Soul Searching

Excerpt From Jane's World

The poet William Blake said, “For every thing that lives is holy,” and his words play over and over in my mind—every day, but especially today.

It’s May Day, and it’s been spitting rain all day. The clouds hover low, making it hard to distinguish morning from evening. This is the kind of day when I give silent thanks for my good fortune of having electricity. I’ve turned on the lights in the living room, hoping to inject some energy into Benny and Joon, the parakeets, whose lives seem to revolve around darkness and light. Put a cover over their cage and they go silent. Take the cover off and they chirp, squawk, interact, and play endlessly with their toys. 

I’m home from work, ill, and have been on the couch most of the day, a rare thing to happen any day for me. Farley the cat is pressing himself against my chest. Before he settles there, his front paws alternately reach out toward my chin. The motion reminds me of kneading bread dough. With every reach he seems to sink further into me. I find his purring soothing as its hum vibrates through my body.

Finn is under the blanket, sandwiched between me and the couch, pressed tightly next to the curve of my waist. How he can stay there, so still, except for occasional moans of contentment, is beyond me. I had always thought little dogs were constantly active. Not Finn. Finn is a master sloth. He’ll run with wild abandon in the woods with the rest of his pack, but at home he doesn’t move. Not even an inch, which can make repositioning myself challenging. Finn is a warm, lovable brick.

Raime, my hypervigilant border collie, is on the floor with his head shoved as close to me as it can get. Instinctively, as I pet him, my fingers search for ticks. I don’t even need to look, and with one quick twist I’ve detached a swollen one. I reach over to my empty tea cup and drop it in. I find another and repeat. Raime settles on the floor when I stop.

Benny and Joon have come alive with the artificial light and are busily sinking baskets on their miniature hoop-and-ball toy. They play loudly. When they first arrived here, a gift from a friend who could no longer keep them because of health problems, they were so noisy I didn’t think I’d ever be able to focus again. But as I began to watch them interact with each other and their toys, the noise became a non-issue. Now it’s when they’re quiet that I can’t focus.

I’m using this unusual gift of time to read Sy Montgomery’s book The Soul of an Octopus. Sy is one of my favorite authors. She combines science with heartbreaking humanness that fools me into thinking I can feel her books breathe. Although it’s difficult to hold the book around Farley’s slack body, I’m engrossed. I find myself smiling, nodding in agreement, and crying.

I do not find it astonishing that the octopuses Sy befriends have different personalities, nor that they enjoy interacting with their human keepers, are playful, can get moody and be depressed, can solve the puzzle of unlocking a small chest to get a crab treat, are master escape artists, and lovingly care for their eggs. 

I reread the section that talks about hormones and neurotransmitters, chemicals attached to love, fear, sadness, joy, and human desire. Montgomery’s book goes on to explain, “This means that whether you’re a person or a monkey, a bird or a turtle, an octopus or a clam, the physiological changes that accompany our deepest-felt emotions appear to be the same. Even a brainless scallop’s little heart beats faster when the mollusk is approached by a predator, just like yours or mine would do were we accosted by a mugger.”

Living the way I have chosen—surrounded by animals, and choosing to spend much of my free time in the woods, renewing my energy with the earth’s energy—it’s no surprise to me that a scallop can react in fear. Over the years, I’ve observed fear in my animals. Once the hard, gut-wrenching decision is made to put a beloved pet to sleep rather them watch them suffer, they know. It’s the hardest part about being a pet owner and also the most loving, unselfish act I can think of. 

I set my book aside and fall into a deep, much-needed sleep, giving my body a chance to recover from being ill. When I wake, Dane is by my side, telling me he has bad news. Blackie, the last of the first runner ducks that came to live with me over seven years ago, has passed on.

I’m shocked, though I shouldn’t be. Blackie was old, had a limp, and needed gentle reminders to come into the duck hall at twilight. Just last week, I was thinking about the craziness of me being almost 60 years old and hopping from rock to rock in the creek, eventually getting both feet wet as I tried to persuade Blackie to get out of the water and get to bed where she could sleep safely in the duck hall. As the days became longer this spring, Blackie spent more time floating in the water and napping in the grass than she did finding bugs to eat.

In pajamas now, groggy from not feeling well and just waking up, I ask Dane to please bring her to me as I try to wrap my head around the fact that I’ll never see Blackie out my bay window again. I’d always be searching for her, and whenever I spied her black-and-white body curled up by the pen, under her bush, or next to the creek, I’d relax. I wanted to see Blackie once more. I wanted to hold her and give her old, sweet soul the respect she deserved.

A short while later, as I set Blackie’s cold body down, Farley and Téte both come over to smell her. Death, after all, is part of life and is a universal thread that ties us all together, whether we have fins, feathers, fur, or skin. With a heavy heart I go back to the couch, back to letting my body heal while thinking of all the souls my house and yard encompass. I'm thankful that Blackie appears to have died peacefully while sleeping next to the pen.

Dane wraps Blackie in a blanket and places her in the snake shed, because the ground is too muddy now to bury her properly. Many times over the years, one of my furry or feathered friends has spent the winter in the shed until the ground thawed enough to make burial possible.

Like Blake, I believe that all things are holy. I fall asleep thinking if we would all just agree on this one principle, maybe our world would start to heal.

* Today Jane shared the full story. Please consider a $30 annual subscription to Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout. or wait for my next book!

Originally Published May 18th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

A Brighter Day

Excerpt From Jane's World

It’s National Surprise Week. Your mission is to go ahead and surprise someone.

Webster’s dictionary describes the word surprise as “an unexpected gift, party, etc.; the feeling caused by something that is unexpected or unusual.”

I grew up in a family that thrived on surprising each other—practical jokes if you will. Garter snakes in coffee cans. Crayfish in the plastic swimming pool. A cupcake on your dinner chair. Throwing a cup of cold water over the shower curtain. Rubber-banding the handle on the kitchen sink hand-sprayer in the open position. Spraying someone with the outdoor hose when they were sleeping in the hammock. Every one of these surprises led to payback time—and, as they say, paybacks are hell! The Schmidt house was anything but quiet.

My daughter still tells the story of when she was a teen and out on a first date. I paced the apartment that evening, watching the clock and waiting for her to come home. When I finally saw her date’s car pull up outside our building, I decided to hide in the gigantic walk-in closet near the door, where we stored our coats and shoes. Jessica walked in, opened the closet door, and I said, “Hi!” She screamed and nearly punched me in the face. Luckily she had lousy aim and her fist barely hit my shoulder. But when Jessica screamed, I also screamed—which made my bladder leak, which made us start laughing, which made us double over, which had us laughing on the floor of our walk-in closet. This story comes up a lot: “Remember the time you hid in the closet, Mom, and I punched you?”

But today I’m not talking about those kinds of surprises. If I were, there would most likely be hell to pay and crabby letters to follow. I’m talking about surprising someone with something pleasantly unexpected, unusual, or random. I dislike the bumper sticker that says “Practice random acts of kindness”—I like the concept but not the commercialism of it. So why am I encouraging you to surprise someone?

While I love being surprised, I love surprising people even more. I enjoy watching for opportunities to do something for someone else that will make them smile. How about an unexpected phone call? I hear people saying, “He or she never calls me.” Call them! Easy to do, and the person you call will be delighted.

* Read the rest of the story in this week Crawford County Independent and Kickapoo Scout. Or wait for the next book.

Originally Published May 11th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

The Kids’ Birthday

Excerpt From Jane's World

I’m not sure how my kids survived. It’s not that I was negligent. It’s more like I was breathing down their necks!

I was obsessed with bottle feeding. I worried the kids weren’t getting enough milk. At times I was so immersed in the babies and giving them their bottle that it seemed I might start to lactate. Whenever they saw me walk near their pen, they would cry, and I’d madly rush up to the house and start heating their milk on the stove. It never failed. I’d scorch the milk, making it unusable and stinking up the house.

I’d buy bag after bag of powdered milk from the feed store. When Dane nagged me to just let them drink water, I’d reply in frustration, “I tried, but they won’t drink water from the bottle and certainly not from a bowl.” I’d say this while standing in front of the stove, heating up the second pot of milk, having scorched yet another pan.

