“Honey, I Need a Real Dog”

Last week I was wrestling fiercely in my head and heart about two sweet, invalid pugs I had tentatively opened my home to. Here are Pimm and Polly on my couch, a favorite spot. All they wanted to do was snuggle close, which is not a bad trait if you spend a lot of time sitting. Coco clearly regarded them as aliens, choosing to keep a distance apart.

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I realized, among other things during this enlightening week, that I do not sit a lot. (My inability to post more often on anunboringpath attests to this!) I sit when I write and I sit when I am tired or eating. Sandy says I have two speeds: Off and high. Maybe he is right? Maybe this is another good reason two very inactive, nearly blind dogs are not the best choice for me?

Almost a week into my attempt to be a rescuer, Friday came around, the fiercest day of all, the day I knew I had to make the yea or nay, stay or go, here or somewhere else decision. Friday is also the day I read to Evelyn, who will be 102 in August and has been completely blind for about eight years. If anyone might be sympathetic toward these needy dogs, I thought it would be Evelyn.

Not even close. She was adamant that I should not keep them. First was the you-should-know-this declarative: “They’re dogs.” Meant, I’m sure, to assuage any lingering emotional connection I might have that would lead me to keep them for the wrong reasons. Meant, I’m sure, to suggest that they would be fine in some other place, such place being, in fact, better on account of no potentially deadly stairs that they might fall down. To top that, she – the blind lady who lives in a nursing home – said with as much vehemence as you can imagine her mustering: “They don’t need your home. They need a nursing home.” I was paying attention. She seldom has this strength of opinion.

That evening I sent the note that resulted in the pugs’ departure on Sunday, back to the foster family that bought them (and sent along to me) a suitcase full of cutesy doggie clothes. Anyone who would buy sailor suits, sundresses, raincoats and parkas for pugs, and mark them with their names in permanent marker along the lining of the collars no less, has fond affection for them. I knew Pimm and Polly would be okay. I did not have to be their savior.

Exactly a week after Evelyn told me in no uncertain terms to send the dogs back, I showed up again with To Kill a Mockingbird (our current read) in hand, and had hardly said hello when she said, “Tell me you sent those blind dogs back.” I wonder if she could have paid attention to the story if I had decided to keep them.

When Mom came for her turn to read, and to give me back Rise and Eppie who had been baking chocolate chip cookies with her during my reading hour, I decided to take a picture. Here are my little sweeties, my wonderful mom and happy, relaxed Evelyn enjoying Coco, who chose this moment to be a lizard with her tongue.

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Pimm and Polly helped me see my doggie needs differently. A week with dogs that couldn’t find their food unless you put it smack in front of them and gently positioned their flat little faces in their bowls, a week picking up dogs who couldn’t do stairs every time it was time for them to get a little outdoor time (and picking them up again after they’d had sufficient time to explore nature and do business), a week stepping over the temporary, please-God-let-them-not-take-a-tumble barriers in front of my open spiral staircase – can anyone blame me if I was right ready for a real dog?

Pre-Pimm-and-Polly, while still in the maybe-they-are-a-good-idea stage about a month or so ago, my son Bradley had said to me, “Mom, you have ten acres. Why do you want a dog that can live in an apartment? Why don’t you get a dog that can enjoy all this space?”

Around the same time, I was in Lowe’s, a store that allows you to bring in your dog(s). From a few aisles away I saw a man with a golden retriever on a leash. I am drawn like a magnet to a beautiful dog, so I approached and he gladly let me pet her. In his shopping cart was another dog, a dachshund I think, something small anyway. “She’s so beautiful,” I said about his golden as I stroked her gorgeous fur, glancing up at the other dog as well, as if some of my praise could waft in that dog’s direction. Nice little dog I’m sure. Fair’s fair after all. Well, sort of fair. I continued petting the golden.

“Thank you,” he said, clearly pleased that his gorgeous animal had been noticed and admired. Motioning to the smaller dog he said, “My wife and I always had big dogs, and then our last one passed and we were without a dog. Some friends of ours were getting one of these and there was one left in the litter and my wife and I said, Okay, sure, let’s get a small dog. About four years later I told her, Honey, I need a real dog.”

Much as Bradley’s advice and this incident might have (should have?) weighed into my initial decision to get Pimm and Polly, neither did. I did recall it all later, however, while trying to fall asleep late at night as the two of them on the floor of my bedroom groomed each other like baboons with incessant licking that sounded like wild, snorting boars foraging for truffles at the roots of giant oaks in an ancient forest.

Right after Pimm and Polly left, Lincoln and the girls had arrived. With them came Willow, their six-month-old golden. She is not exactly a lap dog, though Samuel gave it a try.

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She is however – let there be no doubt about it – a real dog. She was as cute as a golden retriever puppy can be when she was six weeks old and enduring January in Vermont.

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She even fit in their (standard size) mailbox!

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By six months old she fetches a tennis ball or a stick over and over again…

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…astonishing me with her grace, speed, energy, stamina and strength. Everything in this young body works! Her fur is soft as silk, her teeth white as snow, her eyes clear and bright and happy. She is picture-perfect and real-life-perfect.

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A dog like this doesn’t come along every day. She brings me the gooky tennis ball with that look that says You know you want to whack it down the driveway! I’ll go get it! I will! I’ll bring it back to you and you can whack it again! You know you want to! And I get to watch her run after that ball. I stare in wonder at her perfect form and perfect face. I think she’s happy to be alive, and I found myself happy to be near her and with her.

I think someday I need a dog that needs and wants to walk and run and play, a dog that follows me to the chicken coop and the garden, that learns to come, sit, stay and heel, that makes me stare in awe. We’ll see. One of these days the right dog for me will come along.

 

Rescue Reflections

I want a dog. I need a dog. I should get a dog. How hard is that? The time is right for me to get a dog of my own again. I think. I thought.

