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Thursday, February 28, 2013



In 1942 George purchased this farm with more than thirty acres for a mere $2,500.00.  The milk house he built out of yellow tile might have been nice during its day, but by the time I bought this place in 1987 it had long since fallen down.  All that remained were some wall fragments and a lot of mostly-buried junk in the center.  Over the years I tried in vain to break up the tile, bury the tile, plant invasive vines to cover the tile and ultimately contracted Farmer Chuck to come with his bulldozer to do what I've been unsuccessful in accomplishing.  He arrived today.

What seemed like it should have been a simple job has proven not to be.  Mud is the problem.  While parts of the wall have been demolished, most of it has not and can't be until things dry out.  The part that has been pulled down and heaped on the proposed new planting ridge has revealed a stockpile of junk including hundreds of bottles and jars that were neatly laid like flooring.  Some lovely barn stone has also surfaced and been pulled to the side for later use, but the current situation up there can only be described as one gigantic mess.

I like uncovering surprises on this old farm, but today's surprises weren't good. There's a lot of work to be done before the ‘ridge' will be ready to receive the pine trees I plan to plant.


5:50 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, February 27, 2013



In the mid-20th century the face of agriculture underwent a major change, most notably the demise of many small diverse farms which were replaced by the proverbial factory ‘farms' which bear little resemblance to their predecessors.  Society's demand for cheap consistent (the key word here) foods hastened the change.  Today, more than half a century later some folks relentlessly bemoan the loss of small family farms rather than looking at the exciting resurgence of such operations.  The notion that bigger is better has long been proven false, but small farms that evolve still thrive.  These are the farms people need to know about.  These are the farms I write about.

My good friend Dr. Ed Fredrickson, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University is dedicated to sustainable agriculture.  In his position as an educator his students are exposed to experts who illustrate how sustainable practices make farming a viable career choice for young people today.  Ed brings cutting edge speakers like Temple Grandin and others to the small university and I recently had the opportunity to sit in on lectures by a renowned authority on small ruminants.

Dr. An Peischel's business savvy, while focused on the Kiko (meat) goats she herself raises could be applied to all livestock production.  One example of her integrated marketing by identifying ethnic markets are the customers she has for testicles most others would toss out when castrating young bucks ($6.00 a pair).  Horns might go to instrument makers.  And how about renting goats to municipalities to clean up properties or for brush clean-up in areas prone to wildfires?  Waste not, want not.  An knows there is a market for everything ‘caprine.'

What an amazing woman and inspirational lecturer! Good grief, I even found myself thinking about how a small mob of goats might enhance my farm income, but quickly came to my senses before doing anything rash. Being a vegetarian they would all end up as pets.  Nevertheless it was encouraging to see students planning farming careers by looking beyond the obvious.  Education is the magic bullet not just for students, but for consumers as well.

Most consumers remain blissfully detached from where foods originate and more importantly how they originate. Packaging words like ‘grass fed' or ‘organic' provoke curiosity from consumers, but many don't even know why it's important or what the real difference is.  I'm amazed at how many don't even know the difference between dairy and beef cattle, let alone how goats can be profitable as well as beguiling. 

Thanks to Dr. Fredrickson I've met many people who have applied the concepts of sustainable, grass-fed, organic, etc. and who serve as proof that the small family farm does indeed survive.  Doomsayers be damned!

PS:  These are NOT Kiko goats.  These are dairy goats.

9:21 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, February 26, 2013



After Lothario (he's the literary rooster...) read yesterday's blog post about the pair of on-site red tail hawks he shared the worrisome news with the rest of the flock.  Apparently it was just too much information for the big speckled hen.  During the night she took her own life I found her body on the coop floor early this morning.  Exact cause of death is undetermined and the family has requested that no autopsy be performed.  She will be laid to rest in the center of the corn stubble field north of the barn.  The flock is now down to a mere ten birds.

This has certainly been the winter of my discontent.  Events too numerous to mention, but the dark cloud of Ted's death hangs heaviest over the household.  His absence is felt by the other dogs and even our daily routines have become somewhat joylessI thought that a road trip would help me put things into perspective and the trip did indeed help, but on Saturday I was served with a summons.  I am being sued along with eleven others by someone I consider loathsome.  His suit is frivolous and none of us are worried, but this latest disruption of the tranquility my old farm has always provided has come at just the wrong time. 

