The Englishman was determined that we empty out my storage unit which was located 24 miles away at Lake Oconee. There wasn’t much left, but it would take three trips in my faded green gas guzzling pickup truck. The first two trips were uneventful and we returned Sunday afternoon to finish the job. After loading a sideboard and a wardrobe into the back of the truck, we precariously loaded the queen sized mattress and box spring on either side, securing them in place with a solitary yellow tow rope. I looked doubtfully up at the teepee shape the mattresses formed over the other pieces of furniture. The Englishman assured me that it would be fine and revved up the engine. As we pulled onto the main road, the truck crept up to twenty-five miles per hour and a long line of cars followed. In a display of rare generosity, The Englishman pulled over to allow seven vehicles to pass while we brainstormed our route home. Driving over 25mph was out of the question as it created gusts of wind that tested the strength of the single strap holding our piece de resistance in place. We chose our path, realizing that home would be an hour away at the rate of speed we were driving.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon and we rolled the windows down to enjoy the fresh air. At 25mph, my hair did not obscure my vision or become tangled. At 25, we saw an eagle perched in a tree and had plenty of time to watch it as we drove slowly by. At 25 we were able to hear the goats bleating in a farm field. It sounded like laughter to me and I imagined the goats conversing about the strange truck creeping along the road. At 25, we could hear the sound of running hooves as the teenaged cows outran us to reach the newly placed hay at the other end of the field. At 25, I was able to spot an overly decorated yard with brightly colored flowers, statues and concrete benches and still had time to question the absence of garden gnomes. At 25, we could clearly see the hidden driveways tucked between the pine trees. At 25, we gave hope to dogs, which before our approach were snoozing lazily in patches of sun and were now on red alert, racing the truck along their property lines. At 25, the squirrels that darted across the road were fearless. The Englishman slowed at the low railroad bridge and we strained to read the faded letters on the top that indicated its maximum height. Eight feet? Nine? He inched forward and I cringed until we safely passed beneath the underpass to the other side. At 25, we could smell the fall flowers and freshly cut grass. At 25, I could read the yard signs advertising “Fire Wood”, “Cucumbers” and “Farm Fresh Eggs” and I even had time to make note of the phone numbers. As we pulled into the security of our driveway, I was a bit sad that our journey was complete and I wondered if I would ever have another opportunity to slow it down and just drive 25.


Snore & Roar

My sandbox friend, The Baroness of DC, sent me an email in March requesting my presence at the National Zoo’s Snore & Roar event in July. Commoners such as moi do not plan events months in advance so naturally, I was free on that particular date. I was also looking forward to a reunion with Guinness, the dog I helped unite with The Baroness last year, and I wanted to meet Mulligan, the beautiful black and white dog that had been with The Baroness for many years.

Mulligan and Guinness were the perfect hosts and shared everything with me: my bed, my food, my blanket. They took turns inspecting the items in my luggage and Guinness took full responsibility for both dog toys that my four-pack sent as gifts.

The Snore & Roar at the National Zoo consists of an after-hours tour of an animal house or exhibit, a flashlight tour of the zoo and the opportunity to sleep over in a tent. I believe I missed the tent part when The Baroness extended the invitation. I’m not a tent kind of girl. The last time I truly camped was in 1980 in New Jersey in the Girl Scouts. We had cabins with bunk beds. Unfortunately for me, by the time my brain fully grasped the fact that a tent was involved, it was too late to back out.

The Baroness was well prepared with air mattresses, wool blankets for the record-breaking August heat wave and tiny throw pillows. A quick trip to the grocery store yielded the bare camping necessities of fruit, cheese, fried chicken, and alcohol. The royal entourage consisted of her mother, sister and me…the smartass friend.

Our first mission was to set up two tents. We chose a slight incline beneath several stately oaks. Intimidated by the expert tent making activity around us by other Snorers and Roarers, we stared at the tent components and each other. I pointed out to The Baroness’s mother that she was my Girl Scout leader back in the day. I failed to mention the cabins and bunk beds. I was determined to not be the last group to set up camp. I sorted each tent part into piles, and began to set one up, carefully working my way around the blue plastic tarp in my red and cream high heeled sneakers. Twenty minutes later, The Baroness and I triumphantly stepped back to admire our handiwork. I was pleased to note that one couple was still struggling with their tent. Never mind that they looked like grandparents. As we gloated, a gust of wind blew our tent over and we scrambled to secure it to the ground with the metal pins. I believe it was a reminder from up above because there were no more gusts of wind the rest of the event.

