Dreaming of Color

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From Jane’s World

I’ve lived over half of my life surrounded by “renter white” walls. I started dreaming of color around thirteen years ago, the day I purchased my own home.

During this period, as a single woman, I was interested in attracting a companion. I studied feng shui and the Law of Attraction, and I read a book called If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path.

I was anything but enlightened when I drove to Nelson Agricenter in Viroqua and asked Loann, the paint department manager, to mix me up the brightest fuchsia paint possible. I told her I’d learned that by painting my bedroom walls a hot deep pink color I would attract a partner. Loann merely nodded when she handed me my paint, leaving me to think perhaps I’d shared too much information.

I painted my bedroom and waited. After six months I drove back to Nelson’s and informed Loann that nothing had happened other than I was dead tired. Even with my eyes closed that wild fuchsia seeped through and brought me sleepless nights, but no partner. I was ready to switch the color to something more calming and conducive to a good night’s sleep. I choose a dusty pale blue and slept soundly,  alone.

Back then my motto was “Paint is cheap!” Whenever I needed a boost in my spirits or a change in my life, I’d paint. Loann soon knew me by my first name, and my walls became a canvas for color after color.

But things change, and by the time I had attracted a lifetime partner (rich spicy orange—who knew?!) paint was no longer cheap and Loann had retired.

Recently I headed to Nelson’s again for the best deal in town, their annual “Buy one gallon and get one free” paint sale. I had decided it was time to honor my longtime dream of having the outside of my house painted the colors of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace. For years I had been telling anyone who’d listen that I felt every prison, every teenager’s room, and every couples’ counseling office should be painted those colors. If they were, I’d claim, there would be less fighting, less sassiness, and more loving. By using those colors on my own home I’d be promoting peace and a deep sense of wellness in my neighborhood, not to mention providing a much needed burst of color! I already knew my donkeys, pig, goats, ducks, geese, cats, and dogs would benefit from all that good feng shuiness.

As luck would have it, Loann, disguised as a cowboy, had come out of retirement to help with the biggest sale of the year. I asked Loann more questions than I should have on such a busy day, and had her look up my past colors in her computer to make a few updates.

I hovered around the paint counter for so long I began to sweat. Finally I started making my color choices, but soon it became more difficult. Somewhere along the way, I’d decided it was time to repaint every room inside the house too.

I had ten gallons of paint in my shopping cart but that was only enough for the exterior of my home. I needed at least ten more gallons for the interior, but the limit was ten on the two-for-one deal.

I waited and caught Loann’s attention. “Loann, Dane and I don’t live together. He has a farm in Readstown eleven miles from me. He does stay over a couple of days a week though.”

Loann glared at me, her mouth open, her fake mustache twitching.

I continued, “We have separate money. I mean, he works and I work. I mean, his money is his and mine is mine. Would he be able to get, with his money, but not for his house, ten more gallons of paint? I mean, you know, they’d really be for my house.”

Once again, too much information. More glaring and twitching, but she nodded yes. A small screech of joy escaped me, startling the people who by then had gathered around the paint counter to listen. I practically ran to the checkout counter with my ten gallons of exterior paint.

In the car I called Dane. “Hi babe, I need you. I mean you need to come to town. You’ll need your wallet. I’ll pay you back.”

“What?”

“Loann said you could buy five gallons of paint and then get five free to use for my house. You don’t need to live with me.”

“What?”

“Today. The sale ends today. Okay? It’s all ready and set aside. It’s interior eggshell paint. I can bring it back for the colors later. Thanks, babe. Hurry!”

A colorful month later I notice I’m more cheerful, and my neighbors all wave gaily when they pass by. And after eleven years of dating, Dane and I have had rings made for each other (thank you, spicy orange!) out of Michigan greenstones. I’m happy to say I no longer dream of color—I’m surrounded by it!


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

Home

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From Jane’s World

I’ve often heard the saying, “Home is where the heart is,” but is it?

Last weekend my family worked like oversized ants and in five hours moved my mom’s belongings from the apartment she’d lived in for the past three years into her new assisted-living home. While Mom was spending her last day in a dungeon-like care center where she’d been receiving rehab for a broken arm, the result of a fall, we hung her pictures and shower curtain, folded her afghan over her lift chair, carried in her red loveseat, washed her bed linens and made her bed, watered her plants and arranged them, and organized her drawers. We also bought fresh fruit, cleaned off her toaster, made sure she had peanut butter, and placed a bouquet of flowers in her favorite vase on the kitchen table.

We were excited for Mom. She would have a lovely apartment with three nutritious, home-cooked meals a day, and if she needed help, any at all, she could push a button on a cord around her neck and the friendly, professional staff would assist her.

After getting Mom settled, I was surprised when the staff invited us to stay for a fish and shrimp dinner. We dined at round polished wood tables decked in white linens and flowers, with Mom and 19 other folks who live in the facility. My heart swelled to have found such a wonderful home for her.

Mom mentioned she wasn’t happy to have to dine with a bunch of old people. Trying for levity, I pointed out that she was 92 and might well be the oldest. “I am not!” she scowled. My heart deflated as she declared the soup cold and asked to go back to her room. Mom was tired and wanted to go to bed. As I tucked her in we practiced using the call button. I kissed her good-night, turned off the light, and closed the door to her new home.

Weeks earlier, my niece had moved her mom—my sister, Jill—into her new home at a memory care facility in Waterford, Wisconsin. Sam took a lot of care to move Jill’s family photos and favorite keepsakes. Jill, who suffers from early Alzheimer's, had been living independently in a home she had owned for 16 years. Falling, confusion, and forgetfulness made it unsafe for her to remain there.

The morning after we moved my mom, Dane and I drove to Waterford to visit Jill. She came out to greet us wearing a long, bright blue skirt and a slim gray sweater that matched her thick, wavy gray hair. “How did you do that?!” Jill cried, coming toward me with open arms. “How did you surprise me?”

Sitting hip to hip on the couch in one of the many sitting rooms, I handed Jill a copy of my book, Finnegan’s Springtime Guide. She held it upside down, studying it intently as I pointed to sandhill cranes, bluebells, and marsh marigolds. Jill clapped for the flowers.

We walked the hallway to her room, which she calls “my house.” I asked Jill how she was doing; as always, she replied, “Oh, not so good, but how are you? Tell me about what you do.” I commented on her newly manicured nails. She sat up straighter, crossed her arms, and told me she was a model and that “They do that here.” Enjoying the moment, I snapped a few pictures and we shared a few laughs.

When it was time to leave, we stopped at the front door and I told Jill I’d be back next weekend to visit. I asked if there was anything she’d like me to bring her. “You,” she answered. “Just you.” The attendant kept my sister from following me out. Jill’s eyes were red and wet with tears. They matched mine.

Before heading home, we visited my mom again. She was sitting in her chair after a sleepless first night in her new home. She wasn’t happy with the way we’d arranged her apartment. There were too many pictures on her wall, and she’d had to eat breakfast with those people whom she couldn’t even understand. When I asked what they’d served for breakfast she replied, “A cold hamburger.”

I moved plants and rearranged knickknacks, tried to locate her glasses, and talked with Mom while she ate her lunch in her room, of turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans. But mostly I listened to how horrible everything was there. After all, it wasn’t the home she had left when she had her fall.

Finally, exhausted, I kissed her goodbye and told her I’d be back next weekend. “Lock my door,” she said. “Why do they keep leaving my door open? I want it locked.”

On the way out I stopped in the kitchen and asked what they had served for breakfast. “Homemade blueberry muffins, eggs, hash browns, and fresh fruit. Your mom ate well.”

Turning onto County Road SS, the last leg of this whirlwind weekend trip, Dane and I were greeted by a flock of turkeys and more deer grazing in the cornfield than I could count. We passed my friend’s house and in her front yard were two sandhill cranes. Smiling, I knew my home is where my heart is. But sometimes it’s only where you hang your hat.

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

Finnegan, the Escape Artist!

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From Jane’s World

Finnegan, my 13-pound rat terrier mix, isn’t allowed to run free when I’m not home because I don’t want him getting dognapped. So I’m shocked when I pull into the driveway and see Finn sitting on the front porch.

Still in my car, I wave my finger at him, saying, “Didn’t your Papa put you in your kennel this morning?” Finnegan can’t hear me but he stands and wiggles every inch of his body with glee.

Finnegan’s outdoor kennel contains two big doghouses stuffed with straw on top of old yoga mats, and sports an open-sided roofed structure in the middle to provide shelter from sun and rain, along with his water and food bowl. We’ve made it as comfortable as we can, and we tie the gate shut to keep him inside it while we’re away.

Later that evening Dane calls and I tell him Finnegan was sitting on the step when I came home. Dane insists he locked Finn in and tied the gate with binder twine as usual. When I go out to do chores that night I take a close look at the scene of the crime. The gate is ajar and the twine is on the ground. Dane must have forgotten to tie it shut.

***

Mom's not home. It’s just Papa, Téte and me. Oh no, Papa’s packing up his computer and calling my name. Now he’s picking me up and...I know what this means. If Mom's not home and Papa has to leave, I’ll have to go in the kennel—but my sister, Téte, won’t. It’s so unfair. I’m gonna run away.

***

My work day ended early. I’m excited to get home and have time to chill out before chores. Pulling into the driveway I spot Finnegan sitting on the porch again, right where he was the last time. “Why, you scamp! What are you doing outside your kennel again?” Finn's body betrays his guilt: his head hangs and his eyes look up at me like a child caught writing with crayons on the bedroom wall.

Téte comes barreling over to greet me, but Finn stays put and watches me walk to the kennel. He knows I’m trying to find out how he managed to get out. I walk along the fence looking for holes he may have dug to crawl out, but I can’t find any. The gate is open again, about the width of a four-legged, 16-pound Houdini. The binder twine is lying on the ground nearby. I leave it there, with the other piece of twine, to show Dane when he comes over.

***

Mom’s looking at the fence. She seems kinda mad but also curious. Maybe she’s looking for new holes I dug. I’m a good hole digger! But today I had other things on my mind...like leaving my kennel and hanging out on the porch with Téte, who never even has to even go into the kennel. I should have run away when I had the chance.

***

“Are you sure you’re tying the twine tightly when you put Finn in the kennel?”

“Of course I am. I always tie a square knot so it’s easier for you to get open.”

“Weird—Finnegan was on the porch again when I came home and I can’t find any new holes. We have rocks on top of all the ones he’s dug before.”

“Well, I know I’ve been careful about securing the gate with the twine.”

“So have I!”

***

Over the next two weeks, three more times I come home to find Finnegan not where he is supposed to be. Each time I examine the kennel like Nancy Drew and question Dane. As usual, Téte, who must know what Finnegan is doing, isn’t talking.

***

I’m in trouble now. I saw Papa studying the ropes by the gate on my kennel. He picked them up and is taking them into the house to show Mom. They’re gonna be so mad at me, I’ll be grounded for the rest of my life. Téte, that brat, will be gloating and laughing at me. I’m gonna hide in the basement.

***

On a Sunday afternoon I’m in my office writing when the front door opens. Dane is calling for me to come and see what he has. When I walk into the kitchen he shows me five pieces of twine—the exact number of times Finnegan has managed to escape his kennel! Smiling, Dane points out his perfect square knot in all five of them. I’m trying to wrap my head around how the knot can still be tied when Dane turns the bundle over to reveal the frayed ends of the twine. Finnegan chews through them!

Laughing at Finnegan's ingenuity and our slowness to catch on, and cracking jokes about the quality and quantity of fiber in Finn’s diet, we call for him.

***

I hear Mom and Papa calling me. They sound cheerful, not angry. Maybe I should go and see them. It’s kinda dark in the basement and I miss Téte, even though I’m still jealous of her freedom.

***

“Finnegan, there you are. Come here you smart, smart dog you! You sure had us baffled at how you keep getting out of the kennel. We’ve been worried that you’ll get dognapped or even run away. Thank goodness you’re here. We love you so much, we want you to be safe and sound until we get home.”


Tonight, when I snuggled between Mom and Papa under their blanket, Téte jumped up on the bed and just about broke my head, as usual. Only this time I didn’t get mad. I overheard Mom and Papa talking. Tomorrow Téte will have to come in the kennel with me to keep me company! I’m glad I have a family that cares about me and wants me to be safe. Sweet dreams!



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

Puppyhood

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From Jane’s World

There is no middle ground: Either you don’t have a clue there’s a five-month-old puppy in the house, or you’re made fully aware of his presence.

Ruben is a mutt from Mexico who found his way to my home and heart over a month ago. There is no turning back for Ruben or for me.

The first week, Ruben had to adjust to the snow, cold, and car rides. The base of his life before Wisconsin was sand; the surround, sunshine with warm rains. Ruben’s mid-sized brown- and black-streaked paws also had to adjust to ice. His favorite place to sleep in the house was over the heating vents.

Car rides to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve for hiking with his new friends, Téte and Finnegan, were full of adventure. Not big enough to jump into the car like his buddies, he’d stand with his front paws inside the car, waiting for a lift. Once in the backseat he’d copy Finn and stand gazing forward out the front window, wondering, I suppose, How are we moving and where are we going?

Ruben has had three vet appointments for an overall wellness check and subsequent vaccinations. He’s slowly starting to recognize Dr. Bass and Terri as the dog-bone/peanut-butter-on-a-spoon people. Not a bad way to know your doctor and her associate. The fact that Ruben had to have all his shots again in the United States was a bit frustrating. But now he’s been declared a healthy puppy with strong back legs. He’s already gained five pounds of pure muscle and at least two inches in height for a lean, not-so-mean, still in that floppy stage puppy.

Since day one Ruben has slept in his box straight through the night, not waking the family until morning. His appetite is bigger than that of any dog I’ve ever known, so much that I thought about naming him Hoover. He goes around the house like a powerful vacuum cleaner, sucking anything edible into his mouth. It’s not becoming, but it does save me housekeeping time.

When Ruben and Finnegan, rat terror extraordinaire, decide to play, everyone this side of Highway SS knows it. They race back and forth, leaping onto the couch, Ruben using the fireplace mantel as his personal launching pad, tearing around a trunk I use as a coffee table, then up into a chair, over its back, and around again. Their squeals and growls proclaim a type of happiness only true dog lovers can appreciate.

Téte, big ol’ hound dog gal, takes a different approach to playing. She lies down and tolerates Ruben biting her tail, her legs, her ears, anything he can fit partly into his mouth, until she starts a low, playful guttural noise and starts to bite back. It looks like a version of Jaws. Both of them snap and clack their teeth and occasionally startle me when I hear a real cry ring out. All this time Téte barely moves, lying there on her back or side and just using her paws and mouth. Ruben already idolizes Téte—which, if you remember how naughty Téte can be, is frightening.

Gone are my days of tranquil Epsom salt and lavender oil baths. Ruben comes in and stands on his hind legs, his two front paws hanging over the edge of the tub, and obsessively licks any body part he can reach. Téte seems to egg him on in this disturbing game, while good-boy Finnegan uses the opportunity to take a nap on the couch. Closing the bathroom door isn’t an option because Ruben is too young yet to understand my deep low “No” through the door as his paws scratch on the wood, trying to get in.

Nevertheless, the other evening I managed to drift off in the tub for a moment, until I heard the sound of water being slurped. When I opened my eyes, Ruben’s and Téte’s velvety black ears were hanging forward, their tongues in the water, and Monkey Butt—world’s greatest all-black cat adopted from the Driftless Humane Society—was perched on the ledge, maneuvering to get his tongue close enough to the water’s edge for his own drink. The sight of six eyes and three different-sized pink tongues was too stimulating for me to return to my tubby-time nirvana, and out I got—only to have all three animals start licking my legs as I hopped from foot to foot, swatting at them and yelping “No!” through my laughter.

Puppyhood is full of rewards, such as late-night and early-morning cuddles, when Ruben snuggles into my chest, lays his head on my shoulder, and falls deeply asleep; or when he gets the zoomies when we’re all out hiking and makes us all giggle at his crazy antics. But maybe the best reward ever is when I’m typing a story while the three mutts are playing hard, and then it gets so quiet I worry they are into something—and I find them all fast asleep on the couch.

Like I was saying, you either know you have a new puppy in the house or you don’t. But either way, Ruben is here to stay.


Originally Published April 4th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Falling

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From Jane’s World

Mom is slumped in a hospital bed that seems all wrong for her tender body. The bed curves forward in a cruel smile. I try pulling her up so her head rests on the pillow. Her body is weak from disuse and she’s unable to help me. After the third attempt she is too tired to try again, nor does she care. I pull her wheelchair closer to the bed and sit in it to hold her thin, warm hand.

The room is stifling hot. No sunlight penetrates the curtain that separates my mom from her roommate, whose bed is near the window. My mom lies on her back, her eyes closed, her hands tucked into the waistband of her sweatpants, her mouth constantly moving as she drifts off to sleep. Next to the bed is an end table with a lamp I can’t turn on. The dark is pressing in on us.

I find an aide in the hall who tells me she needs to help someone else but comes into my mom's room to have a look anyway. She finds the lamp unplugged but no outlet to plug it into. My stomach sinks further till I fear it will fall out between my legs.

Mom broke her arm in a fall and now she’s in a care center. She wants to be anywhere but here. I and the rest of the family want her to be anywhere but here. But it’s a done deal. The place we'd like Mom to be has refused to admit her, saying they can’t do anything more for her than the care center she is currently at.

It’s a nice way of saying that the last time my mom fell and went there, she refused to do the physical therapy. When they tried to make her do it, she told anyone and everyone where to go. Now she is blacklisted there, and she is busy telling everyone at the current rehab place where they can go. She’s not suggesting anywhere pleasant.

Mom, age 92, lived independently in her own apartment with her own furnishings. But she caught her walker on a throw rug, fell, and broke her dominant arm. If she can’t use that arm, she can’t push her walker. She doesn’t have the strength (or balance) for a cane, and lying in bed telling everyone where they can go has made her lose the strength she once had.

Getting old isn’t easy. I’m also learning it’s not kind. The rehab center is full of overworked and underpaid help. If my mom wants assistance to the bathroom, she needs clairvoyance to predict her situation at least thirty minutes in advance. Therefore Mom, who until this incident lived alone and managed all her calls of nature perfectly well, is now in diapers.

I try to stay positive to encourage Mom to do her physical therapy, but it isn’t working. Lying in bed, pretty much helpless, she can still wear me down. One minute, she claims she does everything they tell her to do; the next, the social worker or the therapist is pulling me aside to say, “She refuses to do anything we ask.”

Part of me wants to scream, “She’s 92! Let her do whatever she damn pleases.” The other part of me yells back, “Darn it, Mom, please, do your therapy so we can get you home.”

But there’s the problem. At the age of 92, after lying in a bed for over 5 weeks and not doing the therapy they prescribe, will she ever be able to live independently again?

Probably not. And I can feel my heart break in a thousand pieces as I return her to the care center after her one-month check-up after the fall.

“Don’t take me back there, Janie. I hate it there. Take me home. I’ll kill myself if you take me back there.”

There’s no way to pacify her, but I try. “Mom, the doctor said you can go ahead and put weight on your arm. If you work with the physical therapist to get stronger, you’ll be able to go home,” I lie.

I don’t think all the therapy in the world will make up for the days of being sedentary. The stress of her fall and hospitalization, followed by the trauma of being in the care center, has played havoc with her razor-sharp mind. Or maybe she hit her head when she fell. The initial examination revealed no head trauma, but who really knows? She was alone when she fell and pushed the help button on her wrist.

Getting old isn’t easy. I wish it was at least humane.


Originally Published March 28th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

MIA: Socks & Earrings

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From Jane’s World

I often wonder if all the single earrings I’ve lost are somewhere having a wild party with all the lost single socks.

When my daughter was little I started a cold-weather family tradition. On a Friday evening I’d yell, “Let’s have a sock party!” Jessica would come running with all her socks cradled in her arms. I’d pull out my whole sock drawer and we’d meet on the living room floor. There we sat, surrounded by a sea of socks; pairs of short, thin, patterned socks, thick cable-knit solid-color knee-highs, SmartWool-knockoff hiking crews, and holiday, dog-and-cat-themed novelty socks. Occasionally a pair of underwear or tights showed up and was immediately cast aside.

Sock parties were as entertaining as playing Go Fish but not as brutal as our games of Old Maid. Jessica would start by picking out a sock and holding it as high as her young arm could reach. Both of us would scramble to be the first to find its mate. If we did, we’d lay one sock down, cover it with the matching one, and roll them both up in a tight cocoon with a feeling of satisfaction. If there wasn’t a match, the poor thing was tossed into the singles pile. Then it would be my turn to pick a sock and hold it up.

We’d squeal with delight when we were running out of socks and found a match, not in the sock pile but in that pile of singles. “Yay!” we’d rejoice, thinking now that sock would never be lonely again.

Somehow, every few weeks another sock, or two, or three, lost its mate. One of us would again declare a sock party, and we’d start all over again.

We discussed the question of how we managed to lose socks, but had no answer. After all, we weren’t taking off our socks at a friend’s home, in the car, on a walk, or while shopping for groceries. Ninety-nine percent of the time, our socks were taken off either before a shower or before bedtime. Nancy Drew wannabe that I was, I detected that the missing socks had to be inside the house. Where became the question.

We’d search under our beds, couch, and dressers. We didn’t have a washer or dryer, so all our clothes traveled via car to the laundromat. But we were careful to always double-check the machines before heading for home with baskets of freshly washed clothes, possibly already minus a few socks.

Then one frigid Friday night in December, I couldn’t find one of my favorite earrings. They were my dress-up earrings that I only wore for special occasions. I turned the house upside down. It wasn’t the first earring to go MIA but I was hopeful it was only AWOL. It may have been Jessica, too young for pierced ears at the time, who suggested the earring might be with one of my wandering socks. Aha!

Sorting through my earring box, I discovered I was missing more than the one special earring I desperately wanted to wear to the holiday party. Jessica helped me pair up the matches, a real-life puzzle. I was shocked at the resulting pile of singles. Were they hanging out with the single socks? Is there a place in heaven for single earrings and socks? How could I lose so many earrings? And where the heck were all those socks?

Practical person that I am, I decided, on the next nice day, to walk with Jessica to the dime store and buy tons of tiny clear plastic earring backs. But I had no clue how to prevent socks from going missing.

The earring backs also ended up disappearing at an alarming rate. Now, years later, I have a drawer full of single earrings. I’ve considered getting more holes in my ears to accommodate them all, but looking like a Christmas tree is not the best look for me.

Just this week, I came home from a meeting to discover that one of my favorite silver hoop earrings with turquoise beads was no longer in my ear. I immediately started a thorough search but came up empty-handed. Gone!

That night as I settled down, I expected to dream of single sock and earring parties, but before I could drift off to sleep, my neighbor called, asking, “Did you lose a silver hoop earring with turquoise beads? We found one in our driveway today.” Case closed! Now about those socks...


Originally Published March 21st, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Lady Jane

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From Jane’s World

Recently, while hiking with fourteen women and four dogs, I noticed that only the dogs and I stopped to pee. Twice for me, every tree for the dogs. Normally, I’d never give peeing outside a second thought, but since I was the only one, I worried that maybe my fellow hikers considered it unladylike.

On the drive home and all that evening, my mind stuck on the word “feminine.”

In the morning, still sleepy and in my PJs, I stepped into my oversized Sorrel boots, slipped on my Carhartt knock-off barn jacket, and shoved my filthy Kinco gloves into my pocket. I mixed a container of warm water, bananas, plain yogurt and olive oil for Louisa, my pig, and headed out the door.

My valley was so thick with fog that my headlamp was useless. I walked with my head down, trying to avoid the slick patches of ice. Cold rain seeped down my neck, making me shiver. I wondered if, when dawn came, we’d have any more light. I also wondered if maybe I’d lost my feminine side from living like this, alone in a rural area with my critters, where I couldn’t care less how I look or act.

I wedged the toe of my boot under the goat pen gate and pushed up while wiggling the latch. I dumped Louisa’s mash into her bowl and slip-slided over to the Goat Palace to let Louisa and my two goats out. The latch was frozen and I wasn’t able to get it open, even after removing my heavy gloves.

Working my tongue around the inside of my mouth, I brought up saliva from deep in my throat and, with perfect aim, gobbed on the latch—instantly effective at thawing the mechanism, but not very ladylike.

An old tape started playing in my head:

“Sit up straight, Jane Ann. Don’t slouch. Ladies don’t slouch.”

“Lower your voice, Janie. Act like a girl.”

“She’s a tomboy.”

When I was younger, my siblings and I belonged to the Good Medicine Dancers, led by Ben Hunt, an outdoor educator who wrote books on Native American arts. For years, I took the part of a boy in Ben’s group because I wanted to. When I asked my dad if I could be a boy, he said, “Fine by me. Go ask your mother.” I was a boy for our club meetings, outings, and performances. I wore boy’s clothes—red breechcloth, a breastplate, and soft, beaded deerskin moccasins—all made as authentically as possible under Ben’s guidance.

Even though my mother approved of me being a boy in the dance troupe, I suspect she had concerns about unladylike behaviors. When I was barely a teen, she enrolled me in Rosemary Bischoff’s Modeling School. I loved going to the “finishing” school in downtown Milwaukee, where I flourished. My posture improved. I learned how to walk down a runway. I discovered where the fork went on a table and how to stick my pinky out when drinking tea.

But clearly, Mrs. Bischoff’s lessons didn’t stick. Last winter when Raime, my faithful border collie, was still alive, Dane and I hiked to an ice cave with my three pups. The hike was treacherous, with steep snow-covered gullies and ridges. Every breath added more frost to the scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose. Raime kept stopping to try to pick out the ice balls that were forming between his paw pads. After his third meticulous attempt to nibble the ice out from his paw, I handed Dane my gloves and knelt down by his side, my knees sinking into the new snow. I picked up his front paw, whispered to him to trust me, pulled apart his pad and took a huge bite of the ice that was causing him grief. Snap! It came off clean in my mouth. I leaned over and spit it out and we continued on our way.

I’m also proud to say I’ve perfected my farmer’s blow, after eighteen years of living in the country. Well, perfect 85% of the time. Fifteen percent of the time you wouldn’t want to be downwind of me.

Am I still a lady?

My dress-up days, except for special occasions, are long gone. A touch of mascara means a very special occasion. And although I’m currently trying to grow my hair long, short hair is more practical for my lifestyle.

I enjoy being self-sufficient and not overtaxing my bladder trying to hold it. I love all kinds of weather and being surrounded by nature—and knowing that when nature calls, there is no need to wait.

I’ve been known to say that the art of being a woman is knowing when not to be a lady. It’s not about short hair versus long, makeup or natural, fancy clothes or barn boots. It’s about how we feel about ourselves. And I feel like a lady: Lady Jane!

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Originally Published March 14th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Whiteout

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From Jane’s World

Holding tightly to a rope tied to my front door, I make my way into the whiteout. My mittened hands are quickly covered with chunks of ice and snow, my cheeks red from the stinging wind. I keep my eyes half shut to protect them from the blowing snow.

One red-mittened hand after the other, hanging on to the rope for dear life, I make my way to the barn that is half buried in snow. I have to get to the animals—and be able to find my way back.

But I don’t have a barn, or a rope tied to my door! My mind replays stories I heard during childhood, of people lost in blizzards and never found until spring. I do have outbuildings: the Snake Shed, the Duck Hall, the Goat Palace, and the donkeys’ three-sided shelter that somehow has remained nameless. This bleak image of winter survival came from my dad’s farming side of the family and has stayed with me.

Farmers and animal lovers have had their hands full this winter with blizzard-like conditions, ice storms, and temperatures reaching 40 below zero. Such weather can be life-threatening for the animals as well as the people who care for them.

I began making outdoor checks at three-hour intervals when the temperature dropped to –20. Each time, I’d refresh the animals’ drinking water, which meant smashing my boot into the heated water bowls to crack the ice that had formed on top; for the donkeys, it meant chopping a hole in the creek ice. I’d give the animals plenty of hay, too many treats, and a visual check before heading back indoors.

The night before our record-breaking coldest day here in the valley, chores became intense with the start of the blizzard.

I geared up and went out to put everyone to bed about 5:30 p.m., hoping to complete chores before the last of the daylight was gone.

I called Louisa, Luna, and Peepers and got them settled inside the Palace with bananas as a treat, but then I couldn’t shut the door to keep them in. While I scraped, shoveled, and kicked at the snow and ice, the pig and goats finished their bananas and came back out. Soon it was fully dark. I trudged back up to the house to find my headlamp, then out to the Snake Shed to fetch a piece of baler twine.

After luring Louisa and the goats back into the Palace with another banana, I held the door closed with one Sorel boot and removed my filthy Kinco gloves, tucking them between my legs so as not to lose them in the snow. My fingers quickly became numb and clumsy as I struggled to pull the twine through the door’s latch.

Louisa polished off the second banana and began pushing on the door. I leaned on it hard to keep her inside as I wove the twine back and forth, cursing softly, and stopping to blow on my fingers to warm them into functioning. I needed to get this door closed to keep the animals safe. I needed to get my cold, tired body back up to the house to keep myself safe, thaw my fingers and get under the covers.

I couldn’t get the twine to function properly, but it looked like it would hold. I whispered “Good night” through partially frozen lips and retreated to the safety of my house.

Crack! Pop! Snap! In the morning the porch deck groaned with every step I took into the deadly cold. I glanced at the thermometer. It read –40. My heart raced as I headed out to the donkeys, who are the most vulnerable in their open shelter.

Diego and Carlos tried to bray but their voices were hoarse and choppy. Icicles hung from the sides of their bodies, chins, and noses. I brought them warm, fresh water, more hay, and apples.

The ducks and geese wouldn’t budge when I opened their little door. Smart birds.

Before I reached the Goat Palace, I could see that my handiwork of the night before had held. But now I couldn’t get it untied, and my fingers burned within seconds of taking off my gloves. Louisa began squealing from inside as though someone was trying to kill her, and rammed her body into the door as I struggled to get it open. I stopped to warm my hands between my legs, envisioning a loss of my digits.

Hurrying back to the house, I grabbed my only serrated knife and a pair of scissors and headed out again. With sheer force, the scissors cut through the twine just enough to allow the two goats to squeeze out.

This infuriated Louisa and transformed her from a sweet pig into a raging, deranged hog, butting, slamming, and screeching without pause. In the commotion, I dropped the serrated knife and had to run to the house to look for my pocket knife.

Racing back as quickly as I could, I lowered my head against the wind, took off my gloves, and focused on slicing through the knotted twine. It gave way just as Louisa thrust her 250-pound body against the door, which slammed into my forehead.

While I felt brain-dead and fingerless, Louisa rushed past me to her mash. As I stumbled to the gate, I saw the missing knife hanging out of Luna’s mouth. My hands were barely capable of any movement but I managed to pry the handle out of her stubborn jaw. Fortunately there was no blood.

Heading back up the incline to the house, I marveled at my dad’s family and all the generations of farmers now and before my time. My head was bruised and sore to the touch, but I still had all my fingers. And I couldn’t help imagining, somewhere, someone frozen solid, one red-mittened hand still clutching a rope.

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Originally Published March 7th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Stigma

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From Jane’s World

Bipolar. ADHD. Depression. Addiction. Asperger's syndrome. Schizophrenia. Eating disorders. Autism spectrum. Post-traumatic stress. Personality disorder. Social anxiety. Obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Did you flinch or nod as you read those words? Perhaps you nodded in recognition. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), In any given year, one in five adults in the United States has a diagnosable mental disorder. One in twenty-four has a serious mental illness. One in twelve has a substance use disorder.

These statistics are staggering, suggesting that many of us will either have a mental health challenge or have a family member or friend who does. Yet many of us flinch at the very mention of those words.

People who struggle with mental illness often experience the additional burden of feeling judged or shunned by others. I wonder what we can do to prevent such discrimination and provide encouragement instead.

Part of the problem is that mental illness isn’t always visible. When someone is walking with a white cane we rush to offer assistance. When someone who appears “normal” is standing in line at the post office talking nonsense to themselves, we hurry to get away. We fear what we don’t understand—and we often mock what we fear.

At an early age, my friend Chuck (not his real name) was depressed and had an eating disorder. At thirteen he attempted suicide. (The APA points out: Half of all chronic mental illness begins before the age of 14.) When Chuck returned to school his classmates avoided him and wouldn’t be friends. Chuck tells me the other children were sensitive enough, but scared of him. Without any knowledge or understanding of mental health, who could blame them?

In 1996 Chuck had his first manic episode. He was 21. Four years later, after a second manic period, he was diagnosed with manic depression, now termed bipolar disorder. It took him a while to accept and finally understand his illness, and even longer to realize he needed to adhere to the schedule of medication that helped stabilize his brain chemistry.

Chuck’s delusional behavior, subsequent hospitalizations, and treatment were hard on him and his family. Physical and mental health challenges are similar in that way—but we understand better, and are more comfortable, when we can see the physical cause and effect.

If you’re throwing up, I can place my hand on your back to let you know I’m there and that I care. I can comfort you by placing a warm washcloth on your forehead. If you’re having a manic episode that may include rage or thinking you are Jesus, it gets scary. And yet, says the APA, People with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than those without a mental health disorder. In fact, those with mental illnesses are ten times more likely to be the victims of violent crime.

The stigma around mental illness has gained press lately because of celebrities who have died by suicide. Famous people who appeared happy and healthy shocked the world by ending their lives. Later we discovered they had battled depression and other mental illness all their lives. The APA informs us: Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for all ages. It is more common than homicide.

The definition of stigma is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” We all have images and thoughts triggered by words that relate to mental illness, which can cause us to be prejudiced toward someone diagnosed with these conditions. No wonder no one knew those celebrities were sick—they were afraid to talk openly about their mental health.

So what can we do? How can we help create a more supportive environment for people struggling with mental health challenges?

We can start by educating ourselves and others about mental illness and not treat it like a dirty word. As the APA says, Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medical problem, just like heart disease or diabetes.

We can also choose our words carefully when talking about mental health. Saying that Chuck is bipolar doesn't do justice to the many other characteristics that define him—his zany sense of humor, his love for dogs, or his compassion for others. Being bipolar is only one aspect of Chuck’s life. It is manageable with medications, regular exercise, healthy eating, volunteering, and journaling.

We can also be honest about treatments. Some people will benefit greatly from medications, others from talk and holistic therapies. Not everyone responds the same, regardless of their diagnosis.

We can speak up when we feel that the media, a school principal, or even a neighbor is stigmatizing or discriminating by their actions or words. We can advocate for equal regard and treatment for people suffering from mental or physical ailments; there shouldn’t be a difference.

We can also show compassion for people who have mental illnesses. As Chuck recently shared with me, “It's hard enough being diagnosed with a mental illness, but worse is the worry about possibly losing my dearest friends if I become manic again.”

Next time we read or hear about mental health issues, or someone we know (perhaps even ourselves) is diagnosed with mental illness, let’s refrain from flinching and nod in compassion and understanding. It would be a good start.

Originally Published February 28th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Heaven

From Jane’s World

As soon as I managed to push my way through my brothers and sisters for mama’s warm milk, she’d stand up. For a nanosecond, I’d swing from her long, worn-out nipple and then drop. There was never enough milk for me.

I’d lie in a heap with my siblings, wondering when or if our mom would come back. We were wet and cold, our eyes still shut. My swollen belly ached.

One day when my head felt too heavy to lift, I stirred at the sound of a soft voice. Someone with warm, gentle hands was listening to my insides, her ear on my chest. She wrapped us in a fuzzy blanket that reminded me of my mom.

I was lifted, prodded, and poked. Eventually, there was sweet milk! Not from my mom’s large, doughy belly, but from an inflexible nipple. I could hear my brothers and sisters slurping and sucking, too.

A few days later, we were all moved again. We bumped around in that same blanket until we stopped in a place that smelled salty. It was quieter, with fewer people, and there was a new gentle voice.

In the new place, I was drinking as much as my tiny belly could hold but my stomach writhed in agony. The milk would come burning out of my other end. My sisters and brothers had the same problem. We were miserable. The pain was too big for our little bodies.

Three of my brothers and one of my sisters died. I overheard the words “parvo,” and “poor babies,” and “sleep.” My eyes were beginning to open.

I thought of the lady that would feed my sister and me as Mama Voice. She’d hold us, feed us, and wipe our mouths and butts. She was always there for us. My sister squawked and squirmed. It hurt to be held and we no longer wanted to drink. We just wanted to be left alone. We wanted to join our other siblings, but Mama Voice wouldn’t let us. She’d stick syringes in our throats and squirt water down.

I wanted to help my sister, but I could hardly take care of myself. The same people who took my brothers and sisters were back. They had my sister in a box and when they picked me up I used all the energy I had to thump my tail just once.

Mama Voice noticed my tail thump and asked to keep me with her. Now Mama Voice and I were alone. She became my whole world. I would drink and take long naps. Then I’d hear her voice, sometimes other voices, and we’d do it all over again. Mama Voice kept whispering to me, “Hang on. Keep fighting. Be strong.”

I hung on. I fought. And I became stronger. One day, Mama Voice offered me wet food on her finger and I licked it. Mama Voice wept. I didn’t think she’d ever stop crying.

Every day my stomach hurt less. Every day I loved Mama Voice more. Before long I was running around Mama Voice’s yard, playing with her cats, and stealing her flip-flops.

Mama Voice has a big heart and home. There were three cats and eight dogs for me to play with. But she said it was time for me to find my forever home. Mama Voice sounded sad as she explained it would be best for me.

On a clear Tuesday morning, Mama Voice said goodbye to me and slipped me into a soft, red crate. She introduced me to Kristin and Tony and told me they would help me find my new mom. I had to travel over 2,947 miles.

I rode in taxis, on a ferry, in a van, on an airplane, and finally ended up in Milwaukee at General Mitchell Field. Kristin and Tony were taking me for a walk in the airport when we heard, “There he is!” and a lady came running towards us.

Kristin said, “We found her, Ruben. That’s your forever mom!” My goodness, it was a lot of excitement for a puppy who had traveled all day.

It turned out I wasn’t home yet. But Mom and Papa knew I’d be tired and we stayed together in a big room with a giant bed for all of us. The next day, we traveled from Milwaukee to rural Viola.

I have a brother and a sister again, and all sorts of cats and barnyard animals. My house is warm and Mom loves to go for walks and spoil me. I wish you could see me right now—I haven’t stopped thumping my tail.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve died and gone to heaven.  

Thank you to Isla Animals, Mama Voice; Michelle, Anna, Kristin, Tony, Erica, and John, Lea, and all the others who gave of their time and heart. At Isla Animals Dog Rescue they like to say, “Caring Is Global.” It sure is!

Love, Ruben (I was named after the owner of Mom’s favorite restaurant in Isla Mujeres to get a burrito!)

Originally Published February 21st, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout