Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 16

Chapter 16: Horses

While they had been out, Mrs. Batcherly had called Karen to tell her about a lady she knew that had some gentle horses and who offered horseback riding lessons. She seemed to think that this was something the kids just must do and urged Karen to get her kids going with it. Mrs. Batcherly could be a little pushy.

Karen was not so sure. This was generally a pretty expensive activity and somewhat risky. The protective momma in her balked at the danger of putting her children on 1,000 pound animals that were known to be somewhat unpredictable. With some hesitation, she broached the topic with the kids.

“Ok guys, I need your input on something. There is a lady who gives horseback riding lessons…. I am NOT saying we would definitely do this… but if we were to go try it out, is that something that would interest you?”

Four pairs of saucer-like eyes stared back at her. Sarah said, “Are you KIDDING? Of COURSE I want to go learn to ride!!!”

Ellie said, “That could be fun!”

Jack said, “Mom, we gotta go do that! Yes, Yes, Yes!”

And Joe said, “Yes, horsies!”

Jack and Ellie jumped around in glee. Emma banged with her spoon. Karen said, “Well… I never thought I would get THAT reaction! Well, let me talk to your dad and call and see what it would cost. I’m not sure we could afford it, but maybe we could go to a single lesson or at least meet the horses.”

The next day while Emma was taking a nap Karen called the lady, who’s name was Barbara, and asked her about the cost of a lesson for three, possibly four, children aged 13 through 3. Barbara was very accommodating. She said that she could give them all an introduction to horses for a group rate. It also turned out that she was about a half hour away.

When Karen asked Johnathan that night what he thought, he was all for it, so the following week they all got into the van. They had been almost beside themselves with excitement the whole week. It had been very trying, because Karen had been asked about ten times a day when they were going to go see the horses. That very day she had been asked about twenty times if it was time to go yet. It takes a long time to get a toddler, a preschooler and a teenager fed, dressed, and out of the house. Getting herself dressed was almost an afterthought. Sometimes Karen was lucky to get some clothes on. When they were finally in the van, there was a huge air of expectation and excitement.

It was a bit of a drive past farms and forest. Many of the fields held cows, goats, sheep or horses. Every time they passed a horse, Joe would shout “Horse!” Finally, they turned onto a gravel drive. Along both sides of the road were split-rail fences and fields. Several horses grazed in the fields.

They drove up the drive until they got to a large barn. Parking alongside the side of the drive, they saw a woman come out of the barn and wave. Getting out of the van was like a Chinese fire-drill. Kids just started appearing out of every door. Barbara said, “Well, it looks like my group is here!”

Karen said, “Sometimes there are advantages to having a large family. Hi, I’m Karen. This is Sarah, Jack, Ellie, Joe and Emma.” Emma was hanging on to her Mom’s hand and looking up at Barbara with a look of bashfulness. Sarah was holding Joe’s hand. Barbara said, “Well, it is nice to meet you all. My name is Barbara. You can call me Barb. Have any of your been around horses much?”

They all said no, so she said, “Well, I’ll start from the beginning then. Let’s go into the barn. I’ve got a fella for you to meet.” Once inside she said, “I have about ten horses. I got a lot of them from folks who just couldn’t take care of them anymore. This gelding here is called Jasper. He is about fourteen years old, and that is old for a horse, but he has the sweetest temperament. I will show you the different parts of the horse and you guys can help to groom him, then we’ll saddle him and take him out and you guys can take turns going for a ride. I have several gentle horses for riding, and I have students come out for lessons most days.”

She proceeded to tell them all sorts of things about what horses eat, how to care for them, the different parts of a horse and a lot of different things about riding. The kids asked a great many questions but they were itching to pet Jasper, so it wasn’t long before they were taking turns with a soft brush, combing his neck and flanks and tail. They were all entranced. Here was a very large animal. It was a little imposing how large he was, and yet Barb said that he was rather small as horses go. He wasn’t quite a pony, but pretty close to it. He was very patient and gentle and seemed to really enjoy the attention.

When he was well groomed, Barb brought out the saddle and the tack and explained what the different pieces were called and what they were for. She put on his saddle pad and saddle, and tightened the girth, then she put in the bit and they all led him out to a riding ring that was next to the barn. Barb asked who wanted to go first, and suddenly they were all a little shy. Ellie said, “I’ll go!” so Barb brought her over to a short set of steps she called a “mounting block” and helped Ellie get on his back. Being up there was a little scary! Ellie was suddenly a little afraid. She was up so high! What would she do if he wanted to do something? She didn’t know how to ride at all!

Barb said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ve got his halter and he’s not going to go anywhere unless I ask him too.” Barb led him around the ring once and then asked Ellie if she wanted to give riding him on her own a try. She explained how to use the reins to steer, but also explained that you never hold the reins too tight or you could end up being pulled forward onto the ground. Then she let go and Ellie, eyes wide with fright, walked around the ring on Jasper by herself. Half way around she got a huge grin on her face. She got to go around twice. Jasper just did a slow walk in a circle. It was something he was used to doing, so it didn’t take much input from Ellie. It was Sarah’s turn next and they all got to take a couple of circuits. Joe got on with a big grin and was led around a couple of times, and even Emma got to sit in the saddle.

All of this took over an hour and then Barb walked Jasper back to the barn and told them that part of riding was taking good care of your horse. She un-tacked Jasper and they all gave him another grooming and some hay and water.

When the Katz family piled back into the car, they were buzzing with happiness. It had been a really great morning. Of course, they all wanted to come back. Barb said that she could treat them as their own group lesson if they wanted to come at the regular time. Joe was too young for lessons just yet, but she could teach the older three. Karen had said thank you. They would need to discuss finances before she could give her an answer. Inside, Karen, was thinking that she should have known that one thing was going to lead to another and that regular lessons would be the next step. She could get a pretty good price as a group, but it still was a good chunk of money. Also, it would mean her bringing the whole family out every time, since Johnathan was deep into the new field season.

Discussing it that night, Johnathan said she should do it. They had a little extra money now, since they didn’t have to pay for rent. As long as they were out in the country, they might as well learn about some of the animals there. As far as he was concerned, it was a great way to spend their time. So, it became a weekly excursion for them. They all piled into the van and took the rather pretty drive out to the stables. There were a few horses they could use, and Barb started them out on Jasper and a couple of ponies she had for beginning riders. That way, they could all ride at the same time. They had to groom and saddle and then unsaddle and groom the horses again each time, and they were allowed to give the horses a small treat after each ride. Sometimes, they would see other riders either out in the ring or fields or in the barn. Barb actually had several clients and some were experienced riders and leased her horses to ride when they wanted to. Mostly they used English saddles, but some used Western saddles, especially for long trail rides. The kids just loved these days, and as time went on they became more and more confident and were able to post (use your legs to bounce with the horse) and trot. Karen explored the stables with Emma and Joe while the lessons were going on. She had to start taking allergy medicine to get through these mornings though. They discovered a couple of barn cats that were very friendly and had fun watching the barn swallows nesting in the rafters as they swooped in and out making mud nests and chattering to each other.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 15

Chapter 15: Spring

Spring means growing things and so Karen asked the kids to come up with a plan for the garden. They didn’t know if they were going to be there the whole summer, but they should try to get a garden going while they still had the opportunity to use this wonderful big garden space. Sarah decided they should go over to see Rose and ask her some questions. They had figured out how to get to her house using back roads. It was two miles away. Karen allowed them to go provided they stayed together and were very careful, and she said that if Rose was busy or unavailable they should come right home. She could have called Rose, of course, but it seemed more of an adventure for the kids to just go see.

They found Rose out in her own garden plot. She was planting lettuce, carrots and peas in her usual overalls and big floppy hat. It was a glorious cool sunny morning. She welcomed them and they offered to help, so she put them to work tilling the soil, pulling weeds, and putting seeds in the ground. They also marked each space with small plastic markers. They had a wonderful time, and eventually Karen drove up with Emma and Joe in tow to see what was going on. The kids had been gone for several hours.

What a learning experience! Rose told them what to plant in the early spring and how to care for what they planted. She told them how far apart to plant each seed and what to plant close to what. They also talked of other things. It was a very companionable morning, and when Karen showed up with the little ones, Joe had fun pulling weeds and Emma crawled around and generally tried to undo everything they had done. In a few minutes the two of them were covered in mud and having a blast.

When the sun was high in the sky, and they were all getting a bit tired, she looked up and said, “Well, I think it’s about time for a break. Thank you so much for all your help and companionship! I never would have thought all of this would have gotten done today, but you have saved me several days of work! Let’s go see if I have anything in the house to eat.”

They all filed in to her house, taking off their muddy shoes at the doorway. She sent them all into the bathroom to wash up. This took some time, as there were so many of them. Rose said, “I do love having a house full of kids!”

Karen said, “Well, this has been a very nice afternoon, and an educational one too!”

“Honey, you are all welcome any time.”

Karen said, “Well, we might just take you up on that. Don’t be surprised if some of us end up on your doorstep quite frequently. I suspect Ellie and Sarah are going want to be here a bit.” Rose brought out some crackers and cheese and they all had a nice and very informal lunch. The kids were enjoying the change of scenery and Rose was enjoying the company.

“Where is David?” Karen asked.

“Well, my daughter needed some help to move into a new apartment… she’s still in school you know… and David went up to help her out. He also needs to bring back her cat. They won’t allow pets in her new place.”

“Wow. How long will he be gone?”

“I’m not sure. It might be two or three more days. Somebody had to stay home and take care of things. I would have loved to have seen her, but I also wanted to get this garden planted. Besides, we had a lovely visit over the holidays. I’m sorry you didn’t meet either of my kids.”

“Yes, it would have been nice to meet them. Somehow, I think any kids of yours must be very nice people.”

“You’re very sweet” Rose said.

Soon after that, they took their leave. It was time to put Emma down for her nap. Of course, she was going to need a bath first. The kids got on their bikes and they all headed home. When they got home, everyone was tired and dirty, so after a round of baths they were happy to spend the afternoon inside.

Karen said, “Well guys, it sounds like you got quite a lesson in gardening over there. I think you all should get together and make a plan for our own garden. So that afternoon for Sarah, Jack and Ellie was pleasantly taken up with drawings and negotiations about what they would do. The garden plot that had been there when they moved in was smaller than Rose’s, but they had had a little success last year with carrots, peppers and tomatoes. They had tried lettuce late in the summer, but it had all gotten eaten by bugs and rabbits. In the end they each took a section and planned it for themselves the way each of them wanted it.

After their morning schoolwork the next day, Karen sent them out with spades and hoes and told them to weed and turn up the ground. They would go look for seeds the next day at the garden center. Ellie was in seventh heaven. Turning up the earth was bringing to light so many bugs, worms and cocoons. She got slightly distracted, what with studying and sketching some of them, that it was late afternoon before she finished with the hoeing.

Jack had to take several breaks. He would work really hard and then get tired and have to stop. Usually, he’d go in and get something to eat or drink. He seemed to be hungry all of the time these days.  Sarah got right to work and efficiently did her little spot in an hour or so and then went in to work on her writing. She had a story she was working on and several ideas had come to her while she was working. She was eager to go write them down. Joe and Emma came out several times to “help”. It was hard not to be outside with the weather warming up and getting so cool and sunny.

Karen would have loved to stay out more, but her allergies had taken hold of her and she preferred to stay inside if at all possible. Feeding the chickens, finding grass to feed the goats, shoveling dirt, finding bugs, and climbing trees were all favorite activities, especially with Emma and Joe. Emma was toddling around the yard and Joe was helping her to find some nice bits of grass to feed the goats. Joe had been talking up a storm lately, so he took great pleasure in telling her all about the goats and the chickens and the grass and what he thought about it all.

