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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's in a name?


            When I asked my mother why she named me Karen (a moniker I've never liked) her response was, "When you were born everyone was naming their girls Karen.  I had no choice."  My mother entertained the futile hope that her Karen would be a conformist like herself.  Oh dear, she was hugely disappointed, but that's another story.

            My daughter seems to have a knack for names.  Her animals all have clever or funny titles, but my own animals are unfortunately saddled with names as unimaginative as my own. 

            There's Sissy, so named because she was the only girl in the litter of kittens rescued from the drainage ditch.  Her lucky brothers (unnamed) were all adopted, but no one seemed attracted to the pretty silver girl.  Buddy was inappropriately assumed to be a boy when my late dog Margie found and saved the kitten that'd been thrown from a car and became Margie's-well, her buddy. 

            Poppy was christened simply because one of the gardens happened to be ablaze with said flower when she arrived on the scene.  Little Ivy is a tiny cat of unknown origin or age discovered one day sound asleep in the ivy-covered garden shed.  When awakened she announced that she was staying here from then on.  That was about six years ago.

            Booger was found sitting on the edge of the interstate.  He was no more than a couple months old when I spotted the little black and white guy at the pavements edge looking as if he were waiting for a bus.  I pulled onto the berm, backed up and my passenger leaned out and scooped him up.  Looking at him as he calmly sat on the seat between us I noted, "He's a cute little booger, isn't he?" and that sorry name stuck.

            Tiny was so named because she was so tiny.  And finally and perhaps most unimaginatively named of all is Tom.  The big feral cat took three years to tame.  He was (past tense) a tom cat who, since becoming an ‘it' has made an impressive transition to spoiled rotten cat who has since been upgraded to Thomas.        

            It pains me that in the naming department  I am no more a creative renegade than my poor mother who called me what all other women were christening their girls-or so she claimed.  I'm glad my cats can't complain.

8:53 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lucky me.

            I really do love my work.  I meet some very interesting people, travel to exciting places and see some things most people will never have the opportunity to see, but even with all these ‘perks' essentially my job is just my job.

            Recently I was asked to write a regular column called Pet Patrol for a nice magazine (Country Living-Buckeye Power). It debuted in the December issue. The first article dealt with pet overpopulation and abandonment; an easy subject since nearly all of the critters here are the products of this horrific act.  The response to the column has been not only surprising, but gratifying as well. 

            My own life has always been about animal and environmental welfare, subjects that face staggering challenges.  Sometimes it's so discouraging I wonder why I bother.  Wouldn't it be easier to take up button collecting or bowling?   But thanks to the magazine (for providing a venue) and to those who took the time to email or phone, my sense of purpose has been rejuvenated.

            It's true there is power in numbers and being reminded of the kindred souls who also care about and confront the same daunting issues was/is more meaningful than words can say.  I wish there were a way to honor all of them.  It's not the big name organizations that change the world.  It's the people no one has ever heard of.  I'm lucky to have made contact with a few more of them. 

9:32 pm est          Comments

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My not so peaceable kingdom.

            From early morning until way past dark gunfire punctuates the peace and quiet in these parts.  Deer season opens tomorrow and I shudder to think of what is to come.  Former neighbor Rambo stopped by the other day and warned, "You'd better not go anywhere without your orange vest.  You'd better put orange on your dogs and donkeys too and keep your chickens inside." 

            My dogs do wear makeshift orange collars this time of year and I do have an orange safety vest, but frankly the notion that these precautions are necessary on my own property is infuriating.  I respect the rights of others; their property rights, their right to hunt, etc., but to think that I and my animals might be in danger here at home because of someone else's irresponsibility angers me.

            I am not opposed to hunting by responsible sportsmen who for whatever reason find pleasure in snuffing out the life of some wild creature (oops, pardon my cynicism...) because in today's society "management" is necessary.  More importantly is the fact that money from hunting and fishing licenses is used to preserve wild and natural areas that support many non-game species.  Were public hunting land not preserved it would be developed and that would most certainly lead to the demise of far more animals than do designated hunting seasons.  Opponents to hunting fail to realize this.  Either way animals die.  Even if there were no hunting and no development, they would die from predation, starvation, disease, etc.  It's nature's way.  Everything dies, although many humans seem to think their own death is optional. 

            Living in the country means living around hunters.  Some are decent and responsible, some are not.  I know that when deer season is finished and the dogs and I can safely resume our walk through Ranger Rick's NO HUNTING posted woods and around old Kenny's field I will find the carcass of a deer that was carelessly shot and left to wander and die.  The scavengers will eat and the carcass will not be wasted, but this does not excuse the lazy hunter responsible for the act.

            I say this because I have found such animals every single year that I've been here.  I even know who the lazy inept "sportsman" is, but there is nothing that can be done about it.  One year I came upon him standing next to a gut-shot doe.  He was in Ranger Rick's off-limits woods at the time.  When I reminded him he was on posted land he countered with, "I shot it on so-and-so's land and tracked it here...."  Had he been competent he would have delivered a kill shot in the first place, not a gut shot, but I did not point this out.  I just went on my way. 

            Back home from the walk the phone rang.  Incredibly it was this 50+ year old guy's father reprimanding ME for "trying to run off my boy...."    I was incredulous and thought the old geezer was kidding, but he wasn't.  He ranted and raved about "city people" like me who think they can move here and change things.  He sputtered on and on. I didn't mention my connection with a far more rural area or the fact that I'd been here since 1987.  I just let him vent his unwarranted rage, but my name is still mud with old Earl (the father), even though I had done nothing wrong.  Apparently his "boy" neglected to tell Daddy that two other people had admonished him for trespassing.  I took the brunt.

            To effectively argue for or against any issue requires acknowledging certain truths.  If one feels passionately about something (like hunting), do something positive.  Buy some land and post it.  Put property into conservation trusts that create sanctuary for wildlife.  If that's not an option, donate to an organization that does preserve land or create sanctuaries, but do something.  I personally think it is also very important to respect ethical sportsmen.  Whether one likes the "sport" or not, these people are preserving open spaces when they buy a license.

            ‘Time to don my orange vest now and go haul firewood.  Hope I'm still around to post tomorrows blog. 

2:11 pm est          Comments

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ah, morning.

T’was the night before Saturday
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Except yours truly.  I was awakened in the wee hours by the roaring winds and from that point on sleep was elusive.  The familiarity of an old house changes in the middle of the night.  It’s not frightening or anything like that, but it’s definitely different, especially when all the animals are snoring, snuffling or rattling their tags scratching an imaginary itch.  Everyone was asleep but me.

I knew as soon as I awoke that I should have gone downstairs and had a slug of milk.  That always works, but the prospect of traipsing through the icy house en route to the fridge was intimidating, so instead I tossed and turned in my comfy bed hoping to drift back to dreamland.  I didn’t drift. 

I listened to the furnace that clicked and hummed relentlessly, greedily consuming the liquid gold (heating oil) from the tank and made a mental note to call Dan the furnace man for the annual tune-up. 

There have been several break-in’s recently in the township, so subconsciously I was on alert for sounds of a prowler.  Was my gun handy?  Had I remembered to reload after I had to shoot that poor rat last summer?  Oh well, not to worry.  There was no prowler; just the winds that seemed to grow more ferocious by the minute. 

I thought about the two big pine trees that list toward the house.  What if the wind blew them over?  They’d crash right where I was not sleeping.  Would I be able to collect my dogs and crawl from the rubble or would we all die under a pile of shattered timbers?  Oh, so many things to think about at 3:00 a.m…. Winter night sounds aren’t soothing and friendly like those of the other seasons. 

In the springtime the night air is filled with the shrill peepers’ song and the calls of mating foxes.  By summer the chorus frogs and the bull frogs have taken over.  The screech owls and party-crazed raccoons add their voices to the darkness along with singing coyotes.  The wind chimes on the porch tinkle in the breeze and even the gentle summer rains are soothing and sleep-inducing. 

My windows remain open even to the autumn night, so it’s easy to hear the sounds of critters moving about in the fallen leaves.  The chimes become louder in the breeze that passes through the rooms and cause me to pull the covers to my chin.  But those gentle seasons are gone.  Winter has arrived.

The windows are closed now and I’ve hung heavy draperies on the them,  but I can still hear the clanging chimes.  They sound raucous, not gentle and as I laid there I wondered if the tubes were getting all tangled up again.  Would I have to restring them.  I pondered whether I should take them down if morning ever came. 

Of course morning did come and the well-rested critters greeted the day with their usual enthusiasm.  Animals live in the moment and even when dawn has not yet broken, they know it’s a new day and every new day is wonderful and exciting. 

They know they’ll get to go outside and sniff the air for new smells, pee and then come in and have their breakfast.  There might even be some leftovers topping the kibble.  It’s all something to celebrate!  And so, while I didn’t feel very rested myself as I plodded down the stairs this morning, I took my clue from the four-legged optimists with whom I live and decided that I too would celebrate this blustery day.  It was snowing when I went to the barn.  Hooray for winter.
10:48 am est          Comments

Friday, November 26, 2010

Do animals grieve?
            To keep the wood shavings from drifting from the donkeys’ stall I placed a snug-fitting, but unattached board under the bottom rail of the stall wall.  For the past several months, upon entering the barn each morning I’d find the 1” x 6” piece of lumber pushed out a few inches, a tell-tale sign that a nocturnal visitor had passed through.  I’d shove the board back in place with the tip of my boot without giving it a second thought.

But today, as I entered the barnyard Corkey was standing at the fence staring into the road.  Lying dead center, next to the barn was the subject of his interest.  Judging from the donkey’s behavior the big raccoon was the nightly visitor.  I’d seen tell-tale footprints on the stairs going to the loft.  He probably stopped by for an ear of corn or whatever treat might have been handy.  Little wonder he was so robust looking, but he hadn’t been fast enough crossing the road.  Poor thing.

Donkeys’ have very expressive eyes and Corkey’s looked sad.  Of course some people would say he was just exhibiting curiosity, not grief.  “Animals don’t have feelings,” said one guy.  I disagree.

Whether Corkey was unhappy because the coon was dead can’t be known for certain, but anyone who lives with and really observes animals knows that they do indeed grieve.  I’ve seen it too many times to deny this.  When their goat friend Pain died and was buried in the back corner of the paddock, Corkey and Andy held a graveside wake for several days, standing at the mound from morning until night.

When my old dog Dorothy died after sixteen happy years, her canine pal Margie fell into a deep depression.  We laid Dorothy’s shrouded body next to the grave being dug.  Margie repeatedly nudged her dead friend with a look of hopeful expectation.  When at last we lowered the big dog into her final resting place, Margie climbed in with her, desperately pushing at the unresponsive corpse.  After the burial each time she went outside Margie hurried to the grave and laid atop the loose soil keeping a pathetic vigil for many days.  There have been other similar instances, so why do naysayers refuse to accept animals’ grief? 
            I think that by denying that anything other than their own kind can experience emotion exempts a person from acknowledging the interconnectedness of the world.  By diminishing other life forms it makes some people feel more important than they actually are in the big picture.  It tells a great deal about that person.
7:13 pm est          Comments

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A day of genuine thanks-giving.
            What I like to think of as the “odd fellows” Thanksgiving took on a life of its own and turned into a really lovely day.  I’m truly thankful for my wonderful daughter and for all the special people in my life that shared this harvest celebration.  It was a lot of work, but worth the effort.  Many of the foods had come from my garden or one of my neighbors.  I love to cook, but in retrospect I went overboard! 

The menu included mashed potatoes (my daughter’s contribution along with rolls), acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, cranberries and pecans, dressing (made in a pan) along with vegetarian gravy (very good, I might add…), beets (the end of the seasons crop), corn (from neighbor Ben that I froze this past summer), fruit salad (compliments of another guest, but enhanced with pears from my tree), roast chicken for the meat-eaters (purchased prepared from the deli), pumpkin pie (neighbor Sandy’s pumpkins) and a big bowl of coleslaw that I forgot to put out and now must try to give away.  Some guests brought chocolates and T. brought beautiful flowers and there was wine.

I had every intention of photographing the day, but like the coleslaw, that too was forgotten.  I am grateful for my life of abundance, both in comforts and very special people.
7:37 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The day before no-turkey day.
November's the month many turkeys will die.
"Off with their heads!" the executioners cry.
Vegetarians like me nibble carrots and greens and try to
Enjoy our rice and our beans.
My conscience is clear, my arteries too. 
But I've got to confess, I'm sick of tofu. 
Except for the pies, piled high with whipped cream
Rations are skimpy on the vegetarian scene.

There's a lot to do in preparation for tomorrow when my table will be ringed with a strange assortment of guests all of whom are willing to forego the traditional fare. There will be no turkey, but this hasn't seemed to be a deterrent. The table will be full, so my work is cut out.  Time to bake the pies....
10:15 am est          Comments

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Block buster.
            I’m delighted that the difficulty I’ve been experiencing with my writing, AKA writer’s block is broken.  Whew!  Nothing is worse than sitting down to the computer with a feeling that I have nothing to say, especially when editors are counting on me.  It’s a great relief to be back in my normal writing routine, but then I have some very interesting subjects right now. 
I’m currently working on a piece about goats, so this afternoon I drove up to Teddy West’s dairy goat farm.  Teddy is a remarkable woman with decades experience with these gentle creatures.  She currently has 300 Saanen goats.  Her dairy goat farm is the largest in the state.
           One might expect so many goats to stink or to be unpleasant company, but quite the opposite is true.  The goats are lovely, very clean and remarkably friendly.  The barn ambiance was uniquely peaceful and I could have stayed there all day.  I’ve learned that globally there are 300 distinct goat breeds, but about 145 common breeds.  Goats are one of the earliest domesticated species and few animals compare in versatility.  They are used for milk, meat, fiber, skin, pets and even to pull carts.  Researching this subject is fascinating.               
              For instance, everyone knows that a scapegoat is the guy who takes the blame, but the origin of this term goes back to Biblical times.  On Yom Kippur two goats were chosen and lots were drawn for them.  One was slaughtered, while the other one was turned free in the wilderness to symbolically carry away the sins of the community, hence the term “scape goat.”
            I’ve had my own love affair with goats in the past and have politely declined a couple freebies in recent times, but being with them today as Teddy heralded their many attributes has almost made me reconsider.  Hopefully I’ll come to my senses before I do something foolish!
7:51 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 22, 2010

Waste not, want not.
Mosaic law: "And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field…,

            I’m certain the heaps of unharvested corn in the corners of todays fields are not left there because the farmer was following any religious teaching.  The corn remains unpicked because of mechanical malfunction on the corners.  Modern agriculture leaves a lot of food to rot on the ground.  

           So, when Sandy appeared in my kitchen with the announcement that she had just picked up a big bucket full of corn from the field across the road the sunny day beckoned me away from the tasks at hand to join her in gleaning the field for more.

“This society sure wastes a lot, doesn’t it?” she said rhetorically as we filled bucket after bucket.  Muck buckets in the barn are heaped and there's still more to glean.

            Yesterday, armed with his chainsaw T. cut up a couple of trees the winds had taken down.  Today I started hauling the heavy logs to a central spot where later we will split them, but I still have many loads to ferry to that spot.            

I feel a bit like the squirrel that chatters a greeting each day as I head to the barn.  He stops burying the acorns or walnuts, sits back on his haunches and says, “good morning” in squirrel talk.  In a couple of months he too will be enjoying the corn now stashed in the barn.  A finishing nail partially-pounded into a tree branch makes a good cob holder and costs nothing.  The squirrels and the jays are regular diners there.

            I like the physical labor involved in preparing for the harsh weather ahead.  The hay room is stacked high with sweet-smelling bales.  There’s already enough firewood to keep me and the animals warm even when the furnace goes out as it usually does on the coldest night of the year.  And the chickens, squirrels and the wild birds will have plenty of corn to keep them satiated.  Really, all we need is pretty much here for the taking, but Sandy’s observation was spot on.  This society sure wastes a lot.
7:03 pm est          Comments

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Does justice really exist?

"Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake.  Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our souls when we look the other way."
  --- Martin Luther King

            I’m having a difficult time concentrating on my work.  I can’t seem to get word one written although I have several articles that must be done.  The reason?   I’m consumed with anger and frustration over the current situation at our local dog pound.  In a nutshell, last year a good warden who genuinely cared about dogs and had progressive ideas was fired.  His “at will” dismissal was the work of a sorry lot of commissioners with whom there were obvious personality clashes.

            That was bad enough, but the inept creature that was hired eight months ago to replace him has negated all the good work and progress of her predecessor.  Two of the three commissioners lost their political bids this month and will be gone by year’s end, so what do they care about addressing the mess they’ve created?  They care not at all.  Who suffers?  The helpless, four-legged souls that for whatever reason find themselves imprisoned in the hell hole and at the mercy of sadistic employees that enjoy impunity from the law.

            I think about this injustice almost constantly and it has distracted me from my own life.  It’s extremely disconcerting to believe people are inherently good, only to discover that is not the case at all.  Hence, this distraction is having an unproductive and unacceptable effect on my own life.  This is the reason there was no post yesterday. 

          I am looking for ways to mitigate the horrid events that have befallen some families due to the apathy, ego and ineptitude of the aforementioned people.  To do nothing would be wrong.

8:06 pm est          Comments

Friday, November 19, 2010

Where the money goes--and where it does not.

            Each night, during prime time viewing, when advertising costs are highest the Humane Society of the United States runs a lengthy fundraising commercial. Heart-wrenching images with female voice over tell the viewer how HSUS is “saving” lives of the suffering animals like those on the screen.  The speaker, choked with emotion goes on to plead for “your donation…,” so that HSUS can continue its valuable work “rescuing” animals.  I could just picture little old ladies on fixed incomes pulling out their check books.

            Having a personal history in animal welfare I am well aware of the deception in this nightly ploy.  Last night my outrage over the blatantly- misleading and duplicitous film reached the boiling point and I called the toll-free number. 

           A granny-like voice answered and immediately thanked me for the donation she presumed I was going to make.  She was quickly informed that was not the reason for my call.  I explained my objection to the commercial and demanded some stats from the poor old girl who was obviously not used to dealing with matters such as h
ow many shelters HSUS operates or directly supports.  

           “Oh, many, many all across the country,” said granny with all sincerity.  Not true!  In fact less than one half of one percent (.45%) of HSUS funds go to any hands-on shelter.  It’s a pittance.  Granny got quite an earful which of course only flustered her, but served as a vent for my anger.  The poor old lady probably just works in a fundraising boiler room for minimum wage if she’s lucky.  ($40.00 is spent to generate $100.00 in donations.)  After acknowledging her position as mere call taker, I said I was sorry if it seemed I had targeted her personally, but stated that I wished to register a formal complaint (which she did not take).

            The point is;  how many naïve animal lovers actually believe that HSUS is involved in the acts of rescue, spay/neuter, or sheltering implied by the disturbing nightly film footage?  Based on financial data, far too many, I’m sure.  It isn’t easy to check on the finances of this organization, but it’s not impossible either.  HSUS has been targeted by many diligent investigative journalists and charity watchdogs and their findings are more disturbing than the images that flash across television screens every evening.  What began in 1954 with 30,000 members and a budget of $500,000.00 was a genuine, non-profit,“animal welfare” organization.  The HSUS of today is something quite different.

            According to 2009 tax forms (available on line after weeding through seemingly endless of pages of self-aggrandizement) HSUS has $101 million in assets and holdings, plus another $49 million in temporary savings and cash.  $28.4 million goes to employee salaries with an additional $4.7 million in benefits.  President Wayne Pacelle pulls in a tidy $252,000.00 annual salary.  While HSUS has more than enough money to set up and operate a shelter in every state, they have not a single one.  I will concede that as lobbyists HSUS is effective largely due to name recognition and perception, but why not be truthful about their agenda?  Doesn’t anyone still believe that “honesty is the best policy?”

            Organizations that track and grade non-profits do not give HSUS a good score at all.  The American Institute of Philanthropy was most generous in granting them a C-minus.  Charity Navigator has also been following HSUS for many years, consistently down-grading their rating to its current 1 star ranking (the lowest).  When Yellow Tail wine announced plans to donate a percentage of their sales to HSUS the outcry from an informed public caused them to renege.  The winery now only gives to hands-on non-profits involved in rescue, care, spay/neuter, etc.  Thank you Cassella Wines!

            The information stated in this blog comes from many sources, including HSUS 2009 financial statement.  My reason for sharing just a tiny bit of what is readily available to anyone who really cares about animal welfare is to point out that real animal welfare efforts take place every day right in one’s own back yard. 

            In my opinion independent local cat, dog, horse or wildlife rescues that operate on shoe-string budgets and are manned by dedicated volunteers are far more worthy recipients of donations, especially now.  They won’t be able to send you a glossy calendar or thousands of return address labels or unrequested greeting cards, but they will be able to show you firsthand how your donation is being used. 


1:52 pm est          Comments

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not a Martha Stewart idea.

             “The plumber is coming…,”  Sandy announced yesterday morning.  After the white van pulled out of the driveway up the road a white toilet with a wooden seat remained sitting in front of the garage.

            “Please tell me you are NOT planning to plant flowers in that thing,” I pleaded.  I have never understood why rural people think that old plumbing fixtures are suitable planters.  They are not!!!

            The cement Virgin Mary posed inside an up-ended bathtub still boggles my mind!  I imagine how this idea was hatched.  The family (that I have never met) sits down to dinner and over fried chicken and mashed potatoes mom presents the notion;  "You know that old bathtub...," she begins.  Heads raise from their plates and dad says, “Hey, what a terrific idea!  Our very own shrine!” 

           They hastily finish the meal, even foregoing dessert and hurry off to get the shovel and paint since Mary in white porcelain tub might seem sacrilegious.  So the tub is painted blue to contrast with the yellow cement goose and the green cement frog that even today are reverently keeping Mary company.  Like I said, what are people thinking???

            Sandy's attributes as a friend are beyond measure, but she does have some curious decorating ideas.  There’s already a large galvanized water trough painted John Deere green that has a farmer-on-tractor whirligig at either end.  And until last year a birdbath base with a bowling bowl where the basin should be simulated a reflecting ball like those in Victorian gardens, but the black bowling ball didn't reflect anything.  Ultimately it vanished, but you see why the appearance of the toilet gave me reason to worry.

            “Nooooo, I’m gonna plant strawberries in it,” said my friend as if that would somehow make a toilet planter less appalling.  Oh dear…. 

7:57 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A wild night.


The winds howled and roared and it sounded as if the house might cave in.  Julie nervously scratched and paced.  Then a tree crashed outside my window.  At 3:00 A.M. I gave Julie a Benadril and tried unsuccessfully to ignore Mother Nature's ruckus.  It was a relief when dawn finally broke.  In spite of the night-time chaos there is currently a celebration underway.

            “Do you think she’s gone for good,” says Buddy.

            “Oh geez, I sure hope so.  I haven’t had a break since she got here,” answers Poppy.

            They are discussing the early morning disappearance of Tiny, the terror who left at 7:30 this morning to be spayed.  I haven’t mentioned that she’ll be back tomorrow.  Let them enjoy the temporary tranquility.

            When Tiny moved from the barn to the house she immediately imposed herself on all of the other animals.  The dogs instantly adored here, but the cats, none of which are youngsters were less enthusiastic.  Nevertheless Tiny forced them to engage in wrestling matches, races and games they haven’t played in years.  The entire feline gang has been rejuvenated and with the exception of Little Ivy who prefers to think of herself as a dog and does not fraternize with any of the cats, the others appear to actually like their little sister.

            I’m sure that major abdominal surgery won’t slow her down.  So far she has pulled down the living room curtains, bending the rod in the process, pruned once-luxurious house plants to about one third their pre-Tiny size, claimed all the best sleeping spots in the house (even those that are off limits) and has basically taken charge of the place.  This kitty doesn’t realize how lucky she was to be dumped here.  Just look at her transformation!

2:22 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting back in the groove.


            It isn’t easy to catch up after a few days away, especially now that the weather has turned nasty.  Chores seem take longer when one is bundled up against the chill and the rain.  

In addition to writing projects several dear friends of mine have birthdays this week, so tonight I decided to make dinners for a couple of them to enjoy tomorrow.  I’ve used just about every pan and bowl in the kitchen, but the resulting products look delicious.  I hope they will be delighted.

            It’s no secret that I’m a bargain hunter and a frugal shopper, so when I found self-rising flour on sale I foolishly thought the difference would be negligible.  I thought it just meant omitting leavening agents in any recipes.  Well, yes, but….  How is one to know the ratio of flour to baking powder or soda?  I simply left out the prescribed amount of baking powder from my favorite apple kuchen when I used the new flour.  What a surprise!

            It was like Mount Vesuvius in my oven.  A virtual explosion of apples and pastry.  What a mess!  The good news was that the remaining kuchen was very moist and light.  Yummy, but dare I use this stuff again?   My stove was also purchased at a thrift store and the self-cleaning oven does not work, so these two bargains are questionable trade-offs.  I think I’m going to pitch the bargain flour and spring for the tried and true. 


8:32 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 15, 2010

From green to grunge.

            Walking is meditative and meditation frees one’s mind of trivia.  Minus the trivia it’s easier to focus on tasks at hand, so prior to getting down to writing this morning I set off sans dogs for a brisk, two mile, mind-clearing jaunt, but the junket instead turned into a road-clearing venture.  While some walkers find it easy to blindly saunter past the blight of litter on this road, I’m not one of them. 

            Beer cans (…and it’s always that cheap swill that no self-respecting beer connoisseur would ever think of touching) were so plentiful that it looked as if the roadside had been mulched with aluminum.  I flattened and stuffed two bags with flattened cans.  Rather than a mind-freeing toddle the outing was aerobic and stimulating.  The road to the north of my driveway is now can-free.  Next time I’ll pick up the bottles.  I’m appalled at the slobs who travel this once-peaceful byway! 

            Having just returned from tidy Toronto (okay, so there were a few homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk, but no litter…) to my own community where seemingly no one gives a rat's patootie about the environment was maddening, not meditative.  I’ve consoled myself with the knowledge that the ‘good deed bin’ is already half filled.  The ‘good deed bin’ is a canvas container about as big as a mid-sized trash can.  When it’s full of aluminum I take it to the scrap yard where typically I’m paid about $7.00.  That's peanuts compared to the take of the motley crew that’s usually there hauling in truckloads of scrap ranging from washing machines to granny’s silverware. 

            The paltry remuneration goes into my ‘good deed canister’ at home and when a respectable amount accumulates I donate it to an animal welfare cause.  The roadside gets cleaned up and some animals get a little help.  Sure, it’s a win-win deal, but such disrespect of the environment is infuriating rather than calming.

4:30 pm est          Comments

The greenest city in the world.

            I’ve just returned from Toronto, the place whose stated goal is to become “the greenest city in the world.”  That’s quite a target, but this beautiful and exciting metropolis is well on its way thanks to an educated and committed population.  Cohesive efforts to reduce waste and minimize its carbon footprint, to recycle and repurpose are evident in the most unexpected places.   No effort is considered too small or insignificant, so the cumulative effect is very dramatic and impressive.  Toronto is an inspiring city, but I still prefer the country life.  ‘Guess I’m just a hayseed at heart.

            Now I have to really buckle down and get to work.  A key project is an article about the history of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair which was essentially the purpose of the trip.  The Fair is the largest indoor agricultural show in the entire world and it is an amazing event, to say the least.  Held each November for the past 88 years it draws international participants.  In addition to hundreds of demonstrations, exhibitions and events, the Royal is an opportunity to see some of the world’s very best equine competitors in all disciplines as they compete for $750,000.00 in prize money.

            While there my fellow writer friend H. and I stayed at a B&B.  The comfortable turn of the century home was conveniently located downtown, nicely appointed and affordable.  Our first night there I awakened in the early hours and saw a diaphanous apparition hovering near the ceiling.  I watched the ghostly shape as it moved about and of course looked for a logical explanation, such as light from another source, but there was none.   The second night H. was awakened when her bed began to shake.  My own bed was quiet and I was unaware of any disturbance until she told me about it the following morning.  We both believe it’s safe to conclude that the house has a spirit in residence.

            This was neither frightening, nor surprising to me.  My former husband, daughter and I lived with a poltergeist for nearly a decade. After several years in that house we decided to tear out a built-in bookcase/desk in the sunroom, That's when an old photograph fell from its hiding place between the wall and the desk.  I took the picture over to the old lady who lived next door and asked if she recognized the man who held a young girl on his shoulder.  “Why yes, that was Mr. H. and Virginia.  She died when she was only eight years old….” 

            her story continued. The girl had died of "consumption" in what was my daughter’s bedroom.  The distraught mother refused to allow the body to be removed from the house for several days.  Suddenly the previously-unexplained childish laughter, the moving objects, the opening and closing doors and countless other occurences made sense. Our fourth “family member” was mischievous, but never malicious.  I often wonder if the couple who bought that house when my husband and I separated came to know Virginia.

            Whether others believe in the paranormal is irrelevant to me.  Living with Virginia was not my only experience with the spirit world.  I believe communication with past souls is possible if one is open, receptive and unafraid of the unknown.  I’m considering emailing the host of the Toronto B&B to share what H. and I experienced.  It would be interesting to know if others have reported similar visitations.

            But for now it’s back to my un-ethereal small country life where the only recent visitors have been some deer, a red fox and a few two-legged friends.

9:43 am est          Comments

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tuesday evening.


            It’s been a hectic day getting ready to set off for Toronto early tomorrow morning.  Normally I’m packed and ready to go a week ahead of time, but events of the past few days have set me back. 

            I’m going to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the largest indoor ag show in the world.  It’s been held each November since 1923 in the beautiful Ricoh Exhibition Center which of course has been enlarged since the inception of this affair.  Hence, there will be no blog posts until the weekend.

            The dogs always know something is up as soon as the suitcase comes out of the closet, but neighbor Sandy will be here to hold down the fort.  She spoils all of the animals, so while they pretend sadness at my departure, they adore Sandy and I always know everything is under control.

            I hope to have some interesting stories to post following this trip.  Toronto is a fabulous city and I’m going to try to explore some new places.  So until the weekend….

8:42 pm est          Comments

Monday, November 8, 2010

Making a date with death.


Remember my friend as you pass by

As you are now so once was I.

As I am now, so you will be.

Prepare for death and follow me.

                            (From a Revolutionary War grave.)

The week got off to a very bad start.  Today was scheduled to be Betty’s last day of life.  This decision was and always has been the most difficult part of living with and loving animals.  She had stopped eating and drinking over the weekend.  Attempts to get a few drops of water into her were rejected and only seemed to upset her.  Her body temperature had cooled and she smelled bad.  She’d taken refuge inside the big cupboard in the living room, preferring the hard cherry shelf to the soft bed that has been her comfort zone for the past few weeks.  I’d so hoped that death would come naturally, but I could not in good conscience allow her to linger.  I called the vet.

            What is the worst part?  Is it making the decision and the phone call ?  Is it waiting until the appointment? Is it digging the grave to receive the body that's still breathing?  Or is it the drive to the clinic?  I guess each of these facets is equally dreadful.

           The appointment was for 3:45 PM.  To pass the horrible wait I dug her grave under the lilac bush where the soil was so dry and hard it was like trying to dig through concrete.  I fervently hoped I wouldn't disinter a previously planted feline since the lilac bush has been the kitty graveyard for decades.  At last it was time.

            I got a towel from the linen cupboard; just one of the old ones used for dog baths and went to where Betty lay sleeping.  As gently as possible I lifted her fragile body and wrapped her in the terrycloth.  Did she guess why I had disturbed her?  With the tiny bit of strength that remained she struggled and sank her claws into my face.  It hurt like hell as the blood streamed down my cheek, but not as much as my heart hurt.  I placed her shrouded form in the box on the floor of the truck and slowly drove toward her date with the Grim Reaper.

            Half way to the clinic she gasped, spasmed and I could tell she was in the throes of death.  I was pretty sure she was gone by the time I reached the clinic.  There the good doctor confirmed my suspicion.  “She’s gone,” he said as he lifted the stethoscope from her chest.  It was such a blessing.  This has not been an easy day.

5:52 pm est          Comments

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Listen to one's inner voice!

            I had the best intentions for today.  Thanks to the time change the dogs and I were up very early this morning.  After a luxurious hour or so by the fire with a mug of good coffee and a good book my day began.  I looked at the ‘to do’ list, which was long indeed and was just deciding which task to tackle when the phone rang.  It was my bargain shopper friend Stef.  She was calling from a tag sale to tell me about a rug she thought would interest me.  It was the right size and the price certainly sounded like a bargain.  The only problem was that it was not the sort of rug I had in mind.

            My inner voice said, “Stay at home and work on these projects! You don't need that rug!”  Did I listen?  NO.  The next thing I knew I was in my truck driving to a sale in another city and before I could say DON’T BUY THAT, the rug was in my truck.  As I drove towards home I knew I hated it.  Long story short;  I’ve been beating myself up all day for not doing the things that really need to be done, for spending money on something I don’t like and for not listening to my inner voice.  The rug is now on Craigslist.  It will be a great bargain for someone, but it won’t be on my living room floor.

            Last evening neighbor Sandy arrived with two more sweaters for Julie who now has a winter wardrobe more extensive than my own.  She is such a stringbean and her hair is not thick and lavish like Ted’s so I expect she will wear these sweaters all winter.  She loves them.  The first one made her look like a Dr. Seuss character, but that one is now covered with nettles, so she’s already on sweater number two.  If anyone knows how to easily remove these bothersome prickers from clothing, please let me know.  I’ve tried a lint roller (what a joke) and duct tape (didn’t work either), so I’m eager to hear any suggestions. 

            Other than planting the daffodil bulbs, hauling the salt in for the water softener and taking dinner to T. who is ill with the flu, this has been a rather unproductive and unsatisfying day.  I should have stayed on the sofa with coffee and a book. 

5:53 pm est          Comments

Saturday, November 6, 2010


            Two days ago, as I approached a traffic light just a few miles from home a bald eagle flew across the intersection.  I could hardly believe my eyes, but I do know a bald eagle when I see one.  I quickly phoned my wildlife rehabilitator friend Fran to confirm the identification.  Fran is a raptor specialist.     

            “Yes, I’m not surprised,” she said.  “Their reintroduction to the area has been very successful.”

            I was delighted and thought certainly that the sighting would be a one-time shot, but this morning I saw the bird again, so it’s been a double delight.  Sadly, there is one impending bit of gloom that dampens any and all delights.  Old Betty, the cat who has been in Hospice Care for some time is approaching the end of her long life. 

            I’ve had Betty for about 18 years, all of which time she has been the perfect pet, unlike several other feline family members.  Her health and vigor has been declining for about the past six months and the vet has done as much as possible, but concurs that so long as she is in no discomfort there was no reason to “put her to sleep.” 

            I detest that ridiculous phrase which is clearly intended to lessen pet owners’ guilt over deciding the day of death for an animal.  I do however think that doing so is the supreme act of love when an animal is suffering.  Betty has not suffered.  Until this morning she ravenously ate small meals at least ten times a day.  No hard foods for old Betty who used to monitor the continuous feeder to make sure it was always full.  Now it’s little jars of Beechnut Baby Food at eighty-nine cents a jar, or whipped cream in a bowl or sometimes the liquid from a can of tuna.  Anything she would or could eat has been offered.  Now, she turns away from everything but dollops of Redi-Whip.  I bought another can this morning.

            Animals (and people too) have a certain look in their eyes when they see the Grim Reaper at their door.  It’s heartbreaking and I have not dealt well with dying loved ones in the past. I can accept death itself, but have never been good at comforting the dying. Determined to do better this time I pat her bony head each time I pass by just to remind her that she’s been a wonderful kitty and that she is still much loved.  I hope she just passes in her sleep.

2:27 pm edt          Comments

Friday, November 5, 2010

A nose to the grindstone day.

Cold today, but friend Stef visited and we went up to Kenny’s to glean his fields.  Farmer Chuck’s harvester did an awfully good job, so gleaning was skimpy, but a pleasant pastime nevertheless.  The cows in this cornfield which I photographed yesterday seem to find gleaning as enjoyable as I do.

            Other than this diversion all I did was work on writing projects, make a pot of soup and visit with former neighbor Rambo who promised to return with his chain saw to cut some firewood for me.  I never turn down such offers.

7:26 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November in Mt. Hope.

            In the town nearest where I live merchants are selling puny, anemic-looking corn shocks for $5.00 and people are snatching them up to decorate their homes, going for that “country” look.  In Mt. Hope the corn shocks are generous and sturdy and serve an actual purpose.  When dry and needed they will be hauled into the barns and used for bedding, but until then they present Kodak moments too lovely to pass by.  I pulled off the road to snap a few images of the way Amish fields are put to rest for the winter.

            One wouldn’t expect politics to be such a hot topic in the Amish community, but my story subject Daniel is probably more informed on the subject than most voters (yes, some Amish do go to the polls).  While one might expect the pacifists to be liberal, this isn’t necessarily so.  It’s a subject I was not eager to discuss.          

            By the time Daniel and I had wrapped up our interview and he’d graciously pulled his latest restoration project (a roof-seat brake) outside for me to photograph the day had turned gray and cold, but it was beautiful while it lasted. 

            Before leaving the shop in the old barn where Daniel restores what look like pieces of junk back to a pristine condition I asked to use the restroom.  I’ve been visiting this place for many years, but had avoided the necessity until today.  “It’s back where that towel’s hanging.  Just pull on the towel and the door will open,” said my host.

            The towel hung on the narrowest door imaginable. Could I even squeeze through it?  What looked more like a medicine cupboard than a bathroom was about two feet above the floor level with just a broken wooden step to aid my ascent into the tiny dank chamber.  Pulling a button to the left of the door ignited a dim propane lamp inside and shown on an ancient toilet seat that looked like it was intended for toddlers. This was no place to linger, but the hand of Daniel’s late father Alvin was clearly visible in that funny little room. 