The first tour was of the Amazonia exhibit. We welcomed the air-conditioned building and our enthusiastic tour guide. Birds greeted us with their songs and the sound of falling water was relaxing. I was reluctant to leave such a peaceful environment. The second part of the tour was the Big Cats exhibit. The lions and tigers were behind the scenes in their cages for the night and we were able to view them up close and personal. The “Lion King” was majestic with his enormous head and large, wide paws. Two female lions reclined with eight young cubs, their wide eyes and playfulness melted our hearts. The tigers were harder to view because the automatic lighting had been dimmed. The male tiger had beautiful stripes and the zookeeper demonstrated how to give it a shot. It looked more like a “stop, drop and roll” exercise that we learned in kindergarten with the fire department.

Finally it was time for the flashlight tour of the zoo. Our tour group, unfortunately, included the couple that had more trouble setting up their tents than us. The Odd Couple donned their flashlight headgear and eagerly began the upward climb through the zoo. It was all uphill. I sighed and lagged behind in my fashionable footwear. The female half of the Odd Couple walked with me, incessantly chattering and asking me questions about each exhibit. It dawned on me that she thought I was a zookeeper. Really? I wasn’t sure if the high heeled sneakers gave it away or the Storm Trooper in my pocket, but I just didn’t think that my attire screamed zookeeper. After a short internal debate on whether to humor my inner devil and give her a private tour or tell her I wasn’t a zookeeper, I took the higher road and sprinted carefully in the dark to catch up with The Baroness. I didn’t lag behind again, having learned my lesson.

When the tour finished, we headed to the outdoor pavilion for the wine and cheese social. There was no wine and cheese. Everything was gone. Either the group ahead of us ate and drank everything or there were some really happy animals in the zoo. The Baroness was prepared with the cooler of adult beverages, fried chicken, a fruit and cheese platter and a box of wine. I am always suspicious of boxed wine so I satisfied my thirst with adult beverages. We invited the zoo personnel to join our spread and refused to make eye contact with the Odd Couple. The Baroness and I made our way to the tent and settled down for the night with our wool blankets and tiny pillows.

Morning came too soon. We emerged from our tents to discover half of the tents were already dismantled. Ever the one to keep up with the cool kids, I rushed to take our tent down, too. We couldn’t be the last ones! Thankfully, the Odd Couple had yet to emerge from their tent. Our party of four regrouped at the pavilion for bagels, coffee and juice. We watched as the Odd Couple approached, clad in spandex, knee pads and bicycle helmets. I was grateful that the male half was also wearing a fanny pack around his waist covering up the front panel of his spandex shorts. It was too early in the morning. The Odd Couple stretched and jogged in place before gathering a few bananas and bottles of water. They approached our table as the zoo personnel were sitting with us and asked about bike trails. A few options were given and the Odd Couple went away.

The Baroness and I repacked her car with our camping gear and watched the Odd Couple pull everything out of their car, carefully placing it throughout the parking lot like a flea market display. They struggled with removing their bikes from the top of the car but were finally victorious. The female half grabbed a tiny bike with big wheels that looked like it belonged in a circus and attempted a few practice runs in the parking lot. The Baroness and I cringed as she nearly took out several cars and steered crazily to the opposite end. Satisfied with her biking achievements, the Odd Couple hastily crammed their car with duffel bags and air mattresses and coolers. We caught a glimpse of them slowly riding on the bike path to begin their morning adventure. I said a quick prayer for the other bikers on the path as the Baroness and I left the zoo.


Give a Dog a Shoe

George has a love affair with shoes.  Kick off a shoe in the house and one will go missing.  The very first thing George does each morning is to grab a shoe and trot joyfully through the house holding the footwear du jour triumphantly in his mouth, tail wagging and Mohawk tilting from left to right. Upon arriving home in the evenings, I am greeted at the door by George, shoe planted firmly between his teeth.  When George wants to go outside, he waits impatiently at the back door with a shoe.  Ever the optimist, he hopes that he will go unnoticed and successfully sneak it outside. It happens more often than I would like to admit.

On a moonless night, George managed to sneak by me with the English Boy's loafer.  I yelled at the devious dog and ordered him to halt but, as usual my commands fell on deliberately deaf ears.  I ran into the inky darkness of the backyard, searching for the disobedient canine whose fur is mostly black. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack.  Haystack...I spied movement on top of the pile of grass clippings and carefully turned in that direction, avoiding potential landmines that four dogs have a tendency to leave behind. George was on top of the pile digging furiously.  He stopped as I approached, then darted back into the house without the loafer.  I patted the clippings without success, aware of my severe allergy to the mountain of grass.  Defeated, I returned to the house and attempted to interrogate George.  That went well.

The next day the Englishman was sent on a search and rescue mission for the shoe.  It was buried deep within the grass pile and a spider had taken up residence.  I was glad it wasn’t my shoe.

Sneakers, loafers, pumps, sandals, flip flops and boots.  George doesn't distinguish between them. For him, if the shoe fits...carry it!


Le Chien?

The Frenchman had just moved to Georgia and had a lot to learn about the South. He tried to chase a black and white cat from beneath his car one morning only to discover it was a skunk so it didn’t surprise anyone when he discovered a stray dog in his driveway one day and decided to keep it.

It was a most unusual creature with tufts of fur matted at odd angles to its body. The Frenchman brought the mangy mutt inside his home and promptly gave it a bath. He towel-dried the dog, brushed the fur and cut the tangles. He fed it and made a bed out of an old blanket. Later that evening, as he tried to sleep, the dog stood by the front door and howled incessantly. At last, the Frenchman couldn’t listen to the awful noises and tossed the dog outside.

In the morning, the dog had disappeared. As the Frenchman left his house to run a few errands, his next door neighbor approached him and warned him that there was a very clean-looking coyote wandering the yard the night before.


For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Englishman was clearly frustrated as he incessantly pulled the chain on the small bell hanging by the back door.  "Your dog won't come inside even though I have rung the bell," he decreed.  "My dogs obeyed."  He looked at me as though this was somehow my fault.  I mentioned that it would be helpful to actually train Chase on what the ringing of the bell meant before pinning the disobedient label on him.   I pulled on the chain and listened to the pleasant chime of a bell that tolled more like a lullaby than a tornado siren.  Chase would never hear the sound as it wasn't loud enough to break his concentration.  I glared at the Englishman, walked down to the pond and ordered Chase to the house with one pointing finger.

A few weeks later, the Englishman installed a larger, shinier brass bell with a thick rope attached to the clapper.  It looked as though it would be more at home on a military ship than the back door.  When I pulled the rope, a loud clang rang through the neighborhood and echoed across the pond.  I was certain that all the dogs within a mile radius would line up at the back door each time it sounded.

After using it for several days, my fears were alleviated as only the four-pack ran toward the house when the bell tolled.  Up the hill, ears flopping, tongues dangling, all heeded the call.  A little bit of effort proved that even an older dog could still learn a new trick and that when "the bell tolls, it tolls for thee".


Duck Stuffing

As spring seamlessly flowed into summer, the humidity thickened the air so that the smallest amount of exertion required an immediate shower.  The Englishman and I halted our efforts in forcing Slinky, Myrtle, Thorn and Poison Ivy into their floating Quack Shack each night.  They seemed content to bed down in the lush green grass at the pond's edge.  We lived in a neighborhood with such novelties as paved roads and sidewalks so I had no concerns about crime against ducks.  In the morning when I let the dogs outside, one duck would sound a loud, solitary quack and the four would charge up the hill, wobbling back and forth as they demanded food.  In the afternoons, the ducks would lounge under the bushes near the driveway, waiting for the sprinkler to spray streams of cool water.  The ducks would race through the mist, wings spread for balance, as fast as their webbed feet would allow.  They shared their treats of frozen peas and corn with George and Charlie and would scatter as Chase ran through their small flock.

And then there were three.  Just like a classic Agatha Christie mystery, one morning Slinky was gone.  I searched the yard in vain.  That evening the Englishman searched the other pond.  No feathers, no duck parts, nothing.  We felt responsible because we had abandoned our efforts to train the ducks to use their floating duck house as shelter.  "It takes about a month," I reminded the Englishman as we vowed to continue the training each evening just before dusk.

The first challenge was to catch the ducks.  Ever practical, I armed myself with a red broom and chased the ducks around the yard until I could pin one with the bristles.  Thwack!!!  Once it was pinned to the ground I could easily pluck it up and carry it to the pond.  I discovered if I caught one, the others would follow.  The Englishman did not approve of my duck catching technique.  Apparently running wildly through the backyard waving a broom in the air was not dignified.  Tossing my broom to the side, he smugly proceeded to instruct me in the finer points of herding ducks.  Apparently in England, one is born knowing how to herd ducks as it is a part of English DNA.  I was missing the duck herding chromosome and needed to pay close attention to his tutelage.  I took notes:

1.  Approach ducks (without a weapon of mass destruction) and halt the advance when the ducks move away from you.  This is their "comfort zone".

2.  Spread out your arms as if you were going to fly.  Do not pretend to fly as it is not dignified and may alarm the neighbors.

3.  Take a step to the right to make the ducks move to the left.  Take a step to the left to make the ducks move to the right.  Do not put down your arms to check your hands to see which is the left and which is the right.  Take a step forward to make the ducks move forward.  "Let's do the time warp again!"

4.  Ducks do not move in reverse so don't bother trying this.

5.  The American Broom Method is quicker.

Once the ducks were properly herded onto the dock, the Englishman tenderly placed them in the duck house.  Their quacks echoed inside the house as we retreated to ours.  Each evening we continued our "stuffing the ducks into the house" chore with 100% human effort and 0% duck effort.  Small breakthroughs occurred though.  First, we noticed that if we put one duck inside the house, it would quack and peek out of the door until the other two finally decided to join it.  Next, the ducks began to wait at the end of the dock at dusk, ready to be stuffed into their house.  Finally, I realized that the ducks could fly when one evening, as I placed one duck on the platform and attempted to stuff it through the doorway, the other two jumped from the dock, flapped their wings and glided over the tin roof of the house, landing in the water several feet away.  A few moments later, they joined their companion inside the house.

Duck Stuffing.  It's not a recipe...it's a skill!


The Quack Shack

The Englishman wanted to park his car.  In our driveway.  In the exact spot where the cinderblock duck compound was erected.  Selfish.  He also didn't believe that the former duck house, which had since been christened Cluckingham Palace for our non-existent chickens, was an appropriate residence.  He wanted to build a floating structure to leave in the center of the pond, maroon the ducks and pull them in by a rope when we wanted to visit them.  I was horrified at his callousness. I complained to my employees as they had lent a sympathetic ear in the past to my woes.  My employees were not supportive.  Not only did they think it was a great idea, they offered suggestions and even described how to build such a structure.  I waited several days before disclosing the news to the Englishman.  I told him that he would need an old pallet, some styrofoam and a barrel.  He scoffed and reached for his graph paper, pencil, compass and protractor.  I retreated to count my shoes.  Again.

So during one of the hottest spring weekends in Georgia, the Englishman set out to construct a hexagon-shaped floating duck house. I was given the chore of painting it.  A simple task under normal springtime conditions; however the paint dried as fast as I could apply it.  The result was a clean, white house attached to a bright yellow platform.  A plastic green plank was added to the side so that the ducks could access the platform.  The tin roof was pressed into place with some difficulty and styrofoam was fitted beneath the structure with wire.

The moment had arrived to launch the Quack Shack and discover if it would float.  The Englishman and the English Boy carried the house to the pond and placed it on the back of the rowboat.  The English Boy paddled to the middle of the pond and while we held our breath, the Quack Shack was launched.  Amazingly, it floated!

It was time to introduce the ducks to their new piece of real estate.  I grabbed two ducks from the compound and stuffed them into a canvas shopping bag.  It took a few moments to catch the other two ducks but my persistence paid off as I dropped them into a second shopping bag.  All of the merriment was captured on video by the English Boy.

I placed one quacking and kicking bag into the boat and precariously sat on the edge of the seat while the English Boy paddled toward the white and yellow floating structure.  It looked like a hard-boiled egg.  The Englishman stood on the edge of the dock with the sole task of watching his two duck charges.  As I attempted to push a duck inside the house, the second duck escaped from the grocery bag, waddling freely throughout the boat.  Duck Number One wiggled out of my grasp and plunged into the murky water.  As he attempted to get back into the boat, Duck Number Two leaped out of the boat.  Ducks Three and Four dove from the dock and splashed into the water.

The sun was setting.  The tin roof of the Quack Shack gleamed in the fading light.  The English Boy continued to film his Youtube video, the link to which will never be disclosed by me.  Four ducks floated in the shallows of the pond, poking for food among the lily pads and scorning their beautifully constructed, sea-worthy home drifting nearby.


Cat Men

"I'm a cat man" boasted my employee proudly. I looked doubtfully at my passenger who was my helper for an hour. I was driving to my least favorite superstore in the world to pick up steel folding chairs for the employee breakroom. My shoes du jour were sensible red and white gingham peep toes with shiny red three-inch heels. Equally sensible was my all-white ensemble, perfect attire for a manufacturing environment.

My companion smiled as he told me about Tiger, the cat that recognized the sound of his truck returning home. The feline would push apart the mini blinds to watch him at the window. I suddenly remembered another "cat man" that I met on a flight from Atlanta to JFK in the summer of 1994.

My sister and I were on the first leg of our trip to France. As we boarded the plane, we realized that we were not seated together as requested. Liz was directly in front of me on the aisle, with two very cute guys sharing her row. I seethed with jealousy as I saw my seat neighbor. He was a very talkative, forty-something, dread-locked New Yorker who was already slightly inebriated. I glared at the back of my sister's seat and cursed her good fortune. I pulled out the emergency card from the seat pocket and feigned great interest in the location of the emergency exits. My safety mindedness did not discourage the "Chat Man" who was quite the talker. When the drink and pretzel cart stopped at our row, he demanded an alcoholic beverage. Unfortunately, the flight attendant had no change for his twenty dollar bill. Chat Man ordered five drinks and insisted that I have one as apparently four was his limit. Never the kind of girl to pass on a free drink I accepted and resigned myself to a full hour of slurred conversation.

I peered through the seat crack, curious to see what Liz was doing. She appeared to be twisted as far away as possible from her seat neighbor and looked like she was praying. Nosy, I stood up and pretended to stretch. Gross. "Cute Boy" was picking a scabs on his arm and flicking them. I labeled him "Potential Serial Killer" and sat down, smiling at my loquacious companion.

Chat Man told me about his cat, Rambo. This fearless feline roamed the halls of his New York City apartment building. When Rambo was ready to return to the apartment, he leaped up to ring the doorbell. No one taught him this trick. Smart cat. Chat Man and I shared pet stories until we parted ways at the JFK Airport. Liz refused to discuss her unusual seat companion as we walked to our connecting flight.

Two cat men. Years apart. My unwitting super heroes saving me from an evil superstore and a potential serial killer with their Tiger Tales and Rambo Ramblings.


Yucky Ducky

When I was a baby, my mom made me my treasured stuffed animal.  She stitched the cheerful yellow fuzzy fabric together, filled it with white bits of poly-fil, added large wide eyes and a plastic duck bill.  I dragged my duck everywhere and Mom soon dubbed it Yucky Ducky.

It never occurred to me, not once, how utterly gross ducks are.  I have visited many a duck-laden pond and avoided the mounds, gobs and splatters of duck poop, careful not to mar my completely inappropriate yet fashionably fantastic footwear.  Ducks defecate everywhere.  Its messy.  And for reasons still not clear to me, I thought my ducks would be different.  How could something that looked so cute in the store be so disgusting?

I diligently cleaned their duck crate every day until the newly constructed duck house was ready for tenants.  Relieved and looking for a break, I placed my ducks, who visibly grew each day, inside and dreamed of the once a week cleanings with a smile.  The Englishman, ever observant, pointed out that the duck house would need a proper cleaning at least several times a week.  Annoyed with my lack of duck housekeeping skills and openly criticizing my upbringing, he demonstrated the brushing and scraping techniques required.  Like a street magician, he then produced a bottle of diluted ammonia and water to spritz throughout the interior to destroy germs and other imaginary critters.  After applying a horrifying amount of fly killer, he expertly tossed fresh sawdust chunks onto the floor and into the crevices.

Two days later, under the Englishman's watchful eye, I crawled into the duck house cursing his name and uttering impressive vocabulary gems like "Ick" and "Gross" and "OMG" and "Ugh".  I tried out the dust pan and brush technique.  After several minutes, I asked the Englishman to bring me the shop vac.  He refused and suggested that I, "Carry on and remain calm".  I scraped poo from the floors, the walls, the doors and even places that the darn ducks couldn't even fit!  It was dark by the time I had finished my task and I still needed to catch my ducks and return them to their house.

In the morning, it was painfully clear to me that duck house cleaning was going to be a daily chore.  During the night, the ducks had eaten all of their food.  I wondered if I was feeding them too much.  A quick check with my online duck sources revealed "no".  Unable to muster the energy to clean the duck house again, I added a second piece of trellis to the driveway cinderblock "duck compound" and began leaving them there permanently.  They had a pool, food and a secure space with shade.  They looked happy and I was happy.  Clean-up was a snap with the blast of the garden house.

The Englishman noticed the duck quarters after a few days, possibly due to the fact that he couldn't park his car there.  He was not amused.  He told me that it was time to paint the inside of the vacant duck house in order to preserve the bare wood from further mutilation.  He assured me that this would help with the clean up.  I was in favor of a putty color to match the duck poo but he insisted on white.  First, I had to clean the duck house.  Again.

I half-heartedly crawled back inside with a trash bag and began shoveling duck dung into the lawn bag.  The Englishman, in a display of solidarity, grabbed the hand brush to show off his superior cleaning abilities.  After a few moments, he dropped the brush and disappeared.  I could hear him rummaging in the garden shed.  He soon returned with an extension cord and the shop vac!  I glared at him as he smugly sucked up sawdust and waste, making quick work of the task and avoiding eye contact with me.

We quickly applied white paint to the floors and walls, leaving it to dry overnight in the Georgia heat.  The inside looked pure, clean and immaculate.  In fact, several days later, it still looked pure, clean and immaculate.  Four yucky duckies still resided happily in their cinderblock compound while their perfect duck house gleamed bright yellow and white - a solid architectural masterpiece in the garden.  A brilliant success and victory for me:  no ducks...no yuck!


Splish Splash...Four Ducks Taking a Bath

Got water? Just add ducks! Not only are they natural swimmers, they absolutely love it. The first time I gently placed each feathery duckling in the dogs’ green plastic turtle pool, they explored their new environment tippy-toe style on their webbed feet. Gingerly they each removed one foot and then the other. Suddenly four perfect baby ducks floated on the water’s surface.

Later I added old tile “pilings” to the water and a makeshift wooden ramp on the outside so the ducks could easily enter and exit their turtle “pond”. I laughed out loud as each duckling tested their water skills with such Olympic feats as diving, underwater record-breaking breath holding and free-style swimming.

It was immediately obvious that the largest of the four ducklings had mastered the art of water-proofing. Its feathers were perfectly dry while the other three had dripping yellow fluff plastered to their shivering bodies. Goose bumps were visible and their water time needed to be limited. Over the next few days, each duckling added water-proofing to their preening routine and all expressed a firm preference to remain in the pool instead of dry ground.

Their growth during this short time surprised me as their bodies’ lengthened legs and webbed feet thickened and they abandoned their futile attempts at swimming in their water bowl. I suspected that the ducks may have been a bit older than my earlier estimations.

As the Englishman steadily worked on creating a more suitable indoor and protected environment, we began to leave them in a roughly constructed circle of cinderblocks layered in three rows. I added a piece of lattice to prevent hawks and other predators’ access to a duck buffet. The plastic green turtle pool took center stage and was a crowd pleaser.

The ducklings were quite content with their outdoor play pen and happily floated in their pool from sun-up to sun-down. When I scooped them up at the end of each day to return them to their indoor quarters, they loudly peeped their displeasure with me, but quickly resigned themselves to their other favorite activities of eating and sleeping. I would check on them once more before turning out the light, pausing briefly to listen to their peeps and chirps while they gently dreamed of water.


Peep Show

Four dogs immediately knew that something had changed.  Four noses sniffed my clothing, inspecting each fold, uninterested in the wavy bacon treats I offered in my hand.  Four sets of eyes watched as I set up an old dog crate on the sun porch.  Keenly they stared as I lined the bottom of the crate with newspaper and reinforced the sides with cardboard precisely measured at twenty inches using my quilting ruler and rotary cutter.  I attached a heat lamp at the top and added a sleeping platform lined with old flannel at the back.  Food and fresh water was placed in a garden tray at the front.  All that was left to do was to just add ducks.  After removing four stubborn dogs from the sunporch I did just that.

Four dogs drooled on the sliding door glass, fogging up their view.  I decided it was time to introduce the dogs to the ducks, one dog at a time with the help of the Englishman.

Molly, who had celebrated the second anniversary of her twelfth birthday according to the Englishman, was a perfect lady.  She glanced in the crate, turned away as if to avoid appearing rude and returned to the house.

Chase watched the ducks intently.  Rudeness did not concern him in the least.  Chase pointed.  His paw trembled.  When a long strand of saliva pooled at his paws, I removed him from the porch.

George pushed and pawed and barked.  Charlie, who was vertically challenged, prodded and probed the lower portions of the crate with his needle-like nose.  The ducks were oblivious to the dangers lurking outside the shelter of their crate.  The Englishman was not oblivious and insisted that I find out how long it would be for the ducks to grow up enough to have a permanent outside residence and defend themselves against the four-pack.

Like any other urban farm girl, I turned to Google.  After typing in my search words, I found a blog created by a couple, who like me, were clueless in duck care.  They had two dogs to introduce to the ducks and recommended ignoring the advice from the duck book (apparently one does exist).  

According to the blog, ducks don't differentiate between a human and a dog.  It's all the same to the duck.  This did not seem like a good thing to me.  This couple hatched their own ducks and documented their rapid growth on a daily basis.  At four weeks, the ducks were old enough to stay outside.  They unfortunately did not indicate whether the ducks could beat up the dogs at four weeks, although they did state that it took about a week before the dogs began to ignore the ducks.  
Armed with my new information, I boldly relayed my findings to the Englishman.  He asked me the age of our ducks.  Reluctant to display my complete ignorance, I returned to the blog that I was now consulting religiously and compared a duck to the daily photos posted.  I decided that my ducks were two weeks old.  The Englishman smugly quipped that I had two weeks to build a duck house.  My green ideas of re-purposing an old wooden dog crate or using a couple of pallets from work were rejected.  Back to the blog.  I bookmarked the detailed instructions and pictures on a custom duck house and pen.

The Englishman seemed temporarily satisfied with my plan and we decided to work with the dogs and ducks a bit more.  With the ducks roaming freely on the sunporch and our dogs in a choke hold, we spent time with each with mixed results.  Molly continued to ignore them.  Chase no longer drooled but was completely focused on the fowl.  George growled.  George did not approve of ducks...especially baby ducks.  Charlie made strange sounds with his mouth.

After the weekend was over, the ducks were visibly stronger and the four-pack was back to poking around in the yard doing dog things.  What I believed to be impossible, the mixing of ducks and dogs, seemed a bit more feasible with my creatures great and small.  Now in the evenings, I was more comfortable leaving the door to the sunporch open.  I could catch a glimpse of the dogs sitting quietly in front of the cage watching the peep show within for a few minutes at a time, before finally losing interest and returning to the comfort and familiarity of the house and their dog beds.


Just Wing It

I should be banned from the Tractor Supply store in the Spring.  In the center of the store, six silver galvanized barrels with heat lamps were coralled together bearing tiny balls of fluff with feet.  Dust bunnies they were not.  Peeps, tweets, flutters and pecks emerged from within as I peered over the railing into the bins below.  I smiled at the perfect webbed feet, the tiny bills and awkwardness of a pile of baby ducks.

I wanted one.  I needed one.  I demanded one.  I stomped my foot and pouted.  The man in my life told me "NO", firmly in his English accent that made it clear there was no room for discussion.  Still, I tried to reason that we had a pond which was perfect for ducks.  I was reminded, quite sensibly, that we also had four dogs, one of which was a bird dog.

I complained to my friends about the unfairness of the situation.  I lamented over the fact that the ducks were super cute.  I whined.  I stomped my foot and pouted.  They listened to my plight of woe and agreed that I did need a duck.  I deserved a duck.  Two weeks later, when I arrived at work on my birthday, I was presented with four ducks.  Fearing the reaction of the "Englishman", I emailed him a photo of my present.  He immediately responded with a single word: BOLLOCKS!!!

Undeterred,  I pretended to not understand the British slang and embarked on a needed trip to the local Tractor Supply store to buy a book on ducks.  There were none.  How a store that offered ducks for sale did not also sell instructions on how to raise them confounded me.  No duck food, no duck books....just lots of live baby ducks!  

I bought a chicken starter kit since it seemed close enough.  As I left the store in my five-inch Betsey Johnson floral wedges, I decided to just wing it.  How hard could raising ducks be?  Clutching my Mary Jane's Farm magazine in one hand and my peeping cardboard carrying case of ducklings in the other, I made my way home, eager to embrace my inner farm girl.



Charlie, like many dogs, has a single goal when it comes to dog toys: seek and destroy. Charlie’s needle-like nose probes the seams of a stuffed toy, searching for the tiny stitches hidden beneath the fur. His razor sharp teeth delicately pull at the threads like a musician expertly plucking the strings of a harp. A very small and precise hole appears and Charlie carefully removes the stuffing in order to retrieve the prize within: the plastic squeaker! Watching his determination, I remember, as a child, opening the Cracker Jack box from the bottom in order to possess the prize inside, typically a lick and stick tattoo.

Charlie also has a fondness for tennis balls. He chases the yellow ball when thrown or kicked until he tires of the game of “fetch but don’t bring back”. I usually run out of energy before he does. His affection for tennis balls does not end there. Charlie will often hold a ball between his front paws and peel away the fuzzy yellow covering like an orange. It is not unusual to have bits of yellow stuck to the carpet, furniture and even my clothing.

It was purely by accident that the indestructible toy was discovered. I’m not even sure when it appeared in the plastic toy box shaped like a bone, but it has become Charlie’s greatest challenge to date. It is a blue racquetball. The kind that you dodge when trapped in a treacherous indoor court while your father yells at you to stop cowering in the furthest corner. The powerful blue ball that you deflect with your racquet weapon, saving yourself from potential concussions and broken fingernails. The ball that comes in a set of three in a vacuumed-packed plastic tube at a Wal-Mart bargain price.

The ball that Charlie cannot puncture, peel, rip or chew. The ball that occupies him for endless hours while he tries to puncture, peel, rip and chew. The indestructible, economical and highly recommended (as long as you don’t throw it at me) toy.
Penn Penn Ultra Blue Racquetball 3 Ball - Can



I felt like I was in an episode of "Lassie".  Molly and George had returned to the house, barking and herding me into the backyard.  Once they were sure that I would follow, the two English Cocker Spaniels raced ahead to the edge of the pond and looked at me to proudly show their discovery:  it had frozen during the night and there appeared to be small paw prints on the surface.  Dog paw prints.  Their paw prints.

Before I could order them back, Molly and George spread their webbed paws, widened their legs and carefully waddled onto the surface, happy barks echoing across their winter wonderland.

For the remainder of the day, the pair took advantage of the rare ice skating opportunity, undaunted by the slippery cold surface.  By the next afternoon, the ice was gone.

Molly and George, ever the optimists, continued to check the pond's surface, waiting for it to transform once again.  Despite the unusual deposits of snow and ice during the course of the Georgia winter, the pond remained elusively liquid, forever hiding the memories of a moment when two small dogs joyfully took center stage.


Sock Monkey

Mom graciously agreed to dogsit while I was in California for the week.  She also provided up-to-the-minute reports via Facebook and several phone calls where she would produce such gems as "your dogs are snoring" and "your dogs are farting".  As much as I appreciated the daily dog reports on my four-packs' bodily functions, one morning update on George brought a smile to my face.

George likes to carry things around the house in his mouth:  a boot, a dust rag or his cherished stuffed animal du jour.  He also attempts to sneak these items out of the house and I have spent many a time in the backyard on a impromptu search and rescue mission.  George's favorite stuffed animal was a black and white monkey that Charlie de-stuffed in order to seek and destroy the evil squeaker hidden inside.

All that remained of the monkey was a single leg.  George adored that monkey leg and trotted around the house a few times before making a break for the back door with his treasure firmly gripped in his jaws.  Mom was too quick and headed him off, snatching the leg from his mouth and unceremoniously depositing it in the trash can.

Mom returned to her chair and whatever mundane human task she had been doing.  Moments later, George sat in front of her and demonstrated his trademark howl.  Mom ignored his charming behavior.  George strategically placed his head beneath her elbow and pushed up.  Nothing.  Several howls and bumps later, Mom finally looked at George.  Her sock was dangling from his mouth and he was backing away very slowly, taunting her with his eyes.

After a brisk game of follow the leader, Mom was able to retrieve her sock from George's determined jaws.  He may have been satisfied but his message was clear:  an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth...a sock for a monkey!


Pavlov's Dog

George loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m sure of it. I have been working my way through the complete box set and every time the theme music plays, George bounds into the living room barking and spitting so violently that his front paws lift off the floor. He bares his teeth and continues to bark and spit until the last guitar stroke fades. And while the casual observer may interpret his behavior as a sign of deep hatred for the show, George’s stubby black and white tail wags during this display. A sure sign of dog happiness and it is completely my fault.

Once upon a time, George had no opinion of Buffy. He did not concern himself with vampires either. He would sleep soundly in his bed while I indulged in my guilty pleasure of watching a TV show from beginning to end. Somewhere in the middle of Season One, I started doing a crazy dance to the rocking guitar music that signaled the start of the show. George did not approve of the crazy dance and barked madly at me. Around the start of Season Two, as soon as the theme music started, I called out softly, “George….” and he would leap into the living room, barking and snarling until the music stopped. During the middle of Season Three, as soon as the music started, George would rush into the living room and sit in front of me, barking along with the music.

I realized that I had recreated my own version of Pavlov’s Dog from Psychology 101. I also discovered that I had created a nuisance by conditioning my dog. No longer did I need to do a crazy arm-waving, fist pumping Buffy the Vampire Slayer dance around my living room (which George would still express his disapproval over), all I needed to do was watch an episode and the barking would commence. I know that I could skip the introduction or even press mute, but this is my special time with George. He is the sole canine companion that joins in the quick dance-a-thon with such enthusiasm and its all because of Buffy.


Farewell to Layla

I know every inch of my dogs. The texture of their noses, the way the hair grows in a different direction on the snout, a freckle above the eye, the favorite scratching spot at the base of an ear, the rough pads of the paws and each silky floppy ear. I know the color of their eyes. I know how each one feels when I hug him or her. I recognize their barks, or in the case of George, his howl.

It was with great sadness that I received the phone call from Jeanelle about how ill her Great Dane had become, but I was glad to have the opportunity to say goodbye to the elderly dog that had been her companion for a number of years.

 It was obvious when I saw Layla that she wasn’t her normal regal self. She barked at me when I entered the house, not relinquishing that doggy duty, but she remained on her dog bed in front of the fireplace. While Jeanelle and I chatted, I noticed that Layla had curled into a ball, placing one paw over her eyes to shield them from the light and was softly snoring. Before I left, I stroked her large, floppy ears, gave her a gentle kiss on the bridge of her nose and whispered goodbye.

The next time I visited, I brought Chase along for Patton’s amusement. Layla’s bed remained in front of the fireplace with an assortment of half-finished dog bones scattered nearby. Patton was happy to see Chase, but the feeling didn’t appear to be mutual. Chase sniffed Layla’s bed and peered into the hallway as if searching for her. He looked in each bedroom and nudged the bathroom door open. Layla had been his outside friend. Inside, Chase had been on guard, always insisting on being the bigger dog which required him to perch on the back of the couch in order to be taller than the massive Great Dane.

As we drove home, with Chase curled up next to me in the front seat of the truck, I again thought of all of my dogs and what each brought to my life. I have my own personal fan club greeting me at the door no matter how long I’ve been gone. I have a soft warm body to curl up next to me by the fire and a four-dog alarm system when I’m alone. I have company in the back yard and companions who will walk with me without fail and without complaint. I have four dogs to cherish for however long that may be.

If It Should Be
If it be I grow frail and weak,
And pain should wake me from my sleep,
Then you must do what must be done,
For this last battle can’t be won.

You will be sad, I’ll understand,
Don’t let your grief then stay your hand,
For this day more than all the rest,
Your love and friendship stand the test.

We’ve had so many happy years,
What is to come will hold no fears,
You’ll not want me to suffer, so,
When the time comes, please let me go.

I know in time, you too will see,
It is a kindness you do me,
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering, I’ve been saved.

Do not grieve that it should be you,
Who has to decide this thing to do
We’ve been so close, we two, these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.

- Author Unknown