Communing with Nature…It just isn’t Natural

Okay, I’ll say it: communing with nature may be more than advertised.
This morning I began the day singing a little song, thinking of my tiny chicks, wishing they trusted me, or at least didn’t run and hide whenever I go in their coop to feed them.
Or maybe it’s my dog. He’s huge. I don’t trust him, I don’t expect the birds to.
Or the wind. They apparently don’t trust the wind, either, because the slightest breeze can send bird feet reeling.
Okay, I have neurotic birds, equally unsurprising because my ranch is home to the prairie’s weirdest animals; another story, another time.
Anyway, the sun rose, the Bubs went to school; it was time to Be One with the Animals of the Chicken Variety. BUT. It’s also Thursday, which means I have two-and-a-half hours of Me Time before I go to work, and what do I do in my Me Time?
I watch Netflix.
Yes, commune with the birds. Yes, build trust. But also, Yes to Netflix, because fortunately, the internet is accessible within so many yards of the house.
Oh, and also Yes to a portable stool, because sitting inside with chickens is a nasty business.
Me. Stool. iPad. And a Dr. Pepper, because, I’m me.
I sat. I shielded the opening so that the dogs could see me but not reach me or eat Avian for breakfast. I opened the iPad and clicked on the Netflix and while it buffered and opened the app, I awaited my flock to adore me.
I have a rude flock. They ran as though on fire.
Fine. Whatever. My feelings were not hurt because I had Netflix and it was loading my chosen show and the mellifluous tones of its opening music soothed me and, surprisingly, like the flute of the Piper, it wooed the birds. Beaks first, they broke pack rules and one by one ascended toward my feet.
Sure it could have been the music but I’m betting it was the Raisin Bran I wantonly threw toward the ingrates I wanted so very much to like me.
It worked, so lesson learned: bribery pays. I learned that from having Bubs.
Okay, so picture the birds adoringly hopping at my feet, dogs slobbering from behind — probably wishing they, too, were allotted a portion of Raisin Bran — and iPad in my hand thoughtlessly playing video at my command.
Good morning.
Boring, boring morning.
Fifteen minutes of communing was all I needed.
Why? Because birds and dogs are loud.
How many times did I hit the 10-second replay button? I don’t know. I tried to shush things: “Hush, dog; stop chirping, brown one; do not poop there, spotted one; this is a no squawking zone; dog, if you don’t stop panting in my ear, you will be a rug by afternoon.”
Again and again with the 10-second refresh.
Not wanting my fifty-minute program to swallow seventy-four minutes of my Me Time, I brushed the now loving chicks away from my soiled shoes, snapped my squatty red stool up by its handle. and petulantly swept out of the coop and into the house.
I was huffy. And my shoes were soiled. And I hadn’t followed my video at all, so all of my Me Time had been squandered on trying to earn fowl love.
The birds liked me, but I wasn’t so sure of my adoration of them.
Three dogs were following me like I was a giant chew toy, mostly because I still carried a half bag of Raisin Bran.
And I’d lost the thread of my story, so I’ll have to start all over again next Thursday during Me Time, that I will not be sharing with other living things, thank you very much.
Sigh. This ranching stuff is hard.