The older kids, Ellie excepted, kept and eye on them most of the time. Snitch even took part in the fun and made a circuit of the yard several times, checking up on each person or animal in turn. When the weeding and hoeing were at least mostly done, Joe got Jack and Ellie distracted enough with his new make-believe game that they had some fun pretending they were super heroes on a quest from the evil black and white monster (Snitch). This eventually devolved into a game of hide and seek. Playing hide and seek with Joe and Emma was pretty easy. Jack knew enough not to make himself too hard to find and to pretend like he couldn’t find Emma and Joe, even when they were giggling behind a tree. Pretty soon, Karen called them all in for lunch. It had been a terrific morning.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 14

Chapter 14: Calamity

Justin jumped off the school bus that Wednesday. He had grown another inch in the past few months. He thought maybe his extra height had something to do with the fact that those kids on the bus had decided finally to leave him alone. It could have also be because he had gotten really mad one day and asked the one kid that was constantly taking his hat if he wanted a fist in his face. He had gotten in trouble with the bus driver, but they had left him alone after that. He walked home to get a snack and check on things. It was maybe a quarter mile down the lane, past the Batcherly’s and the Katz’s.

When he got near home, he looked at the empty field next to his house and thought about how it used to be planted with tomatoes or whatever else his dad thought would do well. His dad would do most of the planting himself and then hire help for the harvest. They had had pigs and chickens as well; also a few cows and a small orchard. Slowly over the last few years they had had to sell everything off. The cows went first, then the pigs. The chickens were last. Justin slowly had less and less to help his mom and dad with. Then one year his dad said he didn’t have the money to buy the seeds to plant and they he would be going out to see if he could find some jobs that needed doing. That’s when Justin suddenly didn’t get to see or be with his dad too much anymore. Now it was just a lonely house in the middle of a weedy field.

When he got close enough he noticed a car in the driveway. His mom was home? That was odd. She was supposed to be at work for another three hours. He went up the stairs and into the house with a bit of trepidation. Inside, his mom was crumpled in the living room chair. Her face was streaked with tears and she wasn’t even dressed. She was holding a piece of paper in her hands. “Mom!... What’s wrong?” he ran over to her.

She was silent, then quietly “Oh Justin. I just don’t know how to say this… What to say?”

“Mom, just tell me. It’s worse you not telling me!”

She sat up and took a breath, “OK. Um, well, I have bad news.” She paused gathering herself,  “It seems that we are going to loose the farm. The bank is repossessing it. We took out a loan to pay for those last two crops and used the farm as collateral and we haven’t been able to make the payments.” She said all of this in a very composed way.

Justin couldn’t process this. He had lived on the farm his whole life. What did that mean? “Mom, does that mean we can’t live here anymore?” Terror gripped his heart and he could hardly breath.

“Yes. Yes, that’s what that means. We will have to move. “ The way she said that made him even more afraid. It sounded like that wasn’t all. What more could she have to tell him?

“What else? I can tell you aren’t saying everything. What else?” 

“Oh, Justin.” Her face crumbled. “Your dad says he’s leaving. He wants a divorce.” She sobbed, “But he loves you Justin. He doesn’t show it much, but he loves you… His damn pride! That’s what this is about.” she said fiercely.

Justin was frozen. It felt like his heart was being ripped to shreds in his chest. How… how could they? How could his dad just leave them like that? It felt like the worst kind of betrayal. Suddenly he couldn’t breathe. He ran outside, and once he started running he just kept running. He couldn’t stop. He ran across the fields and into the woods and kept going until he was gasping for breath. He fell down to the ground and sobbed like his heart was breaking, which it was. His world had been slowly crumbling, but he had always thought that things would get better, but this… this was as if his life had exploded and nothing would ever be right again.

