutes, I called my partner and I said, “Remember that Tabby from Sammie’s Friends?” “Yes.” “I’m bringing him home.” I packed him up and filled out the Sammie’s Friends paperwork. After all was said and done, the agent who processed my paperwork and payment thanked me profusely. And then she got emotional. Like really emotional. I could see tears welling up in her eyes. She explained that our cat had been there for a long, long time. It had been more than a few months. And they just didn’t know that he would ever get adopted. They just didn’t know…what would happen. She explained that they had only limited funding and that they tried to do that best they could for him, for all of their animals. She explained that they were short on volunteers and they didn’t have enough money to care for every eligible animal that came their way. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Our large, fluffy baby.

Utah, happy at home.

It has been three wonderful years since we adopted our kitty from Sammie’s Friends and he has brought joy to our lives every day. I can’t even imagine the alternative. Since his adoption, he has brought us so much happiness, laughter and so much love. He is a giant ball of fluff and full of over-loud purring. Since his adoption, we have given our time and our money to Sammie’s Friends whenever possible. I don’t doubt that there have been difficulties with Sammie’s Friends or Animal Save or any number of community organizations that serve animals here in Nevada County. But, let’s be very clear: The failure of a community animal shelter is not the failure of the shelter but, rather, the failure of the community.