I only mention this because I feel an obligation to my loyal blog readers; those who often express pleasure in reading about the antics of the various critters here.  Lately just getting through the day has been difficult and not even the bad asses seem up to any naughty antics.  But, like all troubles this too will pass-I hope....

10:56 am est          Comments

Monday, February 25, 2013



While I love to watch the red tail hawks I am in the minority here.  Although the cats, dogs and donkeys don't seem to pay much attention to the big birds their presence causes a lot of chicken angst.  In the past few weeks I've seen a pair of red tails fly into the upper branches of the big evergreen on the east side of the house.  I've also seen them doing tricky aerial performances which suggests mating behavior, so I did a bit of research and although it's early in the season the data uncovered suggest that they are indeed setting up housekeeping right next to the porch.  Nice for me, but very unfortunate for the chickens.

As per Roger Tory Peterson and others their chosen home site in the uppermost branches is typical.  They are building a nest of sticks and twigs lined with grassy vegetation.  The female may lay up to five eggs, but a clutch of two or three is more common.  Unlike chickens whose eggs hatch predictably on the 21st day hawk egg incubation can vary from 28-35 days.  Chicks will fledge at about six weeks.

Red tails are monogamous; always for the breeding season and often for life unless one of them meets an untimely end.  Then the survivor registers for and finds a new mate.

The activity I'm conveniently observing from my office window is taking place earlier than usual, but over the past few years I've noticed a lot of atypical wildlife behavior, most likely due to climate change.  With a bit of luck I'll be able to photograph some of the courtship and parenting of these amazing birds of prey, but I fear for Gladys and the Pips, the Pointer Sisters and even for Lothario and LB.  Hawk eyesight is 8x that of humans, so there will be no time for rooster loafing this year with danger lurking right here in their own back yard.  To be continued.

1:34 pm est          Comments

Friday, February 22, 2013



For the past week I've been in North Carolina and Kentucky, but now I'm glad to be home. I love to travel and am fortunate to be able to do so fairly often, but unlike some folks I am not a tourist. The reason for this trip was not for business, nor even for pleasure.  I just had to be away from all that has not been right for several months.  Ted's death was the final straw.  I needed to be moving through space, almost but not entirely aimless.  This trip was therapeutic.

"Did you go to the Biltmore?" everyone asks and the answer is "No."  I'm sure it's quite beautiful and all, but I was not in the mood for an ostentatious display of wealth. It held no appeal, so I did not go and I don't regret it.  I much prefered the unadorned mountains.  I could relate to them.

Along the way I sat at the counter of a Waffle House somewhere in Tennessee, next to a fellow whom I imagine had quite a tale to tell.  He wasn't young at all and it seemed there was nowhere special he had to be. He lingered as our fragile waitress-a tiny thing who was fighting a bad complexion--refilled his drink time and time again.  Her glasses refused to perch anywhere but on the tip of her nose forcing her to lean her head far back to see through them. "'Top that off fer ya?" she'd ask and he'd push his cup toward her.

His silver hair was carefully combed into precise ducktail and he addressed our diminutive waitress with the black WH-embossed visor in a thick drawl that turned one syllable words into two syllables.  His clothes were from another era; a polyester, paisley Disco shirt and shiny black trousers intersected by a wide black belt with a big buckle, but it was his footwear that distinguished him most. His long shiny black plastic shoes were embossed to suggest alligator skin and the part over the toes was silver, tipped with bright brass toe plates.  I could imagine him on the stage of a third rate club with an electric guitar, crooning Hank Williams songs that no one was listening to.  He gave me directions and told me he hates Walmart. 

Waffle House vignettes are more interesting to me than someone's mansion.  My trip was good.

8:36 pm est          Comments

Thursday, February 14, 2013


            Even at age of twelve I figured this was going to be the mother of all fights. Gasser's was the town's most expensive jeweler. With its elegant green monogrammed awning and window full of diamond rings and heavy gold watches, Gasser's was where the carriage trade shopped. We were not wealthy as I was frequently reminded. Occasions calling for gifts to my mother from my father parsimoniously produced three pairs of Milady nylon stockings from Kobackers, the working man's store. These were presented without celebratory gift wrap or even a card, just the box of stockings in the dull gray store bag. He never gave her jewelry, not even from Kobackers.

            The phone call was brief. When she came back inside my father mumbled some unconvincing story about the guys at the office getting "a little something" for a co-worker's birthday. My mother said nothing, but thereafter meals were eaten in silence. The implications of the phone call seemed to leave her speechless, but the sudden calm was as unsettling as the usual bickering. The unrest between them intensified. Even the perfunctory air kiss he used to give her before heading off to work ceased, but they remained married.

            We lived in the big old brick house her father had built and she had inherited, an issue that warranted frequent mention. She ruled the roost and my father tolerated it for reasons I never understood. It was about this time, just after the mysterious phone call that the preacher started dropping by; always when my father was away. Phone calls from friends were answered with, "Oh, ‘can't talk now. The preacher's here." Or, "Oops, gotta run. The preacher just pulled in." It was always "the preacher" as if he didn't have a name or a title like Reverend or Pastor, just "the preacher."

            He was officially Reverend Randall J. Peeler. Did she call him Randy when they were alone, I often wondered? My father was tall and handsome with dark curly hair and a space between his front teeth that gave him a boyish smile, but around home he rarely smiled. The deep furrow between his eyes suggested chronic despair, or maybe it was anger.  

           Years later, after I'd left home and married, I met Tiny. My father was smiling as he introduced the fragile, soft-spoken woman with kind eyes. Their love was obvious and I was happy for him. He was long dead by the time the ceiling came down having died just two weeks short of his retirement. The doctors said it was a massive heart attack, but I always thought the idea of being at home all the time, away from work, away from Tiny might have had something to do with it. Death was the easy way out.

            Following the demise of my own ill-fated marriage I vowed to move beyond anger and to not to become as embittered as my mother always seemed to be.  As a grown woman I tried to understand the betrayal she must have felt. Was Tiny the only one, or the only one she knew about?  Did she turn to the preacher to get even?  There were probably other disappointments in her life that I'd never know.  I wanted to know what had shaped the woman who was my mother, but that was not to be.

            Hoping for a closeness that had never existed, weekly visits to Fifth Street were my pathetic attempts toward that goal.  It had been my misfortune to stop for a visit that particular day not knowing the pretentious preacher would have the same idea. Why the preacher was there was anybody's guess. Maybe he was hungry.

            She was flitting around the kitchen in one of the smart pantsuits she had taken to wearing following my father's passing. Her wardrobe had changed and her infatuation with that despicable creature of the cloth had become more boldfaced. As I sat at the table leafing through a magazine she shoved a cup of coffee in my direction. Then standing a little closer to Peeler than necessary she poured his cup and set down the plate of cookies as if she were offering the Eucharist. Pretending to look surprised with that phony smile of his, but without hesitation he started jamming cookies into his gaping maw and gulping the coffee as if he hadn't eaten in a week. A single drop of the brown liquid trickled down his receding chin and vanished into a wet blot on his black shirt. The whole scene was so repulsive I excused myself to escape to the bathroom.

            Since it was I who had been the last person in the bathroom, the one who had flushed the toilet, I was of course responsible for the crash that followed. Never mind that the plaster had been quietly deteriorating for years, it was my fault. Even as an adult guilt clung to me as tenaciously as a hair clings to a wet bar of soap. The ceiling was eventually repaired, but the new plaster left a great white cloud in the sky of faded yellow paint. To assuage my ubiquitous guilt I volunteered to paint the damned kitchen.

            It was a blistering day as she and I sat considering paint chips at the table where so many disturbing events had taken place. The color she favored was the same as the anemic yellow already on the walls. The kitchen had always been yellow, not a cheery bright yellow, but a gloomy gray-yellow and it didn't look like that was going to change. Even if I could get by with one coat it was still going to be a big job. That's when I casually remarked. "Gee, too bad I don't have brothers or sisters to help with this project." And that's when she spilled the beans.

            "Well, you did have a brother...," she began. She stared down at her hands, fingers splayed open on the red-checked tablecloth. It was as if she'd never seen those pink lacquered nails before. Weekly manicures had begun about the same time the pant suits replaced the housedresses.

            "I had a brother? What happened to him?" I asked half-afraid to know her answer. Was there a secret grave somewhere, a tiny urn full of baby ashes tucked away in a dresser drawer? A chill shot down my spine in spite of the sweltering heat. Distracted from contemplating her fingers or the paint chips, she simply offered that she had flushed him down the toilet. I gasped. What kind of mother flushes her baby down the toilet--dead or alive? Sensing my disapproval she shot a glaring look at me and countered defensively.

             "Well what was I supposed to do with him? He was dead. It was a..."(long pause) "...miscarriage." She said that last word hesitantly as if she'd invented it. So, she flushed him away. Now I'm no medical expert, but I do know that to have been able to identify the sex suggested that Niles had been more than some early amorphous blob. He had been a somewhat developed fetus. A bizarre image of the event as it might have happened persists to this day: My mother, a younger version of the manicured, pant-suited model. Teetering weakly over the toilet she peers
warily down at tiny Niles who was probably about the size of a Ken doll. Niles, not quite swimming, but bobbing aimlessly around the porcelain bowl, arms thrust upward as if to plead, "No mama, don't...." But after concluding that he bore a decidedly strong resemblance to the father, she decisively plunges the flush lever and watches as Niles spirals out of sight in a vortex of blue Tidy-Bowl.

            After her disturbing confession she gripped the table edge and shoved herself away as if to indicate the subject was closed, the discussion finished. I sat stunned and silent. The phone (that timely gatecrasher of difficult moments) rang in another room and she stomped off to answer it leaving me to ponder this revelation dropped as unexpectedly and dramatically as the plaster. Following the phone call the subject of Niles was not revisited, not that day nor any other. Like the event itself it was as though the unsettling conversation had never occurred. She pointed a pearly rose-tipped finger at a color chip and asked when I could start painting. She might as well have asked if I thought it might rain. The disclosure seemed no big deal to her, but I thought about Nile's watery interment for years.

            Until the day she died, written in my mother's meticulous hand a boldly lettered warning to WATCH THE TOILET was propped on the tank where others might have placed a box of Kleenex or one of those dolls with a crocheted skirt that conceals a spare roll of toilet paper. Standing next to the commode like an old soldier was an ancient plunger, its wooden handle worn smooth from emergency deployment and the orange, dried-out suction cup of questionable efficacy.

            The long narrow bathroom was painted an institutional green and the toilet sat like a brooding monarch at the far end next to the frosted glass window. Approaching it was like approaching a judge's bench. Upon flushing, users of this toilet were met with the anticipated whoosh as water rushed into the chamber swelling to the brim like a river at flood stage, but then--glukkkkkk...

            While no more water flowed into the bowl, none left either as the contents drifted about like languid swimmers on air mattresses. Jiggling the flush lever usually got things moving again. With a final cough the petulant fixture would choke the contents away--much to the nervous user's relief. Occasionally it was necessary to grab the tired plunger and pump madly lest the water surge over the top and drip through the kitchen ceiling below as had happened more than once, hence leading to the revelatory mess. Bathroom visits were angst-ridden, but the troublesome toilet was really just an extension of all the unrest that permeated life in the house on Fifth Street.

            The stranger who was my mother lived several years after
confessing the fate of the brother I never knew, but she remained an unsolvable puzzle. The toilet like our fragile relationship was never repaired, not really.... It continued its insidious leaking and she continued to leak vague fragments about a life I'd never understand. Her refusals to be pressed for details left me with a conundrum for a mother to the very end.

            Soon after the exhausting paint job was completed new hairline
 fissures etched the ceiling over the kitchen table. Was it just bad plumbing, or had the bones of tiny Niles clung to the corroded bowels of drainpipe just as my mother had clung to her furtive past all those years?

            When she died I put the house on Fifth Street up for sale at a rock
bottom price and it sold almost immediately. The new owners were eager to start remodeling.  The bathroom was going to be their first project.

8:31 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, February 13, 2013



I'm leaving early Friday morning for North Carolina where unfortunately the temperatures aren't much different from those in Ohio, but I'm escaping for a change of scene, not so much a change in weather.  Since nothing notable has happened (or is likely to happen) here I've decided to share a short story which is part of a collection called Leaving Fifth Street.  Here is part I.

                                                Leaking Secrets                      COPYRIGHT, KIRSCH 2013

            When I was forty-two years old my mother inadvertently confessed that I wasn't really the "only" child I believed I was-not if you counted Niles, the brother she flushed down the toilet a year before my own birth. Niles. That's what she said she would have named him "...if he'd lived." Had it not been for the leaky toilet which ultimately led to the plaster disaster I might never have found out at all and that might not have been a bad thing.

            Over the years the harmless looking crack in the ceiling over my mother's kitchen table had spread to an ominous spider web of fractures. Then, when least expected, as the preacher (of all people) sat slurping coffee and choking down sugar cookies it happened. A great hunk of plaster broke loose, dropped like a bomb and exploded in the middle of everything. A mushroom cloud of dust ascended like an angel toward the gaping hole. My mother was mortified. She adored Pastor Peeler.           

           I couldn't stand him. His unannounced visits were usually around lunch time, so they weren't entirely unexpected. Even so, my mother would get all flustered at his arrival like some hormone-crazed teenager. He'd come through the back door which was seldom locked, then as if she were a sight for his sore eyes he'd sidle up to her with assumed intimacy as she stood washing dishes at the kitchen sink. With lips curled like fried bologna, he'd tilt his turnip-shaped head coyly to one side, take one of her soapy hands between both of his and drawl, "Heh-looo,Lee-al." She'd turn a couple shades of red and just about have an orgasm.

            Right before my eyes my brash bossy mother would morph into a giddy, gray-haired flirt. It was disgusting. Around my father it was sure a different story; no signs of affection there. No gentle words, no loving touches. Nothing. I used to wonder how I'd ever been conceived and figured maybe I'd been adopted, but my godmother, the neighborhood busybody-assured me that wasn't the case.

            We were sitting on her sun-streaked porch when she began reminiscing. "The whole time your mother was pregnant all she talked about was having a great big family with kids spilling all over the place," she said slowly rocking back and forth in a creaky chair. Her face darkened as she continued, "... until the day she was hauled off to deliver you." That last line suggested my sorry fate.

            "It was a soggy August afternoon, the air as heavy as your mother," she began. "A couple of the neighbors were taking her to the hospital since your father was at work...."  Her pink scalp shone through skimpy frizzed hair and I thought she looked like a dandelion gone to seed. With a satisfied smugness she gushed detailed memories of my arrival into the world which was apparently pretty uneventful, but her insinuations were not. Her pink face pushed closer to mine, then looking directly in my eyes she concluded, "After she brought you home from the hospital she never said another word about having more children." Lifting one sienna penciled-on eyebrow and pushing back in her chair like a broody hen she added, "And your parents started sleeping in separate bedrooms."

            I had been what was respectfully called a "late in life" baby, my mother being almost forty when she finally became impregnated. From all accounts she was determined from day one that I would not become the proverbial spoiled only child.  I grew up believing that because of my existence we teetered on the brink of poverty.  Pleas for a new coat or sweater were dismissed and rationalized with, "And just why should we spend good money on new clothes when Nancy Beerman's hand me downs just about fit you?" By the time I hit adolescence she hit menopause and things only got worse.  Our relationship was always strained to say the least.

            At age nineteen I left Fifth Street and her beloved First Lutheran Church and the gulf between us widened. My mother seemed intent upon being unhappy. Motherhood apparently hadn't fulfilled her and she and my father didn't seem to like each other much, but around that preacher she was a different woman; a stranger. You'd have thought she was the happiest woman on earth.

            The preacher smelled like baby powder and funeral flowers and his piety was as unconvincing as the toupee that sat on his head like a cow patty. What she saw in that chinless creature was a mystery, but something suggested that he was as ugly inside as he was on the outside.

            I had come from the upstairs bathroom just in time to witness the detonation as plaster hit the table that memorable day. The event elicited an unfamiliar squeal from my mother followed by an uncensored, "Shit!" The preacher leapt from his chair as if his pants were on fire, brushing wildly at his black vestments without even offering to help clean up the mess. Instead he left "like a bat out of hell,"(a Lill-ism when referring to hasty non-clerical exits). As his red sports car peeled out of the driveway she flew into a rage over "that damned toilet...." But plaster wasn't the first bombshell dropped at that kitchen table, nor was it the worse.

            Unlike idyllic dinner scenes depicted in movies, mealtimes on Fifth Street were bellicose affairs, hellish events marked by predictable bickering always instigated by my mother. Food was presented grudgingly to my father and me with a daily side dish of nervious anxiety--until the day of the phone call.
            She wasn't a big woman, but was built sturdy and solid like a fireplug. She didn't walk; she stomped with footfalls heavy enough to rattle the dishes in the cupboards. That particular day she stomped to the table, plunked down her signature concoction of big hunks of potatoes, carrots and sausage all doused with catsup and served from a heavy iron skillet. Settling into her chair she smoothed down the front of her lavender flowered housedress.

            There were several neatly pressed dresses hung in her closet, all of the same cut in various colors, all equally dowdy and unflattering. For some reason she seemed determined to make herself unattractive though she had skin like porcelain and heavily-fringed hazel eyes. My mother was really quite pretty. The bickering always began with some ridiculous accusation directed at my father or me. Denials or cocky retorts would follow and the war would be on. Sometimes my father would throw down his napkin and jump up from table. A couple of times the chair fell over in his haste to flee the scene. "Jee-zus Cee-rist, knock it off, will ya!" he'd swear as he stormed from the room in the wake of her reminder that it was a sin to take the Lord's name in vain. But that particular day the ringing phone aborted the fight du jour. Grateful for the interruption my father and I gobbled our food hoping to finish before the call ended.

            "Hello...," she said in her soft telephone voice--then silence.  Turning slowly she faced the table, the phone receiver pressed against her generous breast. My father and I watched as the color in her face drained until it was as white as the milk in my glass. In a controlled voice we'd never heard before she addressed my father. "It's Gasser Jewelers. They want to check the spelling on the gold watch they're engraving for you. Is that Tiny with a y˜ or an ie?"

            My father's face went ashen. He gulped, then choked. Beads of sweat erupted from his forehead, streamed down the sides of his face and fell onto his plate. My mother's pretty hazel eyes darkened as she shoved the receiver toward him and stomped out to the back porch, the wooden screen door slamming behind her.

To be continued tomorrow...

4:52 pm est          Comments

Monday, February 11, 2013



It felt like springtime when I went to the barn early this morning; balmy and warm enough not to need my big down parka.  That warmth was short-lived, but the sun came out!  For Buckeyes this is big news!  A friend told me that Ohio only gets about 70 days annually that are categorized as ‘sunny.'  Oh, there are about a hundred ‘partly sunny' days, but that also means ‘partly cloudy.'  The rest of the days are either definitely cloudy.  So, today when the sun visited, if only for a brief while all the world was happy.  Everywhere I went someone commented about the "...beautiful day" and indeed it was, but soon the winds resumed that familiar howling and again the sky turned dark, cloudy and the air grew very cold.  These up/down conditions make packing for a trip very challenging. 

I pride myself in traveling light, but when my hosts see the jumbo wheeled duffle bag they will probably fear I'm staying until June.  Bulky sweaters, if only a couple, corduroy pants, jeans, jackets of varying weights, shoes for the beach, shoes for the city, hiking boots, books, cameras, notebooks, tape recorder, field glasses, batteries, laptop.... It all seems excessive, but necessary.  Good thing I drive a truck!

Work is caught up (for now) and words can't express how much I'm looking forward to this week long escape, but the critters know something is up.  Even Ernie who is not the most astute dog in residence looks worried.  Two of the cats follow me into the guest room and sit on or in the suitcase that's in the process of being packed.  Do they think maybe I'll take them with me?  The bad asses are wound up like clocks due to the winds, but follow me around as if velcroed to my jacket the minute I enter the barnyard. They insist upon special attention and I oblige them of course, but the chickens are another story and on days like this I question whether I might be better off just buying eggs at the grocery story.

The coop is furnished with six laying boxes which should be (and used to be) inviting places to lay eggs.  Fluffy wood shavings make the boxes comfy and private, but recently the girls have decided to make every day Easter, complete with an egg hunt.

Several weeks ago I discovered a stash of eggs from one of the Pointer Sisters who was laying her eggs in the emergency dog house behind the wood pile.  Having discovered this depository I am now forced to perform minor gymnastics to reach the egg tucked at the farthest inside corner of the little house. This morning one of Gladys' Pips marched into Walter's hay room and hopped onto the one upended straw bale atop many horizontally-stacked bales.  She wasn't fooling me.  I knew she intended to lay an egg in this inaccessible (to me) spot, so after shooing her out of the hay room I pulled the upended bale down only to be showered with a dozen eggs, eight of which broke (on me) and four of which cracked making them useless for anything but top-dressing the dog kibble which pleases Julie and Ernie.

Yet another of the Pips has gone broody.  It's still winter and not a good time for peeps, so each evening I gently lift her from the nesting spot that she thinks is hidden in the passageway between the big part of the barn and the hay room.  She protests loudly and does her best to inflict wounds as I carry her to the coop to join her feathered friends.

Yes, this is my chosen lifestyle, so I won't complain, but I must admit that I am eagerly looking forward to leaving it all behind for one luxurious week when I will not have to shovel manure, pump and haul water as frigid winds bite my face and freeze my fingers, beat ice from water buckets, search for hidden eggs or be beaten up by one angry hen.  I need this vacation!

9:38 pm est          Comments

Sunday, February 10, 2013



I haven't posted to this blog for several days.  Frankly that's because reading or listening to someone's lament soon becomes tiresome and those who are kind enough to read about my small country life don't deserve to be subjected to that.  While I don't want to bore others with seemingly-endless sorrows, I do need some time to heal, but thanks to a cadre of wonderful friends who are indirectly forcing me to leave my protective, but unhealthy seclusion, each day is better. Ted is gone, but much remains and it's all about living in the moment, not the past.  That's what dogs do.

On Friday two artist friends and I set off in some dicey weather conditions to visit an art exhibit and have lunch at an allegedly-haunted mansion.  In a deliciously toasty dining room overlooking an icy lake where snow swirled like mini tornados we enjoyed lunch while discussing the art we'd just seen and for a while I forgot my sadness.

Last night again I forced myself from this isolating cocoon and attended our monthly music potluck.  My untouched guitar sits in the corner of my office where it's been collecting dust for over a year.  I didn't take it with me, but a friend handed me his and while my fingers are horribly rusty from not playing, it felt good to be part of the music and today I'll take in a movie with another friend. 

I've washed all of Ted's things and put them away, out of sight until another dog needs them--and there will be another dog.  All of this is part of my healing process.  Every grieving person must find his own path, but insulating oneself in the familiar, but painfully empty places wasn't working for me.  Although very aware of what was lost I've also become very aware of what kind friends remain a part of my life.  They'll never know how much they mean for words are inadequate, but I hope that if/when they suffer such pain I can return their kindness.

11:56 am est          Comments

Thursday, February 7, 2013



My friend gave me a ‘word a day' calendar and today's word was swivet.  It means a state of extreme agitation, so that might describe things here this week.  The chiropractor who had ‘fixed' my back last week insisted that I return this past Monday for a follow-up visit during which time he ‘un-fixed' my back.

Following the appointment I went to the grocery store where a back spasm literally bent me in half.  ‘Good thing I had the cart to lean upon!  I couldn't call him to complain because it was then time to take Ted to that awful final vet visit after which the pain in my back and leg was negligible in comparison to the pain in my heart.  After a sleepless night due to my leg and foot being numb I called the chiropractor this morning only to learn he is closed.

Julie and Ernie and I have been going for long walks and as always it is good to be out in nature-good for all of us. The woods are beautiful, all snow-covered and still; good for meditation.  I've been very moved by the sympathies expressed by friends close and remote for there is no act of kindness that is too small or insignificant. While the events of the week have cast a dark pall, these have meant a lot.  The cards, calls, emails and even flowers from one especially thoughtful friend have surprised and comforted me.  Someone said that death is only complete when no one remembers.  Ted will never really be dead.

Work is always a helpful distraction, so I've been working like a beaver to finalize some articles.  Then I plan to take a week off to hit the open road.  Upon my return I shall consider taking in another dog (a rescue of course) in need of a loving home. 


1:09 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, February 5, 2013



There's a heavy and deafening sadness in this old house today.  No cat shenanigans, no romping or dragging toys from the basket in the living room, not even any mice in the trap.  To those who say animals don't grieve, I say you aren't much of an observer.  I am grieving most and unashamed of admitting it.  I miss what I shared with Ted and while I love all of my animals, the relationship with this dog was unique and special.

Ten years ago he'd been thrown out along a country road when he was about nine  weeks old, discovered by some friends who'd gone for a walk.  When they brought the lanky pup here his entire right side was full of infection from bite marks under his eye and through his lower jaw.  Within a day Ted was 'worth' over $200.00.  No one could have guessed how big he'd grow or what joy he would bring to this farm.  Even people who said they "weren't dog people" couldn't help but engage in his relentless games of fetch.  He was the Frisbee king. 

Plunking his big head down on the lap of some troubled visitor calmed them for he was also a four-legged counselor.  I could go on, but those who know me and who were lucky enough to know Ted understand.  Those who find these expressions of sadness tiresome simply don't matter to me. Eventually my pain will subside, but not just yet. Eventually another foundling will sleep on his dog bed and eat from his green bowl, but not just yet.

My life is all about animals.  At home they are my ‘family' and professionally they are my livelihood.  I tell the stories of people for whom animals are the core of their existence; farmers and horsemen and firemen who took in strays that became fire dogs..., the list could go on and on and I'm grateful that so many publishers appreciate these stories that expose their readers to those who genuinely care about animals.

11:47 am est          Comments

Monday, February 4, 2013



An icy snow was falling and the roads were slippery as Ted and I drove to the vet.  Salt spread on the walkway leading to the office had left a dull film on the wood floors. Ted stepped obligingly onto the scale as he has always done, bypassing the basket of dog cookies that usually caught his attention.  He'd lost almost twenty pounds since our last visit. 

Somehow I knew when I got up this morning that something was very wrong.  Dr. Costsalot (not his real name) is a wonderful veterinarian, very competent, kind and honest with one of those faces that can't conceal bad news.  I told him what had occurred since Saturday and as he examined my big dog his expression spoke volumes. 

"He's lost a lot of weight in the past month and I don't like what I'm seeing," he said.  "I'd like to do some blood work and an ultrasound.  His stomach is distended and I suspect he's holding some fluid...."  Of course I agreed to the tests and Ted was led into the back room.

The doctor returned alone, looking grimly down at the sheet of paper in his hand.  "It's not good," he said, but I already knew that.  He and I had both hoped that maybe Ted's heart medication just needed to be bumped up, but that was not the case.

"His sugar is over 700.  His white cells are elevated and his blood cells are low, but things are even worse.  The ultrasound shows that he's got a large tumor on his pancreas...," and the prognosis was as bad as it could be.  The decision was made.

The florescent light fixture buzzed as I wept and waited for Ted to be returned to the room.  A big thick blanket was laid on the floor for him and he collapsed onto it, exhausted from the short walk from the back.  A sedative was injected into his hip and before he slipped into his final sleep he licked the tears from my face. 

There are dogs and then there are dogs.  Ted was one of the special ones, loved by everyone, but especially by me.  I still can't believe that only days ago he was carrying his toys around, romping to the barn with me to do chores and gobbling his evening dog biscuits with gusto.  Until Saturday everything seemed okay other than the obvious weight loss.  He will be cremated.  Knowing he had a wonderful life is some small comfort, but tonight my heart is broken.  I can't write any more.

6:11 pm est          Comments

Sunday, February 3, 2013



Here we are into the second month of the New Year already and things around aren't going especially well.  In retrospect the past six months have been challenging, starting with becoming ill at fish camp, followed by the back problem which curtailed several things, but which finally seems to be on the mend thanks to a wonderful chiropractor.  But all of this pales in comparison to the current situation which involves Ted. 

Some dogs are just more special than others.  Of course I love all of my animals, but without question Ted is my favorite.  He's ten years old now and for a dog of his size and breed(s) this makes him a senior citizen.  He's half Rott and half Lab and has been over a hundred pounds all of his adult life.  Last year while I was on the road somewhere in Maine he was taken to the vet and diagnosed as having a rather serious heart condition.  He was put on medication, monitored regularly and doing very well on his daily regimen of pills.

Quite recently he has started to lose weight and while a trimmer body might be good for his bum rear leg, the loss has been spontaneous.  All day Saturday he seemed a bit restless, nothing definite, but during the night his discomfort intensified and I was up with him several times (no sleep).  He'd have to go outside, then he'd try to get comfortable, then  drink an excessive amount of water only to have to go outside again and again.  He's been sleeping soundly all day, but he is not himself.  Tomorrow I will reschedule my follow-up chiropractor visit and Ted will visit Dr. CostsalotI fear the news will not be good.

The painting classes I'm taking on Tuesdays and Thursdays have become burdensome.  I've writing deadlines to meet, backed-up farm chores and breaking away to create disappointing paintings (my fault, not the teacher's) only feels disruptive rather than fun.

And so, between having health issues myself, sick animals and assorted other impositions blog posts have taken a seat at the very back of the bus.  It's hard to concentrate and funny stories lately seem elusive.  Even the bad asses have been on their best behaviorHopefully tomorrow will launch a week of events worth sharing.

12:55 pm est          Comments

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