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I have a confession: I love this dog. I pretend I don’t, in keeping with our struggle of wills when he was a puppy ten years ago (and I was on crutches due to knee surgery). It’s our pact: he’s a butt-head and i resent him for that. But, in reality, he’s one of the most loving dogs, ever, and he thinks that I am his goddess.

Oh, I will never replace his master: Murphy and Don have one of those bonds that eclipse the normal man/dog relationships. Murph is certainly a one-man-dog, and Don would be lost without him.

When Murph was still a pup, I was the one who held on to him when scary ATVs crossed our paths hiking. I was the one who whispered sweet nothings in his ear as we raced him to a doggy hospital while his face swelled up and he went into anaphylactic shock from several wasp stings. I have always been the person he hides behind when his Master raves at electronic devices or the television. And I brought home his best friend and little brother, Harvey.

Murphy has always loved Harvey. It’s the weirdest of doggy relationships: two neutered males from very different litters, a year apart, introduced on the whim of a human=bond for life. Harvey/Murphy and Murphy/Harvey. Brothers from another mother. The only fight they ever had in the past eight years was over gravy. We discovered that Harvey, the Omega dog, will become the Alpha Dog when gravy is present. He drew blood the first time they clashed over gravy. Otherwise, Murphy has commanded the relationship, a true Alpha Dog.

Then Harvey got sick. We still don’t know what is wrong with him. He coughs, hacks, and spits. Nothing comes out. Attacks last 5-15 minutes. Some days are better than others. Some days, I think I need to call the vet and set The Date. I don’t want to set The Date. I know what that entails. BTDT with Hannah’s Promise (Sadie) just over a decade ago. It was awful.

Harve had more wrong with him than just the mystery respiratory disease. He’s a rescue dog, with no parental history, but is obviously a purebred English Setter, probably not an ordained AKC breeding. He’s inbred. He had a degenerative spinal column. He’s over weight. He isn’t properly socialized as a puppy and doesn’t know how to play with other dogs, but he’s properly socialized as an adolescent dog, and can handle meeting strange dogs. He loves children. He thinks everyone loves him.

Murphy is AKC, and from a very reputable breeder in Buhl, Idaho. He’s had lots of puppy/dog socialization. he loves children. He’s field trained, but not sidewalk trained (he can point, retrieve, and respond quickly, but don’t try to walk him on a leash). He’s the smartest dog we have owned, bar Rosie (who could spell difficult words like s q u i r r e l l) (she was a mutt). He’s very independent and stubborn, and a born alpha dog. I had to learn (on the fly) how to deal with an Alpha Dog with my own Fear of Alpha Dogs up front.

I’m the Alpha. Murphy recognizes that, but on a barely scale. What I really am, to Murphy, is the Safe Haven. the Mom who protects her pups. The person to run to when he’s afraid or upset because his Master is yelling at the tablet or TV. I go out the door first, but that’s the end of dominance understanding with Murphy.

Harvey doesn’t care. He’s the lackadaisacal second-in-command (except for situations involving gravy) dog.

Harvey is also the one with the predictable genetic failings. He has the spinal column that narrows too soon and sometimes pinches nerves and hurts the hind quarters. He developed the mysterious wasting disease that fills his lungs with fluid, but doesn’t register on any known autoimmune doggie disease. He’s ten months and counting, coughing and hacking up nothing, but still rebounding to go for a walk or to have his full body massage. Nothing prescribed works. Nothing shows up on his x-rays except excess fluid in his lungs. He’s an enigma, and sometimes I think I need to schedule his demise – but then he rebounds.

How can i put him down? I know I will need to soon, but as long as he rebounds… His quality of life is still good.

But, Murphy. I don’t know. He gets his first dose of Tramadol tonight. I hope/pray it is enough to grant him a good nights’ sleep. The first x-rays show a mass on his spleen. The vet thinks he had a stomach rupture this past weekend that exacerbated things, but which has healed quickly. He’s on antibiotics. Friday, he gets a blood draw.

We’re looking at a spleen removal. I don’t normally spend that kind of money on a dog, but Murphy is Don’s best friend. He’s the smartest dog (next to Rosie) ever. He’s Don’s Best Friend. He’s hunted and retrieved. He cost an arm and a leg at birth. He comes from good stock.

Why is it this hard? (Rhetorical question) And why (again – rhetorical) does this come up at the center of a humanitarian crisis? (Texas flooding after Hurricane Harvey).

What are YOUR criteria on how to make decisions based on your pet’s health and possible survival rate — and humanitarian aid?

 

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So? Were you close enough to travel to the path of totality?

I admit, the eclipse wasn’t really on my radar. there was apartial eclipse of the sun when my kids were in grade school, and they made cereal box viewers, but that’s as close as I have ever come. I didn’t have much expectation beyond that. But my husband – ever the science nerd – was very excited that we were within 30 miles of the path of totality and we could actually get to a place to view the total eclipse.

He did the research, he bought the lenses. Now, he didn’t buy those cheap paper glasses that you have to destroy by 2020. Not his style. He purchased a pair of welding goggles for me that covered my glasses and asked me to purchase new lenses for his welding goggles. We were going Steam Punk, and he doesn’t even know what that means. Forget the cheap paper glasses.

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The front flips up so you can see in day time. But down like this: you see NOTHING unless you’re looking directly at the sun.

Unfortunately, my phone died so I have no pics of him in his goggles. Damn.

Months ago, he decided we should ask his reclusive friend if we could come down to Monitor, Oregon, to view the eclipse. By the time he called, two other parties had invited themselves. I think we overwhelmed the woodworker. Great minds…

We spent the past four days figuring out the perfect back roads and timing them. This morning, he decided we needed to leave even earlier (I needed to get gas). What a good call! I had gas before the station started to back up. We followed several cars and bike (on back roads with no shoulders!) into Monitor. Traffic was light, considering we usually see NO ONE on those roads and today we saw ten cars.

My phone died. I have no photos of the mayflies rising to mate as dusk came on. The people around us were taking photos through filters on their phones (or trying to). The professional photographer was aiming his camera. We bantered. Then the sky turned dimmer, dimmer, dimmer, and cooler. We put on out glasses and watched the moon cross the sun into totality. And we removed our glasses to gaze upon the BEAUTY of the total eclipse.

I have no photos. It was beautiful. Solar flares. Deep blue sky. Planets coming out.

And it was over.

We packed up, headed north. Our secret back roads were suddenly not secret, but they were road that all other roads funneled into. I really have no complaint about the ensuing traffic (it took us3 X the normal to get home) except this: the 1% of bicyclists who consider themselves above the law and invincible. We were on 2-lane roads with no shoulder, very curvy. And this 1% decided they could pass cars on the left, over double yellow lines, in places where you could not see oncoming traffic. They were lucky to miss the semis.

What took us3 0 minutes to get to, took us 1,75 hours to get away from, going the same direction.We were good – we just leaned back and let other drivers in at intersections (we’re all in the same problem). While I don’t have an eclipse picture to show you, I can assure you: it was worth it. That was beautiful.

 

It’s getting real here. In less than three weeks, I have my first solo art show since the late 1970’s. (I know, I started that sentence with a prepositional phrase!)

I’m checking things off of my “to do” list left and right. My mentor will not be able to be at this art show, so I am truly flying “solo” (but I wish her all the good vibes in the world and prayers as she and her husband really need them).

I do feel more prepared than I was in 1978 when I did my one and only art show in the city park in Baker City (I got one sale and a good commission out of that). I have a better display system, a decent 10×10′ canopy with sides, and the support of my husband (I was single in 1978). I know where I am going and have a better idea of how to market my art and myself. I have a wider support system. And I have a lot more artwork to display and a better idea of pricing.

Today, I bought a collapsible wagon to haul things back and forth from my site: all art and monies will be taken from the site at closing on Saturday and returned before opening on Sunday. It may be unrealistic to think I can drive in to the site to take down on Sunday, so the wagon can help there, too.

My pop-up canopy is cheap and will last only a couple of seasons, but by then I should have made enough money to replace it. I have two repairs to do to it already – and it is brand new. Easy-peasy stuff, hand-sewing stuff. I practiced putting it up with the help of my husband on Saturday past. We made note of our mistakes as we went. I took it all down by myself on Sunday, except for pushing in the little release buttons on the legs – I’ll pack a flat head screwdriver to help me with that if I happen to have to take down by myself on Sunday. It all fits in my car with ease.

I’ve done this for – what? three? four? – years with my mentor and my set-up is much simpler than hers (my media is also very different from hers). That makes my tear-down half the issue it is with her, and I am confident I can do it by myself.

Still, I am nervous. I had to pass a jury of my peers to get into this art show, unlike the 1970’s. i was accepted and that thrills my little heart. I need to have my website updated by the show (AUGH! Another expense!), My brain is on over-drive and not concentrating on my day job or the upcoming grandkid’s birthdays, both a “no-no”. (I mean, can you believe one grand kid turns 8 on August 9th? A great-niece turns 8 on August 6th? Another grandson turns 7 on the 12th? And #10 turns one on the 24th?) Really? I have to think of THREE gifts? I figured Dinotopia would work for the boys, but now I have to add a 1-yo to the mix?

Deep breaths. I spoke to the credit union today about getting the Visa/MC App added to my phone. I have a credit block on my name and had to answer difficult questions (where did I live before here? uh – that was 15 years ago and there’s still a dispute on the actual street numbers…) (Who holds your mortgage? Uh – it changes nearly every year as things get sold out… Let me think…) I answered correctly on all of them, but dang – I was not expecting that!!

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Grandma is worn out. Today was the last full day that the grandchildren will be here, and we’ve had some epic adventures. Let me just tell you about today (not because yesterday wasn’t exciting – we hiked part of Silver Creek Falls, caught crawdads and a snake (!), and ate pizza cooked on the barbeque – but because today is freshest in my mind).

Grandma and Grandpa live a few short blocks from The Bluff, which is shorthand for a certain scenic viewpoint in Oregon City that overlooks greater Portland, and the southeast suburbs. On a good day, you can see Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, and nearly any day you can see the skyline of downtown Portland. The Bluff also overlooks a rather wild area known as Waterboard Park.

There’s a trail down the hill and through a neighborhood that puts you out just two blocks from Dairy Queen. There’s a road going the opposite direction that is a permanently closed road due to a long ago land slide that took out portions of the road. We have made several walks to the Bluff and home, but our day-to-day busyness has prohibited the steep hike down to DQ. Oh, and it’s been really, really, really hot.

Today dawned overcast and cool, so we decided the hike was a “go”. We told them all we were going to “go on a hike”, but we didn’t mention DQ. Not that it mattered any: they didn’t have a clue as to what a “DQ” was: no Dairy Queen where they live(!!). So off we went.

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We weren’t twenty-five feet from home when their mother noticed a “Potato bug. Roly-poly.” They’d never seen a sow bug before, and were completely awed by how it rolled up “just like an armadillo” (they’ve never seen an armadillo before, either). Miss V. picked it up and carried it three blocks before we told her that she needed to set it free to go home.

We really just wanted her to walk faster and to watch where she was walking because the trail is a bit steep and tricky.

Then we hit the trail down. Down, down, down, through a neighborhood, and down again. I was worried about the major street we’d have to cross, but lo and behold: major construction! We were flagged across in no time and got to see big machinery with men in vests and hardhats riding around looking important.

Two blocks later, we were at Dairy Queen and the menu options were daunting: a dip cone? a plain cone? a small sundae and what flavor? The employees were wonderful and served up the cones as the kids decided: three small dip cones, one medium dip, one medium vanilla cone, and one small pineapple sundae.

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Their parents will never be able to talk in code about Dairy Queen again.

We then hiked through a larger neighborhood to the foot of the closed road, which is behind the old National Guard Armory. It’s not a steep hike and there are benches on the switch backs. Wildflowers, but not much for animal life(a few fleeting birds). (Waterboard Park hosts coyotes and deer, we just didn’t see any.)

011This is possibly why the road was closed and the park was formed…

After lunch, Mom and three of the grands went on a short road trip, leaving Mr. Naturalist “Home Alone” with us.

Earlier, Grandpa made an “arrow” for this kid using a stick, string, and a barb from the black Hawthorne. Javan added a second barb on his own, and now he wanted to “hunt something” (but not a bird, because those are illegal- hi words). I suggested we try to find a slug, even though it’s been in the nineties for a few days, and very dry. We overturned every pot and empty planter and not a slug – until the very last one I have in the yard was upturned and – tada!: slug.

I was going to pick raspberries and didn’t stay to see the ugly results. Not that I care about slugs, but…

When I came back, I found Grandpa sitting inside his VW van, supervising the grandchild who was pulling up false dandelions with the nifty dandelion tool. Said child was earning ten dollars and Grandpa was looking pretty smug, like Tom Sawyer supervising the white-washing of a fence.

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Even after the third grandson claimed his ten bucks, Grandpa was still feeling pretty smug about it.

It gets better: Mom left to go shopping for herself, and left us in charge of her precious children. Besides working the false dandelion angle, Grandpa put the others to work on the rotting log he dragged home one summer. This log has decorated my yard for several years.

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There were three of them at work on the log at one time, but this is my favorite picture: the four year old with a hammer and lever. That concentration! The foot! The claw on the hammer… Our daughter will probably never leave her kids Home Alone with us again.

For the record: they captured several termites, eggs, and one large Carpenter ant soldier. All the wood went into the yard debris recycle bin.

While the others were gone, Grandpa helped Javan set up the rain poncho cum pup tent. I thought it was cute and posed all the kids inside of it:

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Keep in mind that noone told me there was a plan for tonight and I watered the garden… The poncho-cum-tent cover may be very wet (but the floor tarp is not).

For a denouement, we watched “ET” on Netflix. Mom wasn’t sure her sensitive child could handle it, especially as he would be sleeping outside, but we gave him permission to leave if he felt uncomfortable. He loved the movie. We all cried. Except Miss V. who didn’t really watch the movie.

Then Grandma helped the boys haul sleeping bags and a quilt out to the pup tent in the dark, and each boy got a flashlight. Yard lights were turned on. We didn’t mention that skunks like our yard. No dogs were allowed out.

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They are asleep now. I want to sneak out and take a photo, but I am afraid the flash will wake them. Their sister is furious, but i don’t hear her crying anymore, either.

It’s been great.

 

The setting: Grandma’s house. A backyard full of treasures, flowers, and old twisty branches retrieved from the last time the rhododendrons were pruned. An ancient Camelia bush with twisting branches that has been pruned up to look like a small tree.

The players: an eccentric grandmother who collects sticks, an eccentric grandfather who collects rocks, a grown daughter, four children aged 4-9 years of age who have been raised in the wilds of Homer, Alaska.

Add: a Harry Potter closet (it was once referred to as a “stairwell closet”, but J.K. Rowling changed all that), and a wee green wren purchased from JoAnn Fabrics or Michaels many moons ago.

Birdie (the wren refers to herself as) roosts in the Harry Potter closet with two of the four grandchildren, one of whom has read the first three Harry Potter books. Birdie carries notes with her to bed: “How many clocks can you find in the house and garage?” (18, I’m told). “Can you find an alligator named Winston?” (He was in the garden, holding a tarp down.) “How many frogs can you find?” (they only found five and needed help finding the other two – just a gentle nudge in the right direction).

Grandma had a doctor’s appointment this morning and, since it is pay day, she needed to buy groceries and toilet paper. Especially toilet paper. Oh, and some legal fireworks. Birdie, being a rather practical creature, carried a note to the Harry Potter closet with specific instructions to “build a fort in the yard, using the sticks on the back porch, string that can be found under the kitchen sink, and sheets that can be found in the laundry room.

Grandpa, thinking ahead of Birdie, brought out tarps and more.

Grandma and Birdie don’t have any idea how much Grandpa helped, but here’s the end result:

Weisser’s Fort. No Adults Allowed.

Miss V. wants to have a “dance party” in there tomorrow night, but it will probably wait until Wednesday when all the solar garden lights are charged and the temperatures are in the nineties.

Tomorrow we get to play with something novel to any Alaska kid (where even sparklers are contraband): snakes, sparklers, legal fireworks, and an amazing neighborhood display of illegal fireworks in 3-D (crane your neck and someone else is shooting off bottle rockets: east, west, north, south, and all variables in between).

All we need are my six other grands to make it complete. (Another year, I’m sure.)

My daughter (our oldest daughter) is visiting with her four children She purchased cheap butterfly nets for her kids and they came home ready to hunt, especially the one child interested in Natural History. Of course, it was hot and few insects were out and about, except the honeybees and bumblebees.

The Naturalist among the four caught a miller (moth) in the grass, and I identified it to him. He wanted only to return it to the wild, so I let him. They (two grandsons) continued the “hunt”. They knew not to hunt bees or wasps, and as it was hot, not many other insects were out.

Then there was the pale Tiger Swallowtail that dipped into the milkweed garden. A sudden, “Grandma! I got one!”

J. held the net over the butterfly. It, being a cheap Dollar Store net, was not one you could turn and capture the insect. But I wanted minimal damage done to the butterfly, so I put my hand under the net and allowed the butterfly to grasp onto my hand. I folded my thumb over iy so it couldn’t fly, but in a way that did not harm its wings.

J. gently lifted the net away and looked at our beauty. I know he saw what I saw” the beautiful abdomen, the wings, the delicate scales. I offered to let him hold the butterfly, but he declined – in part, I think, out of his innate respect for the insect. When we talked later, he understood about he fragility of the scales on the wings of a butterfly and how you don’t want to damage that.

I knew the butterfly: a pale tiger swallowtail. That was enough for J. he didn’t want to keep it a prisoner, only to know what it was.

This kid also picks the wild black-cap raspberries I grow in my yard and devours them. He talks about needing “mementos” to “remember this vacation”. He’s collected a maple leaf, rattlesnake buttons, an arrowhead, and a ceramic frog (which may be replaced it he catches a real snake or frog and gets a shed skin or…). He’s my Naturalist child.

He’s the one who will remember raspberries in the same way that I remember my Great Uncle Frank and my Great Aunt Gert (not related): for the raspberries. But his siblings will remember it, also, for the lessons in Natural History. They just don’t realize it now.

Teach your children well.

 https://youtu.be/ztVaqZajq-I

I tossed a few milkweed seeds onto the ground back in… oh, 2012, I think. Maybe 2013. Nothing came of it. The winter of 2012, I put a packet of milkweed seeds into the freezer and then pulled them out the next spring, once again sowing them in the little triangle by the garage. Nothing came of it.

In 2014, some weeds popped up in the triangle that looked slightly sturdier and somewhat like what I remembered milkweed looked like. And, yes, when pinched, they oozed milky white sap, thick and sticky. Success! Only they didn’t grow very tall and they didn’t flower at all. I think that was the year they did a special on Oregon Public Broadcasting about how you really should start milkweed from a root cutting, not from the seed.

So why sell the seeds? ARGH.

By 2015, I knew that you really should plant milkweed that is native to your area if you want to attract Monarch butterflies back into the region. Oh dear… What had I planted?? I kept the seed packet from the second sowing: Showy milkweed. Score! Native to the Willamette Valley.

That summer, I had around six plants poking up through the ground! They were spaced along the back of the triangle, in the hottest, driest bit of soil, and while they grew to about 24″ tall, there was not a hint of flower on them. But now my hopes were kindled: every year, without fail, something had sprouted. I hoped that the roots were getting established, and subsequent years would prove my crop. The Monarchs were reportedly showing up in backyards around the Willamette Valley, as well.

I have a little history with Monarch butterflies. We lived on a street facing a dry creek bed in Northern Nevada in the 1960’s. The ditch ran in the winter and during thunderstorms (“Don’t play in the culverts! Watch upstream! A flash flood could happen any time!” – my mother’s words echo in my ears to this day), and in the summer, it was host to gophers, milkweed, monarchs, the occasional Black Widow in the culvert, and maybe a stray rattlesnake. You don’t think about the dangers when you are a kid (but your mother’s words will echo forever in your ears, long after she’s gone: “Don’t crawl in the culvert! Watch for snakes! Look upstream always!”).

Every summer, we kids would go and collect Monarch caterpillars and harvest as much milkweed as we could stuff into a jar. As the milkweed was devoured, we added more. Then, one magical day, the caterpillars would crawl to the top of the jar or a branch of the fading milkweed, and they’d hang upside down. The yellow-and-black skin would shed to reveal an emerald green chrysalis. And we’d check the chrysalis daily to see if the little gold dots were being added to. Then, one day, the chrysalis would change from green to a clear shell, and we could see the butterfly trapped inside. Oh, how we’d hover over those precious shells, waiting for them to crack open and the new butterfly to emerge!

There’s a magic in holding your hand out for the Monarch to climb onto it, wings still wet and pliable. The butterfly would walk around your hands, drying out its wings, until they were stiff, scaly, and fragile – and then you set the creature free to find a lover, lay more eggs, or fly back to Mexico for the winter.

In the late 1960’s, the City of Winnemucca covered up the ditch and put in culverts, presumably to keep us kids from getting caught in there during a flash flood (hadn’t happened, but , you know, people sue, and Joni Mitchell was singing this radical song about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot (Big Yellow Taxi). My dad wouldn’t let me go out there and lay down in front of the bulldozers in protest, and all that milkweed habitat was lost forever.

I regret that I didn’t rebel against him and make a scene. I read a Xerxes Society article a year ago that they couldn’t find any milkweed in Northern Nevada. I was only 12. I remember when the northern half of the state was covered in Monarchs.

I digress.

I had a minor success with milkweed in 2016: more plants came up (maybe 9) and some even budded. Unfortunately, the flowers never formed and the stalks withered and died. I did find a milkweed bug on one, so I knew the news was getting out in the insect world that we were growing milkweed. I also read about someone who only had nine plants, had caterpillars, and couldn’t find enough milkweed to satisfy the little rogues – she was begging people for plants to sacrifice to the caterpillars. I think she did succeed in getting some to butterfly stage.

This spring, 2017, my little triangle was suddenly infested with milkweed!

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That’s milkweed all along the back, between three and five feet in height (.9 to 1.5 meters).

It gets better.

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I knew I planted the Showy Milkweed four years ago. It’s pink, fragrant, and native to the Willamette Valley.

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I planted the narrow leaf milkweed about five years ago. Also native to the Willamette Valley, but white and fragrant.

I have two varieties!

No Monarchs (yet), but I have their food source.

The other flowers in the triangle bloom earlier (peonies, dragon lily) or later (aster). I can dig up and move the peonies and aster as needed. I can also dig up the milkweed root stalk and move to other areas of my yard. I expect by next year, I will have a grand crop, not to mention the seed pods (oooo -arts and crafts!). I will probably be able to give others root stalk.

See where I am going with this? I am totally making up for being 12 and helpless in the face of “progress” and I am creating a new habitat.

I am so jazzed!!

And – a word to those who wish to follow in my footsteps: it takes patience. Years. Nurture. Bees.