Category Archives: pets

PUPPIES

I just realized I never republished my article “Puppies” that I wrote for The Crafts Report. And I already have a P.S. to add to the article! So….here it is.

PUPPIES

It’s been a typical wild and crazy month, craft biz-wise. Someone filmed a video of me and my work; I was artist of the month at a local gallery; I had my first trunk show, I had some great sales off my web site.

All exciting stuff. But not funny.

“Write about the puppies,” my husband said.

The last few weeks we were foster parents for two rescue puppies—street dogs, or “Potcakes” from the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean, where we got our own puppy, our first dog, last year. Tuck adored the wee visitors and played with them constantly.

Yesterday we found the puppies’ forever home, a little family that is the perfect fit. We said goodbye to our little wards last evening. We woke up today to our first morning sans puppies. We all feel a little sad. Tuck sits with his head in my lap, gazing woefully at me. A line from the song “Puppies” by the Incredible String Band wanders through my head….”Hey, hey, the puppies, they are gone. Left me here, holding this song….”

“I can’t write about puppies!” I exclaimed. “They have nothing to do with my craft biz.

Jon just smiled and said again, “Write about the puppies.”

I’ve always resisted doing “any old animal” in my art, despite many customer requests. And I get requests all the time. “Do you do dolphins?” “Can you make a turtle?” Resulting in my favorite cheerful yet gentle response to one inquiry, “Sorry, there were no kitties in the Lascaux cave.” (Interestingly, this remark also appeared in the video, as a shot of a page from one of my countless journals…)

But having a dog has changed my life, no doubt about it. And the presence of this intelligent, highly intuitive, mischievous creature in our home has me wondering…. What is the “Ancient Contract”? And just how long have dogs been with us humans??

The old answer, 10,000 to 11,000 years, was based on actual dog remains in burial mounds. So, after Lascaux. But DNA studies now suggest the break of dogs from wolves started earlier, up to 100,000 years ago, perhaps the result of changes in behavior and diet. Marks of a human hand? Perhaps. And new evidence found in older European caves indicate the dog domestication process surely began as long ago as 30,000 years.

And to clinch it, here are the words that grabbed my heart today:
“…ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog (discovered) at Chauvet Cave, France…(Evidence from) torch wipes accompanying the prints indicate the child held a torch while navigating the dark corridors accompanied by a dog.”

The words of my own artist statement echoing back to me: “Born by the flickering light of torches….”

So I’m writing about the puppies today.

After all, just as I can’t live my life without making room for my art, I cannot make my art without my life spilling into it, either. Just as my art informs my life, my life—with children, with silly pets, with the lessons I’ve learned from climbing, and martial arts, with chickens and yes, puppies, informs my art.

I suspect there is a dog artifact wending its way in the days ahead into my art. I know I will use my art in some way to support the Potcake rescue foundation: A fundraiser with my jewelry, perhaps some artwork to sell in their shop.

And here I am, writing about the puppies.

How did Jon get so smart?

And if he’s so smart, how come he can’t remember to wash the outside of the coffee mugs?

I know something of the puppies will remain with me, always. I know because I just found a last memento of our time with these little creatures….

A big pile of puppy poop in my studio.

Tuck, Mike and Molly

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Filed under art, craft, dogs, life with a dog, life with pets, pets

TRIBES #1: RUNNING WITH THE PACK

Last summer, we came back from our first Caribbean vacation with a rescue dog. A puppy, in fact, from the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most people bring back a t-shirt or some shells, we came home with our first dog.

Watching him grow and adapt to our household has been a treat. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t make us laugh.

He’s desperate to belong–a potcake cannot survive on the islands without his mates. Here in our home, it means fitting into our family. Watching his antics as he tries to befriend and play with our cats is a hoot.

There are no other dogs in our household, so of course he mimics many of the our cats’ behaviors. He has been around other dogs, of course. But he and the cats are together 24/7, so they are his first source of observation. For example, he noticed that both our cats take a piece of kibble, drop it on the floor, then eat it. And so he does the same.

The funniest cat imitation is how he goes up and down stairs. He watched our cats closely as a pup to see how they did it. Aha! One step at a time.

It worked when he was a puppy because he was the same size as our cats.

But he’s a lot bigger now. As he grew to the size of a border collie, it got harder and harder to scrunch up his body to take each single step. His contortions were extreme.

Yesterday, he had a sort of doggie breakthrough.

For the first time, he took the stairs in great, bounding leaps, three at a time. He practically flew up those stairs.

The look of pleased astonishment on his face was delightful. “Aha!”, he seemed to say. “I can bound!”

There’s a lesson in here for us; you know that, right?

When we have no other examples to learn from, we believe the right way–the ONLY way–is what we see around us.

We look to the people around us to learn “the right way” to do things.

That’s perfectly fine, if we are surrounded by excellent examples. But ask yourself: Perfect examples of what?

Not many artists grow up surrounded by artists and encouraged by other artists.

If you are a dog, there are only so many things you can do like a cat. No matter how many cats you surround yourself with, you cannot be a cat. No matter how much those cats wish you were a cat, you are still a dog. No matter how much they wish you were not a dog, it ain’t gonna happen.

If you yearn to make things with your hands, if you love to draw or paint, if you love to make music, or you must dance in order to think… (I urge you to listen til he gets to part about the little girl who could simply not sit still in school. It is astonishing.)

…And the people around you do not understand that….

What contortions would you put yourself through to fit in?

I scrunched to get up and down those “stairs”, for years. I’ll bet many of you did, too.

When I finally broke through, and created my own paradigm, I felt a freedom of spirit I hadn’t felt since I was a kid.

Ever since, I’ve encourage others do do the same–to find some way of getting their heart’s work out into the world.

Because when you try to bury who you really are, bad things can happen.

If you cannot be the artist you are meant to be, you may become a shadow artist.

I guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, inspiration, life with a dog, life with pets, pets, shadow artist, tribes

ALMOST ANOTHER EXPENSIVE PUPPY LESSON

The things you have to check on when you own a puppy!

We’ve been pecking away all week at a pile of eight cords of firewood, stacking it onto pallets in our yard.

Our new puppy, Tuck, loves to help. He also loves chewing on wood. Consequently, just as we turn to pitch a chunk of wood from the pile to the pallets, we often see Tuck merrily pouncing on a wood chip just where we’re ready to chuck. Fortunately, we’ve always managed to “un-chuck” in time. But we could tell how this would end if we didn’t do something different.

So Jon has taken to tying Tuck up to a long clothesline while he works. Plenty of room to romp, and access to nice chewy chunks of wood, but keeping him out of harm’s way.

Today’s nearly expensive lesson hinges on exactly what the other end of the clothesline is tied to. Sometimes it’s a wheelbarrow, sometimes it’s a tree trunk. Sometimes…..wait, I’m getting ahead of my story here.

Yesterday I was running late for an appointment. I jumped into my car, did my three-point turn to head out of the driveway, and headed out to the street.

Halfway down the driveway, I heard a horrendous noise and the entire car shook. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the passenger side rear view mirror wobble. Wha….???

I braked immediately. What did I break now?? I got out to take a look.

Someone….someone…had tied Tuck’s clothesline to that rear view mirror. No, Tuck was not still attached. (I would have noticed that!)

But when they’d brought Tuck inside, they’d untied him at his collar, and left the clothesline attached to the mirror.

And as I whipped down the driveway, the trailing rope had gotten run over by my rear tire, jerking the rope. And nearly yanking the mirror off my car.

Fortunately, I’d stopped in time. So I still have my mirror, although it looks a little bendy right now.

Who knew that once you own a dog, you have to do a walk-around check of your car before you drive it, to see if someone has tied a rope to it??

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Filed under funny, life with a dog, life with pets, pets

EXPENSIVE PUPPY LESSON

Where NOT to let your dog ride in a car.

We just learned a very expensive lesson today.

When we go in the car, our puppy Tuck rides in the back seat, preferably on the floor. He immediately would scrunch under the driver’s seat, which we thought was cute. “Oh, look!” I’d say, “He’s trying to get closer to us without actually getting in front!” (Which isn’t allowed.)

Two days ago, my “air bag” warning light came on. I took it in to the Subaru dealer today.

The service manager called me back a few minutes ago with an odd questions.

“Do you have a dog?” he asked.

“Yep”, I replied. How did he know??

“Is it a small dog?” he asked.

Wow, I thought, this guy is amazing! “Yes, he’s a puppy.”

Then I thought, did Tuck poop in the car??

Nope. Much worse. And much more expensive.

Turns out our little Tuck chewed through the air bag harness which is located…..under the driver’s seat. It will take at least four days for a new one to be sent, and it will cost $545 for the harness and it will take 2-3 hours of labor.

Oh my.

So here is my public service announcement: Do not let your darling little puppy-or-small-dog crawl under the car seats.

Because in addition to the candy wrappers/empty pop cans/gas receipts/other assorted trash, there is evidently a pricey little part under there that dogs just love to chew.

That, or Tuck is actually a gold-digging puppy who hoped to inherit our estate after we were killed in a car crash.

Naughty Tuck! But he’s in good company, as you can see from our other pets who create havoc with their chewing.

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Filed under announcement, funny, humor, life with a dog, life with pets, pets

DOG OWNER, HEEL THEYSELF!

Living with intention makes for better dogs, and makes us better artists.

Our new puppy Tuck (he’s the stylin’ dude in the blue bandana) is a delight. Tuck is our first dog ever. He’s a little too smart, but funny, sweet and eager to please. He has already added a lot to our lives. Including a few little puddles and stinky poo piles. (He’s getting much better with housebreaking, though.)

Actually, we’re getting much better with housebreaking. Which is the point of today’s post.

We’re learning that training our dog means retraining ourselves.

This weekend we hired our local “dog whisperer”, Perry Davis, for a one-hour intensive puppy training class. Perry is amazing with dogs. He doesn’t have a website (yet) but if you are interested in his services, please email me privately and I will send you his phone number.

We found we were doing some things right. But there were quite a few things we could do better. And the time to start doing better is right now, in this stage of deep learning, before Tuck hits the human equivalent of adolescence. (Parents of teens know this is when you seem to become invisible and mute to your child.)

This is the time to take advantage of natural tendencies in a puppy (eager to please, follow the leader) to lay down a good foundation for all future training.

Our dog sees us as either a leader, or a follower. We need to establish ourselves as the leaders in every situation.

For example, we’ve been using “come” to get Tuck to go along with us. And already it was not working as well as it should. He was beginning to resist going for walks on his leash, and would end up sitting in defiance while we tugged and lugged on his collar. He loves to go home, though. So I would drive Jon and Tuck downtown, and then they would walk home from there. Not something we want to become a habit.

Perry showed us that we were giving Tuck mixed messages, and not taking advantage of a built-in tendency: A dog his age (four months) wants to follow.

In order to encourage him to do what he naturally would do, we should not face him and ask him to “come”. (“Come” should ask a dog to return to you, not go with you.) We were to turn around, face away from the dog, and go, with the firm command, “This way!”.

We tried it. Sure enough, his compulsion kicked in, and he hurried to catch up. It was amazing! It worked every time. Soon Tuck was walking downtown and back with us again.

My husband Jon, as always, was quick to see the subtle structure beneath the advice and suggestions Perry offered. It was Jon who noted that the sequence also trained us.

Changing the command and the posture also changed the whole balance of energy in the interaction.

“Come” asks for something to come to you–in this case, our dog. It hopes the “something” will come.

“This way!” is you taking charge, you going your way. And expecting that “something” to go along with you.

What an intriguing metaphor….

Of course, there are many times when it’s nice to ask.

And hope is a good thing. It’s always good to have hope.

But there are also times when you need to just get going. “This way!” This is what I want. This is where I want to go. Making our intention clear to the universe.

When we know what we want, when we take responsibility for our journey, all our energy will go into supporting that. Naturally, without fuss, with enthusiasm.

Not without obstacles, of course. There are busy streets and high hills to cross on our walk. There may be setbacks and issues.

But knowing we want to go there will give us the good energy and zest we need to make our way.

Such a useful management tool for dogs. And for us.

P.S. The title comes from an old joke about a guy who named his dog “Physician.” When they went out for walks, he could say, “Physician, heel thyself!”

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Filed under art, craft, inspiration, life, life with a dog, life with pets, liviing with intention, mental attitude, pets

VACATION MODE–OFF! Sunburn, Island Dogs and Fire Safety

We’re back from our very first Caribbean family vacation. We spent a week on the Turks and Caicos islands. And yes, it’s as beautiful as it looks in the pictures.

My sun-lovin’ husband is happy, happy, happy, but despite avoiding the sun between 10 and 3, applying not one but two layers of sunblock (we’re talking zinc oxide here, people) and staying in the shade, I managed to get so sunburned I needed medical intervention. I love the idea of a tropical island, but I’m afraid I could never really survive on one.

Most people come back from the islands with seashells, or maybe a t-shirt. We came back with a potcake puppy.

We actually adopted our little sweetie (a male–we’re still arguing over names) from the Turks & Caicos SPCA. The folks there arranged every single detail of our adoption and transportation of this pup, and another one who will be eagerly welcomed at our own local animal shelter.

Our Monadnock Human Society has had such incredible success with their spay and neuter program that we actually have a shortage of mixed-breed dogs available for adoption in the region. The TCSPCA, on the other hand, is desperate to find homes for these abandoned dogs. They already have connections with other shelters in the U.S. We’re hoping this newest connection with our local shelter will result in more wonderful new homes for these amazing island dogs.

Traveling with these two puppies through three airports, customs, immigration, one delayed flight and a long layover, was a piece of cake. Many airport personnel were familiar with the dogs; you haven’t lived til you’ve seen a stern and proper customs official melt at the sight of one of these pups. One former islander laughed heartily and said, “Yah, we say ‘potcake’, but you say ‘MUTT’!” That’s exactly what they are, of course, lovable, affable mutts.

People unfamiliar with them cannot believe how relaxed and happy the puppies were. They really are mellow, loving dogs, and we hope more can find their way to the states.

And to get right back to business, here is this excellent article on fire safety for your booth by Candy Adams in Exhibitor magazine. It’s one of the best I’ve seen on the subject, and though it’s written for “the big guys” at major trade shows, it offers good insight and clarity for us artists/craftspeople and our more humble booths.

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Filed under adoption, art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, display, life with pets, pets

KITTEN THERAPY

I’m slowly returning to normal activities, and my spirit continues to mend, too.

It was a shock to learn that the spirit can take longer than the body to recover from a long year of injuries and setbacks. It was a good lesson to learn, though. I think I’ve gained more compassion for others in the same boat. You can handle one setback, another and another. But at some point, your soul just wants to hunker down and run.

We’ve always heard that when we are down in the dumps, it can help to reach out and help others. It’s a good way to get us outside our own heads, a way to move and act without being totally self-referential.

But if even that seems like too much, here’s a lower-threshold spiritual treatment I can almost guarantee will provide the same benefit:

Kittens.

There’s something about kitten antics that makes everything else weighing on your heart just fly away.

Everything is wildly interesting to them–the hem of your jeans, the tie on your robe, the cord on your window shades, the dryer lint in the waste basket, the bug crawling on the floor.

They jump, bounce, flounce, roll, and cry piteously when their tail is, in turn, mistaken for a toy by a sibling.

And if you get tired of dealing with a hamburger-sized ball of fuzz that sees everything in the world as attackable, there’s always an exhausted yet hugely grateful mom-cat who’s happy to simply sit and be petted.

Now, you don’t have to rush out and buy kittens. In fact, there’s a great way to have an (almost) everlasting supply of kittens on hand.

You can be a kitten foster care provider.

One of our favorite family volunteer projects is to act as a foster home for our local humane society. When they receive a pregnant cat or a mom-cat with young kittens, they quickly place them in homes for temporary care–about one to three months, or until the kittens are old enough to be safely adopted.

This gives the mothers a calm, loving environment outside the shelter. It gives the new family a haven from all the diseases that course through a shelter. It ensures the kittens get maximum socialization with humans, critical to their emotional development as family pets.

And as a side effect, our family gets to enjoy kittens in all their glory for two months.

Just when they reach those teenage years (in kitten time), they are all ready to go back to the humane society. The mom cats, unfortunately, may have to wait for new homes. But at least the kittens are adopted quickly, usually within a week. Although I confess, our current pair of cats, our clown-cat Chai and our nervous-nelly cat Moxie, were both former mom-cats in our home.

The layout of our home allows us to set up a foster cat station apart from the other critters. Our two regulars know something is going on, of course. Suddenly, interesting food is delivered to a room that’s now off-limits to them, and they aren’t allowed to drink out of the bathtub faucet anymore. Their bewilderment is palpable, and their attempts to convince us that they need that extra nice cat food, too are amusing.

Our latest batch came to us last week. The mom-cat has been christened “Juno”, after the movie with the young pregnant teen heroine of the same name, because she is so outrageously young herself. (A visitor, on seeing her emerge from the “nesting box”, exclaimed, “That’s the mother??

The kittens are tiny, and just now starting to open their eyes. Three golden mackerel tabbies (probably male), two black torties (probably female.)

They’re really too young to play with yet, and Juno waits anxiously nearby when we handle them, ready to snatch them back at the least little peep out of them.

But already, everything is delightfully right in the world.

P.S. This works with puppies and bunnies, too.

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Filed under funny, health, humor, life, mental attitude, pets

CHICKEN LESSONS

We’ve had a small flock of chickens for awhile now. We enjoy them immensely, not only for the delicious fresh eggs but because they’re so funny to watch.

A few days ago, though, we saw the worst of all chicken behaviors.

“Pecking order” among birds is not merely unpleasant, it can be deadly. Chickens will mercilessly attack and kill not only a strange bird, but one of their own flock, if they perceive it as sick or wounded. Theories abound about why they do this, and the theories make good sense. But it’s still hard to see in action.

Our little flock had turned on one of their own. They started in on one hen, pecking at her til they drew blood. We took her out of the coop and put her in a large cage in our mudroom.

The “house hen” was happy enough for a few weeks. But my daughter, convinced she was missing her flock, returned her to the coop.

We either put her back in too soon, or she’d become enough of a stranger to the others that her fate was sealed. The next day, Robin found the bloody carcass, minus a few important body parts (like her head).

It was an awful sight, especially to us “chicken newbies”, and Robin was devastated. She declared she wanted nothing more to do with chickens ever again.

We talked about it later. As I shared with her these “chicken lessons”, I realized they can also be good lessons about making and selling your art.

1. Chickens can’t choose. We can.

Chickens are not people. If, in fact, they are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, then we are dealing with instinctive behaviors that have been in place millions of years before humans appeared on this planet. Our own human heritage has evolved to allow us to choose whether to fear and hate “the other”. We can choose to behave differently.

Chickens can’t choose. It’s not fair to attribute such human notions as “kindness” and “cruelty” to behaviors that keep the species healthy and viable at the expense of the individual.

We, too, are not completely at the mercy of the world when it comes to our art. We may feel that way sometimes! But we actually have tremendous choice.

We can choose what kind of art we make, what quality of work we produce, and who to market it to. We can choose how to promote it and where. We can choose the story we tell people about it.We can choose our own balance of prestige, money and fame, if we are willing to do the work associated with each choice. I could go on, but you get the point.

2. Don’t make it personal.

The chickens didn’t do this to make us miserable. It’s just part of owning chickens. Sometimes bad things will happen. A fox will take one, or they will get sick and die. We can minimize the bad stuff by taking good care of them, but we will still make mistakes. And even if we take perfect care of them, stuff happens.

When it comes to making and selling your art, try to avoid taking setbacks and failures personally. “They” don’t get my art…. “Nobody” likes my work…. “I did that show and it sucked big time! Nobody wanted my work!” Who is “they”?? “Nobody” likes your work?? Is it really just you and “everybody else”? Statements like this are gross generalities. They set you up against the world, they doom you to pessimism and lassitude.

Instead, try to view your marketing and promotional efforts as experiments. You got results that were effective or ineffective in furthering your goals. “I tried that show and didn’t do well. Its audience was not a good fit for my work.” Or even “I may need to invest a few more years at that show to build a good audience for my work.”

3. Only brittle hearts break.

To rephrase: T’is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

When we love something or someone, it stretches our hearts. When that object of our affection is hurt, or hurts us, it feels like our hearts are broken. We feel like never loving again, because it is too painful when things go wrong. I know people who, when their beloved pet dies, swear they will never own another–because it hurts too much to go through that again.

But that pain we feel is is the growth forced on us by experience, by living life to the fullest. The pain I feel when my spouse and I are fighting is excruciating. Yet that is simply a consequence of being a different person than him. Though we love each other, sometimes we just don’t feel the same way about certain things. My children drive me nuts sometimes, and if anything were to happen to them, I would feel like dying. But I never regret for an instant my decision to marry, nor our decision to have children.

The same with our art. Sometimes it seems too hard to get it out there, and the setbacks seem unbearable. Some days we may feel, “What’s the use? I just don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. People don’t care. Why should I keep butting my head against this wall??”

But when I think back to what my life was without my art, I can hardly breathe. As hard as it gets sometimes, it was worse–much, much worse–not being an artist.

I am grateful to have had the chance to make beautiful work that has brought so much joy not only to me, but to others. My life is richer for it.

4. Gain, don’t blame.

It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of determining whose fault it was. But in reality, we were all to blame–and none of us to blame. After all, I could have called a friend to ask their advice about the situation. If I’d really felt it was too soon for the hen to go back to the flock, I could have stood my ground. In fact, some of the anger I felt about the situation was guilt for my part (lack of action)….

But that doesn’t get us anywhere. Hindsight is always so damn obvious. We shoulda, we coulda…. Guilt and dismay keep us locked in the moment. They are only useful if they help us resolve to do better next time.

In the end, it’s not about “What did we do wrong?” It’s about “How could we do better?”
Try not to dwell on the mistakes you’ve made with your art in the past. Instead, look at them as marvelous opportunities not to make that same mistake again.

5. It’s still a good life.

After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I realize that even with this unhappy event, our chickens have lived a humane and enjoyable life, compared to the chickens raised commercially for eggs and meat. Our chickens get to run free, eat bugs, enjoy the sunshine and dig to their hearts’ content.  For a chicken, it’s a pretty good life.

So, too, despite the ups and downs of the artist’s life, it’s a life I would choose again, and again, and again. Because this is still my best life so far.

As I get older, people are starting to say to me, “How did you get so wise?!” Okay, I admit it–I love it when they say that!

But the truth is, wisdom comes with experience. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to learn from the mistakes of others. Mostly, we learn from our own.

Everything you read in my blog is me working out the good stuff from all the bad stuff that happened to me. Sometimes I do it easily, and sometimes it takes me a few days, or weeks, or even years to get there. I’m a work in progress.

But the wisdom is always there, if you are willing to look for it. Even in the sad death of a single little chicken.

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Filed under art, business, choices, life, life with chickens, life with pets, pets, selling, taking chances

BUNNY SPICE

The decision to allow some of our pets into my working studio space has always had its ups and downs. You may remember my “bad bunny” essays from my old blog such as Devil Bunny, where I share how Bunster and Bubble have “tasted” everything in my studio from my new rubber floor mats to my new MD Propanels. (Debbie at MD Propanels kindly sent me a replacement patch for the carpet section Bunster had chewed with a cartoon bunny drawing and a caption that said “Yummm!”)

In hindsight, I would have read up more on rabbits and done more preventative maintenance. I would have raised ALL my extension cords (including my power cable to my computer, sewing machine and telephone.) I would have invested in metal gym locker baskets and old metal tool boxes and containers sooner. (Bunnies can chew through wood but not metal….yet!)

But even so, I would not change anything for the enjoyment I’ve gotten out of them.

Yesterday I set up the refreshment table for my open studio. I’m keeping it oh-so-simple this year. I’ve learned that most people are serious about looking around and shopping, and that my family ends up eating most of the leftover food. I have hot mulled cider, those highly-addictive honey wheat pretzel sticks and gingersnaps.

After I set out the gingersnaps, I folded up the plastic liner bag with the remaining cookies, closed the box top, stuck it in a grocery bag with the second box, and tucked them under a drawer next to my desk. I ran into the house to get ready.

When I came out, I could see Bunster’s tail sticking out from under my desk. It’s twitching happily. And a suspicious munching sound…. What the heck was she eating??

She had a) pulled the entire grocery bag under the desk; b) pulled out the open box of cookies; c) opened it; d) pulled out the folded liner bag (“to preserve freshness!”) and e) opened it; f) removed one cookie and was g) contentedly munching it under my desk.

Now, I’ve read on many occasions that animals like rats, birds, rabbits, while not quite as “smart” (as WE judge “smart”) as cats and dogs and dolphins, DO have the emotional intelligence of a 2-year-old or 3-year-old child.

And I remember when I was three, I became obsessed with brown sugar. I craved it. I would beg my mother for it. Hmmmm….does that explain my maple syrup jones?

One day, I figured out how to get up on the kitchen counter and snag the whole box of brown sugar. I hunkered down under the dining room table (which had two fold-down “leaves” that I thought hid me completely from view.)

These were the days before “resealable inner bags”, so brown sugar used to get pretty stale and hard if you didn’t use it up fast. I had a spoon and was diligently scrapping rock hard brown sugar, eating literally a few grains of sweetness at a time.

Scritch, scritch, scritch!

I remember squatting under that table, digging into that box of brown sugar with a spoon, and looking through the table legs at my mother’s feet. I remember her saying, “Come out of there RIGHT NOW!! What are you eating?!”

And I clearly remember thinking, “I can’t see her, so she can’t see ME!”

And also thinking, “I don’t care if I get in trouble, this brown sugar is GOOD!”

So today, I thank Mark Rosenbaum for all those yummy pralines he brings us at the Buyers Market of American Craft show in Philly all these years.

I thank Bunster for all the life lessons she’s taught or illustrated for me along the way (see Stormy Weather) and think of my friend Lee, whom I have not seen in many months and who I hear is not doing well.

And I thank Bunster for the laugh, and the walk down memory lane.

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PIRATE DAY

So yesterday I was working on a project in my studio.

I had our remaining cockatiel riding on my shoulder all day. He has scanty feathers in his crest, and he’s a pearl-faced cockatiel–he’s mostly grey and white, looks a lot like a little parrot.

I’m wearing my aircast on one foot, and my left foot is bare–which means there’s an almost two-inch difference in my legs. So I’m lurching around my studio with a wide swagger.

The doorbell rings. It’s the UPS guy. They never stick around long, so I hurry as fast as I can to the door before he can take off. I swing the door open.

He looks at me and there’s this funny look on his face. I suddenly remember the big air cast, the rolling run, and the bird on my shoulder.

Zoe, who is unsettled and lonely since Bella died, starts shrieking at the UPS guy. Right. In. My. Ear.

With a straight face, I say, “I’m a pirate.” (I resist the urge to add, “arrrrrgh…”)

He says, “Oh.”

I get a little flustered, and actually sign the receipt with my maiden name (which, coincidentally, also has some “U’s” in it.

I say, “Oh, gosh, I goofed up! I signed my maiden name instead of my married name!”

He looks again with a funny look on his face, and says, “What’s your married name?”

“Udell”, I say.

And he says slowly, “Are you sure?”

I hope the next time he comes, I’m in my normal phase.

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NOBODY BURIED BELLA!

Okay, this is totally off-topic of business, craft, art or anything except general life craziness.

I have to write this rambling essay, because my husband said I had to. He said if I overlooked the chance to write a blog with the above title, he would write it himself.

Years ago we had a friend who was a serial pet owner. She would get pets and a year later, decide they were too weird and give them away. We inherited a pair of male cockatiels from her, named, ironically, Bella and Zoe. Which confuses our vets to this day.

Fortunately, we caught on the the “serial” aspect before we also inherited another cat and two very large dogs from her, too.

On top of all the other panics and health alarms going on in my life right now, one of the cockatiels, Bella, fell gravely ill recently. I found him fluffed up and trembling on his perch. I called a local vet who specializes in exotic pets. Just for your information, the word “exotic” in a business name is usually synonymous with “expensive.”

And so began a round of (very) expensive vet visits, on top of the flurry of MRI’s, x-rays and other doctor visits centered around my “lumpy neck” thing.

Bella’s symptoms worsened–paralyzed feet, lack of appetite. More tests were done, with no results. It was awful to see him deteriorate from a saucy, sassy, chirpy bird to a sad, quiet little creature.

Trying to keep all the doctor visits straight became an exercise in futility. I missed two consults with a foot doctor, who was going to find out why one foot hurts so much and why there’s a lump on the Achilles tendon on the other.

The bird doc prescribed a “holistic vitamin supplement” for Bella. They were out of it, but were going to get more in the following Friday. I was supposed to pick it up on my way to riding. But I had to reschedule my missed foot doc appointment, and she scheduled another MRI, this one for my foot, on Friday, so I didn’t go riding. So I didn’t drive by the vet on the way and I didn’t pick up the supplement. Got that?

On Monday I saw the foot doc for a follow-up. That’s when I found my Achilles tendon is compromised and in danger of rupturing. I was fitted immediately for something called a “cam locker”, a sort of air cast for immobilizing my foot. You can see a beautiful version here. Note how well it goes under jeans and normal clothing. (NOT)

It also elevates my right foot about 1.5″, necessitating me wearing a heel shoe on my left foot so I don’t lurch down the street like a seadog.

Temperatures are supposed to be in the 90′s the next few days. I’ll be wearing shorts (yay!), an air cast with a full-calf stocking on my right leg (boo hoo), and a heeled shoe on my left foot (double boo hoo.)

Now, I’d just taken off two months from my last surgery. I’m carrying..uh…a little extra weight. I was anxious about being inactive another month. “Can I ride?”, I asked the foot doc. No. “Can I climb?” No. “Can I walk?” Yes. “Can I swim?” Yes. “Can I do tae kwon do?” No. “Can I do some stuff in tae kwon do? Stretches? Balance work? Forms??” In exasperation, she said, “Whatever you can do while wearing that cast, you can do in tae kwon do.”

When I got home, I found the order I’d placed three months ago for little steel stands (for my sculptures), was not going to be done in time to finish two orders. In desperation, I asked the metal guy if he could cut down some taller stands so I could finish the orders. He said he could, if I came out immediately.

I was irked. The original order had been lost, then found. Then made up to the wrong specs. I took them anyway, but reordered the size I still needed. When I got the invoice for the mistakes, I found I’d been charged almost 50% more–because “the order was so small” and the set-up charges were high. I was a little irked when I got out there. He knew. He stopped what he was working on to recut my stands immediately.

While he did that, an elderly woman came by for what he was working on. It was a funky handmade woodstove pipe cover he was supposed to be repairing for her. While he cut down my stands, we chatted and she told me about the cover. It looked handmade–uneven, old, rusted, bent. She said it was really old, and had been repaired several times by different people. Our metal guy had already repaired the clips for it last year, and now he was reattaching the old rusted flange.

It looked like the kind of repair job that would drive almost anyone crazy. From her conversation, I didn’t think she had a lot of money, and wasn’t expecting to pay very much for the repair. She was also impatient. She said snippily to me, “He said it would be ready in a hour!”

I wanted to tell her I’d waited three months for my order, but that suddenly felt like tattling.

I felt sorry for the guy. I was just one of a myriad such fussy little orders he said “yes” to, because he wanted to help people with, for not very much money. He obviously found it hard to say no to the jobs he really didn’t have time to take on. It was time, I realized, to either wait to submit work during his slow seasons, or to find someone else who could more easily work with a “small potatoes” client like me. Metal guy was relieved I understood.

I thanked him for the cut-downs and left. I spent the rest of the afternoon finding someone else who could better deal with my little stands. I found someone, and shipped off samples that afternoon.

I remember that I forgot to pick up the miracle holistic vitamins for Bella. I drive out to the expensive–I mean, exotic–vet, and pick it up.

I kept checking in on Bella. He looked the same. I decided to go to tae kwon do that night.

I couldn’t do much. But I did a jillion sit-ups and wall push-ups. I did strength work. I did balance work. I did stretches. I felt good about persevering through yet another injury.

But while I was gone, Bella died.

I felt awful. If I’d known he was that close, I would have stayed with him. I cried a little, wrapped him in a cloth napkin, and found a shoe box to bury him in.

I asked my son to dig yet another hole in the back yard for our latest pet casualty. He said he would.

But he forgot.

I asked him if he could do it before he left for school on Tuesday, and he said he would.

But he forgot again.

So on Tuesday morning, I’m lurching around the house and finding I can barely get up and down stairs with my new clubbed foot. A friend who’s a carpenter was over repairing a door jamb in my studio that was rotted out. He called me out repeatedly to share increasingly disturbing revelations about the extent of the damage. It had permeated the huge timber foundation my studio is built on. It went further back than he thought–he was going to have to replace that entire section. It was worse than he thought–there were carpenter ants. Uh oh…a huge NEST of carpenter ants. He was going to have to spray immediately, even before we could get an exterminator.

As he headed to the hardware store to get deadly poisonous spray for the carpenter ants, I realized our chickens are only a few feet away from where he’ll be spraying. So is my surviving, cockatiel, Zoe. We’d better move them! We set up a temporary cage in our mudroom for the chickens. When Doug got home from school, he and I chase chickens and carry them to the mudroom. I also haul Zoe’s cage out there–all this in the air cast, mind you.

As I rush through the dining room, I see the little shoebox with Bella, still on the table. “Dang!”, I think. Doug still hasn’t dug a hole! I remind him again. He says he’ll do it later.

Jon decides we need to go out to dinner. Doug says he’ll go, but Jon has to finish something first. By the time he’s ready, Doug doesn’t want to go. He says he’s no longer hungry. I find out why later. The large “party size” container of roasted red pepper hummous is gone. So is a new box of party crackers. And an entire loaf of bread. Living with a teen-aged boy is like living with a bear who’s fattening up for hibernation. A lot of food disappears steadily into a very gruff and fuzzy creature who only speaks in grunts and disappears for long bouts of sleep in a dark and smelly cave.

Jon and I go to Subway alone. I bring the leftover half of my sub home to Doug. He eats it immediately. I notice the shoebox with Bella is still on the dining room table. I beg Doug to dig a hole. He says he will.

I remember that I’ve forgotten to attend a good friend’s artist presentation at a local gallery. DANG!!

We do some other household chores, and Doug trundles off to bed. Jon and I settle in to watch TV. Or rather, we settle in to our usual fight about what we’re going to watch on TV. I’m a serious CSI addict. He prefers the unrelenting, unresolved tension of 24. We snipe about each other’s curious drama preferences. Finally, yawning, it’s time to go to bed.

In the dining room, Bella’s shoebox coffin is now suspiciously on the floor, and our two large cats flee with that hunkered down posture that, in cats, denotes a guilty conscience.

The box is still closed, thank goodness! But in the midst of air casts and warped walks, carpenter ants and potentially poisoned chickens, we had left out for grabs the most enticing feathered toy you could ever present to two formerly feral cats.

That they had merely swatted the box around and not actually gotten in and used Bella as the ultimate cat toy, may have indicated their restraint.

Or maybe just how hard it was to get the box open.

But it’s then I exclaim those immortal words:

“Ohmigod! Nobody buried Bella!”

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GOODBYE LITTLE RAT

Yesterday was a hard day. I had to take my daughter’s pet rat to the vet to be put down.

I cried and cried as she fell asleep in my hands and then died peacefully. She was the sweetest animal that has ever been in my care.

I know, I know. I know EXACTLY what you’re thinking. “Rat” and “sweet” do not belong in the same sentence, unless it’s something like, “We killed the rat, SWEET!”

I’ve never been fond of rats, and a year living in downtown Baltimore almost 25 years ago sealed the deal. Even looking at them made me nervous. Movies like “Willard” and “The Bone Collector” merely confirmed my harsh opinion. And no one ever disagreed with me.

Oh, from time to time, I’d hear people say, “Oh, but pet rats are so SWEET!” My response was, “Yeah. Right!” A stint as a rat handler at our local human society changed my mind substantially, but I still got nipped a lot. I grew to see their charms, and I could see how desperately they sought affection. But never really thought I’d grow to see one as an uber-pet.

Until this particular little rat came into our home.

My daughter bought her as a baby at a local pet store, and snuck her into the house. She hid her inside a large box in her bedroom for months before I discovered her. (Waist-high piles of clothes and books and girl trash were very effective at keeping me out of the room.)

When I discovered the rat, Robin thought it was funny her parents were so “dumb” they hadn’t known she’d had a rat for months. I pointed out it wasn’t exactly cool to have a room so messy, you could hide rats in it.

As Robin’s friends and boyfriends dominated her life more, and she spent less time at home, I felt guilty about the rat. I did a little research and learned they are intensely social animals. So social, one source admonished, that having a single rat was tantamount to….well, rat abuse. I resolved to spend an hour every evening handling the rat while I watched TV with my family.

And I ended up falling in love with that silly little thing.

Robin called her Mavra (MAHV-rah) after some Welsh thing, and we never did learn what it meant or how it’s really spelled.

Mavra slept most of the day, and when the TV came on, she knew it was social time.

She’d scrabble out of her house, a little cardboard box we’d cut doors in. Inside that box was her her nest. I now understand where the term “rat’s nest” comes from. It’s a large, carefully constructed bird’s nest made with everything they can get their paws and teeth on. Every time we cleaned her cage, we gave her a new supply of newspaper strips, toilet paper, a rag or sock. She would carefully pull each piece inside her box and trim them down to bite-size pieces. Then each piece would be carefully stuffed into the next. This would keep her busy for hours. They were amazing to look at.

I’d pick her up and let her run around my lap and legs a little, before settling in for a cuddle. Sometimes I’d stick her in a pouch or an old cloth purse, and actually “wear” her into my studio. I’d do some work or read e-mail while she scrabbled around happily, eating tortilla chips, occasionally sticking her nose out for a peek.

She was very much like a dog in her behavior–happy, affable, curious. She never once bit me or anyone else while being handled, not even when she was given food. She even learned not to pee on us, once she realized we didn’t like it. We didn’t have to do much–we would just say, “Oh, Mavra!” sadly and put her back in the cage and go clean ourselves up. She figured out what was up with that, and rarely peed on us after that.

Mostly, she loved to lie happily in my lap and have her head stroked, just like a dog. Long strokes from her nose over her eyes and deeply rubbing her ears. She would chatter her teeth, rat behavior that means, “YES!! I LIKE that!” Often she would fall asleep.

Robin took Mavra with her last fall to her first internship. I’m so glad she did! The internship fell through, but not before Robin had spent months alone in a tiny studio apartment, in a tiny town hours away, so isolated her only social contacts were at the restaurant she worked lunches at. Mavra kept her company during the long, long hours of solitude.

I owed Mavra one for that.

I guess what broke my heart as she died is I know very few people would ever look further than her ratty head and her snake-ish tail, and see deeper to the loving and gentle heart inside. Even my husband never looked at her without shuddering, and most people’s initial reaction was “eeeuw!”

But rat lovers know.

Many folks are not who they seem on the outside. Some are pretty pretty, but shallow and cruel inside. Some are ugly or unassuming, but they are loving and kind.

Give me the rats of the world any day.

I found an old soft t-shirt of Robin’s to bury her in. I tucked her in the pocket, and tucked her tail in around her. Doug and I buried her in our backyard with our other beloved pets. I found a stone from a beach in Rhode Island that amazingly, looked like a rat–gray and long, with one pointed end and a rounded end, and flat on the bottom. I put it on her grave.

Goodbye, sweet Mavra. I hope you find a warm little nest and a pile of tortilla chips in heaven. And someone to soothe you to sleep each night.

I will not forget you soon.

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