Happy Halloween

I always feel nostalgic around Halloween.  When I was a kid, it was my favorite holiday, better than Christmas.  There was nothing like choosing a flimsy costume with a dangerous plastic mask at Woolworth’s, and waiting with excited expectation for the night I would wear the costume, for that night allowed to run freely through the neighborhood begging for candy.  And getting good stuff, too.  This was long before the ridiculous concept of “fun size” had flickered in some candy company ad exec’s brain.  Real candy bars: Three Musketeers.  Hershey’s.  Snickers.  Milky Way.  Sure, there was the random  health nut (or child-hater) who would hand out small boxes of raisins, but for the most part Halloween night was a sugar junkie’s nirvana.

In fairness to my parents’ nutritional standards, we didn’t get much candy except for those great candy holidays – Easter, Valentine’s Day and, of course, Halloween – so when we did get it, it was a real treat.  It must have been on a Halloween night that I learned the principle, “if a little is good, a lot is better”.  I remember eating until I felt sick.  I don’t remember that the candy lasted me more than a few days.

The first time I used this little jack o’ lantern candy holder, I had just turned a year old.

My first Halloween decoration, which makes it damn near an antique

Ensuing years of Halloweens saw me graduate to ghost- and pumpkin-festooned felt bags, crayola-decorated paper bags and finally, the teenaged trick-or-treater’s dream, a pillowcase.   Ever increasing piles of candy tossed into ever larger bags. I suppose if I hadn’t quit trick-or-treating when I was thirteen, I would now be driving around with a panel truck collecting my share of the Halloween candy.

A couple of years ago in the fall, I couldn’t get this elementary school song out of my head. We only sang it during October; it was sung to an appropriately creepy, dirge-like tune.  For weeks I hummed, “Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly, like witches on switches across the sky, something something something something moony sheen, It’s Halloween”.

One reason I really love the internet, besides its clear utility for wasting vast expanses of time, is that you can look up just about anything and find an answer.  It turns out that my Halloween song snippet was part of an actual poem, written by Harry Behn (1898 – 1973) who was a screenwriter in the 1920s and 30s, and a children’s author.

I’ll leave you today with Mr. Behn’s complete poem.  Some early school lessons really do stay with you.  Happy Halloween!

Tonight is the night
When dead leaves fly
Like witches on switches
Across the sky,
When elf and sprite
Flit through the night
On a moony sheen.

Tonight is the night
When leaves make a sound
Like a gnome in his home
Under the ground,
When spooks and trolls
Creep out of holes
Mossy and green.

Tonight is the night
When pumpkins stare
Through sheaves and leaves
When ghoul and ghost and goblin host
Dance round their queen
It’s Hallowe’en!


Today’s Title is “Not About Animals”…

…because my original title, ‘Poetry’, will scare too many people away!

I was never a huge fan of poetry.  Even as, or maybe especially as, a young reader I wanted to devour my reading material, to get through a story as quickly as possible so I could start on the next one.

Having to consider each word was too slow, too time consuming.  I was all about quantity, not quality.  My speed reading habit continued into adulthood. Poems, when read, were like hastily muttered and unconsidered prayers. Words were read but no deeper meaning was attached to them.

It was rather unusual, then, when I submitted a poem for publication and it was actually accepted.  What was most unusual was that I actually wrote a poem and edited it into submittable form.   It was utterly on a whim.  A random, unpremeditated, illogical whim. If I’d thought about it, the idea would have flitted in and out of my consciousness like a butterfly seeking nectar in my garden – now here, now there, now gone.

The Talking Stick is published by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc; my poem “a glimpse of god in the eastern sky” appeared in their Volume 17.  I assumed that they published anything submitted to them but have since heard that is not the case.

I submitted a poem called “Still” to the next edition and what do you know but that one made the cut, too! I was on a poetry roll but as I do so often when on a roll, I quit.  I didn’t submit the next year, or the year after that.

Why?  No spark of inspiration, no nirvana moment that spilled from my heart into words and onto the page.  A low-level case of depression, more dreary than devastating, first touched me, then surrounded me.  Oh, I was up, dressed and moving about.  I had to be.  The animals wouldn’t let me just sit and stare out the window, but there was no emotional energy in me to write much of anything.  I didn’t even read much for more than a year.

I’m back now and writing every day.  Last week, in preparation for my writers’ group, I tossed off a few lines of mostly non-rhyming poetry so I would have something to contribute.  I trust the ladies in the group so thoroughly that I am comfortable taking fourteen lines of doggerel and reading it to them.  At least they hold their laughter until we part at the end of the evening.

Does that make me a poet? I’ve got two books right here on my desk that say I am one.  I like playing with words and I’m pretty good at cobbling together a few seeds that could grow into full-fledged plants if I gave them a bit of love.  Maybe poetry ain’t so bad, after all.

Luna vs. The Opossum

The whining in the backyard was unusual.  That particular, distinctive sound means that Luna has trapped a cat under the couch or in the cat tree and wants it to continue playing with her.  It was disconcerting to hear the whimpering in the yard.  Since I am a vigilant guard and the cats can’t escape, I knew there was another critter out there with my dog.

Luna wouldn’t come to my increasingly firm calls, so I marched over to one of the hanging bird feeders, grabbed her by the collar and dragged her back to the house — literally, as she was unwilling to leave the small, curled animal that lay there.  iPhone’s flashlight app on, I revisited the scene and found an opossum, curled up and breathing heavily.

Opossums are odd little creatures, with sharply pointed, ghostly faces.  If they aren’t pretending to be dead, they have a beady little stare.  Their short legs make them seem to glide silently along the ground.  I’ve only seen a couple of them in my yard in the seven years I’ve been here, but there could be many living secret lives in the brush and hedges.  I imagine them, silently watching us go about our business, waiting for a chance to come nibble on fallen bird seed.

I love wildlife as long as I don’t have to encounter it personally, and I wasn’t sure what to do.  Is the phrase ‘playing possum’ based on reality or is it a myth?  At any rate, I didn’t want to handle the animal whether it was injured, safe, sleeping, whatever.  A bird who has stunned itself after crashing into the sunroom window, I will pick up.  But something with teeth, no.  Even if it is a comatose possum.   So left it alone, I did.

This morning the little animal was gone. No trail of blood, no poor mangled corpse left behind by a predatory bird.  He must have been feigning sleep for me, beating it as soon as the coast was clear.

I did some quick research on opossums this morning.  It seems that they don’t play dead to fool a predator, so much as they are paralyzed by fear and thus appear to be dead.  It’s tough being a possum.

Playing Possum: it’s true!  Click here: Playing Possum

And it’s tough being my dog when you’ve messed with an opossum.   To avoid a possible flea outbreak, Luna was dosed with Advantix and we’ll be going to the vet this afternoon for a check up.  Her rabies vaccine is up-to-date, and I don’t know if that is much of a concern with possums, but I’m not taking a chance of having a sick dog.


I’m glad I only paid $8 for this cat scratcher.

Juliet looks disapprovingly at the destroyed cat scratcher

I brought it home last Tuesday night, pleased with my remainder-table bargain.  By Thursday afternoon, it looked like this.  In a household of many cats, you might think I had to guess at which feline(s) were responsible for this senseless destruction.    I did not.  I knew.

Marlowe and Monty, the M & M boys, are solidly living out their kitty adolescence and have decided to pursue the hoodlum path.  I have had kittens and young cats around the house off and on for years, so I’ve learned not to leave glassware out; pens and pencils, ditto, as they make great spinning cat toys that can disappear into the smallest of nooks and crannies;  jewelry must be securely hidden away, especially anything with a chain; and there is no way on Bastet’s** green earth that I will ever be able to have healthy houseplants again.  Until these two appeared, though, I had never experienced undue destruction of cat toys.  Sure, the carpeted cat trees look threadbare after a while, and the little furry battery operated animals that squeak fall silent after being dropped in the water bowl.  That’s part of the cost of doing business with cats.

Monty, on a self-imposed time out.

Marlowe with some of his handiwork

This cardboard cat scratcher surprised me.  You’d think they wouldn’t normally be that durable, but I’ve had several of them and they’ve all lasted several months, if not years.  I expected the cardboard frame to be pummeled but I never dreamed that they would rend the corrugated scratching surface into two parts.

I guess this means it will be a flippant waste of money to have a Christmas tree this year.

**Bastet, an ancient Egyptian cat goddess

New Featured Adoptable Pet – Hank!

Hank is a German shepherd mix at Carver-Scott Humane Society in Chaska, Minnesota.  I have a personal connection with this dog.  One of my friends became aware that Hank was left tied out at a farmhouse, alone after the family moved away after a foreclosure.  The people could not take Hank with them but did come back to feed him until he was rescued.

What a handsome dog!

Hank’s rescue was the start of my involvement with Carver-Scott.  They were wonderful about accepting Hank into their program quickly, getting him to the vet and neutered, and keeping him safe despite his fearful responses to other dogs.  Many dogs with behavioral problems do not make it in rescue as groups don’t have the time or resources to deal with them.

Hank needs a home where he is the only dog.  Although he’s a great leash-walker, a fenced yard is important so he can have some outdoor time where he’s not leashed.  He is crate-trained and he loves attention from his foster family.

Learn how you can meet Hank here.


In which we are frightened

Today Luna and I went on a quick trip to our favorite pet supply store, It’s A Pet’s LIfe in Plymouth, Minnesota.   They have a great selection of natural and organic pet foods and treats, plus all the other supplies you need to care for your companion animals.  Plus, they deliver.  This is huge in my book.  When you buy as much animal product as I do, it’s essential.   When I have a small order, though, I will just make the five minute drive and pick the things up.  Plus, Luna really likes to go to the store.  This time, I needed to pick up some frozen raw food for the cats, some canned pumpkin for Luna, and whatever treat or toy would catch Luna’s fancy.  (Spoiled? Not she!)

Luna was kind of sorry she’d insisted on coming along for this one, as there was something really scary in the store.  Was it the resident bird, a rescued grey and white parrot?  A menacing mastiff, with drooling jowls and a low, fearsome growl?   A small, erratically moving child?  Nope, it was Jake, the owner’s four pound Yorkie.  I hadn’t seen Jake in months, maybe a year or more.  But there he was, with his silky coat and pert ears, an adorable little imp.

When I saw that Jake was in the store, my muscle memory kicked in and I gripped the leash more tightly, as my whole body tensed and my lungs took in oxygen in shallow, forced breaths.  My late, lamented Daisy trained me well and I couldn’t help but flash on the scene that would have unfolded had she been the one at the end of that colorful Halloween leash?  While Daisy was a renowned party-pooper and didn’t enjoy surprises at all, she really despised small dogs.  Daisy would go from 0-60 in two seconds and there was little I could do to reel her back in.  It would have been ugly.  Consequently, we didn’t go anywhere together.

Back to the present and Luna.   Jake approached us with the cool assurance of an experienced maitre d’ and there wasn’t a growl or a show of teeth by my brave girl.  They sniffed each other and each dog retreated, Jake with a show of indifference and Luna with a big dog-sigh of relief.  He hadn’t hurt her!

Normally, when we visit the store, we walk around and look at what’s new, maybe take advantage of the dog scale to make sure my active dog is maintaining her sixty-eight pound weight. Luna will let her nose decide which aisle we visit first and my arm is always being pulled in a direction I don’t plan on going.  Today, though, she pressed against my leg while I opened the freezer that holds the raw diet.  Walking to the register, she decided she was ready to leave and pulled me towards the glass door where she looked wistfully out at the safety of the parking lot.   I was firm for once and insisted she accompany me the ten feet to pay for the food, where she positioned herself between me and the counter.

At some point during the transaction, Luna the Bold felt confident enough to sniff at another customer and her cocker spaniel, to eye the parrot and act like her curious self.  But then he returned.

Jake strolled out from behind the counter and looked at her.  I felt my dog stiffen and could almost hear her whining voice: Please, mom, let’s go.  Pleeeeeeeze.  Now.  Let’s go home!

My card had been charged and my purchases stowed in my canvas shopping bag, so we were free to sprint to the door, then hurry to the car where I opened the hatchback and Luna jumped in without giving me time to unhook the leash from her collar.

I have no idea what telepathic communication or canine body language went on between them or why Luna was so worried about the Yorkie.  Jake has always seemed to be a polite and upstanding little guy.   Maybe he didn’t like a big black and tan shepherd barging into his store and demanding all the human attention.  Maybe he reminded her of a rather large squirrel that would take vengeance on her for chasing his grandpa up our  big maple tree day after day.   It’s part of the Infinite Unknowable that the dog world keeps hidden from this human.


Good news

I can’t in good conscience take credit for this, but Erica, the white rabbit who was this website’s very first “Featured Adoptable Pet” has been adopted.  Although I wasn’t aware of it, her adoption was already in the works when I put her up on the Featured page.

All the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society volunteers, including me, are delighted with Erica’s good luck!

A new Featured Adoptable Pet will be posted soon.


This oughta be good

When the envelope containing my new driver’s license arrives from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, I will be opening it with extreme trepidation.  At this point in my life, I am beyond caring what the photo on the license looks like.  I have had several licenses in my life, none of which had photos that I was proud of.  But, I am well past the age of being carded; the only time I have to show my license any more is when I fly, which is almost never.  Besides, why care what a TSA agent thinks of me and my picture?  Just so they don’t single me out for the strip-search, I am good.

This year, though, I might have to lose the license and go in for a replacement.  If you are in my general age demographic, you might remember the character on The Carol Burnett Show where Carol is the airhead secretary, Mrs. Wiggins, who spends most of her time filing her nails and whose dense incompetence aggravates boss Tudball.  That was the DPS worker who handled my renewal. Except this one didn’t have a fancy outfit, a big blonde wig or bright red nails.  Mrs. Wiggins in tee-shirt and jeans, with a short unkempt hairstyle.

After dispatching with the person ahead of me, Mrs. W. had some trouble with a printer from which she extracted a cartridge that she waved it around with a puzzled look on her face. Then she turned her back on me and sorted some papers for an eternity.  Okay, it was more like a minute, but it’s my story.  I can take poetic liberties if I want.  And eternity is a relative term, according to me.  Especially when I am waiting in line at the DPS.

Meander on to the part where my unappealing photo is taken.  I plaster a big phony grin on my face.  I’ve learned that when I think I’m giving a big smile it comes off as a  sarcastic smirk, so I really work at this one.  My cheeks start to hurt.  I stand there and Mrs. Wiggins fiddles and pushes a button and I stand there some more.  Nothing happens for yet another eternity (minute. see above).  I start looking around the room.  A light flashes, there is a click and Mrs. W. looks at a screen.  “Owwwwwwww, hmmmmmmm”, she says with a note of wonderment in her voice.  “I got your picture”.  And I am thereby dismissed.

Did I detect a mean-spirited note of triumph in Mrs. W.’s voice, or was it my own paranoid imaginings?  I doubt my new license will come before Halloween, but I have the feeling that it will be plenty scary.


What fun we have!

Luna accompanies me everywhere.  She’s always glad for a ride in the car; if she can enter a store or other business with me,  she is overjoyed.   Yesterday, we dropped some plants off at Kelley & Kelley Nursery in my town of Long Lake, Minnesota.  The plants won’t survive two weeks inside the house because certain felines shred the fragrant heliotrope’s leaves, uproot the thirty year old aloes and bat the poor things across the floor, and generally make a mess in the dirt. Run-of-the-mill plants, or ones that cherish neglect can go to my studio in the walkout basement, but the house is dry, I am often oblivious to their needs and everything looks like hell by spring.  I always lose a plant or two or three and rue the five minutes or so I have spent on the things over the six months of winter as time wasted that I will never recover.

Luna and Monty, in one of their less looney moments

Kelley & Kelley has a fine greenhouse with a friendly and knowledgeable staff that takes great care of my plants.  Last spring, I was delighted when I picked up the heliotrope, the aloes and the rosemary plant.  They’d not only survived, they had thrived in their winter home.  As I said, for several reasons, their lifespan in my home would be severely truncated.

So, we got to the nursery, Luna and I.  She waited in the car while I took the small potted heliotrope in.  The rosemary is in a huge clay pot.  While I can lift and carry it, from unpleasant experience I know that my back will be full of spite and resentment the next day, so I asked the woman at the desk for some help.  When I opened the Subaru’s door, Luna greeted her as a long-lost friend with plenty of tail wagging and kisses.  That led to an invitation for my dog to join us in the building.

Luna was happy to meet two more new friends, one of whom was finishing up a yogurt.  The dog tried to help herself to the snack but after a polite rebuff was off to race up and down the mostly empty aisles of the greenhouse, back for a quick recheck of the humans (to see if there was any more yogurt, I presume) then off to the greenhouse again.

Luna was enthusiastically invited to visit again any old time.  Me? I think they can take or leave me.

Meanwhile, it is so much fun for me to have a dog to accompany me on my errands, one that can successfully enter a place of business and BE ASKED BACK.  Until a few months ago, I always had two or three dogs.  Daisy, whom I mourn every day, was nonetheless not an easy dog to take out and about.  She was fearful of most people and wary of new places, scents, sights. It was stressful to a degree that I don’t even want to recall any longer to take that beautiful dog anywhere.   And my old Golden/Lab Rusty was certainly a friendly boy but as he got older, he too got stressed when we weren’t at home so I had 70 pounds of panting unhappiness at the end of the leash.  When Luna wasn’t a Not-So-Lonely Only, I didn’t think twice about leaving them all at home most of the time.

The first few times we went out together, Luna was nervous and would sometimes react unpleasantly, especially when startled, but as she has gained experience her confidence has soared. After visiting a couple of places enough that she was completely comfortable there, we’ve branched out and now we will go anywhere they’ll let us in.  The other day, we stopped in a new little dog food store where the owner commented on what a GOOD dog I had.   Luna was just sitting there minding her own business, but I have seen and handled worse, so was pleased with the compliment.

It wasn’t a conscious training effort on my part, and being lazy to a fault, I like things that take little or not effort.  It was just a matter of letting a good dog learn that going out in the world and being friendly can garner you praise, dog treats and maybe a surreptitious lick  of yogurt.


One, two, three…let’s go!

What started off as in impulse buy at a silent auction last November is now almost ready to begin its real life.  At the first ever Pause4Paws fundraiser nearly a year ago, I bid on and won a gift certificate for professional website design.  I had toyed with having my own website for a long time, maybe even before Al Gore invented the internet.  I’d even started three blogs on three different subjects but I thought it would be more serious to have a website.  It would legitimize me as a writer, at least in my own eyes.

When I found the website design certificate on the silent auction table, I knew it was Meant To Be. Kismet. Fate.  I would now Hit the Big Time.

Turns out that a website is much like having a blog.  The best thing it has done for me is to give me a focal point for my writing, so instead of scattering myself over three sites and being erratic and intermittent, I can do it all in one place.  One-stop underachievement.

The worst thing having a website has done for me is that it has honed my procrastination skills, taking them to a new and impressive level.  At last, I am an All-Star Procrastinator.  I am the Joe Mauer of procrastination.  Once I had the means to create a website without having to addle my mind with things like code and html and whatever else they use, I found an astonishing array of ways to prevent myself from actually executing the plan.  To be sure, I had some other curve balls thrown at me, the illnesses and departures of Daisy, my German shepherd;  Samantha, the kitty who was with me for more than nineteen years; and Rusty, my faithful senior rescue dog who was just happy for a safe and warm place to call home.  But still. I could have found more time in the space of a year to make my all my website dreams come true.

The wonderful website designer who generously donated her time for the Pause4Paws auction is not only abundantly skilled and talented, she is superlatively patient.  I am sure that M has frequently wondered over these many months if I would ever supply her with the simple information and pictures that she needed to finish the project.   I love the look that she has given me. To M – thank you so much!  I hope your experience with me won’t keep you from offering your time and talent to others.

We’re almost done with the design phase.  I’ll no longer be able to say, “Not sure when the website will be up”, as if that explains why there is no visible evidence of my writing efforts.  Or, when a  friend asks how my writing is going, I can no longer say, “I’m planning some really cool things for the website!”. (Planning = getting the mail, making a pot of coffee, working on a book of crosswords, doing the laundry, walking the dog, watching golden leaves sail from tree branch to lawn…)  Although…when you think about it, anything a writer does is research.  With this interesting reasoning, every breath I take should be tax-deductible.

So here I go.  I am now obligating myself to come up with something to post every day or so, posts that are well-written and complete and won’t utterly shame me when someone says, “Hey, I read your blog!”.

Much of my content will be animal-related, but I am working on some other writing projects that I will share parts of at some point. (Yes, really, I am.  Really.  And they’re not just in that phoney planning phase outlined above, either.)

This site has couple of pages devoted to animal rescue.   Animal Rescue Resources is a short list of Twin Cities rescue groups.  I’ll be adding more as time goes on; I started off with groups I have recently worked with so as to get something going.

Featured Adoptable Animal is a rescued pet that is looking for its forever home.  First up is Erica, a Big White Bunny at Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society.  Look at her, share her page.  She’s been in rescue for over a year and really deserves to find a home.