Planting A Garden Of Love


While there are still signs of winter in many parts of the world here in Houston, Texas spring has definitely arrived. The azaleas in my yard are blooming and the roses are bursting forth in all of their glory. The once barren trees have tiny leaves peeking from the limbs, and tiny ferns are popping up from the soil. Signs of life are everywhere with even the pair of doves that live in my backyard cooing in harmony with the noisy mockingbirds and jays. This is one of my favorite times of year when nature reminds us of redemption and possibilities.

This year I decided to plant some vegetables in my flowerbeds. It’s been many years since I have done that. For a time when my daughters were still young we had bountiful crops each spring and summer. Our larders were filled with green peppers, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. This year I am hoping to enjoy my former success at gardening, but a worry about the pesky squirrel that often visits my yard or the countless birds searching for a meal. I’ve been doing some research in how to prevent critters from consuming my vegetables before I have the chance to harvest them and I’m not so sure that I will be able to ward them off because I don’t own the one thing that is supposed to be a great guard against pilferers. Namely my best bet is to have either a cat or a dog to chase them away.

Back when my farming was so successful we had a fabulous dog named Red. She was a born hunter who often displayed her trophies for us to find. She was a golden retriever who had perfected every one of her instincts. She was fast and always alert. No mice dared come near our place and birds were very respectful in her presence. They tended to stay perched in the trees rather than attempting to make a snack out of my vegetables. I suppose that I never really thought of just how much Red was doing for us in the way of standing watch. I knew that she was a great guard dog when it came to humans, but I didn’t appreciate her vigilance over my garden as much as I should have.

Red was as smart as they come and always faithful. She loved everyone in the family and most of the neighbors as well. Sometimes she hopped the fence and took little strolls around the block but she always came back home. I was amused by the fact that she was able to get out of the backyard but could not seem to get back in, so she just waited patiently on the front porch for us to notice that her wandering was done. I’d sure like to have her back, but she crossed the Rainbow Bridge long ago along with other friends like Buddy and Scarlet and Shane. So I guess I’m on my own in protecting my garden this summer if I’m to taste some juicy tomatoes or enjoy a bunch of succulent squash.

It’s going to be fun watching all of my plants grow from the sun and the rain. I’m anxious to see what varieties will be the most successful. I have onions and potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. There are peppers and squash and all kinds of herbs. Last year I enjoyed having fresh basil and oregano for my soups and salads. This year I’ve added parsley, cilantro and thyme.

While I was searching for ideas as to how to keep the marauders at bay I found recipes for preparing a hot pepper concoction to create a ring of protection around my plants. That’s when I discovered a cute little poem about how to plant a garden of love. It suggested that it’s time to squash hate, prejudice and jealousy while peppering our actions with kindness and compassion. I liked that idea and began to think of how appropriate it is to focus on renewing ourselves as well as our gardens at this time of year. Much like the plants that are springing back to life, now is a time for each of us to consider how we might grow and become the best versions of ourselves.

Working in the soil and creating life is one of humankind’s most basic tasks. As we plunge our hands into the dirt to plant seeds and cuttings we become one with nature and feel the kind of unity that we should always enjoy with the world around us. We need to be the stewards who care for the wonderful things that we have, and that should include the air, water, plants, creatures and people with whom we share this earth. We cannot forget our obligations to treasure this amazing planet and all that it holds. Springtime reminds us of what we need to do.

When I think of Red I realize the kind of traits that all of us need to cultivate. She was as sweet and loving as any creature might ever be. Best of all was her infinite loyalty and unwavering instinct to protect. She was also sensitive and compassionate as in a time when I was very ill with the flu and she slept by my bed all day long, making certain that I would be okay. We might all learn a thing or two about faithfulness from a wonderful pet like Red.

