So how long does it take you to get to work?"
Family and friends inevitably ask this question soon after arriving at our house, recently built on 10 acres in the country. They are usually standing at the French doors in our dining room admiring the half-acre of mud covering our septic system.
"It depends," I say, positioning myself to observe their reaction, "on whether or not I trip over a dog in the hallway."
I get a puzzled look.
"I work from home," I say.
"You're kidding!" they respond, astonished.
Suddenly, I am an Oracle: "How did you manage that?"
Then, a Malingerer: "You can work in your pajamas and no one will ever know!"
Finally, an Object of Wonder: "I could never work from home. I would be too distracted by dirty laundry, a nap, Oprah...." (Choose one.)
I must admit that I had similar concerns at first, although the distractions I feared most were Peanut Butter Chip ice cream in the freezer and 40 boxes of books that had spent three years in exile (i.e. storage) while we followed my job from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains and back again.
But strangely, the opposite is true. I have discovered that there aren't enough distractions working from home. If my two dogs could talk (and they do to me) they would tell you the same thing. In the six months since I started working from home, I've discovered that a dog's day, much like mine, is pretty uneventful. Their day consists of sleep, wake up, bark at something outside, repeat; mine consists of read e-mail, send e-mail, make phone calls, repeat.
One day, while I was working at the computer, the dogs started barking, only this bark was different. It was similar to their standard "Hey! Hey! Hey!" bark, but had more of a "You Gotta See This!" tone. Skeptical, because my dogs have been known to bark at invisible mice, I approached the window to tell them to "shush."
But I didn't. Because trotting past our house, up our 800-foot driveway and heading for the road was our 11-year-old neighbor's 4-H project: a 1,500-pound Holstein steer named Montana.
Technically, Montana was last year's 4-H project, and as such, he probably should have been sold at the county fair in the fall. But Mandy, Montana's owner, talked her dad into keeping Montana around for a while longer. And now I was watching this three-quarter-ton family pet trotting into trouble.
Knowing that Mandy and her family were away at school and work, I called my other neighbor, Bob.
"Bob, Montana is loose and running up our driveway toward the road," I said.
Bob is a retired fire chief, so it takes more than a nomadic cow to pique his interest. "The blacksmith is coming this week," he said. "Do you want to put your horse on the list?"
That's what I like about Bob; he's an excellent gauge for how anxious you should be. From his experience with fires, train derailments, and kittens up trees, Bob knows what's worth worrying about. I started to relax. "Yeah, put my horse on the list," I said and hung up.
The dogs started barking again. Montana had changed course. I called Bob back. "Now Montana is running back down the driveway toward our house."
Bob replied, "Your husband and I are going to Tractor Supply."
This perplexed me. "Now?"
"No," he said, "in a little while." Then he hung up.
The dogs started barking again. I caught a glimpse of Montana as he disappeared from view around the side of our house. I reached the dining room just as he passed within four feet of the French doors, leaving massive hoof prints in our muddy backyard.
Since he was now moving toward his home, it seemed like a good time to get involved. Perhaps a well-shouted "Hey!" which I learned from the dogs, would keep him moving in that direction. I went to the French doors and started to unlock them when Montana noticed me. Unfortunately my "Hey!" plan had not taken into account the fact that Montana likes people he was a pet, after all. He started plodding toward the doors.
Luckily, my dogs are much better versed in the art of "Hey!" than I am. They started barking again ("Hey! Hey! Hey!") and Montana fled from the house. Unfortunately, he headed back toward the road.
I threw on a pair of mud boots and opened the garage door. The beleaguered bovine was standing by our wood pile as Bob's truck, with my husband, Tim, in the passenger seat, came down the driveway.
Tim jumped out of the truck with a bucket of grain to tempt Montana and I grabbed a dog leash. (Not sure what I was going to do with it, but I grabbed it anyway.) Somehow between my husband's bucket, my leash, and a little herding help from Bob's Australian blue heeler, we got Montana safely back to his home where we found three escaped horses wandering in the yard and our neighbors' four very unwatchful "watch" dogs milling about. Apparently Montana had pushed over a section of fence and the horses had followed him out.
As we rounded up the horses, I glanced at my watch. "I've got a conference call!" I yelled, and dashed back to the house. Breathing hard, I dialed the telephone number for the conference call.
"So," my co-workers asked, "Anything new?"
I hesitated, calculated the length of this true tale, considered the reaction of my cubicle-bound co-workers, looked at the dogs settled down for another nap. "Nope," I said. "Nothing new."
A week later, my doorbell rang. ("Hey! Hey! Hey!" the dogs called.) It was Mandy, inviting us over for dinner to thank us for foiling the flight of her family's livestock. As she was leaving, Mandy said, "Wait 'til you see my science fair project. I've got ducks!"