I was never much of a small-dog person, but Coco changed my mind. After she became a nice dog due to Samuel’s efforts, I grew to like her. I grew to enjoy her snuggling next to me on the couch. I grew to find her adorable. Don’t you?

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It’s okay if you don’t. She’s a ridiculous creature, but if you love a dog of your own, you know that doesn’t matter. If you don’t, then there is no use my explaining it. Dogs work their way into your heart. The thing is, she may be small, she may be ridiculous, but she is not foo-foo. I cannot do foo-foo. And she is nice. Nice matters. Coco made me consider a small dog instead of the larger breeds I’d had and been comfortable with: German shepherds (Jesse, then Adam), golden retrievers (Lucy and Candy), a St. Bernard (Mona), then another golden (Bridget).

We knew for the entire duration of Samuel’s Lambda (computer coding school) experience that when he finished and got himself a job, he would be leaving this house and finding a place of his own. I am exceedingly grateful that he found a job locally, but still, he will be leaving, and there will go my snuggler Coco. If she wasn’t such a nice dog, I would not be in such a fix right now. I had a problem to solve. Toward the end of my CASA training, right about when the tragedy of Micah’s death occurred and the 5K hospice race was happening and Max died, I distracted myself by thinking about my next dog.

Coco is nice. Pugs are nice. I looked up “pug rescue” and discovered an organization that currently had a mother-daughter bonded pair available. The description said:

Pimm & Polly are a bonded pair that must be adopted together. Both are up to date on vaccines, microchipped, spayed, and heart-worm negative.

Pimm & Polly are a super sweet bonded mother & daughter. They were surrendered to our rescue because their former owner passed away.

They both get along great with other small breed dogs and kids. Both are around 14 and 15 lbs silver pugs. Polly (Mother) is with limited vision having lost one eye as a puppy. She also has some alopecia from a skin condition during her puppyhood. 

Pimm is her daughter, she is playful liking stuffy and chew toys. Both are potty trained. Pimm takes a daily eye drop for dry eye. Both are very sweet ladies perfect snuggle pugs. 

We recommend gentle older children due to Polly’s vision. A fenced in first-floor home would be ideal for her and her daughter Pimm. Other small breed dogs like another pug would be best suited for these little ladies. 

Pimm & Polly are looking for a loving family that will have the time to give these sweet girls lots of love and snuggle time!

Based on this description, it seemed reasonable to keep going, so I did. Two dogs are generally better than one anyway, so I started the ball rolling – sent in the application, retrieved old vet records, opened my home to inspection. One thing led to the next. I passed their rigorous process. Last Saturday, a week ago, Mom drove with me to Williamsburg to meet them.

We waited in the parking lot next to Pet Smart. Pimm and Polly approached via stroller, pushed by smiling rescue folks doing an admirable thing trying to find these poor little dogs a home. The pugs were dressed up to meet me: full-fledged matching tutus with polka dots, shiny blue nail polish too. In this photo taken just before I took them home you can see we took the tutus off. And in case you are wondering, Pimm’s tongue hangs out that far because there are no teeth to hold it farther in.

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I can look beyond the trappings, beyond the shall-we-say unattractiveness of Polly’s hair loss and one eye. (Never mind that some people told me I could enter her in the Ugliest Dog contest and probably win.) I could see that they are sweet dogs, older dogs that have had a rough time. Their former owner did not detect (or blatantly ignored) mange in Polly to the point where the hair follicles are irreversibly damaged. There will never again be hair on the top of her head or on her belly or legs.

But okay. I signed the contract that included numerous points in regard to their well-being, medical care and safety, including promises that I would inform the rescue organization of any change in address or phone number and never allow the dogs to ride in the back of an open pickup truck. It was unequivocally clear that I was never to transfer ownership and that the rescue organization would remain the second contact on the microchip. The pugs would be mine or theirs, no one else’s. Not that I would re-home them, but that all felt a little like Are they really my dogs then?

Just as I put them in my car, I got what is for me an uncommon thing. Some people would call it intense anxiety. I paused. My heart beat faster than usual. I struggled to remain composed. “I don’t know why I have such cold feet,” I told the rescue folks. “But I have such cold feet.”

“Don’t worry,” they said. “Take them home and give it a week. Take two if you need to. Consider yourself a foster family for now until you are sure.”

“What about my money?” I asked, referring to the $425 adoption fee, which I understand helps cover the costs incurred during their year-plus of foster care.

“We won’t cash your check until you tell us you are sure,” they said. Mom didn’t say anything, didn’t want to interfere. I did not remember the words Samuel had said before I left: Make sure, if it’s a yes, it’s a strong yes. It wasn’t a strong yes, it was far from a strong yes, but off we went with stroller, food, meds, bed and a suitcase full of other clothes – matching sundresses, raincoats, fleece coats, parkas, sailor outfits, etc, all marked Pimm or Polly.

Okay. For two days I watched them exploring my house, enjoyed their very sweet natures and the facts that they eat well, do their business in appropriate places (i.e. not in my house) and really just want to snuggle almost all the time. I noticed that Polly only occasionally moved beyond her familiar bed and that neither was able to walk up or down stairs, even on a leash. But they are only about 14 pounds each, not heavy pugs. I carried them when we went outside, picked them up when they wanted to be with me on the couch.

Right away on Monday morning I called my own vet and made an appointment for that afternoon. Dr. Stewart is seasoned, wise and sensible. I trust her judgment and wanted her assessment. The “limited vision” referred to in the description is apparently an understatement. Polly is not only one-eyed to begin with. The best way to imagine the extent of her vision in the remaining eye is to imagine what you can see by looking through a straw – an extremely small field of vision, my vet said, and even that, we can’t be sure how clear it is. She is essentially blind. Pimm’s vision is quite compromised too. A kind of pigmentation happens in the cornea, which should be transparent. Neither cornea is close to transparent, so for her too, the world grows darker and darker.

I chide myself that I did not, as soon as the vet pronounced this factual state of affairs, put two and two together. I was perhaps in the thrall of their sweet, quiet pugness, perhaps heard the voices of our age commending me for this rescue effort. I did not remember how I assist Evelyn (101 years old and completely blind) from her chair to her couch every week when I go there to read to her, how tentatively she steps as she feels along the table in between, how she cannot simply put a fork into her food because for her the world is dark. I did not think about my house, the pugs’ new environment. I did not think about the danger of the open landing at the top of my spiral, cast iron staircase.

A continual mental flagellation has been happening all week, a little bit like the way President Kennedy reportedly walked around the White House after the Bay of Pigs fiasco saying over and over How could I have been so stupid?

The day after the vet visit, I was in the kitchen when I heard an unusual sound, a creaky thumping coming from the front foyer. Yes, the front foyer where you find the spiral, cast iron staircase. Polly was at the bottom, miraculously standing, miraculously with only a small cut on her head.

That night at the dinner table I had a light bulb moment and announced, “Polly fell down the stairs. It’s all very plain now. I just don’t have the right house. It’s not safe for them here.” I sent a note off the next day to the rescue folks, expecting them to come running with supreme concern – if they wouldn’t want them in the back of an open pickup, they wouldn’t want them falling down stairs, right? They didn’t. Instead I got “Is there a way to keep the girls in area with a pet or toddler gate?… At some point any pug you adopt will develop vision issues or issues getting around.”

Vision issues, she said. Um, blindness.

But she gave me pause and okay, maybe a gate, maybe a barrier. But I can’t create a hazard while trying to block a hazard. We go up and down those stairs all the time. And there are stairs on the back deck, stairs on the front deck. A saloon-type barrier might work across a small space but wouldn’t work everywhere.

Several things happened along with the incessant self-flagellation that continued, along with the constant undercurrents of stress, with the voices in my head saying one shouldn’t give up… one should make these things work… they really are very sweet… every dog needs a home… but it’s not safe here…  it’s mostly good here… but what if someone forgets to close the gate?

I did my best to set aside other considerations, to remember the central question drilled into us at CASA training, the foremost goal of the volunteer work aimed at helping abused and neglected children: figuring out what is best for the children. I tried to focus on What is best for the dogs?

I also did what I do when a weight is on my shoulders.  I consulted. I sought the wise counsel of those I trust and respect. I laid out the facts and got a resounding chorus in reply: This is not a good situation. They need a different home.

It pained me to write the note last night, but I did it. So far I have not heard back….

Maybe the time is not quite right for me to get a dog of my own again.

Fang??

Everyone needs a job. Everyone’s got a job. Think of it this way:

“See, I think there’s a plan. There’s a design for each and every one of us. You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird’s got a job, shit’s got a job, seed’s got a job. And you’ve got a job.”

So says the caring old woman Inman meets in the forest in the film version of Cold Mountain.* I recalled her words yesterday as Samuel and I walked with his ridiculous little black dog on a leash into the health care unit to visit mom.

Coco’s got a job.

We had hardly stepped off the elevator when a resident in a wheelchair noticed her as she was sniffing along the floor (imagine the assault on her senses!!), oblivious to the turning heads and sudden smiles she invokes. “Oh, look at that!” exclaimed the man, clearly enamored and delighted with the unexpected encounter. I stopped and let Coco investigate his chair and the floor around him more thoroughly so he could study her comical shape, flapping ears, short legs, tight body and smooshed face with some leisure. She’s lean for a pug, with well-defined shoulders that taper such that she could boast a waistline if she could boast. Her fur covers her frame as tight as sausage casing, her face says “what?” flatly, her brain is clearly clueless as to why the humans around her are so intrigued.

You’ve seen this silly face before, this sleek body.

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It’s ridiculous. Mom likes to say she’s ugly enough to be cute. My favorite photo is with incognito Samuel. I think it’s her best what-face.

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Jim in the wheelchair smiled big, asked her name, told us about the dog that comes special to visit him sometimes. I picked Coco up and brought her closer to him. What is it about an animal’s warm, lovely, silky fur that is so soothing? He reached for her head instantly and stroked around her velvet ears several times. Much as I wanted to give him a little more time to enjoy her softness, her silliness, her perkiness, her ridiculousness, delighted as I am to provide him these bright and pleasant moments, Samuel’s time was limited. Thinking of Mom’s recent back surgery and ongoing recovery, I closed the conversation with a well-wish. “We’re off to visit my mom. I wish you all the best in your own recovery.”

“Oh, I’m here for the rest of my life,” he said with as broad a smile as he’d had for Coco. “I knew that coming in.” Oh! How I wished protocol didn’t prohibit me from giving him a hug!

Coco’s job is to make people smile. She doesn’t even have to try. Walk her through a health care unit where some people are hurting, some are sad, some are harried, some are lonely – and a remarkable, involuntary thing happens. People smile. They stop in their tracks and smile. Coco doesn’t smile, mind you. She just sticks out her tongue. People smile. Starting with Mom.

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We prepared ourselves for a little jaunt and got on our way with Miss Princess perched on a pillow on Mom’s lap. One man we passed in the hallway on our way to the courtyard looked down, beamed, pointed, laughed and said, “Fang!” Somewhere in his memory bank lives a dog named Fang? Or she looks like she has one? (One fang?) Maybe her tongue incessantly sticking out to one side looks like a fang? We had no time for the backstory but ….  Fang??

Smiles happened every step along the way. Long hallway, elevator, lobby, mail room, corridor leading to courtyard… Every step brought smiles.

Every step except one. You know as well as I do: There’s a grump in every group. Along came Kathy, hunched and cranky. She scrunched up her nose (unknowingly imitating Coco?) and peered toward the object on Mom’s lap as if her disgust reflex had sent a red flag up the pole, the unspoken question being “What is it?” Mom volunteered, “Her name’s Coco.” Grumps are good at grunting, and that’s about all we got in return, making us eager to part company. Grumpy, Grunty, Crusty Kathy shuffled off, obvilious to the pall she took with her, and Mom and I proceeded to the courtyard.

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No one is under obligation to like this dog, pet this dog, smile at this dog. But most do. That’s what makes me think Coco has a job whether she knows it or not. Which makes me think we all have a job whether we know it or not. We might think of a job as the work we get paid to do, or got paid to do, or wish we got paid to do. But let’s hope that’s not all it is. Let’s hope that no matter how we occupy our days, we take a lesson from Coco and somehow bring what she brings – at least here and there – into the often hurting, sad, harried and lonely days of others. Who’s to say even Crusty Kathy didn’t grin as she walked away from us? I’d like to think so! Coco surely worked her magic even if we didn’t see it. 

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*Charles Frazier’s outstanding Civil War novel is one of my all-time favorites for not only its story line, but mostly for Frazier’s artful and amazing era/person/region/situation-appropriate use of English. This quote is not in the novel. The old woman, given the name Maddy in the film, says it as she mercifully slaughters one of her beloved goats to provide a meal for Inman, the main character, a soldier on the run, perhaps to lessen the blow of her sacrificial act for today’s sensitive viewers, perhaps to give him a gentle reminder, a renewed understanding of the why of his heart wrenching journey. In the book she remains nameless but infuses her time with Inman with many other thoughtful, wise and helpful words. Do get yourself a copy and slowly work your way through this exceptional book.  Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier, Random House, 1997

Yummy Yammy Cheesy Galette

When you first come home from having been away for a week, there’s not much in the fridge. But I did not feel like going shopping yesterday or today, and anyway I was playing tennis this morning, then flipping the cottage, then waiting for guests to arrive – honeymooners(!), repeat visitors Sally and Ryan – how wonderful to see them again!! I was wrapped up in Sarah’s book for many hours as well (while waiting for Sally and Ryan), so it was after 6pm by the time I thought about dinner. Earlier I had taken a chicken out of the freezer, thinking to roast it, thinking we haven’t had one with a teriyaki sauce in a while and that might be nice, but it was too late for that. Maybe tomorrow.

Hmmm, very limited choices then. I could always make mac and cheese but didn’t feel like that either. I said to Samuel, “Can you make a dough?” He is good at making dough even if he would rather amuse us by hemming Coco in with pillows and blankets on the couch, from which she did not care to move so we concluded that she liked it.

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By “dough” he knew I meant a pizza dough. I knew we didn’t have any mozzarella so a conventional pizza was out of the question, but my daughter Marie has a recipe for a savory galette that came into my mind. Only it’s been five months or so since I made it at her house and couldn’t remember it well.

I remembered her recipe started with a pizza-crust-type crust. Thus the dough I asked Samuel to make.

I remembered it had butternut squash, but I didn’t know I had one/forgot I had one/didn’t see the one I had till I was all done. But I knew I had yams. That would work.

I remembered it had fresh sage. I knew I didn’t have that, but I do (always) have dried sage.

I remembered it had fontina cheese. I knew I didn’t have that, but I did (miraculously, considering how nearly-empty my cheese bin is right now) have asiago. That would work.

I knew it didn’t have ricotta cheese on it, but I had some of that, and thought it might be good to include.

It might have been good to look up Marie’s recipe then and there but I didn’t (or I would have added more onions).

Samuel made the dough, a regular pizza dough. He grated a big chunk of asiago. I cut up two big sweet potatoes (a.k.a. yams) into small cubes and put them in my cast iron skillet in butter and a bit of water over a medium flame to roast (forgetting that Marie’s recipe calls for the squash to be oven-roasted), then remembered the half onion sitting in my fridge and something in me said Add the onion to the roasting yams. I sliced it up thinly, added it to the yams in the pan and covered the pan till the yams were soft, stirring them once or twice with a good spatula; they were done in about ten minutes.

Samuel rolled out the dough, I put olive oil on it and spread it all over the surface with my hand (just enough to cover the surface, not enough to pool). He then salted and peppered the surface. I put small dollops of ricotta cheese on next, using teaspoons to push grape-sized blobs onto the dough (you see the white blobs?), reasonably spaced. Cooked yam cubes and onion slices went on next (well distributed of course), then some dried sage, then the asiago.

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Into a hot (450F) oven the two galettes went for a good half hour until the crust was nice and brown. It was totally delicious. The combination of cheeses with yams with the sage and onion – oh, yummy! Did I need two pieces?? I enjoyed two pieces! And the crust this time! The crust was especially good. We think it might be because Sandy bought King Arthur bread flour last time I was out of flour, which has more protein, which is supposed to make a better crust. We agree it is better. If you can, buy this kind of flour for your crust.

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After we chowed down on this delicious stuff while enjoying Iron Man 2, I found Marie’s recipe, which I will happily share because 1. It has actual measurements and 2. It serves as a springboard to my altered version. You will see that the “pastry” for Marie’s Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion Galette is not a pizza dough. I guess I forgot that too. There are various ways I veered from this recipe. But the basic idea is quite the same.

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It all goes to show that you can look and see what’s in your fridge and maybe not have to go to the store in order to make something yummy for dinner!

Girls and Aprons: Straight Out of Another Time

Two little girls. My world is more wonderful this week because Rise and Eppie are here. By the time they are six and four, there’s more they can do on their own. I do not have to accompany them to the chicken coop every time, but can suggest there might be eggs, and off they go.

If you look carefully, you can see the chickens at the door of their run waiting for Rise. Food! Food! Humans approaching! They bring food! Not this time, ladies!

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That’s my hat she’s wearing, and she loves it because it’s purple. The love of purple applies universally. In other words, if it’s purple, she loves it. This one is especially appealing because besides being purple, there’s a flower on the side. She likes it so much, she wears it indoors sometimes.

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(Yes, that’s Edward Tulane sitting on the table next to Rise on my raccoon skin. They loved reading through it with me the first two or three days they were here. Imagine, as soon as Edward was thrown overboard, Rise said, “I want him to get back to the little girl!” Do you remember what happens at the end of the story? Do you think the author anticipated that a six-year-old would want that?)

On another day, a colder day, Rise got the first 13 eggs of the day and Eppie went out later by herself to get one more. (Don’t rush me! Don’t rush me! one hen said.) Yes, another hat of mine under her hood. If you are an Oma, it is best to have a selection of hats available when the little girls come to visit.

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There’s nothing like a good Ravensburger puzzle to occupy Eppie for a few minutes. She had both 20-piece puzzles together in no time. (I have a puzzle with chickens on it. Imagine that!) I hope kids everywhere are still doing puzzles. 

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I hope they are still eating apples too. I cut up two different varieties and put them in separate bowls and suggested they might do a taste-test to see how they compared. Rise said one was tart and one was sweet. Fair enough. Looks like they each found a favorite.

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Eppie likes reading aloud whether anyone else is listening or not. My mom gave them a marvelous reprinted Dick and Jane set for Christmas, which has adorable drawings and easy story lines. Here she is reading Green Eggs and Ham without prompting. Once in a while she needs help with a word. But only once in a while.

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“Oma, I found paint downstairs…” Ah, yes, children’s paint, supposedly washes out of clothes. But let’s not take that chance. I pulled out the aprons I still had from when my own kids were little, set an old shower curtain liner on the floor and gave them gloves to wear (which did not work on Eppie at all and I had to take them off and take my chances on how well the paint would wash off skin – it did!).

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After this, they did not want to paint again but Rise wore the apron nonstop. I didn’t realize till later that she was wearing it in this photo of all of us.

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Which got me to thinking. Of course. She should have one of her own for when she goes back to her house. They both should have one. While Eppie was sleeping one day, Rise and I went into my newly reorganized fabric scrap boxes (I knew I did all that last week for a reason!) and found some pieces that would be big enough for an apron. Rise settled immediately on a pale pink calico, but we didn’t want to decide for Eppie, so we found several. Eppie chose blue over green, which was a surprise.

Today was a good day to sew. While they played quietly in another room, I got to work, modeling the new ones after the old one. The girls were right there to measure when I needed, so it was easy. Waist to knees and height and width of bib, that’s all I need. The rest was gathers and ties. The girls were a little too quiet at one point. Hmmm. I found an abandoned mess of crayons later. When I asked about it, they said, “Oh, we like to clean!” Good thing, because I’m not cleaning it up.

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They were tickled with the aprons. And I was tickled when Kim said (in response to this photo I sent her), “Oh gosh – straight out of another time.” Indeed they are, though I didn’t think about the fashion era they represent until she said that. You see, girls (these girls anyway) love twirling, and if the skirt is full, the twirl is greatly enhanced. And the ties are long enough to make a bow in the back. Rise always wants a bow.

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If you know anyone who wants one (and I don’t mean Coco!), just let me know 😊 All I need is measurements!

Foo-Foo-Fication

I learned a new word today as Samuel and I started out on a walk with Coco. I put the hyphens in the title for clarity, but probably they don’t belong, and probably foofoofication isn’t in the dictionary.

This funny new word came up because it’s a beautiful sunny day after too many cloudy days, a good day for a walk with the dog.

This dog loves the sun. She likes it indoors by herself

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and outdoors anywhere near her favorite human.

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She doesn’t care if he is paying attention to her or not. All right, maybe she cares sometimes. But in general, if there is a sunny spot, she’s going to find it. So let’s take advantage of a sunny day and get us all a little exercise.

Oh, but where’s her leash? I’ve been out of town so I don’t know. It could be hanging up on a coat hook. It could be in one of the drawers in the foyer. While we rummage around, I see the leash I got from Jerry a few weeks back when I went over there with her but without a leash (just forgot, it happens). Jerry had said, “Use this one,” and pulled a perfectly fine leash and collar (left from his dear corgi) out of a drawer in his foyer.

See what I mean: a perfectly fine leash and collar.

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No, we can’t use that, Samuel said.

Why not?

Foofoofication, he said.

Are you kidding me? What’s wrong with this leash?

Come to find out (and you learn something new every day, don’t you?) it’s not about what’s wrong with Jerry’s leash. It’s about what’s right about Coco’s leash, which by that point in the conversation he had found (hanging on a coat hook).

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This is rope, he said, with an emphasis on rope. I’m sure you can see that. Coco’s black leash is a piece of rope fashioned into a leash. The alternative, a vaguely feminine-colored purchased leash, is obviously inferior and unacceptable.

How could I not have anticipated this? How could I have assumed that the choice of which piece of equipment to use for this walk matters? Both exist exclusively for making sure you have control of a 16-pound, arguably foo-foo dog, in this case along a road which offers lots of woods on either side but only the slightest chance of seeing another human. But one choice is made with rope, not some skinny, shiny, ribbed nylon. Samuel already has Coco, whose origin story (as they say with superheroes — have I been watching too many of these movies??) was told in another post. He can’t possibly go any farther down the foo-foo road.

While I laugh inwardly at the silliness of today’s leash selection, I look down at said cutie pie, attentive and hopeful as always, surely singing (in her funny little head):

There might be food,
there might be food,
if I am cute enough,
there might be food!

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And I think about the material things that I myself have an attachment to, some for reasons I couldn’t even say, such as the cup I like best for my tea in the morning, the scarf I grab most of the time, the furnishings and artwork I’ve surrounded myself with. Maybe some people would think the stuffed lamb propped against a pink lacy pillow on my bed is foo-foo.

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All right, yeah, that probably qualifies.

Until this moment I never thought of it that way. I just like the lamb because my daughter Marie gave it to me. It seems my foo-foo line is in a different place than Samuel’s.

The subject of foofoofication makes me think about those lines, about how we all draw different lines in different places, reserving the right, of course, to redraw our lines on a whim. I think about the complexity, the hilarity, the wonder of us humans. However do we manage to get along as well as we (usually) do??

 

The Light of 2019

Last year during the week between Christmas and New Year, it was very, very cold here in Virginia, inordinately cold, exceptionally cold. We seldom get to single digits, let alone for a week straight. We took Katja, a visitor from Germany, to Washington, D.C. and walked from one end of the National Mall to the other. It was 4 degrees F (-15C) that day.

Just before Christmas we were in Vermont. I did not pay as much attention to the temperature because we were busy insulating Lincoln’s house and hauling household items up the snowy hill, but I do remember hearing it was 11F. That’s not as cold as 4F but it’s still mighty cold. Coco doesn’t like it. Poor baby. There’s not a lot of fur on her belly, and it’s very tough on her. She would much rather be tucked in.

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When we got home it was much warmer. It makes me smile to see her finding her spot outside on the front porch (that’s no closer to being finished than six weeks ago)…

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…or inside where the sun comes through my south-facing bedroom window.

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She finds and occupies the only bit of rug that also has sun in that room and has her trusty fox toy behind her. Now we’re talking! New Year’s Day in my neck of the woods is predicted to be sunny and 64F (17C). Ah, glorious sun!

If a patch of sun can make Coco so happy, imagine what it can do for you, what it does do for you without you hardly noticing it most of the time. Think about how you feel on a drab day vs. a sunny day. If you live in a place that’s sunny all the time, you may not be as aware of the effect that cloudy days have on your emotional well being. But winter is harder in places that get snow not only because it’s colder but also because there is less sun.

Imagine if we arranged our built spaces to take advantage of the sun whenever possible. One of my favorite books about the design of living spaces is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. In it he suggests some examples to encourage indoor sunlight: “(1) a porch that gets the evening sun late in the day; (2) a breakfast nook that looks directly into a garden which is sunny in the morning; (3) a bathing room arranged to get full morning sun; (4) a workshop that gets full southern exposure during the middle of the day; (5) an edge of a living room where the sun falls on an outside wall and warms a flowering plant.”

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In Lincoln’s pentagonal house, he has chosen to put an oculus (which will become a cupola with functioning windows) in the center of the second-floor ceiling. Light will stream into almost every room of the house through this amazing component of his design.

This (in my woobly red line) is the oculus I’m talking about. Only some of that flooring will remain.

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Most of us are stuck with the house we have, the orientation it came with, the sun we get. But on this first day of 2019, I am thinking about what the sun does for us and how we can and should take advantage of it. Find a sunny spot to sit in if you can, even for a little while. Let the sun do its work on you. See what happens.

Beyond that, I think about what we can do for others by being “sunny” in our interactions. The expressions that come to mind and go hand in hand with this concept include:

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar – a favorite of mine because it’s true not only figuratively, it’s true literally. The image of a flypaper hanging from a ceiling in a cabin somehow resides in my mind. If the strip of paper were coated with honey, no way could a fly’s wings detach once they landed on it. What (very dumb) fly would land on a paper coated with vinegar? I translate as: You accomplish more by using grace and kindness than by being sour/vindictive/mean/angry/etc.

In honor of Mary Poppins, all the rage with Mary Poppins Returns being in theaters right now: A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. In the Julie Andrews original, she applies this literally, though why the children need medicine when they are not sick is beyond me. Nevertheless, my translation: The world can be a tough place; anything we do to make it better makes it better! Add an element of good to something that is unpleasant or difficult and you will find everything easier.

Lastly: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine! I was thinking today about how limited we are, how our sphere of influence is small, how many people there are in the world and how few of them we can in any way affect. So what? We don’t have to save the world (this has already been done), but we sure can make our own corners — and the corners of those we love and care about — less dark by our chosen actions.

Several years ago, I found the essay We Were Made For These Times by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves). It made me think about why I do what I do, what I think is important, what the future might hold. Maybe it speaks to you and helps you make 2019 a wonderful year in new and important ways.

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.

The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Pug Meets Pig

You have to wonder about dogs sometimes: what matters to them, why they get excited about this but not that, how they process our interactions with them. For the moment, this is the dog I’m talking about. Coco, what’s going on inside that funny-looking head of yours?

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Samuel presents her with various challenges such as putting her in a closet…

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… putting her in a box…

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…and standing her on a bookshelf.

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Does she care? Is she saying to herself (in whatever way pugs and other dogs say to themselves) What’s up with these humans? I was just trying to have a nice nap. Is there any good reason to be bothering me right now?

The questioning goes two ways. Much as I expect she is clueless about our behavior sometimes, about why or how she ends up in a closet or in a box or on a shelf, we are equally clueless about her behavior. Let’s go for a walk with her.

At this time of year my gravel road has lots and lots of fallen leaves along the sides. The cars going by, few as they are, must provide enough air movement in the right direction for the leaves to land everywhere except in the road itself. For whatever reason, these leaves are really interesting to Coco. There’s a treasure of a smell every few steps it seems.

But okay, let’s keep going because down the road a piece there are, right now, two very large and amusing pigs to visit.

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My neighbor Tracy’s very well cared for and fortunate pigs wander around their exceptionally spacious (for pigs) fenced-in area all day looking for acorns they missed or taking a snooze in a patch of sunshine. They seem to love visitors. You approach and they come. You are something to do, an attraction, a point of interest.

Hello! (I love this picture!)

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A few days ago Samuel and I took Coco with us on a walk. We were curious what would happen when the pug would meet the pig(s). Initially, what happened was exactly what you would expect to happen.

Uh, hello, what on earth are you?

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The pig approached, and they sized one another up. You have to assume more olfactory activity than we could ever imagine (especially with a nose like that!), and who knows what, besides the intense and new smells of each other, they notice. Curiosity lingered a moment, then they both decided to get a little closer and the other pig joined the party.  Hmmm, similar nose, different color, different size, different ears!

Pig 1: Hey, sister, what’s happening?…. What IS that??

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Pig 2: I don’t know. Looks like an alien. Vaguely familiar nose though.

Coco: I beg your pardon!

Pig 1: Why is it here? What does it want?

Pig 2: Doesn’t look edible.

Pig 1: What good is it if it’s not edible?

Coco: Hey, watch what you say about edible!

Pig 2: Gotta admire that nose though, smooshed flat the way a nose should be.

Pig 1: It has the nose going for it, I agree. Maybe it wants to play?

Coco: Oh, look, these leaves smell so marvelous!!

And off she went! No longer interested in pigs! Practically perfect pig pals, no less!

Pig 2: Was it something we said?

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Really, Coco?

Coco: If you knew how amazing these leaves smell, you would be on your hands and knees with me! I know that’s a pain for you, bending those ridiculous long legs so you can get to a reasonable height off the earth. The human design is so unhelpful when it comes to smelling leaves and other super important things. By the way, this is super important and I don’t mean to be rude but… busy here!

The preoccupied, party-pooping (possibly pampered) pug pursued personal priorities while these pleasingly plump, perfectly peaceful, pleasantly personable pigs at the pinnacle of their porcine pudginess pondered a plan to play! Positively perplexing!

Isn’t it the same among family and friends though? We get why the people we know or encounter do some things, many things even, but sometimes their behavior is incredible, bizarre, mysterious, absurd. Why, for example, do some people choose vanilla when chocolate is available? I will never understand!

I recently came across a marvelous, short Alain de Botton video about marriage and partnership that makes a similar point about confusing-behavior reciprocity, a.k.a. tolerating each other’s quirks. Why does my husband/ wife/ partner/ girlfriend/ boyfriend/ friend/ colleague/ neighbor/ dog (!) do [….X….]? Weird! Maddening! Crazy! Or maybe just Confusing. Inexplicable. Bizarre. Absurd…

The fact is: You see the other person’s issues much more plainly than you see your own. You have things to tolerate which do indeed get under your skin, and you forget that you (most likely) get under their skin sometimes too.

Why does Coco care more about the leaves than about the pretty pigs? Whoever knows! But she does, and from that moment forth, the pigs didn’t exist for her. Eh. Pigs. Smelled one, you’ve smelled ‘em all. So what. But these leaves!!

 

 

Inflatables, Ibises and a Swiss Cheese Plant

There are many things in this life that I will never understand. Blow-up lawn ornaments are one of them. Last week while in Lowe’s I could not help but see the selection for sale on the very high upper shelf in the – you got it – lawn care department.

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They have two dragons, one black cat looking evil (as evil as plastic can look), orange-rimmed eyes and something next to the purple dragon on the end that I cannot figure out. On another shelf they have a pumpkin carriage, a black spider (widow, no doubt), a haunted house and a green ghoula monster.

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The one that greets you – just imagine this in your neighbor’s front yard! – is this:

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Every town in America, sometimes every neighborhood, has at least one house with a variety of such “decorations.” It seems that Halloween is strongly vying for the #2 spot behind Christmas, when all manner of inflatable Santas, reindeer, snowmen, grinches, polar bears, nutcrackers, penguins and even nativity sets adorn front yards.

I have decided that I don’t have to understand or even appreciate everything. People have different eyes, different sensitivities, different preferences. Sometimes I go into a store and think: Who buys this stuff? But people do! And it’s not only what people buy. It’s the music they listen to, the foods they eat, the things that strike them as beautiful. It’s what they see, what they like, what they remember, what they want more of.

Some people will not look at Louisa’s gourds and think How beautiful! as I did when I saw them in August still hanging on their vine. Isn’t the shape magnificent? Traditionally, because a gourd’s shell will become as hard as wood, they have been used for bottles, dippers and musical instruments. People paint them, carve into them, display them. I am content and delighted to look at them hanging from a vine.

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Some people will think Coco, the little black pug I get to laugh at every day, is ugly. I did. For a long time. Curiously, I also thought she was cute. I’d say How can a dog be ugly and cute at the same time? But now I don’t think she’s ugly. She wiggled her way into my heart and now I think she’s beautiful. Yes, beautiful! And still cute. I call her Cutie Pie.

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You can put a bunch of pillows on top of her and she will still just look at you like What? Is there a problem here?

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See her in there? She doesn’t care!

You can put her on the rooftop of the chicken coop’s brooding box and she will not care!

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There are a lot of things that strike me that someone else might walk right by. I am drawn to form, pattern, color, character, authenticity and uniqueness with a curiosity that I suspect will never quite be satisfied. Last week this MO was confirmed in Galveston, Texas, at a place called Moody Gardens. Their “rainforest” is a bit imposing from the outside – a tall, glass pyramid amid lots of palm trees (this is not Virginia!).

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Inside I marveled at the patterning on this fish’s back. Do you think every one of its species has a different “fingerprint”? It’s like a maze, like the corn mazes people walk through or the ones in activity books that challenge you to get from Point A to Point B. Do you suppose there’s a way through this one?

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I don’t know what these birds are called, but there they were, right in front of us, looking as perfect as if they had been manufactured in a factory according to detailed specs.

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The shape of the one that sat so still, its distinct all-black and all-white sections so crisply divided, its unblinking eye with no shadowing, no lash, no imperfections – she’s amazing, but she doesn’t know it.

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The gorgeous color of these scarlet ibises is like something off an artist’s palette. What do you even call that color? To me, scarlet isn’t the word you want. But the birds don’t care what you call them.

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They freely walk around, seemingly oblivious to the humans observing their skinny legs, their outstanding posture, their disproportionate beaks. Why do those beaks have to be so long? Perhaps their food lives deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond?

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I have to admit that the color of the palm viper is extraordinary, but I did not stare at it for long. The coils, the gleam, the idea of what it is capable of sent me on my way even though it is behind glass. I think people must be innately repulsed for good reason!

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Onward!

I do not want to be the one who feeds the mantas, but it was quite something to watch! The man who does this has been feeding them for five years! His hand is inside the glass.

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How amazing is the patterning of this branch of the “rain tree”? It grows that way without any help from a computer program! Notice though that it’s not perfect. Some leaves are missing. If a person made this, or a program constructed it, you can bet that all the leaves would be there.

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Seen from below, with the sunlight framing it, this branch is to me even more amazing.

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The Split Leaf Philodendron or “Swiss Cheese Plant” is just plain funny! What reason could there be for the naturally-occurring holes in the leaves? To get more light to the leaves below it?

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On the sign in the lobby at Moody Gardens is a Kenyan proverb that says: Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.

To me this says more broadly: Keep your perspective. Be careful. Pay attention.

It gets me thinking about what an incredibly diverse and fascinating world we live in. All too often we get caught up in the everyday issues – bills to pay, things that break down, people who disappoint us. We forget to take notice of the miracles all around us all the time. Without our usually noticing it, there’s beauty: someone’s smile, the color of flowers, the rays of sun making speckled shadows. There’s growth: we don’t struggle quite as much with something as we used to, our work yields more satisfaction, our cooking is more delicious than ever! And there are simple and complex systems in every corner of our world that actually, consistently work! The lights go on when we flip the switch, fresh and wonderful food from around the globe is available in our stores, the mail arrives! Much as I will never understand it, even the inflatables in people’s front yards at Halloween and Christmas give (some) people something to smile about.

Besides all this and a thousand other things, there are plants in the world that look like swiss cheese! Just for fun maybe?

Take a moment today to look around and think about what you normally take for granted. You don’t need to make a list (though mine is very long!) but I think if we all spent a bit more time being grateful for what we have instead of lamenting what we don’t have, if we celebrated the good instead of bemoaning the bad, if we channeled our energies toward gratitude and service instead of anger and greed, think what the world would be.

Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange

I know there are people in the world who would feel, as I do, a twinge of sadness the day after a storm splits the gigantic chrysanthemum.

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Or who wish they could wander out to the garden to pick fresh oregano and purple basil for the homemade pizza about to go into the oven (see the basil in the box behind the rosemary?). Or who would like to make applesauce together from freshly picked heirloom Virginia apples. I suspect there are people who have some time – a few weeks or a few months – to explore a corner of the world that is surely different in some ways than their own and who wonder about my corner of Virginia.

I’m thinking this is Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange.

There’s always something going on around here: planting, harvesting, building, cooking, baking, (eating!), trying, creating, discovering, resting, marveling, playing, listening, digging, watching, learning, discussing, fixing, pondering.

There are my various gardens with herbs, vegetables and perennials. I’ve moved the azaleas in between the crape myrtles in front of the fenced garden. Turns out, the neglected bush that just got dug up in the front corner of my house was actually two bushes. This photo shows them moved, with their fresh dirt around them, but not yet trimmed, staked or mulched. I did that later in the day, after taking the photo. I had to take the photo when I did, and you see why. I did not ask little Coco to park herself there to enjoy the sunshine…

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We have got to do something about the blackberries that are going crazy inside the garden, and the tomatoes could be pulled and winter crops planted. The asparagus bed is none too tidy, begs for attention. One of the rudbeckia got smashed somehow and needs a little love. The front yard is a mess from the recent Big Dig, but soon we’ll be pouring footings and building a nice front porch.

My two custom-built chicken coops provide palatial accommodations for 29 interesting (some bordering on ridiculous) chickens. They need new mulch or straw when they’ve scratched through what we put down before, but they give lots of amazing eggs to make good food with! My lone araucana isn’t laying her greenish eggs any more though – could there be a reason? This black copper maran had a face-off with Coco yesterday. Both have curiosity, but the chicken less so. She just wants to get back to scratching in the straw. A white silkie came toward us to investigate.

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When the sun rises on a day with too much cloud cover, and it can’t quite get its rays to stream through the giant trees in my back woods, there’s always an otherworldly feeling and sometimes a glorious mist that sparkles on the leaves or in the air.

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When the wind kicks up such that those trees can’t help but engage in a wild dance, it’s a sight. The not-so-manicured trails through the woods are a pleasant walk leading to the beaver pond with its lodge and dam. The beavers keep making their pond a little bigger. I don’t get down there often enough.

When a fox trots in a wide circle around the coops, wishing (you know it!) that there was a way to get to those fat and surely delicious chickens, it doesn’t know how its red fur shines in the sun. When guests stay at my gorgeous Airbnb cottage, they just might see a mother bear and two cubs walk through the yard. A few weeks ago, someone did.

Recently I was in Seattle and met several enthusiastic, capable au pairs. I got to thinking that some people who would like to come to Virginia for a little while (but don’t necessarily have a friend here already) might prefer a household without small children, and might prefer a country setting. They might enjoy getting to know the plants that grow in this climate, or the way we lay decking boards, or the vibe of downtown Charlottesville, fifteen minutes away. It’s a vibrant university town with great restaurants and shops, exhibits and lectures, sports and music events. The Presidential homes of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe are all within half an hour’s drive.

Over the years I’ve had short- and long-term visitors many times and would love to share my little piece of the world with some new friends. If you are thinking it’s a good time to do such a thing and have a little interest, you can let me know.