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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blowing in the wind


           photos/millJPG.JPG             While the title of today’s post might suggest another foolish investment, it does not refer to anything of the sort.  I’m taking a break from recalling just how many unsound, costly, animal-related decisions I’ve made in the past.  It was getting depressing and I’d only scratched the surface in relating these expenditures. So, I’m taking a respite from remembering money down the drain.  Today’s title refers to an old friend which has left the farm.

            The windmill north of the barn will now pump water at a real farm, an Amish one in southern Ohio.  I must admit I miss seeing its silver blades turning in the sun, although admittedly it had become little more than a giant lawn ornament.  Originally installed to pump water which was then piped down to the leaky pond south of the house, it ceased being useful when the surrounding trees grew tall and blocked too much of the wind it required to operate efficiently.  Sporadic breezy bursts were inadequate to draw much water, and so two years ago I advertised it and sold it to Ori who didn’t come for it until yesterday.

            Driven by an Englishman, he arrived with wife and three darling children (all under age four).  A crane was hired to lift the thirty foot tower from its footing.  The plan was to lay the intact unit on a long trailer.  The weather was horrible with frightening winds and rain making the job quite dangerous. Ori's English driver couldn’t manage to get his rig through the gate even though the crane operator managed a much more challenging feat and drove his outfit through without trouble.

But Ori was one of those special people utterly undeterred by such inconveniences or even the ineptitude of other people.  His positive attitude was refreshing, especially in contrast to the grumbling driver and even though it took far longer to take the windmill down than it took to originally put up, all went well. 



4:04 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The scum of the earth



            I guess if not feeding a puppy doesn’t kill it, then you just drive out to the country and toss it out to fend for itself.  Out of sight, out of mind.  It happens every year about this time.  The weather is ugly, cold and wet and a helpless pup wouldn’t stand much chance of survival.  If starvation didn’t get it, a car or a coyote or some bubba with a gun surely would.  But for people who abandon animals, this isn’t a concern.

Thank goodness our police chief found the puppy, tentatively named Jimmy and brought him here until a home can be found.  He’s in the barn, safe, warm and he has a full belly.  All he needs is a home.

            The little guy is skin and bones and probably hasn’t known much in the way of kindness, yet he’s sweet and loving.  He’s probably 8-10 weeks old and will be a small dog when mature.  His hair is short and his ears are long.  I just hope I find someone to give Jimmy a good home. 




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Monday, September 28, 2009

Foolish investment #3

As you might expect a 23 pound rooster could come with problems, but in Tyler’s case, his size led to his demise. 

            Tyler and Tara had been incubated in a classroom, banned from city homes, and ultimately “donated” to me by neighbor’s granddaughter. (It should be noted that I did not christen them with their absurd names.)  Only a few weeks old when they arrived, they were already half the size of my other chickens, but having bonded with humans they weren’t interested in joining the flock.  Tara soon announced that she was a he, bent on killing Tyler, so I found someone willing to take the evil heavyweight.  Tyler remained.

            The roosters had hatched from eggs provided by a large local poultry producer.  Contrary to misconceptions, commercial poultry is not fed growth hormones or steroids.  They are genetically designed, cross-bred to grow very big very quickly with certain anatomic enhancements, like heavy breasts.  Just six weeks after breaking through the egg shell, it’s off to the abattoir.  Chop chop.  Lucky Tyler was exempt from such a fate, so he kept on growing.  In no time at all he towered head and shoulders above my biggest birds.

            Having no interest in his peers, he hung out at the house, followed me around like a dog, stared through the glass kitchen door and appointed himself security guard.  He hated visitors including one of my best friends.

            Dorothy, a short, chubby woman who liked to help in the garden was unaware that Tyler was stalking her. When least expected the big rooster charged from the rear, hit poor Dorothy behind the knees and knocked her flat on the ground.  So obsessive was his vendetta that from then on he had to be confined whenever she came to visit. 

            Yes, Tyler was troublesome, but even so he was a dear pet—one that just kept getting bigger.  By age three he was the size of a turkey, so regal in appearance that he had a small fan club. 

One afternoon a van repeatedly crept slowly past the farm, always hesitating near the barnyard.  After the third passing I took down the license plate, called the police and reported the suspicious behavior.  Later, the laughing police Chief called to tell me he’d contacted the driver. 

The man had seen Tyler and told his friends about the giant, but no one believed him, so he loaded them up to prove he hadn’t exaggerated.  We all got a good chuckle out the event.  

One day Tyler didn’t look quite right. I’d noticed his gait had become elongated, but thought he was just showing-off.  I was wrong. He soon could only walk a few steps, then he’d settle down like a hen on a nest. A few days later he couldn’t stand at all. 

At the Exotic Pet and Bird Clinic the vet said he’d never seen such an extraordinary chicken, but sadly his condition was terminal.  His leg tendons were shot and could no longer support his huge body. 

Tyler was euthanized at a cost of $25.00, a little more than a dollar per pound. 

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Foolish investment #2


            Clad in his usual camouflage attire, Rambo, as he was known in the neighborhood held a shoebox against his Cabella’s belt buckle. In the box were two yellow ducklings that he hoped I would want.  Oh sure, I needed something else to care for.  Like so many stupid people who give children baby animals for Easter, Rambo’s family had tired of the quacking and pooping and just wanted to be rid of the ducklings.  Hence Harold and Maude moved into a cage in my kitchen and I admit I adored them.

            They grew quickly, had daily swimming lessons at the pond, but spent nights in the barn for safe keeping.  As they matured it became apparent they were both drakes requiring a change of monikers.  Having bonded with me and the dogs, they followed us everywhere, talking and pretending they weren't ducks.  Harold the good liked to be carried around, but Harold the bad would quickly take a triangular hunk out of my face with his serrated beak if given half a chance.  They loved parties and milled about with guests looking as if they should have a glass of wine and a little plate of appetizers.  All went well until late summer when Harold the good developed a limp.

            On the bottom of one webbed foot was marble-sized lump that was obviously painful, so off we went to see Dr. Riggs who specialized in exotic pets and birds.  Harold’s bumblefoot would require surgery. He would be hospitalized overnight, and then the foot would have to be dressed daily. $125.00 later he was as good as new. He and his pal resumed their happy duck lives, swimming and greeting visitors.  Just four weeks later everything changed.

            It was early morning when the phone rang.  The voice said, “Hey, your ducks are out in the middle of the road and one of them isn’t moving.”  I dropped the phone and raced outside to find the two Harolds at the farthest end of my property, but in the street.  As if six acres with woods, a pond, a bevy of friends and a busy social life were not enough for them, they had decided to venture beyond the fence and as luck would have it Harold the good became the victim of a ruthless hit-run driver.  He lay dead as a mackerel as his companion quacked frantically and circled the lifeless pile of feathers.  It was heartbreaking.

            I’m stunned by the outright cruelty of some people. Two big white ducks in the middle of a straight road had to have been quite visible.  Unlike a rabbit or a deer that might bolt in front of an oncoming car, ducks waddle slowly. The killing had been deliberate.  With one hand I held the dead duck by his leg. With the other I cradled the grieving live duck against my chest.  He didn’t even try to bite me. Harold the bad was Harold the sad.  His days were spent fouling the porch, quacking and staring into the house as if he expected to see his old pal lounging on the sofa.  The search for another duck began. 

            Apparently my reputation regarding critters was more wide-spread than I knew.  Late one night a police dispatcher from a nearby town called to say a duck had crossed the interstate and was “waiting at the Clark station….”  I drove twenty miles to said gas station and found the Pekin duck sitting on a chair as if waiting for a cab.  She rode home in a box on the passenger seat and in the morning Harold was introduced to Dorie.  It was love at first sight. 

            Harold the good:  $125.00

            Harold and Dorie:  Priceless




            I’m suddenly aware that were it not for the many animal-related costs in my life I could be driving a top of the line Mercedes Benz, take a cruise on Cunnard Lines, eat at my favorite restaurant every day of the week and still have money left over, but this is not the way it is.  Because I have chosen this life style, I can not complain, but I have decided to share some of the foolish animal-related investments. I’ll begin with the least expensive.

Gonzo was hatched with a crossed beak.  A real farmer would have culled this bird, but as you will recall I admitted early on to not being a real farmer, so Gonzo was safe from the hatchet or whatever tool real farmers use to dispatch less than perfect livestock.  She grew into a friendly little red hen that dutifully produced a nice brown egg almost every day.  (She did take some well-deserved holidays….)

The state of her beak made it impossible for the hen to pick up grain or other things the rest of the flock ate, hence she required a special diet of large chunky foods that she could manage.  About once a month I trimmed the lower half of the beak with a dog nail clipper.  She sat patiently on the work bench for the procedure, never complaining all the while growing very tame and tolerant.

            This worked well enough for about a year, but then one day, the lower beak simply fell off!  She looked like a parrot and eating became even more difficult.  Something had to be done or Gonzo would starve.  A friend who does those fancy artificial fingernails at a salon said she thought she might be able to fashion a nose for the hen out of acrylic, but attaching it presented a dilemma, so I took the chicken to my veterinarian as she had formerly been a zoo vet and had dealt with some unusual situations in the past. 

After examining the bird and discussing the plan she decided it would not work, but thought she could reconfigure the remaining upper beak in a way that would allow Gonzo to pick up feed.  Using a dremel tool she performed an astounding rhinoplasty on my chicken.  The cost was a mere $7.00—the first time.

            The nose jobs became a monthly expense and the charge was never the same.  It seemed to depend on my vet’s mood that day, but the hen loved her trips to the animal hospital where she was clearly a celebrity and always the center of attention. 

            Imagine my delight when I found a brand new, battery-operated manicure set at a garage sale.  Among the many attachments was a sanding disc which worked like a dream on the deformed beak.  No more vet trips, but by this time I calculated Gonzo’s eggs were worth about fifty cents apiece, figuring all those plastic surgeries.  Like most of the chickens here, she lived many years.

            It’s true that birds of a feather flock together. Gonzo was the lifelong consort of Chopstix, the rooster who had no feet.  I regret that I have no pictures of this odd couple.  Tomorrow, the story of Harold the bad.



5:30 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Foolish investments

            I’m suddenly aware that were it not for the many animal-related costs in my life I could be driving a top of the line Mercedes Benz, take a cruise on Cunard Lines, eat at my favorite restaurant every day of the week and still have money left over, but this is not how it is.  I have chosen this life style, so I can't really complain, but I have decided to share some of the foolish animal-related investments I've made beginning with the least expensive.

Gonzo hatched with a crossed beak.  A real farmer would have culled this bird, but you will recall I admitted early on that I'm not a real farmer, so Gonzo was safe from the hatchet or whatever tool real farmers use to dispatch less than perfect livestock.  She grew into a friendly little red hen that dutifully produced a nice brown egg almost every day.  

The state of her beak made it impossible for the hen to pick up grain or other things the rest of the chickens ate, hence she required a special diet of large chunky foods that she could manage.  About once a month I trimmed the lower half of the beak with a dog nail clipper.  She sat patiently on the work bench for the procedure, never complaining or fussing.

            This worked well enough for about a year, but then one day, the lower beak simply fell off!  She looked like a parrot and eating became even more challenging.  Something had to be done or Gonzo would starve.  A friend who creates those fancy artificial fingernails at a salon said she thought she might be able to fashion a nose for the hen out of acrylic, but attaching it presented a dilemma, so I took Gonzo to a veterinarian who had formerly been a zoo vet and had dealt with unusual situations in the past. 

After examining the bird and discussing the plan she decided it would not work, but thought she could reconfigure the remaining upper beak in a way that would allow Gonzo to pick up feed.  Using a dremel tool she performed an astounding rhinoplasty on my chicken.  The cost was a mere $7.00—the first time.

            The nose jobs became a monthly expense and the charge was never the same.  It seemed to depend on the vet’s mood that day, but the hen loved the  trips to the animal hospital where she was clearly a celebrity and not surprisingly the center of attention. 

            Imagine my delight when I found a brand new, battery-operated manicure set at a garage sale for a couple of dollars  Among the many attachments was a sanding disc which worked beautifully  on the deformed beak.  No more vet trips, but by this time I calculated Gonzo’s eggs were worth about fifty cents apiece, figuring all those plastic surgeries.  Like most of the chickens here, she lived many years.

            It’s true that birds of a feather flock together. Gonzo was the lifelong consort of Chopstix, the rooster who had no feet.  I regret that I have no pictures of this odd couple.  Tomorrow, the story of Harold the bad.

7:55 pm edt          Comments

Friday, September 25, 2009

Going, going, gone!



“Best left in the box…,” was a remark overheard at the Country Auction tonight. The would-be bidder shook his head in dismay and closed the lid on the box of trinkets.  There were plenty of boxes to which that remark could have applied, but then you just never know what treasure might be hidden under those plastic roses.  I only recently discovered this regular Friday night event although I’ve driven past it dozens of times.  What fun!

The sale is very casual (to say the least!) and unlike fancy auction houses, there is no cocktail preview of the merchandise, no catalog, no smooth-talking auctioneer chatting up the price.  Consigners can rid themselves of anything at all, so there's no telling what might show up.  They simply bring it to the grounds up to an hour before the bidding starts and add it to the acres of miscellaneous already in place.  Row after row of “merchandise” (AKA junk) line a big field.  At precisely 5 PM two auctioneers, one at either end of the field begin the selling.

“Hey, what am I bid on this rocker, he asks, poking it with a cane. Who’ll gimmee $25.00? Ten? How about a dollar?”  A yellow ticket waves in the air. “Sold!” he shouts and someone loads up a functional chair for a buck.  When he can’t get a dollar, he keeps adding boxes, piles and bags until he can.

Last week I came home with a lovely French porcelain box for which I paid $2.00 to a woman who had purchased several boxes of “antiques” for $4.00.  Tonight I was not so lucky although a cage with a darling fancy hen and rooster were tempting, but common sense prevailed.  Other than the chickens, there was nothing I would have hauled home if someone had paid ME.  Maybe next week….



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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Green thumb blues.

I’m watching a tomato rot on the windowsill.  It was the only one salvageable on the plants I pulled out two days ago, but even this one had signs of the cancer that has ruined not just mine, but everyone’s tomato crop this year.  They seem to blister on the ‘shoulders’ and then the rest of the fruit is quickly consumed. I can’t bring myself to throw it out.  I keep thinking I’ll cut away the bad part and use what’s left, but I know I won’t.

Gardeners have been advised not to put these diseased plants or fruit in the compost pile, but to discard them far from the garden.  I should just heave it down into the woods, but instead, I’m watching it rot.  Maybe I need a hobby.

            The garden in general was a supreme disappointment this year. Not even the zucchini thrived.  In previous years the zucchini were so prolific it was hard to give away even the small, delicate ones let alone those giants that appeared overnight.  One year I found an unusual use for these behemoths.

              Township roads rarely have posted speed limits, so unless they do the legal speed is an outrageous 55 mph.  It’s absurd and maddening.  I made what I thought to be a quaint “Slow Down, Please” sign with the silhouette of a cat and nailed it to the telephone pole, hoping to send a polite message.  The sign did not slow traffic one bit, but a couple of those giant zucchinis strategically placed in the road did the trick. 

            Speeders would see the ‘oops, must have fallen off a truck’ green giants and slam on the brakes.  But, as one might expect these organic speed bumps were very limited in their usefulness.  One hit and they were mush.  In retrospect it’s a wonder no one called the cops. I no longer do that sort of thing because I’ve matured a bit, but really it’s just because the zucchini crop was so puny.


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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oh dear...


            Big auction signs have gone up and there’s now a palpable tension around here.  The worrisome property up for bids is the next one up from me on the opposite side of the road. 

Mrs. C died about six months ago and we all knew the place would be sold, but until signs beckoning would-be buyers were in place it was easy not to consider the sobering fact that new people would be arriving—and for me, they will be too close for comfort.  The changes that have occurred in the past couple of years have not been to my liking at all. 

The newcomers have not been kindred spirits.  They are not the sort that appreciates a rural life style, but instead they are people who obliterate the trees, the wildlife and the peace and quiet.  I’ve little hope the new inhabitants of Mrs. C’s place will be any different.

            Mr. and Mrs. C , a quiet couple were the first people I met when I bought this farm. Mr. C used to plow a garden for me in the days when I put in a ridiculously large one.  The handsome old man with a shock of white hair would roar down the road on his John Deere, chattering all the while even though it was impossible to hear him above the tractor.  He’d do wheelies on the big green machine, laughing and talking all the while.  He was quite a character, but toward the end of his life dementia set in.  My last image of Mr. C was a thin frightened old man running down the road being frantically pursued by a health care worker.  He was clad only in a green Depends and brown socks,  ‘Such a sad ending to a happy life.

            Mrs. C lived on and ultimately became reclusive, but before then she occasionally visited to issue disapproving opinions of something I’d done.  “You planted that tree too close to the road…, That paint is awfully dark…, You shouldn’t feed them that stuff….”  Unlike her husband, she was not a cheerful person. She lived a long unhappy life. 

            Many years ago I had a rooster that had been hatched in a classroom as a science project.  The chicks were then given to the students who all lived in town, but keeping a rooster in the city was illegal, so Tyler (as he had been named) came to live here.  Having known only the company of humans he refused to associate with the rest of the flock.  Instead, he hung out at the house, looked in the windows, sat on the patio bench waiting for me to return from work and appointed himself security guard.  He was huge and intimidating as Mrs. C discovered.

            One evening she walked down the road to visit, but I wasn’t here.  Tyler attacked her and she was forced to take refuge in an old apple tree.  (Good that she was fit and athletic in those days.) I later learned that she’d had to break off a branch and swat at Tyler in order to make her escape out to the road.

            But now she, like Tyler is gone and the quiet house, hidden behind the trees will be up for auction in less than a month.  I am worried.




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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Songs of the night


            Rain this morning aborted the daily walk and the afternoon was consumed with errands and appointments, so the photo shoot is on hold. The garden dahlias are celebrating summers last hurrah and they are almost as pretty as the fields of goldenrod.

            Lately the stillness of night has been interrupted by singing coyotes.  The jolly carolers who pass by in the wee hours have provoked conversation on the road.

            “Oh, but they’re so close…,” worried one neighbor.  Well, yes they are. The farmers are clearing all of the surrounding fields and exposing an ever-expanding all you can eat buffet of rodents and rabbits.  The song dogs are feasting on their preferred prey and singing their appreciation.

            I recently visited a friend who lives in a lovely city by the river.  Although her guest room was fitted with every comfort including a Temper-pedic mattress I didn’t sleep a wink!  City noise isn’t soothing to someone accustomed to country sounds.  Slamming car doors, sirens, backing garbage trucks and worst of all, the sound of nearby voices kept sleep at bay.

            It isn’t quiet here by any stretch, but the sounds of passing coyotes, the warble of the screech owl, the bickering of raccoons as they come out of the woods on their way to who knows where, the heart-wrenching bark of a bored distant dog, the ticking of the pump jacks, the wind chimes on the porch; these sounds are like a lullaby.




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Monday, September 21, 2009

A beautiful day


           Despite ominous skies, Ernie, Ted and I went for our daily walk.  Since her ACL surgery poor Nettie can no longer join us. Even though her spirit wants to trot along, by the time we reach the barn she is painfully hopping on three legs.  If I give her a cookie she seems content to remain at home.

            Since the destruction and occupation of the oil road route we must travel part of the way on the paved road, but just until we reach the woods.  Then the dog leads are snapped off and we are each free to wander at our own pace.

            As we left the woods and entered Kenny’s back field a couple of deer leapt from their nap under an oak tree, bounding off through the goldenrod only to reappear at the other end of the vast yellow landscape.  Just their heads peeked above the beautiful wildflowers.  They watched me as I watched them until finally they bolted, leaping like Nureyev, their white flag tails waving a dismissive goodbye.  One abruptly stopped and issued a warning snort before vanishing into the woods.

            I couldn’t help but notice the skimpy nut crop which suggests a tough winter ahead for wildlife.  By this time of year the trail is usually littered with ankle-breaking walnuts, hickory nuts and acorns, but today only a few nuts were scattered about.

            Writing this blog it has suddenly occurred to me how much I take for granted.  The fact that there may be readers imprisoned in cities or apartments who never see acres of soybeans turning golden or fields of corn with drooping ears not quite ready to be picked encourages me to take my heavy camera and share some of the beauty that surrounds my small country life.  Unless the predicted storms prevent it, tomorrow I shall take some photos.



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Sunday, September 20, 2009

A messy job


Next to the porch grows a jungle of exotic-looking plants only recently identified as giant ragweed. Most people think these are something I cultivated, but they established themselves with no help from me. Well, no intentional help from me....

A few years ago I planted a large area to the east of the porch with sunflowers and corn intending it   as a wildlife food plot.  The effort was only moderately successful as the soil there is thin and poor, so the following year I cleared the debris and fertilized the proposed plot heavily with manure. 

One thing led to another and the corn and sunflowers did not get planted, but these hardy weeds flourished.  They grew dense and lush and were visited daily by black-capped chickadees, gold finches and other small birds that found something irresistible in the foliage.  As a privacy barrier the giants couldn't be beat. Nothing else stands a ghost of a chance against this twenty foot tall mono-crop The ragweed extravaganza is spectacular in many ways, but by this time of the year the plants begin to break down under their own weight.  They collapse and create an unsightly mess.

Clearing them with the tractor has proven unsuccessful. The only way to tidy the area is to manually cut them down, pile them up to dry and then burn them.  It's messy, mindless labor and as the photo illustrates by the small section cleared thus far, it's time consuming. At the rate things are going I may finish before the snow flies.

3:41 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Never look a gift horse in the mouth...


I took a large bag of magazines collected during my book purge up to old Kenny’s and left them hanging on the post by his mailbox.  Most were draft horse-related and since he has told me about the days he farmed with horses, I know he enjoys reading them. 

“We had some big bay horses, he recalls.  Then one day my father decided to buy a mule from some Jew who had a livery down in town,” he continued.  Why he felt it necessary to share the liveryman’s heritage is a mystery, but that’s Kenny.  His father bartered for the animal rather than paying cash.

“I remember him sitting in the kitchen sorting out potatoes to pay for that mule, but in 1941 we got a tractor and quit using the horses,” he concluded. No mention of the fate of the draft animals....  This is probably the same tractor he’s still driving, the one that sputters along at about 2 mph. I can walk faster than that tractors top speed. While other farmers are cultivating, Kenny’s still plowing unless neighbor Butch helps him out with his big John Deere.

The gift of these magazines will undoubtedly provoke an unnecessary reciprocal gift which will not be anything ordinary.  Gifts are almost always delivered when I’m away, like the last one.

            I came home on afternoon to find an iron-banded buggy wheel propped against the fence.  No note, just the wheel.  A few days later I saw Kenny out burning some dry grass along the end of his lane, feeding the flames with junk mail he’d just removed from the mail box.  

“Kenny, did you bring me a wagon wheel,” I asked.  He scarcely glanced up from the fire.  “Yep. 'Thought you'd like it 'cause I know you like old things,” he confessed.

            That was pure presumption since Kenny has never been inside my house.  I thanked him profusely, but what to do with the wheel?  I’m not one for “country cute,” but I couldn’t hurt his feelings. The wheel would have to remain obvious so he'd see it when he drives down the road.  It’s propped against a fence corner now and serves as a grave marker for dogs Schatzi and Rudy.

            Sometimes Kenny brings me and neighbor Sandy spelt bread. I don't mean just a loaf of bread, but boxes or garbage bags full; some of it packaged, other loaves loose, dry and hard as bricks.  Spelt is a grain in the wheat family and it’s popular in organic products. Kenny is a health nut.  He makes weekly trips to the Amish community in the next county to shop at their natural food store and to fill his truck with the “day old” bread.  (More like week old!)  The chickens politely nibble at it, but lose interest after about six loaves.  I chisel off hunks for Corky and Andy for they have adventuresome culinary tastes, but even they aren’t keen on it.     

His sister Ethel gave the best gifts.  One year she brought me an antique salt cellar, complete with old salt over which a tattered scrap of paper was taped.  This was accompanied by a note of explanation; “In the old days, people visited their neighbors during the holidays and sat around eating celery.”  I probably should have invited her down for a chat and chew, but like Kenny she only had a few teeth which would have made the latter part dofficult.

            Ethel also brought cookies, but confessed that “Kenneth” (as she called her brother) preferred my pies and cookies to those she made and it was little wonder!  Ethel’s were made sans sugar, salt or anything else that might have imparted a hint of flavor.  I’ve tasted dog biscuits (never mind why…) and can honestly say that Milk Bones are tastier.

            My old dog Rudy would squint his eyes and scrunch up his face and obligingly chew, but acted as if I'd fed him stones.  The other dogs wouldn’t even try them, so like the spelt bread the cookies went out to Corky and Andy.  

            Other gifts have included dented cans of mackeral and a never-heard-of brand of green pie filling (which remains unopened).  I can hardly wait to see what's next.



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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gone, but not forgotten


 On Tuesday afternoon Large Marge lost her brave battle with cancer.  She was 13 years old.  Her constant companions Weebles the miniature horse and Martin the incorrigible goat stayed at her side till the very end and still grieve her passing.

My daughter had answered a newspaper ad for the piglet and purchased her from what was apparently a crack house.  Overnight Marge went from being a pig at risk to a local celebrity.  Pigs being very intelligent enjoy learning things and Marge soon had a repertoire of tricks.  She could sit up like a dog, shake hands, give kisses on command and dance, sometimes wearing a tu-tu as she twirled about.

She loved riding in the truck and especially going to the ice cream stand where she was always welcome.  After all, a cute performing pig was great for business and she worked cheaply--happy with an ice cream cone as payment.  It was a win-win deal.  Although she made other appearances, her favorite"showplace" was a local nursing home which she visited regularly with her barnyard companions.  The staff as well as the residents adored the well-behaved trio and even put out a buffet of carrots and apple chunks.

While a porcine pet may not be everyone's cup of tea, Marge exemplified what nice companions pigs can be in the right setting.  She was easy to housebreak, clean by nature and always happy to hop in the bathtub to get gussied up for one of her appearances and was without fail a hit at parties. Everyone loved her  Marge is buried next to Stevie Wonder, the miniature horse who was born with no eyes and other physically-challenged animals who lived happy lives at my daughter's Cripple Creek Farm. RIP dear Marge.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Too much junk!

A place for everything and everything in its place, that’s my motto.  I’m not a collector of stuff, can’t abide clutter or untidiness, but I also can’t stop myself from accumulating books, hence most rooms have at least one wall of floor to ceiling book shelves.  While it would seem this would be more than adequate, it is not and so I’ve been weeding out tomes that were read, but deemed not worth keeping and others which I know in my heart will never be read.  I've had to face it; I will never get through the complete works of Balzac.      I've purged a lot, but now I’m suffocating under stacks of boxes of books and other unnecessary things.  All are destined to go to the flea market on Saturday. Leftovers will go to the thrift store which was their likely origin in the first place.

I’m suddenly very aware of how much unnecessary ‘stuff’ sneaks into our lives regardless of how efficient or thrifty we attempt to be.  Monday’s post was about the history of this house and included a fairly-recent picture. 

When John and Esther Grogg built this house it didn't include that wing with the porch.  I’m responsible for that because even though the original house was enough to shelter seven members of the Grogg family nearly two centuries ago, it wasn’t big enough for me—or so I thought at the time.  This addition will never withstand 200 years.  It isn’t built of hand-hewn oak and stone. And because the house is now bigger, it costs more to heat and it takes longer to clean and maintain.

The point is that this purge made me very conscious of the excess in my life.  Maybe this is why the barn is so restorative to my soul.  There is nothing excessive there, no frills, just the essentials.  There’s a lesson to be learned here; less is more.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One bad ass!



Corky was a few years old when he was rescued from a hellish existence.  He was still a little stud at the time and since I had no intention of going into the donkey breeding business Dr. Matt was called to geld the little guy.

Things did not go well; not the procedure, nor the days that followed.  Infection set in.  Corky was miserable and quickly developed an intense hatred toward Dr. Matt.  Any red truck that pulled into the driveway caused those big ears to perk up and those doe eyes to bulge in alarm.  When it was time for annual vaccinations Matt had to bring along several strong helpers and even then it was all they could do to hold the angry anxious ass.  I finally changed vets and now he’s a perfect angel (well, almost…) with his new lady vet.

Equine tests have shown that donkeys and mules never forget a bad experience and today proved that to be true.  It was time for the boys to have their feet trimmed, but my regular farrier is ill right now, so Jeremy, another farrier who happens to look very much like Dr. Matt is filling in. Even though Corky has not seen Matt in many years he has not forgotten what Matt looked like.

Both donkeys seem to like having their feet trimmed.  They are never troublesome. Who doesn’t enjoy a pedicure?  Andy was trimmed first and as usual he behaved like a gentleman.  Then it was Corky’s turn.  I led him from the stall, he took one look at Jeremy and went berserk.  No amount of sweet talk or coddling calmed him.  He threw himself against walls, reared up, tried to lie down and generally acted like a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum.  Poor Jeremy was perplexed until I mentioned that he looked like Dr. Matt and related Corky's bad experience.

“Yes, several people have noticed that,” he said.  So, rather than make a bad situation worse we mutually decided that Corky’s feet could wait until the regular farrier is back on the job.

This photo was taken as Corky watched me sweep the feed room--before Jeremy’s arrival.  Doesn’t he look innocent?


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Monday, September 14, 2009

A long time ago...


      In 1806, just three years after Ohio became a state, Solomon Grogg and his family migrated here from Pennsylvania.  His son John married Esther Snyder and in 1821 the couple carved out this homestead. Their hand-hewn timbers, now an interesting architectural feature tell of the huge oaks that must have been plentiful around here.  Beyond the south porch the remnants of their now-overgrown orchard still blossom gloriously every spring and bear gnarly fragrant apples every fall.  Sometimes as I lounge on the porch I imagine John and Esther toiling away, caring for their livestock, tilling the fields, felling trees, putting up hay and produce for the long winter that loomed ahead. Their lives couldn't have been easy. Mine is cushy by comparison.

     JThey had five children and then John died. He's buried in the cemetery about six miles down the road. (Curiously he is not in the nearby graveyard where Elizabeth, consort of Peter is buried.)  An impressive sandstone marker suggests John may have been important.  His widow Esther had an auction. A photocopy of the sale recorded in beautiful Spencerian script indicates that she kept a gray mare, one cow, some bedding and a few other household things. The ledger notes that people came from far and wide to bid on the estate, although nothing listed was grand or special.  They bid on the things needed to survive in those hard times.

     Maybe Esther moved away. I don't know, but I often wonder how many others called this old farm home since that sad ending and when I bought it in 1987.  Living in a house with a past is oddly comforting. I like the worn cupped stairtreads, the low, crooked doorways and tilting floors. It wouldn't be  everyone's taste, but it suits me.

8:17 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, September 13, 2009





It’s no secret.  I covet old Kenny’s farm.  It’s ramshackle, cluttered with junk that would take years to clear away, but to me it is the most beautiful place on the road.  Kenny is 84 years old and still living independently on the farm that’s been in his family since 1916.  Until last year it had been essentially uncultivated for about a decade, the land left fallow except for the front field. Each spring Kenny climbed aboard his ancient Massey Ferguson and put in a crop of corn or wheat that would soon be predictably overtaken by weeds. Then he gave someone permission to farm the back land. The farmer has taken liberties with chemicals and brush clearing, but Kenny says nothing.

 He still milks one cow whose calf is now a full-fledged bull.  Kenny says he’ll sell the Angus “in about a month,” but he could never have him butchered. He insists on giving me jars of fresh milk which I pretend to welcome, and indeed would welcome if it weren’t delivered from a filthy plastic bucket into which he dips an even-dirtier quart jar.  “I only drink raw milk,” he says wiping the drips on his coveralls before handing me the greasy jar.  My cats like the milk and Kenny likes giving something back when I take him a piece of pie or cake.

I’m fascinated by old farmers like Kenny.  One of three children born on the circa 1830 farm, only he survives.  He and his sister Ethel were very close and since her death last Christmas he seems lost.  Neither ever married. Ethel lived in the city, but came out to the farm each Thursday to cook and do laundry, then she’d return to her home Sunday evening.  Both were firm believers in the powers of natural healing, so when Ethel hurt her leg it didn’t occur to either of them to see a doctor although now Kenny says he wished he’d taken her for a hyperbaric treatment.

No one on the road knew just how badly her leg was hurt until one day Kenny did resort to conventional medicine and took Ethel to a local Stat Care, but both scorned the doctor’s advice to get to the hospital ASAP.  Kenny and Ethel left, but the doctor was so concerned he phoned Adult Protective Services setting a bureaucratic ball in motion. 

Knowing they had neither family, nor close friends I always made a holiday basket for them and on the day I turned down Kenny’s long lane to deliver it I was met by police, an ambulance and the lady from Adult Protective Services.  They all shuffled uncomfortably amidst the clutter in the old house.  A bewildered Kenny stood in the corner while Ethel moaned on the sagging sofa as a paramedic wrapped gauze around her gangrenous leg.  She cried out to Kenny as they laid her on a stretcher and carried her to the ambulance.  Snow was beginning to fall.

The next day I sent flowers to the hospital, but Kenny called me that evening to say in his plain awkward manner, “Ethel can’t enjoy your pretty flowers….”  She died the next day.  Now it’s just Kenny, his cattle and the old beagle named Cookie.  I’ll take him some soup and cake later today.



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Friday, September 11, 2009

The rest of the sad story


Months passed and the only reminder that anything had changed was the flagged building site on the summit of the field.  All was quiet. There was no activity. I tried to ignore the impending doom, but one bright spring morning the massacre began. 

            The lane was under attack. I watched from the edge of my woods. The new owners stood at the summit mindlessly laughing as trees were felled and shoved onto a growing heap. Chainsaws roared and the land trembled under the rumbling bulldozer.  As casually as one might scrape crumbs from a tabletop the dozer scraped away the lovely brushy undergrowth taking countless small animals with it.  The air was mad with confusion.  A few trees were spared. At the end of the day they stood like sad old soldiers.  Everything else had vanished.

            In two days the rutted lane was scraped and widened to a barren road that raised a choking cloud as the new owners raced back and forth in their flashy new truck.  Rage consumed me.  I couldn’t sleep or eat.

“Get over it, said my friends.  You’ll find a new place to walk.”  But this wasn’t about me.  It was the wanton and senseless destruction of all that was good and beautiful that so enraged me.  It was the annihilation of what makes the country ‘country.’

            I desperately wanted to sell and move away, but the reality of doing so was sobering.  Instead I put this place in a wildlife conservation trust.  It may have diminished its market value, but when I look at the devastated lane I know the real value of land. 



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Thursday, September 10, 2009

9:53 pm edt          Comments

Once there was a lane...



            Many years ago I created a cross- country trail that my dogs and I walked every day.  It passed through my own meadow and woods, then skirted the edge of the field to the north before exiting onto a rutted lane which gave access to an oil well at the end of the quarter mile stretch.  Past the oily black grasshopper-looking pump-jack was a glorious woods with a simple deer trail which became more defined from our daily trek.

            Problems that disrupted my silly life were always put in order on this walk. Answers that eluded me before setting out came as naturally as the breeze that brushed my face.  Mother Theresa said that if one were very still and just listened, answers would come and I think she meant listening to the natural world. 

Each day was predictable only in its unpredictability.  What creature would share its life with me that day?  Every inch of the trail was magical and cherished and I took it for granted.  That was a mistake.  Never take anything for granted.

            The oil lane was the mid-section of my trail and it represented transition, both from a meditative standpoint as well as a geographical one.  It was where calm nudged out tension, this place between my farm and the old forest.  It was also a wildlife sanctuary.

            On either side of the lane were fields of corn and soybeans.  Between the lane and western crop field was a tree line about twenty feet deep, it’s edges fringed with coltsfoot in the springtime, later giving way to fleabane, chicory, buttercups and Queen Anne’s Lace.  Rocks that surfaced with spring plowing were dumped at the edges, so throughout its length were clusters of fieldstone.  Towering oaks, wild cherry, the odd wild apple tree and hickory arched over the rutted lane.  Wild grapes climbed the leafy arbor, then hung nearly to the ground. Between the flowering border and the trees grew blackberries, raspberries and the ubiquitous multiflora rose.  Not a day passed that I didn’t see a plethora of wildlife that called this corridor home.

            Walking the same route throughout the seasons told stories; coon tracks leading to a hollow tree told me where to watch for babies. Mouse tracks in the snow leading to a bent over plant told me the seeds had been the rodents meal. Fox scat told who ate wild grapes the night before. Birds like elusive brown creepers, wood thrush, cardinals, doves and all the migratory birds of the area depended upon the foods and shelter of this tree line.  A red tailed hawk liked the snag of an old hickory tree. I often saw him scan the fields before swooping down on some careless mouse or rabbit.  Once he flew off with a twisting snake in his talons.

            On a small rise groundhogs had created a busy warren.  Early in the spring they immerged from their hibernation groggy and skinny, but after feasting in the adjoining fields they quickly grew sleek and fat. How many people are lucky enough to see mating garter snakes?  Probably not many, and for such privileges I was ever so grateful. The lane was sacred.

            But there was literally trouble on the horizon. Pink-flagged stakes in the field east of the lane foretold that no longer would that field grow corn or soybeans.  Like so many other farms parceled off when the landowner grows old or dies, this field had been sold and would soon sprout an ostentatious house surrounded by acres of chem-lawn, but I was no more prepared for the obliteration of the tree line than was the wildlife that depended on it. 

            To be continued….




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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Animal people


      A friend recently shared this quote by Casey Stengel: "There are three kinds of people;  Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who ask "What happened?""

     I feel very fortunate that the people in my life fall into that first category.  Animal people are special.  They do make things happen.  As such these people have put together a special fundraiser; an art show and sale plus a silent auction.  I've been doing my part and today was set-up day for tomorrow nights gala opening.  The animal themed original artwork, live music (provided by some talented musician friends), food and wine will guarantee a good time.  Already one of the paintings has sold.  The profits from this fundraiser will benefit the work of those who help animals whose next stop would be the pet cemetery.  Everyone has a role to play, and from my perspective, these people are real heroes.  It's been a lot of work. I promise to post some photos of the event tomorrow.

8:21 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The brewing storm


Dark skies portend a dark day in more ways than one.  Yes, storms are imminent, but as I mucked out the donkeys’ stall this morning I heard a dreaded sound.  It was the feeble crow of one of the four spring-hatched chicks, now known as ‘the teen-agers.’ 

If I were not a vegetarian the solution to too many roosters would be simple;  chop chop.  But as a thirty year non-meat eater this presents a dilemma.  Finding a “good home for a nice rooster” has run its course. I have no more potential adopters. 

One rooster is plenty, but I foolishly have two who seem to get along well enough.  Randy, whose name describes his behavior is the flock Lothario.  The other timid rooster who remains nameless is sort of a stand-by sire should something unfortunate befall Randy. But now someone has to go.  Three roosters is senseless and is a cock fight waiting to happen.  The sex of the other three teen-agers remains unknown, but with my luck these too will not be pullets.  So, what to do….

One year I found myself with nine roosters!  I was desperate and offered them single or as a group to anyone who would take them.  A food-obsessed woman up the road said she would have them and I knew they were not going to be pets.  The nine doomed birds were loaded into a dog transport kennel and the salivating woman’s husband delivered them to BP Poultry where the proprietress Betty had a successful cottage business processing poultry.  I spoke with her and she assured me that dispatching them was humane and instant. I’ll spare you readers the details….

Typically the nervous birds arrive at BP before noon, cackling, pooping and bickering and are ready for pickup the following morning bagged and ready for the oven.  The fate of the nine roosters was sealed. A few days later the neighbor called to inform me the processed birds “just didn’t look right…,” so she had thrown them in the trash.  How could that be?  Those were free range, healthy, young chickens.  I immediately called Betty who told me the woman had phoned her concerned because the skin of the processed birds was dark.  Betty had informed her that black or red chickens do not have the anemic white skin of store-bought, factory-farmed chickens.  She said the woman seemed “dim” and just couldn’t comprehend the difference between naturally produced, colored-breed chicken and that which comes on a little Styrofoam tray from the grocery. 

The waste was appalling, but the ignorance of my neighbor was even more so. The experience was a shocking illustration of American society’s disconnection with the sources of food they take for granted.  I no longer speak to that neighbor, but this does not solve the current problem.  So, if any of you readers care to offer “a good home” (or otherwise) to at least one healthy and quite beautiful young rooster, hit the contact link.



9:43 am edt          Comments

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rest in peace...


Repairing the donkey damage went about as all such projects go; not well.  Even though there are tools at the barn, it seemed that everything I needed was in the cellar workshop at the house.  And as usual the trip into that dreary dungeon was not without incident.  I simply went to collect some drill bits, but ended up collecting corpses as it is obvious that the fall migration of little critters is already underway. 

The dry stone foundation of this house beckons mice, but once inside they risk encounters with Mr. Bean.  Bean is a cat whose unacceptable house manners relegated him to the cellar, but he has a kitty door to the outside, so he actually has a nice life. He can visit his animal pals outside, then return to his toasty “apartment” at will. Ironically, he is a perfect gentleman down there, but can not be trusted for a minute upstairs.  

In the workshop I saw that Mr. Bean had been busy.  Three little bodies awaited the undertaker (me) as Bean sat awaiting praise for his volunteer extermination work.

Yes, mice can be a problem in a building that is almost 200 years old, but unless they are in the kitchen I tolerate them.  I do not set those cruel neck-snapping traps, nor do I put out poison.  I do, however have a multi-mouse live trap which I call the tumble gym.

This clever device is wound up like a clock.  The unsuspecting rodent enters a baited tube from either side of the spring loaded plastic box, but the pressure of his little feet triggers the trap which fires him into the containment chamber.  The tumble gym can catch and hold up to nine mice.  I’ve never caught more than two.  The poor little guys sat bug-eyed and helpless, but seemed ever so grateful when released in the loft of the barn. 

There are those who don’t understand such tolerance, but their disapproval matters not.  Live and let live is the creed here.  I once had a visitor who after getting settled in the guest room appeared in the kitchen holding a partially-eaten chocolate bar I’d left on the night stand for her.  Later, as she sat in bed reading, a movement on the table next to the bed caught her eye.  It was the mouse wondering where the rest of the chocolate had gone.  Luckily she too was tolerant and was charmed by his visit.

Oh, I did get the new latch on the barn door.



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Saturday, September 5, 2009

No day of rest


It’s been a rough week, but it has finally passed.  For my sick daughter the worst has literally passed—a kidney stone, that is.  Speaking from personal experience, this is the worst pain imaginable.  Needless to say, she is happy and I and the rest of the relief crew are happy too.  Everyone’s life can return to normal.

I’d hoped to enjoy a quiet day reading on the porch and enjoying the waning flower, but early morning noise emanating from the barn changed those peaceful plans.  I found the donkeys attempting another break in via the people door to the feed room.  Andy had the bottom of the door in his teeth and was yanking it with all his might, thus explaining how they had gotten in last week. 

They are now confined to the lower pasture, much to their dismay.  Their sad faces suggest they lead very neglected and abused lives.  I am the abused one! No day of rest for me; instead a costly trip to the hardware to buy new latches and paint.  Rather than lounging on the porch I will be slaving away patching and repairing their latest damage.

 I do hope these donkey reports are not discouraging anyone who might have considered getting a few of these longears.  The reason my boys are so naughty is that they do not have jobs.  Donkeys need to work.  They are lovely hitched to a little driving cart or they can help in the garden, but left alone (even with an assortment of toys), they create jobs for themselves.  My boys seem to have taken up barn remodeling.

9:28 am edt          Comments

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What a week....



     The good news is that eggs are now hatching and so far there are two little peeps, both cute as bugs and not a whole lot bigger.  The little silkie hens lay eggs the size of ping pong balls, so the new chicks are about that size.  Buffie seems to be caring for the children while Fluffy continues to incubate the remaining eggs, but she has a very short attention span, so who knows whether she will see this job through.  

     The bad news is that my daughter and I were on our way back to the Emergency Room at 7:30 AM.  Todays experience was not much better than Tuesday's.  The hospital was quick to write out many Rx's for pain medication which my daughter is reluctant to take since masking pain does not cure anything.  Todays doctor admitted he had no answers and suggested she had a "pulled muscle."  This diagnosis made as much sense as suggesting perhaps she had a hangnail.  By 1:30 PM we were dismissed once again and tonight she is not feeling much better.  But because she is so well-liked troops are rallying to help with all that must be done.  This week has been and continues to be an exhausting blur.

7:26 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ah, the good life...


Ted knows how to enjoy life and he reminds me daily of what really matters; good health and a sense of fun.  My daughter is still not out of the woods, but is improving, thank goodness!  Off to the doctor tomorrow.

Health emergencies are scary, but sometimes reckless behaviors are to blame.  Again today I had to perform CPR on a mouse whose foolish choice of a place to live nearly brought his life to an early end.

This property is full of lovely potential lodgings for mice--like the barn for instance, but for some unfathomable reason they decide to live in the spout of the hand pump. Just getting in there must be a challenge!

 During the summer months this is almost a daily occurrence.  It is so common that I keep a wrench at the old iron pump as it is often necessary to disassemble it to remove the squatters.  Sometimes they just shoot out the spout when the icy water is drawn up from the well.  And so it was today.

The only water source for the barn is this hand pump from which I daily draw a couple of five gallon buckets for the donkeys and chickens.  I’m constantly amazed that in a 24 hour period an industrious mouse can build a complicated nest of dried grass and deliver a litter of bean-sized babies.  Today it was just the mom, but sometimes it’s the whole family including dad. 

As I began pumping, out shot one stunned, very dead-looking mouse.  It was totally saturated and had unblinking, popped-out eyes. Needless to say, it was very cold.  Lucky for this mouse that I’ve become quite adept at resuscitation.  Here’s what to do should you find yourself in a similar situation.

First one must warm the body by rubbing gently (use your shirt to dry it off), then holding it in the palm of the hand, head toward the thumb, wrap fingers gently, but securely around the body and shake downward as if shaking a thermometer.  Only do this twice or brain damage could occur. This procedure is usually sufficient to rid the lungs of any inhaled fluid. 

I placed the motionless little critter on a sun-warmed rock next to the pump to either recover or croak on the toasty surface.  As I continued to fill the buckets I watched for movement and sure enough another drowning victim was saved.  It shook itself as if surprised to be alive, then scurried under some brush, still wet, but apparently healthy enough to resume nest building.  I just hope it chooses another location!



5:52 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Call In The Night


      When the phone rings at 3:30 AM it signals one of three things: Someone has made a crank call.  Someone called a wrong number.  Someone has an emergency.  At 3:30 AM the jangling phone jolted me from a sound sleep.  It was not a crank call, nor a wrong number.  It was my daughter’s pain-choked voice.  In record time I was dressed and in my truck headed north at a break-neck speed.  Another nice thing about a rural community, there’s no traffic in the wee hours of the morning. I covered the ten miles in record time

     She lay on the kitchen floor, her body drawn up into a fetal position. She was in excruciating pain.  I called 9-1-1 and within minutes the ambulance arrived.  The EMT’s cursory exam suggested kidney stones.  A CAT scan was inconclusive and so the doctor announced that she would be sent home, even though four shots of morphine had only dulled the pain. 

      “Maybe she’s passing a kidney stone, but we can’t be sure….  And I can’t rule out appendicitis…., but she doesn’t have fever, so we’ll have to send her home.  I’ll give you a couple of prescriptions for pain medication.”

        I was incredulous!  Did the fact that she has no insurance have anything to do with this decision? I think maybe it did.  And so with great difficulty they got her into a wheelchair and pushed her outside as I fetched the truck.  An orderly waited with her at the curb. She was doubled over in pain.  After helping me get her inside, he actually said, “Have a nice day.”

        Her father, her friends and I are taking shifts to watch over her and all of her animals.  Today’s post is being written in haste and worry.         




2:41 pm edt          Comments

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