Lithe Lithgow

I don’t see my mother enough, so finding “outings” is a great way to pen in an appointment. Tickets in my hand force that same hand to find a sitter, to juggle a calendar, to find cute shoes, and to get out into the world with my sweet mom.
At nearly curtain time, I stumbled across the announcement that John Lithgow was to appear at a community college in the City.
What was he going to do? I didn’t care; his act made no difference. If he wished to sit and fart for two hours, I’d be proud to watch.
John Lithgow has been ubiquitous to my personal entertainment. From Garp to 3rd Rock to the most recent, The Crown, I’ve watched this man portray larger than life characters effortlessly.
I only drew the line at Mr. Lithgow as Bad Guys. I staunchly refused to watch his skill in a Bad Guy role. (Why? I blame Mary Tyler Moore. That’s a much different story; we’ll discuss later.)
Knowing my ridiculously tender psyche cannot handle stress, I have avoided all movies with Mr. Lithgow as the Bad Guy, mostly because I know he is an exceptional actor and would convince me so fully that I’d have a much taller Mrs. Tyler-Moore on my hands.
Not knowing what to expect with an evening with Mr. Lithgow, my mother and I pranced into the theatre ready for anything.
What we saw were two acts, each with Mr. Lithgow, alone, in the near dark of a spotlit stage, telling a single story, but not just telling it: living it. Employing every molecule in his six-plus-foot frame, he created a scene using invisible props that seemed just as real as the paper ticket I unconsciously twisted in my hand while I watched, mesmerized.
After a quick intermission, Act 2 began with Mr. Lithgow describing a scene: his parents, each ill, and sad, and worn out, laying in separate beds in the same room, and their son, desperately reaching for an infusion of hope, deciding to tell them a story. After years of being the child recipient of tales spoken into reality, he could return the favor by using the curative powers of P.G. Wodehouse nonsense to bring life into his parents, even if only for an hour.
Glasses settled onto his nose, his legs crossed, comfortable within the depths of a  high-backed leather chair, Mr. Lithgow opened an ancient volume of “Tellers of Tales,” and began reading his chosen tale. Within a couple of minutes, the book was set aside and to my utter joy, Mr. Lithgow acted out every nuance of the hilarious story of a guileless uncle soaking life’s every moment into his bones to walk within his own Utopia.
Seven people — and a parrot — inhabited the stage, each character distinguished by a particular affectation Mr. Lithgow bestowed upon him or her, and through a series of high steps and fluttering hands and the use of a suit coat and a cocked head to seem more avian, our audience gleefully sat and watched as though the story was breath itself.
And near the end, glasses back in place, book in hand again as though it had never left his fingers, Mr. Lithgow re-settled into his chair, leaned forward, and said, “Goodnight, Mother. Goodnight, Dad. I hope you’re feeling better.”
Instant tears! (On my part, not his.)
Ovation! (From everyone, not just me.)
More tears! (Again, all mine, though I probably wasn’t alone. Theatre etiquette prevents the inspection of other faces to determine proper appreciation of a dramatic moment. I think that’s written somewhere.)
And it was over. Two hours of existing in another world, Mr. Lithgow’s head.
Mr. Lithgow’s head is a beautiful place to be.

A Day to Remember, though Not Fondly

I was going to tell you an interesting story about a mean bird, a four-foot Nerf gun, and a fruitless attempt at channeling the wisdom of Renee Zellweger.
The bird lived; the Nerf gun cleaned up nicely; and Zellweger’s quote has yet to be Googled, but I know it was brilliant and timely, the spirit of it was dead on, and yet I declined the advice.
But before I could fill in the blanks on that startlingly brilliant vignette, another thing happened.
My Bubs, my beautiful Bubs, has an instinctive need to lock the truck doors before exiting the vehicle. While I appreciate his kindly protecting our maybe-valuables while we spend time outside the confines of a Ram truck, sometimes…well, sometimes.
Yesterday I stopped for gas. Bubs stopped for an Icy drink and perhaps a hot dog, if they were indeed spinning in oil across that roller-dog thing.
I was watching his safe travel across the parking lot while the pump put gas into my car.
Once my son was safely upon the sidewalk of the local convenience store, I turned to put my credit card back into my wallet.
I guess Bubs and I are all about protecting things.
But the door was locked, blocking my re-entry into the driver seat.
No matter how many times I pulled on the door handle, it would not let me in.
Three times, four times; denied.
I could see through the tinted window: my wallet, my phone, my purse, my son’s brand new book from the morning’s book fair, and my keys, sitting lovingly and ready in the bucket of my seat.
Only the ending click of the gas pump startled me back to life.
There are no pay phones, yet twelve thousand walked around the 7-11 while I stood rooted to one place, trying to recall any single number to contact any single person I knew who could help me in my new emergency situation.
And I was coming up empty.
Adrenaline took over, I rushed into the convenience store to look for my Bubs by the hot dog rolling thing, and he was not there. In fact, he was sucking on a cola icy drink while holding the side door for an overall-clad gentleman. He’s such a good boy.
Except for the locking the door thing. There’s that.
Suffice it to sum up:
7-11 doesn’t allow long distance calls.
Neither does Subway.
Not everyone likes that you ask to pleasepleaseplease borrow their cell phone.
Library patrons frequent 7-11 and are kind enough to help, though the efforts prove fruitless and now I owe him a couple dozen cookies to repay his kindness and replace his own melting icy drink.
Subway gentlemen are willing to offer their personal phone for help.
Fortunately, I could remember my own dad’s cell number and he was kind enough to start a text chain of frantic needs for immediacy and chocolate.
And last but not least, firemen rock.
Though I was able to start a Help Me Pleasepleaseplease chain, Subway gentleman prompted a secondary 911 by pointing across the street to a firehouse full of men who “aren’t supposed to, but I bet they will.”
Thus did Bubs and I find ourselves running across a busy street toward help.
And help rushed out the door, into a big red truck, and dashed back down the street toward my stranded-in-pump-six truck while Bubs and I loped after them.
The firemen had already unsheathed their tools and started on both sides of that vehicle.
Five minutes later, truck open, I was taking orders for treats and rewards and Bubs and I were on the road to the local grocery for Rocky Road and Homemade Vanilla.
Can’t thank people enough for their kindness, and can’t wait another minute to scroll through my phone, write down all my contact numbers, and sew the list into my bra.
It’s gonna be a busy day.

Look at this Shirt…but Not this Jacket…and Don’t Look at My Neck…wait, Does My Neck Need Work?

I once overheard in a dress shop dressing room, “What do you think?”
Since I didn’t know of anyone else being in the area, I peeked out my flimsy curtain and saw a lady in a pair of shorts, white socks, and a blazer over a white blouse standing in front of a chair full of her husband, obviously lulled by hypnotic somnolence.
Hubby roused for a second, then glanced up at his wife, who asked again.
“What do you think of this shirt? But only the collar. Don’t look at anything else. And I’ll have a different color jacket, probably navy, maybe black. And a necklace…”
No response.
“What do you think?”
One more beat, a quick shrug, and hubby said, “Yes.”
Ah, I thought to myself as I tucked myself back into the dressing room. He’s a pro. Well done, sir.
Why do I tell you this story? Because I have friends coming from Wyoming, to a house not Spring Ready or Spring Cleaned — or maybe even Winter Cleaned, but March is probably too late for that, I guess.
Having given up on the home’s interior, I’ve been working in the front yard. And the parts that are pretty are really, really pretty! I truly considered calling an emergency meeting of the Garden Club so that they could see I can actually have a pretty, living garden for five minutes every spring.
For my poor visiting friends, I’m hoping that after four back breaking days of labor in the front yard, the collar of the shirt will dazzle them to the point that they won’t notice the awfulness of things like the guest room. (Ooo, better yet, maybe they’ll want to live outside for the duration of their stay! I have a couple of comfy chairs, surely. Well, one needs to be re-webbed…and the other has a wonky leg; it rocks; but rocking motions, they can be soothing, right?)
Except, like that half-dressed woman’s request, I need my friends to look at one half of the front flower bed, the west side…and don’t look around the corner of the house…or the back yard…or even the east side of the same flower bed…
That’s it. I’m taking them to a hotel.

Ah, the First Day of Lawn Season

The first day I had available to work in the yard for the first time in the first day of the Spring season: ninety-five degrees with thirty mile-per-hour wind gusts.
Did I let that stop me? But should I have?
Plus, my Wyoming Woodsmen are visiting this weekend. People shouldn’t see my yard the way it was.
End result: after four and one half arduous hours, I can proudly show off this one tiny quadrant of flower bed, as it’s the only part photo-worthy.
Day Two of Spring brought three hours of push-mowing, as the tractor is down for the time. I learned how to service my push mower — quite proud of that — and got her going, then ran her horizontally for-seeming-ever, thought I’d mowed for miles; all the while I thought of “Cool Hand Luke,” moving the hole from one side to the other and back again.
“Luke did it,” I coached myself. “He wouldn’t let a manic Pekingese running across his hard work bother him; he wouldn’t worry about the tornadic wind gusts; he wouldn’t worry that he’s lost feeling in his toes and stopped sweating a half hour ago! Mow, woman, mow!”
Halfway across my industrious efforts, I wondered, “Did Newman have a stunt guy dig that hole? Yes. And even if he didn’t, was he in better condition than I’ve ever been in my life? Yes. And do I have Newman’s icy blue eyes with which to wheedle another schmuck into doing this laborious task? No.”
And at that moment, I released the mower to the wild. “You’re free! Run! Go, Mr Mower!”
He sat idly staring at me with his giant back wheels as though he wasn’t the one to give in.
The Pekignese peed on it.
I went for a beer.
And Advil.
This morning, I considered burning the lawn.

Wild Duck Chase

I’m deep in the midst of a community-wide Scavenger Hunt, one I am largely responsible for creating, implementing, monitoring, and critiquing, in case we do this insanity again next year.
This is a charitable event. We charge a cool ten bucks for each participant so that we may give it all to an annual prairie event called DUCK Week. Originated at the high school, the monies go toward needing folks, mainly those with horrendous illnesses and a need for optimism.
This year the recipients are the cutest three boys illness was ever cruel enough to afflict.
Thus, our Scavenger Hunt, affectionately known as MASHPEAS: the Most Awesome Scavenger Hunt Piedmont Ever Attempted (Seriously).
One of the tasks, one I instigated, is to dress a duck and snap the photo for others to ogle.
With this task in mind, I recruited my Bubs to help me round up Brown Duck, the beloved sole survivor of one coyote attack, one frozen night, and one overly zealous Moose Dog who  summarily took out all of Brown Duck’s tribe with eight gigantic and surprisingly quick paw slaps.
Now, Brown Duck has survived a half-hour onslaught of my yelling, “Corner him! Corner him!” and my maneuvering around a John Deere that Brown Duck wisely, infuriatingly, ducked — pun intended — behind.
Fortunately, Brown Duck’s reptilian brain kept him alive during previous trauma, because he’s not too bright when it comes to critical thinking. A few shakes of a food cup and he freed himself from his own Deere trap. (See what I did there? So clever.)
Of course, once he was running again, it took another ten minutes to build up the requisite frustration to make a run at him — fear be danged — and pin him to the ground like I was going to eat him.
All so I could put a cobbled fur wrap around his neck and take a picture for the Scavenger Hunt feed.
And 10 points.
Ten points?? Are you kidding? We traumatized already stricken Brown Duck for ten tiny, miniscule points?? Who determined that this kind of battle was worthy of ten measly points? I’m gonna write a letter, I’m gonna…oh, yeah. That was me.
I guess I’m grateful for my own reptilian brain.


Me on Yousician

For Christmas, I wished for a mandolin.
I have no experience with it, I just love their sound and thought I would like to learn to play.
I’ve tinkered with an ukulele for months, to no true progress. I could play some chords, but I dislike the plastic sound of the strings.
Anyway, for Christmas, I got a mandolin! …and a guitar…
And still I couldn’t play the uke well enough to justify owning anything other than a set of tablespoons — I can play those all day long, easy peasy.
In my deliberate attempt to learn about at least one of the stringed instruments I now currently owned, I went to the Source for All My Info…Google.
And Google told me about an app called Yousician.
After playing along with the bouncing Yousician ball for several weeks now– following its progressive teaching and video method — I can officially tell you  that you, too, can use this app to have a ton of fun and build proficiency with a musical instrument.
I’ve improved by Uking, if that’s a verb, and I’ve managed to wrangle the guitar to let me play some chords until my fingers cry Uncle for the day — steel strings are intolerable for my fingertips, but I’m building up my immunity, because I really like to play.
So–to sum up: I got a mandolin for Christmas; I’ve been laying some sweet riffs (not verbiage I use in public, don’t worry) across both the uke and the guitar (I’m at level 5, I’ll have you know); I have yet to touch the mandolin.

Marching Forth

“Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink, and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit?”               —   Pat Conroy

A year ago today, March 4th, my favorite author passed away due to cruel, diligent, incessant illness.
I’m a librarian and every time a new release calendar arrives in my email, I cannot help but skim the lines for Mr. Conroy’s name. I cannot help but wish so fervently for a new word from this author. If it’s an “I’m Dead and Here’s What I See,” that’s fine. I’ll take that. He’ll describe it beautifully. If the words were new pages of manuscript pulled from beneath a pile of old receipts and cupcake wrappers, I’d take that, too. Dust them off. Or don’t. I can handle dust. I just want to read what he writes.
But so far, no new words.
Recent literary offerings are writ in broadly painted strokes. Today’s attention span is ephemeral, a four-pica width, so tightly packed as to disallow for character development or description. Writers offer nuance, a shade, and leave intricacies to the reader.
And that’s what our general reading population wants. Quick story, fun plot, hopefully a dead body by page three, then let’s move on because I have things to do.
I respect that. I, myself, need to read many books weekly in order to stay on top of trends.
But. BUT.
When I need a real read, a story, an immersive tale, I adore a detail brush. And coffee. And a squooshy blanket.
It’s my Conroy Trifecta.
I had the joy of meeting Mr. Conroy once, and to this day, I squirm at my own geekiness. I didn’t ask what I wanted to ask, I didn’t apply enough Fandom to the situation, but I swam, denuded in nerd-dom, too briefly into Mr. Conroy’s ice-blue eyes and have pictures to prove it.
I guess that must work.
And I’ll still wish for his name on every New Release list.


Twelve years ago my son was stillborn.
His things are packed into an ancient Samsonite suitcase my grandmother used. Inside are his urn, a blanket, and I believe a crocheted hat and booties he wore. Clothing for premies is handmade and donated to the hospital. After my son’s birth I made many hats myself and gave them to the labor and delivery ward for future babies.
Every February I tell myself, “This is the year to open the suitcase.”
And this year was no exception. I was ready. I was good. I was telling myself a hundred times to move toward the case, to open the case, but I found a hundred ways to circumvent the case.
So Tuesday, his birthday, I went to work to stay busy.
And all morning, I was fine.
At noon, I sneaked away to buy Subway sandwiches and rescue my fifth-grader from the confines of gym so that he could hunker with me on the pickup tailgate in the school parking lot to eat lunch under a gorgeous, crystal-blue sky blanketing a breezy 75-degree day.
It was the perfect meal.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in complete normalcy, then endured the hated car line to gather my boy and head back to work until 8:00.
Long day, I was tired, but Tuesday television evenings offer my favorite show. I caught the last forty minutes, but that was okay, because it’s my favorite show. I’ll take forty minutes “live” and then Hulu the first twenty next day, no problem.
Except that my favorite character on my favorite show was killed off on Tuesday night.
All of the “okay” I’d had all day was gone in a wash and for two hours I mourned the loss of my boy, the video of that day twelve years ago playing over and over in my brain.
I needed that two hours, I know I did, and though I was weepy all of Wednesday, I was fine again; survivor’s guilt and a deep longing for things to be different, but still: Fine.
Then Thursday came along and I felt the need to Hulu, but instead of my favorite show, my second favorite had a new episode I hadn’t seen.
Whew! I thought, knowing I was delaying the inevitable repeat of maudlin behavior I’d exhibited Tuesday and yet no way to divert away from it because, dang it, I wanted to see the first twenty minutes!
So I blissfully pushed play on Second Favorite Show and do you know what the writers did? KILLED one of my OTHER favorite characters!
Then, on Friday, the real life cow in the pasture down the road birthed a beautiful calf, wobbly, confused, leaning at the side of his mama until he found footing.
It was the perfect ending to five tortuous days.
I tell you, people, the week tried to take me out, but I persevered.
And as for my son’s suitcase, well, it’s just fine as it it. Closed until next year.
“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8

New Sheets

I got new sheets! And a new blanket! And ooooo, I’m not the best sleeper but I was gonna sleep RIGHT on that night.
First came the prep. Changed the bed into its new sheets, fluffed the pillows within their new cases, and lay the new blanket ever so lovingly across the top of the whole shebang, then covered the newness with the old comforter just so the moose-dog wouldn’t ruin that New Sheet Smell.
Then, I showered. And, people, I shaved my legs. Yup, four months of hard work at growing all that hair and it was gone with only twelve hundred strokes of a Lady Gillette.
I shaved my KNEES, people, this New Sheet Things is momentous, I tell you.
After the shower, I put on my newest, softest, most sleepy-best pants and top and my squooshiest, comfy-est-est-ever socks, and slid under my new sheet.
Aaaaaah, the luxury…
Nope. I did NOT feel that luxury. By the time I hit the bed I was EXHAUSTED and fell asleep before I got any luxuriating in! No “oh, ah” moment, not even a true appreciation for the way new sheets feel on newly hair-stripped legs, none of that! I was OUT.
PLUS my winter coat is gone! And the next day, when I went to feed the chickens, I tell you I could TELL my winter coat was gone. No sock in the world can make up for the missing half inch insulation I’d conserved since September.
It’s not fair, I tell you.
Stupid new sheets.