Wednesday, March 28, 2007


My husband is a ‘mouse trap’ kind of guy.
The bait and lure then snap them in half and be done with it kind of guy.
The toss away the dead and set the next trap kind of guy.

This was not always the case and I wonder what of life’s abrasions filed his edges so sharp.

When we moved into this old house eleven years ago, we discovered that our new home, which had been vacant for months, had beckoned various members of the animal kingdom to take up residence. The first to make their squatters rights known were the mice. This was our very first encounter with territorial issues and within the first few days, I purchased more than the required number of ‘have a heart’ traps for the little vermin.

Peanut butter, we were told, was best to attract and keep them inside as the little hatch closed behind, making a lovely travel container to relocate them.

A car ride, we were told, was required to move them far enough away from our dwelling to prevent their return.

Our first catch was accomplished in the early morning hours and my youngest and I ventured a mile down the road to open the hatch, freeing one peanut butter smeared and confused little mouse to the woods.

Quite pleased with myself for having discovered a humane solution to our problem, I set more traps. I worked evenings at the time and returned home on that first evening to my husband relaxing sheepishly on the couch. I joined him for a glass of wine to catch up on the day’s events and then saw something that made me both love him and question his sanity. On the kitchen island sat my son’s small rectangular bug catcher hosting the day’s catch; mouse number two blinked and I think smiled at me as I moved in for a closer look. Inside the mini cage were strewn slivered almonds and crumbles of Monterey Jack cheese.

“I couldn’t leave the kids alone to drive down and dump it and it seemed so cramped in the trap,” he explained with the look of a boy in trouble. It would only be a matter of time until the word of the ‘mouse spa’ got around town and attracted even the smeared and dumped critters from miles away.

Over the years we have dealt with bats and squirrels, birds and mice, all finding our home as suitable as we have; each one, wearing away the kindness and the patience of the almond and jack cheese guy.

My daughter is a 'save the animals' girl.
The “Mom, my friend and I are holding a protest at the grocery store to stop people from eating animals” girl.
A “Drive slowly so you don’t squish the frogs in the road” on a rainy night girl and a go back home to get a bucket to collect said frogs to release them to safety by the pond girl.

She appears to be her father’s polar opposite.

I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle.

I am an animal person and as a child brought home more than my share of stray, injured creatures in need of saving. Currently we co-hebetate nicely with a variety of living things:

One beta fish given to the children along with several others (all in separate bowls) by Father Hank at Christmas—don’t ask.

One five year old hermit crab, which in spite of a fair amount of neglect, simply lives on and on.

Two anoles, which are the little lizards that turn from green to brown and back again, depending on their surrounding, or if you listen to my daughter, depending on their mood.

One Siberian hamster, who has been banished to the family room for nocturnal antics.

One dumpster rescued cat, who simply cannot remember from day to day that the dog actually does want to eat him.

One thirteen year old mutt, adopted from the pound on a New Year’s Eve by the former animal loving husband.

One four year old Rat Terrier, also a pound rescue, who, according to the dog trainer, considers me his woman and follows me endlessly from room to room, including the bathroom.

And one four year old Cockatiel who whistles at me every morning no matter what I look like; LOVE that bird!

I love animals… in their cages, crates, aquariums and bowls. I can tolerate reptiles, as long as they never come out of their cages and I do not have to touch them.

I draw the line at insects.

For all of the saving and rescuing I have done in my life, I become a cold-blooded, heartless murder without a conscience when it comes to bugs. I react with extreme fear driven violence when faced with a spider and have no problem whacking a yellow jacket with a shoe.

This winter, in the frozen dead of winter, we were invaded with another type of wildlife.

Sugar ants.

It seemed impossible at first to see ants at all with the ground frozen solid, but every day they would appear on the countertop between the refrigerator and stove. Every day I spray them with Windex and wipe them away with a paper towel. We cannot locate the origin.

“I’ll get some ant traps,” my mouse trap expert informs me.

“Mom, what can I use for a cover so they can still breathe?” asks my daughter, showing me the little bottle cap living room, complete with a cookie crumb, a drop of water, a piece of fuzz for relaxing; two happy ants settling in.

Daily, I struggle with their return and I am sure there must be thousands of them.

“Mom, what are you doing? They’ll die if you spray that on them!” My save the animal girl shrieks.

Somewhere in the middle, I am.

As winter rolls over and spring shows its face, the teeny tiny soldiers continue to come. Ants live in complete harmony among the colony; each responsible for his own job. These are the front line, sent out to the face of danger to bring back food. I watch as one struggles to carry a dead comrade back for burial.

Still others march on in search of food, ten or more cluster around a kernel of dog food on the opposite side of the kitchen. In comparison, the journey would be like walking across the state of Texas carrying a pizza for home the family.

Amazing determination.

I am unable to accept these tiny warriors moving across my counter, and yet I cannot pick up the Windex bottle after all they have been through.

We have arrived at an understanding of sorts. I flick on the kitchen lights at 6am and pull the coffee pot toward me, giving them to the count of ten to make themselves disappear.

I slowly fill the coffee pot with water, counting to eleven just in case.

Not a one there when I come back.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Father Hank stands before the parish on the steps as always, book in hand, pensive look on his face. He never stands at the lectern. He never stands still. His smooth head and round face offer an unguarded view to his soul; his face, sometimes shining with joy, sometimes pained with passion.

He begins his sermon always with three words; topics really. He always begins this way, naming the three words that sound unrelated to one another, much less to a Godly lesson, and then unfolds three stories one at a time. All three are wrapped tightly at the end into one powerful message. He paces as he speaks, introducing this week’s three: Don’t Hesitate, Spiritual Gifts and Wild Geese.

Following the Gospel lesson of the Prodigal son, Father Hank unfolds the first story about his days in seminary. Unlike some who are called to this path early on, he reveals that he has lived several lifetimes, traveled many directions before God pulled him to his destiny. A married man, suddenly full time student, he painted a picture of difficult financial times and the humbling experience of a not so young man needing to turn to his own father for help. Anxious to offer explanation, he is silenced by his father, who hears the only thing that matters and sets out to meet him with an envelope; “Don’t hesitate.” was all he said. "It is like this with God," Hank explains. We, like the prodigal son, are welcomed without exception when we return; no explanation, no hesitation.

He went on to talk about spiritual gifts and how we all are born with them: Prophets and Healers, Artists and Musicians; something for each of us to be used for the good of all. “Pew Potato,” he reminds us, is not among the gifts. He speaks of the complacency of the “church” and how, closed inside this building, we come to draw from the Spirit, but often return through the doors self-contained; immobile.

He reflects on a walk with his dog earlier in the week and tells of how they were startled by the sudden boisterous swell of sound overhead; a large flock of geese headed north; wild and determined and directed. An animal husbandry lesson followed. Research has shown that tame geese in pens are stirred by the sound of wild geese flying overhead. Even the geese hatched into captivity respond to some kind of spiritual DNA, this inner call that causes them to run and flutter and honk, many attempting to take flight. For some reason, few are able to actually lift off and leave, in spite of the stirring. It is far easier to tame a wild goose, than to return a tame goose to the wild.

How many times have I sat in this place, moved to tears and conviction by the stories that stir my inner spirit, but find myself in the end, penned in and grounded?

The sermon has swirled around my head for days now. I think about the ways large and small that we reach beyond the fence of our tame existence. I think about the people in my church who have just returned from a mission trip to Guatemala: men and women with families, jobs and all of the other road blocks that keep us “penned in.” And yet they go.

For women, I believe this call from the wild gets stronger as we move farther along the path of our lives. Our innate desire to nurture is no longer consumed by our families and a sense of being connected to a larger family is illuminated.

I think of women like Oprah who do so much work in this way, using the gifts she was given and has earned to make an enormous difference in the lives of many. Having both the will and the means, she is able to act on the spirit. So what then for those of us who do not have the means? Can we make a difference?

Are there any tame geese who really do take flight?

Do I know any wild geese at all?

I do.


My husband has an aunt, perhaps 12 years his senior making her close to 60. Painting a picture of Debbie would require many brushes, endless colors and several canvases. Her life has been unusual taking her through three marriages and has landed her in careers ranging from boat cleaning to ski instructor. She has led adults on tours to Europe and guided women on horseback across Ireland. She has lived in cities and in the mountains; been on top of the world and close to the bottom. She has seen bumpy roads, and hard times. Perhaps it is safe to say that she has never been truly tame, truly penned in.

This September, Debbie did more than flutter and stir, she took flight.

At a time in life when most wish to wind down and take their duly earned Golden Years at leisure, Debbie joined the Peace Corp.

She is currently in a small village in Macedonia, assigned to helping the apple growers with marketing. She is writing a story about these kind, but seemingly sad people as she struggles in a village that speaks little English. Her journey thus far has led her through intensive training, three months of language coaching and finally to her destination, where people who cannot understand her look to her to improve their lives

I am in awe of her.

It is one thing to be moved, to have compassion, to be stirred. It is another thing entirely to leave what you know and trust to offer two years of your life to people whom you have never met in a place you have never seen.

She heard the wing of geese above and left her safe, penned existence for the unknown; not merely a vacation to a strange land, but as a kindred spirit to our larger family on this planet we call home.

I hear them too, and am stirring in my pen.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I mark the page and close the plastic covered book jacket. “Enough for tonight, it’s getting late.” The day was long and draining and I am desperately longing for the couch and my own good book.

I pull the pink, patchwork quilt up to her chin, her brown silky hair splayed like a crown over her pillow. A smile spreads as her eyes flutter closed and she wiggles herself back and forth as if burrowing happily into the sand. Brown eyes popping open, “I can’t wait for tomorrow!”

I check my mental calendar to see if I am forgetting a special event; Thursday the 22nd, nothing special comes to mind. “Why, what’s tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow’s a brand new day! Maybe some new flowers will pop up in the garden or maybe some new baby animals will be born.” She shrugs with happy uncertainty, “New things will happen and you never know what! It’s a new day.”

“You’re awesome. I love you,” I tell her as I kiss goodnight.

Tomorrow; full of possibility.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Eyes lowered, he steps down one foot at a time, casual and deliberate. Chin tipped at an angle, he holds his shoulders broad and powerful, eyes carefully glancing left and right to take in the peripherals without being noticed. He grabs the bag, showing no signs that its weight is cumbersome and slings it over one shoulder. A scowl of indifference, he grabs the door with force to close it, too nonchalant to make eye contact, too cool for good-byes.

The scene reminds me of an old western where the dismount from the horse, the saunter to the door and the force with which the saloon doors opened spoke volumes to onlookers; a force not to be reckoned with…challengers beware. In a cloud of testosterone, he makes his way into the building, image intact. In spite of the minivan substitute for a horse and the skateboard shoes in place of spurred cowboy boots, he enters the doors of the middle school with cowboy cool.

They are the same doors I entered nervously three years ago when my first born was on the threshold of seventh grade. The building seemed large and unfriendly; a dramatic contrast to the 5th/6th grade middle school. It was the same school that my husband attended for seventh and eighth grade and apparently changed little since his days of roaming the halls.

Entering the gymnasium for parent orientation, I exchanged pleasantries with comrades as I climbed to the fourth row of the bleachers and settled myself. I sat ready to be filled with inspiring speeches and began to thumb through the hand-outs in my lap. “Welcome to the Cat Years,” immediately grabbed my attention.

The paper informed me that until now I had been raising a puppy. Puppies are delightful and full of adoration. They come when you call them, yearn for your attention, aim to please you and love you unconditionally. According to this paper, my sweet puppy was about to morph into a cat.

For the unsuspecting parent, this evolution is shocking and parents franticly search within and without for answers: where did we go wrong? I learned that my puppy would take on a feline attitude and was reassured that this is perfectly normal. I could expect to be ignored when I said his name, as if he had never heard the name before. I should expect my cat would avoid being in my presence, would turn its nose up at the food I offered and would interact on his terms only; a distant aloof composure at all times.

I sent my first born off to seventh grade, in spite of the urge to home-school, a bouncing tail-wagging twelve-year-old in hopes that this was an exaggeration. By the end of the first semester, the cat years had taken hold.

“If you have to come in the school, don’t make eye contact with anyone.”

“So when your friends say hi and wave, I should look away and ignore them?”

“OK… say hi, but don’t make conversation.”

Suddenly, I had become the most embarrassing thing in his world and the very fact that he had a mother was humiliating. In public, he walked at least twenty feet ahead of me, pretended not to hear me when I spoke and was sure that anything I said in the car with the windows closed could be heard by all.

I would frequently remind myself that he was immersed in the Cat Years, and held tightly to the promise that at the conclusion of this phase, a dog would emerge at the other end; no longer needing me in the puppy way, but loyal, loving and close. I learned to disengage in debates, as reason has no value in the cat years and would occasionally hiss back and move on.

Unpleasant as this was, I endured the past three years and just recently, I saw glimmers of the canine returning. My oldest, now golden retriever-like, is enjoyable to converse with on occasion and as he approaches the age of sixteen, I see the sweet and loyal beginning to shine through. He is now able to be with me in public, say good-bye in front of others and even asks for my opinion from time to time.
I thought I was prepared as my second born, the sweetest and cuddliest of my litter, entered the seventh grade. I was well- equipped in feline management. I knew what to expect, how to react and felt unruffled by the hormonal eruption about to take place. As luck would have it, this one is no Tom Cat. I am now the proud parent of a full-fledged Mountain Lion! Hissing and disengaging are futile efforts and my previous strategies require complete revamping.

He awakes each morning, right on time and emerges from the shower with a stone-like exterior; ready to be annoyed at the slightest pleasantries. He looks at me with distaste, casting breakfast aside after a bite or two and moving through the morning as if life itself was inconvenient. Grabbing for my highest healed boots in an effort to look down at him still, I drive him to school with the radio on; music to calm the savage beast. As we approach the driveway of the school, he slips on a layer of attitude to get ready for his dismount. He forcefully thrusts open the door of the minivan, taking no notice of the driver behind the wheel.

“Have a nice day! I love you!” I say.
I know he needs to hear the words, even if they go un-answered and I am not insulted by the non-response

Living in the lion’s cage, I have learned several things:
Take nothing personally; this too shall pass.
Keep your sense of humor.
Never show fear or hesitation.
Stay calm in the face of roaring aggression.
Keep the lion well-fed at all times.
Never stop loving.

I am sure that by the time I have mastered the art of lion taming, it will be time to place my youngest and the only female on the threshold of middle school. It is likely that the estrogen storm will be dangerous and perhaps everything I learned with her brothers will be rendered ineffective. I realize that I will have to re-think the philosophy that de-clawing is a cruel practice.