Saturday, December 31, 2011

It’s Headed This Way

Said my dental hygienist yesterday, “I sure hope 2012 is a better year than this one was.”

“Me, too,” I sputtered. Although I’ve said that for the last six years. Each year has brought me new and unexpected challenges (which is a nice way of saying pain and trouble).

For the record, I don’t buy into that “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” crap. Nor do I subscribe to the “You’re given only as many trials as you can handle” baloney.

One of my favorite lines in Steven Kotler’s A Small Furry Prayer is: “I had come into adulthood equipped with the essentially romantic delusion that life would get easier.”

Amen to that, Steven. I operated under the same delusion, though in retrospect, I realize my grandmother tried to feed me the truth early on. Her version of Cinderella had the wannabe princess end up marrying a used-car salesman. I missed her point.

A similar delusion has us believing every year that the NEW year will be different and better than the last—maybe even GREAT! But I’ve wised up. I refuse even to pretend that 2012 will bring happiness and improved economies and world peace.

However, I will agree that 2012 will be different. At least it will be for me. The New Year may throw me whatever it wants—natural disasters, death, illness, you name it. I’ll be ready for it. This year I insist on being the victor, on being in control. I plan to meet each challenge of 2012 with new strength (both physical and emotional) and resolve. If I can’t catch all the curveballs thrown at me, I will at least duck their trajectories.

But for you, Dear Reader? May the New Year rise to your highest expectations and fulfill your every dream…

My Year of Reading Aimlessly

“I do not want to be a book worm. If its book is taken away from it, the little blind head is raised; it wags, hovers, terribly uneasy, in a void—until it begins to burrow again.”
—Katherine Mansfield

For the past year, reading has been a salve for my grief and a substitute for exploring the world beyond my apartment (doctor’s orders to stay off my feet). I’m not alone in turning to books for spiritual sustenance and guidance. Nina Sankovitch read a book a day a few years ago to comprehend her sister’s death, then turned the 365 project into a best-selling book—Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading.

Unlike Sankovitch, I’ve no best-selling book as a result of my year of reading. And I certainly didn’t match the pace and quantity of her reading. I had no deadline and no specific goal in mind.

Yet I feel changed by my bookwormishness. My grief has lightened, I’ve learned loads, I’ve discovered (or rediscovered) some critical aspects of my nature, and I feel not quite whole but substantial enough to serve the greater good in some way. Though reading didn’t heal me physically (I’m still supposed to stay off my feet), it accomplished remarkable emotional and spiritual feats.

Like Katherine Mansfield, I need to be more than a bookworm now. Venturing forward, my reading will be specifically purposeful: to strengthen and improve my physical well-being, and to advance an animal-related education project for which I’ve volunteered my time. I’ll miss making random book picks at the library, but I look forward to reading for a cause.

Correction: I (almost) ALWAYS look forward to reading. Period. Don’t you?

[Art by Ramón Casas.]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Bounty of Bad Choices

I’ve started a project that has me reading books for youngsters, specifically books involving companion animals. While scanning the library shelves last week for dog haikus, I tripped over a Lemony Snicket tome and was curious about what lessons the popular author was instilling in today’s youth.

The content is silly sometimes, sarcastic other times. Readers need to be intelligent enough to know the difference. But some messages in Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid contain both humor and wisdom, as does this passage on decision-making:

“Deciding on the right thing to do in a situation is a bit like deciding on the right thing to wear to a party. It is easy to decide on what is wrong to wear to a party, such as deep-sea diving equipment or a pair of large pillows, but deciding what is right is much trickier. The truth is that you can never be sure if you have decided on the right thing until the party is over, and by then it is too late to go back and change your mind, which is why the world is filled with people doing terrible things and wearing ugly clothing.”

Wish I’d understood this a LONG time ago…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

Whew! I didn’t find a tree, but I purchased a 99¢ poinsettia and a wreath of mixed evergreens from the Blue Ridge Mountains, which I took apart to fashion into several holiday arrangements. Instead of a month of Christmas in our home, we’ll have it for a few days.

When my father was a child, Christmas decorations didn’t come out until Christmas Eve. His mother would take him to a church service in the evening. When they returned home, my father would wonder at the swiftness and thoroughness of Saint Nicholas—who had visited during the church outing. The Bearded One left behind an ornamented tree complete with presents beneath it.

I guess that by waiting until Christmas Eve to start celebrating, I’m carrying on (sort of) a family tradition of old.

Tree Shopping. Again.

We still don’t have a tree. In fact, there’s little in our apartment that tips you off to the season except the stack (somewhat tree-shaped) of boxes—both the cardboard and gift-wrapped variety—near the door.

I’ve been to several tree-selling stands. Stopped at one just this past Wednesday. But, as usual, couldn’t find anything I wanted (read: that was affordable).

However, my desire for a tree swiftly exited when I turned a corner and saw this:

How cute is he? He was part of a nativity scene and far more interested in his food than in making my acquaintance. Okay by me. He made the trip worthwhile.

Now I’m off again in pursuit of a tree. Or a branch. I’m feeling lucky…

Friday, December 23, 2011

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

That old Rolling Stone song is true. The question is, How will you respond?

When 15-year-old Regina Mayer was told she couldn’t have a horse, she took the road less travelled…

[Story and photo from Horse Connection magazine.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tired of the usual Christmas film fare?

Most of us have a favorite Christmas film classic we have to watch each year—Holiday, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol (my husband is partial to the 1951 version with Alastair Sim), It’s A Wonderful Life.

My list is influenced by the fact that A) I’ve never had cable or satellite service, B) Every place I’ve lived has had poor television reception, and C) I’ve not seen many other Christmas movies. Until this week.

Double-click on the video for full view.

Our public station here broadcast an old black-and-white film I’d never heard of: The Great Rupert. It features Jimmy Durante and a philanthropic vaudevillian dancing squirrel. The film (now in the public domain) captures an era not unlike the one we’re currently in—people losing their life savings, old industries giving way to new ones, families struggling to make ends meet. The difference is Rupert, the squirrel.

I’m not sure The Great Rupert will make it onto my perennial must-see list, but it held my interest from an historical perspective. It’s worth watching just to see the filmmaking (i.e., the squirrel-making) of 1950. Plus it’s sweet and nonviolent and stars an animal. All good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Start a Christmas Tradition à la Tolkien

After dropping off books at the library this week, I scanned the titles in the holiday display. Naturally, one called out to me and I couldn’t ignore it. I took home J. R. R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas.

You don’t have to be part of the Tolkien cult to enjoy this book. It’s a collection of letters and illustrations (and thereby characters and fonts) Tolkien created and sent to his children each Christmas season from 1920 to 1942—letters his wee ones understood to have been written by Father Christmas (or by his elves or his executive assistant, Polar Bear).

F. C. seems a tad cranky to me so far in my reading. Nonetheless, I can imagine what it must feel like to be a kid writing to Saint Nicholas each year, knowing that he will soon respond.

If you have small children or grandchildren, this could be a delightful family tradition to start. Check out the book for ideas, then adapt these to your own writing style and to the Father Christmas you want your progeny to admire.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Heaven on My Mind: Never Can Say Goodbye

Heaven’s been weighing on my mind, but I’ve had a hard time envisioning it.

“Every living thing dies. There’s no stopping it.”
—the opening paragraph of Unsaid, by Neil Abramson

As I posted earlier on Lull, my reading these last few months has been full of heartbreak and partings—people from dogs, horses from people, goats from turkeys, geese from cows. There’s no end to these losses.

I grew attached to the animals I read about on blogs and in books and when they passed into the Great Beyond, my thoughts followed them. I was reluctant to let go.

I take some solace in imagining an idyllic Afterlife where once-Earth-dead creatures now frolic (or graze or float or whatever they desire) and live beyond their psychological and physical constraints.

When I finished reading The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation, I kept thinking about the sweetness and patience Snowman had extended to everyone. He had a good life back in the day, but I wondered what his life was now. Surely his story continues.

I e-mailed a friend to share my thoughts about the book (which she had also read) and said I hoped Snowman had found his way to Just-A-Bob, our favorite character in Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven.

I e-mailed again after realizing my remarks had populated Paradise with fictional creations as well as the blood-and-bones variety. My friend, ever gracious about my many blunders, wrote back to say that of course our fictional favorites reside in the Afterlife. What’s more, fictional places are part of the landscape there (think environments devised by Tolkien and Lewis).

Fictional places? Wow! My friend had just exponentially expanded Paradise for me. I started rewinding my memories of all the books I’d read and all the films I’d seen. It made me dizzy.

“I have always imagined that paradise will be kind of a library.”
—Jorges Luis Borges

Playwright Eugene O’Neill imagines Heaven for us in “The Last Will and Testament of An Extremely Distinguished Dog,” a piece he wrote for his wife in dreaded anticipation of their beloved Dalmatian’s death. It’s written from the perspective of the dog, who describes Paradise as a place “where one is always young and full-bladdered … where each blissful hour is mealtime.”

Like Borges, O’Neill (on behalf of his dog) fashions Heaven in simple and self-serving terms that I can easily understand. It’s whatever you want most—every birthday and twinkling-star wish you ever made all rolled into one. While these are sweet notions, I suspect the truth is a bit more complex.

In his essay “Sick Dog,” environmental activist and writer Rick Bass speaks to the sorrow of loss and posits a different type of Heaven,* one that stokes my imagination and belief:

“[P]erhaps the seams, the laminae, between the various worlds—the past, present, and future, as well as the living and the nonliving—may not be as distinct and clear-cut as we have been taught, or as our somewhat arbitrary clocks and calendars have led us to believe.

“Sometimes—not always, and I think I could even say rarely—but still, sometimes, I perceive that there is a stillness and a wholeness in the world, or in some portion or corner or fragment of the world, for some little place in time, where things just feel so right and huge and powerful and easy that I will have the perhaps blasphemous thought that maybe there are layers of heaven, and that, with our species’ dependence upon visual acuity, we might fixate too much on notions of streets-lined-with-gold as indicator or marker of when a traveler arrives in that place.

“There are definitely moments in time and places in the world where we have each felt the peace and wholeness, the stillness, spoken of in such prophecies and promises. For me it is experienced most often when I am deep in the wilderness, or up on the ridges of mountains, or in the fields and prairies with nothing but field and prairie to the horizon, or when I am simply in the presence of family. In such moments I think very much that the case could be made that we are already ankle-deep in heaven.”

Ahhh. Thank you, Mr. Bass. A picture of Paradise is coming in clearer now.

I think again about the people and animals I’ve met through my reading—their deeply felt bonds, their unfathomable grief over the deaths of their mates. It’s a comfort and a relief to view them through Rick Bass’s lens: to believe that in each relationship, long before the untimely departure of one being, the pair’s Earthly life together was already “ankle-deep in Heaven.” In the future, this is the layer I shall try to commit to memory.

* Paragraphs may not be in original order. Essay is included in the anthology WOOF! Writers on Dogs.

[Painting by Abbott Handerson Thayer and recolored for Lull.]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

“Squirrelly Saturday”: Need a 2012 Calendar?

While shopping for birdseed yesterday, I noticed a calendar that made me do a doubletake.

It was the 2012 Squirrel Stuff Calendar: The Official Field Guide to Undiscovered Squirrels published by Arundale Products. You can purchase the calendar, read the history of these unique squirrels (i.e., how the artist created them), or report your own sighting of an undiscovered squirrel (i.e., give the artist a new idea for the 2013 calendar) by clicking through the links.

These rare critters are almost as cute as my Stubby!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eat Like A Horse

I saw a commercial on television last night that showed one young, vibrant, beautiful person after another enjoying mouthfuls of McDonald’s fare. Clearly, the ad campaign intended to make me crave a Big Mac. But those ad-meisters had nothing on a horse I know.

I met M. (the equine pictured) this fall. He stood on the far side of a paddock until he noticed carrots and apples in my hand. He raced to my side for his share, skipping all pleasantries of introductions. I caved to his brashness and he nearly inhaled the treats.

As his person led him to the barn, I followed. We were almost there when M. suddenly detoured toward a pear tree and claimed his space beneath it.

M.’s person tried to steer him back to the barn, but he wouldn’t budge. He wanted a pear and surveyed the ground for possibilities. As luck would have it, a young rider (who had probably witnessed this scene before) came by and offered the core of the pear she’d just eaten. And then a marvelous bit of theatre unfolded for anyone willing to watch.

M. transformed that fruit scrap into his entire world. All else faded from view as he chomped and chewed and squeezed and sucked and savored that castoff pear as if it were his last meal. As if it were a last meal prepared by restaurateur Paul Kahan and drizzled with rare truffle oil.

M. took care and time to process that small bit of pear, making sure to introduce each individual fiber of it to each of his tastebuds. When some juice escaped his lips, M. tried to catch it with a turn of his muzzle.

Had anyone offered me a pear core at that moment, I would have readily accepted it and tried to re-create M.’s gastronomic passion.

As for that Big Mac I mentioned? Like the actors of the commercial, you’d have to pay me to take a bite.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Books on the Silver Screen

A dear friend gave me a box of “literary tea”: To each bag is attached a quotation. Here’s one that gave me a chuckle, especially in light of how many 2011 film releases started on the printed page:

“Don’t judge a book by its movie.”

An abbreviated list of films released this year based directly or indirectly on books:

Jane Eyre
Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Puss in Boots

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
The Adjustment Bureau

The Adventures of Tintin

The Big Year

The Descendants

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Help

The Thing

The Three Musketeers

War Horse

Water for Elephants

We Bought A Zoo

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bullish on Christmas

Oh, the humiliation for the pooch pulling the cart. But the pups don’t seem to mind.

[I found this pic online eons ago and no longer have info on it. If you know these dogs or the person who deserves credit for the photo, please let me know.]

Friday, December 9, 2011

Obligations of a Pet at Christmastime

I don’t have a dog. Or a horse or a cat. Not even a turtle or a fish.

When I was a kid sans live companion animals, I collected figurines and stuffed animals to fill the void. Today I read about them.

My current read is Christmas Dogs: A Literary Companion, which opens with a litany of the unfortunate results of mixing dogs with Christmas—white puppies slobbering on the red bows tied ’round their necks that soon turn said white canines into pink ones, dogs who treat the indoor tree as an outdoor one, dogs intent on redecorating the tree.

My pooch never caused a problem at Christmas. She enjoyed herding us when we brought in the tree and when we took it out; she displayed rapt attention and excitement whenever we opened a present intended for her. Otherwise, she didn’t touch or eat or bother a thing. Perfect pooch.

One of our cats, on the other hand, made Christmas difficult every year of her too-short life. She licked and chewed the wrappings: paper and bows. She ripped them open if she hadn’t already eaten them. Not only did she make a mess and endanger her life, she also gave us a peek at our presents and spoiled the surprise I so love about Christmas morning. What’s more, my family’s gifts are as much about presentation as they are about appropriate giving. The paper and bows my imp of a cat destroyed were often handmade, impressive creations.

We were soon trained to keep all presents on tree boughs and atop the mantel, out of her reach. (Yes, I know she could have climbed the tree to reach the gifts hidden in it, but she chose not to for some reason. For that matter, she was such an incredible jumper she could easily have scaled the mantel and shoved every present to the floor. I was grateful in both cases that she exhibited restraint.)

Obviously, our pets’ perceptions of Christmas pageantry often differ from ours. Do you have a holiday memory or anecdote involving your animal companions? Won’t you please share it with Lull readers in the comments section?

I’ll leave you with a poem from one of my favorite children’s book authors.

Christmas Dog
from Falling Up by Shel Silverstein

Tonight’s my first night as a watchdog,

And here it is Christmas Eve.

The children are sleepin’ all cozy upstairs,

While I’m gu
ardin’ the stockin’s and tree.

What’s that now—footsteps on the rooftop?

Could it be a cat or a mouse?

Who’s this down the chimney?

A thief with a beard—
And a big sack for robbin’ the house?

I’m barkin’, I’m growlin’, I’m bitin’ his butt.

He howls and jumps back in his sleigh.

I scare his strange horses, they leap in the air.

I’ve frightened the whole bunch away.

Now the house is all peaceful and quiet again,
The stockin’s are safe as can be.

Won’t the kiddies be glad when they wake up tomorrow

And see how I’ve guarded the tree.

[Dog photo from A Usable Past.]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

FREE Music for Dogs!

I’m a day late in hearing about this, but I wanted to pass it on to you anyway.

Through A Dog’s Ear is offering a free download each day this week of their specially arranged music for dogs.

Today, for instance, is a Debussy piece. And to top it off, you can play a word contest on behalf of your favorite shelter. If you win, your shelter will receive the Calm Your Canine series of 3 CDs and YOU will win the Holiday Gift Pack of a book and 7 CDs. It’s a GREAT deal!

If your dog, or one you know, gets anxious about anything—thunder, lightning, riding in a car, life in general—check out these CDs and the science behind them. I wish I’d had these CDs when we adopted our pooch—Miss Nervous Nellie, as we so often called her. Then maybe I could have played the piano more often and car rides wouldn’t have been the messy production we all grew to fear.

Do an anxious dog a favor and check out this music while it’s free.

Truth Omitted for an “Aw” Moment

I have a soft spot for Great Danes. And when I read about a Dane (Maddison) who, without being asked and without being trained, took on the responsibility of acting as Guide Dog to her blind friend (Lily), I had to share these photos with you. I wanted to talk about Compassion Footprints—ours and animals’.

However, when I started digging into the story, I found many disturbing details (e.g., the dogs came from a notorious puppy mill breeder—hence, my guess, the blindness, the dogs’ relationship unraveled in their new home). I’ll post links below and you can read the articles yourself—if you want.

This is not the first time I’ve chosen a topic/photo only to have it twist in a distasteful direction. Typically, I’ll find a photo for Lull and then discover that the subject has died (as in the case of Atlas). And, typically, I abandon the topic/photo and create a different post for Lull. When the point of a photo is to lift your spirits, I don’t want the text to bring you down with the backstory.

But no more. From now on, I’m sticking my ostrich head in the sand, thankyouverymuch. Bad backstory or not, for as long as it lasted, the relationship between these two Danes is worth viewing and pondering. Story not required.

Daily Mail on dogs needing a new home

Global Post on dogs finding a new home

Dogs Trust’s FAQ on separation of dogs

Breeder info on the Great Dane Owners Forum

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stories for the Overscheduled

You’ve no time for fiction, you say? Your life’s about to change.

Tomorrow marks the release of 420 Characters, a collection of fictional stories spilling from the mind of acclaimed artist Lou Beach. (If you’re near Los Angeles, you can hear him read excerpts at Book Soup tomorrow night.) No story exceeds 420 characters—the maximum allowed by Facebook for updates, which is where 420 began. Everyone has time to read at least one of these stories this year.

Get the lowdown on the book at NPR or read excerpts in The Paris Review. Now travel to your favorite indie book peddler and help keep the publishing economy moving. Please?

Deck the Halls with … Pumpkins?

I realize Christmas is just around the corner. Retailer music has been reminding me since October. But the tall, strangely narrow pumpkins that grace my window ledges still look so great that I don’t have the heart to remove them.

I paid WAY too much for the pumpkins, and the woman selling them knew it. Then she warmed to me and started telling me about her life.

She raised her daughters the “Country Way”—that is, to be self-sufficient without electricity, plumbing, and running water. When she married, she told her husband she’d do anything for him except cook chicken. She’d had enough of it, for it was her job at the tender age of 6 to kill three chickens every morning. Her uncle—who, with his wife, raised her and her many older brothers—loved to eat chicken. It was served every day for breakfast and supper; the children were spared chicken for lunch because they ate at school.

From this point, the tale turned dark and uncomfortable as it focused on the wrath and unsavory desires of the uncle. While the woman shared the grim details of her hardscrabble upbringing, she insisted on cleaning my pumpkins in bleach water—“They’ll last longer.”

She was right. Those pumpkins look as shiny new and orange as they did the day I bought them. And really, with the woman’s storytelling thrown in, I got a bargain.

Even so, I’ve grown accustomed to their Stan Laurel–like visages outside my windows. I’m thinking a couple of Santa hats atop them could help their transition to the next holiday.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mystery Sculptor Strikes Once More

Last month I told you about the paper sculptures left anonymously at various libraries in Edinburgh, Scotland (“Art in Defense of Libraries and Their Treasures”). Each tiny masterpiece was a tribute to the literary arts and the libraries that preserve our heritage.

The Random Acts of Beauty created global buzz and desperate attempts to expose the artist. Yet, in a strange twist to our usual need-to-know-every-dirty-little-factoid culture, readers responding to a newspaper poll said they preferred the artist to remain unknown. For what is Life without a bit of Mystery?

Now the sculptor has returned—perhaps for the last time—leaving behind enough sculptures to total 10 and a letter (pictured above) disclosing two key details: The artist is a woman, and the artworks were her first venture into book-based sculpting.

In my book, that’s impressive: first-time art, creating a mystery, making headlines, ending the story on her terms. What a gift—for all of us.

[See more pics at Central Station and NPR.]

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Stupidity Goes Bipartisan on Horse Slaughter Legislation

Here’s a brief roundup of brilliance from U.S. politicians. I’ll post my rebuttal soon.

“We wanted to allow horse slaughter again in America because of an unanticipated problem with horse neglect and abandonment.”
—Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia

Horse owners in Cole’s district are “pretty unanimous that they want the means to deal with an excess population.”
—Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma

The federal horse-slaughter ban devastated “an entire sector of animal agriculture for purely sentimental and romantic notions.”

—Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Wyoming

“In Montana, we’ve seen some sad cases of horse abandonment and neglect as owners struggle in this tough economy. Now we can fight to revive the jobs shipped to Canada and Mexico as a result of this ban along with making sure injured and sick horses are not abandoned or subject to inhumane treatment.”
—Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana

First, Do No Harm: Where Horses and Hormones Intersect

Horses and hormones keep peering at me from my reading. Neil Abramson’s debut novel Unsaid opened with a couple of Premarin foals rescued from slaughter. Random links in blogs have led me to discussions about the safety of hormone replacement therapy, a topic I’m not particularly interested in. But I scanned the comments anyway and was repeatedly disappointed to find that no one ever brings up the HORSES. No one talks about the origins of the “conjugated estrogens” in the drugs they’re taking.

So I think it’s time to talk about it on Lull. Again.

No, I won’t go into the gory details of how mares are tortured and then disposed of once they can no longer be pregnant. Nor will I tax you with tales of foals removed from their mothers shortly after birth and killed on the spot or sent to auction as potential meals for cultures abroad. (Note: You won’t find those italicized words used in any documentation from the pharma or agribusiness industries. The mares are merely commodities, cogs, assets until they’re liabilities; the foals are, as the industries like to call them, “byproducts.”) Instead, I’d like to report on a book I just read: poet Jana Harris’s Horses Never Lie About Love.

I recommend Horses Never Lie About Love to
Anyone obsessed with horses.
Anyone about to buy a horse for the first time.
Anyone thinking about breeding a horse.
There’s a lot to think through before committing to stewardship or sustaining a business and Harris provides a window into the pitfalls of both.

However, I want EVERYONE who is taking, prescribing, or selling any drug that contains hormones from pregnant mares—including Premarin, Prempro, Premphase, Prempak-C, and Aprela (still at the clinical trial stage)—to read this book. I want you to understand what your (likely unintentional) support of this niche of agribusiness and pharma means to the sentient beings exploited in the name of human health.

Horses Never Lie About Love is not an anthropomorphic romp through pastures dotted with mares and foals. It follows the fledgling breeding business of Harris and her husband on The High and Dry Farm and details the numerous challenges and unfortunate realities such an enterprise entails. Harris shares her astute observations about her herd—their idiosyncrasies, their training potential, their communications. She introduces readers to a first-time equine mother who is so enamored of her foal she can’t bear to lose touch with its face long enough for the foal to turn around to nurse; a colt who, desperate for companionship after being ostracized by the herd, befriends a widowed pigeon; a horse who distrusts people if they stand near him, but delights in having them in the saddle on his back; and, of course, the horse’s horse: True Colors—the feral mare who warms to human interaction only when she’s with foal, the mare who proves indispensable to the herd and to Harris (watch the video clip of Harris and True Colors).

Double-click on video for full view.

Harris packages her brief education* about horses and breeding in an engaging memoir. But better than that, she illuminates horses as individuals. This alone makes Horses Never Lie About Love a must-read for anyone connected to the aforementioned drugs. The plight of drug-industry horses is easier to ignore if you also ignore their discrete personalities—if you see them merely as cogs and byproducts. (If you’re new to Lull, make sure you also read “Protect the Sisterhood—No Matter the Species” and visit the links in it.)

Let’s be informed consumers/physicians/salespeople. Once you’ve read about horses thoughtfully cared for as individuals and those enslaved in factories as means to profits, come back to Lull and share your thoughts on the matter. If you know someone who uses, prescribes, or sells Premarin, Prempro, Premphase, Prempak-C, Aprela, or any related drug containing conjugated estrogens, e-mail this post to them. Or give them Horses Never Lie About Love and tell them why you want them to read it. There are plant-based drugs and other alternatives available. Sure, some alternatives require more self-discipline and effort to use, but they won’t hurt any horses. Above all, let’s do no harm…

* This is an informative read but not a how-to. Harris makes mistakes, for which at least one reviewer has taken her to task, forgetting that this is a memoir about events that occurred in a very different era.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seasonal Surprises, Seasonal Dividends

now visited us today for the first time. Fleetingly. It left before I had time to get excited about it.

I wonder if the rain, which has pelted us nonstop for days, was as tired of itself as we were of it and decided to try a new look.

Or perhaps the snowflakes, confused by the glut of Christmas decorations displayed since October, raced here today for what they thought was a late entrance. Realizing their mistake after materializing, they disappeared.

Either way, I’m happy to be sans precipitation this afternoon. I’m grateful for this lovely long Autumn of the Bluegrass—for being able to dress in layers rather than hauling out the thick woolens, for being comfortable enough to sit in the yard enjoying a book and hot tea, for the slow departure of color giving way to a splendor of texture in the form of nuts, berries, and seed pods.

“Good heavens, of what uncostly material is our earthly happiness composed—if we only knew it! What incomes have we not had from a flower, and how unfailing are the dividends of the seasons!”
—James Russell

[S from Industry.]

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Would You Like That Fried, Lightly Fried, or Deep-Fried?

Stranger In A Strange Land – No. 21

Today is the Gobble Grease Toss in the Horse Capital of the World. When I first learned of this annual recycling event, I thought it was a joke. Just as I had once thought that the barbed comments made about Kentuckians loving fried foods were gross overgeneralizations. Turns out I was wrong in both instances.

If restaurant menus are any indication, fried is the preferred cooking method—from the tomatoes on a BLT to every last bit of seafood. So it should not have come as a surprise to me that frying the turkey on Thanksgiving is as common here as watching football. Hence the Gobble Grease Toss.

As I’ve written before, the recycling opportunities this city offers its residents are commendable. It couldn’t get much easier, which is why I don’t understand why more people don’t recycle. A faulty mindset, I suppose.

Anyway, today the city encourages folks to dispose of their leftover cooking oils and grease in an ecofriendly fashion. If I had any grease, I’d be there.

This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, just select Stranger in a Strange Land from the right of Lull, under “Choose a topic that interests you.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Plenty: The Food that Binds

Thanksgiving 2010 seems like yesterday to me. From his deathbed, my list-making, eternally instruction-giving father supervised the kitchen proceedings. In his hyperspecific way, he detailed what he wanted on the menu and from which restaurant I was to procure it.

At first, I was crestfallen: No home-cooked holiday meal? Then irritated: I wasn’t fond of the food at the restaurant he’d chosen. And embarrassed: The “restaurant” was a CHAIN!

But how can you not fulfill the wishes (or demands) of the dying? Upon reconsidering the situation, I realized the upside: If my father didn’t like the food, it wouldn’t be my fault. Grateful for that, I decided to add a few homemade dishes to the mix as backup—if not for my father, for my husband.

As it turned out, the massive quantities of food from the restaurant languished in the refrigerator while my father repeatedly requested the corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie I had made (without his instruction) in his kitchen.

I was secretly happy about this, though not just because the homemade won out over the chain restaurant. It felt good to be able to provide some pleasure to my father’s difficult days and sustenance to his deteriorating palate. It was especially meaningful—to me, anyway—that those particular dishes represented a host of Thanksgivings past, recollections permanently attached to my childhood and happier times. The time before the losses—the deaths and the divorce. Those dishes were traditional to our family’s gatherings, and now I had connected my father’s final Thanksgiving celebration to a sunnier, familial reminiscence.

Today I’ll be making pumpkin pie, corn pudding, and sweet potato casserole again. I’m grateful for the role they played in last year’s meal, and I take comfort in the memories they conjure that I will continue savoring for many years and meals to come.

May Peace and Plenty be yours this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

May You Have Enough To Share…

Pre-Thanksgiving Ponderings

If you watched My Life As A Turkey last week on PBS, you may be having second thoughts about putting a bird on your holiday table this year.

That’s just what the folks at Catskill Animal Sanctuary hope. Pictured above is Henrietta (the feathered one) and her best friend Atlas. Clearly, farm animals have big personalities and bond as strongly as their two-legged keepers do.

I’m thankful that CAS liberated Atlas, not once but twice.

[Read Atlas’s story or see videos and more pics of him.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Failed Volunteer Awaits Her Fate

Two days passed after my volunteering debacle at the Humane Society. I knew they still needed help that week, and I knew I was only on the standby list, yet a sinking feeling continued to weigh me down—a feeling that I’d been deleted from the volunteer roster.

Then my phone rang—they needed me!—and I was off to the land of abandoned and lost pets.

I assumed I would be helping the staff catch up on the routine work left undone by fundraiser preparations; I assumed I would be folding letters and stuffing envelopes. But, of course, you’ve already guessed what confronted me upon my arrival: the dreaded paper cutter.

“Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”
—Malcolm Gladwell

This round of paper cutting was for a different fundraiser and this time I wasn’t The Fixer. This time I would be the first volunteer to muck up the job.

I tried to take a positive approach to my assignment. I thought of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, his book about attaining expertise and success. Research shows that it takes about 10,000 hours of doing anything—playing chess, painting, boxing, composing, building, singing, drawing, editing, sculpting—before you can master it. Though I harbored no dreams about becoming a master paper cutter, I had every intention of improving my skill set.

I’ve 10 hours behind me, and I don’t know how many hours ahead…

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Follow Your Bliss

“[W]e should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.”
—E. B. White

[Photo shows E. B. White with his pooch Minnie.]

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rock, Paper, Scissors: A Flustered Volunteer Spends a Day with Her Inadequate Self

For reasons I won’t go into, I’ve not been able to be on my feet. Which means I’ve not been able to walk the dogs at the Humane Society, which has plagued me with guilt lately. So when an opportunity arose this week to perform office tasks for the Humane Society, I jumped at the chance. In fact, I offered to spend the entire day there.

Preparing for Volunteering
My day started badly before it was even time for me to get out of bed. My neighbor was awake before the sun peeped out, already enjoying the company of her visiting relatives. I know this because the building we live in has paper-thin walls and flooring with no insulation. If I couldn’t sleep through the party, I had no choice but to start my day.

As I putzed around the kitchen, trying not to disturb my husband’s slumbers, my husband was suddenly at my side holding out my phone to me. Ah, yes. I’d put my phone in the living room when I got up, but I’d failed to turn off the ALARM feature. As quiet as I’d tried to be, I’d pestered my husband out of sleep anyway. Profuse apologies on my part as my husband padded back to the bedroom.

Plenty of time lay ahead of me before I had to leave, time enough to cook a hearty breakfast. This part of my morning went fine until our newly installed smoke detector sounded off.

“Fire! Fire!” cried the robotic female voice. “Emergency!”

Bloody Hell. Now everyone in the building was surely awake. I opened the windows and fanned the sensitive contraption with a broom.

Again, my poor husband emerged from the bedroom and said, “If you wanted me to eat breakfast with you, you could have just said something.” More apologies on my part.

Finally, it was time to go. Actually, very nearly past time. I was careful to pack a lunch, snacks, and anything else I might need over the course of the day. Made it as far as the car before I realized I’d forgotten the glue sticks. Had to return for them since I’d promised to bring my own. (The Humane Society glues envelopes closed and the kind of glue they had the last time I volunteered was messy. So I thought I’d use my own glue sticks for faster, neater work.)

Now I had to WALK (which I was not supposed to be doing) all the way back to the apartment to find the sticks, which naturally roused my dear husband from his dreams once more. Arrrgh.

I made it to the Humane Society in time. Despite the rain, and despite the driver of the impaired scooter who had traffic crawling the pike.

I settled into my “office space” (i.e., the kitchen) at the Humane Society and tried to ignore the equipment set out on the table. I assured myself, THAT’s not for me. I’m going to be folding and stuffing or sorting and filing. THAT thing is someone else’s project.

Of course, true to the tone already set for the day, the Volunteer Coordinator tells me the “thing” (a paper cutter) is, indeed, my tool for the entire day. I considered leaving right then.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
I’m serious.

I felt stuck in that proverbial spot between the rock and the hard place. If I left, I would be letting down the organization. If I stayed, I would likely let down the organization. Memories of past battles with similar tools flooded my consciousness while I dithered about what to do.

For the record, I have a range of skills. Some I excel at and wish someone valued them enough to pay me handsomely for: reading, editing, proofreading, public speaking, creating and streamlining processes and procedures, trouble-shooting and problem-solving. Some of my skills I use only at home—they’re serviceable but not good enough to share: playing the piano, flute, and djembe, cooking, gardening. Then, there’s the list—by far the longest—of UNskills: the things I cannot, and should not, do. Among the infinite items on this list are using a paper cutter, using an X-ACTO knife, using scissors, drawing anything.

Displaying Team Colors and Humiliation
Eons ago I toiled as a proofreader and copy editor for a marketing agency. Sometimes, at the end of the day, one department or another was frantically putting the finishing touches on some project that FedEx was scheduled to pick up at any moment. To this cluster of activity I usually offered my assistance, which usually entailed copying, collating, sorting, or packaging. However, one evening, I offered assistance to the design department.

A graphic designer set me up with a cutting mat, a straightedge, and a knife—tools of his trade at the time. He instructed me to cut out the ads from the galleys. It was easy—no measuring necessary. I simply had to line up a ruler with the crop marks and then knife out the excess paper. I knew the routine. I’d watched my precise, architect father do such a thing thousands of times. But I also knew my limitations and asked the designer if there wasn’t some other way I could help.

I got that “look” from him—as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, as if I was insincere about wanting to help.

I caved. I said of course I would cut the ads. You see, I had garnered a certain amount of respect and admiration from my colleagues at the agency for my editing skills and my design savvy. I was held in esteem and I didn’t want to jeopardize my reputation.

With laser focus and a determination to excel, I began cutting. Cautiously. Too cautiously, probably. From the top crop mark to the bottom one, I removed the excess paper and turned the ad to make the next cut. At this point, I apparently lost all track of time. The graphic designer returned to my side, expecting to collect five finished ads from me yet seeing that I’d accomplished next to nothing.

He inspected my efforts. And he was kind. “Hmmm. Let me show you an easy way to do this.” He fixed my jagged edges and talked me through the next cut. I thanked him for the step-by-step instructions, and he stepped away.

He hadn’t told me anything I didn’t already know. But knowing and doing are two entirely different things, aren’t they? I could get from Point A to Point B easily enough, but the route was never the most direct. And the results were less than satisfactory, which I could easily discern. The curious part of this clumsiness is that I’m agile in other arenas: music, dance, theatre. Why, oh why did straight lines elude me?

When the graphic designer checked my progress the next time, his face lit with alarm and pity. “You really can’t cut straight, can you?” I shook my head in shame. No, I really can’t.

Doomed to Disappoint
Fast-forward to my day at the Humane Society. Not only was I expected to cut out HUNDREDS of small rectangles of paper (with NO crop marks as guides), but half of the rectangles had already been cut and mucked up by other volunteers. I was brought in as THE FIXER!

Oh My Dog! Could this be worse? I tried to explain my cutting track record, but was told to just do what I could. Which I did. But it was a miserable way to spend 7 hours.

The staff at the Humane Society is warm and friendly and appreciative of all volunteers. Each one thanked me for the tremendous work I was doing. Many of them remarked on the monotony of the job and what a trooper I was to put up with it.

Ha! Little did they know. Work can’t be monotonous when every moment of it challenges your skill sets and composure.

A couple of things kept my spirits up, though. First, two of the resident cats kept me company throughout the ordeal. And second, and more important, the paper rectangles I was cutting were slated for use at an upcoming fundraiser—the black-tie Beastie Ball—the Humane Society was throwing. My ego could withstand a hit or two on behalf of homeless pets.

I’ll recover my dignity soon enough. The question is: Will I ever again be asked to volunteer?

[All vintage art from The Graphics Fairy.]

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Blue Jay Chronicles: An Addendum

“There’s more to a blue-jay than any other creature. … You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure—because he’s got feathers on him, and don’t belong to no church, perhaps; but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be.”
—from “Jim Baker’s Blue-Jay Yarn” in A Tramp Abroad, by Mark Twain

After reading up on Jays, I started putting out one of their favorite foods—raw peanuts in their shells. I hoped I was feeding Stubby in addition to The Trio, but I could never be sure. (Did you know that a Blue Jay can carry up to 5 acorns in his/her mouth and throat?)

Since the hawk incident, during which the juvenile Trio behaved like hooligans, the birds have flown under the radar. The week we had The Visitor was apparently a week of transformation in our yard and at the feeders, and we missed it. Once The Visitor left and we resumed our routine of nature-gazing out our front windows, we realized the mad industriousness of collecting and storing food for the winter had subsided. Even activity at our feeders had declined. Not only had The Trio departed, also absent was The Stubster—as well as dozens of sparrows and cardinals.

Then one morning I found Blue Jay feathers scattered under the feeder. I don’t know who made the attack, but my bet is on one of the many felines our neighbors allow to roam. I haven’t seen The Trio since.

Until yesterday! Of course, I don’t know if it’s the original members of The Trio or The Trio with a replacement, but it was great to hear them again in the backyard.

(The cat—or, rather, the cat’s person—is still on my grudge list, though.)

[Photo by J. Andrzej Wrotniak; art by Charlie Harper.]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NaNoWriMo, NaBloPoMo—MeNoDoTho

If you’re wondering why some of the blogs you visit are strangely behind in posts, it may be because the blogger at the helm is participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Every November, countless writers start or work on a novel. Their goal: 50,000 words in 30 days. As Haiku Farm blogger says, “50,000 words. One of them is bound to be good.”

Or not.

Other bloggers are taking the NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) challenge by posting something every day.

I’m doing neither. My “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!” (as the NaNoWriMo slogan goes) are being spent reading. The time traveling I spoke of earlier this week has landed me squarely in WWI England and 1880s Paris, peeking into the fictional and nonfictional lives of Mary Crawley (we finally watched Downton Abbey), Katherine Mansfield, and Charles Ephrussi.

I’ve no good excuse for my absence from Lull. But I’ll make it up to you. So keep checking in. Or just sign up for Lull to come to you by way of e-mail.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I’ll Be Back

Sorry for the quiet here on Lull. I’ve been time-traveling.

“Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere.”
—Mary Schmich

Saturday, November 12, 2011

So Happy Together

Recently, I read a short memoir about the horses a writer had grown up with. Clydesdales, they were. And her father brought the first one home—the one he’d fallen in love with, the one who started his obsession—in the backseat of his Cadillac convertible.

I SO wished to see a photo of that!

Just now, looking for something else, of course, I happened upon this next best thing:

This is Jim Sautner with his special pal Bailey, the unexpected antidote to his loss of a previous best friend. Click through to read their charming story.

On A Personal Note…

Sorry, Sister Dearest. You can’t escape it. As John Glenn said, “There is still no cure for the common birthday.”

Hope yours is a stellar one today!

[Cake from We Take the Cake.]
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