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Petticoat Junction

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That’s one of those words (picked up from my New England friends) that perfectly fits today’s weather. Not a lot of snow but man is that cold wind wicked. You think you are prepared, parka – check, boots- check, gloves – check, and hat -check. Then you step outside and the wind zeroes right in on you. It howls around the corner, on the hunt for any exposed skin.

Eyes watering and cheeks burning I head to the barn for more firewood.  Along the way, I start singing  ‘Beast of Burden‘. Frozen puffs of breath puncuate the beat.  I’m counting on the cold keeping people inside, otherwise I would be a little more sotto voce in my vocalizations especially since I only know a few lines of the song. Okay, not even a few, just one, really. That is pretty much the case with my entire repertoire. I know one or two lines, at most. I try to make up for that deficiency with volume and enthusiasm. The real kicker is, the songs I do manage to remember, and remember fully are all those damn jingles from childhood and adolescence. More than a few of my brain cells are crammed full of that kind of dreck. Not Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, not the unedited works of Shakespeare…no, instead I am able to pull up the themes to ‘Petticoat Junction,’ ‘Green Acres,’ ‘The Patty Duke Show‘ and of course, ‘Mr. Ed.’

On my way back, wheelbarrow crammed full of stove wood, I check on the bird feeder. I have a battle raging with a neighborhood squirrel who has recently discovered the feeder. He has managed to figure out how to open the top where I pour in the seed and just sits there, gorging himself. Nearby an audience of seriously pissed off birds keep watch. I have countered each of his moves with my own devious ones, usually revolving around the use of duct tape. So now the once relatively attractive bird feeder is festooned with slabs of grey tape, in the faint hope it will keep the squirrel out.


photo by amjwrit

It has been a weird winter with precious little snow and warm temperatures. Having a few days of real winter weather now is refreshing and thhe snow is oh so  beautiful. There is something exhilarating about  the crisp clarity of really cold air. Even as it flash freezes my sinuses, it also seems to crystallize my thinking, sharpen my wits. Of course I am writing all this knowing full well there is little actual snow to shovel, and I  can retreat inside when I grow weary of being exhilarated. Then I can sit by the fire, mug of hot tea in hand and listen to the howling wind as my dog snores fitfully by my feet.



Cover of "Psycho (Collector's Edition)"

Cover of Psycho (Collector's Edition)

English: High-speed photograph of a showerhead...
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God, I hate this stuff. Clamshell packaging. Whoever came up with this concept should be stuffed in a human-size clamshell package with 15 minutes of air and  a pair of dull scissors. I just spent over a half-hour trying to break into a package containing a Waterpik shower head. That’s a half-hour of my life I will never get back.

Some companies have gotten smart and at least inserted a kind of trap door thingy to give you a head start. You find a tab or perforated section, grab hold, brace yourself  and pull. Of course it still takes all your strength, but hey, at least no heavy-duty knifeware or hacksaw is involved.

What is it about a shower head that is so fragile or valuable it needs to be protected like Fort Knox? Scissors barely make a dent, box cutters bounce off. Using a screwdriver to stab at it makes me feel like I’m reenacting the shower scene from ‘Psycho.’ Frustration mounts and I think about just returning the thing. But my old shower head developed a leak a few weeks ago. A crack in the stem allows a lazer-sharp stream of cold water to escape and hunt me down with pinpoint accuracy.

Off to Target for a replacement.

You know, it is not only trying to somehow hack your way into clamshell packaging, it is also about avoiding slashing yourself with the jagged edges of plastic. It’s amazingly sharp. Out of frustration I grab two edges of the package and try to just rip it apart. No go. What the hell is this thing sealed with? Does the military know about this stuff?

So I sit here defeated, tired out. The shower head, bright and shiny, winks evilly at me from behind its plastic shell. Very tempted to just boot it out into the snow, but I know that plastic has a half-life that far exceeds my own. I wouldn’t do that to the planet.






Great Horned Owl

Image by Andrew_N via Flickr

Outside again at 4 am after failing to convince the dog that needing to pee was all in her head. Not as cold as the last few mornings but cold enough — clothing choice is fleece not parka. Brilliant moon is on its slow arc downward in the night sky. Lots of activity out there tonight. At least one fox wailing into the darkness. Is it calling for a companion or identifying itself to the world at large? Whatever its purpose, I find a fox’s cry unsettling. Raw and urgent in its wildness, yet sounding at times almost vulnerable, like a creature in pain.

