Long-term Relationship

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From Jane’s World

I joked with my hairstylist recently that our relationship is the longest one I’ve ever been in. We’ve been together twenty years. In second place is my relationship with Dane, somewhere in the vicinity of twelve years.

In all the time that has passed since I first met Dane, we’ve both changed and aged. Back in those early days Dane wore his hair in a ponytail but now he keeps it in a crew-cut. He’s in the habit of going to get it cut monthly to keep it the length he prefers. Numerous times I’ve suggested he purchase an electric hair clipper, pointing out that he could easily do it himself, save the drive time to Richland Center where he gets it cut, and save money.

On date night a few months ago, Dane was finally ready to buy a clipper. We drove to the store and were surprised at all the types and puzzled by the gizmos and attachments that came with them. After what seemed like hours, Dane decided on one that wasn’t the fanciest or most expensive but came in a nifty case and had different-sized blade guards.

For a while, that was the end of the story. The clipper stayed in his gym bag, unused, and he continued driving to Richland Center for his monthly haircuts. I eventually gave up pestering him about trying it out.

Until a recent Friday date night. We’d made dinner together, eaten outside on the bistro, washed the dishes, gotten settled indoors, and were reading, when suddenly I looked over my book at him. “Do you have your clipper here?” I asked.

“It’s in my bag in the car. Why?”

“Go get it. I want you to shave my head.”

“What? Your head?”

“Yes, that way you’ll have more confidence to shave your own.”

What?”

“Just get it. We'll do it in the bathroom. It’ll be fun!”

So Dane comes in with the nifty case and starts taking out the clipper, the cord, and various attachments.

Meanwhile, I put a stool in front of the bathroom mirror and select a beach towel to use as a cape.

“I’m ready!”

“I’m not.”

“Come on, Dane, this isn’t hard. Besides, it’s not your head.” I’ve never worried about my hair because I’ve always held the philosophy of Eh, it’ll grow back.

Together we decide on a blade guard that looks like it will leave my hair one inch long. Before Dane begins I caution him, “Just don’t cut my bangs or my sideburns,” and he agrees.

He stands behind me and I watch him in the mirror. He hesitates to turn on the clipper and get busy. I prod him along like a Nike ad: “Just do it!”

Starting at the back of my neck, Dane holds and guides the clipper about a quarter-inch out from my noggin, with two noticeable results: (A) I don’t feel it and (B) no hairs get cut.

“Put it against my neck and run up,” I encourage him. And Dane does. My hair starts to fall on the beach towel, on the tile, and even on the bathroom counter.

Now we're getting someplace! Dane takes a few passes from my neckline to the top of my head and then sets the clipper down.

“I need to comb your hair.”

I’m still watching him in the mirror as he begins combing my hair. A lot. For a long time. Grinning at me he murmurs, “This is kinda sexy.”

Finally, I nudge him with “Okay, Romeo, let’s get back to business.”

Now Dane is building up speed. He has the razor close to my head and he’s making pass after pass, up and down my skull and―over my sideburn!

“Hey!” I yell. “Not my sideburns! Why’d you do that?”

“Oh, that was a mistake.”

“A big one!”

“I forgot—sorry.”

Later we’re looking at my head in the mirror, marveling at what a good job Dane has done, other than removing part of one sideburn. “Eh, it’ll grow back,” I assure both of us.

It’s been over seven weeks now since Dane gave me my haircut. Strangely, he hasn’t had one since. Now that I’m sleeping with my hair stylist I worry that my longest-term relationship may be over.



Originally Published September 12th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Learning to Listen

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From Jane’s World

I could hear the siren, but for once I wasn’t worried about who was hurt or what had happened. I knew it was coming for me. 

My left hip joint had popped out and needed to be reset. Lying half in and half out of my doorway didn’t make the EMTs’ job any easier. They decided a breakaway stretcher would work best. They wedged one part of the board under me, then, with some controlled wiggling, the other half, and the two were connected to lift me firmly into the ambulance. 

I’d asked Dane to grab my lavender oil and was trying to uncap it with my teeth when it spilled. I’d like to think the relaxing scent, although overwhelming, helped us all loosen up and enjoy the ride. I picked out landmarks and potholes on the way to track our progress toward the hospital. 

As soon as we arrived I started pleading for pain medication, but first my information had to be collected and my vitals recorded. While the nurse was cutting off my pants Dane leaned over and pointed out, “Those were your favorites.” 

Never one to miss an opportunity, I started asking how many people lying on this table in pain and fear mentioned their worries over meeting their deductibles. I droned on about the insane costs of health care in this country. But I was preaching to the choir: the staff were nodding their heads in agreement like bobble-head dolls on a dashboard.

Holding my hands on my left knee for so long kept making my right leg cramp. I was anxious to let go but knew I couldn’t until I got knocked out. Even though the ER pros were patiently answering my incessant questions, I’m certain they were biding their time until they could put me under!

When I first had my hips replaced Dr. L and his team gave me plenty of warnings: Don’t lean forward past 90 degrees. Never cross one leg over the other. Don’t reach back to the right or to the left. 