This went on for months as Luna and Peepers grew from babies to toddlers. This week the two of them turned four years old. They are healthy, happy goats, on the small side, a cross between Nigerian dwarf and pygmy. I’m proud to say their births were planned.

Originally Published May 4th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Dear Diary

Excerpt From Jane's World

I think spring is finally here!

I put my snow shovel away today. I'm not certain if this means I'm optimistic or lazy. Optimistic because today is a gorgeous, blue-sky, sunny spring day. I can almost see the grass growing and turning greener as the days get longer. There is, however, a good chance I'm lazy, because I've walked past that snow shovel for a while, and we haven’t seen snow for several weeks. 

We pulled the plug on the water bowl heaters for the goats, pigs, ducks, and geese three weeks ago. I've had to use the heel of my boot to break a layer of ice about a half dozen times since then, though.

I'm hoping today we turned the corner on winter. The flowers seem to think it's spring. Everything is coming on all at once. In one long hike through the woods and along the river I found bloodroot, spring beauties, may apples, violets, fiddleheads, Virginia bluebells, bellwort, hepatica, Dutchman's breeches, marsh marigolds, and skunk cabbage. 

My yard is the typical post-winter mess. Enough assorted deer bones to reconstruct the deer; a variety of dog toys, wringing wet and torn apart; leaves everywhere; more tree debris than you could shake a stick at; and leftover pumpkin stems from Louisa and the goats' pumpkin parties before the snow started falling. I anticipate being done with my spring cleanup by the end of May. However, I’m ahead of schedule this year with my mower. I already took it in to get tuned up, and it’s back in the snake shed, where it will stay until my grass grows another couple of inches. I'm not interested in rushing into mowing season. I'll need to dig out my mowing dress.

My back pastures are closed off to the donkeys to let the grass have a fighting chance to grow before Diego and Carlos sink their teeth into it. This means I need to stay alert. The donkeys, no different from all the calves we've seen sneaking under the fences, know that the grass really is greener anywhere but in their holding pasture. I've been busy brushing out their winter coats but they're not too interested in letting them go yet. A red flag perhaps? Maybe we will have more snow. Once the donks feel spring right down to their recently trimmed toes, their winter coats will let go all over the pasture and my backyard. The birds can hardly wait. They'll fly down and snatch that hair for their nests.

I've had a considerable number of daytime-flying bats in my backyard. I love seeing the bats, knowing how they help keep the bugs away. I'm not sure why they’re flying in the daytime, but my guess is that they too have been watching and waiting for spring. The umbrella I put up on the back deck gives the bats a great hiding spot. I put the umbrella down each night, and when I roll it open in the morning there’s often a bat or two sound asleep inside. I don't know why they choose this instead of the bat house I put up for them.

Springtime means playtime for Louisa and the goats. Today they were running all around the yard, having a gay old time. Louisa, short fat legs and all, can climb up the two steps onto my porch where I've been known to take an afternoon siesta. There is nothing more unrelaxing than trying to nap with the goats stomping around, the pig grunting and pushing my chair to see if I've dropped any food, Finn lying on my belly, Raime herding the cats into the corner of the porch, and Téte barking because she wants to play. Somehow though, it all makes me smile. 

I almost forgot to mention the ten ducklings playing in the house! They’re living in a tub that sits in a crib in my bathroom. Every year I add to my flock. It's amazing to watch them, even at this young age, take a drop of water and make it into a puddle. So busy until they tumble over and fall asleep, one on top of the other. 

Having the babies in the house is a sure sign of spring!

P.S. Louisa went in her pool today. She almost broke it. Good thing I have two spare pools.

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

Easter Traditions Old and New

Peepers finds the first banana

Peepers finds the first banana

Excerpt From Jane's World

"One of the stranger Schmidt traditions was bopping hard-boiled eggs on someone else's head to crack them open. I'm pretty sure Jack thought this one up. My parents would yell at us not to break eggs open on each other's heads, but we didn't listen. If someone grabbed an egg out of the bowl on the kitchen table, you'd need to move fast or be bopped.

There was a distinct skill to opening eggs on your family members' heads. You had to hold the egg firmly in one hand and act quickly before the unsuspecting sibling could move away. One good hard smack on top of the head, just above the forehead, would do it.

The one Easter that stands out most for me is the year Jack and I thought it would be fun to dye a couple of raw eggs from the refrigerator when my mom wasn't looking. The problem was we didn't keep track of which eggs they were. The day ended with egg running down Grandpa Mike's face and Jack and I sitting in our separate rooms.

My family's Easter traditions didn’t survive to my adulthood. You'll never see me serving ham (thank Louisa, my pet pig, for that). I don't even dye eggs. If I did, I'd likely try to crack one open on Dane's head, and that would create a problem. Instead, I scramble up some of my ducks’ eggs and throw in onion, green pepper, and mushrooms for my Easter dinner.

However, I do have an Easter hunt with dog bones, carrots, apples, lettuce, and bananas. My animal family loves it. A new Schmidt tradition!" 

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

Stories From Jane's World

Not a Perfect Fit is now available! 

Buy it

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Book Readings ~

May 4, Thursday ~ Soldier's Grove Public Library 7 p.m.

May 9th, Tuesday ~ Lawton Memorial Library 6 p.m.

May 11th, Thursday~ Nisse House of Art, Westby. 6:00 p.m.

May 12th, Friday ~ City Styles Salon, Viroqua. 5:30 p.m.

May 13th, Saturday ~ Johnson's One Stop, Seneca. 9:30 a.m.

May 14th, Sunday ~ Arcadia Books, Spring Green. 2:00 p.m.

May 16th, Tuesday ~ Vernon Women's Alliance. 11:30 a.m.

May 18th, Thursday ~ Kelly's Coffee House, Richland Center.   5:15 p.m.

**Please check back for more readings and updates.

Hitting My Limit

excerpt from jane's world

While the president is making America great again, I decided to work on my part of making it kind again. Is it just me, or has everyone gone batshit crazy?

I feel like Henny Penny but instead of yelling the sky is falling, it feels like the world is falling apart. So much disagreement, disenchantment, and discontentment. Everyone appears eager to pick a fight and to blame others for it. I'm feeling about as low as I can go. I'm concerned about the golden rule we learned as children: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I went over this rule in my mind many times on a recent 14-hour drive with my youngest dog, Finnegan, who wasn't saying much. I kept asking myself, how do I want to be treated? My answers ranged from my first thought, “fairly,” to “with respect,” and everything in between. I want to be treated with compassion, love, honesty, and kindness. Don't we all?

My mom used to preach that compassion and kindness start in the home, and I agree. What we hear and see as young children from our parents makes a difference in our thoughts and actions later on as an adult.

Holding the door open for the next person, saying please and thank you, returning phone calls in a timely manner, and not saying anything unless you have something nice to say, seem fair game for starters. But as I drove on, my list started taking off in other directions. Before I knew it, the weight I was feeling on my shoulders settled into my foot, which was on top of the gas pedal.

I heard the sirens before noticing the red lights flashing in my rearview mirror. As I pulled over, Finn jumped up, interested in the sudden slowing down of the car and perhaps a shift in my pensive mood.

I rolled down the window, found my driver’s license, and took a few deep breaths. I said hello when the officer approached my window. As I handed him my license, I asked why he’d pulled me over. He said I was speeding. 

“But not by much, right?” I asked. 

I told him when I looked down my speedometer showed 62 miles per hour. He said that was because I slowed down when I saw him. He had clocked me at 67 m.p.h. I smiled and said, “A knee-jerk reaction, I guess!” He sorta smiled back. 

It was then I remembered the conversation I’d been having with myself before getting pulled over. If I wanted to start working on being kinder, I had to treat the officer how I wanted to be treated. 

Uh-oh, this was getting complicated. I didn't want a ticket. I started working out the math and politely pointed out the facts to him: “The speed limit is 55. If I was indeed going 67, I was only going 2 miles over the limit.”

I could tell by the way the officer’s face changed that he disagreed with my math. I decided to tell him how I figured it out: 55 is the speed limit; we get a free 10 miles over, and that equals 65; he said I was going 67 before I saw him; 67 minus 65 equals 2. I wanted to be honest.

After he busted the myth about a free 10 miles over and shared with me his math of 12 miles over the speed limit, he turned and walked back to his squad car. I decided right then and there I deserved the ticket. 

I felt even lower. I slumped in my seat. Finn hopped up as if on cue and gave my face two tiny licks before settling down again.

As I waited for my ticket, I had what seemed like plenty of time to go back to my list of how I want to be treated. Fairly. It seemed logical and fair that if I was breaking the law, I should get a ticket. Respect. There wasn't any problem there. I was being respectful and so was the officer. A few times we had spontaneously smiled and half-laughed together.

What I wanted to do was share with him my concerns about the world going berserk. I wanted to tell him my worries about people not getting along with each other, jumping too quickly to criticize, and judging before we have all the facts. After all, Finn is a dog and just doesn't get it, but the officer and I are two adult human beings.  

The officer came back and handed me my driver’s license with a genuine smile and said, “Here's a warning, Jane. Slow down and get back home safely.” 

As I thanked the officer and assured him I'd be more careful about driving the speed limit, I felt my lowness lifting. I thought about how easy it would have been for him to give me a ticket. After all, I deserved it. 

I was now wide awake, both hands on the wheel, sitting straight, and driving 55 m.p.h. Most important, I had a renewed sense of hope. Compassion and kindness might start at home, but we are given plenty of opportunities to practice them daily as we go about our lives.

I opened the glove compartment, grabbed one of Finnegan’s dog treats, and reached back to give it to him. I drove safely home, feeling lighter.

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

Jane shares blurbs from her weekly column in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout every week here. Occasionally she'll share the whole story. Locally you can pick up a paper at the Viroqua Food Coop.  May I suggest you bite the bullet and call 1-608-735-4413 to order a year's subscription to the paper for thirty measly dollars. Or you can always wait till Jane's next book comes out.

Finn-again!

Excerpt From Jane's World

Why must everyone wake me up? Do I look like I want to get up? No way! If I had my choice I’d sleep fifteen hours a day, go for a walk and play with my friends for four, eat and drink for two, take a nap for another two, and have my belly rubbed for one full hour.

I’m small and compact, built for sleeping and scouting out small animals. The truth is I could care less about ratting out a dumb mouse, but I do it. I try to maintain the high standards of being a rat terrier mix.

When I first came to live with my new mom, I thought she was obsessive about taking hikes, but I got used to it. I try to keep up with Téte, my sister, who has legs four times the length of mine, and I usually can. The best part is I can out do Téte when chasing a bunny. I can get through thickets more efficiently than she can. Of course, we’ve never caught a bunny yet. Mom would have a tizzy.

At night I sleep upstairs in my mom’s bedroom, under the covers. I wait until I hear her turn off the light, then I creep up the steep steps one at a time, jump up on the bed, and start rutting my nose under the covers until I can find a spot to slip in. This takes a while. Once under the covers I circle a few times, try to get as close to Mom as possible, and plop down. Pretty quickly, my lights are out, and I don’t want to move even an inch for the next fifteen hours.

But before I know it, everyone is awake and yelping. Téte is barking. Raime is pacing. Out back, the birds are squawking and Diego is neighing. And that darn cat, Monkey, is racing around the bedroom like he’s Jeff Gordon. I dig deeper under the covers and pray they all will just go away for the next seven hours. But they don’t.

Originally Published March 30th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Every week I share an excerpt from my column, occasionally the full story. A yearly subscription to the Crawford Count Independent is $30.

Road Trip

Excerpt From Jane's World

I like a good road trip, even if it's only a two-hour trip to Madison. There is always something interesting to see or do, along with some familiar sights.

One of the first things I yell out while driving east on Highway 14 is “Got ham!” I don't think we've ever made it through Gotham without my screaming this and Dane nearly driving into the ditch. I'm not sure why my exclamation continues to surprise him.

I still get a kick out of Peck's, Heck's, and Peck's, three vegetable and fruit sellers along the road. It seems so silly to me that they are so close together. I love to chant, "Peck's, Heck's, and Peck's" as we drive by. Often I've stopped at Peck's #1 to pet the animals. Heck's is worth a yearly visit to see if they have any cool new statues. They usually don't. 

Once I insisted we stop in the Firm Worm in Arena. I had been admiring the name for quite a while and finally convinced Dane to pull over. It was a real bust. The store didn't have anything of interest and the worms looked anything but firm. If you wanted to stock up on booze, though, it would have been worth a stop. Evidently, we weren’t the only ones not impressed with the Worm because it closed a short time later. Now it has reopened as the Crappie Shop. I've yet to check it out.

That same day, after leaving the Worm disappointed, we got back onto Highway 14. Dane had bought something nonalcoholic to drink, and we were on our way again. I was looking down when Dane suddenly yelled, “Holy crap!” as the car swerved sharply to the right and he slammed on the brakes. I glanced around, expecting to see a dead animal in the road. Dane had jerked the wheel as he shouted, and I thought surely we had run over something. 

Dane flung open the door, jumped out, and ran back in the direction we had come from, as I looked on in amazement, not quite believing my eyes. There was money everywhere! Money in the road, money floating through the air as cars rushed by, and money in the ditch. Other cars stopped as Dane ran around like a madman, grabbing the bills and shoving them into his pockets. 

I got out of the car, still stunned and trying hard to grasp the scene. Dane was shouting at the other people, “It's my money!” Pieces of the puzzle began to come together. Dane had left his wallet on top of the car when we drove away from the Firm Worm. The wallet eventually flew off, and all his cash flew out! I tried to assure Dane that people were only grabbing his money to try to help. It was all over the road by now, and every car that went by blew it around some more. Chasing down the flying bills was no easy feat.

I'm not sure how many singles Dane had in his wallet that day. It looked like at least a hundred dollars in one-dollar bills being tossed about. When all the money was finally accounted for, we walked up and down the ditch until we found his wallet.

We got on the road once more, and soon we were in Mazomanie, where I begged Dane to stop at the shop advertising “Black Hills Gold.” They have a silver section that we love looking at. I once found a sterling silver buffalo there and surprised Dane with it for his birthday. You’d think, if he wanted to throw his money around, that would be a better place to do it.

Unfortunately, Dane was still fuming over the wallet fiasco, not quite ready to laugh. I, of course, had been laughing nonstop for the past few miles.

The rest of the trip was pretty low-key. Dane eventually saw the humor in what had happened. After all, he did manage to recover all his money and his wallet. Now when we go on a road trip to Madison and pass that spot, instead of yelling out something obnoxious I poke him and throw my hand up like I'm tossing money out the window. Dane just flashes me his hundred-dollar smile.

Originally Published March 23rd, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Every week Jane shares excerpts from her weekly column, Jane's World. 

Into The Darkness

Excerpt Form Jane's World

There is darkness where yesterday there was light. There are sleepy seeds in my eyes where yesterday morning there were none. I grab my headlamp and stretch it around my head as I walk out my front door for morning chores.

In recent weeks I’d been enjoying doing chores without a headlamp’s band squishing my brain cells, and getting into the car in the morning without having to take baby steps with my arms straight out, feeling my way down the steps one at a time. But bam! What happened? Daylight Savings Time. I’ve been tossed back into blackness, and I’m having a mild meltdown.

Why can’t we take a vote on who wants Daylight Savings Time? One day you drive to work and it’s light and you can see a deer in the cornfield having an early morning snack. The next morning you’re slamming on your brakes in the dark when said deer finishes nibbling in the dark and suddenly appears in front of your headlights.

It’s disturbing and distressing. I’d like to experience the natural rhythm of our moon and sun without interference on our part.

I amused myself the other day by asking people what they thought led to our formal set-your-clocks-ahead-and back days. I heard everything from children going to school in the dark, farmers working in the fields, factory workers who needed to see daylight when they finished working, to two people who insisted it was for golfers. Golfers?!

Originally Published March 16th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Every week Jane shares excerpts from her weekly column, Jane's World.