Friday, March 31, 2006

To Market, To Market...

Tomorrow is the day of the first big plant sale of the year, which officially kicks of Farmer's Market season. Today I've been busy putting things in pots - staghorn ferns, banana trees, day lilies, gladiolus, petunias, angel trumpets. The angel trumpets are my favorite. The ones in the greenhouse are blooming early, their big bell-shaped blooms perfuming the air. The day lilies were a real pain. Larry had dug up a whole mat of them and I had to separate the things before potting them, no small feat when you consider the bulbous roots were all twined together. I used a knife to loosen the roots before wrenching the lilies apart. It worked, although I ended up splattering myself with dirt. It's a good thing I'm not prissy.

At least the weather was perfect for working outdoors, almost too perfect. It was so sunny that I was resorted to wearing the floppy hat I purchased after my sun-loving mother had two melanomas removed and made me afraid of natural light.

Our little gardening business grows every year, and I wonder if a year from now we'll be in a position to hire part-time help. Perhaps at this very moment a starry-eyed Mexican is plotting a way to get past the Minutemen just to achieve his American dream of working for us and listening to my husband have a meltdown everytime he finds a slug in the greenhouse.

But those dreams will have to wait. Right now we are truly a mom and pop operation. Well, mom, pop and the kids. Alex and Lucas helped today. John did not, but it was an excused absence owing to his irrational but hilarious fear of bees. He saw one today and screamed like a girl, and it wasn't even after him.

Today wasn't all work for me, though. My mother and erstwhile babysitter consented to keep the kids this morning so I could get away to the bookstore, where I slipped into a state of absolute bliss upon finding a long-coveted book waiting waiting for me with a big "50% off" sticker slapped right on the jacket.

Tomorrow, though, the focus will be not on spending money, but making some. Hopefully I'll have some good news, interesting anecdotes and nice pictures from our first plant sale of the year. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Curious beauties

Orchids are so endearingly odd that having acquired one you find yourself collecting more once you've disabused yourself of the notion that they are difficult to maintain.

Ours ask very little, just a high quality medium, good drainage, sufficient light and a daily misting. In return they reward us with the most enchanting and unusual blooms. This oncidium at right reminds me of a bee, which is probably no mistake. Many orchids have evolved to look suspiciously like the insects that pollinate them.

The phalaenopsis are, I suppose, the commoners of the orchid world, being the most mass-produced variety. But they are still variable enough to be exciting when they bloom. My mother-in-law has a huge white phal that I adore. Larry favors oddball varieties like the spectacled one (top left), which really is pretty.

Last year Larry surprised me a paphiopedilum for no special reason, which is always the nicest way to receive flowers. It's not blooming now like the other two shown above, which were photographed this morning. But if you're unfamiliar with paphs, they are called lady slipper orchids. I photographed the one shown left at our local arboretum. When my paph finally gets around to putting up a spike and a bloom, I'll post a picture of it. It's dark purple, and very exotic.

When this Cattleya blooms, the fragrance is just heavenly. It's one of my favorites. Now, this is last year's photo, taken by Larry. The plant was part of a collection we bought from a retired dentist and longtime orchid collector. Many weren't in bloom when we bougth them, so were were treated to a year of surprises after the purchase.

A really wonderful book is the Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. There's a lot in there about the natural history of orchids and the colorful history of orchid collecting. But I caution you. Do not, I repeat DO NOT watch that god-awful movie Adaptation, which was based on the aforementioned book. It is such a cinematic travesty that if I were Susan Orlean I'd shoot myself just so I could roll over in my grave.

With warmest regards....

I did something this week that I haven't done in years. I wrote a letter. Not tapped out an email correspondence, which I do on almost a daily basis, but actually wrote a letter. With a real pen and real ink.

I took the notion to write one some time back, when my eldest son's beloved, Courtney, and I were in the stationery section of Barnes & Noble. So many fine papers and beautiful shades of ink. We were enthralled by the girliness of it all and embarked on a conversation about letters and letter writing.

She had just seen the movie Quills, in which The Marquis de Sade writes obsessively from the asylum using a feather pen. I'd been on a Jane Austen tear and remarked that in Jane Austen novels, everyone writes and receives letters. We talked some of the blandness of emails, about how annoying emotive icons are no subsitute for the personal touch of a handwritten note. And then, even though we live just towns apart, we decided to become pen pals.

It's funny how when you sit down at a keyboard, your hand automatically arranges itself to tap, tap, tap your thoughts onto the screen. I type very quickly, so my nibble fingers can keep pace with my what I want to say. But with handwriting, it's different. Handwriting is a slower process and - having grown unaccustomed to communicating in that way - I found myself accidentally skipping letters in my haste. After ruining a couple of sheets of paper, I forced myself to slow down. My fears that the syntax of my words would be lost by not pouring them so quickly into my message turned out to be unfounded. If anything, writing by hand gives me more time to remember and add more details, and even the leisurely pace even allowed for time a few drawings to illustrate my correspondence. In the end, and the ebb and flow of the message was sufficient to meet my standards. Very satistfying, indeed.

I wrote two letters - one a note updating Courtney of the antics of a kitten I picked up for her a few days earlier (she's away in Arizona and will be returning this week) and the other a letter about my childhood experiences growing up on a haunted farm.

I enjoyed the letter writing so much that I'd like to do more. All I need is more pen pals. If anyone has the time and inclination to correspond by mail, just let me know. It would be a great way to exchange pleasantries that I might not otherwise put on my blog.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Someone thinks I'm a bitch

Anonymous takes issue with my "Tea with a really bad mother" post:

"Well, since Nancie's daughter was murdered, I guess your wonderful and touching advice arrives just a bit late, doesn't it? This is not the time for this kind of self-satisfied-I'm-the-best-parent ... The girl was killed, you self righteous cunt. Walk a mile in someone elses shoes, eh? "

Well, Anonymous. On the face of it, I suppose I do sound self-righteous, and I'd feel bad - even terrible - if I wasn't so right about this.

When I wrote the "Tea with a really bad mother post" below, the victims' names hadn't yet been released. After you called me on it, I went in search of the article.

It seems like the dangers of raves are well known, both to ravers and their relatives. Here's mention of another victim:

_Christopher Williamson, 21, shot in the chest and head. His mother and friends said he was trying to get out of the rave scene because he had been doing too many drugs.

I guess that explains why Nancie didn't want Suzanne going to raves. It also explains why she should have stopped her. But like a lot of parents today, she couldn't tell her daugher no. So instead she had to tell her goodbye. Forever.

So call me a self-righteous cunt if you want to, Anonymous. I just happen to be a self-righteous cunt sick of seeing kids let down by the very people who are supposed to be protecting them.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tea with a really bad mother....

Nancie Thorne told "The Seattle Times" that her 15-year-old daughter, Suzanne, was in the house when the man opened fire. She said the girl’s boyfriend called her Saturday morning to say that they had gone to the house following an electronic dance party on Friday night – a "zombie rave."
"It’s the worst phone call a mom can get," Thorne said, crying. "She shouldn’t have gone to the rave. I’ve never approved of those things... I just hope to God she’s alive. And if she is, she’s grounded for life."

I would like to invite Nancie Thorne over for a cup of tea and use the opportunity to give her some parenting advice, provided I could restrain myself from slapping her silly for giving other hippie mothers a bad name.

Provided I could, here's what I'd say:

Nancy, are you on crack? No, wait, don't answer that. But really, sister, just because one is a free-wheeling, earth-biscuit type is no reason not to be a good mother.

What do I mean by that? How can you ask such a question? Did you not tell the Seattle Times reporter that you never approved of raves? And what did you do? You let your daughter go anyway.

What do you mean by, "What was I supposed to do?" I'll tell you what you were supposed to do. You were supposed to say, "No, Suzanne, you aren't going to the rave because I don't approve of them." And if she talked back you took everything she valued away - cell phone, Dayglo hair dye, nose ring - until she remembered just who was in charge.

Please, stop saying how you could never do that becaus you want to be your daughter's friend. If you can stop crying for a second, I'll tell you a little story about the time I had to break my oldest daughter's heart. She was eleven and had made me a card that said, "I love you, mommy. You're my best friend." I hugged her, thanked her for the card and informed her that while I would always try to be the best mommy I could be, I could not her friend, at least not until she was an adult. You see, my job is not to be my kids' non-judgemental buddy, but their guide and protector, a leader strong enough to - for instance - tell them they can't go to a "rave" full of crazed druggies.

Now that she's 20 and on her own, my daughter is my best friend. And do you know why? Because I earned her respect. You know what else? Even as a young adult, she still values my counsel, because she knows I have her best interest at heart. While her other friends tell her what she wants to hear, I'm the one she counts on to always tell her the unvarnished truth.

What's that, Nanci? But you are trying to be tough? You said you plan to ground Suzanne? For what? For doing something you let her do? Silly rabbit, the time to be strong is before your daughter is in a situation that puts her life at risk, not after.

Really, Nanci. It's parents like you who make me sick. Up until now I haven't actually had the chance to tell one of you how I felt. I don't know how you feel, but I feel a whole lot better. Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Vanity, thy name is Writer

"Everything want to be loved..."
The Color Purple

Deny it all you want, but you know it's true, especially among the human kind. For no matter how obnoxious, self-absorbed, power hungry or arrogant, something in almost every soul longs to reach out and make a connection.

It's especially true of writers, whether they are authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers.

Blogs are especially interesting because they give everyone a chance to see their work in print. The Internet has become the Great Equalizer; the mouse is the publisher that never rejects. It's all out there for public consumption - poetry, political commentary, musings, rages, rants, anecdotes, confessions, deep thoughts, not so deep thoughts...

And lies.

"I don't care if anyone reads my blog," some writers say. But that's not true. Writers, whether they are good bad or mediocre write not just because they are driven to, but because they want to be read. Writers who say they don't care whether they are read may fool some people, but they don't fool other writers.

If bloggers didn't really care about being read, they'd just keep a personal diary, not an online one. In that way, they're little different than the author who - when a book is rejected or goes unpublished - sniffs dismissively and says it doesn't matter, even as he continues to seek another publishing venues. Sour grapes make great whine.

Writers are vain and filled with longing for human connection. They want that relationship with the reader. For writers, to be read is to be loved. For writers, to be read is the reciprocated kiss.

You want to hurt a writer? Really hurt him? Ignore him. It's like the old line: When a masochist says beat me, a true sadist says 'no.'

Telling a writer his work sucks, or his ideas are stupid may not be the preferred attention, and it's attention nonetheless and better than nothing. Leave his comment section blank or pass his book on the shelf and it's a gut shot. Suddenly he is back in the eighth grade, the wallflower at the school dance wondering why everyone else is getting all the attention when he wore his best suit.

He can deny it all he wants. But deep down, he knows better.

Do I exclude myself from this rather unflattering analysis? Of course not. If I did, I'd be lying.

So if you've read this and I hope you have, for I'm no different from any other writer looking to make a connection, I appreciate the special moment we've shared. And, as always, your comments are welcome.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Unflappable Mrs. Hensley

It is with deep regret that I must inform those of you following the egg-citing saga of our two laying hens, that Mrs. Hensley's heroic efforts at motherhood appear to be failing.

As you recall, the stalwart Mrs. Hensley chose the ditch behind our property as the location for her nest, while her somewhat less serious sister, Bedelia, chose the herb bed next to the house. Alas, Mrs. Hensley's choice appears to have doomed her would-be children. The moisture of the ditch seeped up through her nest and into her 13 eggs, which all began to go bad.

Then the raccoon came. We could see his eyes shining in the field as he made his nocturnal approach, no doubt lured by the sulfuric odor coming from the ditch. He's not greedy, taking only one egg a night. By this morning poor Mrs. Hensley had but five left, and a poor sight they were - brownish and splotchy and covered with tiny bits of rotten yolk and shell from an egg that apparently busted as the racoon was trying to roll it away.

But still she persists, the picture of avian determination, brooding her doomed clutch.

On my morning rounds to collect eggs and dispense food to the clucking masses, I traveled down into the malodorous ditch to have a talk with Mrs. Hensley, hen to hen. I told her it was OK, that life is entirely unfair and that sometimes bad things happen to good chickens. I told her there would be other chances, other clutches. She just looked as if I were nuts, which I was, standing there in a stinky ditch talking to a chicken.

Meanwhile, Bedelia's nest now holds over two dozen perfectly beautiful, neglected eggs. For Bedelia can't be bothered with anything as boring as maternal duties. Oh no. Instead, she spends her day rotating between the two roosters, shaking her tail feathers and acting surprised if they begin to fight for her affections, which they both eventually get anyway. Bedelia believes in spreading herself around. If Bedelia were a girl, she'd be the type to come flouncing in at 3 a.m. to awaken the next day wondering where she'd left her panties.

So there you go. One devoted mother, still sitting a doomed clutch of rotten eggs while two dozen tiny chicken embryoes sit hopelessly suspended in developmental limbo, awaiting the maternal warmth that could bring them to life.

It looks like we shall not have an early spring hatch after all. But isn't it funny that even simple barnyard fowl are not outside the reach of life's ironies.

Monday, March 20, 2006

My Clown Prince

If I had to compare Wesley to any fictional character, it would be Calvin from the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes." Just look at him, striped shirt, goofy expression. The only thing he needs is a stuffed tiger.

Yesterday was a good day because we got to hang out. We were getting a bite to eat when Courtney offered to take a picture of me and Wes with her new camera phone. She took several; these were the most normal.

After lunch, Larry went to run errands with Lucas and Wes, Courtney, Alex and I went to the bookstore. I bought a book, some parchment paper and Wes and I went in halves on a beautiful quill pen for Courtney. It's so neat to see him do nice things for her, to treat her so well. It's no mystery to me why he loves her so much. Wesley and I are so similar in humor and temperament and she and I get along famously.

While she and I continued oohing and aahing over the Crane & Co. stationery, leatherbound Italian journals and art books, Wesley and Alex took off for another part of the store. Courtney took this picture of them together. Wesley was reading Alex ghost stories. He's such an awesome big brother.

Back over at the stationary section, some sample words from a magnetic poetry kit were stuck on the side of a metal display. Courtney and Alex challenged Wes to compose a poem using the limited words. Here's what he came up with.

I know a lot of people say that kids are the most fun when they are young, but grown children can surprise and delight you as much as they did when they were tiny. They just do it in different ways.

Wesley has always been creative. He draws beautifully, writes poetry and is doing some journaling. But seeing him do something like this on the spur of a moment really makes my spirit soar in a way that's hard to describe. I don't know what I did to deserve this kid, but it must have been good...

Hello, Spring

I was a little disappointed to see it so misty and gray when I awoke this morning. In my mind, the first day of spring should be warm and sunny.

It's chilly out now and clouds hang heavy as far as the eye can see. Rain is predicted and then, more cold. Despite the change of seasons, it seems winter hasn't gotten the memo. But I couldn't let its official end go unmarked, so I set out with my camera this afternoon to photograph what early trinkets Lady Spring may have dropped as she saunters slowly across the land.

Under Elmira, our elm tree, a purple hyacinth is in full bloom. It's a beautiful flower, although I don't care for the heady smell of it; it's reminiscent of old lady's perfume. Elmira's branches are still devoid of leaf. Here is how she would look to you if you were to lay under her and look up. However, I don't recommend doing this if you have overly-attentive corgis, since they'll think your lying there means you've died and can only be revived with many enthusiastic licks to the face.

Our flower beds are still dormant. No signs yet of the coneflowers or the clemetis or the bleeding hearts. The Japanese ferns, the painted ferns and the vinca all made it through the winter. The creeping ivy, once it wakes, will again resume its methodical march up the front of our house. There are the tiniest infant buds all over my Lady Banks Rose, which is huge and could use good pruning. In a few weeks it will be covered in flowers. I did find this tiny little pansy had come to life. Isn't it pretty? I love pansies. They're happy flowers.

We have grand plans for the yard this spring - a bricked patio out front, a koi pond, a large bed full of palms, bananas and other tropical plants, and a wildlfower garden.

The corgis have nothing to do with spring, as they remain steadfast, constant and amusing all through the year. But today, foxy little Tula looked such the delicate lady and Sam - while shedding - looked such the dandy I couldn't resist including them in the things that cheered me up on this, the first gloomy day of spring.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday morning

Beauty and joy are most often found in the mundane moments. All around us are tiny masterpieces we'd miss if we didn't stop to notice. When we do, the ordinary often becomes the extraordinary.

I looked up from my book this morning to see my two youngest children, still tousled and rosy from sleep, cuddled up together in the easy chair. Their expressions, the lighting - sublime perfection. A golden moment begging to be captured and held.

As siblings, Alex and Lucas will grow and change. There will be fights over posessions and slammed doors and hurt feelings and demands for privacy. But underneath will be a love that brings them back together, that binds them as family.

That is my hope for my children. That is my hope for us all.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The moments you never forget...

After an outing to the park, we went to a homeschoolers’ St. Patrick's Day get-together at a friend’s beach house. There was an Irish storyteller, lots of crafts and games for the kids and afterwards we all walked to the ocean.

By then it was really warm and Alex and Lucas got happily soaked splashing in the surf. John paced the beach fretting over them, especially if Lucas looked as if he was going to get in water above his knees. Even thought I told John that it was OK, I wasn't going to let anything happen to the little ones, he was increasingly agitated and was too worried to have fun.

And then, it happened.

Dolphins - a school of about six or eight of them bounding closer to shore than I've ever seen them do.

You have to know John to know how he feels about dolphins. He loves them. I mean he absolutely loves them. And until now he'd never seen them in the wild.

He ran down the beach looking and yelling with such rapture that I almost cried for happiness, but of course I couldn't let him run down the entire beach, so I went after him. A couple of other homeschooling moms watched the little ones as I chased John. When I finally caught up with him, he turned and cried, "Dolphins!" and hugged me so tight I thought my ribs would break.

What an interesting day. What a wonderful gift. What an awesome memory.

What's in a name?

I'm beginning to wonder.

So today Alex and Lucas and I went to the playground. It was a perfect day for it. The weather was mild and sunny.

Obviously we weren't the only ones with the idea because within an hour, two groups of kids showed up. The first was a group of little rich kids. I could tell were rich because they were all dressed to the nines. They were so well-dressed, that I felt underdressed. The girls looked like china dolls; the boys looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Another way I could tell they were rich was because while the parents were there (it was for a birthday party) so were The Nannies. Ocassionally the parents, who mostly stood around talking while the nannies chased the kids, would yell to the children to be careful, which made sense. Everyone should know it's dangerous to run with a silver spoon in your mouth.

But what amused me were the names of the kids. There was a Baxter, a Browning, a Madison, a Farrington, a Dexter, a Langley and a Sims among others.

I was curious and struck up a couple of conversations with the parents. "What an interesting name, Langley," I complimented one mother. "Is it a family name?"

No, she said. The same was true of several other upwardly mobile parents.

Then a preschool class showed up. These kids were clearly from the wrong side of the tracks. They were slack-eyed and snot-nosed as they wandered away from their disinterested teachers. I rescued two grubby waifs from the plastic climbing rock, fearing if I didn't they'd fall and crack their little skulls. In the thick of it I began hearing names like Shaniqua, Destiny, Tyree, Donque and something that sounded a lot like the word "Vagina." Upon some checking, I learned that the littel girl's name was Vijiya, a made-up word that sounds enough like "vagina" to ensure her a tortured adolescence.

It wasn't the first time I'd heard such an odd name. At Chuckee Cheese years ago, I heard a woman call her daughter "Crustacea. "

"No," I thought. "That can't be." But it was. The woman said she got the name out of a science book. I can only imagine all the teasing that kid got about crabs once she reached her teens.

So there my kids and I were, on a playground surrounded by little rich kids with pretentious names and little poor ones with weird, made-up ones. The nannies chased the rich kids while their parents cast irritated glances whenever a child interupted their conversation. The daycare workers hauled the poor ones around by the arms of their oversized, hand-me-down jackets, plopped them into the swings and left the others to be chased about by a total stranger.

Eventually, the daycare kids left, which was good because I was exhausted from looking after them. Then the rich kids' nannies herded them to a shelter for the party as the parents walked casually in their direction.

I was left there, at 11:30 a.m., the only fulltime mother on the playground. I felt like a relic. And while I tried not to judge, I couldn't help but wonder about the hearts of people who put more pride in naming their kids than they do in raising them.

Every girl needs a hobby...

I have many hobbies, mostly normal ones like reading, drawing, painting, sewing, and knitting. But I have one extremely unusual one that earns me peculiar looks everytime I indulge my whim to practice it. I love to photograph roadkill.

I know what you're thinking: That's gross. That' s because you're thinking about it wrong. Taking a picture of a dead animal is not nearly as gross as peeling its rigid carcass off the highway and hauling it home. I've never had a desire to skin anything, no matter how perfect the pelt. A picture is so much cleaner.

I'm selective in what I shoot. I don't brake for any old dead animal. I whiz past squashed raccoons, pancaked possums and dismembered deer on a daily basis. No, something has to be pretty unusual for me to stop, grab my camera and run across four lanes of traffic for a keepsake photo - endangered rattlesnakes, piebald deer, bears.

Take for instance my Find Of The Day, a coyote. Coyotes are still a novelty in our area, where they started showing up about four or five years ago. Keeping a photographic record of the ones killed not only helps me keep a keep track of unusual wildlife in my area - another interest of mine - but gives me something to pass on to my biologist friends, who are genuinely happy to get such information.

I saw a rare, red-phase black bear (they can come in other colors than black) hit a few years ago, but we were in heavy traffic and I didn't have my camera. The bear had just been hit and, while dead as a doornail, all the injuries appeared to be external. The carcass was in excellent shape, and I was planning to go buy a camera at the next exit and come back for a few shots. But - as luck would have it - the guy behind us saw it at the same time, pulled over and threw the carcass on the back of his truck. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But it would have made a cool photo.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another poem that came to me

Pillow Talk

by Morgan

"We were young once," I say
as side-by-side in bed we lay
chest to chest and thigh to thigh.
"Yes we were," you say, and sigh.

"I used to be afraid of age
to fear the knowlege that the wage
of living is to see
the advance of one's mortality."

I tell this to you as I trace
the subtle lines upon your face.
You hug me then and draw me near
"Wife," you say, "Do not fear.
Look how much so far we've weathered
All is well if we're together."

Your hand then skims my waist-length hair,
finds rounded hip and settles there
on stretch marks left by children born
then nursed on breasts that time has worn
from ripe firm peaks to softer weights
and I am happy for a fate
that finds me in this place, this house
this special moment with my spouse
whose touch still makes me flush and glow
with passion's fire. I love you so.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Say it ain't so, Chef

How could he? How could Isaac Hayes, who for so long provided the sultry voice of South Park's Chef, leave the show?

Is he sick? Is he mad?

Actually, he's both. He's a Scientologist.

Things were going great until Hayes got his nose out of joint over a recent episode that skewered Scientology. In Trapped in the Closet, 8-year-old Stan gets duped into joining Scientology, whose followers become convinced he's the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. Tom Cruise is also featured in the episode, although he spends most of it hiding in the closet of Stan's room and refusing to come out.

It's not the first time South Park has made fun of religion. Other noteworthy episodes include Jewbilee, Are You There God, It's Me Jesus, Red Hot Catholic Love, All About Mormons?, The Passion of the Jew and Woodland Critter Christmas. (The last one is only funny if you're amused by depictions of baby mountain lions learning to do abortions so they can prevent the birth of the anti-Christ.)

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. South Park also makes fun of liberals, conservatives, Hollywood, Terry Schiavo, hate crimes, pre- and post-op transexuals, gays, handicapped kids, retarded children, starving Africans, AIDS, terrorists, televangelists, hippies, rednecks and Wal-Mart. It's Take-No-Prisoners T.V. and that's why so many people - including me - watch it.

Chef has been a big part of it, dispensing advise to the kids he collectively addressed as "children," and wowing the ladies with smooth lines and songs about his chocolate salty balls.

And now, after nine seasons of raunchy episodes, he's taking his salty balls and going home. I'm devastated, for I love Chef. But I'm totally disgusted with Isaac Hayes. I could go on and on about it, but I think South Park creator Matt Stone summed it up best.

"This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology," said Stone.
"He has no problem -- and he's cashed plenty of checks -- with our show
fun of Christians... We never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way
until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than
his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin."

So be that way, Chef. Forget the fact that people were already laughing at Scientology before this episode even aired. Forget the fact that having Tom Cruise as the public face of a religion is equivalent to hanging a "Kick Me" sign on the church door. Forget that if L. Ron Hubbard's books had been any good he would have never even had to become a cult leader. Forget all that and blame the show that made you an icon to a generation that's never heard of "Shaft."

Hopefully you'll regret what you've done and realize that you should have stayed, if not for us then for the children.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

And the sick humor award goes to...

...the guy who put up this sign.

I know I shouldn't laugh, but...

Poetry Sunday

I highly recommend reading anything by this poet. Of all her poems, this one is my favorite:

Descending Theology: The Crucifixion
By Mary Karr

To be crucified is first to lie down
on a shaved tree, and then to have oafs stretch you out
on a crossbar as if for flight, then thick spikes
fix you into place.

Once the cross pops up and the pole stub
sinks vertically in an earth hole perhaps
at an awkward list, what then can you blame for hurt
but your own self's burden?

You're not the figurehead on a ship. You're not
flying anywhere, and no one's coming to hug you.
You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard
trinity of nails holding you into place.

Thus hung, your ribcage struggles up
to breathe until you suffocate, give up the ghost.
If God permits this, one wonders how
this twirling earth

manages to navigate the gravities and star tugs.
Or if some less than loving watcher
watches us scuttle across the boneyard greens
under which worms

seethe and the front jaws of beetles
eventually clasp toward the flesh of every beloved.
The man on the cross under massed thunderheads feels
his soul leak away,

then surge. Some windy authority lures him higher
till an unseen tear in the sky's membrane is rent,
and he's streaming light, snatched back, drawn close,
so all loneliness ends.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Talent Pool

We couldn't have been any prouder if it had been the real Olympics.

John won two ribbons in this week's Special Olympics swimming competitions. He took third place in the 25-yard freestyle and first place in the 25 yard backstroke.

Last year he didn't do so well in the backstroke; this year he nailed it.

Congratulations, John!

A Sad Ending

I should have put her down right after she came in. The kid who brought her to me said when he'd heard some migrant workers shooting a few days before, he was afraid they'd been going after the two hawks that nested each year behind his house.

The bird he brought me was the female. She was large for a red-shouldered hawk. And she was strong and agressive, which surprised me given her injuries. The wound was the cruelest kind. It had blown out her shoulder joint, leaving a gaping hole ringed by shards of shattered bone. She'd been hit in the throat, too. Necrosis had set in, and I debrided what dead flesh I could before cleaning her up and putting her in a quiet place.

Most birds that severely injured are already giving up the ghost by the time I get them. They arrive hunched over, head bowed, wings slumping as if in supplication. "Please just help me leave," they seem to say. And it's easy to comply, to ease their suffering.

The ones that fight to live, though, it's harder to give up on them. This hawk should have been dead already. The wound was mortal and far from fresh. But there she stood, good wing flared, crest raised, mouth open. "Don't touch me. Stay away. I'm not ready."

So I gave her some time. And I gave myself some to mull over what possibilities there were. I considered calling my vet, to ask him to do surgery to pin the joint. I could almost hear his voice, "Pin it to what? There's nothing there to pin it to. It's shot. You've been doing this long enough to know..."

He'd have been right, too. So I decided to do what needed to be done. There was no hope for the bird. She couldn't survive, no matter how much she or I wanted it. To keep her alive was just to prolong her misery.

Later, when the kids were occupied, I went to to euthanize her. When I looked in her kennel, my first thought was, "Who put a chicken egg in this cage?" Then I looked closer and saw the stain of blood on the egg, the moisture on the paper where she'd just laid it.

I put my hand over my mouth in shock. Thirteen years. Thirteen years of working with birds of prey and I've never had anything like this happen. There's been bumbling orphans and dramatic releases and ungrateful patients whose talons have gouged me to the bone. But never an egg.

The hawk was weaker. Laying the thing had taken a lot out of her. Now I knew why she was so defiant, why she fought. There was something she was supposed to do before she left. And she had done it.

I sat down on the floor and cried, something I haven't allowed myself to do over birds since learning - long ago - that it doesn't do a damn bit of good. But this moved me. Spring is coming. Birds are laying their eggs and somewhere, this bird's mate waited near a nest that would never welcome her or their offspring.

I took her out. She was weaker, much weaker. Her eyes didn't have the edge I'd seen when she'd first arrived. She didn't fight. Larry offered to take her out for me. I thanked him as I handed her over.

The egg, it turns out, is smaller and rounder than a chicken egg, with a more bluish hue. You can see it in the photo above; the hawk egg is the one on the right. Larry and I talked about what to do with it. I considered tucking it in Mrs. Hensley's clutch while she wasn't looking, but she'd surely consider an affront to be duped into hatching a predator. Besides, can you imagine a hawk imprinting on a chicken? That would be the world's worst identity crisis.

Larry suggested putting it in an incubator, but in the end we decided just do do nothing with it at all. I've raised day-old hawk chicks without a problem, but the risk of imprinting on humans is always a possibility. It's bad enough that the mother should never go free. It seemed wrong to risk compounding the error by dooming it's chick to captivity.

Besides, I figured I'd anthropromorphized enough for one day. The egg wasn't a dying wish, but the last primal act of an creature who'd flown over the wrong sort of humans and found not admiration, but death.

Best to let it go and hope next time things will have a better outcome.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nesting Season

When we missed Mrs. Hensley a few days ago, I told Alex not to worry. Absent a dead body or a crime scene strewn with blood and feathers, she likely was still alive and was just away on maternity leave.

Today we found her nest. She'd built it down in a dry ditch behind our property. So long as it stays dry, it's a good choice. Just up the ditchbank stands the kennel and the smell and sound of dogs keeps possums, racoons and foxes from coming near.

Mrs. Hensley is finished with her egg-laying and has gone broody. If you approach the nest, she'll fan her wings out and ruffle up in an effort to look menacing. The only time she is off of it is to get some of the grain we throw her.

Bedelia, who's a bit more free-wheeling, has not yet gone broody. She's laid only 11 eggs to Mrs. Henley's 13 and is more interested in wandering about than hatching chicks. Her nest is located in the back of the herb bed - a very good choice since the dogs know they're forbidden from going in there even when the plants are dormant. The nest is full of lovely bluish eggs. When I went to count them this morning I was reminded of the Gerald Manley Hopkins' poem in which he referred to thrush eggs as "little low heavens." I always loved that line.

So far, the only possessiveness Bedelia has shown over her eggs came on the day she discovered the rooster sitting on them. (If you look carefully at the photo to the left you can see him there, brooding the eggs.) It was a mystery to all of us as to why he would do this, especially to Bedelia. Perhaps he fancies himself a Rennaissance Rooster. Perhaps he was trying to give her a suggestion as to her nesting responsibilities. But whatever his motivation, it wasn't appreciated. Bedelia trounced him so severely for the role-reversal that for days he avoided her altogether.

If all goes well, come three weeks from now we'll wake up to the sight of a proud mother hen trailed by her brood of fluffy chicks. Hens are good mothers. They communicate in endearing little chortles and clucks and at the first sign of danger they spread their wings and the babies rush underneath. They're fiercely protective. One year we had a hawk take one of our mother hens. She could have run and saved herself, but she didn't. Instead, she mantled her wings over her brood and died for them there on the grass.

After the chicks are here, we'll have to eventually pen them up. Three or four free-roaming chickens is one thing, a dozen or more....wait, what am I saying? Everyone knows you shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch. But when and if they do, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A poem that came to me...

The Gardener
by Morgan

I am rootbound when he arrives
trowel in hand to decide
that squeezed I am inside this space
where my roots twine tightly laced
in soil I know so well.

"Do not touch me!" I cry in vain
but he ignores my silent pain
and reaches for my sturdy stem
and pulls and pulls and pulls again.

Then I am out and I am shaken
free of soil that I have taken
hold in, and which for years
held me rooted in my fears
and prejudices and suppositions
locked into my tight positions.

The vines that helped to hold me there
he cuts away with special care.
They coil and cling but yet they lack
the power now to hold me back

Now the gardener gently toils
to plant me in a different soil
telling me what I must know:
"It's scary, child, but here you'll grow.
Now that you've been given room
and softer ground in which to bloom."

Then he waters me with love
and truth from somewhere up above
as new leaves unfurl one by one
and I turn, grateful, towards The Son.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Picture This

I'm growing weary of winter. It's been extra gloomy this year, with much more rain than usual.

I don't usually mind winter, as long as something exciting happens to break the monotony. Last year we had an ice storm. That made for some interesting photographs. But this winter, every time I've had a yen to go snap some pictures it's been soppy out and that's not good for my camera.

I'll be glad when spring gets here. It can't be far off now. Already some of the peach trees are budding and under Elmira the Elm tree a few bulbs have shot up. The purple hyacinth is even putting out early blooms. Larry covers it with a bucket each evening, just in case we get frost.

I'll be glad when it gets warm because the insects will be back. I like taking pictures of insects, especially bees. I was on a bee-photographing kick last June when I took this picture of a bumblee on the coneflower.

The thing about bees, though, is that they run out of patience with you if you follow them around. One stung me on the hand last summer when I was trying to get its picture, which was very upsetting. Not as upsetting as that Terrible Incident With the Monkey, but upsetting nonetheless.

After getting stung, I went into a temporary snit during which I refused to have anything to do with Nature.

But I couldn't stay away.

Two days later I was back, snapping pictures of moths on moonflowers. Moths are nicer. They're less businesslike than bees don't give a care if you photograph them.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


I slept a little late this morning and when I got up I was a bit surprised to find Alex had convinced John to go outside to play basketball. I watched from the window as they passed the ball back and forth beneath the goal. When John made a shot Alex transformed herself from opponent to cheerleader, jumping around wildly and yelling, "Yeah, John!" as he beamed with pride.

John has to be in just the right mood to engage in any sustained interactive activity. More often than not, his autism draws him into solitary activities. When John was younger, we used to pester him to do the sort of social things we thought he should be doing. But being forced out of his shell made him melancholy, and over time we've come to realize that John has his own preferences that should be respected.

What's it like, having a child diagnosed with autism? It's like being thrown into a pit - a dark pit where you clutch your little one and fall, fall, fall through the darkness not knowing where you'll land. Someone whose three-year-old is diagnosed with autism can't look at an autistic teen and say, "So my child will be like that one day," because austim is such a wide and varied spectrum. Some austistics are extremely high-functioning and intergrate well into society. Others are so profoundly compromised that they need constant supervision to keep from hurting themselves. Many, like John, are in the middle.

With time, though, one learns to be grateful for what one's child can do, rather than focus on what he or she can't. Yes, part of me grieves that John will never know romantic love or comprehend the plot of a good book. But part of me admires and even envies a life uncluttered by prejudices, jealousies and grudges. Unswayed by the politics of life and relationships, John loves who he loves with genuine affection. He finds joy through immersion in his chosen pursuits. He adores his video games, riding our Haflinger pony Guinevere, bike riding, playing soccer and doting on Jingles the Cat.

He has a very Zen perspective. He lives in - and enjoys - each moment without worrying about the next.

As a brother, John has taught his siblings the importance of appreciating the limits and differences of others, as well as something about autism itself. They all love him, but it is 8-year-old Alex who is his biggest fan. She's become an ambassador of sorts, a protective go-between quick to explain her brother's lack of eye contact and reserved manner to strangers.

Alex was about three when she noticed something was different about John. We were in the car and - as usual - she was chatting him up. On this day, he was particularly quiet, and it annoyed her.

Why, she asked us, did John not always talk to her.

Larry and I looked at each other and explained - as best one can to even a precocious three-year-old, that her big brother was autistic. He was different and didn't always like to be touched or carry on conversations.

We waited for a reaction but got only a shrug. Alex seemed quite willing to accept John for who he was.

But a few days later, when John was ignoring her again, she ran up to me and fumed, "Mom! John's being autistic to me again!"

So we sat her down - trying not to laugh - and explained to her that being autistic wasn't something John was doing to annoy her. He was born that way, just as some folks are born blind or deaf. Part of loving John, we said, is respecting his limits and letting him be alone when he needed it.

Allowed to flourish on his own timetable, John has become ever more approachable and engaging. The child who used to retreat into himself is with us now more than ever, knowing that if he needs to escape for a bit no one will try to stop him.

Watching the gains John has made over the years has been bittersweet. We know there are limits. But the pain of his diagnosis has been overwhelmingly replaced by the blessing of his sweet, uncluttered nature and ability to teach - from his own world - by example.

I've heard it said that God gives children with disabilities only to special parents who are up for the task. But I don't believe that. I don't consider John's presence some cosmic flattery of a God who saw us worthy of parenting him. No. I believe children like John are here to teach those of us who have much to learn. I'm humbled by John's presence, and thankful for having been sent such a teacher.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Movie Recommendations

If you're looking for a good movie to watch this weekend, here are a few of my top picks:

The Company of Wolves

"A wolf may be more than he seems...."

So Granny (Angela Lansbury) tells young Rosaleen in this erotic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. This movie is part allegory, part seek-and-find, part fairy tale, part horror movie. It's got some of the best werewolf transformation scenes ever. It's dark, fantastic and beautiful. One of my favorites.

Rob Roy

"I will think of you as dead until my husband makes you so. Then I will think on you no more."

If there was an Academy Award for Best Portrayal of an Angry Woman, Jessica Lange would get it for her portrayal of Mary MacGregor. But you'd be pissed off too if some guy in a wig raped you in your own kitchen.

Liam Neeson stares as her husband, the Scottish outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor, whose dealings with Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt) go from bad to worse after the money he borrows is stolen. Montrose sends The Worst Villian ever, Archie Cunningham (Tim Roth) out to arrest MacGregor, setting off a chain of events that lead to the Best Revenge Scene Ever .

It's also worth noting that, in one scene, Liam Neeson walks out of a loch where he's bathing stark naked. I ruined my old videotape rewinding it to and replaying that scene. Thank God for DVD's.


"If a boy has been chosen, a boy will be king!"

I've watched this movie so often that I can recite the charm of making by heart. This is the best King Arthur movie ever made. Well casted - Nicol Williamson was born to play Merlin just as Nicholas Clay was born to play Lancelot.

And this movie isn't just good. It's beautiful. I still get chills when I see the Lady of the Lake pull the sword back into the water.


"Does this look sexual to you?"

If you're a bit of a freak, then yes. Excellent, odd little movie about two people (James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhall) who learn that sometimes love means not working the kinks out of your relationship.

Donnie Darko

"Sometimes I'm afraid that you'll tell me that this is not a work of fiction."

I don't even know how to describe this movie. You might just want to buy this DVD instead of renting it, because you'll find yourself watching it at least three times to pick up clues you missed the first time around.

Basically, it's about a sleep-walking teen named Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhall) who leaves his house during his somnabulistic outings and encounters "Frank," a scary-looking 6-foot rabbit who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. From there it just gets weird.

It's got a great, eclectic cast that also includes Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Mary McDonnall and Noah Wyle.

God, destiny, time travel..if you've ever pondered these things you'll love this movie.

Sense and Sensibility, Robin Hood, Die Hard or any of the Harry Potter movies

No, these aren't great movies. But they do all star Alan Rickman, who's a wonderful actor, a really funny guy and has a voice that just captivates me. I often fantasize about him reading to me. He doesn't do anything else in these fantasies. He just reads to me.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Deep Thoughts

For my money, no one can match the genius of Jack Handy. Here are my choice for his top 10 best:

10. If you define cowardice as running away at the first sign of danger, screaming and tripping and begging for mercy, then yes, Mr. Brave man, I guess I'm a coward.

9. Too bad you can't buy a voodoo globe so that you could make the earth spin real fast and freak everybody out.

8. One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to DisneyLand, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. "Oh, no," I said, "DisneyLand burned down." He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real DisneyLand, but it was getting pretty late.

7. If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is "God is crying." And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is "Probably because of something you did."

6. Better not take a dog on the space shuttle, because if he sticks his head out when you're coming home his face might burn up.

5. To me, clowns aren't funny. In fact, they're kind of scary. I've wondered where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus, and a clown killed my dad.

4. It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man.

3. Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis.

2. If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.

And finally....

1. Sometimes I think I'd be better off dead. No, wait, not me, you.

Bush's mouthpiece

My son Wesley turned me on to this a few weeks ago and no matter how many times I watch it, I never get tired of it. I knew there had to be a good reason George Bush sounds like a total idiot:

Check out The Speechalist.

Guess who aced her paper?

Go ahead, guess.

OK, I'll give you a hint. She's funny, smart, level-headed hard-working.

And she's my firstborn.

That's right. It's my lovely Jessica.

She just called me to tell me she got the highest grade in her class and that her professor planned to use her paper as an example for other students.

It seems like just yesterday she was four years old, nestled in my lap and learning to read stories I wrote about her Cupcake dolls. Even when she was tiny, she had a seriousness about her. My Jessica, an old soul. So purposeful about life.

I marvel at the woman she has become. A university student with a sweet future. And a sweet boyfriend. No, I didn't forget about you, Brandon, because I know if I did Jessica would call and give me an earful. Besides, how could I not include the guy who I would have picked for her myself, were I the type to script my child's life.

When Jessica was born and placed in my arms, I remember looking at her face and thinking, "Is this real? Am I really fortunate to have been blessed with this beautiful daughter?" Twenty years later, I ask myself that same thing every day.