Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Turtle empathy

After writing yesterday's post about the difficulty I've encountered in getting things accomplished recently, I spent a little while at one of my favorite pastimes: looking at my digital photo collection while listening to songs I love on iTunes. As I scrolled through photos in the folder entitled "Animals," I came across a few pictures of this guy (shown here at a safe distance from my left foot):

Now, there was a creature who would have understood the frustration I've been feeling.

We met this turtle last year when Kim backed her car out of my driveway and we discovered he'd been resting under there.  I didn't know where he came from or where he thought he was going, but I knew one thing for sure:  He'd made a big error in judgment and had no doubt realized it by the time we found him.  He had ended up here:

That's my garden shed in the background, on the other side of the fence.  I don't know how far the turtle had walked before he turned into my driveway, but once he made that turn, he had to walk more than 150 feet, much of it uphill, to get to where you see him now.  And this was as far as he could go.  Behind him there was nothing but fence.  On his left?  More fence, about 85 feet of it.  On his right?  My house, a doublewide carport, then another house.  You might think he could have taken a shortcut through the carport, but if he'd tried to do that, he'd only have encountered more fence.

I felt so sorry for this poor, tired turtle.  He'd expended so much effort to get here, and now he'd have to spend a lot more effort just to undo his mistake.

Except he didn't.  A neighbor came out about that time and saw us looking at the turtle.  The neighbor picked the turtle up, carried him to the front yard, and set him down to resume his travels.  Or to rest a while longer.  Or whatever else the turtle chose to do.

Thanks to my neighbor's kindness, this turtle got what I think we all need once in a while:  just a little break to help keep the faith.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Like slogging through molasses

Recently it seems as if everything I've tried to do has been more complicated than it ought to have been -- or taken longer than it should have taken.  In order to give you some examples of what I'm complaining about, I've been writing this post for more than an hour.  I've written long, detailed paragraphs about contradictory diagnoses and recommendations from a doctor, lengthy delays between communications with another business professional, and the general apathy of too many workers these days.  Oh, yes, and why there are dirty dishes in my sink.

After all that writing, I came to three conclusions:

1.  It's probably not a good idea to spread all my business out on the Internet;
2.  I could have unloaded the dishwasher and washed the dishes in the sink in less time than it took to write all those paragraphs which I will now delete; and
3.  I'm more pissed off now than I was before I started writing.

So, writing this post is the only example I'll give you today of something that turned out to be way more complicated than it should have been.

But that's just me and my bad attitude.

You have a nice day, hear?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tea party talk -- not the political kind

I can't imagine why this popped into my head today, but how many of you remember the Jewel Tea Company? When my children were small and we lived in East Texas, the Jewel Tea man came around every couple of weeks to sell baking mixes, household cleaners, and any number of other items. If I placed an order on one visit, he'd bring the products on his next visit, and I'd pay him when he delivered -- usually.

The only pocket money I had in those days was the little bit I earned typing transcripts for a court reporter friend while my babies napped. My name wasn't on my husband's checking account. Even our groceries were charged and paid by him once a month. So if I'd placed a Jewel Tea order, I had to make sure to have the money ready on delivery day.

One day, when Kim was about two and a half, I was playing with her in the living room while Kelli, about six months old, napped at the other end of the house. I happened to glance out the window just in time to see the Jewel Tea man turn his car into our driveway. He was a couple of days early. I knew I didn't have any money. It flashed through my mind that he'd tried to make a delivery one day a few months earlier when I wasn't home. On that occasion he'd left the items at the back door and had come back the next day to be paid. I quickly decided that's what I wanted to happen this time.

I grabbed Kim around her waist and ran with her to the back bedroom, whispering to her all the way to be quiet. "We're playing a game," I told her. "In just a second someone is gonna knock on the door, and we're gonna pretend we aren't home, okay? Just be very, very, very quiet."

We waited for the knock, and it came. Kim looked at me expectantly, and I winked at her and smiled, putting my finger to my lips to remind her to be quiet. There was a second knock at the door, and that time Kim looked at me and grinned. She was getting into the game. Just when I thought the Jewel Tea man had given up and gone away, I heard the door open. I was shocked, and Kim's eyes got huge. I clapped one hand over my own mouth and one over hers as we waited to hear what would happen. We both listened intently as the man made his way to the kitchen, set our packages on the table, then opened the door again and left. We listened for his car to start, then waited a little while longer to be sure he had driven away.

I carried Kim back into the living room so we wouldn't wake the baby, then I set her down and gave a medium loud whoop.  "Wasn't that fun?" I asked. "We'll have to play that game again sometime."  The two of us had a good laugh together.  We didn't say one word about who had been at the door

So much drama, I thought, but it was worth it. The Jewel Tea man would come back tomorrow, I'd have the money and apologize for missing him, and everything would be back to normal.

A few hours later, while I was bending over Kelli's crib changing her diaper, there was another rap at the door.   I couldn't stop what I was doing, and before I could think what to do, Kim ran to the door and threw it open.  I heard her say in a loud, cheerful tone, her words articulated clearly and precisely, "We hided from you in the bedroom this morning."

"You did?" asked the Jewel Tea man.

"Uh-huh, we sure did."

I could have died.

I still don't know whether Kim saw the tea man's car out the window when I picked her up to run, or if she put two and two together when she saw the things he'd left on the kitchen table.  I'd always known she was a smart little cookie, but I'd apparently underestimated her that day.

There was nothing I could do but face the music.  Holding the freshly changed baby in my arms, I walked back into the living room and pretended I hadn't heard a thing. So did the Jewel Tea man, bless his heart. I smiled and told him I was sorry I'd missed him earlier in the day, that I appreciated his leaving the items I'd ordered, and that I hadn't expected him so soon and didn't have the money ready to pay him.

He was very nice about it. He said he'd come early because he was going out of town, and that if I wanted to place an order, I could pay him for that day's delivery when I paid for the next one.  He let me off the hook.

Would you be surprised to know I ordered lots of stuff that day?  Lots and lots and lots of stuff.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Little bridges in summer

The road I used to take to work follows the curves of New River Canal, a pretty little waterway that meanders across our parish as if it's in no particular hurry to get anywhere at all.  People who built homes on the other side of the canal found it difficult to get into town until a number of little bridges were built across the canal to provide access to the road.

I remember some controversy years ago about whether or not the taxpayers were funding the erection of those bridges for the benefit of so few citizens.  I don't remember how that battle turned out, and if I ever cared, I no longer do. Now I just enjoy looking at the pretty wooden bridges.

On days when I took my camera to work, I often took pictures of the bridges as I approached them.  Because I was shooting from a moving car (not safe, I know), most of the photos were at least a little blurry.

Once again, the "dry brush" filter in Photoshop Elements came to my rescue and turned the less-than-sharp images into pleasant landscapes.  I love the bridges, the shade trees, and even the unknown fishermen in these little scenes:

I hope you're having a beautiful day today, wherever you are.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lovely Lucy's Luxury Lunch

Some of you already know that Kim caught Lucy scarfing up grapes this past Monday, grapes that had fallen into our yard from a neighbor's vine. And some of you know that grapes are usually toxic to dogs. (Raisins are even worse, by the way.)

We feel lucky on several counts: first, that Kim had actually followed the dogs into the yard, witnessed Lucy's feeding frenzy, and investigated; and second, that we had had recent experience in how to induce vomiting in a dog.

We spooned hydrogen peroxide into Lucy's mouth immediately. While we waited for the desired result, Kim went outside, cut off all the grapevines that hung over the fence, picked up all the grapes she could find in the grass, and set up a dog fence to keep the dogs away from that area of the yard. She came back inside just in time for us to give Lucy a second dose, after the first one didn't work.

By that time we were worried that my bottle of peroxide, which had failed to work with Oliver, had somehow lost its potency. Kim made a quick run to the drugstore for new peroxide, and just before she got back, Lucy threw up. Just foam, not grapes.

More or less as a precaution, Kim called the veterinarian. They told her that four or five grapes are enough to kill a dog Lucy's size and advised that she bring Lucy in immediately. Kim hung up the phone, and Lucy threw up again: one grape. Knowing Lucy's tendency to gobble her meal like a TV prison inmate, we were pretty sure she'd eaten more than one grape, so Kim packed her in the car and headed to the vet.

After Kim came home, she discovered another little puddle of vomit, tucked away beside the toy box, that contained four grapes. Apparently the first dose did work, and I missed it. Not that it's ever fun to come upon unexpected dog barf, but we were quite relieved to find those unchewed grapes.

Kim and I tried our best to figure out why the grapes have never been a problem before; the grapevine has been there for years. We thought maybe it had only recently grown long enough to hang over into my yard, but I have a photo from three years ago that shows grape leaves on my side of the fence. After giving it a lot of thought, I suspect the real reason this hasn't happened sooner is that Lucy never hung out on that side of the yard before. Every summer of her entire life, until this one, she'd leave the backdoor, race to the opposite side of the yard, and hang out under the fig tree, where she'd stuff herself with fresh, juicy figs. (We cut down the fig tree earlier this year, sadly, because the neighbor on that side was concerned that its roots might soon breach the lid of her septic tank.)

The animal hospital kept Lucy for two days. Her treatment included administration of activated charcoal to thoroughly clean out her stomach and IV fluids to clean any toxins out of the rest of her organs. She came home yesterday, slightly traumatized but with a clean bill of health.

Oliver had searched for Lucy for two days and seemed overjoyed to have her back. He, Butch, and Kadi surrounded her and sniffed her unusual, "doctor's office" scent for many long moments, while she tried her best to find a place where they couldn't get to her. I talked to Kim awhile ago, and she said Lucy is quiet this morning. She's sleeping a lot and hiding out under Kim's desk.

The ultimate cost of those five grapes? $575!!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Oh, baby, baby!

My new great-grandson, Owen, turned five months old yesterday. In those five short months he has firmly secured his place in our hearts. He doesn't know it yet, but he is definitely the king of our world.

"My first ride in a buggy!!!"
Age 4 months
Photo and caption by Kalyn Hoover

"Nothing like driving a jeep with the top down and
 the wind in your hair on a Sunday afternoon!"
Age (almost) 5 months
Photo and caption by Kalyn Hoover

Owen's mama is doing a great job of providing the family with current photos. Her digital camera and her photographic skills have moved way up near the top of my gratitude list. (I cheerfully snagged the photos above from Facebook.)

This past Sunday Kim and I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Owen while his Nana, my daughter Kelli, babysat.  His mama sent his Jeep with him on this visit, and I remembered to take my camera, so I got the chance to take some pictures of my own:

How we hope he'll be in 16 years:
  driving safely, hands on the wheel, 
big baby-blues on the road ahead.

How he'll possibly be in 16 years,
given the genes he's inherited:
Rowdy hollering, hearty laughter,
"Look, Ma, no hands!"

TV Typo

Yesterday afternoon I was reading in the living room while CNN played in the background. At one point I raised my eyes to glance at the screen for a split second, then returned to my book. But wait. Something jarred my brain. Did I really see what I thought I saw? Surely I was mistaken.

Curiosity got the best of me, so I pressed the rewind button, then the pause button, and voila! My eyes did not deceive me, and I took a picture to prove it:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Old souls and giant spirits

Elephant with Sad Eyes - Photo by Kim Neely

I'm not sure when my fascination with elephants began, and I'm not sure what started it. My mother told me a few years before she died that my first-grade teacher once reported finding me crying despondently in the classroom. When she asked about the reason for my tears, I supposedly replied, "I don't know how to spell 'elephant.'"

Mother took us to the circus every year at the Shrine Mosque in Springfield, Missouri, so it's possible that I actually saw live elephants before first grade, but I don't remember seeing circus elephants until I was older.

In the mid-1950s, my family traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to visit my great-aunt Edith. We went to the St. Louis Zoo while we were there, and that's where I saw the first live elephant I remember. I couldn't get enough of her. She was so big, and I couldn't believe our good fortune that we could get so close to her. A chain around one leg was all that kept her in place. I felt sad that she was chained, but kind of relieved, also.

In 1965 my husband won a trip to Las Vegas in an automobile sales contest. The best moment of the trip, for me, was at a cocktail party for all the winners and their guests. The star attraction at the hotel that night was a magician, and he appeared at our cocktail party with a baby elephant he used in his act. People dressed up for Las Vegas shows in those days, and as I stood there in a borrowed cocktail dress and borrowed, sparkly-silver shoes, the baby elephant wandered over and checked out my shoes with its trunk. It stayed there for a magical minute or two, exploring gingerly.

In the 1970s I began collecting elephant figures, many of which I still have. My favorite is the mother with her baby, displayed in the center set of shelves in the photo below (among the Readers Digest Condensed Books, another 1970s collection I can't seem to part with).

I've written here before about paying for the privilege of spending a day "behind the scenes" at the Baton Rouge Zoo, during which adventure I helped to bathe an elephant. That was in the early '80s, and I'll never forget the texture of that elephant's skin. Her name was Judy (like my sister).

The reason I'm writing about elephants now is that I came across a video this morning that reminded me of both the strength and the gentleness of these massive, wonderful animals. If I'd been sitting in the jeep with the photographer who shot this video, I might have died, either from the fright or from the thrill of it. But if anyone was going to die that day, it wouldn't have been the baby elephants; watch how the adults kept them safe.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Oliver (the "Twist" is in his tail)

Last week flew by in a haze of muscle aches and sleeplessness. My muscles were sore because I finally broke down and thoroughly cleaned my messy house. The sleeplessness was partly due to the muscle aches but mostly due to the fact that my granddogs spent the week here, and Lucy wasn't necessarily tired when the rest of us were.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed their company. Oliver, the newest and youngest pack member, is a treat to be around. His joie de vivre is infectious, and he's definitely the most stable, grounded dog I've ever known. Nothing fazes him.

Kim brought Ollie home on New Year's Day, not too long after her beloved Winston died. Ollie was a rescue dog. He'd been found running wild, his long hair matted to the point that he had to be shaved, and his whole hind end was inflamed as a result of a flea infestation. A Shih Tzu rescue group found him in the pound, and a foster mom in New Orleans fixed him up and took care of him until Kim saw his picture on craigslist and fell in love.

Nobody knows how long Ollie was on the streets before he was picked up, but it's obvious he was on his own long enough to pick up some street smarts. He's very clever. When he wanted to jump up on Kim's lap but couldn't get to her because other dogs lying on the floor blocked his way, he jumped up on the other sofa, gauged the distance between the arm of that sofa and the arm of the one Kim was sitting on, and made the leap. His front and back legs were stretched out so far it looked like he was flying.

One day last week a violent thunderstorm gave us a little relief from the heat, but it made the other dogs nervous. After one particularly loud clap of thunder, I took inventory of the dogs: Butch buried himself in the tiniest nook he could find in my bedroom. Lucy burrowed between my hip and the arm of the sofa. Kadi stood at my feet and trembled. Then, here came Oliver, racing in from the den and tossing a stuffed hedgehog into the air. Being inside during a storm probably seemed like a great thing to him.

Oliver's Trail of Toys

Ollie lives for toys. He likes to pull all the toys out of the toy basket in the den, pick out four or five favorites, then carry those into the living room to enjoy them. To a dog that loves toys, everything looks like a toy. One night I walked into the kitchen and found poop -- little-dog poop. By Lucy's reaction I knew it was hers. Ollie stood beside me as I fussed at Lucy and pointed my finger at the one long piece of poop and the two little round balls beside it. I left the room for just an instant, and when I came back with a big handful of toilet paper, one of the little round balls was missing. So was Oliver. I turned around to see him on his way back into the kitchen, evidently going back to make a second pickup. The missing ball of poop, I noticed, was now sitting perkily in the midst of Ollie's other toys.

We did have one other scary incident. Just before bedtime one night, I gave Kadi her thyroid pill, folded into a mini-marshmallow, and she dropped it. As fast as I moved, Ollie beat me to it, grabbed it and swallowed.

The dosage of the pill was for a Kadi-sized dog, three times the size of Oliver, so I called the after-hours vet, explained the situation, and asked whether or not I needed to bring Ollie in. They said no, but I needed to make him vomit. They said to give him hydrogen peroxide, about a teaspoon and a half at a time, every 15 or 20 minutes until he vomited.

After talking to the vet, I felt like it was time to call Kim, who was in Baton Rouge taking care of her vacationing friends' three very large dogs. While she was on her way here, I gave Ollie his first dose of peroxide. Nothing happened.

When Kim arrived, Ollie was busily playing with his toys, leaping around and happy as the clown that he is. We gave him a second dose. He licked his lips a couple of times and got an odd expression on his face, but nothing else. We encouraged him to play. We picked him up and bounced him around and rubbed his tummy. Nothing.

We dosed him again. This time we could tell he didn't feel well. He lay down, looking confused and miserable, and we heard a burp or two. But he didn't vomit. We felt so bad about making him sick on purpose, and we were quite aware that the label on the peroxide bottle stressed that it shouldn't be taken internally.

Kim called the vet again. They couldn't believe he hadn't vomited and said to give him three more teaspoonfuls, all at once. Kim asked what we should do in case that didn't work, and they said getting him to vomit was just a precaution, that the pill probably wouldn't hurt him unless he had an allergic reaction to it. Same thing went for all the peroxide in his system.

The larger dose didn't work either. By the time we gave up it was almost one-thirty in the morning, and we didn't know what else to do. Kim finally decided to go back to her friends' house in Baton Rouge, where she'd left the lights on when she rushed to come here. I promised I'd call her if anything changed with Ollie, one way or the other. I must have stretched a hand out to check on him a dozen times during the night, and each time he looked at me as if to ask why I was bothering him in the middle of the night. He never did vomit, and he's been fine ever since.

We learned with Winston that it only takes an instant for things to go terribly wrong, so this was kind of scary. This little funny-faced dog already owns a big piece of my heart.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Down the garden path

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my retirement.

When I made the decision to retire, five months before the actual date, the only plan I'd made was a financial one. I'd given some thought to what I'd do with the rest of my life but hadn't reached any conclusions. All I knew for sure is that I wanted to spend more time at home with my dogs.

One year later I still have no plans.  Maybe that's the true beauty of retirement.

These days, instead of waking to an alarm, I wake up to the subtle flapping of floppy ears or a nudge from a cold nose. My mornings are so much better than they used to be.

My days are filled with . . . I don't know, really. They're a jumble of all the things I like to do and not enough of the things I should do. The things that need to be done get done eventually, and very few of them have deadlines.

At the end of the day I read as late as I want, chapters instead of pages, until my eyes won't stay open. I go to sleep without worrying about how I'll feel the next day.

Honestly, this year has been like a deep, deep breath of fresh air, and it's passed about that quickly. I know there'll be a time when I'll want more structure in my life, when I'll feel a need for accomplishment again or a need to contribute my time to something that matters. But not just yet.

I may be traipsing down the garden path, but I'm smelling the heck out of the roses.