Thunderstorms of Life

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I never used to be frightened during thunderstorms but I’m deathly afraid of them now. This seems odd because my hearing isn’t all that good, nor is my eyesight. But I can sense when a storm is coming, and lately that’s been in the evening when everyone is tucked in for the night. Everyone except me, that is.

I just about fall out of bed from the loud BOOM! of thunder. The house shakes and my ears and eyes go on high alert. Flashes of lightning illuminate my bedroom as rain pelts loudly on the skylight above my head. I’m sitting up now, listening as hard as I can to hear him above the noises of the storm

I try to stand up but my back legs aren’t working well, and what’s worse, my front legs are also starting to give out. It takes me two tries but I painfully push myself up and limp over to the bottom of the staircase. My eyes, clouded over with cataracts, gaze frantically toward the top of the stairs, willing her to wake up. My whole body is trembling with fear.

I throw my legs over the side of the bed and reach down for my pajama top as another clap of thunder rings through the thin walls of my attic bedroom. I pull the shirt over my head, feeling dizzy from the flickers of lightning that keep flashing throughout the dark room, making it look like an ’80s dance floor. I stand up, slip my PJ bottoms on, and do a quick head count. One dog is snoring under the covers. Another is squished under the clothes in my makeshift closet—she is panting but doing okay. I turn on the lights over the stairwell and creep down one step at a time, holding the railing tightly so as not to slip. 

There she is! I knew she’d come. I hobble to my mom’s side as she reaches the bottom step. My legs fail and I lean too hard against her, nearly causing her to topple over. With one hand she presses my head snug against her leg, and guides us over to the couch, where she sits down. Shamelessly I stick my head between her legs while she rubs my head and my ears and says, “Shhhh, it’ll be okay. I’m here. I’ll sleep with you.”

I arrange my pillow and blankets on the couch while the storm rages on. If I time my movements just right I don’t need to turn on a light—the lightning shows me everything I need to see. The living room has two walls with windows. I decided long ago that I didn’t want or need drapes, since no one lives near me. But tonight, for Raime’s sake, I wish I had them. The storm outside is scaring him. And the storm of aging that has begun to play havoc with his body and his senses is scaring me.

She has her blanket and pillow with her! That means she’ll sleep on the couch and keep one hand on me. She’ll pet me and talk softly to me until I collapse from exhaustion, lying on the floor next to her. I want to stop trembling but I can’t seem to control my body nowadays. Sometimes I even have an accident in the house. It’s so embarrassing. She never seems to get mad, just says, “Oops, something dropped,” and goes to get a Kleenex. It’s awful getting old and feeble. As a border collie I’ve hardly had a single day where I wasn’t working from sunup to sundown. But that’s been changing for a while now.

Every time my eyes start to close and I think Raime is beginning to relax, another round of booms and bangs makes him push his head further into my side, seeking comfort. I think of all the nights I’ve spent sleeping near him on the couch—when he first came to live with me fourteen years ago, whenever he’s been sick, and since he started to be afraid of storms. I eventually lose count and thankfully drift off to sleep.

I’m outside running! I can run fast and jump over the creek in a single bound. I’m Raime, superdog, and Mom teases me about tying a Superman cape around my neck. I feel invincible! I can keep my eyes on the donkeys so they don’t get out of the pasture while I’m watching the ducks and geese to make sure they don’t go too far down the creek. I can even take two minutes, when one of those darn cats comes sashaying over near me, to chase it back up toward the house. I’m Busy with a capital B and I love it!

I feel horrible waking him up. He’s sleeping so peacefully. I sit watching his legs twitch and I could swear he’s smiling. I’m glad to see that the storm outside has ended. But I know the storm inside his body rages on. I can see how hard it is for him to stand, and it breaks my heart. Raime, the dog who never stops working, the dog who is always busy. The dog who loves to be petted, who comes when he’s called, and never needs to be on a leash.

I startle when my mom’s leg touches me as she pushes herself off the couch. I must have finally fallen asleep and was dreaming. For a second I thought I was young and carefree again. The living room is light and that means morning. It also means breakfast—not that I’m hungry. Before trying to get up I glance behind me, hoping I haven’t left any surprises for Mom this morning. She’s smiling and petting my head, but she still looks tired. It takes everything I’ve got to stand up when she does and follow her to the door. I trip twice and I can hear my mom catch her breath. She worries about me and I know it hurts her to see me hurting. I put on my bravest face and soldier on, so as not to worry her any more than I already have.

Oh no, he can barely get up off the floor. He’s walking like he’s drunk...listing first to one side and then the other. 

I go outside and I see Mom watching from the door. She wants to see if I’ll use the ramp they built for me. I look at the ramp but instead take a flying leap off the steps. My front legs give out and I nearly fall flat on my face, but I’m able to maneuver my weak back legs to steady myself. I glance over my shoulder and my eyes lock into Mom’s. She knows I’m hurting—I can’t hide it from her. In fact, I know my body isn’t fit for this world anymore—but I haven’t told her yet. I will when I’m ready. I’m not ready to let go yet.

His body just isn’t fit for this world anymore. He’s in pain all the time now. I can tell. I don’t know what to do. I can’t bear to see him suffer. I will wait and watch. I will trust that he will tell me when he’s ready to let go. 

I never used to be afraid of thunderstorms, or of life, but I am now. I’d better talk to Mom soon. I’m so tired. I need to let go.

 

 

12/1/17 Raime let go at 3: 00 p.m. May he run free.

 

Letter to the Driver of the Red Truck

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From Jane's World

It’s my first morning drive to work after setting our clocks back. I’m relishing the fact that I am about to witness the darkness turn softly to light. I’m wondering what surprises today will bring. I’m thinking about a friend whose husband recently died, and how I saw four eagles the next morning and then learned that the eagle had been his favorite bird. 

I am driving and thinking and watching out for deer.

I have the windows closed and the radio isn’t on. Your headlights startle me at the same time the noise from your truck does. I look in my rearview mirror but all I see are bright lights. My concentration is ruined, the peacefulness of my early morning drive shattered. I adjust my rearview mirror so your headlights won’t be so annoying. I want to get back to focusing on driving and thinking.

It’s 6:30 a.m. on a desolate highway leading into town. It’s also rutting season. One week ago I was blindsided by a buck that ripped the windshield wiper off my car and cracked the grille; he rolled three times but was able to get up and run off. I stopped the car for a minute to get my heart rate to slow down. I got out and grabbed my wiper off the road and checked my front end for damage. As I drove away I thought both the deer and I got off easy. I was thankful.

But I’m not about to take chances of that happening again. I’ve already seen two bucks cross the road in my headlights on County SS this morning.

I manage to get back to my zen-like state after glancing at my speedometer a few times: 50, 51, 52 miles per hour. A decent speed for the time of day, the highway, and the season. I know better than to let you push me into a speed I don’t feel comfortable with. I refuse to let you bully me.

Did you know driving that close to a car’s back end is bullying? Also dangerous and crazy? If I need to stop suddenly for a deer there is no way in this quiet valley you can stop quickly enough without slamming the front end of your pickup into the back end of my car...and you’re bigger than me. 

Certainly our cars would get hurt and my guess is that we would too. I have my seat belt on, but do you? Hitting me at 50 mph without a seat belt could mean flying through your windshield. 

I had a neighbor who used to live on the ridgetop above me. On a morning similar to this one, where you insist on trying to scare me half to death, he was hit by another car. He doesn’t live near me anymore. He lives in La Crosse with a round-the-clock nurse who helps him maneuver his wheelchair, his breathing apparatus, and his life. He is a quadriplegic. 

The road winds back and forth; so does my car, and so does your truck. You have become a burr on my tail, a thorn in my side, a menace to society. For the most part I’m able to tune you out. I drive with both hands on the wheel. I am careful and acutely aware of my surroundings. I’m on high alert for bucks following the scent of the does without any regard for roads or cars. I don’t want to hit a deer—and I don’t want to be hit.

I haven’t slowed down and I’ve maintained my speed. It has become lighter out. I watch the car clock turn. You haven’t backed off of my rear end, and, after ten long minutes, I figure out you aren’t about to.

I start thinking about the new yellow lines they recently painted on this stretch of highway. Broken yellow lines were repainted into solid yellows. I think of this because I worry you are going to try to pass me on the double yellow and there isn’t anywhere I feel safe enough to pull over.

I’m driving and thinking that I have my First Responder certification. If you hit me and I’m able to move I will get out of my car and come back to your truck and help you if necessary. I will look, listen, and feel for your breath. I will carefully reposition your head to open your airway. I will... 

My thinking stops with the sound of your acceleration.  Your truck is so close beside me I could reach out my window and almost touch it. Then you swerve in front of me and wham, you slam on your brakes. I slam on mine. My head snaps. My brain is on fire. One minute I was wondering how I’d save you and now I’m hating you.

I dislike that you were able to take me to a place of anger. I was doing okay with your immaturity, impatience, and recklessness until that moment. My leg feels like it’s working one of those old-fashioned sewing machines―pump-pump-pump. I’m filled with adrenaline, and my heart is beating wildly against my rib cage.

I can see your taillights receding down the highway. I’ve readjusted my mirror. I’ve readjusted my attitude and I’m managing to drive. I’m getting back to thinking, and as I approach the city limits I can still see you ahead of me, already in the 25-mph zone.

My foot has stopped jerking and my heart rate has returned to normal. I pull up to the first stop sign in over ten miles and your truck is right in front of me.

Dear red truck driver, was that necessary? Can we all please agree to think while we’re driving?

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

When Nothing Is Something

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From Jane's World

Walking steadily uphill, our toes pointing almost toward the sky, our breathing quickens and feels heavier. The trees stand bare, ready for the cold, ice, and snow. The ground is ankle deep in dry leaves. Each slow step first pushes through the leaves with a swoosh, followed by a crunch when the foot hits the ground. At this lazy pace we are able to observe all the secrets of the woods.

It also gives each of us time to reflect on our own. 

Swoosh, crunch, swoosh, crunch, like a song on continuous play, we plod upward, lifting our feet over fallen trees, occasionally rolling our ankles or stumbling on rocks, acorns, and walnuts hidden under the heaps of leaves and autumn debris. As the hill starts to narrow, our hearts widen with the anticipation of walking on a hogback, our favorite type of land formation in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve: the spine of the hill, where the ground drops off steeply on both sides. 

We’re both feeling lucky to be back hiking on it.

The dogs are running back and forth but stop short of venturing down the slopes. Even with four legs, they seem to sense that they could go tumbling down. If we look one way we can see over Highway 131 and enjoy a panoramic view of the countryside outlined with hills, barns, and rock outcroppings. If we turn our heads the other way we are looking into endless trees, most standing bare, some with leaves, and others lying on the forest floor like a giant game of pick-up sticks.

Holding hands, we walk to the tip of the spine. The trail ends where a huge tree towers upward. Dane hangs on to its trunk with one hand while looking over the abyss. As if on cue, the dogs have also stopped at the drop-off. They sit while Dane and I start reminiscing about last year’s hike on the Jug Creek Trail. 

Only a year ago and the scene was quite different.

I was leading twice weekly exercise classes at the time and Dane was attending them. Although not the toughest of workouts it was tough enough, and we were both committed to going on short hikes with my pups most days of the week. On weekends it wasn’t unusual for us to walk the trails in the KVR for a few hours and many miles.

While we were ascending the Jug Creek Trail, before even getting to the hogback, I noticed Dane was no longer walking next to me. Surprised, I walked back to where he stood and asked what was wrong. 

“My chest hurts.”

“What do you mean it hurts?” I asked, my voice rising with concern. 

Dane started walking again and I kept questioning him. Soon I saw him place his hand on his chest. He stopped again. Dane claimed it was nothing but I knew it was something. Never in all our years of hiking together had Dane ever had to stop and rest. 

After the hike, I kept badgering Dane to call his doctor, and he did, but not till the next day. After seeing his doctor and having a stress test and cardiogram it was determined that one of his valves going into his heart was 100 percent blocked, and another nearly blocked. 

The dogs are getting anxious to start moving again, and we turn around to follow the spine back to where it widens into a loop through the woods before descending back down the hill. The sun is shining through the trees, and we hold hands until the trail tapers off, forcing us to walk single file. The dogs bound ahead of us as we kick through the leaves, swoosh, crunch, swoosh, crunch.

We both understand that Dane could have had a heart attack on last year’s hike, which could have resulted in damage to his heart or possibly even his death. Yet we haven’t talked about it until today. Dane never mentions it, but I think of it often. 

I could have been walking the hogback without him today.

The day after his test, Dane was admitted to Gundersen Lutheran, where he underwent outpatient surgery and had two stents put in. I had to teach that day so we agreed his brother would drive him to the hospital and I’d pick him up after class. When a few of the gals in the class asked where Dane was, I told them the truth. I don’t think they believed me, especially when he came to the next class two days later! Because Dane recognized the symptoms of a potential heart attack and went to the doctor quickly, he was able to get the help he needed and get right back into his work and life.

When we reach the car, we load up our tired dogs, and as we drive away we decide to christen the trail with a new name: Heart Attack Hill! 

If the woods could talk would they share our secrets? Do they know how grateful we both have felt to be walking together today in their presence?

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

Time Saving Strategies for Middle-Aged Women

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Excerpt From Jane's World

"My last tip may seem trivial. I assure you it’s not.

Remove your earring backs before trying to stick your earrings into the holes in your earlobes. After my hundredth failure at getting my earring to go in, I get frustrated and start thinking, Did the hole close after only ten hours? Did it get clogged with debris from not showering before bed? Am I aiming in the right spot? Maybe my ears shifted while I was sleeping? Not only is this a time-sucker but you will also start your day cranky as hell.

I’m here to tell you, no matter how many times you try to put your earring in, it will not fit through the hole with the earring back on. Plain and simple. Take them off before inserting. You’ll get to work on time and you’ll be in a much better place mentally."

Read the rest of this story in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout or wait to find it in Jane's next book! 

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

Pie Day

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From Jane's World

Waking up with my nose practically touching the ceiling and my eyes still closed to the day, I remembered that it was my first Pie Day—and in my eagerness, I sat up too quickly and bumped my head. I decided to drop and roll. 

I was living on Pa’s Road, near Bloomingdale, Wisconsin, in an off-grid, postage-stamp-sized cabin. Each evening I climbed a ladder to my sleeping bag in a loft that didn’t allow me the space to sit up, let alone stand. I was working part-time as a fitness instructor at the Heart Center in Viroqua, but I was about to start making pies for Ruth at Fleming’s Orchard in Gays Mills one day a week. “Pie Day” was my affectionate name for the Fridays I would spend there.

When I had met Ruth earlier in the year, she was cranky and crabby, having just stopped smoking after about a thousand years. She showed up one morning for a consultation because she thought she needed to start an exercise program, but seeing people using treadmills and lifting weights caused her to chuckle. After all, she had been caring for her home and her beloved apple orchard and store for years, doing good old-fashioned manual labor—outside, where, she said, exercise should take place. I agreed with her. 

Having taken advantage of the Heart Center’s warm running water that morning, I was squeaky clean and ready to do battle with her about why a scheduled exercise program might still be a good idea for her. I liked her instantly for her spunk and quick wit. I don’t believe the feeling was mutual since I was the one who wanted to get her on those “crazy exercise contraptions.” 

Maybe it was the smell of wood smoke on my clothes that finally won her over, but somewhere along the way, as I enticed her to try different exercises and explained how they could help her with her demanding job, Ruth started telling me about her life. She had been widowed twice and now she and her son ran the orchard. Before she left the Heart Center that day, I’d been offered a Friday job making apple pies. I worried about the hour-long drive, thinking I could easily run out of gas before getting there or have my car break down. Both were common occurrences in those days.

On that first Pie Day morning, after rolling over to the area where I could sit fairly comfortably, I inched out of my sleeping bag and put my socks on. Creeping down the ladder backwards, taking care to put my foot on each step, afraid of tumbling down, I could feel my excitement mounting at the prospect of starting my new job with Ruth. 

The drive from Bloomingdale to Gays Mills was gorgeous—and long! I started to think an overnight bag might be useful. 

Ruth showed me the kitchen that would be all mine, complete with everything a real house would have and that my cabin didn’t. I caressed the refrigerator as I gazed longingly at the stove and microwave oven. I managed to refrain from flicking the light switches on and off. After the tour of the kitchen, Ruth gave me her secret recipe card and was about to turn me loose for my first day of pie making.

“Wait a minute, Ruth,” I blurted. “Am I supposed to just start making these pies?” 

Ruth looked at me, raising an eyebrow. “That’s what you’re here for.”

“But I’ve never made a pie from scratch before.” 

Ruth’s reply went something like this: “You darn kid, that’s what you’re here for. Follow the recipe!” Off she went, leaving me to figure things out. 

The apple peeler seemed to have a mind of its own, peeling more than the skin no matter when I stopped cranking the handle. Every time I picked up my hunk of dough, one end would drop or my fingers would poke through. I ended up covered from head to toe in flour, and the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it.

Slowly, with the grace of God—or Ruth’s alter ego—watching over me, I learned to make one darn good apple pie.

I’m proud to say I still hold the record for making and baking 20 pies on one of my shifts! Even better than making those pies was selling them to the hordes of customers who would come to buy apples from Ruth’s store. I cut the pieces larger than I should have and told anyone who ordered a slice, “I made this here pie myself!” 

Snacking on all those apple chunks between peeling them and putting them in the pie shell kept my hungry belly full. I never did tell Ruth about the snacking, but I’ll bet she knew and figured it was part of the deal. 

Pie Day was a huge blessing for me. It gave me much-needed income during a challenging time in my life, and Ruth became a lifetime friend. It turned out that she wasn’t nearly as cranky or crabby as I’d originally thought!

Originally Published November 9th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Plan B

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From Jane's World

The fog is so thick I can’t see the rain falling or the big lake that I know is across the street. The world is gray and shapeless; the only distinguishing feature is the outline of the trees becoming visible as the sun tries to penetrate the darkness. Dampness seeps in through the metal screen door while rain pelts the tin roof and thunder booms and cracks around us. 

Dane and I are on vacation.

I awoke this morning thankful we’re not in the tent. At the eleventh hour, I broke down and reserved a tiny house. Looking ahead at the weather forecast, I felt we’d need a solid roof over our heads. I’m not disappointed. I hold my mug of hot chocolate in both hands next to my chest, and its warmth soaks into me as I sit watching out the screen door. Will the sun poke through the grayness? Will there be a glimpse of blue? Will the birds ever start to sing again?

My mind drifts back to nights in my tent that seemed like they would never end. On one of those nights, I was on a Bike Wisconsin trip, a week of touring the state by bicycle with others. I was warned about storms that evening and could have easily moved inside to shelter, but I was younger and foolish. Also, I needed privacy. I preferred to sleep with my head on the ground. So I decided to stick the night out in my tent rather than with hundreds of mature and smart bicyclists all hunkered down and sleeping peacefully inside the school building gymnasium, halls, and auditorium. 

After each full day of biking, our gear was laid out on the playground pavement in a sea of colors stretching from one side of the playground to the other. Rows and rows of duffel bags, backpacks, and even a wheeled suitcase or two. Once I snagged my bag, I’d stake out my spot away from the masses and quickly set up my tent. I wanted to get to the showers before the hot water was used up. Freshly showered meant time to eat. Each school where we stayed not only provided showers but also had a group making and serving us dinner to help fund their projects.

This particular evening, I waddled outside after dinner, feeling full with the good kind of tired you get from a long day of pedaling the back roads of Wisconsin. The sky had grown dark, the atmosphere thick and dreary during my absence. Soon, a voice over the loudspeaker urged tenters to get indoors. The speaker was mounted to the SAG (supplies and gear) vehicle, and someone was driving through the makeshift campsite warning us of a coming thunderstorm. “Grab your sleeping bags and head inside!” Mass pandemonium ensued. People were trying to walk-jog with their bikes, hanging on to their sleeping gear, as big fat drops of water began to fall from the sky.

But I decided to tough it out and stay in my tent. Not long after, the rain became serious, loud, and continuous. Lightning and thunder flashed and bellowed, and there I was, on my knees, my tent too small to let me crouch on my feet in the traditional lightning safety stance. I moved all metals as far as I could away from my body. Although thrilled that my tent wasn’t taking in water, I was terrified at each flash and crash as the storm raged on through the early evening into the night. I found myself praying, making promises, and chanting “Please stop” like an eight-track tape stuck in a loop.

I don’t recall sleeping. I do recall the next day being murderous as I tried to pack up my drenched tent and forced myself to get back on my bike and pedal fifty miles of Wisconsin’s loveliest roads with my eyes heavy from lack of sleep.

A similar ordeal was in 2006 on a solo backpacking trek across Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Only this time I was backpacking and had no choice but to stay inside my tent. I was hunkered down for the evening in the Hatchet Lake Campground off the famous Greenstone Trail, without another person or tent in sight, when a kick-ass storm blew in. My body was shaking, my teeth were rattling with fear. I was petrified as the wind whipped, dropping rain-soaked tree branches around me while the lightning and thunder seemed to be playing encore after encore to roaring fans. I made it out alive the next day—barely, it seemed.

This morning, stepping into the gloom of the day outside the tiny house door, I notice my hot chocolate has turned cold. Setting down the cup, I shake my head and think, Thank goodness I had a plan B. Although not too old to sleep in tents, I’m grateful I’m no longer foolish enough to try to sleep outside in storms if I don't have to.

After all, we’re on vacation!

Originally Published November 2nd, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Best of the Best

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Excerpt From Jane's World

"While some people search for the best bloody mary, or, here in Wisconsin, maybe the best fish fry, I’ve been on the lookout for the best caramel apple—with nuts.

The challenge with finding the best caramel apple versus the best bloody mary or fish fry is that you don’t have all year to look. At best you have thirty to ninety days in the fall. I should know. I’ve been searching out caramel apples since I was nine years old and waiting for all of my permanent teeth to come in—my apple-eating teeth."

Read the rest of this story in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout or wait to find it in Jane's next book! 

Originally Published October 26th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Surprises

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From Jane's World

When I hear the words “Come, there’s something I want to show you,” my heart rate speeds up. Anticipation washes over me, starting at my feet and bubbling out the top of my head—or so I imagine.

I have said these words to Dane before showing him a hoard of round turtle eggs in the back pasture uncovered by a flood, the bright orange beaks of baby swallows waiting for their mom to come feed them, or the magnificent Queen of the Prairie flowers I once stumbled upon in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

Dane has said these same words to show me a huge snapping turtle that made its way to my mailbox, a Little Free Library in the middle of nowhere, or the first pasque flower of the season, hidden in a nook on his farm.

On a quiet morning about a year ago, when my valley was still heavy with fog, the grass wet with dew, and spider webs glistening, I was busy with morning chores when Dane walked up from the creek saying those intoxicating words: “Come, there’s something I want to show you.” He grabbed my hand and together we walked through tall grasses, over logs, branches, and rocks that were out of place since the recent flooding, dodging the ducks and geese that were following along, curious as to where we were going.

Dane was pointing toward the ground. I had to look twice before I glimpsed a patch of orange peeking out from under heavy green vines. I squealed with excitement, “Pumpkins!” I hadn’t planted pumpkins. As Dane uncovered more pumpkins my excitement grew. “Where did these come from?” Dane pointed out the ever-growing compost pile from Louisa the pig and the ever-growing flock of ducks and geese that hang out there. Volunteer pumpkins, compliments of my pumpkin-eating animal family!

We each carried a smooth, perfect pumpkin back to the house and set it on the porch rail. Later we took the wheelbarrow back to gather the rest. These unexpected pumpkins were one of my greatest highlights of 2016.

I've been eagerly watching the compost pile this spring and summer, waiting for new volunteers. First come the telltale vines, next the beginnings of the sweet flower, until finally a full orange blossom appears.

For the first time since living here, I mowed a path to the compost pile, ultimately ending at the little pool in the creek we call the Hidey Hole. Faithfully I’ve followed that path this year, in downpours with my rain jacket keeping me dry, through the mud with my rubber boots protecting me, and on gorgeous sunny mornings still in my favorite red house slippers.

My drives this fall—to and from work on Highway 56 toward Richland Center, or in the other direction heading out to Sidie Hollow for a hike, or going through Coon Valley on the way to La Crosse—have been rich with sightings of pumpkins for sale. Pumpkins in the back of old trucks, pumpkins on flat wagon beds, and pumpkins in enormous corrals made with wood frames. Usually they are priced by size: one dollar for the smallest, three bucks for the largest, and two for anything in the middle.

I find myself tempted to stop when I see all these roadside pumpkins, but there is no need. I feel like I’m going to burst with the secret anticipation of this year’s compost-pile pumpkins. I imagine joyful pumpkins flying out from the top of my head as I do the happy look-we-have-pumpkins dance.

On my most recent walk down the now somewhat overgrown path, I can hardly keep from skipping. Today I’m sure there will be pumpkins. I can see the patch, the twisted green vines, and the deflated orange pumpkin blossoms, but I still can’t see the pumpkins. I search high and low, under and over, and to the other side of the compost pile. No pumpkins.

Slowly it dawns on me: Louisa has managed to re-eat all her recycled pumpkins before they became adults. Like the blossoms on the vines, I feel myself deflate. I try to remind myself, as I slog back up to the house, that this too is a surprise. I smile, thinking of what kind of fence I'll need to put up next year and how surprised Louisa will be when she finds it.

Originally Published October 19th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Bee Alert!

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Excerpt From Jane's World

"As we all started to breathe more easily I had a moment to reflect. It’s impossible to know what each day will bring when living a life surrounded by life. Most days here are peaceful, with the goats and Louisa hanging out under the crab apple tree, the ducks and geese splashing in the hidey hole, Téte napping in her wicker chair on the porch, the cats snoozing on the woodpile or in their baskets on the swing, and the donkeys lying side by side in a sunny spot in their pasture."

Read the rest of this story in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout or wait to find it in Jane's next book! 

Originally Published October 12th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Cheaters by the Dozen

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From Jane's World

I’ve sat on my reading glasses, stepped on them, and accidentally kicked them across the room. Finnegan, my rat terrier mix, has mistaken my reading glasses for teething toys ever since his razor-sharp permanent teeth came in.

I’m not good at hanging on to glasses. I think of Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I buy a pair of cheater readers, I misplace them. I buy a pair of glasses, I break them. My friend gives me her not-strong-enough readers, and Finn destroys them.

I’m known to walk around patting either the top of my head or the front of my shirt, groping for my glasses. I’m perpetually in motion, searching for them—which brings to mind Newton’s first law: An object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by another force.

My eyes are becoming weaker as I age. I can no longer read recipes without my reading glasses. I’ve ruined meals by adding 1 3/4 cup water when it should have been 1 1/3. My first pair of readers had a strength of 1.0. I’m now at 4.0. I fear the end is near.

I spend an obscene amount of time looking for my glasses. I run from my office to the kitchen, into the bathroom, over to the couch, out to my car, downstairs to the washer and dryer, and, worst-case scenario, to the pig or duck pen, trying to figure out where I left them. I don’t want to hang them on a chain around my neck. I had one once—it made me feel like I was choking, and I took it off. It is lost now too, never to be found.

Recently, when I was about to dump and refill the duck’s water bowl, my glasses plopped off the top of the head and into the bowl. Did you know ducks can fill a bowl full of mud quicker than you can misplace your favorite reading glasses? Good thing the hose was already on.

Later, I turned around to flush the toilet and plop, in they went, this time from the front of my shirt. In high school, I tried archery and could never even get close to hitting the target. My accuracy for dropping my glasses into feed, water, toilet, and fish bowls astonishes me. 

I went to a real eye doctor once. He told me I could continue to get away with readers or I could get a pair of bifocals that I’d keep on my face. I figured there was less chance of losing glasses that stayed on my face, so I gave it a try. Wrong—three days and they were gone. Lesson learned. I’ve been a cheap cheaters convert ever since.

I’m notorious for buying multiple pairs of glasses. I always buy the cheapest ones I can find, and I never bother trying them on in the store. Dane asked me why I don’t try them on before buying. I answered, “I don’t care what they look like on me.” Boldly, he replied, “I do. I’m the one that has to look at you.”

A store in La Crosse sells six pairs of decent-looking glasses for $12.99. I find it maddening because they offer three different packaged assortments, and each package contains exactly one pair that I like. This makes for a long-drawn-out decision process that Dane would rather not witness. The last time we came home after one such ordeal he marched over to the calendar, pen in hand, looking smug.

“What are you doing?” I asked. 

“Marking six pair of glasses on the calendar. I want to see how long it takes you to lose or destroy them.” Funny guy, that Dane.

Later, pulling out of a parking lot after taking the pups for a hike, we heard a disturbing loud crunch. I opened my door and Dane opened his. We both walked to my side of my car, and there was the best pair of glasses in that bunch I had just bought, lying on the pavement. They were a beautiful dark aqua blue that reminded me of the Caribbean. Now they were crunched beyond recognition. I’m in the habit of leaving my car keys on top of a tire so I don’t lose them on the trail. I had set my new glasses there with them for safe keeping.

Dane looked at me, held up the index figure of his right hand, and said, “One down.” It was a quiet ride home. He marked it on the calendar when we got there.

Dane has found my glasses under his car seat, out in the pasture, and sitting on a fence post. I’ve found them under my car seat, in the lining of my winter jacket, and on top of the garbage can that holds the duck feed. I’ve not only laundered my glasses, I’ve also put them through the dryer. I’m shocked when I find them intact among the clean laundry. I’m thrilled when I discover them lying on a trail in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. I always stop and look down, thinking, could those be my glasses?

If I had an engineering background I’d get busy designing a device that would beep and blink when I misplace my glasses. Like those clap-on, clap-off lamps, all I’d need to do is clap, then follow the beeping and flashing to my glasses. Once it was perfected, I’d sell the patent and become rich. There’s a whole lot of bad reader glasses karma out there.

A friend told me about the dollar store, where she buys her reading glasses for a buck. A buck! The next day I drove there, and sure enough, one dollar for a pair of cheapo readers. A perfect price to pay when you couldn’t care less how they look on your face and you know they’re doomed to a short existence anyway.

My house is now well stocked with reading glasses. Two near the computer, a pair in the bathroom, another upstairs in my bedroom, one in the kitchen, and one more on the end table in the living room. I even have a pair in the car—or at least I did last Monday. Today is Sunday. Two pairs left and counting.

I wonder if I’d qualify for eye surgery. In the long run, I think it would be cheaper.

Originally Published October 5th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout