A merchant in Ottawa recently posted an announcement on her Face Book page that began 'For those of you who can't or won't read…' While hopefully we would never address our friends in such a pejorative manner (even if they don't or won't read), I feel that Ottawa merchant's pain. Lately we've had a few incidents where people seemed to have issues with basic reading or listening.

We always like to find a cause for negative behaviors believing that it's a lot better to ascribe errant behavior to some outside cause like lack of concentration brought on by the bad weather rather than simple lack of interest, or lack of ability, or some evil intent or worse. This season's weather would seem to provide a good reason for all kinds of 'screw ups.' For us the bad weather had a start date, Friday, November 15, when we had our initial Christmas/Winter open house at the Farm and an outdoor booth at Three French Hens market held at the county fairgrounds north of Morris. Between the winds and the cold on Friday, the winds and the rain on Saturday, and tornadoes and the weirdest hail we've ever seen on Sunday, the season started on a low note. Except for the very lovely black Friday when Santa visited the Farm along with two reindeer, the weather has generally left something to be desired. And it has only gotten worse.

By mid-December about a month into this bad weather the reading problems started in earnest. Consider this exchange of texts:
Customer. Hi Nancy, we were wondering if you have an area for a baby shower; if so how many people can you hold? Early April sometime.
Nancy. We do rent Acorn Hall for showers, birthdays, etc. We have seated 35-40 but really 25-30 is better.
Customer. So no opportunity for baby shower?
Nancy. Yes!—opportunity for baby shower unless you have over 35 people.
So this exchange starts badly but reading and understanding, while initially delayed, does occur.
Customer. OK got it, how much for an afternoon. $.
Nancy. $125.
Customer. OK we will be in touch—thanks.

January has been a frenzy of active winter weather with almost every day bearing some kind of weather advisory or warning. On many days the Farm's hilly entrance lane has been impassable and so there has been a little time to address a few long-postponed tasks on the home front like closet cleaning which results in substantial piles of unneeded clothing. We used to be canvassed regularly by callers like Vietnam Veterans announcing 'a truck in your area' and asking if we had any donations. Now you go on line, select your charity and voilà, a pick up time is scheduled. Only sometimes there are reading issues. Consider this exchange of emails:
Charity. Thank you for choosing Vietnam Veterans. The next available pickup date is Feb 18th. Reply by 3pm on Feb 17th. If this works for you, please let me know.
Nancy. I'm sorry that date will not work. I'll have to try for a different time.
Charity. Your pickup has been scheduled. Please have your items outside before 7am with a sign attached saying 'VVA.'

Now Nancy and I have plenty of our own issues beyond reading. The Farm is a major user of propane, though normally we don't start burning the fuel in great volumes until the end of February or early March. By that time the big winter push is over and often prices are declining. And we start with a couple thousand gallons of propane already in our tanks, having been placed there during the previous summer when prices are supposed to be at their lowest. Somehow last summer or fall, though we had almost $2000 on deposit with our supplier, the result of our having paid some of their confusing (to us, anyway) bills twice, we managed to never order that the tanks be filled—so they weren't. We did order a fill of the tank that supplies the Big Barn in late fall (at the very reasonable price of $1.95 per gallon) so that at least the Big Barn would be toasty warm when folks came seeking wreathes, roping, décor and gifts in the approach toward Christmas. But by last Sunday as we left the Farm just ahead of another round of sub zero temperatures, plus wind, plus snow that tank was at the very low level of 14%. The storm began as predicted Sunday evening and the resulting drifts grew quickly. When the winds began to abate on Tuesday we had a nearly 5' drift across the entrance lane below the second hill and the temperature was below zero. We knew that we didn't have equipment or manpower to deal with the drifts and we knew that the propane truck was not going to get down the driveway.

Enter Bernie Freiders Snow Removal which was contacted around noon on Wednesday. They promised to have the entrance lane cleared by Wednesday evening. After the Frieders conversation Nancy called the propane supplier, explained the situation and ordered a fill of the Big Barn tank for Thursday. It was not decided whether to fill the remaining tanks. After considering for perhaps ten minutes Nancy called the propane supplier back and talked to another gentleman. He was aware of the order to fill the Big Barn Tank. They talked for a few minutes regarding the direction of propane prices and supplies and they decided that there was a chance that the price might come down a bit in the next several weeks and that they would wait to fill the other tanks since that propane wouldn't really be needed until the last week of February or first week of March.

Back in the driveway the Freiders Snow Removers had already cleared a path to theback of the Garden Center by about 1pm. And not long after that the propane truck rolled in and filled the Big Barn Tank and then proceeded to fill the other three tanks as well. The driver left a bill for over $8000.00 ($4.96 per gallon). And the truck wasn't even supposed to come until the following day. So the weather has apparently affected some folk's ability to listen as well as to read. I think Bernie Freiders' Snow Removal price of $125 was pretty fair considering the scope of the job and their excellent work. And it's hardly Frieders' fault but when you realize that the damn propane truck couldn't have gotten within a quarter mile of the tanks without their efforts, the ironic result is the most expensive plowing job I've ever heard of.

Our propane supplier calls themselves the 'comfort pros' which is also kind of ironic. I am calling them the 'discomfort pros' because I do think this communication issue has imposed a burden which we just didn't need right now. On the other hand it's not their fault that two of the tanks were not totally full and of course this whole propane shortage has nothing to do with them, it's just the weather (an act of God?). I guess I am glad our supplier has propane; I've heard some companies don't have it at any price. It will be interesting to see how long this propane price problem persists; I think a corollary of Murphy's Law predicts it will be over and business as usual by the time we don't need it anymore. I know Nancy and I need to be trying to improve our reading and listening skills because running a successful plant business involves a lot more than just knowing how to grow and use plants; you've even got to be prepared to deal with winter weather madness when most plants are dormant or exist only as seeds. We're all eyes and ears for any ideas on where to find another $10,000 or $15,000 to cover the unbudgeted increased propane costs.

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