I jokingly told my eldest grandson that I was turning into my grandmother Minnie Bell. I would like to think that I am somewhat like her, but I have a way to go to be as remarkable as she was, a humble and uncomplicated woman who simply enjoyed life as it was given to her. She had an almost sacred communion with nature and the people around her. Without judgement she embraced every person that she met. Those are things that I am still working on achieving, but sometimes when I’m puttering in my yard and listening to the birds I think I understand how Grandma found her contentment. I realize that all the things in the world cannot compare to the pleasure of seeing someone smile or watching the earth burst into a symphony of sounds that rival the most glorious musical composition. I hope that my plants provide me with a bountiful crop, but more than that I want to spread the seeds of love this spring and all the year through.



Who knew that a tiny gecko was capable of bringing so much joy? No, I’m not speaking of the Geico gecko even though he is a rather dashing fellow. I am referring to a resident of our backyard whom we have named Stubby.

Stubby lives underneath a potted hibiscus plant that sits on top of two bricks on our patio. We first noticed him several weeks ago when he found the confidence to come out from the safely of his abode to sun himself while we ate dinner. Part of his tail was missing and not even the passage of time has remedied his affliction like we thought it might. He’s a rather ordinary fellow all in all but he has a charisma that draws our attention to his antics. Since we eat outside most evenings we now look for him, and so far he has not failed to greet us.

He is quite fond of entertaining us by climbing onto the seat of a wrought iron chair near his domicile. Once he reaches his perch he celebrates by puffing up his mouth until it reveals a brilliant red color. He’s a bit of a show off but that’s actually what makes him so much fun to observe. He’s quite a character with a penchant for being a star. We’ve noticed a number of tiny offspring wandering not too far from him and wonder if he is their proud father.

I suppose that it may sound a bit sad or even crazy that we derive so much joy from Stubby, but our interest is easily explained. We’ve had quite a round of trauma of late. We’ve had to change our lifestyles as well as our outlooks. We’ve come to appreciate the blessings that we have, and one of them is having a remarkable creature like Stubby right in our own backyard. We are actually quite happy that he has so graciously accepted our hospitality. I suppose that his antics are one way that he demonstrates his gratitude for our largesse.

I worried a bit about Stubby when our grand dog Cooper came to visit recently. I didn’t know if the little pup would chase or harm our resident gecko. Luckily Cooper is a bit overweight and as a result slow on his feet. If he even noticed Stubby he didn’t let on. Instead he ran straight for the fence where our neighbors’ dog greeted him with a bark. He proceeded to mark his territory and let out a warning salvo. After that he simply went in that direction every time we let him out just to see what was happening next door.

Cooper is quite fun in spite of his lack of athleticism. He is a very polite and laid back dog so he doesn’t perform any daring feats like Stubby, but he has the warm heart of a lover. He likes to sit next to my husband Mike and only requires a little scratch or two now and again for thanks. I suspect that he is still pining a bit for his brother dog Shane who recently crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We try to be very accommodating to Cooper’s every need in this difficult time for him. Mostly he’s willing to placate us as long as we feed him at the correct time.

It is little wonder that even soldiers with PTSD are often advised to get a service dog for companionship. Pets have a way of diffusing stress in the most amazing ways. They make us laugh and fascinate us so well that we forget the cares and woes that may be demanding our attention. They are actually as good at making us feel better as a cocktail of psychotropic drugs. I don’t advocate eliminating medications in favor of a pet, but I think that adding them to the pharmaceutical mix is a powerful antidote to anxiety and sadness. I know that it works quite well for me just to allow myself to be almost hypnotized by the things that they do so well.

Birds also have an incredible capacity to  bring us peace of mind. We have a single hummingbird that flits from one side of the yard to another. His speed is so remarkable that sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with him. I never fail to smile when I see this wonderful creature, but my favorite among the feathered friends is a dove who perches on our roof and sometimes dares to get rather close to us as he balances on the rim of our fountain preening himself and partaking of a drink. I like hearing his cooing which is as soft and comforting as a lullaby. He has a mate that has been absent of late. I wonder if she has been busy nesting or raising her young. I long for her return because the two of them are so much more magnificent together. I hope that she has not run afoul of some terrible injury, but for now I have no way of knowing what has happened to her.

We’ve got a rather impressive colony of bumblebees in our yard contrary to the thinking that they are almost extinct. I managed to step on one a while back and learned that I am allergic to its venom. I got quite dizzy and my tongue began to swell. Sadly I suspect that my attacker didn’t do so well either. I felt guilty for walking around without shoes and causing the demise of a worker who was only doing the job that came naturally. Now I am more careful as I stroll through the grass. I know that the lovely flowers that adorn my garden are enhanced by the bees who spread pollen even as they enjoy the nectar.

I’ve often thought that I might have enjoyed a lifetime of interacting with animals. ( I can hear my teaching colleagues laughing as they think that maybe I did work on an animal farm now and again. Of course I’m just kidding.)  Nature’s creatures can be so very interesting and I think they actually teach us a bit about ourselves. They remind us to enjoy the beauty and variety of the natural world. They demonstrate how much bounty is to be found in the plants, the trees, the sun and the rain that we all too often take for granted and don’t even notice. They invite us to slow down and live a bit in the moment so that the scales that are blinding us from seeing our blessings fall from our eyes.

I know that Stubby will one day reach the end of his days on our patio. I’ll be a bit sad when he no longer joins us for dinner. He’s helped me to deal with situations that are so difficult with a much bigger smile on my face than might otherwise not have been there. He’s adorable and I’d like to believe that he likes us as much as we like him. Of course I understand his anatomy and realize that he does not have the capacity for such feelings, but I guess that if a gecko can become a television celebrity, so too is it reasonable to think that maybe just maybe Stubby knows that he is bringing us happiness. Either way I’m just glad that he is here right now. He’s the right guy in the right place at the right time.

A Good Dog

20106475_10213628315602894_3653417267467797884_nA good dog is more than just a pet. He is a member of the family, a true and loyal friend. A good dog asks for very little, a bowl of water, a bit of food, a hug or a belly scratch, and every once in awhile an “Atta boy!” A good dog loves unconditionally, dotes on having its people around and waits patiently for their return when they are gone. A good dog is a protector and a comforter. There is nothing quite like a good dog, but sadly good dogs have much shorter life spans than we do, so once we have a good dog it is more than likely that we will one day have to say goodbye. It is always a very difficult thing to do.

Shane, my grand dog, was a very good dog, a quite handsome golden retriever. He was found wandering the streets of San Antonio, homeless and confused. The people at the shelter gave him his name because they imagined his owners calling for him and begging him to come back home just as the little boy did when his friend left at the end of a classic western movie. Sadly Shane was hopelessly lost and nobody ever stepped forward to claim him. Happily his world changed when a family of four little boys fell in love with him and decided to adopt him. For the next eleven years he would be hugged and wrestled and and adored by his people. He became a beloved member of the family and he was very happy indeed.

Eventually Shane got a little brother, a pal, who was a pug named Cooper. He was content to share his home with the silly little tyke for there was more than enough love and affection for everyone. He showed Cooper the ropes and the two of them developed a routine that rarely varied. He was a great big brother, smart and kind and sharing. Cooper loved him as much as the family did. They got along quite well and became a kind of Mutt and Jeff twosome with Shane always being a patient teacher.

The years went by and Shane watched the little boys grow into fine young men, but they never became too old to play with him. They bought him toys and made sure that he was part of all of their celebrations. He stood by them when they were sick and made them feel good when all they really wanted to do was to cry. He gave them whatever they needed from him because he understood that that is what a good dog does. He was patient, vigilant and trustworthy. When little babies came to visit the family he showed them that a big dog can be gentle. He let them pull on his fur and grab him with delight. He never harmed them even when their enthusiasm hurt just a bit. He was ever a good dog.

Shane grew old. His muzzle began to turn white. His energy waned but his love never did. He was the first to announce that visitors had arrived. He greeted the them at the door with his tail wagging a friendly “hello.” If a stranger came he sent a notice that they better not harm his people. His bark and his growl told them that he meant business. He knew all too well that a good dog has a duty to protect his family from danger.

Shane sometimes came to spend vacation time with me and my husband Mike. He was always so polite, so clean, so unassuming. He did his best to have a good time with us, but he always missed those boys of his. He’d run to the front window every time he heard a car passing by. He’d watch the street wondering when they would return. At night he liked to sleep in our bedroom and he did his best not to disturb us while we slumbered.

I liked talking with him and reassuring him that he would soon be back home again. He loved lying on the couch next to Mike getting his rump scratched. When I let him outside he always announced to the neighbors’ dogs that he was the king of our domain. He wanted those other critters to know that he was going to take care of us just as well as he did his family back home. I loved having him over because he was always such a good dog. I missed him when he left but he never forgot me. He was always so happy to see me when I came to visit at his house.

The last time I saw Shane he was quite lethargic. He didn’t seem to have enough energy to move from his post outside one of his boy’s room. When I called him over to where I was sitting he slowly complied and shuffled over to get my hug and strokes on his back. He seemed exhausted but still determined to be a good dog. When his buddy Cooper barked for food he followed their routine because he knew that Cooper wouldn’t eat without him, but it seemed to take great effort for him to be a big brother. He was very ill but none of us realized it. We thought that maybe he was just a bit sad and worried because some of his boys were away from home.

A few days after my visit Shane seemed to have given up. He soiled himself, something that would have normally been abhorrent to him. His family noticed that he was almost listless. His oldest boy felt that something was terribly wrong so he took Shane to see the veterinarian. The news was very bad. Shane was in great pain. He was dying.

The boy called his mother and one of his brothers. They all went to sit with Shane until his suffering was no more. They sobbed with grief. Their good dog was gone and they could not imagine how they would be able to live without him. That is the way it is with good dogs. They burrow into the hearts of the people whose home they share. We want them to live forever. It is heartbreaking when their time comes to an end.

I went to see my grandsons and their mother on the evening of Shane’s death. It was my daughter’s birthday but she was not ready to celebrate. We were all so sad. Shane’s little friend Cooper seemed worried and lost. He sensed that something was terribly wrong. We couldn’t explain what had happened, we could only try to comfort him and each other.

A good dog is a very special gift. A good dog steals our hearts. A good dog takes care of us even more than we take care of him. Shane was a very good dog, the best of the best. He earned his angel wings in the finest tradition. We will miss him. We hope that he always knew how much he was loved.

Tick Tock

collection of vintage alarm clocksChange, chaos, confusion! No, I’m not speaking of the political realm but something far more insidious, the springing forward to Daylight Savings Time that occurs each March. Even after a week people are still dragging around trying to adjust their internal clocks to the loss of an hour and wondering just why we insist on torturing ourselves by moving the hands of our mantlepieces twice a year. Who thought of this process and does it really make a difference of any kind?

During World War I someone decided that Daylight Savings Time might help the country save energy. Maybe it was a good idea back then but somewhere along the way as our world turned into a twenty four hour frenzy of lights, television programming, computer use and shopping the concept of everyone quietly turning off their lights and going to bed doesn’t appear to be what it might once have been. Research shows that having an extra hour of daylight does little to curtail the use of electricity, gasoline, natural gas or any other form of energy, not the least of which is because we use the same hour’s worth of lighting when we rise in the dark each morning that we would have used if night came a bit earlier in the evening.

I recently read that more people have heart attacks and wrecks in the first weeks after a time change than at other moments in the year. Farmers report that their animals have difficulty adjusting to changing routines as well. So the burning question that keeps coming back to mind is why we torture ourselves by doing something that most of us dread? Why don’t we just choose either Daylight Savings Time or regular time and then stick with it forever? It would certainly be easier on the constitution.

I generally reach the point at which I am fully accustomed to the new timing just shortly before it is about to readjust again. I sleep well in those last weeks and feel a level of energy that is unbounded. Once we go through the gruesome alteration process I find myself dragging for weeks and I am plagued by insomnia for months. I suspect from comments that I hear that most people feel the way that I do. I don’t particularly care if my mornings are dark or my evenings come a bit earlier as long as I get to become acclimated to one way of marking time or another and then never again have to change unless I choose to travel to a different time zone.

Unfortunately we seem to be doomed to continuing the silly tradition of switching from one method of timing to another simply because we once started it. Have you ever noticed how reluctant we are to abandon a process once we decide to try it? It is some crazy aspect of human nature to prefer sticking with a plan even if that plan proves to be ridiculous. We see it most especially in government where that status quo becomes the way of doing things ad infinitum. We fear the idea of admitting that we my have been wrong about the merit of an idea and so we commit ourselves to absurdities again and again. It almost takes a rebellion to repeal a rule once we have made it part of our routine.

I applaud states like Arizona and Indiana that don’t go along with the time change shuffle. They merrily buck the tide and enjoy the certainty of no loss or gain in hours. They have no need of clock changers who must spend wasted time moving the hands of timepieces back and forth, back and forth twice each year.

I once saw an interesting documentary detailing the unbelievable number of days that it takes just to adjust all of the clocks that belong to the Queen of England. Many of them are complex antiques that must be very carefully calibrated and only experts are able to do so properly. It is a herculean task that is both expensive and time consuming.

I feel as though we have so many truly important problems in the world and recalibrating the time again and again should not be one of them. I advocate for suspending this policy and freeing ourselves from the tyranny of sleepless nights and energy-less days. I call for letting the natural rotation of the earth determine the timing of our habits just as it did for the thousands of years before someone got the not so bright idea of artificially determining when our days should begin and end.

Since it is more than likely that we will never rid ourselves of this onerous habit I instead extend my sympathies to those who become discombobulated each March and then again in the fall. I feel for all of the teachers who must spend the next many weeks looking at students slumped lazily on the tops of their desks. My heart goes out to the mothers of babies who insist on keeping to their sleep routines regardless of what the clocks may say. I understand the frustration of pet owners whose kitties and puppies react to the sun rather than the manmade schedule. For those like me who are now spending their nights staring at the ceiling I give you the hope that this too shall pass sometime around September or October just in time for it all to begin again.

What a piece of work is man. We sure know how to make things more complicated than they need to be. Maybe instead of making so many more new rules we may want to consider getting rid of some of the ones that make our lives more difficult. Starting with omitting all of the time changes seems to me to be a great place to start.

A Rescue

12805909_102632486799965_8624804996206720717_n (1)I used to babysit when I was a teenager. I have always enjoyed spending time with children. At twenty five cents an hour my income from those Friday and Saturday night gigs never came to much. It wasn’t unusual at all for me to walk away from a long evening of corralling as many as six youngsters with a dollar in my pocket. Taking care of dogs while neighbors were on vacation was always a much less labor intensive venture. It usually simply meant checking in on the little critters each day and filling their water and food bowls. Because most animals lived outside in a fenced in yard in those days there was no need to take them for walks or even spend a great deal of time with them. The pay couldn’t be based on hours so it was more like earning a professional salary, often as much as five dollars a week for little more than a few minutes of actual work. Caring for a pet was always like being generously compensated for having fun.

Today I am sitting in my daughter’s home about two hundred miles from my own abode for the purpose of keeping her two dogs comfortable in her absence. They are elegant little creatures who only spend enough time in the yard to relieve themselves several times each day. Instead they hold court in their domain of the great indoors. They recline in comfy beds designed solely for their comfort and play with a variety of toys that are only theirs. To say that they are loved is an understatement. I suspect that if they were allowed to travel inside the cabin of a plane and romp through Yellowstone National Park with their family, they would be enjoying a grand vacation right now. Instead they have to stay behind while the rest of their crew takes some time off each year.

From appearances one might come to the false conclusion that the two dogs have always been coddled but that would be false. The main reason that I am watching them in the familiar environment of their home is because one of them has only recently been rescued from an horrific fate. She is a beautiful collie who not long ago was found wandering the streets of Kansas with a shabby and mangy coat and a body so thin that it appeared that she had not eaten in weeks. She was homeless, hungry and very sick, so much so that she was initially deemed a lost cause by those who found her. But for the goodness of a Texas rescue group she would have been summarily put to sleep. Instead she traveled hundreds of miles with kindly individuals who wanted the opportunity to make her whole again. In the end she survived her ordeal and once again became beautiful. That’s when my daughter and her children saw a photograph of her and knew that she needed to be theirs.

The team that rescued her interviewed the family and then brought the dog to visit their home. Everyone fell in love with her immediately and the caseworker could see that the sweet little dog would be treasured. A deal was struck and she became a member of the clan but not without a few more bumps in the road.

The children named her Hermione for one of their favorite characters in the Harry Potter series of books. She lived up to her name in appearance but was far more anxious and timid than Harry’s plucky sidekick. It became immediately apparent that she had endured far more than anyone imagined. She was skittish, often pacing nervously around the room as though she was in fear that something terrible might happen at any moment. She was particularly frightened of men, causing all of us to wonder if she had been abused at the hands of some brute in her long and treacherous journey. It took her much more time to trust her new keepers but ever so slowly she began to realize that they were not going to hurt her.

She sat next to my daughter for most of the day and slept in my granddaughter’s  room at night. Even though she would run from my son-in-law she enjoyed sitting at his feet under his desk whenever he worked on his computer in the evenings. Lucy, the other little pup who already lived in the house slowly coaxed Hermione into playing with her and the boys. Over time she relaxed and began to trust the members of her new family. Her coat began to gleam from the care that they gave her. Her tail wagged more often than it fell between her legs. She began to show more and more of her personality which is quiet and gentle. She became protective of the people who had provided her with a loving home but sometimes her past still haunted her in her dreams. There were moments when she would cry but now there was someone to comfort her.

I’m here today because my daughter feared that it was too soon to send Hermione to a kennel or even to my home while everyone was away on vacation. She felt that the poor girl might think that she was being abandoned once again. It seemed best to allow Hermione to enjoy the comforts of the environment that she has grown to love. I was enlisted to watch over her and her little companion, Lucy.

Our days are rather simple. They begin with a trip outdoors followed by a nice breakfast. We play for a time and then they squeeze in a morning nap while I write. They love to curl up on the couch and snore. It is quite peaceful. Later we snuggle and play. They enjoy being hugged and petted. When one comes the other follows and pushes her way to the fore. They are like two kids with a sibling rivalry, wanting as much attention as I am willing to give. It is easy to care for them and I joke with them that I plan to steal them away to my home when it is time for me to return.

They are doing well although it is apparent that they long for their family to come home once again. I suspect that they lose track of time but certain instincts tell them that those that they love have been away far longer than usual. Luckily they know me well enough to trust that eventually all will soon be normal again. I am quite happy to be able to spend time with them. They are both very good dogs who have done their best to make me feel welcome. They demonstrate their gratitude for my efforts and let me know that they are happy to have me here with them.

Dogs are indeed remarkable creatures. They are so faithful and loving. It is difficult for me to imagine why anyone would ever be cruel to them. They rely on us for their care and feeding but give back far more in return for our efforts. They are a glorious gift that we should cherish and thankfully there are kind souls who do rescue work to help the pups who have been neglected or abused. It warms my heart to know that my daughter and her family have taken the time to bring joy and contentment to Hermione, a little collie who might otherwise have died.

Caring for a pet brings out the best instincts in humans. It is a task requiring responsibility and love. It appeals to our better natures and makes our world a happier place to be. As I sit in the quiet and watch my grand dogs snoring peacefully I feel relaxed and content. I wonder if we humans rescue them or they rescue us.