"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘animals’ Category

A Nature-Made Mental Health Day

 

IMAG0761My friend and I had gone to Springfield to spend the day with our college-aged kids, but no definitive plan had been decided. Icy drizzle limited us to an indoor activity for our visit, so we crossed off an outing to the World’s Largest Fork. (Yes, this is an actual attraction in Springfield, and yes, I would love to see what it looks like).  After weighing our options for the Saturday afternoon before us, we decided to visit the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops.

The Wildlife Aquarium at the museum has a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that features 35,000 live fish, but there are also quite a few reptiles and birds sprinkled into the galleries.  Coming out of the swamp exhibit, I saw the above quote displayed on a sign.  The words are attributed to John Muir, known as a Scottish naturalist and preservationist who lived during the late 1800s.  As I wandered with our group throughout the exhibits, this quote stood out to me.  I loved the visual of how all of nature is knitted together, as if connecting everything with a single thread.  Just a little tug, a little awareness, and all things come together into focus.

Who knew puffer fish had such cute little teeth to smile with?

I’d had my phone out the entire visit, and even though it was being used as a camera, it made me realize how even the simple joy of witnessing nature was connected to some kind of technology for me.   There are times I am trying so hard to document an experience that I forget to actually live the experience as it’s happening.  I continued to take pictures for the rest of the galleries, but I made it a point to try to make the photography secondary to what I was seeing and who I was with at the moment.

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IMAG0731It was nice to not have a packed schedule for the day, just a late breakfast with the kids, an aquarium visit done at a leisurely pace and plenty of good conversation.  The weather wasn’t getting any better, and we didn’t want to get back home too late, so after a coffee stop we called it a day, gave the kids hugs and headed home.

I like to believe that the “single tug at nature” process had begun.  I suppose that once Mother Nature decided she had my attention with her beauty, she decided it was time to show me her power.  That Saturday, Nature was the one that had the power to make me quit rushing through things and stop to take a breath.

The freezing drizzle continued for the first part of the trip, but the roads were drivable.  As we continued down I-44, the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up with the precipitation.  Even with the temperature and the defroster blower on high, layers of ice began creeping across the windshield.  Then there were a couple of patches on the road that were sketchy.  Tractor trailer trucks either blew past us at normal highway speed or crept slowly along on the hills as the daylight started to fade.

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Any Missourian will tell you that snow is something a driver can reason with; ice is not. With this in mind,  we decided to listen to nature and stopped to spend the night at hotel rather than risk the ice.

Sometimes the To Do List needs to balance with the To Live list.  Instead of a white-knuckled drive home, I was able to spend time with a friend, enjoying a meal and relaxing with a bottle of wine, talking and laughing over YouTube videos and even getting a little work done, too.  (Yes, technology manages to be a part of my nature-scape.)

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This was one of my favorite exhibits of the day.  The jellyfish looked like floating creatures in a lava lamp.  So mesmerizing to watch.

I’m not sure John Muir envisioned the world as a place where getting a glimpse at nature takes as much effort as it does, but surely he saw how appreciating it needed to be intentional.   I doubt he would have guessed how much competition would be out there in our modern-day lives.  On most days I must admit I am guilty of being more dependent on my phone to get me through my day than a spectacular view of mysterious-looking jellyfish.

Thank goodness there are some fantastic nature screen savers out there.

The Story of Merle, From Barn Kitty to King of the Castle In His Own Mind

Merlin sleeping

Late last summer, Tyler asked “Can I get a barn kitty from Katie’s Grandma’s house?”  Being the practical Mom that I am, I answered a resounding, no, absolutely not.  In a few short weeks, the girls would be back in school, Tyler away at college, and all animal maintenance on my shoulders.  Where would it sleep? We already had a cat, albeit one that rarely made an appearance amongst humans, but a cat and two dogs were enough.  Why would I want another critter to care for?

“Well, look at him,” he said, flashing me a picture of Katie with a tiny runt of a kitty sitting on her shoulder like a bedraggled parrot.  It was not a handsome kitty.

Merlin the parrot

I rolled my eyes.  “The answer is still no,” I said, shaking my head at the homely kitten, although I had to admit it was a charming pose.  My mind moved onto other things.

That night as I tried to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about that kitten.  In that single pic, the posture of that scruffy little face stuck in my head.  My logical self told me I was crazy for even entertaining the notion of having another animal living here, even if it was just until Tyler lived somewhere that would allow him to have a cat.  Probably just a year, I reasoned.  And what if we saved the little runt of a kitten from the barn kitty life, and gave him a loving home…

Have I mentioned I watched a lot of animal cartoons growing up?

The next morning, I texted Tyler from work.  “When do you need an answer about the cat?” And so it began.  I’ll spare you the details of the text conversations between the kids, my husband and me.  To sum, there was a tiny bit of resistance, lots of debate and all kinds of mushy words of how a deprived little kitty needed a home.  I should mention there was not a shred of logic.

In the hours that followed, you would have thought we’d been expecting a newborn baby.  We batted around names, with Tyler having the final say, and decided he’d be called Merlin.  We went to the pet store for new toys and treats, more kitty litter and a separate litter box, kitten food and the much-needed kitty door for Tyler’s room.  As they rang up the purchases, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d somehow been bamboozled.  I have always been too big a softie when it comes to furry creatures with big, round eyes. Sucker.

We spent the evening waiting for Katie to come back from her Grandma’s with the new kitty.  As we have other pets, and he had been mostly living outside and had yet to be examined by a vet, we met him outside in the garage.  He was so skinny and tiny!

 

Despite his puny appearance, he had an obvious curiosity about everything going on, and was so trusting and friendly.

Until I put him in the sink.

He had some jumpy little fleas on him, and we had an aged bottle of flea shampoo upstairs, so I figured why not?  This pitiable little kitten went from curious to a terrified lump of fur in a matter of seconds.  I thought I’d killed the poor thing from the shock as he went completely limp.  There was no fight in him, but as soon as we got him in the towel he had completely forgiven me. Little did I know at the time that dog flea shampoo can be toxic to cats, or I really would have thought I had killed him.

Not surprisingly, he ended up spending the night in Tyler’s room, not the garage.  After a trip to the vet first thing in the morning, it was determined he had quite a few health issues besides just fleas.  We ended up with anti-worm medication, eye drops for his runny eye and, of course, they did a flea treatment.  He wasn’t healthy enough for his first round of vaccinations.

Velma, our other cat, did not have much use for him, which ended up being a good thing since he had his health woes to overcome before we wanted them to meet.  Chester and Grendel were their nosy selves, but took to him better than I thought they would.  Of course, he was usually in someone’s arms or lap, so he was gradually introduced.  Early on, he showed those two he wasn’t afraid of them by leaping down right in the middle of the two of them while they had been looking at him like a pack of hungry hyenas.  It may have been in that very moment that he decided he was one of the boys, an honorary dog in his own right.

Tyler was like a new father to his pet.  It was only a week before he had to head back to school, and he spent as much time with him as he could.  My favorite memory from that week, though, was when Tyler told me, “All he wants to do is play in the middle of the night, and all I want to do is sleep”.  He also had a hard time leaving him, even if it was to go out with friends.  I told him welcome to Parenthood Lite.

Summer wound down, the kids all went back to school, and I found myself with a kitten who thought he was a dog, following me from room to room, bringing me his toys and looking for me in the morning for his daily spoon of soft food.  In fact, the daily spoon is the one thing he and Velma can agree on, and I often wake in the morning to find two cats roaming around looking for me to get up and get them their treat.

It’s been about six months since he’s wormed (literally) his way into our household, and I can’t believe it had ever been a question of “Mom, can we keep him?”  While he still battles with his runny eye, an issue I imagine he’ll deal with most of the time, he’s grown to be a spunky, curious, and affectionate cat.

Always curious, but after hearing the old saying about curiosity killing cats, Merlin stays back a safe distance.

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Despite my best efforts to not get too attached to him (he’s Tyler’s cat after all) I find myself completely in love with this mangy little guy.  He still hasn’t mastered the ability to actually meow, instead making a sort of chirping sound.  (Hmm, a cat that thinks he’s a dog and sounds like a bird.  Perhaps he really does have an identity crisis.) He greets me when I get home from work, is always looking for a snuggle, and constantly finds ways to endear himself to me. I hate to admit it, but most of the recent photos on my phone are of Merlin and I can’t go to the store without bringing him some sort of toy or treat home.  At some point I became Crazy Cat Lady and the notion is unsettling.  I thought that only happened to empty nesters.

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He still has parrot tendencies. And helps me on the computer.

Merlin on keyboard

Here he gives me some writing advice while warming himself on the keyboard

If you were to ask him (and he could talk—I’m not that crazy yet), I believe he would tell you he’s King of the Castle here at the house.  There may be a dog or cat around here that would disagree with his assessment, but I doubt they’d do anything about it.

Velma and Merlin

The kitties eventually called a truce. I wouldn’t say they’re the best of buddies, but a lap is still a lap, so they manage to get along enough to grab a nap on the blanket.

Regardless of who rules the roost, none can argue he’s injected some excitement into the quiet household, whether he’s playing the part of cat, dog or parrot.  Not too shabby for the runt-of-the-litter barn kitty he started off life as in the beginning.

Velma, the Fraidy Cat

Velma again

After not having a cat for several years, this past March our family adopted a cat, Velma Kelly.  We kept the name that the animal rescue place had given her (she and her siblings were named after characters in the musical Chicago) and it seemed to suit her.  I’m not sure exactly what made me decide to get a cat that chilly day.  Erin and I had worked at a Girl Scout Cookie Booth in front of the Petsmart store, and when we were finished, we decided to take a look at the dogs and cats they have up for adoption.

When I first saw her in the bottom cat cage, her markings caught my eye.  I thought she was a beautiful little kitty.  I started talking to the woman from Heartland Animal Shelter about her, quickly dismissing the notion we’d ever own a cat again.  Several years ago we had taken in Darrell’s grandmother’s cats when she moved in with his parents, and while I loved them and all their silly feline-ways, I don’t think Darrell ever really connected with them.  Cindy Lou, who was such a sweet, laid-back cat, lived to be over 21 years old.

“We have two crazy dogs at home,” I told the lady from Heartland.  “I’d feel sorry for any cat we’d bring back to the house.”

Well, as it turned out, she was this cat’s foster mom, and they had dogs, too.  “Look,” she said, pulling out her phone.  And there was Ms. Velma, snuggled between two dogs on the couch.  The wheels began to turn.  Could this little kitty be the newest addition to our home?

I went on to explain how our two knuckleheads (my affectionate nickname for the collective Chester and Grendel), were awesome at our house, snuggling with us on the couch, fun to play with and overall great, loyal companions, but lacked social skills with other dogs, and sometimes people.

“Velma loves to sit on your lap and watch TV,” she told me.

Hmmm…I love to watch TV with snuggly pets! I thought to myself.  Visions of me planted on the couch surrounded by my furry friends started to form in my mind.  It was my version of Snow White and her birds and bunnies doing the housework—minus the effort chores take, of course.  “Can we see her?”  I asked.  After bringing up the dogs to make sure they’d be compatible and convincing my husband she’d be perfect for us, two hours and about $250 in cat paraphernalia later, we had ourselves a cat.

 

us on adoption day

Our family, minus Tyler, on adoption day.

Sadly, my Snow White fantasy remains unfulfilled.  I have yet to even get her to stay in the same room with me, let alone sit on my lap.  Velma is quite the Fraidy Cat.

I would say that it’s not without good reason.  The dogs, though not vicious towards her, are a little too curious for her liking—Grendel especially.  He watches her perched upon her cat tree in the family room and whines.  And he never misses the opportunity to give her a good chasing when he can.  To give you a visual, it’s all toenails for brakes across the slick floor followed by ass over teacups.

Grendel head through kitty cat door

This is a regular view from within her sanctuary (Erin’s room) for Velma. They say curiosity killed the cat…but what about the dog? She doesn’t even scratch his nose with her claws.

 

To give her sanctuary, we put in a kitty cat door opening into Erin’s room.  Erin is her human.  For the most part, she’s the one who feeds her, cleans out the kitty litter and as a result, gets all the snuggles I crave.  It’s very heartwarming to see Velma adore both Erin and Emily.  She lets them rub her belly and sometimes carry her around with them.  I’ve tried to be friends with Velma, but still she fears me.  It may be because the first two or three days she was home I was tasked with grabbing her out from behind any furniture, or it may be because she associates me with the dogs.  In any event, even though every time I reach my hand out to her, purposely giving her treats in my outstretched hand, she runs away as if I had just dumped boiling oil on her.

It reminds me of a story I heard a long time ago about a non-believer and some birds.  I searched for it and found it to be a Paul Harvey story.  The story goes that there was a man who was a good person, but found the Christmas story of baby Jesus in the manger hard to swallow, so he opted to not attend Christmas Eve service with the rest of his family.  After his family left, some birds had hit his window trying to get in during the snow storm.  He wanted to help them, but after various ways of trying to get them to safety, realized they were afraid of him.  The thought occurred to him that if he were a bird, they might be more willing to follow him and let him show them the way.  And he had his lightbulb moment of truly understanding the Christmas story.

I’m not sure Velma would like me any better if I were a cat, but I wish she would at least see that I only want her to be a happy part of our family.  Erin was gone this past week on a Mission Trip with Youth Group and now is in Florida with our friends, so I’ve been trying to take advantage of Velma’s loneliness.  The first time we took her to the vet for a checkup after we brought her home, the vet’s office bribed her with baby food.  Since she seemed to like it, this past week both Darrell and I have been trying to coax her to us with little spoonfuls of baby food chicken and gravy. When I feed her, I stroke her silky fur and tell her what a sweet kitty she is.  I play laser pointer with her and let her chase it until she’s worn out.  I sit on Erin’s bed and dangle the kitty fishing pole toy in front of her face to let her bat at the ribbons.  I keep the dogs at bay.

Friendship Goals

Velma’s obvious fear of me and other benevolent people has held her back from moments she might enjoy if she would just relax and not be afraid.  It’s frustrating, but in some ways I can relate a little.  While I’ve never run from the offer of tasty snacks, I have run from opportunities because of a fear of the unknown.  I am guilty of living in my comfort zone because stepping out of it brings the risk of failing and having to say, “That was a mistake.” Who wants to do that?  Or what can be even scarier at times—what if it is successful and I have to keep it up?

Fear has its place.  It keeps us from holding umbrellas on hilltops under trees in lightning storms and hanging out in dark alleys with wads of cash hanging out of our pockets.  But it can also hold us back from our potential—what we were meant to be.

I still haven’t won her over, but I think Velma’s at least accepting me as an Erin substitute this week.  With cats, I’ve learned not to try too hard—they are definitely the ones that like to play hard to get.  Friends have given me hope by saying that they’ve had cats that took over a year to get comfortable in their homes.  While I’ve resigned myself to the fact that she may not be sitting down on my lap and watching TV any time soon, I’m not convinced she won’t ever enjoy hanging out with us in some capacity as her trust in us grows.  Until then, I’ll celebrate the little victories with her like the few times she’ll sit on the stairs and watch me type on the computer.  Who knows?  Someday my Snow White moment with my furry friends may come true.

Velma with toy

Update:  I wrote this three days ago, but was waiting to do a final edit before I posted it.  In fact, it was still pulled up on my screen.  Velma must have read it and felt sorry.  Last night, I decided to read my book in Erin’s room to spend more quality time with the cat.  I didn’t get much reading done, because the game turned into her getting in between me and the book.  So I stopped trying to read and just scratched her behind her ears.  Long story short, I ended up sleeping in Erin’s room to keep the cat company and she is now my best friend.  I was tired this morning after Velma pawed and purred in my ear all night, but I had a thought that maybe the lesson here wasn’t just about fear holding us back.  Maybe it’s about meeting others who are unsure or timid wherever they are, including within their comfort zone, so that trust can become a part of the equation.  But I suppose that’s a whole other post.

Velma

My Tribute to Misbehaving Dogs

Grendel

Grendel

Chester

Chester

Last week, Erin and I took our crazy dogs to the vet to get their Bordatella vaccine for the kennel. I love these dogs, I really do, but when they are together and excited/nervous about something they morph into two lunkheads who completely tune out my voice. I’m glad the Dog Whisperer lives in California so I don’t have to worry about accidentally running into him at the park. Chester and Grendel have a lot to learn about being in the calm-submissive state Cesar Millan teaches people to work towards in their dogs.

Personally, I don’t think Chester (the Beagle) has ever forgotten that after one particular visit to the vet, he came home with a cone on his head, missing a dew claw and a certain other part of his anatomy I won’t mention by name. He has not forgiven the people at Harvester Animal Clinic, and has made it his quest in life to make every subsequent trip there miserable for all involved. See Chester in Action. Sure, he looks like a cute, roly poly Beagle, but inside Beelzebub awaits, complete with throaty growls and clawing.

Dogs chilling on a stop during their walk

Dogs chilling on a stop during their walk

My dear husband is ever faithful in taking them for nice, long walks that manage to work out some of that pent up energy. We have a large, fenced backyard for them to run around in, but it just doesn’t compare to exploring the great big world at the park. I, as a runner, have often thought it’d be great to have a four-legged running partner, but when I’ve tried it before it was a lot of tangled leashes and near-miss face plants. As a result, Darrell ends up taking those two on walks while my friend and running partner, Amy, and I run in the park. Over this past weekend, we had beautiful, sixty degree weather—uncommon for January in Missouri—and took them out to the trail in Woodlands Sports Park. They had not been out to take a park walk for about two months, so just getting the leashes out got them wound up.

We're on a walk!  As you can see by their faces, they get a little excited in the beginning of a walk and try to one-up each other.

We’re on a walk! As you can see by their faces, they get a little excited in the beginning of a walk and try to one-up each other.

Have you ever heard a Beagle’s bark? Bark is a term I use loosely to describe the sound Chester makes. It sounds more like a pig stuck in a barbed-wire fence trying to yodel. On the other hand, Grendel, the larger lab mix, has a squeaky little bark that really does sound like the honk a goose makes. The combination of the two is slightly more pleasant than nails on a chalkboard, and the volume is ear-splitting. This sound is repeated when we A.) Harness them up. B.) Get them to the car. C.) Arrive at the park and get them out of the car and D.) Encounter any other living creature on the path (but mostly when it’s other dogs). Once we get about two miles in, they are a little better, but they always seem to get their second wind. I am more exhausted when we take the dogs for three mile walks than when I do a ten-mile training run.

After a walk on a hot day, we get a little peace and quiet from two tired pups.

After a walk on a hot day, we get a little peace and quiet from two tired pups.

All of that being said, one would wonder why on Earth these two smelly, shedding, mess-making and obnoxious creatures bring so much joy into my life.

This is what happens when the guinea pig's Timothy Hay is not secured and we dare to leave the house.

This is what happens when the guinea pig’s Timothy Hay is not secured and we dare to leave the house.

My dogs, ill-behaved as they can be, are also a tremendous example of unconditional love. Even when I am sick, sad, stinky or grumpy, they want to be in the same room where I am—usually the closer the better. When I pull into the driveway, their little faces are there in the front window, greeting me with happy tails wagging. They wag their tales when I sing the goofy little songs I make up about them—even when the lyrics are not very flattering to them. They know exactly when I’m cold, and snuggle up to me. And they absolutely NEVER, EVER complain about my cooking.

      Grendel

So yes, those two yapping, anxious pups, who have the ability to make my blood pressure jump and my patience reach its end, also bring me the gift of peace. When I rub a round, plump dog-belly or scratch behind floppy ears I am reminded to slow down and enjoy the comforts of home. I watch them playing in the backyard with an old stick and remember joy can be found in simplicity. I see the two of them curled up snoozing and I’m reminded that a little nap is good for the spirit. And I know that I don’t ever return to an empty house—I always come home.

Snoozing Buddies

Snoozing Buddies

The St. Louis Zoo

Love the Zebras!  So unique.

Love the Zebras! So unique.

Here lately, it’s a pretty amazing feat any time that all five of us in our family manage to do any family activity together besides the occasional meal at the dinner table. But a few Sundays ago, it happened to fall into place-the girls wanted to DO something besides hanging out at the house and Tyler happened to have the afternoon off when we had a Sunday afternoon at our disposal. So we went to the St. Louis Zoo.

Normally when we're at the Zoo, it's too hot or too cold and the cats are hiding somewhere.  It was great getting to see them out and about.

Normally when we’re at the Zoo, it’s too hot or too cold and the cats are hiding somewhere. It was great getting to see them out and about.

Out and about today!

If you’re not from St. Louis, let me tell you our Zoo, located in Forest Park, is absolutely amazing. Though you have to pay for parking if you choose to park in the Zoo’s lot, admission to the Zoo is still free. And our Zoo has a rich history (as does Forest Park in general). It started with the walk-thru flight cage, originally part of the 1904 World’s Fair. The City paid $3,500 for it back in 1917. You can check out the Zoo’s history at http://www.stlzoo.org .

So this guy in the Walk Thru Bird Cage was friendly.  He was mugging for the camera...even playing peekaboo!

This bird in the Walk Thru Bird Cage was friendly. He was mugging for the camera…even playing peekaboo!

Peek a Boo–A little blurry, but this little guy was a hoot!

Ask anyone who grew up in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, and they will probably recall school field trips as well as family visits to the Zoo. I remember in first grade we went there and when my kids were in elementary school they always did a Zoo field trip in third grade. Both of my Girl Scout troops participated in Snooze at the Zoo, where we spent the night at the Zoo participating in fun educational activities, including a night hike. They also hold this event for families as well—you can read about it on their website. My favorite part was being able to go through the herpatorium at night with flashlights covered in red plastic film as to not disturb any reptilian eyeballs. Seeing the snakes and amphibians poised in the eerie light had a certain creepiness factor unlike when you see them in the normal light of day. We learned a lot about how the Zoo operates and works with other Zoos in how they choose to breed the animals. Hint: Sometimes the females and males that would make great offspring do NOT like each other. Both times our troops went it was winter, so we slept inside the buildings (with Erin’s troop we slept right under the stuffed display of world-famous Phil the Gorilla) but they have these events in the summer, too, where you can sleep outside under the stars.  As a Girl Scout leader, it was one of the most enjoyable trips we have done…and there have been several.

The rhino seemed to be in a little bit of a bad mood.  It was hot though.

The rhino seemed to be in a little bit of a bad mood. It was hot though.

He must have felt better getting in the water.

He must have felt better getting in the water.

When we went as a family, we were able to see the Sea Lion show. The sea lions are my favorite. Even Tyler made the comment that they seem so happy, it just makes you happy to watch them. They re-opened the Sea Lion exhibit a few years back and now you actually walk through a tunnel that goes through the water tank where the sea lions are swimming around. I was a little bummed that they were off eating or something when we walked through, so we didn’t get to see them up close in the walk-through tunnel. But I have some great pics from the show.

The sea lion pups really know how to perform.

The sea lion pups really know how to perform.

Check out Mandy getting her treat.

Check out Mandy getting her treat.

I took some pictures with my phone camera and thought I’d share some of my favorites. Have a great weekend!

Owl pose for you.

“Owl” pose for you.

Oh, how dignified!

Oh, how dignified!

Lemurs are just hilarious to watch.  They were behind glass, so I didn't get the clearest pic, but he just looks SO relaxed!

Lemurs are just hilarious to watch. They were behind glass, so I didn’t get the clearest pic, but he just looks SO relaxed!

Check out his face! I’ll bet he was just DYING to say something about it being hump day, but couldn’t as it was the weekend.

The hyena didn't seem to be laughing...he was stalking something while we were watching him.  Very intense dude.

The hyena didn’t seem to be laughing…he was stalking something while we were watching him. Very intense dude.

Again, behind glass, so a little blurry.  However, he just looked "cozy" or something all curled up like that!

Again, behind glass, so a little blurry. However, he just looked “cozy” or something all curled up like that!

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