The Thing I do Best is Now the Thing I Do FIRST

Shifting Priority

I have decided to change my priority
without worrying about inferiority
or the ways of the majority.
No longer will I pretend to put domestic concerns
ahead of my life’s purpose — Writing!

Back in the day any writing I did was secondary,
or confined to the secretary’s desk.
For a housewife back then
furtive moments  were doled out as rewards
or stray  opportunities to pen
wayward words or purloined phrases,
words of wisdom…
a note, a word, a reminder
–confined to the backs of envelopes
or shopping lists,
written in pen or pencil…or lipstick
or eyebrow pencil…

Gone are the days when making soup,
baking cookies…
and  pies
scrubbing and ironing…
or dashing through the store with a grocery cart
–all had  top priority over the Writing Art.
No frilly little aprons or caps
are needed to fulfill MY kind of Real Work–
no pretty cotton dresses
and certainly no high heels!

For now on–I have decided that Writing has top priority
and rather than hide it (regardless of seniority)
the thing I do best is the thing I do FIRST.


Ice on the Water Dish, Frost on the Cat Shelter

Yep, it had to happen…just not quite so early.  Well it IS Northern Ohio, and anything the weather people come up with is no surprise.   But golly, it’s only October 19…which is my grand-daughter Gina’s 19th birthday.

But we always have a frost (not to say freeze) in late October…just enough to smite the foliage with frost in order to bring out the glorious colors of Autumn.  That is to say “Fall,” but Autumn has a nicer ring to it.  The reds promise to brilliant this year, in both meanins of “brilliant”– brilliant as in bright, and brilliant as in excellent-remarkable-out-standing, as they say in England.

Stepping out onto the back deck, where I have set up the cat shelter for the winter, I tied back the edges of the door-flap, and put out cat food and … checked out the water pan, which had a thin layer of ice.  Yes, it was very thin, and one of the cats had poked a paw through it to have a drink.   Since I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, I quickly noticed that the temperature had dipped very low–not that slight-below-40 is really THAT cold, comparatively, but it did occur to me that my denim shirt needed to come out of the dryer.

Since I am old, I can wear whatever I want.  So it’s shorts all winter, on occasion, mostly when all my jeans are in the wash.  My kids long since stopped saying “you aren’t going to wear THAT!” … except for being forbidden to wear my huge denim jumper dress out into public.

Back to the cat shelter, and the ice…

My outside cats really do appreciate the provisions I make for them, and to prove it–one of them left me a mouse.  The poor little dead critter had been stopped in mid-leap, and laid to rest right outside the door, and near the food dish.   I take that as notice that they DO appreciate me, and left one of their occasional tokens.  I pushed the dead mouse off of the edge of the deck with a pole…not that I don’t appreciate it, I just don’t want it hanging around.

There was a pile of cats between the tub-shelters, laying on top of a boxy thing covered with a really nice 35-year old blanket that finally made it out of the linen closet and into the beyond.  The tubs all have straw in them, placed their lovingly by the APL lady last ear.  They have an entrance which is a tube (like a large oatmeal container) taped through the front of the tub, secured by duct tape.  Those entrances are fine for the smaller cats, but the Fat Cats (not really so fat, just big) decline squeezing through that tube.  One of the tubs is a big thing that was designed to hold Christmas tree decorations, and has a capacity for more than one cat…although Peggy prefers to keep it to herself, unless it is super cold.

long shot (click to enlarge)
high tech flap opener
high tech flap opener
Red Maple, early color
Peggy, and Mawkin at lunch
Mary, inspecting house plants enroute to inside.
maze with chimenera, wide shot of back garden


[This piece was originally written about five years ago, and has languished since in my DRAFT file.  I am posting it today because I don’t want to lose it into cyberspace.   This is the same garden, I call it the “tree garden” now, because the young trees mentioned herein are now maybe a 70 feet tall.      The garden itself is about 15 years old now, having been previously a cabbage patch and apple orchard.]


The garden is about 80 feet long and half as wide.  At first it was a patch of former farm land, on which grew plenty of cabbage and cauliflower for many years, and occasional specialty crops such as broom corn, tobacco, or cotton.   Well, yes, cotton doesn’t really grow in Ohio…at least it doesn’t make a very impressive boll.   Tobacco wasn’t exactly prolific either.  But this never stopped my late husband, who would always have a go at growing any legal crop.

But this blog entry is not about farming and crops.   It’s about a patch of ground which has grown into a wonderful garden.   At least I think so.   Most of the foliage plants and trees are volunteers–meaning they weren’t planted, but just appeared on their own.  There are maple trees which originated in a pot, from a seed that landed in a flower pot and grew unattended and unnoticed, and maples which just appeared…like Topsy.   There are other trees, growing from seed, I’ll try to find out their names.

Yes, there are some plants that came from a nursery: a bright red-berried Winterberry, and her counterpart the male Winterberry, Gentleman Jim.   Not sure that’s the proper name, but it fits.  There are two Hawthornes, one of which became ill and threatened to die, but it came back as green and lovely as ever.   Bittersweet, a plant I wanted because it was a favorite of my grandmother.  Assorted grasses.  A huge shrub-tree called a ——- and red flowers which have blade-like leaves.  A breathtaking yellow lily, which is spectacular when the rabbits or deer don’t eat it.   Rhododendrons, a deep rose color, bloom profusely, and are also a favorite munchy for the deer in winter.  Heather.  Two red rose bushes.  Six Boxwoods. Assorted other flowers.

Ten years ago I personally dug out raised beds, by digging out trenches or paths between the raised areas.   One of the paths is made of triangle shaped pieces of wood cut from the stairs when the house was built.

And of course the oregano…planted by husband twenty years ago, which has spread magnificently.   The slender spiky purple blossoms smell delicious, adding their color to the summer garden.

In spring some purple hogswort grows near a clumb of ::) in at one end of the path.

A variety of grasses have spread throughout the garden: Japanese blood grass with its red trimmed leaves, the tall waving Plume Grass, the striped Zebra grass, all lend their special charm.

An Oak tree that began life in a flower bed next door, now adorns a front corner of the garden.   A friend and I dug that tree out of its original location, which was not nearly as easy as it sounds, ten years ago.   This once struggling sapling–excuse the clichés please–is well on its way to becoming a Mighty Oak.   Another Oak, a volunteer which remained after pruning of the garden to form paths and island beds, started in a thicket of grass, weeds, and tiny seedlings which were culled to rescue an Oak and a Maple.  Both are now fifteen feet tall.

Last year in sorting through a large border area, a big Spirea shrub with rose colored blossoms had almost disappeared it had been so encroached upon by maple saplings before we resurrected it by cutting away some of the excess trees.    Those that remain are becoming stronger and taller.  Taking out trees selectively works for me, usually the smaller or thinner trees, a decision sometimes hard to make.   The pesky rose prickers are cut out among the trees that line paths which branch off into new areas, becoming secluded side areas.   Paths formed early on with the push mower.

The project has been very rewarding for more than a decade.  For the first few years only the youngest children recognized the paths and foliage areas, and loved to balance on the rather rickety triangle-wood walk.

Not as welcome, but beautiful in their own way, are the Multiflora Roses planted seven decades ago along the hedgerows of the farm.  Vicious prickers attack those who try to tame them.   They like the garden as well as the tiniest spring flowers, and lend their brand of wild beauty.

On its way, theoretically, to becoming a Fairy Garden, a child size bench and a chair painted a light green, with multicolor polka dots, are nestled amont the paths.  An abandoned bird cage found a home among the branches, and shines when the sun is slanted in the right position.  Yet to come, if all turns out as planned, are some colorful little “road” signs, some gourd bird-houses, some sparkly things to attract attention.

There are both cardinals and bluejays, among all kinds of birds.   They argue noisely over air rights and landing branches.  Rabbits and groundhogs make homes in the garden.  The deer wander through nibbling here and there in winter.

What is that saying about a garden?

…… to be continued.

The Great Cat Caper, Shelter Edition

Getting the Cats and Building the Shelter:

We have a big feral cat population here in our neighborhood, or I should say more accurately we DID have a problem number of cats last year.   Originally there were three kittens dropped off by some inconsiderate person in our front yards.  They disappeared for a year or so, then all came back.  A year ago there were a lot of kittens here, but the APL (Animal Protective League) came and collected all of the adult cats and took them away to be spayed or neutered.    The option to have them return, or to have the APL find homes for them, was ours.  Many of the kittens were put up for adoption, but most of the adult cats came back here to “the compound” to live in their original colonies.

Now I have between eight and twelve cats that live outside, and in the winter we create a warm and safe shelter for them located on my back deck.   The neighbors also maintain a home for a dozen or so cats…although I believe that the actual population is approximatel 12-15 cats that live here between us.  We count them at feeding time, and some of the cats are known double-dippers when it comes to having meals…they dine at either or both places.   I have between four and 13 cats here every day.

In the summer months the cats more or less hang out in the yards, on swings, lawn furniture, or here and there in the wooded  and the grassy areas.  Sometimes they camp out and I don’t see certain ones for days.  Other times there are “extras” or visiting cats, who live elsewhere.

The shelter consists (this year) of a picnic table, some plywood sheets, and several tarps.  Under the table are the three tub-shelters which the APL woman made, and are lined with Styrofoam and straw…they have a round pipe entrance to each.  Right now the large tarps are in temporary position, needing tying-down and  otherwise attaching to the railings.  The tarps will soon be fixed in such a way as to create a tent apparatus tied to some umbrella stands.    Then we will bring up some un-cut bales of straw to place around the perimeter, and provide warmth and protection from the wind.

I have a big contraption that serves as a feeding-station, which I can reach from the sliding door leading into the house.  There is a feeding pan, and a water dish…which has to have the ice removed a few times a day when the weather gets colder.

Technically I had planned to build (or have built) a proper roof for the deck, but we ran out of money for such projects again, and the ceiling is open.

Part Two of the Great Cat Caper:

Now here is where I say that I have six cats that live inside my house.  No one has to tell me that is TOO MANY, but right now it is a necessary number.  Tinkerbell, the crotchety old lady cat is the oldest and the original survivor of our first cat population.  I call her Mrs. Tinky, because it is a more appropriate name for her in my opinion.   Tink originally lived with my granddaughter, who moved to California briefly about ten years ago and left the cat here with me.  Tink has never forgotten that outrage, and she has been my cat ever since.

There is a huge Maine Coon, long-haired black male cat who I saved from a bad end when I adopted him from the barn.  Moby had been abandoned, a scraggly looking skinny creature, and I agreed to my family that if he responded when I visited the barn the following morning I would take him to the veterinarian.  True to form, in answer to my call Moby came out from the back of th barn looking like something from the Black Lagoon, with spider webs and straw and leaves hanging from his fur.  He went to the vet for his shots and exam, and she predicted that “the other cats might want to be nice to him, because he’s going to be a Big Boy.”     Moby is now about fourteen years old.

A few years later, about nine years, my grand-daughter (the same one) brought an Easter basket with four kittens in it…each one cuter than the other…and of course I fell in love with two of them.  Those kittens hardly looked like they were the same litter, although they did have the same mother.  We named “the kittens” Toby and Pearl.  Toby a nice tabby, Pearl a small all-black short-haired cat.

Two winters ago, when it was sub-zero temperatures, a beautiful calico cat which I had named Sister, came into the house when I opened the door to put out food for the outside cats…and refused to leave.   Sister is four or five.

Early this year, when it was warn enough to dismantle one of the two shelters on my deck, I had it partly unwrapped when I discovered two very tiny kittens in the straw.  Their mother is Peggy, a black and white short-haired cat, very small.  She had had kittens the year before, and they had died before they could walk.   The little kittens in the straw remained in their nest until Peggy brought them out, and only then I continued with the demolition of the shelter.

One of the kittens, a Calico, had the disorder known as “wobbling kitten” which affects young cats to varying degrees.

The Calico could barely walk, and I had been toying with the idea of taking her in.  Her sister…who I named Baby…was able to climb off of the deck and run around in the flower beds, but able to climb back up into the protected deck area.  The Calico could “swim” its way to getting off the deck, but could not get up again.  Baby could walk upright, with a strange gait, but was obviously not able-bodied.   The Calico disappeared one night, and I brought Baby into the house.

So, Baby makes six cats.  Baby can walk and run, but frequently falls over and since she can’t control her movements from her brain, she often crashes into things.   She is adorable, very friendly and happy, and even the other cats like her or at least tolerate her.     Baby leaps up onto the furniture and plops down on Mrs. Tinky…who would scream bloody murder if it was one of the other cats.   Mrs. Tinky hates kittens, but makes an exception for Baby.