            Alvin’s sense of humor was well known, so I wasn’t too surprised to see lettered on the wall  ‘4-U-2-P’ with an arrow pointing toward a hole in the floor.  If anyone ever has a contest for unique bathrooms, this one will take first prize.  Too bad I’d left my camera in the shop.

6:53 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A day with the dead.


            What a glorious afternoon!  The sun cast its golden glow and warmth on the day making it perfect for a long walk with my “hunting dogs.”  Even though our walking route is all posted with NO HUNTING signs, this time of year they all wear flourescent orange collars just in case.....To extend our venture today we went to the old cemetery. 
            Approaching the graveyard Ernie was very nervous.  Suddenly he let out a blood-curdling scream and bolted off with his tail tucked between his legs.  One might have thought he’d seen a ghost although I saw nothing scarier than a flock of mourning doves congregated in a tree.  After some reassuring words and pats he followed his pals through the headstones, but he was clearly uncomfortable.
  (He's trying to look relaxed in this photo, but he's sitting as close to the road and as far from the really old graves as possible.)
            The cemetery is now a paupers field where the occasional indigent is put to rest, but most of the graves are from the early 19th century.  Some of the hand -cut epitaphs are as clean and sharp as if they’d been carved yesterday.  The graves hint of the hardships of the times when many children died before their fifth birthday.  “…Aged 3 years, 2 months and 4 days…”  Many were from the same family.  It’s hard to imagine what life was like here nearly two centuries ago.

            One of the dead has a connection to this farm. Elizabeth Steffy was the “Consort of Peter Graugh.”  I laid down on the dry grass between her head and foot stones.  She must have been about my size.  Lying there amidst the old stones that no one visits anymore, feeling the spirits of another time was peaceful and lovely.  I really didn’t want to leave although Ernie was eager to get back to more familiar places.

3:28 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election day.


            I swing the gate closed at the end of the driveway and shut out the world—or at least I try to.  Behind the fence I’m in control. Beyond the gate it’s a different story.  On my side of the fence is a very small Utopia, where life is sacred, fair and honest.  It's a place where Nature presents no threats nor lies and where for the most part, peace and civility reign.  Even if this is just a fanciful delusion it is how I choose to live.  Beyond the gate is chaos, corruption and greed. 

            This is especially true today because it’s election day.  I no longer believe my vote counts.  I no longer believe in a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I believe that he who has the most money wins.  And where does that money come from?  It comes from corporations which the Supreme Court gave permission to anonymously dish out as they wish to the candidate who will help them increase their profits.  Of course said candidates will tell constituents that they are obliging to no one, but we all know that is not true.

            Ignorance is bliss and I once was happy.  I marched for civil rights. I went door to door passing out literature for those I believed to be ethical and trustworthy. Time and time again I was optimistic and actually believed that justice and fairness would prevail if only the truth were known.  I’m no longer ignorant. Today I am depressed.

7:07 pm edt          Comments

Monday, November 1, 2010

Booger contemplating the Christmas cactus.
9:15 pm edt          Comments

A scary night?

            Yesterday was Halloween and thankfully, like every year I’ve lived here there were no trick or treaters.  I think that in today’s society Halloween (a time for scary stuff) is redundant.  Modern society is afraid of everything anyway.  Paranoia reigns!  Does a Walmart costume really frighten anyone?

            While there were no human visitors, there was obviously a lot of partying going on in the animal kingdom.  The garden shed was a mess this morning.  Things had been thrown from the shelves and the water bowl bore a smear of muddy foot prints.  Outside, the trash can was turned on its side.  I suspect Rocky Raccoon and friends were here.

            Perhaps the inside gang knew what was going on outside because they were very restless, hence my own night was restless.  Cats patrolled the house, going from window to window rather than going to sleep.  They opened cupboard doors and knocked things over.  The dogs too were fidgety.  Julie paced and rattled her tags.  Ernie moaned more than usual and only Ted seemed oblivious to all the distractions.  He blissfully snored and snuffled the night away.

            At 6:00 AM I dragged myself out of bed to start the new week.  When the door opened to let the dogs outside, with incredible energy they all bolted into the darkness and vanished in the woods amidst great commotion.  I suspect they surprised the merrymakers.  They returned looking like giant porcupines, covered with nettles.  And so the day began….

            My daughter and I had Chinese take-away for dinner yesterday.  It’s been several years since I’ve had any Chinese food and I feel quite certain that several more years will pass before I have it again.  Not that it wasn’t good.  It was fine, but as I now recall, it is not sleep-inducing fare.  The chickens had rice and chop suey this morning. 

            They make me laugh.  I go to the barn quite early and since animals, unlike humans confront each day with great enthusiasm and always expect something wonderful, the chooks eagerly gather outside the barn door which I leave agape while doing chores to see if I’ve come bearing some treat; something more exciting than the scratch feed in their trough.  So, this morning when I dumped out the little containers of foreign fare they all stood in a circle, as if having a conference about whether they should try this unusual breakfast. 

            I think they elect someone, probably their least favorite flock member and order that bird to taste whatever the mystery food might be.  Today one of the three musketeers (the young trio from the spring hatch) tried the rice, pronounced it edible, but bland and in a flash the rice, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and snow peas vanished.  Chickens are the ultimate recyclers.  Chop suey goes in, eggs come out.  What a deal!

11:11 am edt          Comments

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