The Life of Rudy

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From Jane's World

Rudy the rooster is long gone, but my memories of him aren’t. In fact, just now I’ve had the disturbing thought that he may have been gone sooner than I ever realized.

I remember sitting in the high school science lab, two to a desk. The top of the desk was a thick black counter top. If you turned your pencil over and used the eraser you could write on top of that black slab without doing any damage. Instead of chairs there were tall silver stools. Often I felt tipsy sitting on them because my legs weren’t long enough to reach the floor. The room smelled of formaldehyde on some days and Bunsen burners on others. There were Petri dishes, microscopes, and—my favorites—a skeleton and charts of the human anatomy.

I liked science class. I disliked the experiments with animals.

Looking under microscopes at slides of pond water and watching them come alive with amoebas and algae was life changing for me. Dissecting frogs was both thrilling and gross. I loved seeing and learning the internal body parts—intestines, liver, heart—but struggled with my sense of compassion for the poor frog. I recently learned that, starting as far back as 1988, some states passed a bill that allowed children an alternative to using real animals in their science lab. Too late for me, and not in my state anyway.

The day that sticks out in my mind the most from that time is the day I brought Rudy home. At the age of 91, my mom still remembers this day too. Rudy was another science experiment, but he was still very much alive!

I asked Mr. Hetzel what they were going to do with the chickens when we were done measuring them daily. I didn’t like his answer. While I knew I couldn’t save all the chickens, I resolved to save Rudy. Out the lab door, into my jacket, and home with me he went. 

My dad built a magnificent cage for Rudy to spend his nights in. It sat on the border of our property next to my dad’s perfectly manicured woodpile. 

In the daytime Rudy ruled the Schmidt yard. He sat (and pooped) on my mom’s beloved chaise lounge with its yellow-and-orange-flowered cushion. He rode in the basket on my bike. He chased the neighborhood children when they came into the yard. And, much to Mrs. Mahoney’s dismay, Rudy turned out to be a rooster that loudly announced every dawn, right outside her bedroom window.

I loved Rudy, and I like to believe my dad did too. No one else did though, so Rudy spent most of his time with the two of us. If my dad was working in the garage, Rudy was there keeping him company. If I was jumping rope, Rudy’s head was bobbing up and down, keeping time with the rope’s rotations. I thought it was funny when Tommy Mahoney tried cutting across our yard to get to the park, and Rudy went screeching and squawking after him. I swear I saw my dad chuckling too, more than once, when it happened. Maybe you can picture it: a small bundle of feathers chasing a boy ten times its size!

My mom became increasingly less tolerant of Rudy’s treatment of her chaise lounge. She also complained about his boisterous wake-up calls. I thought they were rather endearing—besides, who wanted to be in bed when night turned to light? But when the phone calls from Mrs. Mahoney started coming, I knew Rudy was in trouble. Turns out she found nothing endearing about living next door to a cantankerous rooster.

My dad and I did what we could to remedy the situation. We moved Rudy’s cage, we only let him out when we could supervise, and we even covered his cage with a blanket in the evenings to try to keep him quiet longer in the mornings. But even with these measures, Rudy wasn’t able to conform to the high standards of Mrs. Mahoney (or my mom), and the day came when my dad said Rudy would have to go live on my uncle’s farm.

This is where my memories get foggy. I know I went with my dad to the farm, and that Rudy was in a dog crate. I know I cried. I know my dad must have felt miserable for me. And I knew without a doubt that Rudy would have a lovely country setting with other chickens in which to live out his life. 

Forty-four years later, on a cool Sunday morning, I’m drinking my tea and reminiscing about Rudy with a pleasant half-smile on my face, when suddenly an unwelcome thought causes me to shudder. Did Rudy get the long life I had in mind for him? Or did dear Rudy become my uncle’s Sunday night dinner?

Originally Published August 17th , 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Hot Diggity-Dog!

From Jane's World

I’m in love with a man who loves his dogs.

When I met Dane I noticed right from the get-go that, just like me, he loves to eat. A perfect match, my kinda guy. This doesn’t mean we like all the same foods, but in general we agree on what we feel is good. For the most part, we try to eat healthy foods, we care where our food comes from, and we believe in treats. Dane leans more toward beef than I ever have, even before my non-meat days. After all, his family has raised beef cows his entire life.

Dane is tolerant of my periodic food tangents―no meat for a few years, no bread for another year, no sugar for a couple of days. I’m not a big fan of deep-fried or heavily processed foods, so when we attend county fairs and festivals, eating gets tricky for me. Never for Dane. Dane could probably live on hot dogs. While I say no way, Dane says hooray!

Dane likes to cook, and I’m learning to love cooking. But he might tell you I tried to kill him the first month we were officially dating.

Back in those outhouse days (no running water in my off-grid home), I made Dane a breakfast of homemade pancakes served with local Kickapoo GoldTM maple syrup. There are two things I know now about Dane that I didn’t know in our perpetually-nice-just-newly-dating season. One is that he doesn’t complain, and the other is that he finishes everything on his plate. 

To keep it simple, let’s just say I served Dane a few too many heavy, thick, gluten-filled pancakes, smothered in syrup. He ate every last one of them. Turns out he may have a touch of gluten intolerance. He spent the rest of the day outside in the outhouse or writhing in pain on my couch. “Bellyache” doesn’t come close to describing what Dane suffered. 

Over the years I’m certain I’ve made Dane other meals he didn’t particularly enjoy. But because he finishes everything on his plate and doesn’t complain, I often have to guess. I do know he has no desire to try veggie burgers over ground beef, eat zucchini noodles rather than regular noodles, or substitute margarine for butter. 

We spent a recent Saturday morning hiking on a trail that turned out to be difficult and took longer to complete than we’d expected. We followed this with errands we both needed to do in town. By the time we were done it was late afternoon and we hadn’t had lunch. As we drove the long country roads back home, I surprised Dane by telling him we could have hot dogs for an early dinner. I said I’d start cooking them when we got home, and we could cut up some fresh onions, and have them on bread with pickle relish, ketchup, and mustard. I watched his eyes light up. I think his heart started to race.

Getting home at my place means a quick check on all the animals; we needed to dump and refill water dishes, and make sure everyone had hay and feed, an afternoon snack, and a few pats and scratches. Once inside I started a pot of water boiling. Dane cut up onions and all was well.

When the meal was ready, Dane ate two hot dogs and I had one. I watched and waited. After Dane finished his hot dogs I asked how they were. 

“Okay.” 

I said, “Well, did you like them? 

“Not really.”

"What didn’t you like?" 

“I don’t know—for one, they weren’t cooked enough. And I didn’t like the taste.”

On and on this went until I finally admitted they were Smart DogsTM, vegetarian hot dogs made out of soy protein. I thought I was so clever. I’ve successfully served him vegetable pasta for spaghetti dinners, and tofu in stir fries, but there’s no fooling a man who loves his hot dogs and knows his beef!

Originally Published August 10th , 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Hundred-Year Hidey Hole

From Jane's World

I’ve been wandering creeks since I was old enough to cross the street alone. There was rarely enough water in the creek by our home for my mom to have to worry about me getting hurt. Besides, by the time my mom let me cross the road, I knew how to swim.

My family’s home was located behind Hales Corners Park on the east coast of Wisconsin. The entrance to the park was a short blacktop road over a giant culvert with a meandering creek running underneath. To the left was a thick border of trees. On one side of the trees was manicured park grass and on the other a dirt slope leading down to the creek. The neighborhood gang and I played on the dirt side.

Now I live near Wisconsin’s west coast. It wasn’t until after I’d started living on this property and hired a man with a brush hog to mow it that I noticed I had a creek out back, and also a natural spring.

The spring was a treasure, seeing as the house had no plumbing when I moved in. The blue tin cup I hung on a tree is still there. I used spring water for drinking and cooking, for watering plants and vegetables, for filling my shower bag and the dogs’ water bowl, and for cooling off on hot summer days. I rigged up a PVC pipe with one end in the spring and the other in a big galvanized trough to give the donkeys water, but on extremely hot days you could find me standing in that trough until I was numb.

Since the first of our 100-year floods ten years ago, the creek that I love has had as many faces as Sybil. Screaming and angry with the storms, calm and quiet in between. In fact, it gets so calm and quiet that if there’s been no rain for a while the water is hardly deep enough for a minnow to swim in.

The following year, with the second 100-year flood, my land along the creek tore loose and ran away with the water. The only tall, beautiful pine tree on my property went along for the ride. A few days after that second flood Dane and I walked the creek looking for signs of the big pine, but there were none. The trough, a replacement for the one lost in the first flood, never turned up either. The trough from the first flood appeared in my driveway two years later with a note saying, “We thought this might belong to you.”

I was away from home for the 2007 flood and returned after the damage had been done, so I never actually witnessed the power of water until the flood of 2008. Standing in my rain gear and watching my quiet little creek become a raging torrent rushing over my land, carrying boulders, picnic tables, and whole trees, is something I will not forget.

A day or two later and barely a trickle of water again. Nature is fickle like that, and apparently getting more so in recent years.

Before our latest major flood (number four in the 17 years I’ve lived here), I decided to make better use of the small sliver of land that was still intact. I mowed a strip of grass to make a pathway to what I call the hidey hole. The hidey hole appeared compliments of flood number one, which dug a canyon across the county road I live on, about the width of a car and 16 feet deep, just 100 feet from my driveway. Eventually an enormous culvert was installed to replace the regular-sized one that had blown out. Now when the rains come it acts as a gigantic Super Soaker, forcing out mega-gallons of fast-moving water better than ever, and taking even more land with it. One positive result of this has been the creation of a wide pool where the water shoots out.

The PVC pipe from the spring has been washed out so many times now I’ve lost count, and these days the donkeys drink straight from the creek. But the hidey hole, a gift from the floods, provides for a lot of recreation. Most mornings, after everyone is fed, and while I'm still in my PJs, I head to the hidey hole, my critters parading along with me: the ducks and geese, the dogs, Téte and Finn, and even Louisa the pig. Just the other day some human friends brought their grandson over for a visit, and both he and his father waded right in!

Maybe all that creek playing I did as a child was to prepare me for the ever-changing creek that is mine now, for better or worse, low water or high. I’m big enough and my mom far enough away that no one need worry anymore. Unless, of course, we’re all a-splashing at the hidey hole when another 100-year storm comes our way.

Originally Published August 3rd, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Bear Necessities

From Jane's World

How far would you go to ensure you got a full eight hours of sleep every night? Would you give up sugary treats for a year? Vow to never say another negative word about politicians? Cut off your right arm? 

For much of my life, an uninterrupted night’s sleep has eluded me. My tendency is to finally fall into a deep sleep at about the time I should be waking up. While my body settles down for bed quite nicely, my mind chooses that time to shift into high gear. I assume this has to do with my brain downloading all the information from my day. It takes a while. Once they both equalize I sleep soundly if all the stars are lined up right.

Unfortunately for me, this tends to happen closer to getting-up time then going-to-sleep time. It also seems to correspond to when my bladder demands to be emptied. I sit up to heed the call—and panic starts to rise. I’m blind. I’ve gone blind! I forget that I now go to bed sporting an original Alaska BearTM, a silk mask that makes me look like the Lone Ranger’s kidbrother.

Years ago I did some research and learned that shutting out any kind of light was helpful for getting a good night’s sleep. It made sense, and I do have a skylight directly over my bed. It’s wonderful for stargazing when I can’t sleep, but not so great when there’s a full moon and the light keeps me awake.

For the longest time I tried covering my eyes at night with a thick aqua terrycloth headband that some not-so-genius person designed with a knot in the middle. He (no female would have added that knot) most likely thought the knot made it look like a designer headband. It didn’t. It looked like a knot in a headband in the center of my forehead.

In fairness, that headband was designed to wear in the bathtub, where I used it regularly for my bathtub meditations (aka “tubbies”). Using the tubby band as a sleep aid caused me to wake up looking like Kramer in Seinfeld. My hair would be standing straight up and catawampus all at the same time. Even worse, I’d have to go to work with a red, angry-looking imprint of a knot on my forehead.

Alaska Bear to the rescue! My bear was a gift, but I bet you’ll want to order a few by the time you finish reading this. It’s not that I’m trying to make a believer out of you. Or that I've taken out stock in the company. It’s more like I have this crazy urge to shout from my bed-top, “Sleep is not overrated. Buy a genuine Alaska mask and sleep the sleep of a hibernating bear!” The bear is comfortable to wear and shuts out all the light, allowing me to sleep better than I have before. Best yet, I no longer wake up looking like I wrestled with a bear all night long.

FYI, they cost ten bucks. Ten dollars for a peaceful, easy sleep. Way worth double the price—but we won’t tell the company that, will we?

We all know the importance of sleep. I mean, we’re lying there tossing and turning and the facts play over and over in our heads: lack of sleep has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, weight gain, high blood pressure, and stroke. Scary stuff—enough to make a person lie awake at night! 

I have a few tricks up my sleeve when sleep escapes me. Games help. Start with the letter A and go through the alphabet naming bird types that begin with each letter. If you’re lucky you’ll be snoozing soundly when you get to the letter U. Or do the same thing with cities that can be found in Wisconsin. Good luck with the letter X!

I don’t know about you, but when I wake up from a sound eight hours of undisturbed sleep, I’m elated. I start my morning happy dance, a combination of doing the wave with my arms and hopscotching in place with my feet. However, the hopscotch thingy may have more to do with needing to relieve my bladder.

The Alaska Bear mask has been a true gift. No more messed up hair, no tossing and turning, no marks tattooed on my forehead, and no more morning crabbiness. 

Life is sweet with my new Alaska Bear. Now if I could only find the perfect ear plugs.

(Disclaimer: I do not nor have I ever worked directly or even indirectly for the Alaska Bear company. Nor do any of my friends or family, that I’m aware of. I will, however, send this essay to them!)

Originally Published July 27th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Flying Free

From Jane's World

There was nothing unusual about my morning. The water was heating up for my tea and I had my rubber work boots on. Louisa’s banana was cut up and mixed into mash in a yogurt container that had seen better days. The banana peel was tucked in the waist of my pajama bottoms for the goats, and all three dogs were jostling to see who would be first through the door as I headed out to do chores. 

The cool air was refreshing. I kept an eye out for Mom and Pop barn swallow, who had become as common a sight here as all the other critters. They’d built a nest in a hidden corner of the goat palace, and I’ve enjoyed spying on the babies ever since I discovered them there.

Louisa the pig was the first to emerge from the goat palace, grunting as she half slid, half hopped off the ramp in a rush to get to her breakfast. She seems to live in constant fear of not getting another meal. Luna and Peepers are slower to wake up, more cautious. They’re never in a big hurry to start the day. They peek out, looking up at the sky. If it looks like rain, or is raining, they stay put. If it’s a gorgeous crisp morning like today, still no hurry. They seem to know their hay and water will always be waiting for them.

Louisa already had her head buried deep in her feed bowl as I went up the ramp, taking a second to rub Luna and Peepers between their horns, their favorite spot to have scratched. They remind me of furry yogis when they stand on three legs with a tiny hoof bent just so, to scratch above their eye. But no matter how hard they try, they can’t scratch that spot between their horns.

I had my camera turned on, the flash up. Ducking my head under the shelf in the goat palace, I lifted my camera―but no baby swallows! I pushed my head in farther to look into the nest. Nobody home. My heart plummeted as I started searching the goat palace high and low, thinking, Oh no, they fell out, tried to fly out—or worse, one of the cats got them!

Some difficult mornings this summer have been made sweeter by the presence of the barn swallow family. Taking a few extra minutes to say good morning to the babies has made me hustle to get outside at dawn. Leaning up against the fence post and watching Mom and Pop swoop at Monkey, the cat, who was minding his own business, has been my morning entertainment. 

This morning Mom and Pop didn’t seem worried. They were busy dive-bombing not only poor Monkey, who could be trouble, but also Luna, Peepers, and Louisa, who certainly pose no threat. Meanwhile I was working myself into a tizzy but trying to stay calm as I walked the perimeter of the pen and beyond. I couldn’t find any clues. No feathers, and no babies. They must have flown the coop—or in this case, the palace. I hoped they were safe, but I couldn’t help feeling worried.

Chores were finished and my boots were feeling full of sand. The walk back up to the house took longer than usual. I drank my tea but had no interest in breakfast. I should be happy the birds were grown and gone, but I wasn’t fully convinced. Just yesterday I’d laughed at seeing all six babies scrunched up in their nest. I could tell by their size they were growing quickly and getting stronger, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready for them to move away.

Living where I do, I’m reminded daily that I have no control over who stays or goes. Turtles plod across the pasture, bats dive down and keep the bugs at bay, garter snakes slither past as I mow, toads surprise me when I walk in the creek, fallen bird nests tumble through the yard, and the mice, voles, and moles scurry everywhere. Often a coyote or two come looking for a free lunch, a buzzard above keeps watch, and fox kits have been seen wrestling near the roadside. The only constant is that no one stays forever. Not even beloved friends, as I recently learned when my “other mother” and dear friend, Pat Martin, died suddenly and unexpectedly.  I was preparing to visit her in the hospital before she was moved to interim care, when I got the call that she had passed away four hours earlier, between midnight and dawn. 

But a new day had begun. Louisa was slobbering up her food as fast as I could say “Good morning.” Peeps and Luna had decided it was okay to venture out of their palace. The donkeys were braying, and the geese and ducks were squawking so loudly I was forced to wake up and pay attention.  When I looked up, it took me a few seconds to comprehend what I was seeing. I stood there, staring, my pajama pants tucked into my rubber boots, my jaw hanging open. 

There in the morning haze of my sleepy valley, six baby barn swallows soared and dipped, climbed and descended. The babies were here! Joy flooded over me as I practically skipped back to the house, thinking there was nothing usual about this morning. I hope they stay awhile.

In memory of Pat Martin, my real-life heroine.

 

Originally Published July 20th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Little Lorca

From Jane's World

Mom says I was named after the Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca. I don’t know the guy, and neither does Mom. Go figure! I must have Spanish relatives. 

Mom calls me Little Lorca. I am little. My ears and tail seem to be growing faster than my body. But I’m still young, so maybe this is just the awkward stage people talk about.

There are only a few pictures of me (although I must admit I look pretty cute in them) and not yet a single story written about me. I guess that’s because I’m the youngest in the family. This isn’t as much a complaint as it is an observation. Mom will tell you I’m not a big complainer.

I’m allowed to go outside now that I’ve grown some. I am busy from sunrise to sunset. I can spend hours following a leaf blowing across the yard, hiding inside Mom’s potted plants and digging in the dirt (she doesn’t like this), or playing with the hose where there is a leak. I like trying to trap the water spray under my paws. When I get tired I like to sleep on top of the woodpile.

I play well both on my own and with others. Mom says that’s a fine and admirable trait to have. She likes when I play with my older brother, Monkey, but she doesn’t like it as much when he makes me yell “Uncle!” Sometimes, like big brothers tend to do, Monkey plays too rough and pins me down until I start hollering. If I yell loud enough Mom will interfere and pull him off me. 

Being the youngest is not always easy around here, especially with three dogs around. Raime, that merciless border collie, follows me everywhere. I go left, Raime goes right; I go right, Raime goes left; I sit down, Raime stands two inches away from my face and tries to have a staring contest with me. It’s aggravating.

Worse is Téte, that black slab of naughty fur. I’ll be minding my own business and she’ll come running towards me full blast. Scares me half to death. When I jump up and arch my back she stops on a dime. One of these days she’s gonna make me have a heart attack. She must think it’s fun because she never hurts me, only frightens me.

That rat Finnegan thinks he’s something special. The other day Mom was telling him he needed a bath because he rolled in something he wasn’t supposed to. What do you think he did then? He had a hissy fit because he doesn’t like the cold water from the hose. He only likes to bathe in the tub with warm water. Mom let him slide. Then he had the nerve to come and lie down next to me, so now I stink too!

I was born on a farm, not too far from my new home here. I overheard the farm people telling Mom I was an accident. It hurt my feelings. Why do people think we animals can’t hear or feel? My ears are plenty big and so is my heart. It doesn’t matter anyway. Accident or not, Mom says I can stay with her forever. That’s fine with me. She bought me my own bed and three new felted mice toys. 

I love those mice! I play with them every morning and evening. I bat them all around the house, pounce on them when they least expect it, and carry them around in my mouth. Big bro Monkey thinks I’m silly. Yesterday he came up to me with a real mouse in his mouth. Well, la de da. He ended up getting yelled at by Mom anyway. Ha ha ha! 

There’s also an old cat here named Farley. I call him Grandpa Farley. He doesn’t pay much attention to me. Mom explained that he’s mourning the loss of his old friend, green-eyed Newman. 

Grandpa Farley likes to spend the whole day lying in the front porch swing. I like napping on the woodpile best, but I started thinking maybe Grandpa would feel better if I napped with him. He does, I think! He acts like he’s not as sad anymore. I notice Grandpa didn’t sleep as long yesterday. He actually walked around the porch rail. That’s a cool trick! I tried to get up there with him but I couldn’t make it. I'll need to grow more first.

I hear Mom calling me. It sounds like she’s saying, “Yittle Yorca.” When I hear Mom call me I always run for her. She picks me up and cradles me in her arms, and I start purring. Truth be told, though, she holds me too long for my liking. I mean, really, I’m a big boy now and I don’t need to be held like a baby and smothered with kisses all the time. I have things to do, so many places to explore, and so much to learn. The other day I thought I heard Mom say that soon I’m going to the vet to be tutored. Maybe I’ll be learning Spanish!

Originally Published July 13th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Tiny Miracles

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Excerpt From Jane's World

Saturday I awoke determined to clear up the other mystery. Today I would either find the nest in the goat palace or sit there all day until the barn swallow came back inside. On went my rubber boots, and I marched out to the palace, carrying an old yogurt container of Louisa’s freshly made mash. I dumped the mash in Louisa’s dish, slid the door lock open, and whoosh! Out came the barn swallow.

Stepping inside with renewed determination, I did my best to channel Nancy Drew. I began my exploration from the top down, taking my time, looking for clues. I stopped and listened. I strained my ears and eyes. I heard the softest, tiniest noises. I looked high and low again. I ducked my head under the shelf, and lo and behold, in the farthest corner, directly under the hoist holding up the shelf, was a narrow mud nest and six tender, orange-colored mouths all wide open, begging for food. Not only did I find the nest but, because it had taken me so long, I found the babies too!

“Nan-cy! Nan-cy!” I silently chanted to myself. Thrilled with my discovery I bid the babies good-bye, wished them all the best, and reassured them their mother would be back. I may not be as swift as my heroine, Nancy Drew, but in one week I’d unearthed in my own backyard the best of the best: two tiny miracles! With any luck, if those turtle eggs hatch, there’ll be many more!

Curious about the beginning of this essay? Pick up a copy of the Crawford County Independent and Kickapoo Scout

Originally Published July 6th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Best Worst Dog Ever

Excerpt From Jane's World

To say Téte is a handful is an understatement. To say she’s smart, defiant, naughty, and sweet is more accurate.

Recently, while working in my office, I heard choking noises and went to investigate. There was Téte in the kitchen with her head buried deep in the birch-bark wastebasket I keep in the corner on the floor, filled with dog bones. Her front legs were airborne, her back legs barely touching the floor as she strained to reach a dog bone. She was choking and gasping, all but hanging from her neck on the edge of the basket.

“Téte!” I hollered. “You’re going to hurt yourself!” Instead of reacting to my voice Téte buried her head even deeper in the basket, choking herself even more. I pleaded with her: “Téte, stop—I’ll give you a damn bone!” Snap! Téte backed out, let her front paws touch the ground the way they’re meant to, and sauntered over to me. I reached in the basket, grabbed a bone, and said, “Sit.” Téte sat. I said, “Lie down,” and Téte dropped to her belly. I said, “Good girl!” and she took the bone out of my hand ever so gently, her eyes looking straight at me, glazed with love—or greedy anticipation. I went back to work. Minutes later I heard her choking again. Determined is another good word to describe Téte.

You'll find the beginning and end of this story in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout.

Originally Published June 29th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Life Lesson 

From Jane's World

Early on, my dad taught me many lessons to help me learn to navigate the challenges we all face in life. One was to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Another was “If you fall off your horse, get right back on.” I’ve prided myself on having listened to my dad. He was a hard worker. I wanted to be like him when I grew up. However, he never had the opportunity to teach me the lesson I learned the other day.

As a child, I fell off my horse, Lucky, many times and got back on. Lucky was sold a long time ago, but I’ve continued to fall in other ways. I get excited about ideas that don’t pan out. I try offering new classes, additional hours, and different locations for my fitness training business. Many times these ideas don’t work. I write an essay I feel is pretty decent, and a friend reads it and remarks, “I didn’t like it.” I decide to lose 20 pounds, and it never happens. The list of my failures and weaknesses is long.

One thing I know for sure is, like my dad, I’m a hard worker. That has been my saving grace. If I lose one of my jobs, I feel there’s no need to worry because I’ll just do something else. I’ll write another book, organize an event for the women in my area, or make new note cards with my photography. I’m not certain if such thoughts qualify as confidence or stupidity. Anyone reading this will have their own opinions. 

Recently something happened to me that taught me a new lesson. What I thought was the flu turned out to be Lyme disease—again—and a co-infection. It wiped me out. Completely. I spent almost four days in a hospital bed thinking, “This is it. I’m dying.” I’ve spent even longer at home trying to recover. On the flip side, I thought, “It’s a good day to die. I’ve had a great life.” 

The worst part was being unable to work. I couldn’t teach my classes, meet my clients, see my friends, pet my beloved animals, or go for daily hikes to my happy place. Heck, I couldn’t even eat for the first three days (not an ideal way to lose those 20 pounds).

Trying to pull myself up to a sitting position was tough—forget about the bootstraps. And getting back on my proverbial horse? It wasn’t going to happen. I was down and out. 

Everything I’d learned since I was a kid was being challenged. Working was impossible. I had been brought down to my knees. I had to learn a bigger lesson than any my dad had taught me. I had to learn to say “Help!” But at the time I couldn’t.

A friend asked if she could start a GoFundMe campaign to help me get back on my feet. I became emotional and croaked, “No!” I was afraid my situation wasn’t big enough to warrant that kind of kindness—that I wasn’t worthy enough. I was ashamed to let anyone know I was down on my luck and in over my head. Those two lessons from my dad kept going through my mind.

I was weak, both physically and mentally, from being sick with Lyme but I also had to deal with my own foolish pride. I whispered to my friend that maybe if I didn’t know about it, it would be okay. My irrational thinking was that I could accept her help if I didn’t have to see a post on social media, an article in the newspaper, or, God forbid, a poster around town. 

Instead of getting annoyed, my friend took action. She sent an email to eight other women whom I lead in a fitness program, and they apparently sent it on to more people. The following week this friend handed me a coffee can filled with money—money to help me stay afloat during hard times. My friend and many other people in the community pulled together and gave me the help I couldn’t bring myself to ask for. 

 I worried about whom to thank. I worried I would be judged. I still worried I wasn’t worthy. I worried all the way from the class where I was given the can to my bank, where I handed the teller the can and said, “I was just given this. I’ve been sick. I haven’t counted it. Will you count it and please put it in my account?”

I drove home with hot tears stinging my face. I thought about my dad. I thought about my work, my house, my animals, my friends. I thought about how undeserving I am. I thought about how wonderful my friends and community are. I thought about my life. I thought about what I love. 

Mostly I thought about what I’d learned. Needing help or asking for it is not a weakness. It’s a skill that I need to learn. Working hard is easy; admitting I couldn’t take care of myself was hard.

Thank you, dear friends. Thank you, loving community. I’m feeling deeply grateful and humble.

 

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma." —Eartha Kitt (and Jane)

 

Originally Published June 22nd, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

A Perfect Moment

Excerpt From Jane's World

I react to all this chaos the only way I can: by going inside, getting my camera, and taking a few pictures. I do this out of habit because when I try to explain parts of my life or even one segment of my day, people seem to look at me in disbelief. I mean, who would make this stuff up?

Then I put Monkey in the house, get a broom, and use it to gently ease Mr. Bat off the porch. Thankfully he flies away, and before I go back indoors I watch him swoop and catch a few bugs, then soar and swoop and catch a few more. A perfect moment.

I don’t consider myself a quitter, so I regroup in the house and come up with a plan. I call all the dogs and cats inside, then I step back out with some watermelon and use it to entice Luna, Peepers, and Louisa back into their pen. Next, I go into the bathroom, where ten baby ducklings are temporarily housed, and I carry them downstairs and put them in the secure duck hall pen with a shallow dish of water and food so they can enjoy the sunshine too. I come back into the house, give each of the dogs a treat, then grab my book, check for my reading glasses that are now on top of my head, and go back out the front door.

I awake with a start when my book drops out of my hand. My cheeks are warm, my mouth is partly open, and I’m starting to drool. I can smell the freshly cut grass and hear the baby ducks talking softly to each other as my eyes start to get heavy again. I set the book down in my lap, allow my eyes to close, and luxuriate in the warmth of the sun. A perfect moment in time.

The beginning of this essay can be found in the Crawford County Independent and Kickapoo Scout

Originally Published June 15th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout