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

65 Roses

From Jane’s World

When my grandson was just a kid, he'd tell people that his sister, Helena, had “65 roses.” Ethan is an adult now and knows how to say cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a progressive genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and, over time, limits the person’s ability to breathe. 

Wisconsin screens newborns for 45 different conditions, including cystic fibrosis. Helena was diagnosed with CF at birth. It can be heartbreaking to hear the misconceptions about CF. It’s not contagious, nor does it come from eating white bread, drinking soda, or watching too much television. Although I’m certain none of those support a healthy lifestyle, CF is due to a mutation in a gene on chromosome 7. 

For as long as I can remember, Helena has had to use a special vest and an airway-clearing device. When well-meaning friends and family learned of her diagnosis, they worried she wouldn’t be seen as normal, but if you saw Helena without her medical tools, you wouldn’t know she had CF. She’s a normal kid who recently graduated from high school. 

Staying active helps people with cystic fibrosis keep their lungs strong and clear. Helena is good at staying active: She’s been involved in karate, basketball, hip-hop and other kinds of dance, and track. But she’s not as compliant when it comes to using her vest or taking her medication now that she is older. What teen who generally feels good wants to slow down long enough for that?

In the 1950s, a child with CF rarely lived long enough to attend elementary school. Today, more than half of the CF population is over 18. The life expectancy of people with CF has been extended by breakthrough treatments: Now, the median predicted survival age is close to 40.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. As I write this, Helena has been admitted to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin due to a cold that left her lungs functioning at only 65 percent of their capacity. The medical team inserted a PICC line, started her on antibiotics, and will treat her aggressively to fight the infection. Helena is no stranger to Children's Hospital. As a baby and a young child, she spent one day of every three months there, and she was hospitalized twice before she was even a year old. 

When I called Helena today at the hospital to check on her, she said, “I’m doing okay, Grandma.”

I have no doubt that she is. Helena is tough and has worked hard at keeping herself healthy. She has a bright future ahead of her. Although cystic fibrosis will always be a part of Helena’s life, her plans are to “kick its butt!”

I’ve been proud of how Helena has not allowed CF to rule her life. There is no cure and yet we can be thankful the treatments keep improving. I hope that someday the life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis, like Helena, reaches 80 or even 90 years old. 

For more information on CF, please go to https://www.cff.org/ 


Slow Down

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From Jane’s World

My fascination with turtles started as a child when my family lived near what we called “Mud Lake.” Its real name was Kelly Lake, but it was full of mud, weeds, yuck, and everything kids like—including turtles!

The day I brought Murdle home, my tolerant dad set up a steel tub with water and a rock. Eventually we discovered Murdle was a girl, because she had laid eggs. Trying to be helpful, I took her eggs to a sandy area behind our house and buried them for her. When my dad found out, and none of her eggs ever hatched, he had me release Murdle back near the lake. The lesson: leave animals where you find them unless you’re positive they need your help.

Murdle was a painted turtle. I loved her reddish-orange bottom, dark green shell, long claws, and yellow stripes. Painted turtles are my favorites and are also the most common turtle found in Wisconsin. 

Maybe my fascination with turtles has to do with how they easily carry their home on their back. I do this whenever I go backpacking. I also hike about as slowly as a turtle. I’m not in a hurry. By my rules, the last one out of the woods wins.

I do wish turtles would move faster when crossing the road though. I worry about their safety—and I’m not the only one who does. 

The Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program (WTCP) is a citizen-based monitoring program run by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). One of their goals is to discover areas in Wisconsin where turtles have a high mortality rate due to crossing roads. They encourage people to help migrating turtles cross safely. 

Before pulling over for a turtle make sure there aren't any cars directly behind you. Put on your turn signal and park your car off the road. Gently pick the turtle up and carry it carefully in the direction it was headed, then set it down off the road. 

At the WTCP website you can document any turtles you help and /or see. Citizens’ reports of turtle crossings have helped the DNR identify high mortality rate areas. In central Wisconsin, state transportation officials and UW–Stevens Point worked to install and monitor an underpass where there was a high percentage of turtles being killed by motorists. At that site, they estimate the turtle mortality has decreased by 85 percent. 

Saving even one adult female turtle has a huge impact on the turtle population. It can take Blanding’s turtles and wood turtles 12 to 20 years to reach the reproductive state. 

Braking to help turtles cross the road is a seasonal event for both Dane and me. Dane’s job often has him traveling highways and back roads, near creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes. So far this year he’s helped eight turtles safely across the road. Most of them were painted turtles. He has also seen Blanding’s turtles, box turtles, and snappers. 

Snappers can bite, so it’s best to try to get them to move by walking behind them, nudging them to get to the other side of the road. If this doesn’t work, please do not pick them up by their tail. The snapper’s tail is connected to its spine and you may cause more damage than help.

Instead, grab the back of the turtle's shell and pick him up and carry him across. If he is too big and heavy, grab the back of his shell, turn him, drag him backwards across the road, and turn him again when you get to the other side to leave him in the direction he was going. I like using a car mat to do this. Simply pick up the snapper by the back of her shell and set her on the mat. Drag the mat and turtle across the road and leave her headed in the direction she was going.

It pains me to see squished turtles in the road. If you’re paying attention it’s not difficult to avoid hitting them. They certainly won’t throw themselves into your car like some crazy squirrels have been known to do.

Last Sunday, after hiking with the pups, I spotted a turtle trying to cross Hay Valley Road. I pulled over and noticed it was a Blanding’s turtle. Blanding’s turtle are easily identified by there domed shell with yellow markings, and the brilliant yellow under their neck. I spoke gently as I bent to pick it up: “Hello, turtle, would you like a little help crossing the road?” With my hands securely on its shell, I lifted it up—and it peed what seemed like a bucket of urine on me.

I’m sure the turtle was thankful for the lift across the street but just didn’t know how to show it.

For more information on turtles and reporting them, please go to http://wiatri.net/inventory/witurtles/.

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Originally Published June 27th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Homecoming

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Finnegan or Ruben? Finnegan’s a real pro—he knows how to hike, how to stay on the trail, and sleeps well at night. Ruben knows nothing. He’s also a baby and doesn’t yet understand that I go away and come home again. But Finn does.

As I run around loading up the car, Téte, who's not even in the running for going on this trip, is watching my every move. Finn was sleeping soundly on the couch until I opened the drawer and pulled out his backpacks. Now I can see his wheels turning: he thinks he’s going on a trip again and will have to carry all his own gear. But I’m trying the packs on Ruben instead. The blue one is too small; so is the lime green one. But Téte’s orange pack is too big.

Once the car is loaded, I put Ruben in the back seat and wave goodbye to Téte and Finn. I can’t figure out if Finn’s cocked head means he’s upset or relieved to not be coming along, or maybe he’s just amused that “baby-face” Ruben is going for the first time. But we’re off now—Superior Hiking Trail or bust!

I was singled out—taken away. I don’t know what’s happening or where I’m going. Maybe Mom’s returning me.

I slip in a CD I made for the trip and start singing. It’s a gorgeous day for a drive and Ruben, who seemed a little anxious earlier, is curled up sound asleep in the back seat. Just as I start to feel fatigued I see the Duluth bridge. We’re almost there!

Wow, where are we? Lots of trees to sniff. Sand to dig in. Rocks to jump up on. Mom looks busy. I’m glad she brought my bowl and filled it with water. Oh yay, I get a treat too. Looks like we're going on a walk now.

I may have made a mistake bringing RubenSurely my arm is going to dislocate. He pulls me to the left when he sees a squirrel; a rabbit, and he yanks me to the right. Then the wind whips up and he jumps and spins around like something bit him in the behind. This is going to be tougher than I thought.

I’m in paradise! Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and all sorts of cool smells. I wish Mom would take off my leash. I keep getting tangled up and it’s cramping my style.

Eventually my shoulders relax and my breathing becomes more even. One step at a time, the pressures of life start to lift. So much green, mixed with the bright yellow of marsh marigolds, and hordes of tiny snowdrops. Ouch! “My goodness, Ruben, just walk, and stop lurching for each leaf that blows across the path.”

Excuse me, Mom, but I’m getting tired. How far are we going? Look, water, big water! Oh man, it's ice cold and it feels so good on my paws. Thanks, Mom, I feel better already. Wanna rest awhile? A treat?! Delicious, I was getting hungry. Those TurboPup bars are tasty.

Dusk already. I'm beat. I’ll make a fire and let Ruben relax while I get dinner going.

Hey, what are all these flying biting things? They’re going into my eyes and ears. Help!

Gnats. Dang, already? Once the flames are blazing and the sun begins to sink, I lie down near the fire. Ruben jumps onto my chest and licks my face amidst my giggling protests. Within seconds he falls asleep, his weight pressing on me. Not a bad way to end our first day.

What’s going on? Where am I? I was sound asleep. Why are you getting up? And what’s that spooky thing?

"It’s time for bed now, Ruben. Let’s get into the tent."

Mom’s stuffing me into a small, dark tunnel. Get me out of here! I can’t breathe!

Ruben begins bucking like a bronco. I’m worried he’ll rip the screen or tear up the floor. “Come here, little buddy,” I say, as I worm my way into my sleeping bag. Before I even turn off my headlamp Ruben figures it out, or is too tired to care, and starts snoring softly by my side.

How did it get light out so fast? This tent thing isn’t so bad; I feel all warm and cozy. No, Mom, don’t get up, can’t we just sleep a little longer? But I am hungry.

Ruben and I both eat like we haven't for days. I pack up and we take off for the day again. We head down the trail with Ruben in the lead, my outstretched arm gripping his leash, my body lagging behind. When I stop to take a picture, Ruben inevitably notices something he’s interested in and tugs his leash, causing me to shake the camera. So much for clear memories.

Oh, I see. We have a treat and we start walking; this must be hiking. Finn told me all about it. Mom’s not taking me back where I came from. Here we go again, and I don’t even have to carry my own gear. Ha ha, Finnegan, you said I would have to!

Four days, three nights, and over thirty miles later we arrive home. Téte and Finn come bounding towards the car, hardly allowing me time to stop. Ruben wakes up, yawns, and looks out the window.

I’m home! There are my friends! Look at us, sniffing and running around like crazy. I sure had fun, but there’s no place like home with my best friends Téte and Finnegan.

As I watch the dogs reunite I give Dane a huge hug. I think Ruben is right: trips are fun but coming back home is the best part.

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Originally Published June 20th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Forgiveness

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From Jane’s World

Dear Dad,

It’s been a long time since I last wrote to you.

Soon it will be Father's Day, which sounds way too formal. I always called you either Popsie Turtle or Dad, never Father.

You died unexpectedly when I was twenty-one and you were fifty-three, but I guess I don’t need to tell you that. When Mom called to tell me, she said, “Dad died.”

I said, “Your dad?”

She answered, “No, your dad.” Grandpa did die, but not until years later.

Not long ago Mom gave me a copy of your death certificate. You’d been dead for over forty years when I first held and read it: brain aneurysm, alcohol poisoning.

The day before you died, my daughter was playing with the hose and dripped water into your brandy Manhattan (easy on the vermouth). We chuckled, but little Jessica was too young to understand.

I miss you. You were consistent and gentle, which may not sound like a big compliment but I can assure you it is. I can still picture you sitting in your chair each day. You’d be reading the newspaper, wearing a sweatshirt, worn-out blue jeans, and your raggedy old moccasin slippers, with a stocking cap perched on your head. If it was morning, there’d be a cup of coffee on the end table next to your chair; in the evening it would be a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon and often a bowl of popcorn.

The only time you’d ever yell would be in the mornings when I wouldn’t get out of bed for school. Even when others were yelling at you, you didn’t yell back.

I always knew you loved me, even when you stomped down the hall to pull me out of bed after the umpteenth warning that I’d be late for school. I knew that no matter how small the bluegill was on my fishing line, you’d make a big to-do about it and fry it up with your bigger catches. I knew if I got tired hiking with you, you’d put me on your shoulders and carry me.

Even when I came home from Treasure Island department store as a new teen, and they called ahead to tell you and Mom that Becky and I had been caught stealing earrings, I knew you’d still love me. Or maybe I only hoped so.

Terrified by the whole event, thinking I’d be sent to jail, I stood in front of you, my bony knees knocking with fear and shame. And you said, “Janie, what you did was wrong, and I suspect you’ll never do it again. But everyone makes mistakes and it’s best to move on from them. Go take a bath, you’ll feel better.”

Tears streamed silently from the corners of my eyes as you spoke, as they are now as I type, as they do every time the memory plays in my head.

Thanks to you, Dad, I excel at moving on. I don’t stay angry for long with myself or others. I see both as a waste of precious energy that I need for the work I’ve decided to do.

You wanted me to be a flight attendant, but I became a fitness instructor. I help people stay limber and fit, and (my favorite part) connect them with nature on hikes. You encouraged my love for nature and all things living, through our many trips up north, the rock garden you created with those crazy “hens and chicks,” and supporting me in my efforts to help wildlife, like the pigeon with the hole in his wing that we nursed back to health and released.

I often wish you could see where I live now. You’d love the hills and valleys, my animals, and the crabapple tree I planted in honor of the ones you planted at home for Jill, Jack, and me. I drove by our old house when I was visiting Mom this week. Those three crabapple trees are still there on the corner of our lot, tall and healthy. But Jill isn’t so healthy these days, nor is Jack. Mom, despite a fall, seems to be doing well. She's one tough cookie, almost ninety-three and still has that quick wit you enjoyed so much.

Do you remember me dancing outside for you, that time you were in the hospital? It seemed like I hadn’t seen you for a long time, and Mom pointed way up high to the window she said you were at, looking down on me. I didn’t understand then what had happened or why you didn’t come home with us.

I do now. Thankfully the accident hadn’t killed you, but it sure left its mark. Your face was torn apart from the corner of your mouth up into your military crew cut. Mom stayed angry with you and later filed for a divorce. (I’m glad you and Mom eventually remarried. She was so angry when you died. She took it personally!)

The last time I wrote to you, I sent the letter anonymously to your office. Did you guess it was from me? I’d clipped a Dear Abby column out of the newspaper. It was about how to tell if you’re an alcoholic. I’m not sure whether I lacked the courage to sign my name or didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I just know I wanted you to stop drinking.

I don’t drink. Jack drinks too much, and Jill no longer has any say in the matter.

Dad, you were so much more than an alcoholic. Because you died so suddenly, I never had a chance to tell you how much I loved and admired you. You were a generous, kind, and unassuming man.

Happy Popsie Turtle Day!

Jane



Originally Published June 13th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Biggest Lesson

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From Jane’s World

Everything I know I learned from my furred or feathered friends. The lessons began the day my dad decided the Schmidt kids would learn about the birds and the bees from our dog.

Kelly, appropriately named for finding her forever home with us on Saint Patrick's Day, was a purebred Dalmatian. She was the first family dog I’d bonded with, and I worshiped her. I wasn’t sure exactly how she ended up with babies in her belly, because on the day this historic event took place I wasn’t allowed to go along. Dad loaded Kelly into the green station wagon and took her away—without me. My brother and sister didn’t care, but I was foot-stomping mad.

I waited all afternoon for Kelly to come back home. When she did, she didn't look any different to me. Hard as I tried, I didn’t see any babies with her.

But soon Kelly’s belly started to grow, along with my excitement. Dad made a whelping box in our basement for Kelly's big day that was fast approaching. I feigned sickness each morning, trying to make sure I’d be home when the grand event took place and not in stupid school, but no one was fooled.

However, I got lucky! One Saturday morning I heard Dad calling softly from the hallway, “Wake up, Kelly is having her babies.” I climbed down sleepy-eyed from the top bunk and headed down the basement steps to where Dad sat with his book about dog births. It was only Dad and me, and that felt lucky too!

Dad handed me the birthing book. Kelly seemed uncomfortable, but soon a sack of goo came out and she started licking and eating it. Dad looked like he’d faint. Turns out that goo was the sac holding Kelly’s first baby. Gross to a six-year-old and, apparently, to an old man like my dad.

After that first one, Dad started removing the birthing sacs before placing each baby next to Kelly’s swollen pink teats. I was engrossed with the whole process. When my mom finally rolled out of bed she came to the top of the steps and yelled to Dad to send me upstairs, and for me to “march up here this minute.” We didn’t listen. We both knew my mom wasn’t about to come downstairs and make me march up.

I was concerned about the babies being pure white. Kelly had black spots and I’d assumed the babies would too. It wasn’t until later I leaned that their spots start to appear around the fourth month.

Kelly was a great mom and she shared the care of her puppies with me. I’d play with them, they’d poop, and she’d clean them up. Teamwork!

The puppies became my responsibility. At first they mostly nursed, slept, and pooed. When they were older I gave them their water and food, snuggled and cuddled with them, and watched them play.

Soon the puppies were bigger and the weather grew warm enough that we could take them outside. The pups were a hit with the neighborhood kids and I was proud of them. Dad built a new home for them in our garage where they’d be protected from the weather but where their messes, as they grew, would be easier to clean up.

Naming the puppies was a family affair. Julie Andrews got her name because she would sit and “sing” (some might call it howling); Fat Albert had the largest belly and would lie down to eat; and Fish Hook got his name because one day my brother’s cane pole had fallen in the garage and Fish Hook was caught on it. Ouch!

The way my siblings and I were named—Jack, Jill, and Jane—you'd think we would have named one of the dogs Spot. We didn’t.

Finding good homes for the puppies was my parents' job because I was too young and wanted to keep them all. I was heartbroken to see them go. My mom would tell me I should be happy they were going to good homes, but I wasn’t. Placing a departing puppy into a box with its favorite toy, part of its blankie, or in one case with another puppy, was like having someone tear off my toe. It hurt. They were a part of me and I a part of them.

My childhood experiences with Kelly and her babies taught me a lot. I learned early that all living creatures, no matter how much you love them, eventually leave or die. I learned that the heartache from that loss lessens with time but the memories stay forever.

The biggest lesson was how to love and respect all animals. And, thanks to the litter of puppies Kelly shared with me years ago, I even learned a bit about the bird and the bees!


Originally Published June 6th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout



Springtime Tradition

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From Jane’s World

There wasn’t a path to follow, but he knew the way to go. Weaving through the woods, stepping over downed trees, and pushing aside dried-out brambles, he picked his way up the steep slope, where the earth was exposed to the sun, to a place sheltered by a rock outcropping.

The day was overcast, the sky the color of pewter, the wind moaning softly. It was a winter-jacket, stocking-cap, and pair-of-gloves Wisconsin early April day. Some would call it spring, based on the calendar; others would say it was still winter. But in this nook of the countryside, a tiny, hardy, violet-colored flower had miraculously pushed its way through the cold hard soil to beam its welcome.

Waiting for the pasque flowers to make their appearance on the Thompsons’ farm has been a decades-long tradition for Dane and his brother. Each April Dane would carry a pasque flower back home to his mom and place it in a miniature vase—an act of love repeated over years of living and farming on their land.

Eleven years ago, Dane began picking two flowers each year, drawing me into this time-honored spring tradition. Two years ago, while Alice, Dane’s mom, was still living in her nursing home bedroom, pasque flowers again sat on her windowsill, leaning toward the sunlight streaming into the room.

This April, later in the month than usual, Dane came over to my house with a brown vial holding two perfect pasque flowers. It always takes me by surprise, both the beauty of the flowers and the gesture.

While I associate pasque flowers with Dane and his mom, whenever I see a crabapple tree I think of my family home. My dad had planted three crabapple trees with dark pink flowers on the corner of our lot, one for each of us kids.

In 2006, when I signed the last paper for purchasing my first and only home here, I too bought and planted a tiny crabapple tree. Like the pasque flowers, it’s blooming late this year, in the middle of May. The once-skinny tree is now taller than I am when I stand on top of a ladder with my arms stretched skyward. The scent of the flowers is intoxicating, especially combined with the smell of the sweet blossoms on the apple tree next to it. Working at my desk, I can see both trees by glancing out the window over my left shoulder.

Springtime means flowers, budding leaves, rain, mud, and tradition. Gardens are started, hanging baskets of flowers are hung, and eventually the grass is mowed.

The donkeys escape their pasture for their own tradition of exploring why the grass looks greener on the other side. Louisa and the goats graze along the creek, happy to be out of their pen. The ducks and geese can be seen bathing and bobbing their heads up and down to the sound of the crickets and peepers.

This year’s pasque flowers still sit on my windowsill, although the petals have wilted and dropped. On the desk below them is a small vase stuffed with Sweet Williams, another tradition that’s as easy to keep as walking out my door.

As he carried only my featherweight pasque flowers down from the hillside this year, I’ll bet Dane's heart was heavy with thoughts of his mom. It’s one small tradition, but so full of love.

While the days grow longer, and the world gets crazier, may we all find solace in the simplicity of springtime traditions.

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Originally Published May 30th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Connections

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From Jane’s World

When I first moved here, I’d often take a hike in the woods with my faithful yellow lab, Riley. Afterward, I’d curl up in an old wicker chair on the porch of the cabin I was renting. Soon Riley would be snoring at my feet and I’d start paging through the phone book I’d found on my doorstep. I was new to the area and hadn’t yet made any connections.

The year was 2000 and the phone book was organized by the area in which people lived. It was impossible as a newbie here to find the number of anyone I had met. I’d usually forgotten to ask where they lived, but even if I asked, I’d still be clueless. Locals gave directions that were useful only if you already knew where you were: “Over on Paterson's Road. You know, where all the goats are.”

I lived in that cabin without a phone for four years. Living without a phone made me realize the value of being connected—and just how disconnected I was. My friend, Pat Martin, thoughtfully stopped over with a Tracfone, explaining that she had lost hers, bought a replacement, and then found her old one. It still had lots of minutes left on it.

Days after our visit, I must have been feeling lonely because I decided to look up my last name in the phone book. In Milwaukee, where I had moved from, there had been pages upon pages of Schmidts. Here the Schmidts fit on two lines.

I decided I’d call both Schmidts to say hello. A man named Dick Schmidt answered one of those calls. It turns out he had owned (and was recently retired from) a car dealership in the Viroqua area. We had a great chat and I ended up meeting him at the Wellness Center where I worked part time. He gave me a T-shirt from his car dealership with our last name on it: Schmidt Motors.

Talking to Dick made me feel more connected, more at home living here. Many afternoons, I’d look through the phone book and learn something new about where I had come to roost. Even then, we had an abundance of massage therapists and chiropractors, not as many doctors, and lots of handymen and carpenters!

Nowadays, I no longer use Pat’s old Tracfone. I use a flip phone when I’m away from home, and still cherish my landline. I rarely have the luxury of paging through the phone book, preferring to read a good book when I have the chance. After 19 years of living here, I feel more connected. I work locally, shop locally, and attend local events. I have an exercise program on a local cable channel and teach in the community. I have good friends and neighbors and I date a local man.

Recently, I had to break out the phone book. I needed to call the Johnsons to see if they had time for Dane and me to stop by after taking my dogs for a hike. I dialed a wrong number and made a new, unexpected connection.

"Hi, it's Jane Schmidt. I'm wondering if Dane and I could stop over today after our hike with the pups?"

"Who?"

"Jane Schmidt."

"Oh, I exercise with you every day."

"Huh? Is this Donna?"

"No, this is Jan.* I had cataract surgery so I stopped coming to your class. Then I had heart surgery. I exercise with you on TV. I don't do that one, you know, where you cross your leg over."

"So this isn't Donna Johnson?"

"I won't do the ones where you lie down on the floor, but I do the other ones. When you say, ‘Get outside for a walk,’ I don't listen to you. I'm ninety-two and I shouldn't be outside walking in this weather. My husband had knee surgery in 2016."

"I'm glad you're exercising daily. It's important."

"At the funeral luncheon I don't know what happened but I fell, lost my balance. I broke my pelvis. I know all about exercising. My daughter doesn't like me driving and I'm not going to drive for an exercise class when I can stay home and exercise with you. I like your stories, but those birds of yours are too loud."

"I'll keep that in mind. Say, do you know the Johnsons? Because I really need to talk to them about an appointment today."

"Yes, that lady who exercises with you in that one video. I can keep up with her. I mean I'm not saying I can do better than her but I keep right up with her. I'm not going to do anything you do on the floor."

"The next video is all about back care."

"I said I won't go on the floor."

"You can do it in your bed!"

"I can't see you in my bed."

I laughed. "Okay, I need to find the Johnsons’ number and call them. Ron made my ring and now we're having Dane's made."

"Oh, congratulations. You're engaged?"

"No, no, just getting rings made with Michigan greenstones."

"I have green stones. I had gall bladder surgery..."

Twenty-two minutes later I hung up with a smile on my face. I told Jan I'd shout out to her in the next exercise video.

"Don't do that," she responded.

After saying goodbye to Jan, I located the correct number for the Johnsons, set a time to meet up with them, and headed out the door with Dane and my three pups.

Thankfully, these days the phone books are organized alphabetically. The 2018 Vernon Communications book has a whopping thirteen Schmidts listed, and Dick is still one of them.

It seems ages ago when I reached out to another Schmidt in order to feel connected. Whenever I have spare time, though, I call Jan—she said I can call anytime, just to connect.

* Jan isn’t her real name.

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Originally Published May 23rd, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Midlife

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From Jane’s World

Soon I won’t be sixty years old anymore.

For a few years, I was impatient to turn sixty, which made some people think I was crazy, because wanting to be older isn’t fashionable. But I like birthdays that end in zero. People celebrate them more—and I love celebrating.

The number sixty appeals to me visually: all round edges and curves, like a stone that has spent its entire life being washed over by horrific waves one day and lying there the next, giddily soaking up the sun. The outside is worn and battered but the inside is stronger, more solid.

Some say that sixty is the new fifty, because more people are active later in life than they used to be. Sixty still qualifies as part of midlife, although it’s hardly the middle—not too many people live to be 120. Who’d want to?

A quick google of the word midlife brings up numerous articles and research relating to adults realizing their own mortality, reckoning with how many more years they can be productive, or questioning whether they have been.

I do recognize my own mortality. After all, I venture into the woods almost daily for a hike with my pups, and each time I do, I silently greet all the deer ticks and know my time on earth is limited by their abundance.

As for reckoning with how many more years I can be productive: not many, if the ticks keep finding me. But I also dream of lying on my deck and reading all day. So in one sense, I’m not too worried about how many more years I can be productive. Bring on my unproductive years—I’m ready and willing! Meanwhile, is leading exercise classes considered productive? It sure is for the people who take them!

In various articles about midlife, the words stressful, restless, and discontented flash like neon signs. The word crisis often follows the word midlife, but so far it hasn’t for me. I’m having no more crises than normal. I haven’t sold the farm for an Airstream, although I do think about it. Nor have I embarked on any “extracurricular” activities. Just the thought of all that drama, sneaking around in a small town and having to lie to cover my tracks, makes me exhausted. Besides, when I ask Dane why he likes me, he insists it’s because I’m “kind.”

As for midlife and stressful, yep, I could put a check mark next to that one. Mostly I’m stressed about technology and how quickly it changes. I use a flip phone, have no desire to text, and I have no interest in owning a Smartphone. So far so good, but I worry about whether I can keep up with the ever-changing demands of advancing technology.

For instance, it seems like every public bathroom I use is equipped with an automatic sink, toilet flusher, and paper towel dispenser. Am I the only one who stands in front of the sink and towel dispenser looking like I’m conducting an orchestra? My confidence level drops a few notches as I leave bathrooms while wiping my hands on my jeans. As for the automatic toilet flusher, I stand, turn, and am about to zip up when the toilet makes an exaggerated flushing sound, startling me into an involuntary yelp.

Don’t get me started on automatic phone systems. I revert to age six every time I call information for a number. When the robotic lady ends her spiel, I yell, “Blah, blah, blah” in my best Cruella de Vil impersonation. The lady comes back on, saying, “I couldn’t understand your request. Please hold for an operator.” Yay, it worked, I win: I get to talk to a real person.

Recently I bought a new computer out of necessity because my old one had crashed. The kind man at Vernon Communications was able to save all my pictures, columns, and work files. He claimed my old computer was a dinosaur. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about my landline and lack of a television for cable channels.

Other than that, so far, I like getting older. I’m not crazy about my face sagging, my hair thinning, thighs thickening, or still working a maddening amount of hours weekly. But I feel lucky that I enjoy what I do and that I have enough time for playing.

Turning sixty wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be. There were no fireworks or grand celebrations, and only a few cards. I didn’t even have a cake. When I hit seventy, my next big zero, I plan on shifting into low gear on my work schedule. And having more cake!


Originally Published May 16th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout