Cats and Microcosms

IMG_1371There are three kinds of cats at my house: four pampered house cats, our barn cats, and the woe-be-gone strays who appear from time to time. Each is fed and watered, offered a place to sleep for the night, but each falls in a very different place in the pecking order. Believe me I know all about pecking order; we had chickens for many years!

These three social classes were sharply defined several days ago when we had a nasty cold snap complete with snow. Two of my house cats, Emma and Pooh, love to spend a part of each day outside. Those few days they made their visits brief and returned quickly to the warmth of the fire. I had to call the barn cats to the back door to feed  them. I have given up traipsing to the barn with them pushing and shoving and tripping me the whole way. I filled their pans and their lovely new water cooler, which my daughter bought them.

Minnie, Harry, Percy, and all the various other barn cats took up their various spots to gobble down their kibble. I try to make enough spaces so that no one is crowded and everyone has enough. When I looked up from patting furry backs and gently pulling tails, I saw the two renegades gathered under the snowy spruce trees watching.

The orange one had obviously been in a fight. His ear was covered in dried blood and he held his head at an angle as though it hurt. The black one stood puffed against the cold, ready to fly or fight, whichever was required. The barn cats were already headed off, their tummies full, to curl in the hay for the rest of the day. Most of them had lost their winter coats and faced this cold snap unprepared. The kibble had been gulped down in a matter of minutes.

I opened the kitchen door and refilled the can with a little more food and went back out. My two visitors had moved a bit closer but retreated when they saw me. I made two mounds of kibble on the stone wall and called softly to them, assuring them that it was okay to eat. I walked into the house and closed the door quietly. It took a few minutes but they crept down and ate the food, always alert for sounds from the house or the barn. When they left, they headed for the woods, not soft, warm hay and a pile of their own kind to warm them like the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are.

It struck me how like the homeless they were, uneasy in a group so much like them and yet feeling unaccepted in so many ways, reluctant to accept a handout when they needed it desperately, and resigned to sleeping in the cold rather than being rebuffed by those who already had more than enough room. I don’t know the solution. I do know that our barn cats have a pretty privileged life. That’s Minnie at the top of the page on a lovely spring day, sacked out on the porch swing. It’s just something to think about. Something that needs to be adjusted in this world of ours where cats are treated  better than people sometimes.

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Quacking Frogs and Eggs like Brains

Spring brings the arrival of the Wood Frogs to my small pond. I’ve probably told you about them before but somehow the rhythm of nature is reassuring to me. Simple things like frogs, budding bushes, and growing grass seem very normal and comforting amid the creeping horror that’s encroaching on our country and has devastated the entire world. So, let’s talk about something pleasant.

IMG_0400There is no missing the Wood Frogs when they arrive. Usually, I can hear their loud quacking clear from the driveway on the other side of the house. They are raucous little guys! Believe me they sound just like a flock of ducks!  They aren’t large frogs but they cover the surface of the pond which is approximately 14′ x 8′.

When my husband was alive the pond gleamed crystal clear and we had fish. I have not been able to keep up with the pump and the skimmer, so now I have frogs. The odd thing is that the pond and the frogs have created their own habitat. Yes, I have floating leaves and stray pine sprays but the frogs are thriving.

The Wood Frogs come for less than a week. They lay their eggs and move on. I have no frog eggsidea where. What remains are thousands of eggs. They do look like brains – or at least what I imagine a brain might look like! I do have some frogs who live in the pond year round but I haven’t identified them yet. I have several bullfrogs who answer me every time I use my snow shovel as a dust pan to clean up debris on the patio. Apparently, it sounds like a friend to him.

I recommend that you find some private spot away from people to just enjoy nature and breathe. God is still in charge of the universe and he knows us all by name. Our days are in his hands.


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My Kingdom For a Horse

TuckerOn January 1, we said goodbye to an old and very dear friend. His name was Tucker, an American Quarter Horse, a few months short of 30 years old. He belonged to my younger daughter Elizabeth, though he had lived in my barn for twenty years. His stall mate, in the past year, had become a funny groundhog we nicknamed Steve.

My Arabian mare, Ariel, (named for the Shakespearean character not Disney’s) died the week after my husband did in 2017. She, also, was nearing 30. I’ve always felt that I never allotted her death the proper amount of sorrow because my heart was already broken and hearts can only be shattered into so many pieces.

Tucker’s death arrived as we had begun to heal. We knew it was coming – all the signs were there. He had begun to slow down and lose weight. The hot summers weighed on him and the winters treated him brutally. I’d begun to hope that he would die in a sweet September field of tall grass, with the leaves newly turning and the sun shining down to warm him. Instead, death came on New Year’s Day as temperatures dipped and winds lashed around the barn.

He was never a horse to complain. Tucker didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was beautiful, patient, and kind – a proper gentleman – who greeted any visitor politely and treated any rider with respect. I will miss his white blaze above the stall door waiting for breakfast each morning. Elizabeth credited him with “singing the song of his people” to her the night before he died; Tucker was cheerful until the very last.

It’s the end of an era for us. The final horse at a farm where there have been horses since I was a child. I’m glad this last one was the perfect horse – one that all of us remember with real affectation. I don’t believe that anyone who hasn’t owned a horse truly understands the bond that forges between it and its owner. Be free, Tucker!! Gallop the hills and valleys of heaven and hunt for that little bay Arabian you were so fond of! I’m sure she’s been missing you!

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The Permanence of Stone

The front door of my farmhouse faces directly east, with an additional door opening in each of the other directions: north, south, and west. It is the sole remaining building of a large farm and acreage that wound its way between layers of limestone down to the infamous Slippery Rock Creek.

The barn, that met its end before my parents purchased the property in 1940, was built of stone. Though a few remnants of its former construction can be found under the twists and tangles of knee high grass across the road, the majority of the stone was used to build extensive walls around the house. A high stone wall supports the front yard, making two 45 degree turns to accommodate wide stone steps that lead down to the road where our rural mailbox stands.

The driveway is lined with stone walls which have been adjusted many times over the years as cars have become wider. Currently a pile of extra stone lies at the foot of the driveway in a heap around al Maple tree. My husband had always intended to ring the tree to make me another flower bed. I may still ask his cousin to do it.

The left wall of the driveway wraps around and follows the back walk. It rises almost 3 feet and is the home to chipmunks, mice, voles, moles, and the occasional snake. It too, hosts lovely stone steps and terminates in the rock garden where my mother tended her wildflowers for years.

The one step into our family room is a huge foundation stone. I fell and broke my kneecap on it once but that never dimmed it’s beauty for me. The step up onto the front walk through the arbor of trumpet vine is a lintel from the old barn. It is a gorgeous old relic and I feel like patting it whenever I go by.

Each of these stones is living a second life – not the one they were (literally) cut out for. They no longer house horses and cows feeling their moist breath misting the walls in winter. Nor do they hold the sweet smell of newly baled hay in summer. Now they lie in the summer sun, a fine furry moss dusting their angles. They are no less valuable, no less beautiful. Were they crushed for gravel, they would still be useful and I have no doubt that children would fill their pockets with the most beautiful specimens. We could never be so placid among life’s changes but then rocks don’t have feelings. Or do they?

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I’ve shared before the many things my husband took care of around the house. One item in particular was my car. If the oil needed to be changed, if the engine made a funny noise, he would drop me off at work and whisk it away to be restored to its former dependable self. Except for the occasional times I took a bucket of water and a sponge and washed it in the driveway on a hot summer day, he also kept it clean.

He stored quarters in medicine bottles that were just the right size for them and would stop at the car wash on Saturdays so the car was clean for church. I will say that I have mastered the quarter car wash and have still failed to exhaust his supply of hoarded coins.

Winter has presented a new problem: last week my car was covered with salt and dirtier than its ever been. Since I was in good clothes and on my way home from work I decided to try the automated car wash.  There were two long lines but my daughter assured me by text that I could manage. “Just use your debit card,” she advised. I spent my half hour wait enjoying the antics of a Lab waiting for its car’s turn at the car wash. It was so excited that it was a delight to watch.

Finally, it was my turn!! I pulled up, rolled down my window, and put my debit card in the horizontal slot and chose my wash type. Nothing happened. My card seemed to be hanging out of the slot a bit, so I gave it another nudge and still nothing. My card was stuck. The machine kept asking for me to insert my payment. Finally, I got out of the car in the hope that there might be a man behind me with a pair of needle nosed pliers. I wasn’t going to drive off and leave my bank card in the slot.

However, there was a very kind woman in the car behind me. She directed me to a brown door where she said there should be a manager. I walk with a cane, so I hobbled across three quarter car wash lanes  and pounded three times on the brown door. There was no answer. Meanwhile, the eight cars in line behind me waited patiently – no one honked a horn, or yelled anything rude – that’s just the kind of town Ellwood City is.

By the time I returned to my car, the woman behind me was already out of hers – with a pair of scissors. She wiggled my card out, one corner at a time until it was free!! I hugged her. She said, “For this first time let me put the card in for you – it goes over here. You put it in the money slot before. (Good Grief! How stupid could I be!)” She slid it in. I selected the wash and she handed me my card. After I thanked her profusely, she said,”Don’t forget to roll your window up!” Then bless her heart she walked back and told each of the drivers of the next 3-4 cars what had happened.

I felt like an idiot but was sure Dennie smiling up in heaven. As I parked at the grocery store I was happy that at least my car was clean in spite of all the drama. But when I got out at the store, I discovered the grimy truth. Because I drive a Honda Fit, a very short and narrow car, the only parts that were clean were the top and the hood! When I got home, I got a bucket of soapy water and washed it the old fashioned way. Now I know why Dennie saved all those quarters!!


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Snowfall and Firelight


I find my outlook has changed since I’m facing the world alone. I was born at the end of a generation where women were expected to marry and household responsibilities were fairly well defined. Being the mother of two daughters, I thought of myself as a feminist, insisting that they could be and should be anything they desired. I didn’t realize how greatly my brand of feminism was supported by a loving husband who took care of the nitty gritty stuff so I could go around waving banners and spouting my philosophy.

The recently forecast massive snowstorm brought all of this to a head, at least for me. I used to love snow. I hung on every meteorologist’s forecast hoping for a 24” snowfall knowing my husband would shovel the driveway and had a four wheel drive truck. He hated winter but he was always prepared. Living in the country means losing your well water as well as your electricity. With one very sweet geriatric quarter horse in the barn who drinks gallons a day, this was problem for him as well as for us.

I realized as the forecasters continued to agree that a big storm was coming that being stuck at home alone wasn’t going to be fun this time. Roasting hot dogs over a fireplace in the living room and making s’mores pales when it’s done alone. When the power goes out, candlelight only waxes romantic with two to share it and going to bed alone with no one to snuggle with but the cat lacks warmth as well as arms to hold you close.

I spent almost 45 years of my life being sheltered by a man who voluntarily made my life easier in dozens of little ways. He didn’t call attention to himself – he just did them because he loved me and because he was raised to feel that men behaved that way.

Now some of those tasks have unfortunately fallen to my younger daughter – like thawing pipes, burying kitties unlucky enough to cross the road at the wrong time, and chasing flying squirrels from the house (some squirrels won’t leave but that’s another story).

Luckily, the snowstorm this weekend failed to perform as expected and we received ice and about 8” of snow followed by bitter cold. It was a significant snowstorm for me though because I was reminded, yet again, of the many tasks Dennie performed behind the scenes. Over the years, I always made a point of thanking him and telling him I didn’t know what I would do without him. But now I realize what a gem Dennie was and how grateful I am to have had him as my husband!

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silver ipad

Photo by Burst on

After a sizzling summer in Western Pennsylvania, September has entered in with enough rain to drench us to the core. I feel guilty complaining when others are dealing with hurricanes but this has been a year of overabundance – just too much of everything. I find I haven’t used my porch much at all because it was too hot. The fabric for new porch furniture cushions is in a bag by the sewing machine. Maybe next year I will make them.

I feel I have left a long list of unfinished chores this year. I was going to paint the wicker chairs and couch, also the black metal table. I had a tall cupboard I was going to antique, closets to declutter, and a whole lot of writing to do. Unfortunately, none of it has been done.
Today, I had no appointments so I sat myself down and spent the afternoon writing. I wrote 1000 words on a Work in Progress and I’m catching up on my blog. I’ve decided that maybe things aren’t accomplished in great swathes of time. (As when my dear brother, sister-in-law, and sister took a week of their summer to help me get my grounds in order since I no longer have my husband to help me.) Maybe, just maybe, some things can be done in 15 minutes or half an hour. Maybe, a pillow can be cut out, not sewn, or stuffed, just cut after dinner. Maybe some editing can happen in half an hour, or three shirts folded and put in a box for Goodwill.
I know God made the world in 6 days but I think he had much better organizational skills than I do. I’m tired when I get home from work. I have a huge amount of reading to do but I think I can find 15 minutes or half an hour every day to accomplish something on my list. And I think it will make me feel better about myself if I do! I’m going to try anyway. I’ll let you know how it’s going.

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DennieThis blog post is long overdue and yet incredibly painful for me to write. I did not choose Mother’s Day to publish it. I chose it only because it was time. I want to honor the man who influenced my life more than any other. This post is for my husband, who passed away last Oct. 25, on my 67th birthday.



I never had a chance to say “goodbye,” Dennie. I was too busy doing CPR, trying to restart your heart and push air into your lungs. I was convinced the Paramedics could bring you back to life when they arrived 10 minutes later. So, I stayed out of the way. I let them do their work even though my heart was breaking. I couldn’t believe you were really gone, even when the doctor in the ER assured me you were. How could I live without you? Breathe without you? How could I go on with the rest of my life without you to shape it? It’s been six months and I’m going through the motions, trying to be strong, showing the world a brave face, but inside I’m hollow and empty.

I will never stop listening for your footsteps on the stairs, Dennie,
Never stop reaching for your hand under the covers,
Never stop wishing you would appear at the living room door in your tux,
Never stop wishing you were sitting on the porch swing beside me,
Never stop feeling that every holiday is less without you here,
Never stop hoping that you are driving every red Silverado I pass.

When you left so suddenly, you took my world with you.
After 45 years, we were one complete person and I am less than half of that now.
I miss dancing in the kitchen.
I miss listening to our favorite songs.
I miss winter nights when we filled the living room with just the two of us.
I miss having you greet me in the driveway when I come home from work,
I miss you sneaking cookies off the cooling rack when they were still hot from the oven.
I’ll miss watching for falling stars on the front porch steps and taking a ride to see the fall leaves with you.

Thank you for your strength,
Your honesty,
Your integrity,
Your steadfast love,
Your friendship,
For showing by example what it means to be a Christian,
For being such a good father and husband,
For encouraging me to never stop writing,
For making sure I always had a good computer to use,
For sticking by me for 45 years.

I am so sorry that you will never have the chance to give your daughters away at their weddings. They love you so much!
I’m sorry you bought an Ultralight but never got to fly it and didn’t get to ride your new motorcycle.
But never doubt that to me – you were my whole world. You fulfilled everything that I ever needed or wanted. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without you and
I will love you forever and ever!

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I have always had a kind of love/hate relationship with wolves. Perhaps it was the steady diet of fairytales that were read to me as a child. When I was little, I always imagined riding in a beautiful red sleigh being chased by a wolf pack in deep snow. The heavy laden branches above us sent pure white snowflakes drifting down on a scene of terror and savage pursuit. I’m not certain whether scenes like that ever actually took place historically or they were simply conjured by my overactive childhood brain. The image seems universal, however, just look at Disney’s Frozen. The fact remains that both my sister and I dreamed of wolves as children, decades ago.

If you’ve read Among Wolves, you know that Devin suffers from “waking dreams,” a malady where the dream lingers for a few seconds even after the sleeper has wakened. I have experienced the same phenomenon since I was a child and my sister must have, too, at least when she was younger. Both of us claimed to see wolves traipsing around our bedrooms in the middle of the night. The wolf in my room always exited into the hall, blocking my escape to my parents’ room or the bathroom. I would lie awake in terror that he would come back in and eat me! My sister’s wolf simply walked around her bed, his tail held proudly aloft so that she knew his position even as she huddled under the covers with the quilt pulled up to her eye sockets.

I’ve never quite forgotten the fear those nightly wolf visits elicited. I think that’s why I was so enthralled with the French legend of The Beast of Gevaudan when I first ran across it. The possibility that a man could train and command wolves while learning to run with them himself, was too good a storyline to pass up! I adore Chastel as a character. The man is a Comte, he’s elegant, funny, and undeniably good company AND he has the same love/hate relationship with wolves that I have. His family’s ability to shapechange has set them apart from their peers and irrevocably complicated his own life. And yet, he loves, actually yearns, to run with his wolves! He is a man with many layers to his personality and I hope to explore that aspect further in future books about Llise.

My actual knowledge of real wolves is limited. When I wrote the scene where Devin encounters the wolves in a cave in Before Winter, I had to run it by a family member, Adam Katrick, who heads Wolf Guard in the state of Vermont. I wanted to be certain  my wolves were behaving realistically. Oddly enough, my instincts were correct and I felt more in touch with Llise’s wolves than ever before.

All of this simply proves that writers’ minds are complex treasure troves of everything we have ever experienced. A childhood dream can be woven into the tapestry of a country poised on the edge of revolution, with an array of characters and subplots. Never discount any item of information, no matter how slight. Like an artist, a writer builds a creation, line by line, until it’s something wonderful and new!

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Ode to Autumn

Today theOak2 wind changed. It swooped down from the north, rustling the maple leaves and whispering through the spruce needles. Fallen leaves skipped and frolicked across the field, cartwheeling end over end. After weeks of waiting, Autumn finally made its way to Western Pennsylvania.

Fall has pushed relentlessly against a summer that seemed endless. Eighty degree days slipped gradually into seventy degree weeks, with a few scattered frosty nights. Trees remained green or shook off tired brown leaves to cover the ground. It seemed that all the beauty and wonder of fall might be postponed for another year. Last Friday, I saw the first hints of color – weeks later than I ever remember – and by Monday the hillsides were dotted by trees in fall shades. We seem to have lost our vibrant reds though, a result of the drought we had in September. The trees are clothed in subtler shades this year, soft mustard yellows, dusty rose, and delicious tones of pumpkin. I associate these colors more with the oaks, which often save their display for November. But this year, the maples have copied their tones tending toward pastels rather than splashes of brilliance.

Normally the turning of seasons reassures us, tapping into our genetic memories of a thousand brilliant autumns before this one. It was jarring when fall did not appear at its appointed time this year. The brown leaves falling hinted at trees dying and the awful suspicion that something was vitally wrong with the world around us. Even now, when fall colors have finally emerged, they are different, subdued, and hesitant. Tonight’s pounding rain may bring them down.

Our last two winters have been warm with very little snow. White Christmases seem to be a thing of the past. Living in the northeast has lost those sharp seasonal boundaries that regimented our lives so recently. What will children growing up today remember of autumn and winter – insipid ghosts of those former seasons? I, for one, welcome the colder temperatures and windy days, snowflakes, frost, and ice, for they comfort my soul. They reassure me that some things are still unchanged on this planet that we call home.

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