Monday, August 27, 2012

Medicare Cat, Please Listen...

We've all heard the Biblical phrase, "the lion lays down with the lamb". Quite a word picture of a docile little lamb next to the King of the Forest, a predator, whose mouth drools at the sight of its prey.

As children we were all taught that there are natural enemies in the animal kingdom. Cats chase mice, dogs chase cats, wild animals in the forest skulk about hiding from each other in their quest to eat or be eaten...aka, survival of the fittest.

With that in mind, I bring your attention to our cat, Medicare Man, Rowdy. He's approaching 18 now. Is feeble, grouchy, wants to be carried everywhere, whines constantly, and has a fit if he isn't outside in the late afternoon when the deer pass through our yard.  In the beginning, he just watched, keeping a safe distance from them up on the porch, and then something odd began to change in his attitude toward the deer.

I keep a water bowl on the sidewalk, by the steps leading to the front porch for the deer to drink out of, and , last summer, one particular doe came to our yard daily to drink from it. Well, that was then...and this is now. This same doe, Molly Brown, we've lovingly named her had twin bucks last summer, who are now yearlings and coming into their own.

Their names are Spike and John Jacob Astor. For young guys, they both have impressive racks. Speaks volumes, I suppose, of the studly buck who is their father, who chooses to remain anonymous most of the time.

John Jacob is a funny guy who comes into the yard, wants to be scratched between the ears and wants a drink of water, dang it!  That's all he wants and Rowdy won't let him near the bowl.

At first, I thought Rowdy went outside to be with his buds, but lately, my hubby and I have developed a much better understanding of what is actually going on.

Picture this, if you will: two yearling bucks, Molly, Rowdy and a water bowl, all within touching distance of each other. The deer are all looking wantonly at the bowl, as Rowdy sidles up next to it, daring them to come closer. If you strain your ears, you'll hear a low-pitched growl. "Who did that?"

It was Rowdy. John Jacob moves in for a drink. Rowdy raises his paw. John Jacob backs off and gives me a look like "can't you do something with him?" After a minute, John Jacob gets a little closer as Rowdy, lays his paw on John's snout. He didn't show his claws. He pushed him away, a little trick he learned at the food bowl when our other cat, Bob Anderson (God rest his soul) got in his way.

John moved away....far, far away. The others looked at Rowdy, looked at me, then back at Rowdy and slowly walked away, stopping every few steps to check out that little tiger cat fur ball with the big attitude.

Fast forward three days. Last night we were on the porch guffawing at the hummingbird wars in front of us, when John Jacob comes back. Rowdy moves in next to the bowl and meows at the deer. John looks up at me. He bent his neck toward the cat; Rowdy pushes his rack, then leaves the bowl and wanders around in the front yard. And who follows him but John. Rowdy turned around and they are nose to nose. I know Rowdy is coveting John's rack, and to prove how jealous and alpha he is, he pushed him again. And John ran away, his tiny tail between his....never, mind. Their tail ain't that long.

So today, John comes back. And wonder of wonders, the two of them are following each other around the front yard, and then sat together.

And the deer lay down with the Medicare cat.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Living With Bears 101

So those of you who read my blog know that recently our house was broken into by a rogue bear. BIG GUY. And according to the Department of Wildlife, this bear was well known by them...yet elusive when it comes to capture.

Our HOA sent out a blanket email to everyone in the neighborhood addressing some serious concerns about bears. I'm paraphrasing, but basically it went like this:  It has come to our attention, blah, blah, blah, that apparently, blah, blah, blah, a bear has been wandering the subdivision and has broken into some sheds and trailers and even a house (that would be us...just SO you know). Let me remind you that no trash receptacles should be out on the street before pick up day, no food should be left outside, and windows should be closed at all times. Just in case you hadn't thought of this before, we live in their domain and must learn to co-exist together in harmony, blah, blah, blah. (Close your eyes and picture Charlie Brown's teacher, who only ever uttered something resembling "Womp, womp, womp womp, womp womp and you'll understand how this letter came across.)

Color me flabbergasted! We take our own garbage three to four times weekly to the dump. We learned the hard way what a bear can do to a trash bin. (And for the record....there is NO SUCH THING as a bear proof can. You heard it first here.)

So my dear hubby fired off an email to the HOA rep who'd even gone so far as to say that "we love bears in our neighborhood. I love seeing them!" (Well, good for you. Move right on in their den with them, won't you?) My husband's response was that even though we live close to the national forest, there is a fine line between being one with the bears and keeping a safe distance from them. Whatever else he said to them, I'm not certain, but it got the desired response.

The Department of Wildlife, herein referred to as DOW, called, then came for a visit to find out about our experience. So this afternoon, the nicest man knocked on our door, and spent a good portion of the afternoon with us, hearing our story, learning our concerns and sharing information that we, and hopefully, you might find informational.

First of all, since this bear has even gone so far as to sleep on our front porch, he LIKES our house and will probably come back at some point. So here's what he told us to do. Make a mixture of 75 per cent water, 25 percent bleach and spray it around problem our case the windows. Run, don't walk to our nearest REI and buy some BEAR SPRAY. And make an unwelcome mat.

What is an unwelcome mat, you ask? You're gonna love this! Take a piece of plywood and hammer in one inch nails. Place the wood under a window (our bedroom, in this case. YUCK!!!!) with pointy side up. Sends a message. DOW likened it to us people walking around on gravel with no shoes. He said it works like a charm!

Also, he said some of my neighbors have gotten into the habit of feeding the deer. And I'm not talking about just a handful of grain or something. I'm talking about buckets full or troughs of grain that are left in their yards for the deer. But guess what, folks! Do you know what bear food is? Yes, you got it! It's anything left around that is edible! The purest definition of BEAR FOOD.

He told a story of a lady in Florissant, just down the road from us who was visiting her sister. Her sister was one of these "bucket feeders". He said one day while she was here, her sister wasn't around and the deer made their usual stop by the house, so she picked up the bucket and headed out to feed the deer. A big old buck attacked her, again and again with his rack and sharp hooves. This happened about half a block from the volunteer fire station and one of the firemen on duty saw what was happening, so he ran and when he was close enough he threw rocks and yelled until the buck ran away. While the fireman was helping the woman up, the buck came back and began to attack her again. So the fireman shot the buck for aggressive behavior.

I realize the topic is bears today, but feeding the deer is also a problem with regards to the bears. Bears and mountain lions (which we have both in our neighborhood right now) watch deer activity and where they are, predators are not far behind...especially in times of drought. The usual foods they look for are not as readily available so they come looking for what we can offer them.

So bears are not cute little touristy things to look for when you visit a forest. They are a predators. They are not pets; they are not our friends.

Now, I realize some of you are reading this and thinking, "well, duh!" Yeah, me too. But seriously, there are people who believe them to be their friends, their pets. But here's the thing about bears: give them an inch...they'll take a mile. THEY TAKE WHAT THEY WANT...and never ask questions later.

So the next time you're out hiking, or at Yosemite, or, in my neighborhood, and you see a big old black bear lumbering around, he ain't YOGI and he ain't SMOKEY.  He probably won't bother you, but, just to be on the safe side....don't stick around to find out!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rest in Peace, Uncle Bill

I received news last night that my Uncle Bill Rice died this past weekend. I read about it on Facebook when a cousin of mine posted a prayer request for the family.

As a child, though he never knew this, Uncle Bill was a hero of mine. He worked for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and wore uniforms that I thought always made him look dapper, handsome and very important. I thought my Uncle Bill could probably save the world, if the task ever presented itself.

He had lived the last four years of his life in a nursing home, a victim of Alzheimer's. Upon his death, My Aunt Mary Lois, my mom's sister, said, "At least now he knows where he is."

Alzheimer's is the cruelest of the cruel in neurological disorders. Taking the mind of a person who has lived a long, productive life, filled with memories both good and bad, and erasing it all as if it were an Etch-A-Sketch waiting to be utilized as a blank slate. My eldest sister told me time and time again how sad it was to visit him.

She loves him like a father. And rightly so. Our father, ill-equipped to totally give himself to his three daughters, always kept us at arm's length. Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary Lois took her in at a devastating time in her life and treated her like their own. She told me today via email (I live three states away) that during her morning coffee just this morning she had a good cry recalling lots of morning coffee times spent with Uncle Bill ....just the two of them sharing stories early in the day before the busyness of life took them their separate ways.

His sons, Bob and Roy, have experienced the best life has to offer. Uncle Bill made sure of that. Their daughter, Eileen, as well. With a father like him, who took the time to participate in their lives, they grew up well-adjusted, intelligent and successful.

My heart hurts today. I haven't seen Uncle Bill since my own dad passed away back in 2001. That's my bad. But I have memories of a man who was good, honest, loving, caring and hardworking.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Bill. I'll see you again someday.

Photo: Lonoke Baptist Church, now torn down....the church our family attended in Lonoke.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It's All in the Name

Babies are given their names at birth for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes babies are named after grandma or grandpa, mom or dad, Cousin Billy or Aunt Matilda (Lord....I hope not!). Other times because mom and dad simply like the name, the way it rolls off the tongue, because it's the most popular name of the decade, because our favorite film or sports star has the name.

My son was named after a surgeon who helped me out a lot when I was younger. Not only was he my doctor, but my friend, never allowing me to pay him, helping me through school, taking time to educate me on my health issues. He was, and is, a great guy! So I named my son after him: Austin.

I, on the other hand, being a child of the 1950s (and yes, I am aware that I am old), was named after a woman who helped my mom and sisters out while daddy was in WWII. My godmother was a great lady and someone I remember fondly, but let's face it. Hazel is NOT a name for a child.

It was torture growing up with that name (sort of like I imagine a Matilda might feel). As a child, I was subjected to such torment as being called Witch Hazel, Hazel the Maid, Hazel was LOADS of fun.

I remember when Hazel, the television series first aired. I was in the 2nd grade and the day after the airing of its first episode, was one of the worst days I can ever remember at school.  Lots of the kids teased me. And to an impressionable seven-year-old, teasing hurts. At recess, I tried hiding. But on a playground where there were no trees, all I had to work with was getting lost in a crowd of children, or hiding behind playground equipment. Guess which one I chose...

That's right! I chose trying to hide behind the steel poles attached to the the slide, the seesaw, the swings. All with the mentality of  "if I can't see you, you can't see me". I learned at the ripe old age of seven the fallacy in that school of thought. Everyone saw me. The teasing was endless and painful.

As I grew up, I became interested in the Drill Team at our high school in Cabot, Arkansas. I tried out, was accepted, practiced like crazy all summer, then our first routine was done at a Friday pep rally. We introduced ourselves out on the football field while the entire student body sat in the stands. When I called out my name, everybody laughed. My name was a joke! The football players were the worst. Great! My first week of high school and I was the laughing stock!  I wanted to march myself right off the football field and transfer to a different high school in another galaxy far, far away.

As time passed and I grew older, it wasn't so bad. I got used to the name...sort of grew into it. When introducing myself to strangers, I usually heard things like, "Hazel, now that's a really old-fashioned name!" or "I don't think I know any other Hazels," then there's "You don't look like a Hazel!" (Oh, really? What does a Hazel look like anyway? Long crooked nose, big black hat, broom?)  But  my all time favorite was "I have an Aunt Hazel. She's what? 85 now?" (Picture me biting my tongue and fighting the urge to roll my eyes and storm away from Aunt Hazel's precious niece.)

Then it happened! Julia Roberts named one of her twins Hazel. I honestly thought she was smarter than that. Does she realize that poor child has to grow up with that name? Right alongside all the Matildas, Chesters, Lars, and Gladyses of the world.

To all of us with odd names: hold your head high. There's one thing about having an absurdly strange name: people always remember us. And cheer up! Maybe in the next life we'll have really COOL names! Like Tiffany, Amber, Justin, Marcus or one of those unisex names like Gray or Sean.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Night at the Pizza Hut

My husband and I live in a small community. So when I have a craving for Pizza Hut Veggie's Lover Pizza and a salad, we have to drive about 16 miles to get it.

After a long day, of writing and rewriting, hanging out with my foot propped up in its boot on the coffee table, and listening to the jaybirds out our front window squawking at Rowdy, the Medicare Cat, I wanted pizza.

We drove into Woodland Park, put gas in the car before the thing literally stopped in the middle of the street, and scooted over to the Pizza Hut. Busy night! The parking lot was full. People were going in; people with to go orders were leaving. We were sure there would be a wait, but a young lady from our church who is a server there (and has a boot on, too, because of a broken foot) saw us, waved and smiled and motioned for us to find a seat. Gladly.

At first, I was almost certain there would be a riot of epic proportions because we went straight to a booth, but when everybody saw me hobbling, the would-be naysayers put a lid on it and went back to just being their normal selves.

Shortly, I could come to the conclusion that just because we were getting primo service, didn't mean it was the be all and end all of pizzeria dining experiences.

Sitting directly behind us was a thirty-something woman and a much younger, young man, who I was fairly certain...all right, maybe on partially certain...was her teen-aged son. From the moment I sat, until the time we stood to leave, the woman watched every bite I took and every sip of Diet Pepsi from my straw. Did I have a smudge on my face? Or did my makeup look so exceptional tonight that she wanted make up tips? Or did I remind her of a long lost cousin? Whatever it was, it made for uncomfortable dining.

If that weren't enough, another woman came in with her two children, one of which was severely autistic (and I know this because of all the letters behind my name, i.e., Hazel Wesson-Peterson, J.U.D.G.E., J.U.R.Y.).  At any rate, he was an adorable child, who screamed at the top of his lungs the entire time...except for when his pizza arrived.  He was an unusual study, and as I watched him, I reminded myself of the woman who was watching me and decided I'd be better served just enjoying the company of my husband and savoring the pizza when it arrived.

Then, a couple and their two children from Arkansas came in. How do I know they were from Arkansas? Is it because I am from Arkansas and we put off this secret aura that only other Arkansans recognize? Yeah, right! I know, because the woman had on a tee shirt from the University of Central Arkansas, her husband had the twangy Arkansas accent and their license plates said "Arkansas, The Natural State". When they first came into the restaurant, the family had a little squabble in their Southern twang, calling attention to themselves. (Great!) Realizing everybody was watching and listening, they took it outside where the argument escalated and one of the children was actually pushed by their dad. When Dad realized he'd caused a scene, he rallied his small family, managed to get them all back in the vehicle without loss of life or limb and scrammed out of the parking lot..  My husband wanted to know if they were cousins of mine. Really, Don?!?!?

If all that weren't enough, the man at the booth in front of us got tired of waiting for his food and began to make a scene. I suppose he couldn't see there was but one server on the floor, and she had a broken foot, and, that the restaurant was full. When the staff was polite to him, he simply chose to take his order to go. (I would, too, if I'd made such a scene. Maybe it just wasn't as much fun when no one would argue with him.)

Then a group of firemen came in. Our city and county was evacuated earlier this summer in the Waldo Canyon Fire, so these guys are like National Heroes around here. Everyone stopped eating to stare at the local celebrities. I was honestly surprised someone didn't offer to buy their meal.

Next, a woman and her very small son came in to have pizza. No big deal except she committed one of the most resented acts restaurant people deal with: she brought a soft drink in from a local fast food restaurant. Now, in my experience, that was a big no-no. So much so, that in my dad's restaurant, back in Arkansas (and yes, he had a huge accent just like the aforementioned dad in this story) customers were given two choices, should they commit such a travesty. Either pour the drink down the sink...or leave. It's simply not done.

The final blow was a man who was wearing a hat advertising his desire for the impeachment of our county sheriff. I also noticed his pick-up truck had sideboards built on it which were painted black with stenciled yellow and red letters that said "Impeach our County Sheriff and his SWAT Gang!"  Seriously? Oh, well, to each his own, I guess.

So there you have it...a Friday night visit to Pizza Hut. Something for everyone! OH...and just to set the record Veggie Lovers' Pizza? One slice had Canadian bacon. First bite of meat I've had in about 10 years! That's what I get for going to the head of the line, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gossiping 101

Gossip! We all do it! In one form or another, we all do it! But I'll bet there's something about gossiping that even the most gifted, experienced tongue wagging participants may not be aware of. 

My fictional character, Annie, was taught the art by her grandmother, who fancied herself professor emeritus in the psychology of gossiping. Her duty as the matriarch of the family was the instill into her daughter and granddaughter the art of the gossip, the psychology behind it, and the importance of learning all the latest tidbits without ever opening their mouths.

Interested? Well, let's hope so, because I'm about the share with you Gossiping 101: The Art of the Gossip in Victorian America.

First,  never, ever, ever, coax gossip out of anyone. If gossip begins to flow it is unladylike to ask leading questions and appear to be a gossip yourself. A true gossiper will tell the whole story simply because of the rush it gives them. Secondly, never let body language give the idea that any tale at another person's expense is being relished. Quite the contrary. As much fun as it is to gossip, there is something primal about it, makes us feel better about ourselves. Simply sit, sip your tea, eat your cookies and listen. Always have something in your hands because hands, Annie, are the key to a good tell. Women tend to use their hands when they become enthused or overly interested, encouraging the teller to go on and on. And our goal, the goal of a true lady, is to appear nonchalant and just a tad disinterested. The story will continue, but since you don't speak or give of the feeling of approval, the only thing said about you will be that you're a bore at tea. And that's not so bad. Better than being the focal point of a sermon on the evils of gossip at the next Sunday service. Finally, and most importantly, the eyes have it. Keep a blank look going, not one that says there's nothing behind the eyes, but one says, 'Gossip. I can take it or leave it.' Our eyes, dear one, can give away our every emotion. Especially excitement or sadness. Expressionless gazes can keep the gossiper gossiping, but keep them from asking you to participate.”

And there you have it: Gossiping 101 as told to Annie, by her Grandmother, Prudence Wickham, on the eve of her first formal tea. After all, grandmothers in Victorian America always imparted life's most important lessons to their granddaughters. Appearance was everything second only to not being called out for bad behavior by their parson.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Guess Who's Coming for Dinner?

There weren't three of them, but one seemed more than enough.

After church today, Don and I went to lunch with our good friends, Mike and Sandy Sickefoose. We were enjoying ourselves immensely, but when it came to be about 3:30 we all realized that our housebound pets were probably about ready to euthanize all of us, and, so we scattered, hurrying home to let Rowdy, our Medicare cat out of the house.

When we got home, the first thing I noticed was the hummingbird feeder taken apart and lying on the front porch. That's odd, I thought.  Don opened the front door and said, "Oh, no. No, no, no!"

I looked in to see what was the matter and to my distress, all over the floor was ALL the food from our pantry and refrigerator, a five pound sack of sugar, another five pound pack of Splenda, a sack of flour, a broken antique bowl, two strainers, a jar of peanut butter and a gallon container of raspberry iced tea and lots of cans. Down the hall was oyster crackers, Weight Watchers snacks and a loaf of apple crumb bread.

Following the food trail down the hall, it led to our bedroom. I'm calling for Rowdy, who isn't answering or coming to me. The window was intact, but the screen was torn out and lying on the ground outside the window. In the bathroom, the same thing awaited. A huge paw-shaped rip in the screen gave me the impression that the little bugger (in this case a BIG bugger) had tried to make it through our TINY bathroom window.

We both ran outdoors, called for Rowdy, all the while looking this way and that for the culprit of our break-in. Below the bathroom window was a blown glass bird. Obviously the sun had caused it to shine and our thief liked it very much. The only thing missing from the bathroom was the bird.

Back to the bedroom: whoever it was had to crawl over our ENORMOUS aspen king-sized bed, so I began pulling the bedding off to run through the wash. Next was the cleanup of all the food stuff on the floor. Pine-Sol, bleach and Murphy's soap combined to clean up all the yuck. There were prints all over the outside of the fridge, the stove and the cabinets.

I can't speak for my husband but I WAS TOTALLY GROSSED OUT! Tonight I am looking over my shoulder.

Who was it, you ask?  A BEAR! A bear broke into our home. Thank goodness we scared him off. I hate to think what could have happened if he had still been in the house when we walked in. We think he heard us opening the door and ran out the way he came in...dropping his bread behind him.

You may think living in the country might be boring but it is totally to the contrary. Most of the action around here comes from the four-legged members of our neighborhood. Just last week one of the deer I love so much was killed by a mountain lion just around the corner. The hummingbirds have a war going on outside our front window all day long vying for ownership of the feeder. They're like little stealth bombers. It's hysterical! The crows think they're all that and a bag of bird feed. Every morning about 6 a.m. they plan their strategy. One parks itself in every tree in the front yard and begin to "holler" at Rowdy, who, by the way, has more smarts on one side of his brain than all them put together. They squawk and caw and rattle the limbs of the trees, but Rowdy just ignores them...  The foxes wait just outside the perimeter of the front yard waiting for some morsel from somewhere to land on the ground. Stupid things don't know Rowdy's sitting right on the front porch. They grab anything and run like the wind down the hill. And the raccoons...well, they just climb up in the lawn chairs and peek in the window giving us a "what's up" kind of look.  But, as I've said, before, the deer are my absolute favorites.

The bears can just move along...go somewhere else...they're cute, but I'd rather not get to know them on a personal level. I name the animals I like. The bear doesn't have a name.

Oh...and Rowdy? Hiding under the bed. He may be old...but with age comes wisdom.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mental Health Issues in the Victorian Era

Mental health is a touchy subject simply because of the stigma attached to it. Fortunately for us today, we live in a time when there are a variety of therapies, treatments, medications and laws to protect to the affected.

In the 1800s, things weren't so good. A wide variety of adjectives and descriptive phrases, some of which unfortunately made their way into the 20th and 21st centuries, were used to describe the mentally ill. Crazy, lunatic, half-wit, nut, lost their marbles, paddling around with one ore, demon possessed, were just a few. Today, there are real medical diagnoses, which, hopefully, we, who calim to be educated, caring people choose to use instead of the hurtful, unkind descriptions of yesteryear.

Most families of the 1800s who had mentally ill relatives, didn't speak of them. Sometimes they were locked in room of the family home with meals brought in, but the person never being received in public venues. Other times they were cast out. And still other choices were to simply ignore the problem as best they could. In the mid-to-late 1800s the asylum was brought into play as a place for the mentally ill.

The treatment of the day was based upon the morals and social norms of the communities in which they asylum was housed. Most people of the time believed that simply loving, caring for and accepting the person would nurse them back to a "normal" reality and more acceptable behavior. In the Victorian age, it was accepted treatment to house a mentally ill patient in a place free of stress. This involved staying in an asylum (which was relabeled "institution" in the 1890s), away from family, friends, job, normal day-to-day responsibilities, and simply resting, eating three square meals a day and wandering the grounds of the institution.  THERE WAS NO MEDICINE! 

On the other side of the coin, right before the "enlightenment" of the Victorian Era, many of the "insane", as they were called, were put in prison with hardened criminals instead of housed in medical facilities. Makes me want to jump in my time machine and go back to ask "and that was supposed to help them how?"

Many of the diagnoses we know today were unknown at that time. Schizophrenia, manic-depressive or bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder, catatonia, depression....all these were given names in the twentieth century. We learned that depression is a chemical disorder, not simply the "blues". Schizophrenia is now a treatable illness, not just a person who needed shock treatments or worse, to be locked away as an embarrassment of the family.

In my book, I have a character who suffers mental illness. His illness causes him to hear "voices" and takes him on a journey no one in his friendship bank or family unit can deal with or understand. Having a family member whose father suffered from schizophrenia, it has been an interesting study, albeit painful. Hopefully, I can do this justice, and you, the reader will be left feeling sad for him and his family...which is only part of the objective. The other part is to show how far we have come.

It wasn't until the 1900s that more "radical" treatments were begun. It is too bad that medications now used for psychological trauma weren't even in the minds of the providers. Although the physicians and caregivers of the time were doing what they knew to do, it wasn't very much. Like so many things through human existence, psychotic episodes were simply viewed as demonic activity or an embarrassment.

Hopefully my character, his family and friends will tear at your heart and help you reach out to those in your circle who possibly suffer silently from clinical depression, addictions....any disorder. If what happened to my character had been in today's society, his treatment options would be many and varied and less frowned upon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Where In the World Do All the Stories Come From?

People ask me where I get the ideas for the stories within the story. That's an easy one. The general idea usually comes from some life lesson or experience that I or someone in my family have lived through and survived to tell about. But as the voice on the 1960s Dragnet television series used to say "only the names were changed to protect the innocent".

One such story comes from my father. Legend has it that his dad was quite the ladies' man and I personally, can name three wives. When my father was 16, he, his youngest sister, Alice, and their father, my grandfather, were traveling from Western Oklahoma to Arkansas upon the separation and impending divorce of his last wife. Their plans included driving to Carlisle, Arkansas to pick up daddy's eldest sister and then stay with relatives until Grandpa was back on his feet.

The journey was long and they ended up staying in a travel court in Chickasha, Oklahoma for the night. Sometime during the night, there was an explosion. The hot water heater exploded and Grandpa and Alice were killed instantly. Daddy, on the other hand, was rushed by ambulance to an area hospital, where he was in a coma for several days. He was unable to put his dad and sister to rest and it burdened him his entire life.

The two were laid to rest in a Chickasha cemetery on February 12, 1929.

Daddy and my Aunt Gladys grew up very differently. She was given a proper education and he was used as a family workhorse of shorts, even being taken out of school at times to help with harvesting of crops. While she went to college and became a teacher, he was drafted and went to Japan during WWII.

He was a cook in the Army. When he came home to mother and my two sisters (I was born many years later), he opened a restaurant in Lonoke, Arkansas. A local judge frequently ate lunch there and came in many times asking to set up a meeting with Daddy and then would disappear for weeks on end, as if something kept him from keeping the appointment.

We later learned, through some genealogical searches, that all the records of the fire in Oklahoma as well as the probate records in our county were destroyed from the dates in question. There was talk about the soon-to-be ex-wife's lover hiring someone to cause that explosion. But no one knows for sure.

I only know that my father went to his grave thinking his father and sister might have been brutally murdered, and he, severely injured and left for dead. He suffered from anger issues and could be volatile at times. For all my life, that was the father I knew. He was definitely a product of his upbringing. But I loved him then...and I love him now.

Anyway, there you have it. Just one of a million ideas racing through my head on their way to my computer and your reading pleasure.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Peterson Petting Zoo

When I was growing up in Arkansas, I used to sit at the community table at the back of my dad's cafe and listen to men who gathered for their daily infusion of caffeine and "manly" gossip talk about deer hunting. I could never wrap my mind around shooting for fun (that was then and this is now...I have evolved, albeit a vegetarian. I just realize not everyone holds to my live and let the animals live values) and really couldn't understand how anybody got close enough to deer to shoot one.

They were an elusive animal in our neck of the woods. It was easier to snag a rattlesnake or gig a frog (a story for another time) than to coax a deer...or even find one. So imagine my bewilderment the first time I encountered the friendly deer of Colorado.

It was late summer 1987. My son had just returned from his summer vacation at his dad's in Texas and we had just moved to Colorado. We drove over to the Royal Gorge with a picnic lunch. When we arrived we were driving through the park looking for that perfect spot to eat and enjoy the beauty of the Gorge. We were parked in the car, just about to get out. My son said something that got my attention. I was holding an enormous package of bag of window was rolled down and while my son was talking, all of a sudden his eyes got big and his jaw dropped and I heard this rustling sound next to me. I turned around to find a 12-point buck with his head and neck in my window, his snout in my bag of Cheetos, munching down. When I looked at him he stopped smacking and his eyes locked with mine and he backed out of the car. YIKES! What was wrong with the deer here? That would never happen in Arkansas. I guess when you're hungry and you really like salty treats, etiquette flies right out the window, especially when you are one of the creatures who lives by the survival of the fittest mentality. And he was definitely more fit than eat up, dude!

Once in Ouray, same thing, different food, different vehicle, much larger deer. My husband, Don and I were on our way back to Colorado Springs from Phoenix. It was January 1 and we wanted to see the Climbing Ice Wall in Ouray so we took a detour over the Million Dollar Highway, following a snow plow all the way to Silverton at a fast 15 mph. If you've never traveled this road, you'd not understand how deep the snow is there in the winter. We were in a Tahoe and the snow on the side of the road was taller than our vehicle. And no an altitude of more than 11,000 feet...and the fall, should it happen, would have been straight down. But I digress.

We pull into Ouray, which is a favorite spot of ours. (That's where we became engaged.) Driving down the main drag, I looked to my right and there they were. A buck and all his lady friends. Someone had put hay out in the yard for them and they were having a feast. We pulled up on the side of the road and here he came. Snorting, strutting, and stupidly, I rolled the window down. He stuck his head in...with all those horns...and enormous nose, big mouth and bad breath. I said, "Don, give me one of the cookies."

A friend of ours had made us some Norwegian Christmas cookies and we had a handful left. I put one in my hand and he took it. He wanted another. I gave it to me. Another. And another. Until they were all gone. And he got huffy. He wasn't quite done yet. "Now what do we do?", I asked.

One thing you have to know about me is this: animals love me. Tame ones, wild ones, it doesn't matter. They love me. I pet his nose and he back out and got rid of the attitude and we drove on. And as we did I watched him in the side mirror strutting back over to his ladies. Stud!

Now...our yard is much like that EVERYDAY. We have yearlings, mamas, fawns, bucks, and they are all my buddies. There's one in the yard right now as I write who just wants to be petted between her ears and she's happy. Another one, just wants to sit next to the house in the shade. The "boys", as I lovingly call them, "are yearlings...who we have watched grow since they were about a month old. They run up to meet us when we are outside. It's a hoot.

We have raccoons, foxes, and last night a big old black bear on the front porch. I was on the couch and I started hearing some strange noise that wasn't deer like at all, and I looked out the window, which was open, by the way, and there he was, sitting on the porch, drinking the hummingbird water and licking up what he'd spilled on the concrete floor. I said, "Hey," in my best give-me-back-my-apple tree voice (from Wizard of Oz) and he jumped up and ran hellbent for leather down the side of the mountain where were live, turning and watching until he was out of sight.

I don't pretend to say we should all go outside and pet the bears, but they are funny as long as you're on one side of the wall and they're on the other. By the way, they like the sound of tonal windchimes, in case you're interested.

Yes, we live in a petting zoo and our cat loves it. Especially the deer. One of the mommies cleans his fur. It's weird as all get out, but fun to see. 

My hubby calls me the Wild Animal Whisperer.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Knitting Isn't Just for Old Fuddy Duddies!

When I started writing the Miners' Cut series, I inserted women who loved handcrafts. Needlepoint, crochet, embroidery, tatting, and, my all time favorite, knitting!

I can't speak to the joy of the other fiber arts named, but even though knitting can be relaxing and take your mind off your troubles for a little while, it can also be taxing. Reading patterns can be confusing and not for the faint of heart. I won't mention the website, but, several months ago I found a pattern on it that I thought would be a great sweater for me. I began knitting. Things were moving along quickly and I thought, "this is an easier pattern than I thought". What is that old saying about not counting your chickens before they're hatched?

I got almost the entire front panel completed and things started falling apart. From row to row, the stitches didn't line up and the panel began to look like something a novice would have undertaken. Not to toot my own horn, but I am a professional knitter and can normally look at the stitches and identify the problem. Not so this time. I unraveled a portion of the panel. I gave it another shot thinking I had just misread the pattern. Same problem. I unraveled again. Grrr! This happened four times. I tried altering the pattern. Nope! This was a website all yarn and fiber art people would recognize. I took the entire panel apart and chose another pattern from different site. (By the way...the sweater is an awesome light green, cotton, summer sweater in a lovely lace pattern.)

Not to be unfair to the original website, I tried a simple scarf pattern...same thing! Then a friend of mine called a couple of weeks later and said, "Hey, Hazel, have you ever done a project from ....?" And she named the website. I hesitantly said, "Yes, why?" "Because I have been working on a pattern for three days and it never comes out right." I told her to do herself a favor and move on before she ripped her hair out.

The picture today is of a shawl I just finished for my husband's niece who graduated from high school this year. Virgin wool, bright purple, soft, luscious, beautiful. I hope she likes it as much as I. If she hates, it I will pay to have it sent PRIORITY right back to its maker!

The ladies in my book knit. They are fast and furious. They are determined. And they are competitive. Never to be outdone. You'll love reading about the knitting rivalry betweeen Faerie Wright and Augusta O'Keefe.  Both are strong-willed, bullheaded women who think their designs are the best and will not be outdone by the other. Oh....and they are best friends!  Yeah....right!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Red Mountain Mining...Living and Working Above 10000 Feet

Living in Colorado presents many distinct challenges. On some days, simply going for a walk through my neighborhood is a workout. Choosing to do life in a place with drastic changes in altitude, weather and landscape at every turn is definitely an adventure. When employment is added to the mix, one must be sure they are clear-thinking and used to the thinner air and can handle it.

Surely the prospectors who traveled both near and far to the high country of Colorado in the 1800s, were surprised to see what awaited them. It was a different time, for sure. Most people probably had no idea what lay ahead. Surely once most of the Westward travelers were shocked by the sheer beauty of the mountains from a distance out on the High Plains. Pikes Peak can be seen from a hundred miles away.  The closer they got, the more daunting the sight becomes.

It's like this: you walk along on these flowing plains, the wind always blowing, cool breezes coming from the mountain air. Then BAM! All of a sudden, with no warning, you go from lower elevations to THE MOUNTAINS! Like a brick wall. I used to tell my husband when we still lived in Colorado Springs that it felt like the world just ended right at those mountains.

But those people didn't have the roads we have today. They followed trails made by the Native Americans, that. And it didn't get easier as they climbed. The altitude only got more intense, the air thinner and the ground....ROCK!

So the mining camps were a primitive way to live in the beginning. Imagine breaking ground for gold or silver in a place that was solid granite. On Red Mountain, I have seen the remains of houses, gantries, warehouses and other buildings that are just built right into the side of  mountains that go straight up. I've tried to imagine how in the world they actually built them...and then how they got to them. No steps, no ladders. Just a building hanging from the side of a huge mountain in the middle of nowhere. Hmm.....

Think for a moment about your life. How comfortable it really is in comparison to what went before us. It's cold up in those mountains; some of the mining camps were above tree line, which is 12000 feet above sea level. It's cold there ALL THE TIME; it snows year round, maybe not everyday, but enough that I'd tire of it quickly.

And let's talk about high-grading. High-grading, for those who aren't familiar with the term, is simply when the workers of the mine filled their pockets, hats, shirts, shoes, socks, any old thing, with ore during their shift and making a profit at the expense of their employers. Call it what it is: STEALING! In the early days there were no laws preventing it. It was a new capitalistic venture and they sort of learned as they went.  Now, it's a big deal.

In Cripple Creek just a few years ago, several men were arrested and brought up on charges of high-grading. I don't know the exact amount of gold they took, but suffice it to say, it was six figures. So, take it back to the 1800s and lots of people made a fair share on top of the salary they drew. I've not found anything that says how it was handled in Colorado, but in California the mine owners decided to start a new rule about reporting in for work and leaving at the end of a shift. It went like this: when arriving, the workers would report to a building that housed showers, lockers...much like the locker rooms of today. They would change their clothes, put them in a locker and don a uniform provided by the mine (hats, shoes, pants, shirt...the whole works). At the end of the shift, with a security guard on site, the men would strip down of those clothes, throw them into a bin for laundry and shower before dressing in their own clothes. High-grading virtually stopped in California.

Many towns sprung up all over the region, many at the lower elevations, to be supply ports for the mine and villages at the highest elevations. Silverton and Ouray both wanted to the be port of entry to the mining fields on Red Mountain, each shouting their accolades. Knowing a road was desperately needed, Ouray built a wagon road on the rough, rocky, dangerous terrain, prompting Red Mountain City, which as initially on the Silverton side of things, to move closer to Ouray.

Later Otto Mears built the now famous Million Dollar Highway through the area. Towns began to appear all over the mountain. As more and more prospectors surfaced in the area, their women and children followed and the area became quite populated. Lawyers, land developers, saloon keepers, and the ever-present prostitutes all made decent money. Before long, thousands of people called the Red Mountain Mining District their home.

And none of those people expected or planned for such extreme conditions. At night, a day that had been shirt sleeve weather could become intolerable with temperatures dropping to twenty below zero. Mining accidents caused death and injury. And the Silver Panic of 1893 brought about a change on Red Mountain. Things would never be the same. Three separate fires, one in 1892, another two years later, then another in 1939 destroyed Red Mountain Town. After the last, it was never rebuilt.

There is still mining in the area but not to the extent of its heyday. What was once a productive, mining area now looks like a series of ghost towns. Rich in history, the Red Mountain Project left the mountains scarred. Driving through the District, you might very well find yourself asking, "I wonder what it was like when...."