Tag Archives: animals

Bewitched

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I still haven’t figured out what possessed my son to bring a cat inside the house. Unlike his siblings, he has never once clamored or cajoled for a pet. Unlike his siblings, he has never once fawned over an animal. I save photos and videos of pandas to a folder for my daughter to coo over. I routinely forward my older son articles about fish, octopus, or other sea creatures. I don’t bother saving any animal-related photos or articles for Jiminy Cricket, because I know he’s not interested.

Once I took my children to a goat farm during kidding season. The youngest and oldest were rapturous with joy as they nuzzled newborn goats. Jiminy Cricket stood off to the side with his hands jammed deep into his pockets and politely declined all offers to hold a baby goat. A couple times I took the kids to a live butterfly exhibit. The rest of us stood forlornly with outstretched hands, trying in vain to get a creature to alight on our fingers. The butterflies floated right past us and straight to JC, who stood there – a picture of suffering – his body shuddering with visceral horror and disgust as they landed all over him.

The boy has never even warmed up to any of our own pets:

When he takes the dogs out for their morning constitutional, he squeamishly wraps the torso of the one who refuses to walk down stairs in a paper towel, so his hands don’t actually have to make contact with his fur as he carries him to the yard.

So why would this boy insist on bringing a cat into the house? I can only conclude that he was overpowered by some potent feline bewitchment.

And how are things working out, you might be wondering?

Well…the words pussy whipped spring to mind.

For the first month or so after my son insisted on bringing the cat in, she didn’t budge from his bedroom. She stayed on a cat bed in the corner of his room unless she had to use the kitty litter, which he had set up right next to her bed. When I suggested moving the litter to the bathroom so it wouldn’t have to be in his bedroom, he demurred and said he didn’t think the cat would feel comfortable having to leave his room.

After she’d been with us for some time, I asked my son if she was starting to explore her surroundings a little more.

“Yes!” he replied. “Now sometimes she’ll come up to me when I’m working at my computer. At first I’ll feel her little velvet paws on my legs…and then I’ll feel her slowly sinking her claws into my flesh! Sometimes I’ll come into my room and I’ll need to sit down to do some work, but I can’t because she’ll be sitting on my chair and she just stares at me and she won’t move.”

“So do you kick her out of the chair?”

“No!” he said, clearly signaling with his tone of voice how preposterous he found that notion…”I just go away and come back a little later.”

After another few months passed, I started to hear strange thudding noises at night. Eventually, I figured out that it was the cat running back and forth, up and down the hallway. I’m convinced she’s in training…probably to murder my son while he sleeps.

“I think the cat needs to get some more exercise,” I proposed to my son. “Why don’t we try to let her outside for a little? I bet she’s really bored in your room, and would love to go out for a bit to stretch her legs!”

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” he replied.

One fine morning, I decided to insist. “Let’s just try to let her out for a little bit! We’ll let her right back in as soon as she wants to come back!”

“OK,” he said dubiously. He made his sister carry the cat down the stairs and to the door. He said he was afraid the cat would scratch him, but I’m pretty sure it’s because he didn’t want her to think it was his idea to make her go outside.

The minute the doors opened, the cat leapt out of my daughter’s arms and tore back upstairs to my son’s room, where she’s remained ever since. (Except of course when she trains in the hallway to murder him).

Like clockwork, the minute we sit down to dinner, the cat starts paging Jiminy from the top of the stairs.

“Oh,” he says, a guilty expression washing over his face, “Excuse me.”

He hustles up the stairs bearing food to the cat, as she continues to yowl at him the entire way. I swear to you, it sounds like: “Get. Your. Ass. Up. Here. NOW.”

He responds, “I’m coming. I’ll be right there. I’m on my way.”

In a much lower voice so she won’t hear, he mumbles: “Geez. I’m going as fast as I can. You don’t have to keep yelling at me.”

He comes back down the stairs and asks, “Mom, next time you go to the store, could you buy some more Fancy Feast, please? I like to alternate it with the Iams so she can have some variety.”

“Sure, Jiminy. Gotta keep the cat happy.”

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You looking at me?

 

 

The Cat Who Came In From the Cold

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If you’ve been following our story, you may have noticed that our family is gaga for animals. We collect them as casually as people collect, say, matchbooks or Pez dispensers. Oh, look! A _______________! We don’t have one of those yet! You can fill in the blank with any number of the fish, rodents, lagomorphs, and dogs that have passed through our house. My daughter has most recently been drawing up an action plan to convince her father that having a couple of sheep in the paddock out back would not only be a good idea, but essential to her happiness.

She has a tough road ahead of her. My husband is one of two people in our household, who do not think that sharing your space with an abundance of animals is delightful. His mini-me, our second son, rolls his eyes heavenward and heaves a weary sigh whenever a new animal is added to our menagerie. He dutifully helps take care of the dogs, but with no great enthusiasm. Whenever one of us starts talking about adding yet another hamster, or a couple of ducks, or a fish to the mix,  our very own Jiminy Cricket  issues dire predictions about the troubles that are likely to ensue as a result of our animal profligacy. He tries to warn us of our folly, and then eventually throws his hands up in despair and retires to his own bedroom, one of the only places in our house where peace and order reign.

In the past we have considered providing shelter to horses, llamas, goats, ducks, guinea hens, quails, turtles, and even snakes. The one animal I was never tempted to keep was a cat. But…sometimes you choose, and sometimes you are chosen. Parson, a cat we only latterly discovered to be a “she” rather than a “he,” chose us, or rather chose to let us live in her/our house.

My daughter took over Parson’s care and feeding, and we tried to make her as comfortable as possible on our back porch. In the corner of our porch, we installed a pet carrier outfitted with a cozy bed and a self-warming pad. For the two years we’ve lived in our house, Parson has spent her days and nights there. She has expressed satisfaction with our services by rubbing up against our legs when we go out to greet her. Our dopey little dogs have repeatedly tried to make friendly overtures to her, signaling their goodwill with their cocked heads and wagging tails. She will have nothing to do with their foolishness. As soon as she catches sight of them, she hisses at them as if she is ready to start World War III.

The polar vortex had us worrying about Parson. It’s been so cold the kids have now twice had an hour school delay.  One day we opened the door to see if we could coax the cat inside to warm up for awhile. We finally managed to lure her in with some treats, but as soon as the dogs came running up to greet her, she hissed and ran under the oven to hide. She was still there a few hours later when I had to leave the house. I was dreading what I would find when I returned home.

“Did the cat ever come out?” I asked my children when I got back.

“Oh yeah! She came out,” Jiminy Cricket replied casually.

“How did you get her out?”

“I just put some food out in the kitchen and she came out to eat.”

“And she’s back outside now?”

“No.”

No? Where is she?”

“She’s in my room. She likes it there.”

Oh! Well, let’s let her outside so she can go to the bathroom.”

“Not a good idea,” Jiminy Cricket said, shaking his head, “It’s way too cold out there for her.”

“Well, but…how’s she going to go to the bathroom?”

“We set up the guinea pigs’ litter box in my room.”

There are so many reasons for being shocked by these revelations I don’t even know where to begin…

“So what are we going to do with her? She hates the dogs…”

“She’ll live in my room.”

Forever?

“Yep.”

Still shaking my head in wonder, I braced myself for the difficult conversation I was going to have with my husband about the matter. I explained to him our son’s surprising position on the cat.

“Well, that’s no good.”

My heart sank.

“She can’t stay in his room forever.”

“I know…”

“Eventually, I want her to come out and socialize with everyone, including the dogs.”

And that, my friends, is a Christmas miracle.

I’m a sucker

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Anyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for pets…My husband neither supports nor endorses my penchant for collecting extra mouths to feed and poop to shovel, but he tolerates it with the stoicism of the English.

Last week I was in Portland, Oregon with two of my siblings. We stayed at the historic Benson Hotel. As I perused the menu of guest services, my eye was immediately drawn to the “Fish Program”:

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I relentlessly pestered my sister with whom I was sharing a room until she broke down and let me order up a “companion fish.” I gleefully called housekeeping and made the request.

A young man came to the door bearing this beauty…

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I announced the betta’s arrival into my life to my friends on Instagram, and named him “Benson” at the suggestion of one of my cousins. My husband, a rare consumer of social media, spotted the post and countered with his own suggestion for a name: “Blood Clot.” (You see what I’m saying? This is a man who is not at all into animal husbandry).

I tried to freak him out a little by telling him that the hotel was going to let me bring Blood Clot home, but he did not rise to the bait.

My next attempt to yank his chain was to send him a picture of the “emotional support companion” dog who happened to be sitting next to me on the flight home from Portland.

“They wouldn’t let me bring Blood Clot home, but…meet Sprocket! I know you’re going to adore him!” I wrote:

IMG_9049My little joke was met with deafening silence. Perhaps because I had already tried to play that dirty trick on him a couple years ago:

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I’m not the only one in my family who loves animals. My daughter really wanted baby goats, and for a hot second I actually considered getting them for her:

I came to my senses and we reached a more reasonable compromise:

So when my son asked if he could adopt his friend’s mudskipper, I could hardly refuse, although I had no idea what the heck a mudskipper was. “Mudskipper” didn’t sound at all cute or cuddly.

The name was somewhat alarming, but more alarming still was the fact that my son’s friend wanted to unload him in the first place. I happened to know that this friend of his has an even larger and more diverse menagerie than we have. He has a falcon, two dogs, a whole aquarium full of fish, geckos, chickens, a snake…Hello?! The boy has a pet FALCON, for Pete’s sake!

Why in the world would he want to get rid of his mudskipper?

I agreed to let my son bring the mudskipper home, but I told him we could only take him after Christmas since we would be traveling over the holidays.

To my dismay the mudskipper arrived well before Christmas.

“Hey! I thought we’d agreed that we couldn’t take him until after Christmas?!”

“I know, but we had to take him now, because getting rid of the mudskipper is [my friend]’s Christmas present to his dad.”

May I remind you that my son’s friend has a falcon, a gecko, a snake, two dogs, chickens, and a whole plethora of other fish? The kid has his own chest freezer full of dead mice to feed his falcon. But the one pet which his dad objected to was the mudskipper. He was SO anxious to get it out of his house, that he asked his son to get rid of it as a Christmas present to him.

Meet Darwin, the mudskipper:

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So adorable, right?IMG_7674

Why in the world would anyone want to get rid of such a sweet little creature?

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Darwin arrived with a jar of food, which he begrudgingly eats:

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Mmmmmm….dinner!

…when he can’t get the fresh food he prefers.

The other day I came upon my son, who was sitting on his haunches rooting around in my garden.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Just getting some dinner for my man, Darwin.”

Blech.

My birthday isn’t until September, but I already know exactly what I’m going to ask for!

 

Country Markets

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Last Wednesday we left for a two day trip to Baltimore.

IMG_5301.jpgThe kids’ backseat banter set the tone for the trip.

Caesar v. Shaka Zulu. Who would win?

Me from the driver’s seat – What’s Shaka Zulu?

There was an uncomfortable silence and then I heard: You mean who is Shaka Zulu?

Uh, yeah, ok: who is Shaka Zulu?

I could sense the pity and disbelief as the boys explained to their shockingly ignorant mother who Shaka Zulu was.

Kids v. Me. Kids, obviously.

We didn’t get too far up 29 before we spotted Yoder’s Country Market. Despite the fact that it’s not too far from where we live AND has a petting farm, we’d never been.

IMG_5334.jpgWe’ve been missing out!

The aisles are full of interesting things such as baking supplies like this. I’m pretty sure you can’t find “Pure as Snow Cake Flour” at Harris Teeter.

IMG_5302There were lots of baked homemade goods made by Mennonites in their own kitchens, as well as other groceries like local organic meat, dairy products, and vegetables.

The next time we go, we’ll try out the café. We were sorely tempted to try the hand dipped ice cream, but thought it would be too decadent to have it at 9:30 am.

Decadence v. Restraint. Restraint. This time.

Our greatest discovery was this:

IMG_5340It’s almost scary how addictive these are.

After stashing our purchases in the car, we strolled over to the petting farm:

Peacock v. Turkey:

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The turkey definitely came out on top. But just wait till November.

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Ruffled feathers

My birds v. the Rhea birds:

IMG_5321IMG_5327A draw!

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Ready for my close up.

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“I can’t decide if that duck is having a really bad hair day, or a really awesome hair day!”

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Pig v. pig

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ALL MINE!

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You lookin’ at me?

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Girl v. baby goat. Baby goat. No contest. She’s smitten.

We had such a good time at Yoder’s that on our way back home after our trip to Baltimore, we decided to check out another country store we’d always driven past, but had also never visited:

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Yoder’s v. The Ole Country Store & Bakery? Yoder’s for the win.

The Ole Country Store didn’t have a petting farm or the crazy good Mediterranean Cocktail Snacks.

Yoder’s v. Us.

Yoder’s!

We crossed four busy lanes of traffic to go back to Yoder’s on the opposite side of the highway for one last visit…and to buy two more bags of Mediterranean Snacks!

Decadence v. Restraint. Decadence, baby.

Tomorrow: Baltimore in 2 days with 3 kids.

A Better Way

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We took a field trip with a caravan of friends to visit the wonderful A Better Way Farm and Goat Dairy in Waynesboro, Virginia. Ever since we moved to a house with a paddock and barn in the backyard, my daughter has been pleading for a baby goat. As my friend said, a visit to a goat farm truly was “a better way” to indulge her.

The goat farm is a one woman operation. Just a few years ago, Kathy was working at home as a computer programmer. She said she never dreamed she would end up being a goat farmer when she bought her house and land ten years ago. It all started when her youngest daughter asked for some chicks. (At this my friend and I eyed each other. The story sounded ominously familiar). “Chicks,” she said, “are a ‘gateway drug’ for other farm animals.” Soon all she wanted to do was be outside playing with the animals. She quit her job and started building her goat herd. Now all her children have grown and left home, and she runs the farm all by herself. Even though she has 70+ goats she milks by hand, chickens, a newly planted orchard, and bees, she says she’s having so much fun it doesn’t feel like a job at all! On the weekends she gives tours of her farm and from time to time gives workshops on things like goatkeeping, beekeeping, and soap making.

It was a delight to see someone so in her element. She knows each of her goats by name. “Hi, Magpie!” she says as she gives a black and white goat an affectionate head scratch. “My babies!” she cries to triplets, furiously wagging their little tails and clamoring for her attention:

We inquired about one goat who looked rather largish around the middle.

“Is she about to give birth?” my friend asked.

“Oh, that’s my very first goat. She’s not pregnant; she just never regained her figure after having her babies. She forgives you.”

I could definitely relate.

The tour concluded with a taste of creamy, sweet goat’s milk, which one of the visitors described as tasting like “melted ice cream.” We bought some chèvre, feta, and soap – all made from goats’ milk.

And though it was incredibly difficult to resist, we did not buy a baby goat.

Now the girl wants ducklings.

Farmette

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As I write this, my parents are on a plane heading back to Seoul. They are moving back to the high rise apartment they left – (we had thought for good) – about six years ago. I wonder how my dad will get on without the garden he was so happy to come home to in Arlington. Will he dream about the row of pine tree saplings he planted when they first arrived…the ones which my mother would scornfully refer to as his “sticks,” when she’d see him from the window tenderly fussing over them? Will he regret not seeing the peonies, peach and cherry trees bloom in his own yard this spring?

For many years, my dad tried to put his farm boy roots behind him. He ferociously, voraciously pursued degree after degree. Even today, at the age of 80, after acquiring a couple masters degrees, a doctorate, and a J.D., he still seriously weighs the possibility of going back to school again. But no matter how many degrees he accumulates, no matter how many scholarly tomes he writes, he will always be a man of the earth. The proof is in the combination arboretum, botanical garden, and vegetable plot he manages to cram into every tiny suburban yard he’s ever had at his disposal. The proof is in the quail eggs and incubator he ordered from an ad he found in a Field and Stream magazine. (If they had hatched – Lord knows where we would have kept them)! The proof is in his book shelves, in which Goats and Goatkeeping can be found among volumes on philosophy, theology, and law.

 

Goats and GoatkeepingSometimes genes express themselves in the weirdest ways…

I’ve always been an animal lover, but my husband is an animal-barely-tolerator. Every now and then I indulge myself in a little harmless entertainment…I freak him out by suggesting that I’m going to bring home another puppy, or by getting all misty-eyed as I rhapsodize about a long-cherished fantasy. I describe to him my dream of having an animal farmette, populated only with cute animals: a sheep or two, some goats, a few fluffy little bunnies, some ducks, a bunch of dogs, and maybe a miniature pony. He listens to me in silence, with growing waves of alarm clouding his face as I wax on about my little menagerie.

“What is it with you and animal husbandry?” he will finally ask in utter bewilderment.

One day I was looking out of my office window, which overlooks the Amphitheater at the University of Virginia. Pens were being set up with miniature llamas, sheep, cows, goats, bunnies, horses, and chickens. It turns out that the University Programs Council periodically brings in a petting zoo for the students’ pleasure. I was at once elated, and filled with burning, insane jealousy of whoever stole my dream:

We’ve moved to a new house with a two stall barn, a paddock, run-in shed, and chicken coop. They all stand empty.

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So far, I’ve parried and dodged the many earnest entreaties for livestock that my children have thrown my way. (Of course, they know better than to importune their father). I’m trying to stay strong, but every now and then I sense myself weakening…

Every day on our way home, we pass two different herds of goats. I can hear my daughter coo and sigh with delight in the backseat whenever she catches sight of them.

“I wish we could have a baby goat,” she says in a voice filled with yearning.

I usually pretend I can’t hear her, but one day a couple weeks ago, I allowed myself to actually consider the idea.

“Do some research,” I told her, shocking myself as I heard the words came out of my own mouth, “If it’s really easy to keep a goat, maybe we could think about it.”

When we pulled into our driveway, she couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. She ran into the house and hit the interwebs. She was at it until it was time for her to go to bed.

She came to find me in the living room to report her findings…

“The only complicated thing is that they have to have some kind of mineral supplement that we, well you would have to buy…And you have to have a really good fence to keep them in, and to keep predators out. And even though they’re supposed to eat anything, it turns out that some plants like azaleas and cherry trees are actually poisonous to goats…”

“Hmmm,” I said, “I’m going to do a little research of my own and we can discuss it in the morning.”

I poked around on the internet myself and discovered a bunch of things my daughter hadn’t mentioned…The fact that they would require specialized veterinary care: the semi-annual filing down of hoofs, vaccinations, and deworming; the fact that they must have companionship; and the fact that they are master escape artists. It was all rather overwhelming.

The next morning I gave my unsuspecting husband a pat and said without any further explanation, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

This time.

 

The National Zoo

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We went to the zoo so my panda-obsessed daughter could get her fix…Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a single panda.

“The pandas are jerks,” a friend later informed me, “They never come out.”

Too important to consort with the hoi polloi, we concluded.

Oh well…We did get to see some pretty cute animals, like:

a cartoonish sand cat,

a Golden Tamarin monkey, (“We need to get one as a pet!!“)

a Fennec fox,

a couple of otters,

and a prairie dog.

The highlight of the trip may have been in Amazonia, where we got up close and personal with a couple of Roseate Spoonbills:

It wasn’t all fuzzy, cute, pink animals. We saw some scary ones too, like this tiger:

…who was a pussy cat compared to the Triceratops!

Related post: Weekend Snapshots 10