Riding with a Rat

They come with the territory. Anytime there’s feed for horses or cattle or even dogs, they’re going to arrive to see what they can salvage from the smorgasbord. You may have the cleanest barn in the neighborhood, which we do, thanks to my OCD husband who blows out the barn aisle at every opportunity.

For the first time last evening, we saw a little unwanted guest. I, of course, am using that particular adjective loosely. Anything larger than a chipmunk should be charged rent. I heard my husband yelling, “Did you see him? Did you see him? You almost stepped on him!” That was a tidbit that I didn’t need to hear.

It turns out the interloper ran from the front of the barn all the way to the other end and disappeared. The little bugger. I never got an eyeball on him.

“Was it a mouse or a rat?” I’m not sure why that really makes any difference but it does. We horse people are a weird lot. Mice….hmm. They’re cute. Rats! It’s like the elephant in the closet.

“It was about this big.” He held his hands apart about 6″…. yep that’s a rat.

“Well he’s gone now and honestly, all the food is in a metal container. I wouldn’t worry.”

We headed up to the house without a second thought.

The next morning, my husband decided to mow the front lawn before noon. I don’t know about you, but I love the sound of a mower. It brings back childhood memories; the smell of fresh-cut grass, the distance hum of the mower and the memory of my father whipping around on his riding mower with his favorite farmer’s cap perched on his head. My husband is the same. He loves his zero turn, taking great pride in making sure the lines are even and level. Wanting to complete the lawn before the sun got too hot, he was in a particular jaunty mood, turning corners on a dime, zipping right along. Not only was my husband enjoying the ride, so was the rat.

Of course, the stowaway wasn’t discovered until my husband stopped to blow off the debris that collects in the filter. While he’s at it, he blows everything off. That’s when he discovered “Harold” literally flying off the mower when he got caught in the crosshairs. Then the real fun began.

In an effort to hide from both from my husband’s blower and further airborne torment, “Harold” darted into, of all things, our garage which was only open for the guy working on our base boards. In hot pursuit, my husband followed, cornered him and revved up his blower again. Once more, “Harold” was sent airborne, flying in a perfect five foot arch before landing outside the garage. His little legs working overtime, he scrambled toward the screened portch in the back of the house, my husband unsuccessfully trying to send him airborne into our neighbor’s pasture.

I heard a frantic thumping on the door.

“Get Charlie! CHARLIE! Come here Charlie! Rat! Get ’em boy!”

Charlie is our jackshitz…part Jack Russell, part Shitzu. Now you would think any dog with Jack Russell blood would take off like a lawn dart after such a prize catch but after leaping out the door in excitement, all Charlie could do was look up at my husband as if to say, “Yea, so? What am I supposed to do about him?”

“Harold”- unable to climb up the screen eventually took off toward the back yard and tried to disappear into the brush, with my husband, blower revved up to the highest rpm level, right on his tail, no pun intended. I would like to be able to say there is photographic documentation of this. An airborne rat is not something you see everyday. Unfortunately, as with most delightful escapades, it’s a visual one can only imagine.

Ah, life on a farm. It’s never boring.

The True Definition of Perfection

In response to  DAILY PROMPT   https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/perfection/ 

They sat together as they had for years, tucked away in their booth, out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Close enough to watch the fascinating dance of waiters carrying well balanced food trays weaving between tables covered with white linen cloths.

Slowly, he reached across to grasp her hand in a loving gesture of perfect harmony. He felt the softness of her skin and rubbed his thumb over the familiar simple gold wedding ring. A perfect moment where the din of the banging cutlery and china faded into silence. It was their anniversary and here, they could have their own miniature celebration before joining friends later that evening.

For those sitting nearby, their display of perfect affection drew slow smiles of appreciation and yet those witnesses probably didn’t comprehend the thoughts behind the value of perfection.

Perfection to him didn’t mean flawless or a fashion magazine’s interpretation of ideal beauty. No. As he caressed her hand, he could feel the soft skin dotted with well earned age spots and permanent creases. Cerulean blue eyes met his gaze…ones that had seen much edged with radiating crow’s feet signifying decades of laughter and joy. Lines from the corners of her eyes showed where life’s tragic events created a path for tears. Together, they had survived life’s struggles, family tragedy and experienced the most joyous moments life has to offer. When he looked at her, he saw imperfect perfection. The silver hair, the glasses, the soft lines of living and the knowledge that together they had weathered the good and the bad. In sadness, they had discovered  strength. In happiness, they had experienced inner peace. In frustration, they had learned the importance of patience. Ultimately, their imperfect life was perfect.

“Don’t Touch!!!”

“Stop touching that!”

“Please don’t pick that up.”

“Put it back!”

As I listened to my voice repeating the mantra of one of the above for the upteenth time, it occurred to me to question my own sanity. Stepping back objectively, I had to ask myself why was I asking the same questions over and over again after almost fifteen years of repeating them to my now teenage son every time we were at some checkout or near anything he shouldn’t have his hands on.

As a youngster, it was the brightly colored candy wrappers at the grocery store. At the local bagel shop, it was the tip jar or neatly arranged business cards he couldn’t resist. At the pediatrician, he was a sucker for the stickers and lollipops, no pun intended. But the best irresistible paraphernalia lurked at the gas station counters: little red vials of 5-hour energy, an abundant display of cookies and, every parent’s favorite, handy dandy pocket lighters. Who wouldn’t want their toddler flicking a bic while waiting to pay for gas.

It brought me back to a distance memory that will remain one of my fondest although there is one friend who doesn’t share my opinion. We used to ship horses professionally and in doing so, were regular customers at certain truck stops. My son, as a toddler, always traveled with me. Driving a semi allowed him to enjoy the wide expanse of a double bunk, a television, VCR and cold juice from the refrigerator. It was a young boy’s dream. On one particular trip, we were fueling up for the last time before heading home. I’d left a deposit inside and was done topping off the tanks. Taking my hand, my son skipped alongside as we walked inside to purchase some chocolate milk for him and a pack of gum for me, get our change and be on our way. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the type California is known for. Just before we entered the doors, my son did a little hop, skip and a jump and pulled a heretofore unnoticed lever. Frankly in all my years of stopping there, I had never really noticed it. We entered, retrieved our items and completed our transaction. While waiting for a fuel receipt, it became quite apparent something wasn’t quite right. A nearby cashier, a weathered middle aged woman with a bouffant hairdo masticating on a wad of Juicy Fruit, began swearing under her breath. She began banging the buttons on her electronic register with escalating force as if the thing would eventually cry uncle the harder she pushed. The line of customers began grumbling, softly at first, then their tone began to escalate as well. Grizzled truck drivers began filtering in, complaining loudly about the pumps not working.

With obvious exasperation, the cashier called for the manager over the loud speaker. “PAUL! I need you up to the front. RIGHT NOW!” From the back, a short, bald headed man following his ample belly came scurrying to the fuel counter asking what was wrong. The cashier voiced the problem loudly, “All the damned pumps are shut down. Nothin’s working! Some idiot must have pulled the emergency switch. DAMN IT!”

It didn’t take long to figure out what had happened. That heretofore unnoticed lever my son had spontaneously jumped up and pulled had completely shut down every fuel pump in the entire facility.  I could feel myself breaking into a cold sweat.  Worse, in his innocence, my four year old son was trying to confess to the crime. Now, I’m a great believer in honesty but I’m also a believer in survival. Scooping up my son, I said, “Let’s not bother the nice lady right now, sweetheart.” We skedaddled out of there weaving our way through a small throng of frustrated drivers elbowing their way inside.

I never shared that particular tale with anyone other than my husband until one day a year later. Meeting up with a trainer friend, I thought it was the kind of escapade he would appreciate, considering he possessed a wonderful sense of humor. Upon completion of the story, he looked at me for a good ten seconds before responding.

“Do you know, I was stranded there for at least three hours before they got those damn pumps working again?”

So here I was trying to pay for diesel and a cup of coffee when that memory came floating back. And again, my now young teenage son, who towers over most people including me, became instantly mesmerized with an unusually tinted lighter.

“Mom, take a look at this one.” Snatching up the lighter without thinking, he tried, once again, to flick his bic to no avail. I stopped myself in mid-scold.

“Yea, cool lighter.”

Thank goodness there are no emergency shutoff valves around here. In this town, they know where we live.

Written in response to a prompt. “Who is your Hero(ine)”

You’ve passed them on the sidewalk

that borders every street.

They possess no notable features

to shout their simple feats.


And yet these souls have simple traits,

what comes to mind are three.

They possess not only inner grace

but compassion and empathy.


There are many who feel a hero

is a noted person of deeds

but the everyday folk among us

fulfill simple wants and needs.


My hero was my father

who remained devoted to my mom

while a disease stole her all her memories

until she recognized no one.


My hero is my husband

reading to our son at night.

A simple gesture to be sure

but for my son, it’s pure delight.


My hero is a neighbor

left with four young boys to rear

while coping with her husband’s death

she gallantly perseveres.


My hero is my sister in law,

holding a dying woman’s hand.

refusing to let this gentle soul

pass alone when her time came.


My hero is the tall young man

offering an elderly woman his seat.

My hero is the school girl

who invites a new girl to sit and eat.


All these acts that no one sees

happen each and every day.

By modest folks who simply care.

Heroic in their own quiet way.


A Walk in the Woods

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Rule of Thirds.”

Growing up, we lived in a rural area. Every weekend, we would meet our friends and seek adventure. Those adventures usually amounted to nothing more than climbing a tree, catching tadpoles in the creek, kick the can, or capturing lightening bugs as dusk began to fall. They may not have been the most exciting of adventures but the memories made have lasted an entire lifetime. I like to think it was our imagination that led us to believe the tree we climbed was actually the mast of a sea going vessel, the tadpoles we captured would grow into frogs to scare our mothers and the can some sort of exploding device we needed to kick before it was too late. And the lightening bugs? Those were iridescent fairies we would keep under our bed to protect us from the bed monsters.

When I saw my son walking with his friends along this long, remote path which is part of a national preserve, the memories of my youth came flooding back. Stopping to let them walk ahead, I wondered what adventures they were imagining, what tales were they confiding to each other. I could hear their laughter floating toward me and it seemed fitting to capture the moment.

Taken on a long, long walk in a nearby nature preserve.

Taken on a long, long walk in a nearby nature preserve.

The Beauty of Teens

Anytime an article can snap you to attention, it’s worth noting. I stumbled on to this essay by accident or perhaps it was destined. Portraying teenage years in a positive and humorous light made me realize how lucky I am, how lucky my husband and I are, to be parents to a wonderful young man.

The Human Rights Warrior

Photo credit to my son Sevrin Photo taken by (and used with permission from) my son Sevrin at his high school sailing team practice.

As I write this, there are seven teens asleep in my basement.  My son and his friends came back from their high school dance in high spirits last night. Laughing and joking loudly, they boisterously descended on my kitchen, devouring everything within reach (even some chips that I thought I had hidden pretty well).  These guys were the human equivalent of an invading colony of army ants, foraging insatiably through my refrigerator.

Now these boy-men are dead to the world, asleep in a puppy pile on my basement floor.  And I have to be honest – I am loving every single thing about these teens.   In fifteen plus years of parenthood, I have grown accustomed to – perhaps, in some ways, inured to – the many and diverse aspects of wonder in…

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“Work in Progress”

First day of high school    The opinions of our children can cause exasperation, wonder, amusement or thoughtful reflection particularly when the opinions are unsolicited and erupt from those in their early teenage years. If you are a parent or even a close relative of one, you become aware of this “growth” period immediately. Prior to the onset of the freshman year of high school, mothers, formerly impeccable with not a hair of their natural color out of place, nor a smudge of misplaced mascara, could be seen bouncing from meeting to meeting, juggling all manner of balls in the air and managing this feat without breaking a sweat or a fingernail. Fathers, standing tall, would proudly keep one hand on their the wallet, the plastic sleeves filled with a chronological collage of their little one, ready to let it drop to its full length of 20” should anyone unwittingly ask to see the latest photo of junior.

    Then the moment arrives; the first day of high school. Not only are parents left wondering, “Wow, that went by fast. How did I end up here?” but they encounter a moody, unrecognizable stranger living in what used to be their child’s bedroom. Oh, the old, loveable personality visits once in a while, but frankly, the visitations come and go with shocking irregularity as if stuck in one of those revolving doors found in a five star hotel. The sudden fluctuation leaves one’s head spinning. Just when you think the happiness and gaiety has returned, it’s been replaced with moodiness and condescension while you simply went out to get the mail.

      Parents of such precocious, eye rolling, “they just don’t get it” teens can be easily identified. For women, the battle to maintain their god given hair color becomes fierce as gray streaks sizzle to life with alarming alacrity. Peaceful mornings become a thing of the past as the effort to get the little darling up and ready for school begins at 7:00am and ends with a supreme challenge of beating the tardy bell at 8:50am. What mother hasn’t felt the thrill of victory of accomplishing that very feat considering when they left the house, it was 8:45am, she had already lost one fake eyelash, was wearing two different shoes, the notes for her business presentation are sitting on the kitchen table, the child is putting his pants on in the back seat, wearing two different colored socks and they live 15 miles from the school. Oh, did I mention her silk blouse is inside out?

     For men, the change is more subtle. Formerly, insightful in speech and deliberate in action, they find themselves beginning a sentence only to lose their entire train of thought after three words. The phrase “I’m going to the gym” becomes their escape mantra. It is not uncommon for the men, rattled by the continual emotional flux to unintentionally mistake their wife’s perfume for their cologne. Mother and father, an eyebrow raised, begin to level accusatory glares at their partner. Crow’s feet begin to leave evidence on both parents but, of course, on men the look is distinguished. Gray hair begins to haunt the men as well but almost entirely around the temples. Frankly, the bastards weather this “transitional” stage much better than women. However, unless the husband decides to take up pipe smoking, indicating he is taking the whole “distinguished” look to a brand new level, there’s no need to worry.

     At this stage, a parent may wonder if their precious child will ever come full circle. Will this son/daughter ever rejoin the fold and tame the chaotic emotions threatening to up heave what was once a harmonious family, most of the time? Will these unrecognizable mutant teenagers live long enough to see their twenties? The latter question is melodramatic, of course, but parents have been known to mutter the question under their breath.

     The truth, fortunately for most parents, is yes. As my son progressed through the school years, each phase brought highs and lows. One high was catching the last pass of the last game of the flag football season and running for a touchdown. His school suffered a humiliating defeat: 28-7 but he only remembers the touchdown and the feeling of euphoria as his teammates rallied around him. He endured the unfortunate ordeal of a personality clash with a teacher and dealt with bullying in middle school. During this formative period, we acted as his voice, his champions so to speak as most parents are. After enjoying a successful stint of homeschooling, we silently approached his first few days of high school with trepidation. Wanting to fit in, like most high school newbies, he resorted to a heretofore hidden dry sense humor which served him well. Imagine my surprise when, after only one week, a dizzying number of kids seemed to know him by name and I hadn’t been called to the principal’s office.

  In this first year, he has ridden the freight elevator from his original high grade point average straight down to just above the bargain basement levels. He has suffered the heartbreak of his first real crush and has decided, albeit begrudgingly, his parents may be right about one or two things, after all. Like the metamorphosis of a cocoon to a butterfly, I’m watching my son slowly grasp the value of making better decisions. Every once in a while, the lights are on and there actually is somebody home. The realization is exciting and not just because I’m tired of hearing my own voice. Some of those decisions aren’t going to be easy, some of them are going to hurt and many will go against the wishes of his friends. The fracture we are experiencing as a family is this: these are no longer solely our decisions. He’s testing his wings. Not every choice he has made so far has been wise, but he’s learning. What’s promising is twofold. He’s made a couple of sensible decisions about schoolwork and achieved a measure of academic reward. Secondly, he’s discovered, to his surprise, he rather likes the feeling.

    My one sister has two boys. She once confided to me, surreptitiously, her older son was so moody and disdainful throughout high school, he drove her to distraction. When he began looking for colleges, she offered him a one way ticket to Alaska. They lived in Iowa. Both her sons have come full circle, are amazing men and she is deservedly very proud. We haven’t reached the point of dropping our son off at Alaska Airlines, yet. So far it’s been three steps forward, two steps back. The positive is beginning to outweigh the negative. Besides, I have to confess my husband looks rather dishy with a smattering of gray at his temples and so far, he’s shown no interest in picking up a pipe. As for me, my hairdresser is a genius with color and styles my hair so the bald spots where I pulled my hair out aren’t noticeable. Furthermore, false eyelashes are highly overrated. Let’s be honest. We are all works in progress.

Scratch the Surface

My mother-in-law loved to find hideaways off the beaten path for a bite to eat. The further they were off the beaten path, the better. According to her, it wasn’t so much the food, although it had to be good to warrant another visit, but the characters who showed up routinely. These regulars provided the backdrop, the canvas if you will, that gave these “hole in the wall” joints flavor and color.

A true class act, she was never without her chic strand of pearls, an anniversary present from her late husband. I have this mental image of her sitting on timeworn leather seats of a booth, the pearl necklace covertly hidden under a turned up collar, a soft, black cashmere sweater draped over her shoulders and a simple gold ring adorning her left hand. She found people intriguing. To her, everyone had a compelling story to tell. A patron sporting an untamed beard wearing weathered stained overalls could be as fascinating as a gentleman wearing a formal suit with a red cummerbund and matching socks. Dig a little deeper and a revelation could be discovered. To her, not everyone was a stranger, simply friends she hadn’t yet met. At her funeral, a myriad of faces appeared to pay their last respects both familiar and unfamiliar, a resounding testament to her spirit.

In retrospect, her efforts were powerful in their simplicity. Every person begins life the same way. We are born, grow and leave this earth by the same exit. In between those dates, a dossier which becomes the portfolio of one’s life is compiled. The notable benchmarks can be huge in scope or as simple as a whisper of support but, like a pebble tossed into a pond, the ensuing ripples can have far reaching effects. According to my mother-in-law, the unique features of every individual’s journey were of interest, some more than others, but each important. By lending her ear for a moment and willing to remain the audience, the characters with whom she spoke were able to relate their stories. Their thoughts and experiences were relevant after all, if only for a little while.

There’s a diner not too far from our home. It’s neither a hole in the wall nor located off the beaten path but we enjoy eating there. We are on a first name basis with several of the waiters and waitresses and we are welcomed warmly whenever we walk through the door. There are familiar faces who nod congenially in recognition. Lately, we noticed an unusual elderly couple has begun to frequent the place. They are frail, thin of limb and utterly devoted to each other. She is far more mobile than he and slips silently ahead of him to ensure the door is held open for him. With great effort, he pulls himself along with a walker but every movement is measured and deliberate. Whenever he enters, the diner seems to hold its collective breath until he’s safely seated. He sports an abundant well groomed beard and possesses caterpillar thick bushy black eyebrows that stand in sharp contrast to his silvery white hair. What sets him apart from the crowd of blue jeans, cowboy hats, muumuus and floral shirts is the brightly colored Scottish tam sitting jauntily upon his head. There’s a better than average chance he has a kilt matching the tartan plaid of his tam stored somewhere in his home.

I’m sure there’s a tale to be told there. In fact, I can almost feel my mother-in-law gently pressing her hand against my back and whispering, “Go ahead, buy him a cup of coffee.”