But I’d always felt so good, I didn’t take them seriously. Now I remembered Dr. L’s last words to me when I was in his office telling him the things I did that he insisted I shouldn’t. Sitting on a stool, facing me, he held up one finger, looked me right in the eyes, and said, “Once. It will only take one time and it could pop out.”

He was right. I had leaned down, breaking the 90-degree rule and simultaneously the do-not-cross-one-leg-over-the-other rule. As the drugs kicked in enough for me take one hand off my knee, I thought, There’s a lesson here: I need to pay attention.

Each year, more than 300,000 total hip replacements are performed in the United States, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. They have been performed successfully on young people (juvenile arthritis, birth defects), the elderly (degenerative arthritis), and every age in between. 

The surgery gave me back my active lifestyle and I have no regrets. I was well aware of the risks, including possible dislocation. But we tend to think “It will never happen to me.” Or, in my case, I’ve only imagined it happening during my what if musings. 

Back in the emergency room, I had seen the x-rays, I understood what had to be done, and I knew the risks and potential complications. Finally, Dr. Comfort (not his real name) was ready to proceed. But first he conducted what he referred to as a “timeout,” and Dane was escorted out to the waiting room.

The doctor then rehearsed with the nurses exactly how this would unfold: the oxygen hose placed in my nose, the heart rate monitor pads attached, a blood pressure cuff and pulse monitor in place, and the drugs that would be used to make me go to sleep. 

Before he finished, the ER door opened and in walked Dr. P, my general doctor. As he held my hand he asked what trouble I had gotten into this time. He also reminded me this was nothing compared to battling tick-borne disease, which he had successfully helped me with in the past. 

I felt perfectly at peace. Dr. Comfort’s confidence was contagious, his professionalism evident, and having my own doctor gripping my hand was reassuring. 

Dr. Comfort asked me to think about something happy as he started to put me to sleep. Without hesitation I answered, “That in 2020 we have a different president and we all go back to being kind to each other again.” I drifted off to the sound of soft chuckles in the room.

The statistics vary but it seems fewer than 4 percent of people who have undergone their first total hip replacement and followed the strict guidelines will suffer a dislocation. My friend’s new hip has dislocated twice. My other friend has had hers dislocated three times. Both, rule breakers and I like that about them. But I’m not planning to follow their lead.

At home now, lying on the couch, surrounded by my dogs and kitties, I’m busy making notes to myself. Number one: Pay attention Jane. Listen.


Originally Published September 5th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Loving Mom

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From Jane’s World

I called my mother recently and asked how she was feeling.

“Not well, Janie. Not well."

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

“I’m so hot and jittery. My mind is racing.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Is there anything you can do that would make you feel better?”

“Yes, I could take off my sweater and stop drinking coffee.”

At a conference I attended for work last week on mental health, the keynote speaker led a lively presentation about laughter as medicine. Listening to him, I silently thanked Mom for showing me the benefits of laughter.

On my most recent visit to her assisted living home, I took her grocery shopping and got more reminders of her wit. 

As she drove an electric cart around inside Pick 'n Save, she lectured me on the use of the words lie and lay. She was cutting the corners on the aisles too close. Heart racing, I walked more quickly to catch up. 

Mom asked for milk and I asked her what kind she wanted.

“Janie,” she scolded. “I’m 93. Does it matter?!”

She had a point. I told her to stay where she was and I ran one aisle over to a long cooler filled with every type of milk imaginable. I grabbed one and hurry back, but Mom was gone.As I picked up my pace, I was thinking, What the hell? Why would they make these carts move so quickly? Are they like go-carts? Do some go faster than others? 

Frantic, I caught up to her in the bread aisle after fixing an end cap of fallen school supplies. I’m certain it had been a hit and run. Mom! 

“What kind of bread do you like?” There are many types and I have only so much patience. I put the best whole wheat multigrain bread I could find into the basket attached to Mom's death-trap cart. She took it back out.

“Mom, that’s the best kind here.”

“I want white.”

“Fine.” I threw the first white loaf I saw into her basket.

She took it out.

“I want Wonder Bread, with the circles.”

I moaned, because I know Wonder Bread hasn’t any significant nutritional value. But she wants what she likes. Her stubbornness both stresses me out and makes me chuckle.  

Where she lives the residents have three home-cooked meals a day, but Mom insists the food is horrible. In fairness, Mom loves to snack more than eat meals and she has lost 12 pounds since moving there. It’s been a hard transition for her. 

As we continued our adventure, Mom told me, for the thousandth time, how my brother, Jack, is being mean to her. I explained for the thousandth time that he is not being mean. He is only tired from working construction in raging heat from sunup to sundown while worrying about her.

Mom stopped in the middle of the aisle so quickly that I walked into the back of her electric dinosaur and yelped. Out of the blue, Mom said, "Janie, STOP being so nice to me." I was dumbfounded: Jack is being mean; I’m being too nice. Why is loving an aging parent so challenging?

Not even listening to me defend my brother, Mom told me about a young man at the assisted living complex who helps her with physical therapy. “I told him, ‘I’ve forgotten more than you know.’”

I groaned.

I asked Mom what else she’d like to purchase today. She asked for cereal. 

I swear if there is a gas pedal on that blessed cart, she stomped on it. She cut another end cap too close and cans of various vegetables went rolling. Mom looked back at me scrambling to pick them up and said, “Hand grenades and horseshoes." I know she meant That was close. But she hit them!

I laughed.

Mom looked frail and furious sitting on her electric bronco in the cereal aisle, studying rows and rows of cereals. Dreading her answer, I asked, “What kind of cereal would you like, Mom?

Without hesitating she responded, “On TV, they tell us to eat Special K.”

“Umm, okay.”

We found the section with Special K and both grew speechless. There must be a thousand types. Mom had me read the names to her. After the thirteenth variety, she stopped me.

“Berries,” she said.

“Berries? Plain Berries or Red Raspberry Berries?”

“Janie, I’m old! Just grab one with some damn fruit in it before I die.”

I did and I was crabby. But I was also smiling as we made our way to the checkout, Mom out ahead of me as I tried to keep up. I wanted to get her back home, put her groceries away, and lie down on her couch for a spell. 

I have to remember that Mom’s power was taken away when she went into assisted living: no car, no money, no cooking, group meals served at a certain time. That electric cart gave her some independence and so did picking what she wanted. The Pick ’n Save outing energized her, but knocked me out. At least on the drive home, memories of Mom’s humor and cart racing skills made the drive seem shorter. 

Originally Published August 29th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

   What If?

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From Jane’s World

Some Mondays are better than others. Take today, for instance. I sat down on the edge of the bed, reached down to put my sock on, and pitched right off the bed with a silent scream. I knew what had happened, something I’d been warned about: my left hip, replaced years ago, had popped out.

When you live alone, you think about days like this. What if...I fell taking hay to the donkeys before work and couldn’t get up? What if...I finally tripped over one of the kitties and broke my leg? How would I get to the phone? (What are your what ifs, and what would you do?)

My left leg had buckled at the knee and was turned in toward my other leg. There was no moving it. The pain was incredible. Stuck on my back, I knew I had to get to a phone, but my landline receiver was on the desk in my office—too far to go, and it’d be impossible to get it off my desk from the floor. 

Reminding myself to breathe, I held my left knee with both hands, the only way I could tolerate the pain, and started scooching along the carpet. My destination was the kitchen where my flip phone was recharging on top of an old canning cupboard. My kitties, Ivan and Salvador, eyes wide and curious, stayed near me without touching me. They knew I was hurt, and there was comfort in having them close.

Stopping to rest every few seconds I thought of my fitness class, due to begin soon. They would miss me and might call. This was another of my what if scenarios: If I didn’t make it to class, would someone come looking? Or maybe I could lie there until Dane came over—but his work day was just beginning and he wouldn't be coming over till after 6 p.m. No, I had to save myself. 

Lying on the floor, I reviewed my Wilderness Responder training. I had already secured my injury with my hands the best I could, I wasn’t in shock, and by focusing on my breathing I was keeping my respiration and pulse reasonable under the circumstances. I just needed the phone. (Where is your phone?)

I was grateful the dogs were already outside and in their playpen for the day. My daily after-work hike with them would be out of the question today. 

Scooching again, I screamed in agony. I even considered trying to sleep, or whether I might pass out from pain. But no, this wasn’t life-threatening—I just needed to get to the phone. 

In the doorway to the kitchen, I rolled up a small rug and swung it upward toward the phone plug and cords. My aim was off. I dragged myself closer and was able to hit the cord but it didn’t come out of the socket. One-handed (the other one gripping my leg to make the pain manageable), I tried unsuccessfully to roll the rug more tightly. 

Then I saw my broom on the other side of the cabinet. I slid and pushed myself toward it, without using my hands, until I could grab it. But it was useless—I couldn’t maneuver my arm and the stiff broom handle to get it under the cord.

I also worried that if I pulled on the cord, the plug might detach from the phone, and the phone might catch on the cabinet lip. If so, there'd be no way to retrieve it from the top of the cabinet, since I couldn’t stand or reach that high. 

Resting, breathing, I again thought maybe I’d just have to wait until Dane came over after work. But if he called first and I didn’t answer, he’d think I was in the woods with the pups and wouldn’t head over. 

I took another good whack with the rug and the cord came out, dangling down the wall. I carefully pulled, hoping the phone would stay attached and fall where I could reach it.

It did—but there was no reception! I tried dialing 911 with no luck. I tried calling Dane too but it was pointless. My cell has never worked inside my home. (Does yours?)

Dragging the cord and the phone with me, I headed for my mudroom, coaxed my body over the eight-inch drop, and managed to reach the door handle. Now my upper body was out of the house. Lying on my back I was amazed to find myself underneath a prayer flag with an OM symbol on it. I took it as a sign to breathe, stay present, and get help.

Again I dialed 911 but the phone icon just spun and there was no answer. I called Dane, who answered, but the static was so loud he couldn’t hear me. I hung up and tried again, and when he answered I said, “Call 911, hip out!”  Back and forth went our calls, trying to hear each other, until finally he said, “Yes, I’ll call 911.” 

 A little over an hour after I’d fallen, Dane was with me. What a relief! Now we just needed the ambulance. I could hear the siren, but for once I wasn’t worried about who was hurt or what had happened. I knew it was coming for me. 

To be continued August 5th.

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Originally Published August 22nd, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Conversations

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From Jane’s World

Most people who are together over a period of time, married or not, have an anniversary date. Dane and I don’t. Figuring out and trying to agree on the date we met or got together is one of many silly conversations we’ve had. Here’s a sampling.

***

It was a gorgeous day and we were driving to Madison on Highway 14. I had my shoes off, feet up on the dash, and was reading a book, but started to doze. Dane was listening to NPR’s Saturday morning program on the radio.

Just about the time my eyes finally closed, Dane started to talk: “How do you feel about cannibalism?”

My eyes popped open and I pushed myself up in my seat, asking, “Why? Are you hungry?” 

Dane: They eat people in other countries.
Jane: Name one?
Dane: It’s for ritual.
Jane: I don’t think I’d like the tendons or ligaments.
Dane:  I really do think about it a lot.
Jane:  Now I don’t feel so good. If I’m the first to die, are you going to flat out start chewing on me?

***

Organic Valley had recently come out with a new energy drink called Fuel. They were kind enough to let me put one of the drinks in each gift bag for an event I was hosting. After the event about six bottles were left and I refrigerated them. The next day, Dane and I were getting ready to go hiking.

Jane: Do you want a Fuel?
Dane: I already had one.
Jane: Did you shake it?
Dane: 175 times.
Jane: OMG, you're like Rain Man! 

*** 

After finishing a rainy early-morning hike in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, we were walking out of the woods, hand in hand, to the car.

Jane: I didn't think I'd be this wet.
Dane: That’s a silly thing to say. Did you think it was going to be drier water than normal?
Jane: No, just not this wet.

***
In 2016, I was struggling to meet a deadline for a column, and I mentioned to Dane my favorite quote about being a weekly columnist: “You can’t hit a home run every week.” However, the ensuing conversation could be compared to a fly ball, or perhaps a foul ball.

Jane: I wrote a column this morning. Can you take a look at it?
Dane: You already wrote one this week.
Jane: I know, but it was crappy.
Dane: Yeah, I thought so too.
Jane: This one isn’t much better. We’ll need to decide which one is less crappy.
Dane: Oh boy, just like the presidential election.

***

I was on my way home from the hair salon after getting my annual summer haircut. I was feeling good, driving with the windows down, music blasting, and decided to call Dane.

“I just had my summer haircut and I look ad…an...adnious.”

“You look how?”

“I look adrxious!”

I kept driving, smiling at how ridiculously happy I felt about my haircut, and waiting for Dane to acknowledge my excitement.

Silence. “Are you there?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m trying to figure out what you’re telling me.”

“Oh.” Now my dander started to rise. I tried again to say the word I wanted but by then I’d gotten it so mixed up that my tongue was hardly functional. I spat out, “It makes me look anirxios.”

“Anxious?” Dane asked.

“No!” I tried again: “Anorexic.”

Again there was a long silence and my patience started to wear thin. “Dane, are you there?”

“Yes, babe, I just don’t think anorexic is a word anyone would ever use to describe you.”

Quickly I shot back, “I know that. That's not what I meant. I meant the word that means when you look like a boy and a girl.”
“Androgynous?”
“Yes! It’s really short.”

And on to another conversation we went, with me feeling thankful Dane had finally figured it out. 

***

We’re notorious for playing games during the colder months of the year. Lately Rummikub has been a favorite, but this time we were engaged in a heated bout of Catch Phrase. It’s a game where you give clues to try to make the other person guess a word or a phrase. Dane was up first but we didn’t get too far.

Dane: People who dance wear this on their feet.
Jane: Spandex!
Dane: Their feet, you fool.
Jane: If you can’t be nice I don’t want to play.

Dane: A type of fighting where they would use deadly substances.
Jane: A really, really mean fight?
Dane: Noooooo!

Dane: A high level of math.
Jane: Algebra!
Dane: Higher.
Jane: Chemistry!
Dane: Math!
Jane: I don’t want to play anymore.

***

This short conversation is a classic.

Dane: The last of my hormones just died.
Jane: (Staring. Mouth opened slightly.)
Dane: (Repeats himself.)
Jane: (Very slowly and clearly) Your last hormone died…?
Dane: No! The last of the original Ramones died.
Jane: Oh! 

***

The longest-running conversation we have is trying to come up with the year and date we started dating.

Jane: When did we start dating?
Dane: We’ve had this conversation before, Jane.
Jane: I know, but we never have come up with a year or date.
Dane: December.
Jane: December what?
Dane: It depends. You had all sorts of rules back then.
Jane: No I didn’t. Did I?
Dane: Yes. You said we weren't really dating. You said we were non-dating.
Jane: Well, we were!
Dane: You see what I mean?
Jane: But there has to be a year. We need to know the year at least.
Dane: Before or after we were non-dating?
Jane: Does it matter?

And on it goes. We may never hear the words “Happy Anniversary,” but hopefully and God willing we’ll hear the sweet sounds of each other’s laughter for years to come.

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Originally Published August 15th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Talismans (The Blues)

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From Jane’s World

It’s a game I play when things get hard: I tell myself if I find a rock with a hole through it, everything will be better.

To explain what I mean by everything, I have to go back to the beginning of the year: the year of hell for my family, starting with my mom and sister each moving into an assisted living facility, and serious health and financial challenges for other family members.

Coincidentally, this is also the year I decided to read, each evening before bedtime, a few metta prayers. Metta is a Buddhist practice that begins with blessing yourself and extends outward, wishing good for all beings, known or unknown, including our enemies. To be honest, the prayers don’t seem to be helping, so as everything became too heavy, I sought refuge in the Hidey Hole. 

The Hidey Hole is a pool of water that sits below the culvert leading into the creek in my backyard. Night after night I walked to there in my PJs, followed by my menagerie: dogs, cats, pig, goats—even the donkeys came along, as far as their pasture fence would let them. Walking with my head down, kicking through the water, my left foot soaking wet from a hole in my rubber boot, I’d search for an adder stone, a small rock with a hole naturally bored through it. While I know adder stones can’t really protect me from grief, I’ve always thought of them as talismans that might somehow make things a little better.

The Hidey Hole had been a natural haven for my flock of ducks and two favorite geese, a sanctuary where they could enjoy morning baths and midafternoon naps. But the flock is no longer here—another part of everything that’s gone wrong this year. They were all attacked by a raccoon I’d dubbed Mr. Bigfoot and the few survivors were so badly maimed, Dane had to mercy-shoot them.

Despite all my searching, I didn’t find any adder stones. 

When I visited my family a couple of weeks ago, everything got worse. For the first time, my sister, Jill, didn’t know who I was. My granddaughter’s lungs weren’t functioning properly and my mom continued to struggle with her new living arrangement.

The following Saturday morning I woke early, shoved two giant thermoses of water and a package of TurboPUP bars into my backpack, gathered up my dogs, and headed out for the woods, my sorrow tagging along. I chose a shaded trail I knew would go deep into the forest, hoping I could shake off the gloom that clung to me.

Dragging myself forward while the dogs ran circles around me, I recited pieces of my nightly prayers that wish for peace and happiness for all, trying hard to include my archenemy, Mr. Bigfoot. They didn’t seem to be working.

Sometimes everything becomes too much.

And that’s when I looked down and saw a tiny, brilliant blue jay feather. I recognized it as another kind of talisman, sparking a bit of joy in my heart. I held it out from me and took a good long look, then photographed the feather, appreciating its pattern and colors, its perfection.

My steps lightened as I carried the feather, eager to get home and add it to my small vase with two other blue jay feathers I found in previous years.

But three hours later, on the last stretch of trail, the feather was no longer in my hand. Losing this talisman, I had the stinking, sinking feeling that I was doomed. I know this feeling was as ridiculous as believing that finding a rock with a hole in it would help me heal.

Going to the Hidey Hole that evening was a bust. Ruben, the mischievous puppy, kept picking on Finnegan, who was fretting because of the heat. Téte, my sensitive hound dog, lay on the back deck, still mourning the loss of the ducks and geese. I’d forgotten to take off my socks before putting on my holey rubber boots, and my left foot became soaked and uncomfortable.

Louisa, the pig, went too far into the water and became stuck in the muck, squealing her displeasure. Meanwhile, Luna and Peepers, the goats, followed the tree line up to the road and disappeared, and Ruben began chasing my dear, sweet Lorca, a giant tabby cat with a heart to match.

Feeling defeated, tired, and sweaty, I trudged back up to the house, put everyone to bed, said my nightly prayers, and feel asleep dreaming of rocks and feathers.

The morning came, as it always does, but I didn’t jump out of bed like normal. Sure, I was still grateful for having two eyes that can see, and two legs that can carry me through my day, but that deep, dark, shadow-like feeling was still hovering over me.

I started thinking of my family and, for the thousandth time, wished my mom and sister lived nearby, and that my daughter and her family lived closer to Madison than to Milwaukee. Remembering there was no flock to let out and greet me started warm tears running down my face.

I was a mess. Everything was overwhelming.

Pulling myself together, I left for work and was heading down my rural road when a gorgeous, healthy-looking red fox ran through the field next to my car. Foxes—one of my favorite animals—are another kind of talisman for me, and this one seemed to show up just to offer me encouragement.

I smiled to myself, knowing that someday I’ll feel like sharing my stories again. I’ll feel more like myself and not so blue, sometime when everything doesn’t seem all wrong.

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Originally Published August 8th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

I’m Your Mama

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From Jane’s World

It starts with a phone message from the Viola post office: “Your ducks are here and they're loud. Come pick them up.”

It’s almost noon, and the post office always closes for an hour so the postmaster can eat lunch. I step on the gas.

The CLOSED sign is up when I get there but I can hear someone talking, so I call out: “Hello, it’s Jane Schmidt. You called to say my ducks were in, but they’re geese. Can I get them?”

On the way home I talk to the goslings, telling them “I’m your mama.” I’m almost the first person they’ve seen, as they’re only a few days old, and I want them to imprint on me.

I name the American Buff goose Tickles, because she loves to be petted and scratched under her chin. The white Roman goose I name The Professor. She’s all white with a tuft on top of her head, and she walks with her head cocked to one side and her beak up. Both of them are friendly and eat from my hand. Soon they’re honking whenever I come home or when anyone stops to visit. And they watch over my flock of ducks like a couple of guardian angels.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about geese chasing people and biting them, but never Tickles or The Professor. When they approach anyone they’re looking for a pat or a handout—preferably tomatoes, their favorite.

On a typical day, Tickles is lounging on the porch, The Professor by her side. Or the two of them are splashing and bobbing in their kiddie pool, looking like synchronized athletes. Coming home from work, I often see these two buddies up near the road, while the flock is down below either playing in a rain puddle or eating the leftover seed I toss out for them every morning from the parakeet cage.

For over ten years now I’ve been entertained and kept company by these two, and have never once been angry with either of them. Sometimes Tickles might take a piece of lettuce too fast from my hand and I’ll feel her little bitty goose "teeth" scrape my finger, but I only have to say, “Easy, easy girl!” and she gently backs off.

Watching Tickles and The Professor along with my flock of ducks brings me endless joy. They’re an integral part of my home, and I love watching them play in the creek, poke around the yard looking for tasty treats, or hunker down out of the sun under the crab apple tree.

But now they’re both gone, along with all but two of my precious ducks. 

When I came out to feed them yesterday morning, the smell of blood was thick in the air. It was clear Tickles had tried to defend the flock: her head was pulled through a small hole the raccoon had made in the chicken wire, and she lay half in and half out of the pen. The Professor was standing nearby but leaning to one side, her head down at an unnatural angle, blood dripping from her mouth. I carried her gently to the kiddie pool that I’d already filled with clean, cold water.

Dane drove over right away and helped me find the other survivors of this horrible coon attack. The small duck door had been moved about five inches, and six ducks were dead inside. The ones that were still alive stumbled outside or sat in catatonic fear. 

Some limped to the creek; two fled into the tall weeds. Téte, the dog I refer to as naughty, helped track them down. We never found Clara, one of my new Blue Swedish ducklings.

We carried each duck carefully back to the kiddie pool and set them in it with The Professor. Dane went to his car for his.22. We had to do the merciful thing—The Professor would never have recovered from her broken neck. Next Dane shot Dalva, the duck whose eyes were torn out and who had a gaping hole behind her head. Before long Charlotte flipped over in the pool. I quickly pulled her out but she stayed on her back, legs shaking, and died.

Dane cleaned out the Duckhall, gathering the broken birds into three bags, which he placed outside the door. But he couldn’t remove the stench of senseless violence and death from their little house. 

The whole time Louisa, the pig, made a low guttural noise, unlike any sound she’s made before. The Goat Palace where she and the goats live is right next door to where the massacre took place. Louisa, the donkeys, and my cats and dogs all seemed despondent as Dane cleaned up and I cared for the six wounded ducks.

Eventually I dragged myself to work, feeling like bricks were attached to my shoes, each step a heavy effort. I felt wobbly from so much grief and the carnage we had witnessed.

All day I thought only about coming back home—but when I did, one more duck was dead. 

Last night we patched the chicken wire and nailed the duck door shut until we can make it coon proof. This morning Dane pulled the nail out and three ducks, still covered in dried blood, came down the ramp. I had to go inside and get the other two—one hasn’t moved at all since we found them, and the other has a badly broken leg.

I filled the kiddie pool with fresh water, set these damaged ones carefully in the water, and whispered, “I’m still your mama. I’ll take care of you.” But I can’t heal them, and I worry that I can’t even keep them safe, now that the raccoon knows where they live.

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Originally Published August 1st, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Mr. Bigfoot

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From Jane’s World

Mr. Bigfoot, the most persistent raccoon ever known, continued his nightly raids at the Schmidt house, causing me to toss and turn all night while the dogs whined and howled.

Dane and I bungee-corded the lids on the dog and cat food containers. We baited the live trap with smelly tuna. We stacked cement blocks in front of the basement doggy door until it looked like Fort Knox. 

But Mr. Bigfoot, with the finesse of a master thief, repeatedly stole the bait from the trap. Well-fed, he then moved the concrete blocks, slid his little raccoon fingers under the doggy door, opened it, and continued his basement marauding.

One evening, after Dane had gone to bed, I heard clinking and clanging from the basement. I sprang into my red slippers, dashed outside, and sneaked around to the basement door. My heart pounding in my ears, I swung the door open and flipped on the light just in time to catch a blur of movement.

Bigfoot’s tail was sticking out from under the shelf we keep our bee supplies on. I shook the shelf madly but he didn’t budge. Determined not to leave him in the basement, I started noisily shaking the garbage can too. Still no luck. 

I looked for something to poke him with and saw my stash of pool noodles I use for teaching water aerobics. I grabbed a yellow one and stabbed it at him while hissing loudly, “Get out!” He moved a little, stuck his head out, hissed back at me, and hid behind the garbage can. I shook the can again and he ran back under the shelf. The noodle was too flimsy to convey my anger, but I jabbed it at him anyway.

As I kept yelling and swinging and poking and knocking stuff over, he finally came out, standing on his hind legs, his beady eyes glaring. I grabbed another noodle and with these two limp sticks went at him like a madwoman. Finally he ran to the door, with me right on his heels screaming, “And stay out!”

I stopped and realized it was deathly quiet. A million stars shone in the sky, and for once neither Téte nor Finn was barking. 

Back inside the house, I climbed the stairs, flipped on the light, and with hands on hips asked Dane why he hadn’t come down to help. He grabbed the blanket, pulled it over his head, rolled over and muttered, “It sounded like you had it under control.”

After two more sleepless nights we declared war. The plan was for Dane and his Remington rifle to wait for Mr. Bigfoot on the back deck above the basement door.

Before dark, we rounded up my three resistant cats and three reluctant dogs and locked them in the house. Dane moved my new bistro table to one side of the porch and sat on it to wait for a shot at Bigfoot. With a headlamp on his forehead and his gun by his side, he was as ready as he could be. I wished Dane luck and went inside to try to sleep with my six prisoners.

A short time later I heard a disturbing crash. For a hopeful second I thought maybe Dane had shot the raccoon. Sure enough, he had seen Bigfoot, taken aim—and the table had collapsed, leaving Dane sprawled in a heap. Mr. Bigfoot sauntered away again with a full belly. Score another point for Bigfoot, none for us.

In the morning Dane and I drove to a restaurant in LaFarge where, over eggs and toast, we hashed out another plan for catching Bigfoot. Dane still believed that if he could safely get a shot at him, it was the only way. I wasn’t so sure and wanted to try the trap again. 

After breakfast, loaded with optimism, I took the pups for a hike and Dane went home. When I got back to my house Dane was there. “What’s up?” I asked. 

“I can’t find my gun.”

 “What?!”

Dane explained that when he’d gotten to his house, he’d gone to put his gun away but it wasn’t in his car. We looked in my basement, up on my back deck, and over by the woodpile where Dane parks his car, but we couldn’t find the missing gun and case. 

Since he’d already searched his own house and car, there seemed to be only one possibility left: he must have set it on top of his car and then driven off, forgetting it was there. We got back in the car and drove super slowly, Dane watching one side of the road and me the other, searching for his gun case.

No luck. Dane was a complete mess and I kept encouraging him to call the sheriff. Hours later he agreed, and with the sun starting to set, he dialed the sheriff’s non-emergency number.

I listened to him give all his information to the dispatcher, telling them it was a Remington. Then his tone changed as he made a plan to meet the officer who had his gun. Someone had found it at the gas station in Readstown—twelve miles from my house—and turned it in to the sheriff. 

No longer worried about his gun, Dane and I shared a good laugh and ate some dinner. Later, while he started washing the dishes, I went down to the basement. It dawned on me there might be a simpler way to keep the raccoon from coming through the doggy door. When I came back up, I gave Dane a crooked smile and a wink, and held up my hand. In it was a half-empty roll of duct tape.

We haven't seen Bigfoot since. Score one for us!


Originally Published July 25th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Readers Write

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From Jane’s World

Many Mother’s Days ago, Dane came home from the Co-op and showed me a card he’d purchased for his mom. I admired the card and agreed it was beautiful, then looked back at Dane and said, “If you got me lavender oil as a surprise when you were there, can I have it now?”

Dane’s face fell, then lifted again as he claimed he hadn’t gotten me the lavender oil that I love to sprinkle on my pillow each evening before bed.

I didn’t flinch, only held out my hand and stared into his brown eyes. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the tiny brown bottle of oil, dropped it into my palm, and called me a name as I squealed my delight. The name wasn’t nice, but it was said affectionately.

When we told this story to my daughter, she merely nodded and said, “Yep, that’s my mom.”

I love surprises, even if it’s hard to surprise me. Happily, I sometimes get them from a place I didn’t expect: my readers!

* * * *

Some Christmases ago, when I was both writing my column and volunteering as a DJ every Wednesday at WDRT, the local radio station, I pulled out of the mailbox a suspicious, flat, square package addressed to “Jane’s World.” I skipped through the snow, into the house, and began to unwrap it.

Inside was a small note saying “Happy Holidays! I liked your crow poems. Joe.” It was accompanied by a CD filled with lively music, which I was later able to use on my show. I was surprised, and continue to be each holiday when I find another small, square package from Joe tucked in my mailbox. 

* * * *

Recently, while packing for a trip, I took a break to sort through a mound of mail I’d been neglecting. Imagine my surprise when I found tucked in the mess a belated birthday card from reader Patricia, saying how she’d laughed out loud when reading about my painting experience in a recent column and that she appreciates my stories about my sister Jill and her journey with Alzheimer’s.

This wasn’t the first card Patricia has sent. She writes that she feels like she knows me through reading my weekly column. Funny thing is, I feel like I know her through the generous letters she includes in my birthday cards. It turns out I worked with her husband when I was employed at the Heart Center years ago. I hope someday we get to meet face to face!

* * * *

It was almost a year ago when reader Charlie turned the tables by sending me a story she had written about my rat terrier mix, Finnegan, who is the main character in two children’s books I’ve written. The story is called “Finn’s Stalker”:

My name is Finnegan, but you can call me Finn. I live in southwest Wisconsin and I'm a big deal around here—a real star, if you know what I mean.

My Grandma Riley wrote a couple of books about the adventures she and I go on. When we go hiking she also takes lots of pictures of me. I'm so photogenic, I could be a model! I’ve heard some younger folks call me “totes adorbs.”

Grandma Riley and I have gigs all over the place where we meet people and read to them from our books. You'd be impressed with how well I do with the young children who come to meet us. Sometimes I get scared, but for the most part it's a good experience. I’m used to it by now—a real pro!

But with all this celebrity comes problems—actually, just one, but it’s big. I think I have a stalker. Every day around 1:30 in the afternoon the same car stops right in front of our house and just sits there for a minute or two.

This gets me and my big sister Téte in a huff and we bark like crazy and chase them off. When we do that, Grandma Riley gets scared too. I guess she wants us to get rid of them.

I don't know what this person wants from me. They could just come to the door and ask for an autograph or ask Grandma Riley if they can pet me. Maybe they want a lock of my fur. That would be creepy. Do you think I should get a restraining order?

It's 1:40 now and Téte and I just chased them off again. Good for us. There goes Grandma Riley to get the mail. Maybe there's something for me from BarkBox!

* * * *

After writing a weekly column for six years, it’s a nice surprise to learn that if I ever run out of things to write about, I can always turn to my readers for ideas!

July 18th marks the sixth year of “Jane’s World” in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout.


Originally Published July 18th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Uninvited Visitors

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From Jane’s World

Things are living in my house uninvited. Things with claws that scrape in the gutter as they walk along my roof and crawl up the inside of my walls. Téte barks at them all night in her deep voice, and Finnegan joins in with his high-pitched accompaniment. Only Ruben doesn’t seem to care.

I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. I want my old life back, where I go upstairs to my quiet bedroom, where the windows are open and the only sound I hear is the water flowing in the creek.

After one particular night of intense barking, with the cats screeching outside and me standing on top of my mattress, futilely yelling out the skylight, “Go away, get out of my yard, you dirty scoundrels,” I was exhausted. In the morning, I found my cactus on the deck rail overturned, flower pots pushed off and broken, and my gorgeous green succulents uprooted and lying lifeless on the ground.

Night after miserable night I baited live traps with smelly canned cat food, only to find them empty in the morning. My bags of birdseed, grass seed, and peanuts in the shell would be strewn about the basement with piles of poo dropped among them. The lid on the metal garbage can that contains the dogs' food would be cast aside like a child’s Frisbee, and the dog food devoured.

I got mad and I tried to get smart.

I closed the outside metal doggie door, with apologies to my cats and dogs. I placed wooden two-by-fours on top of the garbage can where I store the dog food, and a can of paint on top of the one that holds the cat food. I set the live trap strategically between the two cans. I. Was. Ready.

That evening, I fell into a deep sleep with images of raccoons, opossums, rats, and weasels dancing through my head—only to awaken to more destruction. The two-by-fours and paint can had been tossed aside as though they were light as marshmallows.

But finally, a big ol’ raccoon was in the trap. Success!

I thought my troubles were over, but the next night the dogs were barking again while critters clamored around my basement, helping themselves to anything edible.

Then one day Dane was here and went to the basement to get food for the dogs. He came running back up into the house.

“There’s a huge raccoon eating the cat food down there!”

“Did you shut the door?”

“Yes! We’ve got him now. I’ll go set the trap.”

The next day, I walked out my front door and around to the back of my house, sure that I’d finally have the troublemaker locked in the trap. Instead, I found a hole in my basement wall about the size of a large raccoon, with yellow insulation strewn about. That coon had dug right through the wall where it’s been weakened by a dripping faucet.

I boarded up the hole with wood planks and large rocks. The next morning the basement again looked like the coon had had an all-night party—but the trap was untouched.

Dane to the rescue! He baited the trap with canned cat food, peanut butter, and raisins, a smorgasbord of odors and delicacies no good coon could pass up. Next morning, bingo, another large raccoon caught!

Over the next two weeks we trapped two more raccoons. I also had the house trimmed three feet high with corrugated steel, including the whole backside of the house—no more holes in the wall. 

I’d like to say the coons are gone, but they’re not. Mr. Bigfoot is still lurking, destroying, and causing us sleepless nights. He’s managed to trip the trap almost nightly after devouring tuna, a few cans of cat food, and mounds of peanut butter. 

One night we tried a new and improved trap with a better spring. When I went out in the morning, there was my sweet cat, Monkey Butt, scolding me from inside the trap. 

Now Dane meant business. He brought over six gigantic cement blocks and placed them outside the doggy door, a quarter inch away, to keep the raccoon from getting in. Next he placed the trap in front of the blocks and brought some heavy boards and beams and other paraphernalia to stabilize it so the beast couldn’t knock it over. Once the trap was loaded with smelly tuna, Dane drove home and I went to bed. Dane assured me he’d come and get Bigfoot in the morning and take him for the ride of his life, releasing him somewhere in Timbuktu.

I thought, “Good riddance, Mr. Bigfoot,” as I drifted off to sleep.

In the morning I phoned Dane with the news: there was no one in the trap. The ton of bricks hadn't been moved, but the metal on the doggy door had been peeled back and the door opened about eight inches high—and the basement was a total shambles.

Score another few points for Bigfoot, zero for us.

To be continued in the July 25th paper.

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Originally Published July 11th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout