Crowz Nest

Because it's time... as it was once before.

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Location: Port Murray, NJ

I'm a bit old to be starting out in life again, but that's where I am. Sadly. Or gladly. It's where I am. Come along. Watch the fun. Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It only took 31 years

... A.C. needed one point to finish. Two weeks ago, I called Sue to make reservations at the kennel for Crow and Hudson. As it always does when we talk, the subject of A.C.'s remaining point came up, and Sue explained why she hadn't entered him in any of the shows that are local to us in late August and early September. And then, rather idly, said, "I guess I could put him in Gloucester if the entries aren't closed." We agreed that that wasn't a bad idea, but then I didn't hear whether or not she got him in the shows. Until Thursday. And that was the first I heard he was entered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday - too late for me to arrange to take Friday off.

I got home Friday to find a brief phone message from Sue. "Call me."

Introducing Champion Markenhaus Dirty Deed. Took me 31 years, and Sue's kindness and generosity. And of course, I wasn't there to experience the moment. I went to the Saturday and Sunday shows, though, to watch him specialed for the first (and probably last) two times. He'll come home soon, if Crow and Hudson give the plan the thumbs up, figuratively speaking, of course since the fact that they have no opposable thumbs remains my sole advantage in this family.

Photograph from his major win in Harrisburg in August - when I get the New Champion photograph, I'll replace this one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An autumn day

I drove to work this morning at 6:00 a.m. under the milky light of a setting full moon. It was just incredible. The deer thought so, too, and the first half of my drive was a dodgy game of missing deer while dealing with people driving too closely behind me - something about which I'm a tad sensitive since my accident in March.
Call me crazy, but if I can't see your headlights, I'm thinking if I have to brake suddenly, you're either going to be in my back seat or end up chewing on your engine parts. Point proven on March 14th - my car's damage, though considerable, was not visible to the eye. The car which rear-ended me looked like it had hit an IED, and a very effective one at that. So go figure why folks want to drive like that in the pre-dawn hours on deer-ridden roads.

At lunchtime, I walked over to the ticket office with a couple of colleagues, only to discover that tickets to the forum appearance of Maureen Dowd are already sold out. Not surprising. At least the walk gave me an excuse to be out on this amazingly bright and colorful Indian summer day.

As I left the library at 2:30, my friend Beth wished me a safe drive home and said "Enjoy it. It's gorgeous out there." And you know? It is. As of earlier this week, I was thinking that fall is late, or not coming, or going to be not such a pretty one this year. As of today, it's here, and it's splendid. I no longer have to look to my knitting project for the best example of fall colors (though it's pretty yarn, isn't it?) These definitely turned out to be "fall" socks.

I arrived home and took the dogs out, as I always do, and discovered that on a clear Indian Summer afternoon, there's not much difference between my back yard and a cathedral filled with magnificent stained glass windows. Here are some shots from my back yard.

This is the ancient maple tree right outside my back door.

Whoops. Time to clean the gutters soon.

Hudson loves leaves. I think I have a photograph of him in the autumn leaves from every year of his life. Here's the latest. What a guy! I think he just gets more handsome with age.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The downside of the rat

So, you thought perhaps this would be political? Nah ... I've had more of that than I can stomach. And those are rats with serious personality problems. At least some of them are. This is just more about Duncan, who fascinates me and intrigues me and amuses me and pleases me, and so far hasn't lied once.

Seriously, who could resist this cuteness? And seriously, any and all of these shots are worth clicking to enlarge if you love cute.

Or, perhaps you prefer this side?

Or this?

Or maybe a seriously roly poly cute belly floats your boat?

Now, if you are a true animal lover, even if you don't particularly love rats, you probably are all focused on those little button eyes, that curious expression, those utterly amazing whiskers, and you haven't even noticed the detail that would have driven my Mrs. Clean mother right up one wall and down the other, and would have had Duncan banned to the garage (where my hamsters ultimately ended up when I was in 7th grade, due to the "smell.") Duncan, by the way, is in my kitchen, and that's where he'll stay. Sorry, Mom. I was a really good kid and gave you little trouble. But I'm post-menopausal now, and I'll do what I want.

Duncan loves his hammock, even though it's billed as a "ferret" accessory, and even though the only one I could find for him was pink. The first couple of days it was in his cage, he would leave his fat butt pleasingly plump posterior sitting on the upper shelf of his cage, and would only put his front end in the hammock. But once he determined it was "good," he went in and he hasn't come out.

Hmmph ... I thought he was at least coming out to pee.
Apparently not. He's been annoyed when the hammock's removed for laundering, so I guess I'll stop on the way home tomorrow and get him another, so I can swap them out when one is in the laundry.

He's cute. He's funny. He's fun and loving and smart. And yes, before you go out and get one, there is a downside to a rat. More laundry.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Just appreciating the progress being made by my Rodent of Unusual Size. Duncan's sociability was tested today when my friend Lauren visited. He was most interested in being held by a new person. He's come such a long way from the scared little feeder tank baby I brought home. He was calm, and curious, and gentle while visiting with Lauren. I was very proud of him, indeed. But seeing him in someone else's hands gave me the chance to see how BIG he's gotten to be, something I really don't have a chance to get any perspective on when I'm holding him myself. He's a big rat. I guess it's official. I have an R-O-U-S. (Oh, and I kissed him for Pnatalie - not the first time I've kissed a rat, and probably won't be the last - just sayin'...)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Portrait of Happiness

Summer's over. I come to life now.

Of rats and old women

I worry a lot about whether or not I'm giving Duncan enough. Rats are highly intelligent, highly social beings, and generally don't do well alone. Now, don't get me wrong. Duncan isn't languishing or depressed. He's alert, affectionate and increasingly insanely bold curious about his surroundings. He recently threw himself off his cage and adhered to my chest like a little crazed velcro rodent barnacle, earning himself the nickname "bat rat." He's grown, and is fat and glossy, and appears to be thriving on the vast array of foods I offer him. He gets beans, both cooked and dried, cooked pasta, corn (his favorite), peas, green beans (which he likes only cooked,) baby carrots, barley, broccoli, oatmeal, nuts in the shell, raisins, and a daily little marble of the raw meat/pumpkin/organ/vegetable concoction which I feed to the dogs, all in addition to his scientifically balanced nutritional lab block and rat feed. He appears to be doing quite well, both emotionally and physically. Yet, I worry. Is he getting enough of my time? Is he getting enough time out of the cage? Is he getting enough mental stimulation? Is his cage getting cramped for him now that he's grown (and now that it's crowded with enrichment items?), even though all the cage calculators say that this cage is big enough for 2? I am, after all, all he has, and I worry about whether or not I'm meeting his needs.

So, that's it. I obsess about my animals. Not only do I have a rat for whom I ask these questions every day. I have Crow and Hudson. I have Kiwi and Ziggy, and I have Dover. For each of them, I try. I do my best, and I go to bed every night fairly certain that, though there's always "better" to be considered, they're all doing fairly well.

Two weeks ago, on Sunday afternoon, I did what I've done nearly every Sunday afternoon for the last three years. I hauled my knitting (sometimes it's a book,) and I got into the car, and I drove the hour of highway driving it takes to go be with my mother. This week, as I do so many, I found my brother, Mark, already in the room, sitting in the chair by the window. I appreciate these opportunities to visit with my brother, because, sadly, these visits are no longer active visits with my mother. She is rarely conscious during them, and aside from the kiss and the greeting, and the kiss and the goodbye, there is little chance to interact with her. Oh, if I'm alone with her, I talk to her and tell her the bits and pieces of my life, of our shared lives, that any daughter would share with her mother. News from friends and family. Plans. No longer troubles - the days when she might offer input, insight or advice are long past. On the chance that some bit of someone else's happiness might get through and brighten her existence, I talk, but the days of having a real visit, and a real conversation are gone.

This particular visit, since Mark was already seated on the far side of the bed, I took the chair with its back to the doorway. I took out my knitting, as my brother and I talked. He paused at one point, and I glanced up from my knitting to see why, and he gestured toward the door. "Looks like we have a visitor." I looked over my shoulder, just as a soft rap sounded at the door, to see a beautiful, white haired woman in a wheel chair, tentatively steering herself into the room.

Please understand, this was not a friend of Mom's. Mom is essentially never conscious. She is bedridden, fed in her bed, moved to her wheel chair only to be taken to the room where she is bathed. She occasionally responds to certain people and definitely hears it when Mark becomes animated about a topic, but can no longer really participate in or enjoy social interactions.

So, Helen, as I found out her name is later, was a stray. She silently wheeled herself in and positioned herself behind me, inching closer and closer. Mark somewhat hesitantly picked up the conversation where he'd been, and we talked. I spoke to him, and also to Helen, who, at first, did not reply.

"I'm knitting socks," I told her, holding up my two-at-a-time, magic loop project, which admittedly looks sort of confusing if you don't know what it is. "Aren't they going to be pretty?" And then I heard her whispered reply. "Beautiful," she rasped.

I was surprised. Helen had appeared, with her blue, staring eyes, and her hesitant entry into this room where she knew none of the occupants, with her gnarled hands twisting at her waistband, and her queer peering at her own reflection in the mirror, to have been far, far, far on the other side of Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. In short, I had assumed there was no one at home.

Instead, with that one, thin, raspy whispered word, that one "beautiful" reply, I realized that there was someone in there. I looked more closely at her face, into her eyes, and she smiled at me. "Do you knit?" I asked. There was a slight nod - more, there was a steady gaze holding mine that spoke volumes. "Did you make socks?"
Another slight nod, and still, those eyes never left my face. She appeared to be trying to figure out if she knew me. All I could offer in return was my smile.

Shortly, Helen decided to leave. She slowly backed her wheel chair out of the narrow passageway and through the door, bumping into the walls a couple of times, and carefully pulling forward to right her course. Mark and I laughed about it. It had been very odd, and sort of funny, this silent woman we did not know, intruding on our weekly ritualized visit with Mom. As far as Mark knew, Helen had never spoken. It had all just been an odd pantomime from his position across the room, I'm sure. But I had been held by Helen's eyes. I had noticed that this human relic had once been a startlingly beautiful woman, and still, in her aged way, was.

I have thought about Helen a lot over these last two weeks. Does anyone worry about Helen the way I worry about Duncan? I know she is getting the basics. She's fed. She's kept clean. She's dressed. But, is she getting what she needs? Is she warm enough, interested enough? Does she know what she's looking for? Is she treated with friendship and respect? Does anyone care who she loved, where she went, what she knows? Or is she sad, and truly alone?

When I went back last Sunday, I looked for Helen. I found her rolling herself slowly and silently through the hallways, no one paying any attention to her, separate from the rooms filled with wheelchairs, filled with people, oriented toward one happy helper trying to give them something fun to pay attention to, trying to lead them in songs from their youth. I crouched down in front of her and said, "Hello, Helen. How are you today?" She peered at me, and those light blue, apparently vacant eyes, slowly found mine. She frowned. Then something in those eyes seemed to change, and she whispered something. I couldn't understand, so I said, "I'm sorry. What did you say?" She slowly and carefully, but no more loudly or clearly, repeated what she'd said. And this time I understood.

Just then, an aide came along, and grabbed the handles of Helen's wheelchair, "C'mon, Helen," she said, "That's not your daughter. You shouldn't be bothering people. Let's go back to your room." She pulled the wheelchair backwards, and smiled an apologetic "Sorry" at me as she took Helen away.

I stood and continued on the way to my mother's room, trying to fit Helen's words into my head and my heart. In that thin, barely audible whisper, Helen had given me much to ponder.

"Beautiful socks" will echo for a very long time while I tend to those in my care. I will think about rats and old women. And I'll continue to talk to my mother.