The Greatest Gift

If I had a blog, today I would write about the greatest gift a human can receive.

Miranda

Miranda

Not long ago, I thought I was out of the Crazy Cat Lady business for good. Last November, when my puppy, Gus, fractured his shoulder, I gave my two house cats to a friend, leaving me with one barn cat, Miranda. Miranda is thirteen years old and while she’s friendly, she prefers to send her love from a distance rather than be cuddled or petted.

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Francie

 

Then, sometime in May, Francie showed up. She was thin and her long hair was matted and tangled. She wasn’t afraid of me, but not tame enough to groom. I fed her every day in hopes I could eventually catch her and get her to the vet. I was sure she was a female and the last thing I wanted was a barn full of feral kittens.

 

 

As our rapport grew, I began to miss the quiet presence of my house cats. I didn’t regret giving them up, but the Crazy Cat Lady in me had a longing she couldn’t quite shake. That’s when I had the dream:

About two weeks ago, I had a dream where I was in the presence of lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs. I was on the Serengeti in a Land Rover watching a female lion when my transport changed to something more like a dune buggy without doors. The lion kept following me and tried to get in my vehicle. I had to floor the gas to get to my compound, where I would be safe. It was a close call, but I zoomed through the gates just in the nick of time.

As I always do, I looked up the symbols in my dream to see what meaning they might have. I looked up lions et al and gleaned the following:

To see a cat in your dreams is to highlight your independent spirit, creativity and power. Take note of what the cat is doing and perhaps find ways to emulate what it is trying to show you about yourself. Fearing the cat is in essence the fear of your own power. The cat beckons us to realize that when we turn within to our own hearts, minds and souls, and trust in ourselves we will always be shown the truth of matters.

The dream resonated where I was having struggles expressing my artistic talent. I wasn’t afraid of the gift, just of using it. If I listened to my heart, though, I would forge on and trust that I needed to stay with my art: My writing, painting, and photography, taking firm hold of the belief that one day, my work would be a career. I also took heart in the feeling that one day, I would have cats in my life again. I just didn’t know it meant it would happen within twenty-four hours.

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Greystoke

The morning after my dream, I went out to feed Miranda and Francie and I saw another feline slipping into the Cat Room. I hoped it wasn’t a male, come to meet Francie’s feminine needs, but when I looked in, I saw the interloper was a big, black-and-white kitten and his three siblings: A calico, a silver tabby, and a grey kitten with a white nose. Francie had pulled a fast one.

 

The best I can figure, Francie had been at the barn for longer than I knew and she’d had her kittens right under my nose. Being a good mother, she kept her babies hidden until they were up and going on their own and now, eight weeks later, she was ready to introduce them to the world.

Naturally, all my negative thoughts about feral kittens vanished at the sight of Francie’s brood. They were utterly terrified of me, of course, but I didn’t want them gone, I wanted to make them my friends and the socializing began.

Every morning I go to the barn, set out five dishes of loud-smelling canned cat food, sit on the floor of the Cat Room and wait. Some mornings all four kittens come out from behind the vet cabinet and sometimes they creep in one at a time. I can tell their fear is giving away to curiosity, most of which I attribute to their mom.

Francie has been a doll. After she eats, she comes over to me to be caressed and brushed. Yesterday, the grey kitten (Greystoke) followed Francie and came within a foot of me. This morning, after Francie came over for loving, she headed out and left the kittens alone with me. At first they looked askance at me, but then they relaxed into eating, grooming, and playing. I am hoping they will let me take their photo in the near future, but for now, they prefer to remain incognito.

For me, there is nothing more rewarding than earning the trust of an animal. We don’t speak the same language, in most cases I am a giant in their world, and I come from a predator species. In short, there is no reason these kittens should trust me. If I can project the empathy and compassion I have for them without human devices like speech, it tells me I am the kind of person I want to be. If my being radiates love, then I am a success, worthy of the greatest gift in the world.

 

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The Evidence of Things Not Seen

If I had a blog, today I would write about my continued experiences with faith.

Although I know it is generally considered bad form to experiment with the nature of faith, the scientist within me can’t help but look for what Hebrews 11:1 describes as “the evidence of things not seen.” A bit oxymoronic perhaps, but my “research” has yielded some surprising results!

By the Sea

By the Sea

My journey into faith has become essential, as my life is about to undergo major change. Dad will be retired from dentistry in two years and we are ready to move on from the rigors of farm life. To that end, we have decided to begin working to sell the farm so we can move to a little house on quiet beach in south Florida.

Naturally, the practical part of moving from the farm is complicated. We have horses, chickens, a duck, and cats that need new homes. We have to prepare the property for showing, which means repairs and refurbishment at the barn, in the pastures, and in the house. I lay awake nights with a zillion scenarios zooming through my head: What if the house sells before we find a new one? What if we can’t find suitable homes for the animals? What if? What if? What if?

In an effort to retain our sanity, Mom and I made a pact to put a moratorium on negative thinking and really let The Divine guide us through the tangled mass of the days ahead. So far, it appears that faith in a higher power is not just a myth.

Best Friends Rain (L) and Skeeter (R)

Best Friends
Rain (L) and Skeeter (R)

The first “OMG moment” came when I contacted the friend from whom I had purchased my horse, Rain, in 2012. She didn’t even hesitate before agreeing to take Rain and Rain’s buddy, Skeeter, under her wing. Better still, we didn’t have to worry about getting the mares out to Virginia, because Lindsay is coming through Missouri in a few weeks and was more than happy to pick the girls up on her way home.

Next, we contacted two people about the sale of the three Arabian horses we own and now they have new homes to go to as well. As with the paint horses, the people who wanted the Arabs are genuine, down-to-earth horse lovers who will give our herd a loving home.

Sawyer

Sawyer

A few days later, I made the difficult decision to list my house cats for adoption. Regardless of where we settle, our new home will be smaller and with my Labrador, Gus, in tow, two cats would be too much. I put my request on Facebook and within two hours heard from one of my closest friends. Micheline and I have been friends since we were five years old and I couldn’t imagine a better owner for my favored felines.

Then Micheline told me not only did she want Sawyer and Claudia, but she would take  my entire flock of chickens and my Runner Duck, Ferdinand!

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Ferdie has been my only duck since the rest of the flock was killed by a roving pack of coyotes in 2011. At his new home, not only will he have other ducks for company, but Runner Ducks at that! Talk about an abundance of miracles!

Now for the icing on the cake: Yesterday, when I sat down to write this blog, I looked up the Scripture that describes faith as, “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is found in Hebrews, chapter 11. It may not sound like much, but the number 11 is of great significance to me. Whenever 11’s appear in my life, transition for the better is at hand.

Finally, one more bit of “OMG” happened when I sat down to watch an episode of The West Wing. I popped in the DVD and the third episode on the disc was titled, “The Evidence of Things Not Seen.” I think I am on to something here.

The Perfect Christmas Eve

If I had a blog, today I would write about my recipe for a perfect Christmas Eve day.

Sawyer - Zen Master of the Nap

Sawyer – Zen Master of the Nap

Throughout the years, I’ve always had trouble knowing what to do with the daytime hours of Christmas Eve. In our family, we actually wait until evening to start our celebration, so the early part of the day can be a little flat. Well, no more. Today I discovered the perfect lead-in to my favorite Eve of the year: Spend the day with cats. There is no creature on this planet that understands the finer points of rest, relaxation, rejuvenation better than a cat and today, I let Sawyer and Claudia Jean set the tempo of my day.

Claudia Jean

Claudia Jean

The three of us got up early and had breakfast, then returned to bed for an hour of luxurious rest. I left the cats curled up among the blankets and did barn chores around 9:00, then returned to the cat-cave for more nourishment of body and soul. After a long bath, with cats sitting on the tub’s edge, basking in the steam, I gave myself a pedicure, put on my comfiest jeans and a favorite shirt, then did a bit web-surfing with Claudia perched on my shoulder like a guardian angel turned gargoyle. She particularly enjoyed the funny cat videos a friend posted on Facebook.

Claudia Working Hard

Claudia Working Hard

By then, it was time for a holiday ice cream cone (shared among the three of us), followed by another rest-period. I plumped up the pillows on my bed, put a heating pad on my back, and snuggled beneath my favorite fleece blanket, the edges held down by my feline friends. We napped and watched a movie, then napped some more. Occasionally I’d feel a bit guilty for doing nothing more than lounging, but one look at the cats, dozing peacefully around me, and my concerns vanished. If the cats’ say its ok to lounge, then its ok to lounge.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Even though I don’t put much stock in New Year’s resolutions, I am tempted to make “Cat Days” a regular feature in my life this coming year. Cat’s understand something we humans don’t: They are masters of the art of “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and that is a skill I desperately need to learn. Today, for the first time in ages, I feel relaxed, refreshed, and filled with peace – the things I believe Christmas should bring. Thank you Claudia and Sawyer, for giving me this rarest of gifts – a truly happy Christmas Eve.

 

My Shopping Cart

If I had a blog, today I would write about the oddity that is my shopping cart.

It never fails. Every time I go to the store the cashier comments on the contents of my cart. Usually the comments are curious, but friendly, and I can see why my cart draws attention. Even in a world where you can by Twinkies and horror movies in the same store, my shopping habits are a little out of the ordinary.

In the top basket you will find fishing worms: Big, fat Canadian nightcrawlers, no wimpy red wigglers here. Their presence usually results in the comment, “Gonna go fishin’ this weekend?”

Mr. Turtelle

Mr. Turtelle

“No,” I reply, “they are for my box turtle.”

Blank stare, possibly accompanied by a, “Uh-Huh.”

“You see we have this box turtle that got run over in our garage a few years back and although we saved his life, he can’t use his back legs properly and can’t go back to the wild. He lives in a big terrarium in our spare room.”

“Uh-huh.”

Out of the bottom of the cart come four big bags of  dried mealworms.

Male and female cashiers alike  handle the vacuum sealed bags with their fingertips and say something to the effect of, “Eew. What eats these?”

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Since there are bluebirds printed all over the packaging, the question seems rather unnecessary, but since the answer isn’t bluebirds, I proceed with, “They are for my pet duck.”

“Pet duck?”

“Well, we used to have a whole flock of ducks that were free range, but three years ago, a coyote family ate all but one and now he lives in the barn with our rooster and the mealworms give him good protein.”

“Uh-huh.”

Sawyer - Mr. Sensitivity

Sawyer – Mr. Sensitivity

Then I extract two bags of dry cat food, different brands, and a box of wet cat food.

“Wow, you must have a lot of cats,” says the cashier.

“I have four, but one has an environmental sensitivity and can’t eat cat food that contains wheat gluten or corn.”

“Uh-Huh.”

By the time we get to the more banal pet items, the cashier’s interest has waned. She scans the cat litter, dry dog food, wet dog food, and black oil sunflower seed without comment.

At last we come to a few packages of human food: Ice cream, bread, milk, and the like. It accounts for about one-quarter of the grocery bill.

I try to make light of the situation, “I spend more on my animals than I do on myself,” I say with a self-deprecating smile.

“Uh-huh.”

My mission complete, I wheel my cart-full across the parking lot and heft my purchases into the car. Occasionally an older gentleman will ask if I need help loading the 50 pound bags of bird seed and dog food. By the time I’ve thanked him and politely declined, he can see the rest of my purchases.

“Gonna go fishin’ this weekend?” he asks.

“Uh-huh,” I reply.

Chaos Theory

The Morning Buzz

The Morning Buzz

If I had blog, today I would write about the fact that when I am running the farm by myself I don’t have time to blog. My day starts early, around 7:00. My first order of business, after starting the coffee, is to let the dogs out and feed the hummingbirds. I swig my coffee and down a bowl of cereal while the dogs circle like sharks homing in for a feeding frenzy. I could feed them before I eat, but I’d pass out from hypoglycemia before I got my own breakfast. Feeding three, very opinionated, elderly dogs, is quite a process.

If you can't be smart, be regal.

If you can’t be smart, be regal.

Bree, the eight year old Pyrenees whose motto is: “If you can’t be smart, be regal,”  won’t stand up to eat. If I put the bowl down before Bree has positioned herself, she will lay down on the dish and end up wearing her food. Even so, I often have to wash her shaggy neck after breakfast, especially if wet dog food has been involved.

Owain, Hank, & Mom

Owain, Hank, & Mom

Hank, the eleven year-old yellow lab, is a grazer. When he’s at home with David and Kindra, he has free-choice food and nibbles all day, but when he’s in Doggy Daycare at my house, its eat or be eaten, so I have to keep encouraging Hank to return to his food before Owain descends. Owain, the eleven year-old border collie is the smartest, and fastest, dog in the world. Even with hip dysplasia, he can whip in and clean up everyone’s leftovers in just a few seconds. That might not seem like a problem, but since we’re dealing with geriatric dogs, everyone takes medicine and no one takes the same kind, so there’s no sharing of food at breakfast. So, in the end, my job is food referee. Once  the dogs have gone out again and are secure in the knowledge that the proper scent is dominating the yard, they crash for a morning nap. That’s when I go to the barn.

Where have you been?

Where have you been?

Regardless of the weather, the horses are waiting at the gate when I drive into the barn lot. Their long night of grazing has tired them and they are ready to come in, stand under their fans, and eat hay during the hot part of the day. If I am late, my big paint horse, Rain, will be six inches taller than usual, boring holes in me with her stare of desperation. Before I bring the girls into the barn, I fill their mangers with hay and put a handful of feed in their bucket. If I fail to do this, Nika, Mom’s Arabian, squeals and bangs on the wall with her hooves until her needs are met. It reminds me of my first job, working in a daycare. If only horses responded to “time-outs.”

I love you! Feed me.

I love you! Feed me.

Once the equine contingent is munching hay, I feed the barn cats. Toby and Miranda want their breakfast, but they also want their morning tete-a-tete. It often comes just before I leave the barn, but I always make time to sit on a hay bale and love on my two tiger-cats. Miranda is the last surviving member of three siblings I adopted in 2003. Her brother Viggo and sister Tasha have passed on, but soon after Tasha left us in 2012, a new yellow cat entered my life. His name is Toby and I suspect he found me after his owner, an elderly neighbor, died. Wherever he came from, Toby is a sweetheart and his soft, tawny coat matches Miranda perfectly.

Edward & Fardinand

Edward & Fardinand

Then its off to meet the needs of the poultry. Two of the feathered-folk live at the barn: Edward, the huge, black and shiny rooster and his life-mate, Ferdinand, the white and fawn runner duck. Ed and Ferdie have their own digs because they were a little too randy to live with the lady-birds. Edward is too big to “tread” my smaller hens and ducks just have a different sensibility when it comes to romance. Feather-pulling is a integral part of the ducky love-dance and since all of my lady-ducks perished in the coyote massacre of 2010, Ferdie was turning my hen-house into a nudist colony. Fortunately, Ed and Ferdie are very happy together and, in today’s world, I think it is lovely they can live together without fear of discrimination.

My Ladies Fair

My Ladies Fair

Once I’ve filled Ferdinand’s swimming-pool and offered Ed some mealworms, its off to the hen-house. My girlie-birds used to be free-range, but after the massacre, when I lost fifteen beloved hens in twenty-four hours, the flock is now restricted to getting their fresh air in the safety of their coop. Every morning, they are waiting at the little chicken door, like a group of nuns called to morning prayer. I let them out, feed and water them, and head back to my house, where I have one last family member to feed.

Telly in the garden with Mom

Telly in the garden with Mom

Because having the standard fare of domestic animals was not enough, we also provide living quarters for a three-toed box turtle. Mr. Turtelle (Telly for short) has been our friend for almost twenty years. Until 2011, Telly was a wild turtle who summered in our yard. He’d arrive in May, patiently waiting by the back door for a handful of grape-tomatoes or apple-bits. We fed and watered him through the heat of summer days, then, with the coming of frost, Telly would vanish into the forest to hibernate until spring. In 2011, that changed. One fateful night, Telly got into the garage and when Dad went to work the next morning, he accidentally backed over our beloved Turtelle. Telly’s shell was cracked (thank goodness it wasn’t fully broken) and one leg was almost torn off. It was an awful day, but thanks to a very kind veterinarian, we pulled Telly through the worst. The only lasting damage is Telly’s inability to retract his injured leg and it is because of this, he cannot return to the wild. The leg would make Telly vulnerable to predators during the summer and to frost-bite during the winter, so now he lives with us. He has a spacious terrarium in our spare room where we keep his humidity and temperature at optimum levels year-round. He has a UV by day and a infrared heat-lamp by night, a bathing pool, a basking stone, and his own iPod that plays bird songs during the day and night sounds after dark. Telly does quite well for himself, dining on earthworms, tomatoes, and apples. He is my Turtle Prince and I am The Worm Goddess, dispensing bounty from on high. I am honored to serve such a noble creature.

Now, with the morning round of animal care is done, its almost eleven and time for lunch. After that I’ll start watering the yard and feed the hummingbirds. Soon it will be time for afternoon chores to begin, but, to be honest, there’s no where on earth I would rather be.

The Dominion of Cats

Claudia Jean and her feather boa.

Claudia Jean and her feather boa.

If I had a blog, I would write about cats. I believe, if cats had opposable thumbs, they would have developed a civilization equal or superior to our own Why? Because there is no animal on the planet that ponders, “I wonder what would happen if I….?” more than the cat. I watch Claudia and Sawyer go about their daily rounds and nothing escapes them. The smallest change in orientation or location of a trinket immediately catches their eye and they must, at all costs, investigate the possibilities.

Sawyer's First Christmas

Sawyer’s First Christmas

In the world of cats, the most important questions to answer are: “What does it taste like?”; “Is there any way I can make myself choke on it?”; “Will it come apart if I claw it?”; “Does it make my owner use the word, ‘expensive!’?” and “What will happen if it falls to the floor?” Once these properties are tested, the cat will then decide if its worth further investigation or if, like most things, is it simply to be ignored. If time is short, the one test all new objects must pass is the “falling to the floor” test, thus proving that cats could, at the very least least, grasp the rudiments of Newtonian physics.

Miss Miranda

Miss Miranda

Personally, I think the real obstacles to feline world domination are cats themselves. If they rose to power, they would no longer be the pampered pet; fed, groomed, and appointed with riches such as cat trees, heated beds, and fleece-lined blankets. To rule the world takes energy and that would seriously erode the 18 hours of sleep cats require per day. The biggest problem, though, would be an organized military. Ever heard the phrase, “That was like trying to herd cats.” ? Yeah. unless they could recruit dogs to work as enlisted soldiers, I don’t think we’ll see a feline version of Patton’s 3rd Army marching into Japan to put down a tuna rebellion.

Those Gypsy Eyes

Those Gypsy Eyes

And yet…what can we say about a species that rose from lowly wild creature to domestic icon more than 9500 years ago? Ancient Egypt was quite a coup, and the Middle Ages a bit of a blot on cat history, but today cats are living large. They have personal-shoppers, personal-groomers, personal physicians, and a chauffeur to drive them hither and yon. They draw a bead on soft-touches like my myself and insinuate themselves into our lives with ease.  In addition to Claudia and Sawyer, who sought out my cat-allergic brother before coming to me, I have two barn cats: Miranda and Toby. I adopted Miranda from the vet clinic as an abandoned kitten and Toby just appeared at the barn a few years ago, looking for a nice place to call home. He found it, too. The barn cats have a heated “Cat Room” complete with cushy beds in winter and a cool fan in summer. No cat in my world lives life on the edge of anything but obesity.

Toby's Bedroom

Toby’s Bedroom

So who’s to say? Maybe the cat has accomplished with guile and beauty what man cannot attain: An endless sea of willing servants, loyal unto death to these marvelous, frustrating, curious creatures. Long may they reign.

Cats, Frogs & Angels

If I had a blog, I would write about how much I have missed my cats. I haven’t gone anywhere and neither have they, but the rigors of summer on the farm have kept me so busy I haven’t had time to sit and be loved. Today I made time. The lawn can wait, the bills will keep until tomorrow, and the laundry will only grow a few more inches before nightfall. Today was for me and cats.

Sawyer, man of the house.

Sawyer, man of the house.

“Quality Cat Time” involves two phases: First, a long nap with Sawyer, the Big Black Cat, sacked out on top of me. His purr is the best lullaby I could wish for and his considerable heft keeps me cozy and warm. After nap-time has ended, I sit in my reading chair and Claudia Jean, my dainty calico, walks round and round from one side of the back-rest to the other rubbing on my head and face. I scratch her ears and she sits on my shoulder, loving the glasses off my face. I think she’d go forever if something fascinating, like cat hair floating past the window, didn’t grab her attention and I wouldn’t mind. There is no therapy as restoring as the love of a happy cat.

Claudia Jean, the Calico Cat

Claudia Jean, the Calico Cat

Then there was The Frog. Mom and I were going out to do morning chores and as we sat on the garden wall, putting on our work boots, we saw a big, handsome leopard frog climbing into the lap or our Garden Angel. It was a small thing, but somehow it felt like a good sign for the day.

Of Frogs and Angels

Of Frogs and Angels

Actress Cameron Diaz once said, “I’d kiss a frog even if there was no promise of a Prince Charming popping out of it. I love frogs” and I have to agree. There is something innocent yet wise in the visage of a frog, as if their seeming naiveté is an act to disguise their ancient knowings. I think they watch us with amusement and perhaps even pity as we rush through our lives, so full of worry for the future and regret for the past. Frogs live in the moment and although I believe they see the grand scheme of things, they keep their world small and simple. French biologist and philosopher Jean Rostand summed it up perfectly when he wrote, “Theories pass. The frog remains.” Amen, small brother. Amen.

Frog's Eye View

Frog’s Eye View