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Monday, December 31, 2012



Unemployed and disillusioned he stood in the doorway, staring out at the snow that continued to pile up.  He was waiting and as I opened the gate to the barnyard he cast an angry glare in my direction, then pulled a piece of molding from the door jamb.  I knew he wasn't happy.

"Can't you do something? Don't you know that I'm a MEDITERANIAN DONKEY?  My ancestors come from Sicily! My blood is thin and I hate this weather!"he said, ripping off another bit of trim.  Andy stood helplessly behind his grumpy stall pal.  Nothing bothers Andy.  He's a very accepting and agreeable ass, but I do suspect that he was involved in some of the recent hooliganism.

The 'snow boat' is a life saver in this weather.  It's actually a large plastic baby bath tub with a couple of holes drilled in the rim through which I'd threaded a rope.  It's wonderfully handy for hauling buckets from the pump to the barn when there's snow on the ground-- much easier than carrying the sloshing water.  This year I fitted the rope with a wooden handle which made pulling it more comfortable. I was quite pleased with the simple retrofit. 

The snow boat seemed indestructible, so I left it outside the barn door and wasn't surprised the bad asses briefly amused themselves by pulling it around, but the following morning I discovered the rope untied and the wooden handle nowhere to be found.  Andy says that Corky was responsible and that he has hidden the handle so I won't find it until springtime.  I've replaced it with a piece of garden hose, but....

Even poor Gladys felt Corky's cockiness.  Each morning the hen hops onto his back while he's eating and until the current snow storm Corky tolerated the hitch hiker. Today he flung his head back and rudely knocked poor Gladys to the floor.  "...And don't come back!"  I doubt that she will.

Since weather conditions are beyond my control it's doubtful that I've seen the last of his mischief.  This bad ass is proof that a donkey without a job is not a happy fellow.  Maybe I should rig up a harness and make him haul the snow boat loaded with water buckets, but then again, that might be more trouble than it's worth.  Oh well, the dogs and I love the snow even if Corky doesn't.


6:21 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 29, 2012



In my mind few things compare in beauty and awesomeness to an untrampled pristine snowfall.  The world is transformed to the most essential elements.  No lush foliage, just skeletons of the trees.  No mud, no grays, nor browns, nor greens; just the piercing whiteness and a quiet unlike any other time of the year. It's perfect!

Maybe the reason I love winter is because so few other people share my enthusiasm for it.  Last night as flakes began to fall in earnest I came upon a coyote standing close to the road in an unspoiled field of fresh snow.  I looked at him. He looked at me, then trotted off a short way and turned again to see if I was still there. it was the treat of the day.

I could hardly wait for morning, determined to get serious about cross-country skiing, a sport I used to really enjoy, but one not indulged in for a couple of years.  I called up friends to see if anyone had an interest in joining me, but as expected no one didThat was fine because I enjoy solitude.  The skis had been taken down from the rafters yesterday.  They waited, clean and waxed, so I'd have no excuse this morning.  My too-tight ski pants were another reminder that it was now or never; this really was day #1 of a long-procrastinated ‘get fit ' program.

The road crew had salted the pavement during the night, so the trip would be all cross-country.  I was undeterred.  The fear-monger forecasters had done a great job of sending all the scaredy-cats to the grocery stores before the snow began so there wasn't a soul to be seen. The world was mine as I set off with an ultra-light pack to deliver some things to T.'s place, just a half mile away.  Round trip would be less than a mile and I felt confident that this would be a piece of cake. 

It might have been a piece of cake had I not had to cut my own trail most all of the way through deep snow.  That mile felt more like five or ten and I was definitely winded by the time I swished through the gate back at home, but it felt great.  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

6:49 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 28, 2012



I was just in the process of preparing Walter's evening hot meal when I heard the beep, beep, beeeeeeep of the UPS truck at the end of the drive telling me I had a package.  Rather than pull on the barn boots I slipped on a convenient pair of Crocs and hurried out to retrieve the package with the Berea, Kentucky postmark, then rushed back inside to open it.  What a beautiful surprise!  ...Brown paper packages, tied up with string, these (really) are a few of my favorite things....

I've often remarked that my work introduces me to some remarkable people and this artistic undertaking was the creation of two of them. Liam and Valentina will be 2013 story subjects.  I met these fascinating people through my good (and equally interesting) friend Ed who also contributed to this gift of organic, fermented bread made in the authentic Ukrainian tradition.  (More on the bread bakers later.) 

I could hardly wait to taste it, but Walter was patiently sitting on the patio bench, waiting as he does each evening for me to carry him up to his hay room apartment with the heated kitty bed where I dish up his dinner.  It's sort of a bonding thing and I can tell it's a highlight of the old boy's day, so without changing foot gear Walter and I and the bowl of gruel set off for the barn.  I should have changed into my boots, but....

We were just past the garden shed when it happened. My feet shot out from under me, Walter became airborne and as I lay on my back gazing skyward his hot meal showered down upon us like rain.  It was not a pretty sight. Poor old Walter, covered in snow looked dazed and confused, but neither of us was hurt.  A lesson was learned; do not wear Crocs in the snow.

At the house the multi-mouse live trap continues to live up to the manufacturer's promise.  Sing this still-evolving theme song to the tune of Three Blind Mice.

Seven-teen mice, seven-teen mice

See how they run, see how they run.

They all ran into the kitchen drawer

For peanut butter, they'd hoped for more

But up at the barn were sixteen more

Relocated mice.

6:17 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 26, 2012



It's late and I've just come inside from my sixth (AND FINAL) futile effort to rescue one renegade hen. Over the years that I've kept chickens it has been my observation that they are a stupid lot.  While I admire the hens' mothering skills, the roosters' vigilant hawk alerts and of course Gladys' clever ploy to get treats by pecking on the storm doors, in general chickens are dumb!

The snow came quickly and heavily this morning and continues to fallBy afternoon most of the flock had taken shelter in the barn, but four hens had chosen to hover in a corner by the deck.  (Hadn't they noticed the weather had changed?)  The snow was deep and although I even went so far as to shovel a path to the barn for the dummies, they resisted.  I managed to capture the little red one who screamed in protest as I carried her to the coop while her foolish friends ignored the path to safety and plowed their errant ways to more distant retreats.  I was not happy.

At one point I found the three hold-outs huddled near the coop and grabbed two of them by the legs, up-ending them for the trip inside.  The third took off like a rocket and vanished.  By that time darkness had fallen, so with flashlight in one hand and landing net in the other a search and rescue effort was launched.  There she was on the opposite side of the fence.  The gate was frozen so I couldn't follow her and she resisted all attempts to reach her, so with a few carefully-chosen words of farewell I left her plodding around in the heavy brush and vowed not to attempt another rescue.  "She's on her own," I told the dogs as we made our way through the ever-deepening snow toward the house.  I lied.

Ever so grateful for the new shocking pink barn boots my daughter gave me for the holiday I set off once again armed with the flashlight and landing net, extremely unhappy about dragging myself from the warm fire to search for a bird too dumb to come in from the cold.  The stall door is open.  The kitty hole in the people door is also available, but has the hen taken advantage of either of these?  No, and she was nowhere to be found.  The search has been called off until morning.

I probably won't sleep a wink tonight worrying about the dumb black hen who has chosen the most blustery night of the year to camp out. The coyotes may be dining on KFC tonight.  

To be continued.

9:15 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 25, 2012



The morning was crisp and quiet as a tomb, so the dogs and I set off for our walk.  From high in the trees a pair of amorous squirrels having acrobatic holiday sex greeted us as we entered the woods.  A rabbit flushed from its hiding place in a brush pile surprised Ernie.  Snow cover was light, but enough to tell that Christmas Eve in the forest had been full of activity.  Deer, rabbit, squirrel, fox and some tracks I couldn't identify told the story. 

One of the dogs' leads had fallen from my pocket and been lost when I delivered Kenny's gift last week, so hoping to find it we retraced that route.  Walking slowly and watching the ground for signs of the missing blue leash (never found) I did not expect to find Cow and her friend out of the pasture, lazily munching grass next to Kenny's door.  Perhaps they uncovered the missing lead, but I wasn't about to stick around to find out. 

I don't pretend to be any sort of cow girl!  The dogs and I reversed our course and headed for home.  Kenny's response when called later to report the escapees?  "Oh, those cows aren't goin' anywhere. I let ‘em out cuz they get bored...."  Well, okay....

Back in my own woods it seemed most fitting to find this Christmas tree fern peeking out of the snow.  What a lovely way to spend the morning. 


11:56 am est          Comments

Monday, December 24, 2012



I admit it. I dread the holidays. The reasons are many, but for me holidays are just something to be endured. 

This holiday season is worse than others, for there is no peace on earth, no good will toward men.  There is senseless war and violence and sadness and the loss of people who used their lives to make the world a nicer place.


7:11 pm est          Comments

Sunday, December 23, 2012



I've always referred to her as Super Sue as I shared the metamorphosis of the terrace, the bridge and my gardens in this blog, but even that adjective seems inadequate to describe the physically small dynamo of a woman I met through this on-line journal.

She and Bud first appeared at my door one afternoon and introduced themselves as ‘blog readers.'  They'd read about one of the formerly-feral cats that had recently become part of this household.

"Weezer doesn't like this kind," she said handing me a big bag of canned cat food.  Weezer is their very spoiled cat for whom Sue cooked tilapia and chicken breasts.  That meeting was the beginning of a cherished relationship with people that personified kindness and generosity to a fault.

The only ‘payment' Sue ever wanted was to share her own beautiful gardens with others.  Since our initial meeting I've taken many visitors to Tall Pines and every one of them has been as impressed as I at their ambitious undertaking.  Using salvage materials and ingenuity she and Bud had transformed three once-barren acres into an astounding wooded sanctuary for humans and wildlife alike, a canvas of colors that begged to be painted; a place as amazing and unique as they were.

She and Bud worked together like a finely-tuned instrument, creating beauty and pleasure in everything they did.  They have been inseparable since they were fifteen years old, so when the phone rang as I was preparing dinner last night the last thing in the world I expected to hear was Bud's choked voice telling me that Sue was dead.  Typically this half of the couple that was always thinking of others "...didn't want you (me) to find out by seeing it in the papers...."

I look at those words and still cannot believe they are true.  The day after coming down with what she thought was the flu this seemingly-invincible person is gone.  My heart breaks, selfishly for the loss of a fine friend, but more for the pain Bud and their son are experiencing right now in what should be a happy season. 

One verse from Farther Along, attributed to W. B. Stevens, 1911

Often when death has taken our loved ones,
Leaving our home so lone and so drear,
Then do we wonder why others prosper,
Living so wicked year after year.

Farther along we'll know more about it,
Farther along we'll understand why;
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We'll understand it all by and by.

11:21 am est          Comments

Saturday, December 22, 2012



The word is out; is the ticket to meeting chicks-literally!  The solstice was a good time for ‘dating' last night.  Two more hopefuls enjoyed a bountiful peanut butter dinner before moving to the barn this morning where they were hastily introduced to the ‘chicks' with whom they have now involuntarily taken up residence.  Today's couple seemed more comfortable with one another than yesterdays date.  All of these eager-to-be-trapped rodents have triggered my curiosity.

Since there is no sign of mouse activity anywhere else I did some research on the "common house mouse."  Not surprisingly I learned that thanks to their inherent climbing, jumping, swimming and gnawing capabilities they easily gain entry to just about any place they want to enter.  But, that much I already knew.  What I didn't know for sure, but suspected was that their normal nocturnal travel only averages an area about 30' in diameter (cellar to kitchen via hole in wood floor) and that they are eager to explore a new environment and memorize pathways that lead to things like food.

Since I remove the captured mice I presume subsequent mice follow the invisible trail left by their predecessors and that trail leads directly to the trap.  Research also indicated that they have adventurous appetites and happily sample new foods like peanut butter which is unavailable in the cellar. The amount that is consumed indicates whether the ‘bait' is considered attractive to the species.  Peanut butter is definitely the house favorite.

And so, morning trap washing has become an almost daily task after which a fresh dollop of Jiff (since choosy mousies prefer Jiff) is appropriately placed and the trap is readied for tonights daters.

6:10 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 21, 2012



The tally is up to ten now.  Under the cover of darkness, when cats are usually asleep, bug-eyed hopefuls sneak from the safety of the cellar and willingly step right into the MeetYourMatch ‘club' where like-minded mice can get to know one another in safety of the intimate, all-the-peanut butter-you -can-eat café.  Until this morning there had only been disappointed singles, stood up by the dates they'd been expecting, but apparently the date had not gone all that well. 

Single #1 sat huddled in a front corner of the stainless steel box while his/her date sulked in an opposite corner.  Who hasn't had such a disappointing date at some time in life?  She thinks, "Geez, this guy is dull."  He's thinking, "Yuck, she doesn't look anything like the picture she sent me." .  ‘So much for those dating services....  Both eagerly went their separate ways when released at the barn.

Robberies in the area continue to rise; yet another one just a couple of miles from here.  I'm not worried because the poultry police are stationed at the front and rear of the house.  These vigilant property protectors position themselves in defiant lines under the window boxes (which offer next to no protection from the elements) or smashed by the north winds up against the foundation.  They dare anyone to trespass. This security system demands little in the way of compensation.  I need only step out the door, toss them some oatmeal or bread and they are happy. 

The winter solstice brought the seasons first snowfall.  Blustery and cold, but lovely. 

4:25 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 19, 2012



I had no idea what an emotional can of worms would be opened when I descended to the dreaded dungeon, AKA the cellar to bag corn for the pet food giveaway.  Suddenly I was back in the basement on Fifth Street with my Uncle Bill, shelling corn that we had gleaned from the fields.  

Unlike the cold damp cellar in this old house the Fifth Street basement was warm and comfortable.  My uncle and I would sit at the work bench perched on tall stools that he had made.  The space would be lighted by a florescent fixture and an old brown celluloid radio would be tuned softly to a country station.  Sometimes he'd pop a favorite 8-track cassette into the player that sat on a shelf and we'd listen to Marti Robbins sing about the West Texas town of El Paso.  He loved Marti Robbins.

The workshop smelled of freshly-sawn lumber, sawdust and the Lucky Strike cigarettes he smoked and even today the smell of a real lumber mill brings a lump to my throat.  We'd feed ear corn into the hand-cranked sheller that he'd secured to the workbench. Bright yellow kernels would spew into a plastic bucket and I'd run my fingers through them.  My uncle would save a few of the empty cobs to use for some project (he always had a few underway) and then grind the rest to add to the compost pile. Nothing was ever wasted on Fifth Street. My childhood was not a happy one except for the times spent with my uncle.

Reminiscing and shucking ear after ear by hand into a pan I felt a sadness, but also a warmth in spite of the frigid air around me because I had had my Uncle Bill to show me all the simple things that still give meaning to my life; things like thrift and not wasting what nature provides. 

The cold yanked me from my reverie, but after bagging up the last of the corn I saw my immediate surroundings through different eyes. I stopped thinking about the temperature and instead thought about the dry stone foundation around me and the massive hand-hewn beams and joists that support the comfortable space where I live.  I thought about the men who hauled those big stones and cut the oak trees and squared them with an adze and bored the holes with an auger and made the pegs that nearly 200 years later still hold everything solidly in place.  How cold was it in December of 1821? 

The new oil furnace clicked on and a whisper of heat made its way into the workshop.  I swept the floor, ascended the narrow steps to the warm upstairs and was once again very grateful for this old house and for having had such a wonderful mentor as my Uncle Bill.

4:55 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 18, 2012



I don't "celebrate" Christmas, but December, being the end of the year seems an appropriate time to present tokens of affection to others and more importantly to help those who are less fortunate.  There are many such people and there are many ways to help.  One of the charities I'm helping this year is the People Care Pet Pantry. 

This remarkable non-profit helps hundreds of folks who are struggling financially by providing pet food so they will not be forced to sacrifice their pets to a shelter because they can't afford to feed them.  At the December 23rd distribution they will also offer recipients a personal gift.  I've been soliciting for such items and have been amazed at how willing most people are to help.  On Friday I'll meet the founder of  PCPP and give her the things that others have given to me to help make this holiday a little nicer for people they'll probably never meet.

It feels good to help, but what's stunning is the abundance of dispensable ‘stuff' in our society;  expensive clothing, gadgets galore, toys and tools and who knows what else and still we are urged to buy more.  Let's see, didn't some rather important person advise that it's better to give than to receive?  Yes, it really is.

7:03 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 15, 2012



What do you give to someone very special who just happens to be almost 102 years old?  Ginny says she doesn't think she's "gonna make it" until her birthday in February.  She says she's "tired" and who can blame her, but it saddens me to see my old friend so resigned to the end of her days.  This recent visit was the first time ever that she didn't insist on fixing coffee and producing a plate of cookies.

Her niece stays with her round the clock now, so her tidy little cottage is all decorated for Christmas and even old Mitzi went to the groomer for a holiday makeover.  I think Mitzi is about as old as Ginny in dog years.  Ginny seemed pleased with the porcelain angel tree ornament and somehow it seemed very appropriate this year.

Kenny dropped by with a boatload of bread.  His clothes were so tattered he might have been mistaken for a homeless person, but he couldn't care less and that's one of the reasons I like the old fellow.  He's not one for ostentatious displays.  I hope he will like his holiday gift and that he won't be too critical of his portrait.


1:05 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 14, 2012



The nightmare in Connecticut is simply unfathomable and my heart breaks for all those families, but madness of a lesser scale is present right here. Today the people whose property adjoins mine, people I shall refer to as DDD, Inc. (dumb, dumber & dumbest) shot at my dogs.  Had I not stepped out onto the porch when I did I might not have known, but the timing was serendipitous.  Apparently Ernie and Julie had ventured beyond my woods into DDD's field.  Any civil person would have phoned and informed me to keep my dogs at home (which until today I thought I had). They would not taken a gun to them.  Needless to say I was/am furious.  I will be installing invisible fencing along the south edge of the woods.  I do not want any of my animals leaving this property, but neither do I want them shot.

Later in the day T. was nearly killed when another lunatic in a junky truck literally came within an inch of running him down. He said that had he not jumped and run into the field he would now be dead.  Our police chief verified that someone else had also reported the same driver who is now wanted for reckless operation.  ‘Seems like an understatement.

Yet another friend reported unexpected visitors last evening.  When her husband answered the door he was confronted by two people identifying themselves as "Mormons" who began questioning him about his religious beliefs.  Being an extremely polite person he simply told them he respected their beliefs, but....  They promised him that he will burn in hell as he wished them a joyous holiday and closed the door.

The alleged Mormons then went to a neighbor's home where they finagled their way inside, asked about the living arrangements and were pleased to learn it was a single person household.  They said they would return tonight with another person to "bless the house."  The individual declined the offer, but had to be away today, so now we are wondering if that home is targeted for a break-in tonight.

What has happened to civility, to the sanctuary of home, to respect for the lives of others?  What prompts society to invade and abuse basic human privacy and rights?  In my opinion gentility began to decline when things like "growth" and "wealth" and "celebrity" became more important than sustainability, fairness and humility. 

My small country life feels threatened--even on the extended Nature trail.

7:57 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 13, 2012



Another break in yesterday bringing the total to five robberies in one week. Our sleepy little township is on needles and pins and police presence has never been so obvious, but the criminals remain at large.  Although I'm not fearful I'll admit things that go bump in the night now cause me to pay attention and around this house lots of things go bump in the night.

Last night as I sat reading by the fire a loud crash emanated from the kitchen. Had someone kicked in my door as is the thugs chosen method of entry? Oh darn, I hoped not since I'd just cleaned. Roused from his nap Ted leapt to his feet, ears erect-or as erect as his floppy ears can get and he joined the other dogs in a race to investigate.  I followed.  No burglars met us, but Poppy the night watchcat who opens all doors and drawers while others sleep (or try to...) was just exiting the cupboard where pots and pans are stored.  She gave the all clear thumbs up; no criminals were hiding amongst the skillets and stock pots.

This is not to suggest that there had not been one kitchen intruder last night.  This morning another nervous, bug-eyed mouse sat incarcerated in the multi-mouse live trap.  He promised he'd quietly return to the cellar and he'd gladly stay there if I'd just release him, but since he was in the ‘no mice' zone he was deported to the barn to join others of his kind.


3:38 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 12, 2012



My houseguest of the past few days departed this morning, leaving me to think about how fortunate I am to have such a fine friend.  H.(also a writer) and I met on a press trip in Arkansas and the amity was instant.  Over the years our friendship has grown. H. is one of the most thoughtful and kind people I've ever met and also one of the most humble, contrasting interestingly with another recent encounter.

I've been approached about a ‘sponsor' for this blog.  Who wouldn't be flattered, and of course the money would be nice, but after the initial ego-boost it occurred to me that accepting such an offer would be in direct opposition to what I profess to believe.  Few things come without certain obligations which in this case include occasional mandatory promotion of the sponsor.  People don't read blogs to be solicited. I declined.

A visit with H. to  my favorite thrift store netted a huge ceramic garden planter which simply begged to come home with me and now sits in a corner of the deck.  Already I can envision it dripping with nasturtiums, petunias, geraniums and other beauties. Project planning is what gets gardeners and nature lovers through the short days and long nights of winter. I'm probably a minority in that I love winter, even the involuntary break from gardening.  The bad asses were apparently eavesdropping when I mentioned to H. that I enjoy ‘projects,' so they set about creating one that demanded immediate attention.

They removed a fence board from an ignored section of fencing on the north side of the barn which vines cover most of the year. I wasn't aware that the wood was so deteriorated. They were easily able to pull a board free, thus opening a space big enough through which to escape.  It's been some time since they've initiated a donkey rodeo.

Dusk was just falling when I found the two discussing who would slip through the opening first.  "Get out'a there!" I screamed, racing toward them. IQ tests have long confirmed donkeys to be the most intelligent of all equine and I witness this truth frequently. 

"Uh oh, pretend you don't know how this happened," said Corky (undoubtedly the instigator).  As I approached the damaged fence the two did their best to look like innocent bystanders.  I got the hammer and nails, the nail puller and set about repairing the fence while they watched--planning their next move. 

I admit it; there are times when I wonder why I have these longears, but then again what would I do without them?  They keep me from running out of projects.


5:28 pm est          Comments

Monday, December 10, 2012



I consider myself  a very good cook-unless you happen to be talking about cookies.  It seems to me that when one can go to the grocery, pick up a package of uniformly-shaped, consistently delicious, always fresh cookies for a nominal price it makes no sense at all to mix costly ingredients in various bowls of assorted sizes, then have the mixer spray the concoction all over the kitchen and the cook just prior to tucking the grotesque clumps into the oven, only to end up with vile little things that even the dogs are reluctant to eat.  That being said, the fact that I subject myself to this annual torture seems masochistic, doesn't it.  So, why do I do it?

"I hope you're going to make grandma's press cookies for me," says my only child each December, so what's a mother to do?  Try as I might "grandma's press cookies" have never once turned out like grandma's.  This year I tried a new recipe and the end results were only slightly better than previous year, but still nothing at all like grandma's.  Next year I shall go to a bakery, purchase tasty press cookies, tin them up and present them as grandma's.  Dishonest?  Yes, but necessary to preserve my sanity, save precious ingredients and maintain the tidiness of my kitchen.  I will not be baking cookies next year!

Fellow writer H. is visiting for a few days.  This pleases the animals greatly for there's nothing they like better than visitors.  Last evening H. and I exchanged token gifts, much to Julie's delight.  She was especially happy to find edibles among the gifts.  Dogs love the holiday season far more than I do.

6:05 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 8, 2012



"Hey, ‘got any spelt bread in there?" asks Gladys.  I had to break the sad news to her.  It seems I've fallen out of favor with my old beau Kenny.  No books, no milk, no rhinestone-decorated straw hats and not even one lousy loaf of spelt bread.  Dumped again.  The only explanation I have for this dismissal has to do with the cats that have taken up residence in his barn.

"I'll stop by tomorrow to collect the cats and get them fixed for you.  It won't cost you a dime," I said as we stood by his junk wagon on wheels, AKA his red truck.  In an instant his single-tooth smile faded and he issued a non-debatable veto on the plan.  "No, no, they're just fine the way they are," he said and that was that.  Since that day he has been a no show and frankly, I miss the bizarre assortment of surprises that used to greet me piled by the gate or heaped on the patio bench. 

But Gladys and the girls were not easily discouraged.  Like peaceful protestors they stationed themselves on the bench and waited, knowing I'd produce some delicacy if they sat there long enough while their spokes-lady periodically pecked on the glass door and peered menacingly into the house. 


It worked.  They got some oatmeal.

3:40 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 6, 2012



Not all of my friends have a big fat groundhog in their foyer or a bobcat in their living room, but then none of my friends are quite like Fran.  For almost fifty years Fran Kitchen of Operation Orphan, Inc. has devoted her life to rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife.  While national averages of successful reintroductions to the animals' natural environment average only about 45%, Fran's success rate is around 75%.  She's nothing short of amazing.  Today I took her a bag of the gleaned field corn and a couple of books.

The groundhog, whose name I've forgotten is used in the scores of educational programs she presents in schools, nursing homes, garden centers and many other venues throughout the year.  The little (no longer) whistle pig was brought to her about three years ago after the mother abandoned it.  Nature does not waste time on the hopelessly compromised and this baby was most definitely compromised. In Nature it's survival of the fittest and this guy was far from fit.

 Smaller than Fran's hand it was nothing but skin and bones and a mass of oozing infection.  It was septic when it arrived at this modern day St. Francis of Assisi's home.  She wasn't sure she could save it, but as you can see by this photo, Mister Piggy is a picture of health.  (He also has a 12' pen when not preparing for 'work.')

If there's one message Fran wants every person to understand it is that shelters are crammed with dogs and cats in need of loving homes.  Dogs and cats are pets. Wildlife are not.  Wildlife must remain wild.  In the case of the groundhog, unlike other critters that come into Fran's care this one has some mental issues that made him totally unreceptive to rehabilitation.  He is dependent upon her for his survival, just like Bobby the 15 year old bobcat. 

Bobby is a veteran educator; a real pro having been at it for so many years.  He came to Fran from the Ohio Division of Wildlife who had confiscated the cat from a stupid woman who had obtained him illegally, had his fangs and claws surgically removed and then transported him across state lines.  Bobby could never be introduced to his natural habitat, so his life has been spent teaching the public about native Ohio wildlife and lounging in the living room (in a huge pen) along with Fran's five dogs. 

Fran has state and federal licensing and works closely with Ohio Division of Natural Resources.  She has also been inducted into the Ohio Hall of Fame along with such notable characters as Johnny Appleseed. Over the years I've written several magazine articles about her work, but most of all I'm very honored to call Fran Kitchen my friend.  She's one of a kind.  I wish we could clone her.

6:21 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 5, 2012



What's worse than a thief in the night? A thief in the day!  The peaceful rural existence we on the road take for granted has been disrupted. We are now on alert! 

Our police chief called to warn me that there has been a string of daytime break-ins in the immediate area and the crooks remain at large.

"I know you folks on that road have a real good neighborhood watch, so spread the word.  We're pretty sure it's a man and a woman team...," he continued.  The crime-stoppers had deduced that from footprints left on the kicked-in doors.  YIKES!

The good news is that the holiday thugs are after jewelry and electronics.  They'd be battin' zero here. I don't even have a DVD player!  And jewels?  None, unless you count the faux gold earrings (worn only on very special occasions...) from my favorite thrift store.

The door-kickers aren't the only thieves in the vicinity.  The Colonel-as I've dubbed the redtail hawk, has been here every day checking out KFC (Karen's Fresh Chickens) his intended plunder.  The roosters screech out their warning and all the birds scatter, racing for shelter as fast as their lanky legs can carry them.  The Colonel sits in a tree just watching.  Today he had an apprentice-a sharp shinned hawk!  I fear it's just a matter of time.

7:43 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 4, 2012



The day began feeling more like April than December, so I hoped to work on the expanded Nature trail a bit, maybe even ‘installing' the old metal porch swing salvaged from someone's trash, but rain aborted the plan.  It's just as well.  ‘Not likely there will be many days warm enough to sit amidst the wild gardens until spring and even if there are such days, there are already lots of what I call ‘sitting places.'

T. has no such sitting spots on his well-manicured property.  "Who has time to sit?  You're supposed to be working when you're outside," he says.  Maybe he works all the time, but I don't!  I require 'meditation time.'

I think it's important to have places to sit, places that are removed from anything that demands labor, places to stop and smell the roses even if they are multiflora roses.  Wild places are gardens of the best kind in my opinion.

But now it's raining and the temperature is quickly dropping, so there will be no sitting except in front of this computer.

I have a garden of my own

But so with roses overgrown,

And lilies, that you would it guess

To be a little wilderness.                        Andrew Marvell, 1681


2:20 pm est          Comments

Sunday, December 2, 2012



Other than T. installing a new ceiling in the barn feed room which looks great, not much is happening here, so I've decided to occasionally share stories about some of the inspiring people who have fallen into my own life.  Maybe they will inspire you too. 

Not to worry, this blog will never turn into any sort of evangelizing rant.  It will always be about my small country life, but since animals are an integral part of my life (okay, they are actually the foundation) most of the individuals who inspire me are also involved in animals.  Some of these folks have touched me enough to take time from my busy life to help them because their lives are far busier than mine.

This week I want to share the work of People Care Pet Pantry, a registered non-profit started in 2009 by Rene Lamp.  After three years of dealing with the bureaucracy of getting her husband's disability compensation the couple found themselves struggling financially.  In her words, "Money was beyond tight...."   She had read enough stories to know that their situation was not an isolated case. The stories she'd heard about people losing their pets, sacrificing them to shelters because they could not afford to feed them really hit her hard. "I looked at my two dogs, then I looked at my husband and said, "I'm going to start a pet food pantry."  He nodded and said, "Okay dear."

 As if by divine intervention Rene came across a story about such a pet food pantry in Colorado and emailed them to ask for some guidelines and tips.  "I kept thinking, these (struggling) people need to know that other people care about whether they lose their pets or not." 

That thought spawned the name; People Care Pet Pantry.  Rene went to work and in the first year obtained and distributed 450 pounds of pet food every month to ten recipients.  This year they have distributed 3,000 pounds monthly to 180 recipients and they have a waiting list.

It's important to note that these distributions are not indefinite handouts, but go to carefully screened folks that are temporarily down on their luck, just as Rene once was. Contacts come from social services agencies, churches and word of mouth. Cases are reviewed/renewed on a regular schedule. The aid is temporary.

On Dec. 23rd PCPP will not only be distributing pet foods as they are available for all critters; dogs,cats, horses, hamsters, birds, but will have a holiday bin to offer each recipient one toy, household item, piece of clothing, etc. (whatever the person wants/needs).

If any reader would like to donate a new or like-new condition item, please email Rene at:  Certainly every humanitarian agency is asking for donations this time of year, but I am the one asking others to help this deserving cause that keeps families and pets together. 

5:58 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 1, 2012



I often compare my life to a lovely bowl of cherries, not that there haven't been a few rotten ones in the bowl, but most all of my life has been charmed.  Maybe to other eyes it doesn't seem so, but thus far I haven't experienced a truly devastating situation (knock on wood).  The few that seemed devastating at the time actually turned out to be blessings in disguise.  They moved me on to bigger and better things.  I've been thinking a lot about this and have concluded that the reason life (for me anyway...) is fulfilling is not because I'm special.  I'm not.  ‘Quite ordinary if the truth be known. 

My life is special because of the interesting and inspiring people who seem to fall into it when least expected.  Probably interesting and inspiring people fall into the lives of every person, but most are too myopic to notice.  That self-preoccupation is especially conspicuous this time of year.  ‘A pity too, for those self-important people never seem to be happy. Yesterday my bowl of cherries life overflowed with magical encounters. 

A place in Cleveland contacted my daughter Jill who operates an amazing cat rescue  and said they had some "supplies" to donate.  Jill works from dawn until midnight to support her passion (educating the public about animal care, helping disadvantaged people and staunching the explosion of feral cats) while also running her business, so finding time to go to Cleveland presented a problem.  I volunteered to make the trip for her since I love the city and planned to make a side jaunt to the Cleveland Museum of Art.  My artist friend L. accompanied me.

We first hit a couple of thrift stores where there were bargains galore, then set off to find the warehouse which was located in a section of the city unfamiliar to me, although I spent 16 years working there.  It was obvious that the once-grand neighborhoods of the fin de siècle which had been deteriorating for many years had barely been touched by gentrification.  Blocks of beautiful architecture stood crumbling but for a few unexpected renovations.  At last the intimidating, fence-enclosed warehouse we sought appeared. 

"Can you imagine having to come to work at such a dreary place," L. pondered aloud.  Well, as the saying goes, ‘you can't judge a book by its cover.'

Inside, the enormous building was warm, both in temperature and ambiance.  The place bustled with happy busy people in clean bright surroundings.  L. and I looked at one another in amazement. Such an environment would be a wonderful place to work we agreed.  We were met with A.'s welcoming hand. He then introduced us to M. who was in charge of distributing supplies to animal welfare organizations like Jill's. 

MedWish International is a not-for-profit organization committed to repurposing medical supplies and equipment that have been discarded by the healthcare industry. Their objective is providing humanitarian aid in developing countries to save lives while reducing waste to save our environment. Last year they sent over a half million pounds of supplies to 59 countries.  Expired material or over-abundant materials are designated for local animal relief agencies.

Everyone we met was friendly and enthusiastic about the work being done there and deservedly so.  We left with the truck loaded to capacity with much-needed supplies, none of which will go to waste.  What an amazing and beautiful place set amidst a less than beautiful part of the city.  (The photo shows a few of the boxes being weighed at the loading dock.)

It was in this previously-unexplored bit of Cleveland that we saw an intriguing house with a sign noting that it was an art gallery that served fish dinners on Friday only from noon to 3:00 pm.  We pulled into the back lot and entered yet another magical place full of friendly faces, good music and tempting aromas. 

This was the enterprise of Mr. Ed Parker, a massive black man whose art sent chills down my spine for its powerful intensity.  Mr. Parker enveloped us with hospitality, giving us a tour of the gallery and his studio.  His work captures all facets of African American culture in paint, bronze and clay.  The former college professor also teaches mentally-challenged individuals.  He and his work were wonderful!

I know a lot of people who never would have considered going to such a place because it wasn't in "a good neighborhood."  Our bright white faces were certainly the minority there, but neither L. nor I identify people by the color their skin and neither did anyone in the gallery/restaurant. We were welcomed, the food was good, the art was moving and the people were simply nice talented people.

By the time we got back on the road to head for the CMA the afternoon was shot. It was too late, so we're eagerly planning our next trip.  Magic happens when you let it.

4:38 pm est          Comments

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