When my sister lived in Atlanta she had a problem with the destructive feral cats in her neighborhood.  Animal Control provided a trap and as long as she continued to catch cats, they would continue to remove them.  Liz was quite successful in her endeavors to rid her yard of cats and firmly believed that they would be rehabilitated and then adopted by a loving family.  This dream was shattered by me when we checked the trap in her backyard one day and found a spitting, hissing tiny ball of dirty fur in the trap.  She saw a sweet kitten that just needed a little bit of TLC from Animal Control.  I saw something that had clearly been fed after midnight and was one step away from being labeled an evil Gremlin.  She shared her vision of rehabilitated feral cats and I told her what Animal Control was doing to the cats she caught.
The Englishman does not like cats.  When he somberly tells the story of “THE NIGHT HE WAS ATTACKED AND ROBBED BY A CAT” as a wee lad in England, I have to hide my face and muffle my snorts of laughter.  When he was eight years old, he was sent to the corner store on a mission to buy bread, milk and cigarettes.   Arms filled with his purchases, he walked quickly down the city sidewalk, eyes darting left and right searching the shadows for lurking danger.  As he passed a low wall, a feral feline leaped upon him, gouged his arms and stole his loaf of bread.  The tiny Englishman ran home, had his war wounds cleaned and bandaged and his father prowled the streets looking for a cat with a pilfered loaf of bread.
So my sister helped clean up the neighborhoods of Atlanta, I will never be permitted to own another cat, and apparently there really are cat burglars and they stalk the streets of Manchester.


Packing Peanuts

I placed my empty Stonewall Kitchen box on the floor, careful to close it up so the leftover packing peanuts wouldn’t escape.  I thought that I might be able to reuse the peanuts and the box for Christmas gifts to England.  Over the next few days, as I walked past the box, I always crouched low to close it, puzzled as to why it stubbornly opened on its own several hours later.

And then, one evening as I walked by the box, I caught Molly with her nose buried deep inside.  She was gorging on the packing peanuts.  In fact, it looked like she had been eating them for days as the supply had been depleted by more than half.  I secured the box shut once again, sure that she wouldn’t be able to undo the lid this time.  Molly brought backup in the form of George and with teamwork, they opened the box and began scarfing peanuts with wild abandon.  I removed the box from the house and placed it in the garage.  
When I told the Englishman about the incident over Sunday supper with his oldest son and daughter-in-law, I learned that packing peanuts can be made with biodegradable starch and are safe to eat.  The Englishman demonstrated by retrieving a peanut from the drool-covered box and popped one into his mouth, chewing vigorously.  He declared it quite tasty and mentioned that if we had a zombie apocalypse, he would head to the nearest warehouse to stock up on the edible delights called packing peanuts.   He patted his clever canines on the heads and sat down to finish his dinner.


Duck Herding, Jedi Style

The ducks don’t want to sleep inside their safe and warm house at night.  They prefer to huddle in an appetizing pile of feathers right next to it.  I prefer not to feed the neighborhood’s nocturnal critters and perform the tedious task of herding the ducks into their home each evening.

In thrift shops I have seen vintage prints of small children herding a flock of ducks with a stick.  My ducks would cackle at such a sight.  If I approach them with a stick, they scatter, then reconvene and chatter about my failed efforts in a circle.  If I approach them at night with the two insanely long and metallic flashlights that the Englishman calls “torches”, I am a duck herding Jedi knight.

I walk straight toward the flock of feathers who stare at me in alarm.  They rise and move as one to the left.  I flash my left beam of light and block them.  Like Carol Ann in Poltergeist, they fear the light.  They make a move to the right.  My right arm rises with the flashlight beam.  They resort to moving in the only direction not dissected by a ray of light.  I am filled with a sense of accomplishment as they file reluctantly into their house within thirty seconds, loudly expressing their unhappiness.  I don’t care as I shut the door.  “You are sleepy” I tell them using my Jedi Mind Trick and I return to my house with the light sabers, errr… flashlights by my side.


Don’t be a chicken!

Donning my beekeeper’s veil and gloves, I headed out with the Englishman first thing in the morning for some hive chores.  On the way back to the house, I stopped by the chicken house to see if there were any eggs to collect.  I barely noticed the squawks as I approached the gate and pushed my way inside the chicken yard, awkwardly maneuvering in the large hat and veil.  I greeted the ladies with a cheerful “good morning!”  The chickens scattered to the far corners leaving a trail of feathers in their wake.  I was missing one chicken.  I opened the hen house and clumsily squeezed inside.  Rosie was sitting in a nesting box and looked terrified when she saw me.  I quickly backed out, realizing that the chickens did not recognize me.

I walked briskly up the hill to the garage, passing the ducks waddling for their lives in the opposite direction of my path.  I flung off the veil and gloves, gathered some treats, and returned to my flock looking less alien than before.  Not only did I get a great idea for a Halloween costume, a valuable lesson was learned:  what works for the bees does not always work for the birds.


Moving Day

Puddle Duck Pub was moved five feet to the side and two feet forward.  This allowed for more sunlight to reach the solar panel powered lights.  All five ducks watched the Englishman and me carry the house to the new location.  They tilted their heads and peered through one glittery eye each as I cleaned the inside and added new bedding.  They kept careful watch as the Englishman moved the green plastic turtle pool behind the house and filled it with clean water.  They splashed in the pool as we cleared weeds, vines and thorns.  They happily waddled in and out of their house, taking mouthfuls of food from their feed bowl.  They padded over to their drinking bucket and gorged on the lettuce I had placed on the water’s surface.  They raced around the house, chasing each other until they tired.  They slept behind the house on a mound of fall leaves, tucking their heads into their feathers in a warm patch of sun.

And when it was dark, all five huddled in a pile on the ground in front of the old duck house location.  Puddle Duck Pub was lit up like a beacon to their immediate right but they took no notice.  The ducks were confused and so were we as the Englishman and the English Boy cornered the ducks and carried them back to their shelter a stone’s throw away. 


Fear the Beer

In a multiple dog home, barking by multiple dogs is not unusual.  Sometimes a doorbell on TV gets the four-pack going.  Joggers, walkers and kids on bicycles require the posse to stand guard at the front windows barking out warnings and applying a generous coating of slobber sprinkled liberally with nose prints on the glass.  There are times when all four bark in different directions, like the points on the compass, brows wrinkled in confusion when they realize they have forgotten why they are barking.

George, however, barks when he is unhappy.  He is most unhappy in the summer when the temperatures soar and the humidity only adds to his misery.  Barks will soon give way to mournful howling and he is completely inconsolable.

Quite by accident I discovered that George loathed beer.  He is a quirky dog at best, and one day as I lightly blew air across the top of a bottle creating a low, hollow tone, George fled the room.

On a particularly hot and horrible evening, George was perched on top of his favorite air conditioning vent, hoarding the cool flow of air.  He was uncomfortable and miserable and he barked and howled his complaints incessantly.  The Englishman threatened George with the bark collar to no avail.  George was placed in time-out in his crate where he raged violently on his own.

Finally, I had had enough.  I looked at the Englishman, refusing to accept defeat by my twenty-eight pound dog and declared, "Bring me a bottle of beer, now!"

George paused mid-tantrum, and sat quietly with his eyes following the path of the Englishman.  A light pop could be heard from the kitchen and a slight tinkling of the metal top falling to the counter.  George's tail stopped wagging.  The Englishman returned with a green bottle, slick with condensation.  As I raised the bottle to my lips, George bolted from the room with no further audible complaints.

Fighting fire with fire?  I'm not sure but at least with one-fourth of my pack, when all else fails, try the ale!


Pearl of Wisdom

We were down to one duck and she was lonely.  Miss Pearl followed the Englishman around the yard.  She perked up when the dogs raced through the back garden.  She was a frequent visitor in the garage, stretching her neck and peering through the back door glass.  Her nighttime quarters in Puddle Duck Pub were cavernous and I imagined her quacks echoing through the space like an empty cathedral.
I did what any high-heeled wearing modern farm girl would do and fired up the I Pad to search Craigslist.  I found what I was looking for and only ten miles away.  Four ducks: two Crested Peking and two Blue Swedes.  Ten dollars per duck, two for twenty or all four for twenty.  I did the math and decided on four.  The Englishman and I headed out with one dog crate and very vague directions.  “After the four-way stop sign in Rutledge, go past three roads on the left and then we are directly across from the third road”. 
The Englishman and I argued over whether a dirt road counted as a road.  He proclaimed that the Romans would disagree.  We ended up in a cemetery and decided to call the woman for better directions.  This time she added more details including the name of the road that her residence faced and that she had the only fish mailbox for miles.  She also mentioned that it might be only two roads past the four-way stop sign.  I think she struggled with counting.
Armed with the new information, we zoomed past a road without a sign and a tacky fish mailbox.  It was a mile before I could turn around.  I drove down a narrow dirt path that was a driveway and cautiously approached the double-wide trailer.  We were greeted by a flip flop wearing woman with obviously natural maroon colored hair.  Random tattoos on her feet and ankles accessorized her tank top that was stretched tightly over her ample torso.  She led us to her chicken and duck pen.  Rusty tin cans littered the back yard and my five-inch wedge heels crunched across the dead grass.  Thirty or so tiny Bantam chickens darted about the area with crazy feathers sticking out from their legs like old-fashioned bloomers.  The Englishman and the woman’s husband entered the pallet and chicken-wired structure to retrieve the ducks.  Moments later, we settled up with a twenty-dollar bill and headed home listening to the quacks in the back of the car.
Miss Pearl was waiting in the driveway when we returned.  The Englishman carried the crate to the duck sanctuary and placed it on the grass.  Miss Pearl excitedly circled the crate, peering through the slits in the sides.  We opened the door but the ducks stayed inside.  Impatient, Miss Pearl dive-bombed the crate and pushed her way to the back, trying to force the other ducks out.  Frustrated, she emerged first and the others timidly followed. 
At first they noticed the food and happily gorged but then they saw the green turtle pool.  I don’t think they had been in water before and all four piled in bathing and diving and swimming in manic circles.  Their feathers hadn’t been waterproofed and they were wet and dripping and thoroughly happy.

The Englishman lit the tikki torches to fend off the mosquitoes and we tossed frozen corn and peas to our newest additions.  Miss Pearl established the pecking order with herself as the leader.  She was twice the size of the new flock and as I watched them empty the food bowl, I was sure they had been underfed. 
As the sun disappeared in the sky, the lights inside Puddle Duck Pub beckoned them to enter and Miss Pearl led her charges inside.  I closed the door and stayed behind for a few moments listening to the quacks.  “Don’t teach them all your bad habits, Miss Pearl,” I chided before retiring for the night.


Starling Darling

The Englishman wanted to meet me for lunch at the only restaurant in Thomson, Georgia that we could both agree on:  Hoagie Joe’s.  I welcomed the break on the typical scorching summer day in June and hopped in my car, windows down to release the heat and air conditioning blasting.  “I’m on the way”, I reassured him in a quick text message.  He responded with, “Bring a shoebox”.  I scoffed.  Who did he think I was?  Of course I had shoe boxes in my car!  I even had extra shoes in the trunk “just in case” I needed another pair or two.
I parked my car and the Englishman approached the trunk holding something carefully in his hands.  It was a baby bird.  It had apparently fallen from its nest and into the hot and dusty street.  The Englishman had searched high and low but was unable to locate the nest.  He added layers of tissue to the shoe box and placed the bird gently inside.  It was ugly.  All mouth and no feathers.  The Englishman handed the box to me to carry into the restaurant.  Apparently being American made me more local than him.  We ordered, ate and no one seemed to notice the shoe box under the table.  An hour passed and it was time to leave.  I handed the box to the Englishman.  He shook his head, refusing my offering.  “I can’t bring it back to work,“ he insisted.  I brought it back to my office and left it on my desk.  I called my mother in South Carolina and warned her about her overnight guest that would be arriving with me to spend the night.  I also wondered how on earth I would manage to do my English setter dog transport the next day with the unexpected passenger for a 100 mile leg from South Carolina to Georgia.

I arrived at my parents’ house with shoe box in hand and went off to Walmart to buy worms.  I brought them back and squealed in disgust as my mother pulverized them and tried to feed the bird using tweezers.  It wouldn’t eat.  My mom decided we should leave it alone and that it would probably die during the night.
The next morning I woke up and reluctantly checked on the bird, sure that I would be burying it in their yard.  It was shrieking.  Delighted, I ran for the wormy mixture and fed it.  Mom helped by blending worms, water, cherry and hard-boiled egg in the blender, pulverizing the wriggly crawlers into a fine mush.  I now had the perfect Christmas gift idea for my parents as I vowed never to use their blender again.  Mom, ever helpful, produced a glass dropper and the feeding frenzy commenced.  Apparently baby birds eat a lot.  I wasn’t sure what kind of bird I was fostering so I looked it up on my I-Pad.  We decided it was a mockingbird.  I tucked it into a piece of fleece to keep it warm, packed it into the front seat of my car and drove to the highway to meet Emma, the English setter rescue who would catch a ride with me to Georgia as part of the leg of the rescue transport from North Carolina to Florida.  I had a squawking baby bird in the front and would soon have a strange, unpredictable rescue dog in the back.  I was looking forward to the drive. Emma, turned out to be a sweet seven year old setter who could care less about the screeching bird.  She didn’t mind that I had to pull over several times to feed the greedy thing, stashed away in a clay flower pot.  I met the next driver, passed along the dog and her paperwork and then headed home to hand off the bird to its rightful owner.

The Englishman was helpful.  He used my mini food processor (which I will never use again for cooking) to blend worms, berries, hard-boiled eggs, kitten chow and water.  The image of wiggling worms swirling through the grayish mixture was permanently etched into my brain.  The Englishman, much later, discovered it was easier freezing the worms first before making the bird smoothie.
The bird insisted on feeding every ten minutes.  I was exhausted by the end of the weekend and eager to return to work.  On Monday morning, the Englishman handed me my travel mug of coffee and a bucket with the bird for me to bring to work.  The bird was loud.  It screeched.  I’m sure my office was too cold for it.  I sent the Englishman a text message stating that I had found a new home for the bird and was giving it to my production manager.  He had a stay-at-home wife who needed a project.  The Englishman whined about me outsourcing the bird and told me that he would take it to work with him the next day.  The Englishman took the bird for two days because he didn’t trust me.

My mother arrived to watch the bird, the four dogs, the four ducks, the seven chickens and 90,000 bees for the weekend while we took an overnight trip to the coast.  The Englishman was not amused by her constant status updates on Facebook threatening to make a bird omelet.  In one of her statuses, she declared that we were not the proud owners of a mockingbird.  It was a starling.
Monday morning, we decided to leave the bird on the sun porch inside the bird cage we picked up at the antique mall.  It wasn't much of a cage as the tiny bird could easily slip through the bars and flutter to the floor.  While we were at work, the bird practiced flying and eating.  We began to leave it freeze-dried crickets and meal worms.  The bird began to sing instead of screech and with its feathers completely unfurled, it looked more like a bird and less like a mouth.
It would fly to my shoulder and hide beneath my hair.  It would sleep in the ceiling fan.  Sunday came again and I walked onto the deck, bird in hand.  Suddenly, the bird flew into the Bradford pear trees bordering our property.  It didn't return.  I wasn't ready for it to leave.  I sadly looked at the tiny nest within its cage and the words "empty nest" weighed heavily on my mind.  I returned to the daily grind on Monday and pulled into my driveway at the end of the long day.  As I approached the sun porch I heard a familar screech.  The bird had returned!  I ran inside the long and bright porch and the bird flew to my shoulder, mouth open, demanding treats.  I happily obliged.  The bird spent the night in the fan and then left in the morning to spend its day doing secret bird things amongst the trees, only returning to the sunporch at the end of the day to greet me and dine on dried crickets and worms.
Hush little baby don’t say a word
Daddy’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
It’s probably 'cause he brought you a baby starling!



Keep Calm and Carry On

Three beehives were not enough for the Englishman.  Five hives were perfect.  Five hives would make his life complete, so he drove two hours each way to pick up the last package bees of the season.

We weren’t ready for them.  So, the bees remained in their boxes while the Englishman built two bases.  Time was of the essence so it was decided to install the hives temporarily on the deck until the weekend.  We donned hats and gloves and within minutes the bees were buzzing about their new homes.  With great satisfaction, we put away our bee protective gear and grabbed a beer to share.

The Englishman sat in a nearby chair, sipping his lager and smugly admiring his efforts.  I took the second chair and watched him.  A lone bee aggressively flew about his head.  The Englishman put down his beer bottle and swatted at it.  Several more bees joined the first.  The Englishman continued swatting.  Backup arrived in the form of twelve angry bees.  The Englishman screamed, flailed his arms in the air and ran from the deck into the driveway and out of my view.  I picked up his abandoned bottle of beer but was unable to drink it as each shriek from the driveway made me laugh harder.  Soon the cries faded and I sat back to continue to observe our gentle Italian honeybees.

A tap at the window above my head beckoned me to the kitchen.  “There’s a stinger in me forehead!” he cried.  “Get it out!  Get it out!”  I scraped at it with a pair of scissors and assured him that bee stings were better than botox at removing wrinkles.  “I don’t have wrinkles in my forehead,” he protested.  “Not anymore,” I agreed and left him in the house while I checked on my ducks.
A few days later we removed the hives to their permanent home amongst the fruit trees.  The Englishman decided that it would be a good time to check the three established hives.  We smoked the hives, one at a time and removed the roof.  Using a hive tool to pry each frame from the “bee glue” that cemented it in place, we were able to lift the frames and inspect each side.

As I held a frame, heavy with honey and covered with bees, I felt a sting and a slow burning sensation under my arm where a sliver of skin was exposed between the glove and my short-sleeved shirt.  “I’ve been stung,” I told the Englishman, holding out my frame.  “Take it,” I ordered.  He slowly grasped the frame’s edges and I walked a few feet away.  I lifted my arm, scraped the stinger with my hive tool and returned to the hive to finish the job.  No screaming.  No crying.  No flailing.  Just keep calm and carry on.
The Englishman and I gathered the tools of our trade and trekked up the hill to the driveway.  “I’ve been stung through my pant leg,” he told me and then dropped his pants.  I looked on, horrified and fully aware of the neighbors, joggers, dog walkers and kids on bicycles.  He scraped the stinger with his hive tool and walked pant-less into the house.  No screaming.  No crying.  No flailing.  Just keep calm and carry on.