Not Such Bad Luck

Once upon a time in far-off China, there lived a farmer who had only one son — one precious heir to whom he would leave his small property. The farmer also had one horse. One day this horse managed to get out of his corral and ran off.

“Such bad luck!” the neighbors said to the man.

“Don’t speak too soon,” said the farmer. “How can you know if this is really bad luck?”

The neighbors were really surprised the next evening when the horse showed up with a dozen other wild horses following him. He led them into the corral and the farmer’s son quickly ran and shut the gate.

When they saw that he now had thirteen horses the neighbors congratulated the farmer. “This is such good luck for you!”

“Don’t speak too soon,” said the wise farmer. “How do you know this is going to be a good thing for us?”

Some days later the son attempted to break one of the wild horses, but the wild stallion would have none of it. He bucked frantically and the young man fell off, breaking his leg.

Neighbors shook their heads when they saw the injured son. “You were right, old man. This has been very bad luck.”

“Don’t speak too soon,” the old man calmly repeated. “How can you be sure of that?”

A few days later a local warlord came through the village and ordered all the able-bodied young men to come with him to help fight in his war. But when he saw the farmer’s son hobbling along, he shook his head. “This boys is of no use to me.”

So the farmer’s son was left behind because of his broken leg. The other young men who were forced to accompany the warlord in his conflict were never seen again. The farmer and his son rejoiced over the “bad luck” that turned out to be their biggest blessing.

There are times in everyone’s life when something constructive is born out of adversity.  – Lee Iaccoacca

Caesar and the Sub

One of Life’s Little Lessons

As usual, George didn’t bother with the buzzer at the main entrance but walked around the corner or the building to knock at the window of his grandson’s ground-floor apartment. When he arrived he saw a huge dog staring at him through the sliding glass door. The great-whatever-it-was immediately announced his presence with resounding woofs.

Kyle rushed to the door and slid it open. “Hey, Grandpa! Good to see you. Quiet Caesar. This is a friend.”

“I sure wouldn’t want to be a burglar and be doing this,” George said as he stepped through the window. “So this is your new hound?”

“Yeah, this is Caesar.” Kyle ruffled the fur on the dog’s head and patted his back. “ Had him two weeks now and so far we’re getting along great. Really, his bark is worse than his bite.”

George chuckled. “I wouldn’t want to put that to the test. I won’t try entering when you’re not here.” He cautiously held out his hand to the dog and let Caesar sniff it. “Who sold you this monster?”

“A breeder south of town. His Great Dane had a litter, but some of the pups weren’t the purebreds he was expecting. Some other genetics got added to the mix somehow. So he gave me a deal.”

“I can see that. Fellow would be hard put to guess his breeding.”

“But, hey, I don’t mind. He’s going to be a faithful friend.”

Kyle walked into the kitchen and came back with a plate overflowing with a humongous submarine sandwich. “I was feeling hungry after our run through the park, so I was just fixing myself a sub. Do you want me to fix you one, too?”

“Sure,” George replied. “But make mine half that size. I don’t run through the park anymore like you do.”

Kyle laughed as he set his plate on the table. “Yeah, I guess this would be pretty big for a lot of people.”

He went back to the kitchen. “Ham, turkey, or both?”

“Just turkey,” George answered as he watched Caesar come and sit beside the table, his eyes focused on the sub. “You’d better hurry up there, Kyle, or you won’t have a sandwich to come back to.”

Kyle looked around and saw Caesar beside his chair, eying the sandwich hungrily. “Don’t worry. He’s well trained. We’ve been going to obedience classes.” Kyle opened the fridge door. “Do you want a drink with this, Grandpa? Cola or ginger ale, or iced tea?”

“Ginger ale would be fine. Obedience classes?”

“Yeah, we’ve had four lessons already.” Kyle pulled a can of pop from the fridge and shut the door. “He’s learned that he must not touch any food I set down until I say, ‘Eat it, Caesar.’ Then he knows he can have it.”

“Oh.” Suddenly George looked back at Caesar. He could hardly believe how fast the dog, hearing those magic words, grabbed the sub off the plate and devoured it.

“Uh, Kyle…I hope you still have enough fixings for another sandwich?”

Kyle whirled around and saw his empty plate. He smacked his head with his hand.

Caesar was looking up at him with eyes full of love and gratitude, his tail thump, thumping against the chair leg.

Kyle sighed. “Guess I can hardly blame him. I did say the magic words.”

George laughed. “It looks like he learned his lesson well. And now you have, too.”

“Yeah, I’ll remember this one,” Kyle said ruefully as he reached for another sub bun.

Making a Man of Himself

…………Two of a Kind………….

Perhaps you have heard this story before
but I’m sure you won’t mind if I tell it once more:
of a farmer who lived in a cottage so fine,
whose one major fault was his love of strong wine.

He’d leave all his work for the slightest excuse
and drive off to town with his team and caboose;
he’d drink till the close of the day was at hand,
then bring home a jug of his favourite brand.

The little brown jug was hidden away
on a shelf in the pen where the hogs used to lay.
One night while imbibing too freely of wine,
he dozed off to sleep in the pen with the swine.

The jug was upset; the pig drank the brew
and soon such a feeling no hog ever knew;
he ran ‘round the pen and he tried to jump out,
then playfully rooted the man with his snout.

The pig became dizzy and soon he got sick;
he laid on the floor and started to kick.
He hit the old farmer right square on the nose;
from the pain of the blow Farmer quickly arose.

“You miserable brute,” the old farmer said,
“If I had a gun I’d blow off your head.”
The hog said: “You see, ‘twas that jug on the shelf,
but I’ll never again make a MAN of myself.”

I thought you might find this poem worth reading.
It was written by Saskatchewan poet Roy Lobb, born circa 1892.

And He Can’t Even Fly

One morning Skunk was in his burrow brushing every last straw out of his fur with his claws. He did want to look his best before he took his walk in the woods. It wouldn’t do to go about like a ragamuffin. Skunk wrinkled up his nose; some of the woodland creatures showed no sign of self-respect. Like the porcupine. What a mess!

He hoped the broad stripe down his back was spotless. After all, no other animal had such a neat white stripe that contrasted so pleasingly with the blackness of his fur.

The raccoon had that silly mask – and the rings on his tail that he often bragged about. Skunk didn’t find them one bit appealing, but he always agreed with Raccoon that his tail was attractive. No point in being rude.

He left his burrow and ambled along the path through the woods; soon he met up with one of the rabbits.

“Hey, Skunk. Where are you off to?”

“Just taking my morning walk. Good to get some fresh air you know. Keeps a body in good form.” Skunk fluffed his tail and waved it front of Rabbit. He knew all the rabbits were jealous of his beautiful long tail.

What a pity rabbits had only a stump. Oh, well, some of us have it and some don’t, Skunk thought to himself. I must be charitable.

“I’ll join you,” said Rabbit. “I haven’t been around the woods this morning myself.” So the two wandered along the trail together, though it took Rabbit some effort to plod at Skunk’s slow pace.

They came around a curve in the road and there they saw Grouse preening himself in front of his three sisters. When Grouse saw them, he spread out his tail fan and strutted around quite vainly.

“Are you ever beautiful today,” Rabbit told him.

“Well thank you! I think so, too,” Grouse replied.

“Good day,” mumbled Skunk, and kept right on walking.

“Disgusting display of pride,” he thought to himself. He was rather annoyed at Rabbit for his silly gushing. After all, Rabbit hadn’t said anything nice like that to him.
Once they were out of earshot of the grouse, Skunk told Rabbit, “He’s not so beautiful at all. He’s just a bird – and the way he shows off is repugnant.”

“Well… maybe you’re right.”

Fox happened by right then. “Where are you two off to?”

“We’re just out for a walk. It’s such a nice day, even if some creatures do spoil it with their obnoxious vanity. If you continue down this path you’ll come across the grouse clan and see his Highness strutting his stuff.”

“Oh, really.”

“Acting like a peacock, isn’t he, Rabbit?”

“Well, umm…”

“Rabbit thinks so, too,” said Skunk. “He’s just too mousy to say it.”

“I should run along then, and see what you’re talking about.”

“Here comes Groundhog,” said Rabbit. “I wonder how he’s doing with his new burrow?”

“Hi, fellows. What have you been doing this morning?”

“We met up near my place and decided to walk together. Then we came upon a very interesting sight.”

“Oh? What am I missing?”

“Grouse parading around and crowing about his beautiful self. We couldn’t watch him for long; it was too nauseating.” Skunk rolled his eyes.

“Well, maybe it wasn’t…” Rabbit began

Skunk cut him off. “Anyway, soft thick fur like we have is better than feathers any day.” He fluffed up his coat and swished his plumy tail emphatically.

Two crows were sitting in a tree above them eavesdropping. One of them croaked to the other, “How revolting! Do you think we should warn Grouse that Skunk is saying nasty things about him?”

“No. Why ruin his day? And what could he do anyway: run around and tell people they shouldn’t believe the stories Skunk is spreading about him?”

“I guess that wouldn’t accomplish much.”

“Skunk’s harsh tongue will tell on itself. The woodland folk know the truth, or will find out soon enough. They say it’s those who are vain themselves who find it so repulsive in others.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” the other replied. “And for all that, poor Skunk can’t even fly.”

Home Invasions: the Furry Kind

Spring Brings new Life to our Yard

It’s an absolutely gorgeous day today! After snow and more snow Sunday and Monday, we have bright sunshine and a nice wind to keep the afternoon at a perfect temperature for me. It was17° C (63° F) this afternoon – that’s about as warm as I can comfortably handle.

The birds are almost all back now; a flock of blackbirds has been scavenging under my bird feeder this week. And this morning the swallows returned.

Yesterday afternoon when Bob and I were puttering outside there wasn’t a tree swallow to be seen. I climbed our ladder to clean out the swallow nest, thinking they’d be back before long. This morning around 9:30 am my daughter came, bringing Evan, their youngest, for me to babysit. As we stood outside talking I noticed a bird fly over. The very first tree swallow!

It was around by itself for awhile, then six more were twittering around. A couple of them came swooping and twirling around me, as if to say “Hi” to their old friend. One swooped so low it was almost at eye-level with Evan, which delighted my grandson. They soon went to the nests to check them out. They seem to understand “First come; first serve” and have already staked their claims.

Perhaps I could say spring has robbed us of our sleep this past week. Last Thursday night in the wee hours there was a bit of ruckus in our house; Bob got up to check and discovered the stray cat in our hallway! He told me I must have let the cat in when I let ours in but I was certain I hadn’t.

This cat, black like our Angus, normally stays at the neighbour’s yard but comes here quite often to hunt mice in the stubble beside us. I have sometimes mistaken him for Angus, but he wasn’t anywhere in sight when I let the cats in just before midnight.

Bob put him out…and before long he was in again. We got this sinking feeling…

Bob went out with a spade and filled in a hole at the back of our trailer. Ten minutes later the cat was in again. By this time it was almost 4 am and sleep was gone, so I got up, filled in the hole and put firewood logs on top of it. That kept the cat out until the next night, when we had to get up and fill in another hole.

It was 2 am Saturday night when we heard the cat meowing in the house again so I gave up on sleep and went outside to deal with a fresh hole dug right by our side doorstep. I covered it with a chunk of plywood we had around, with a rock on top. Then put the “not-our cat” out. I was up until 4am; about 3:30am I looked out and saw the real culprit – as I expected – a black “kitty” with a pointy little nose and a white stripe down its back and plumy tail. It was digging furiously, trying to make a new hole beside the one I’d covered.

The last thing you want is a skunk coming and going where you are coming and going! I certainly didn’t want to alarm him, but had to do something, so I opened the window and said softly, “No-o-o, Moufette, no-o-o.” He paused, then started to dig again.

“No-o-o, Moufette, no, no.” This time he gave up and went away. Nevertheless the stray cat was in again the next morning and Moufette was likely snoozing snug and warm under our trailer for the day. In the morning light we could see he’d come back later and finished his excavations.

The cat is an opportunist; where there’s an opening, he’s in where it’s warm and dishes of cat food are sitting around for him to polish off. But he isn’t the digger. Our trailer is surrounded by a hard-packed ridge of gravel; it takes a determined invader with claws to dig through that!

Anyway, yesterday Bob went out and filled in holes, sprayed Critter Ridder around and we slept peacefully last night. The skunk will have to find a more secluded place to doze away his days. (We went through this last fall, too, if you remember my posts from back then.)

As to my health, I’m feeling okay except for being hot and sweaty a lot. It’s my “thinker” that gives me the most problem; I forget so easy and I have a harder time concentrating than I ever did. Feel sort of tired mentally, don’t have much enthusiasm for projects — even getting my children’s book ready for publication. But I am working at it.

Saturday was our His Imprint Christian Writers Conference. that took a lot of my attention this month; now that this event is out of the way I plan to focus more on my own writing.

I’ll Pass (Out) on the Turkey

Turkey TLC: A Recipe for Disaster

Perhaps you’ve heard about this thanksgiving turkey fiasco? I read this account in a little magazine called New England Scene almost twenty years ago; it was among a collection of humorous Thanksgiving mishap memories. This one was shared by a Margaret Reinhart from Tuscon, AZ, but I’ll retell it as I remember it.

One year someone gave a young farm wife a turkey chick to raise. She got quite enthused and decided when Thanksgiving rolled around she’d invite both her family and his for this holiday feast.

So she set out to raise the turkey that would appear on the platter that day. She decided that a happy bird is bound to become a delicious bird. She fed her turkey chick by hand – no hard scrabbling for this bird. To encourage optimum growth, she talked to it, too. After all, turkeys like buttering up as much as you and I.

The chick grew into a fine specimen of its breed that summer and by fall it had plumped up nicely. In spite of its maturity, it still came running if it saw her outside and tagged along after her. She smiled and pictured a family feast. Thanksgiving Day was a few months away and she had already issued her invitations.

By and by she smiled less when she looked at her turkey. On the Eve of the event she knew it was time to deal with the Thanksgiving platter’s guest of honor so she went out to dispatch it. Of course her beloved turkey came running to meet her as soon as she stepped out the door – and she burst into tears. She went back into the house and told her husband, “I can’t do it!”

“Just leave it to me,” he comforted her. “I’ll take care of it. You make room in the fridge.” He went out and came in half an hour later with the limp turkey in his arms. She sniffed something in the air as he passed. Chloroform?

He opened the fridge door and stuffed the turkey in, feathers and all. “It can chill in here overnight and we’ll prepare it in the morning. It’s late; let’s go to bed.”

The wife woke up quite early the next morning, her mind on the task at hand. She was anxious to have the turkey plucked, cleaned, and dressed for the oven in good time. She opened the fridge door – and the well-chilled turkey leaped out at her. Its garbled gobble would have translated as “Mom! Save me!”

She screamed and fell in a dead faint. Her husband came running and found her out cold and the turkey warming up, staggering drunkenly around the kitchen. He grabbed it and ran outside, where he dumped it in the poultry yard and came back to revive his wife.

Their parents and siblings arrived on time for the Thanksgiving dinner and heard the sad tale of the Thanksgiving bird that got away. The couple then invited the relatives to a nice meal at the local restaurant. No one ordered turkey.

The turkey had a happy ending, too; from that day on he led an unthreatened existence in the farm yard and lived to a ripe old age.

Cats, Birds and An Autumn Walk

I wrote this on Friday as my five minute random writing exercise for The Write Practice (see link at right) and decided to post an edited version here so you can get an idea what our world looks like these days.

To generate some thoughts for this exercise I decide to take a walk and open my mind to various thoughts that would come in the silent outdoors. My first thought brings a frown, though, as I see a pile of feathers in the grass. How I wish my cats would reform and leave the birds alone!

Is the silence conducive to thought? Not a chance. Migrating birds have their GPS set to fly right over our place and the fields beside us are filled with sandhill cranes right now. I hear their super-size bullfrog croaking south of the road and stop to watch a number of them stalking through the stubble.

There’s a row of bushes – mostly chokecherry, part of a one-time shelter-belt – between us and the birds don’t mind me eying them through gaps in the bushes. The straw has been baled now so giant golden rounds stand about, wherever the baler left them.

As I walk a bit farther I see a flat road stone, rare in these parts. Most are roundish lumpy things. I pick it up; it’s flat on both sides. This would be great for painting on! It’s almost in the shape of a house with a bump on one side that could be a chimney. I used to do painting on rocks but haven’t for too long. I set it down in a findable spot and go on.

A racket rises up in front of me as a flock of Canada geese come off the slough on the north side of the road and fly over my head toward the south. Must be about 80 birds. Then I hear more croaking as another pair of sandhill cranes fly up from the slough.

I walk on further and see the corpse of a duck that didn’t make it across the road. People complain about the havoc cats like ours wreak on the wildlife population – but people still tear down the roads bombarding the slough inhabitants with gravel. Horse & buggy, anyone?

As I turn to go home I see another smaller flock of Canada geese rise up in the north and circle around, honking their hearts out. I find my rock again and hear the thin peeping of some smaller bird. I look around and see a woodpecker light on a fencepost. I notice the low-growing yellow wildflowers at the end of our lane have turned to tiny seed puffballs.

And through all this is the incessant whistling of a wind from the south making the dry leaves chatter. No quiet moments to think through a story plot. Or do I have too much the heart of a poet?

Sunday afternoon P.S.:

My attempt to get the message across may have succeeded!

We came home around 5pm today and when we got out of the car, here comes Angus around the corner of the house with a bird in his mouth. A brown thrasher, no less! And it’s free wing is still waving. I dash toward Angus, screeching at him, “NO birds!”

He drops the thrasher, which flies up to the step railing, then flutters against the house with Angus in pursuit – and me in pursuit of Angus. “NO, NO!” I shoo him away from the frantic bird.

I’m doing my level best to get my point across. “Bad, bad. NO birds!” Angus trots away and flops down on the lawn; the thrasher thankfully escapes. Later Angus goes back sniffing and I drive him away again. I make it clear I disapprove.

After supper Bob calls me to the window. Angus is lying out on the tiles at the bottom of the back step; Pookie sits beside him. About four feet away a magpie is strutting back and forth, oinking like a mini-pig as magpies are inclined to do – ceaselessly. He’s taunting the cats, daring them, but Angus lies there unmoving.

Now I wish he’d get up and murder the thing, but we must be consistent here.  I did say “No birds,” and Angus isn’t risking another scene. Pookie finally gives chase and of course it flies away. I have to be happy if I did actually get my point across – magpies notwithstanding.

It’s just as well they leave the magpies alone; if a cat ever attacked one the whole tribe would descend and that would be one sorry cat. As to laying off the other birds, cats are cats; once you’re out of sight they may well “forget.” Sigh.

The option is to be overrun with mice.

I’ll Take Care of It. I PROMISE!

Have you ever stood at the cash register in a pet supply store and heard a parent in front of you warning their child, “You’ll have to look after this pet now!”? One day I waited in line and observed a girl nodding fervently and vowing to her parents that she’d look after Willie and feed him every day.

“Well, you’d better,” her mother said, “because I’m not going to look after it.”

Willie, the unhappy-looking lizard plopped on the counter before us, didn’t seem to believe them any more than I did. The girl was about tennish; the vanishing point of her horizon was only a few months ahead. I suspected this lizard could live until she was a teen hanging out with a best friend, away at college or off at her job. Or until she just plain got tired of him.

We saw an ad in the paper one day for a small dog –Bichon-type– for sale. I was kind of interested so I called and we arranged a time to see it. The mother told me they were selling the dog because their seven-year-old son wasn’t looking after it anymore; he’d really liked her at first, but now he spent all his time playing video games.

I felt so sorry for that pooch. They’d had it over a year and it had bonded with their family – especially the boy – and now they were getting rid of it. (If they did. She called me and said someone else claimed it.) I had to wonder if they just using the threat, “We’re selling it if you don’t play with it” as a lever to force their son into taking more responsibility for his dog? And I thought they should rather give the video game away; it would suffer no resulting trauma.

The danger of pets is that parents believe their children are actually going to look after them. Sooner or later the truth hits home and the pet’s future is in jeopardy because no one is willing to take over as caregiver.

The danger of pets is that they are living things. Neglect can cause serious suffering and death. I think it’s great for a child to have a pet, too, but the danger of children is that they aren’t capable of long-term commitment – no matter how much they promise. That commitment is the parents’ responsibility: we commit ourselves to making sure our child cares for his pet – and if he won’t or can’t, we will.

I came across this poem in Edgar Guest’s collection; I thought it summed up the situation nicely.

Rabbits

Janet has a pair of rabbits just as white as winter’s snow
which she begged of me to purchase just a week or two ago.
She found the man who raised them and she took me over there
to show me all his bunnies, at a dollar for a pair,
and she pleaded to possess them so I looked at her and said:
“Will you promise every morning to make sure that they are fed?”

She promised she would love them and she promised she would see
they had lettuce leaves to nibble and were cared for tenderly.
And she looked at me astounded when I said, “I should regret
buying pretty bunnies for you if to feed them you’d forget.
Once there was a little fellow, just about as old as you
who forgot to feed the rabbits which he’d owned a week or two.”

“He forgot to feed his rabbits!” said my Janet in dismay.
“Yes,” I said, “as I remember, he’d go scampering off to play.
And his mother or his daddy later on would go to see
if his pretty little bunnies had been cared for properly,
and they’d shake their heads in sorrow and remark it seems too bad
that rabbits should belong to such a thoughtless little lad.”

“Who was the boy?” she asked me, and the truth to her I told,
“A little boy you’ve never seen who now is gray and old.
Some folks say you’re just like him,”  but she looked at me and said:
“I won’t forget my bunnies! I’ll make sure that they are fed!”
And she bravely kept her promise for about a week or two,
but today I fed the rabbits, as I knew I’d have to do.

CATNAPS

RULE #1:  Find A Warm Place

Years ago I used to bake my own bread, four loaves at a time.  I’d mix my dough in this large stainless steel bowl and set it to rise in a warm place as per instructions.  One day when the house was quite warm I set the bowl of rising dough on the table, covered with a clean tea towel.

I went upstairs for a bit and when I came back down I stepped into the dining room and there was  our kitten curled up sound asleep on top of my bread dough.  I suppose he found it much like a soft cushion but his peaceful snooze was promptly disturbed!

I didn’t allow myself to think about how much he’d kneaded it with his claws before settling down; I was just thankful it had been covered.  I baked it, trusting the oven heat to kill all germs and we suffered no unpleasant consequences.  But I did learn a lesson about where to let my dough rise.

Another couple faced an even worse dilemma as they were preparing for their family’s Thanksgiving dinner.  The husband told the story of how he’d mashed the potatoes and dished them in a lovely large serving bowl, then went to find a carving knife for the turkey.

When he came back to the table he found their cat, Pepper, curled up and napping right on top of the warm bowlful of potatoes.  Dumbfounded, he nudged his wife.  Her eyes grew wide with astonishment at the sight.

Deciding the less said the better, they shooed the cat out of the bowl, carefully removed the top layer of potatoes and put the bowl in a safer place.  When the family was seated at the festive table his wife served the potatoes along with the rest of the meal.  None of the guests guessed there’d been too much Pepper in the dish.