In the dark, with flashlight off now, I stand quietly, sharpening my senses. I gradually pick out other sounds — an owl in the distance, an odd clicking high up in a nearby tree, some rustling in the Bramble, an occasional small squeak. Though I love owls, their skill in total stealth flying has me glancing skyward more than once.

Years ago I volunteered at a bird rescue center and one of my tasks was cleaning out a great horned owl cage. I would remove the previous night’s entrée (dead mouse stuffed with vitamins) and replace it with a fresh one. I had been given a laundry list of what to do, and not to do, while in the walk-in cage. Don’t look the owl directly in the eyes (it might interpret my look as a threat) and always know where the owl is and what it is doing. Now at first glance (and second and third) those directives seem counter to one another. How do I know where the owl is if I can’t look at it and how can I look at it without  looking at it if you get my  meaning. And of course the clincher delivered dispassionately by my trainer, the owl is totally silent in flight and attack. In other words you won’t know it is on you until it is. No warning growl, no raised hackles as a visual cue. Oh and once they sink their claws in its impossible to get them to let go. They don’t respond well to ‘drop it.’ They are after all an apex predator, nothing screws with them. Well, except humans of course.


To add to the fun I was entering the cage with dinner in my hand, and removing the remains of what, for all I knew, the owl had been saving to snack on later. I felt like an overeager waiter, clearing the table way too soon and pissing off the still-hungry customer.

So basically the entire time I was in the owl’s cage I kept my head pulled as tight down into my shoulders as I could. At the same time I would whip entirely around at odd moments trying to get a feel for where the bird was.

In retrospect, I am surprised the great horned owl didn’t fall off its perch laughing.

I came across this amazing owl video not too long ago. The end of the clip when the owl unfurls its claws is absolutely chilling,  just imagine it from a mouse or bunny perspective.

New Year Morning

Yesterday, the first day of 2012 dawned bright, clear and unusually warm. I really do prefer a little snow this time of year, if only to justify having a roaring fire at night to sit by. I was able to get out early for some photos. It was unexpectedly busy with lots of wildlife cruising around. Including this deer who looks like she is late for a meeting.

Then there is the rising dawn bathing a nearby hillside of trees with gorgeous golden light…

I heard geese honking and looking up saw one of the largest flocks on the wing I’ve seen in quite a while. They look like Snow Geese to me. The eastern light setting them aglow as they headed to a field or body of water somewhere.

Fascinating to watch how the flock ebbed and flowed, merging, splitting, but cohesive overall.

It was a great way to welcome in 2012, camera in hand, awestruck at the beauty around me and open to the possibilities of the coming year.

All the best of everything today and everyday…

English: Red squirrel on bird-feeder On the la...

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Squirrels are not on my top ten list of favorite animals. In fact I find myself fairly neutral about them…now. At one time years ago when I maintained an absurd number of  bird feeders in the backyard I found myself engaged in a battle of wits with an exploding population of squirrels. (Time out here for a Monty Python-like image of squirrels running around the backyard literally exploding one by one…)  Hmmm. Guess I’m not quite as neutral as I thought.

The depressing thing is I usually  lost the battle of wits with these little furballs. I kept adding baffles and extenders and all sorts of costly devices to keep them  off the feeders. They kept blithely ignoring my efforts and finding new ways around what was rapidly turning into a scene out of Rube Goldberg‘s world. I almost came to admire their persistence. I realize of course they were driven by the pressures of basic survival. Though maybe it was more than that since eventually I had the fattest squirrels on the block.

The day I found myself greasing the feeder poles with vaseline was the day I realized I had lost the war…and clearly, my mind. I ceded the battlefield.

In the interests of full disclosure, during the height of the squirrel wars, I found an injured baby squirrel who had fallen from its nest onto the street. Worried that the neighborhood cats would get it if I just let nature take its course I took it to a wildlife rehab center where it was treated  and eventually released into the wild. No doubt eventually finding its way back to my yard for its rightful share of the birdseed bounty.


Letting Go Sometime

Why is it so hard to say goodbye to our dreams? I’m talking about the dreams that just don’t fit anymore. You know, the ones you’ve carried close to your heart, protected, kept safe, day after day, year after year. (There are dreams I’ve held so close that they have never seen the light of day.)

Sometimes it’s been me who has consciously decided to let go of a dream. Sometimes they have just drifted off after a while, barely acknowledged, until one day I realize they haven’t been around for a while. Every once in a while, I do a kind of internal spring cleaning, holding my laundry list of dreams up to the light and seeing what condition they are in. Is this one too tight, is that one too threadbare, too fragile? Although I often live amidst clutter punctuated by piles of paper scattered about (aka my filing system), I don’t like it that way. So too, I want my dreams organized, cross-referenced, tidy. Of course that isn’t life. Life is messy, unpredictable, unknown.

External circumstances have decided the fate of some of my dreams. My PD diagnosis impacted some dreams.Though I am trying not to let the disease determine my journey, there are some realities that impact what I do now and how much time I have to do it.

And then of course there are the interpersonal dreams. This is what I am going through now. Letting go of that one particular dream, that one particular person. Boy, it’s tough and painful as hell. Yet I’ve gotten to this point through a pretty healthy process of grieving the breakup and letting go. Layer by layer, deeper and deeper, the acceptance has gained hold.

I don’t like it, but it just is.

Thanksgiving was hard, Christmas harder. Knowing (pretty much, anyway) that there would be no phone call.

It just sucks.

What’s also painful is the growing realization that this particular dream has changed…if I am honest with myself. It doesn’t fit anymore. Though it wasn’t my decision, I am slowly, resisting all the way, understanding that not only is this the reality, but it probably is a better reality for me, given all that has taken place. There is power in this new perception, but sadness too.


Writing that feels like yanking a band-aid off a cut. I’ve never been able to do that. I always ooch it off, slowly, very slowly. I guess that is how I recover from a broken heart too.



This has been a bad year for ticks. Actually, it’s been a good year for ticks, a bad one for humans and their pets. The dogs race inside the house inevitably carrying a commuter or two. Luckily having white hair (or fur, I don’t know the difference) it is easy to spot ticks on them. Sometimes. And sometimes it isn’t until I am petting one of the girls that I discover one of the little buggers attached to the skin. And boy, do they attach. As gentle as I try to be, with my semi-official tick removal kit (alcohol, cotton balls, tick tweezers, neosporin) at the ready, there is no way to detach a tick without some discomfort. For everyone involved. I am including the tick since it does have a stake in this, though it is of short duration, culminating in the flush of a toilet.

Even as I write this I feel twitchy. Soon I’ll start whipping around to search out the cause of an errant itch or twinge. I know this about mysef. I get caught up in the ickiness and start envisioning some kind of tick SWAT team studying maps, gathering tiny little climbing gear and figuring out how to take me down. No matter my neurotic fantasy, the reality is I do find them on me. So far it’s been as they are ambling along, kind of window shopping as it were. I don’t know if I’ve missed any who had time for a sit-down meal. Inevitable, I suppose. I try to be careful but I am not going to let these bloodsuckers deprive me of walking in the woods or enjoying the winter sun sprawled out on a grassy slope somewhere. I’ll just have to accept that after indulging in any close-to-the-earth activity I’ll need to carry out a ruthless search and destroy mission.

Ticks- ick.

I am going through such a weird time lately. My creative juices are just flowing like crazy. Almost too much in fact. Kind of like when a big chunk of river ice breaks off and starts moving downstream. On the one hand it breaks through any logjam and gets things going again. On the other hand, well…if you are standing there on the riverbank watching, it has the potential to just run you right over.

It would be great if I could harness this energy and actually focus it in one or two directions. Instead, I am feeling like a whirling dervish at times. Sparking off creative energy right and left and in danger of squandering it through my lack of focus. All of a sudden I have tons of ideas in a range of areas, that I want to develop and see where I can take them.

Where the hell did this all come from? I was in hunkered-down mode after a painful breakup, licking my wounds and wishing for a cave to hibernate in for a while. Seems like I have emerged from that fugue state with renewed purpose and drive, taking me totally by surprise.

In the past when I was in a more structured work environment, aka actually drawing a regular paycheck,  I was aware that part of my creative process involved sorting through things in my head. Kind of like assembling a big mental jigsaw puzzle…moving pieces around, looking for patterns, finding the right flow. Although I often was able to sit at the computer, write and create at the same time, for the bigger conceptual projects I definitely needed to spend some time pacing and talking to myself. Colleagues would peer into my office and find me staring into space as I worked things out. Well to be honest, there were times when I was staring into space, and really only thinking about what I was going to have for lunch.

I believe that the mind-boggling technological advancements we have seen in the past 10 or 20 years offer a lot more opportunities to get a creative project out into the world. The gatekeepers have been nullified, at least a bit, and there is so much access now to different production tools. Just very recently I taped some footage at a nonprofit I volunteer at. I took that, taught myself how to edit using basic movie-making software on a home computer, dropped some music and text in and holy crap, I had created a :60 second promotional spot. I mean it’s not Fellini or Scorsese, but it’s not Looney Tunes either. (Actually I adored Looney Tunes cartoons growing up so I take that back.)

But you know what I mean. It’s a first step. A first step towards maybe being able to finally express all the stories I’ve had swirling around inside my head all of my life.


Most mornings I wake up to the muted sound of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ filtering down from my housemate’s bedroom. It is such an iconic song, especially for my generation. Even after hearing it so frequently, I find myself thinking about the song’s message as I sleepwalk into the kitchen for my first cup of  tea of the day. For some reason, now lost to my faltering memory, I seem to recall taking issue with some of his words when I was younger. I can’t for the life of me recall what my reasoning was. I’ll just chalk it up to youth.

Actually, I think it was the idea of there being no heaven that struck a wrong note for me.

My grandfather died when I was 13. I was there in the hospital when he died and still remember hearing the words, “he’s gone.” In an instant my heart broke into pieces. I felt it. Pain beyond my understanding or experience. I did not think I would survive it. I almost didn’t.

The one faint hope I held onto to get through that horrible time was the idea of life after death — that I would see my grandfather (and others I have lost) once more. That he was truly gone for good was beyond my ability to process.

Is my belief in heaven an emotional crutch of some sort for me? Sure. I have no problem with identifying it as such. If I’m wrong and this is it, well, it’ll be a moot point by then. If I’m right…

I remember when a dog of mine that I loved very much had to be euthanized. She was 17 years old and in bad shape and I had probably delayed a little too long. But the day finally came when it felt like it was time. As I carried her into the vet’s office she turned to me and pressed her face against mine. For a moment we stayed like that, deeply connected. I have always felt that she knew what was happening and in that moment let me know it was okay. I held her as the drugs took effect and then like that her heart just stopped. One second it was beating, the next it was stilled.

It is a difficult concept to grasp that life exists one moment and then blinks out the next. That the sense, the unique quality, of a person or animal is there in all its complexity and then…it’s just gone. Where does it go, that individualized energy? Out into the universe? Transported to an afterlife existence beyond comprehension? The specifics seem to matter less as I grow older.

More and more I try to keep the focus on the moment, to live mindfully, to show up and be present in my own life. Although I was raised Catholic, I have questioned my faith for many years, moving towards a more inclusive, less judgemental mindset. I am intrigued by Buddhism. I don’t know much about its doctrine but I find great comfort in the practice of meditation.

Meanwhile, I continue to search, to question my beliefs, my assumptions, trying to find the answers that work for me.

I still believe in heaven and that my grandfather and my dog are there, sitting together in the sunshine.




Gazing out the window this morning I spotted two deer making their way through a neighbor’s yard. I wasn’t sure what deer clan they were part of. Generally I get to know the little groups that hang out around the house. But unless this is the remnants of the trio (Mom and two youngsters) that were around all summer I’ve no clue.

photo by amjwriter

The deer walked around the neighbor’s house, peered in a few windows and looked remarkably like they were casing the joint …watching them through binoculars I began to feel like a member of the local town watch. Finally they found what they had been looking for, a great spot protected by overhanging bushes and warmed by the sun. I’ve seen deer lying down in nearby yards before, though admittedly the first few times I was surprised and intrigued by how comfortable and safe they must feel here. No real dog threat to worry them, not at least on this side of the creek. Our dogs, I’m sure, annoy them no end, piling out the backdoor as they do, racing down the fence line, barking all the way. But they are not vicious dogs and are small enough that the deer seem to view them with amusement at times. At one point this summer there was a casual get together of a number of deer under the apple tree. One of the dogs was snugged up to the fence quietly watching them when a young fawn started over to her. We watched absolutely spellbound as the fawn hesitated, retreated and then approached again. This particular dog is very friendly and was quite likely to lick the fawn if it got close enough. In the meantime the matriarch of the group was keeping a vigilant eye on all this and was also aware of us sitting on the deck watching quietly. She apparently had our number as she paid us little mind. She  finally stepped in and intervened when the fawn got a little too close for her comfort. The group gathered round and moved up the hill. Cocktail hour was over.

Today, the two deer settled into their first-class accommodations for some quiet time. The smaller deer was curled up in a ball with head buried in its fur while the bigger one watched the surroundings for a while, ears pricked forward, listening…Gradually the ears eased back, the deer’s eyes relaxed to half-mast then closed. It was a beautiful and peaceful scene.

A short while later I glanced out the window to check on them and they were gone.

photo by amjwriter