He stayed out there a long time. He started to get really cold, but he just couldn’t make himself move. To move would be to do something, to go on, and there was no point of going on. He was angry, and destitute and weary and in pain. He wouldn’t go back. He couldn’t just go walk in that door like he had always done because it wasn’t the same anymore. If he stayed on the ground maybe he could pretend it was all a mistake and everything was fine. It started to drizzle.

Justin’s mother was getting very worried. She knew he was upset, but she thought he would come back when he was ready. He had left without his jacket, though, and it was raining now. She was heart sore and weary to the marrow in her bones, but she just couldn’t leave him out there. What if he hurt himself? She put on her raincoat and went out to see if she could find him. She had seen him cross the field, so she went in that direction.

Meanwhile, Justin had gotten up and remembered a place he used to go to be alone. It was a little hollow under a rock that sat next to the little stream that ran across their property. It had been a private place for him when he was younger. He had liked to come and imagine living in the wilderness alone. Also, it provided a little bit of shelter. He was shivering now. He found it with very little trouble, having navigated through the woods and circled around to the other side of the property. He sat down under the rock near the creek and tucked his legs under his chin. Staring at the water was mesmerizing and in spite of the cold, he fell asleep.

On the other side of the fields his mother was calling for him and getting more and more frantic. Between the rain, the rock and his being asleep, he didn’t hear her calls. Carol didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t find him anywhere. She didn’t even know if he would answer if he did hear her. She knew that she had just dealt him a blow that would have knocked any kid down. How she hated to have had to utter those words, to have had to use the “d” word. She had seen the writing on the wall. Matt had been withdrawing for them for a long time now. Each blow to his pride, all the stress of possibly losing the family farm he had inherited, and the other thing that had happened… well, she had tried to deny it, but there it was. The other shoe had finally dropped. She still loved him and she knew he probably still loved her, but somehow she just represented his perceived failure as a provider. He had worked so hard, but they never seemed to have gotten a break. She was more mad at him for what he was doing to their son than she was about what had happened between the two of them. It wasn’t fair to Justin, the loss of his dad. His dad should have had the courage to face the situation and his own son, rather than run away from it. Her fury drove her on through the rain until her fear overcame it. She needed help.

Karen heard a knock on the front door. That was strange. It was getting close to dinner time and it was raining out. Who could want to see them? She yelled at Jack, “Could you please get that?” She was in the middle of changing Emma’s diaper. She heard some voices and Jack came in.

“Mom, it’s Justin’s mom, she says she really needs to talk to you. She’s out there and she’s all wet and her face is all puffy. I think something is wrong.”

“Here, you take over.” She said to him. Jack made a face. He hated that job, but he did know how to do it. He took Emma and finished up. Emma was mercifully cooperative. Karen ran down to the front door.

Carol said, “I can’t find Justin! We had some bad news and he ran off. I thought he would come back, but he hasn’t and I can’t find him. Could you help me? I can’t find him anywhere!” Karen recognized that frantic note in Carol’s voice. It was the voice of a mother terrified for her child’s safety.

She said, “Give me a moment. I’ll go get Johnathan and we’ll both help.” Karen ran upstairs and explained the situation to Johnathan, who had just happened to have returned from a trip to Raleigh that day and was finishing up some work. A few minutes later they were outside with rainjackets, flashlights and cell phones. Carol told them the direction he had initially gone, but they split up and headed into the woods in different directions to spread the search.

It wasn’t long before Johnathan came across the boulder by the creek. Even then, he would have missed Justin if Johnathan’s loud bellow hadn’t startled Justin awake. The movement of his yellow shirt caught Johnathan’s attention. Johnathan saw that Justin was shivering and his lips were blue. He could tell the boy had been crying. “Justin, it’s Mr. Katz. You need to come with me.” Justin nodded and tried to get up, but he was so stiff with cold he could hardly stand. He was a big kid, but Johnathan picked him up and carried him back through the woods. At the edge of the woods he gave a big shout and both women eventually emerged from the woods. Everyone made a beeline to the house.

Once inside, his mom took over. She had Johathan take Justin back into his room. She then dried and undressed him and wrapped him up in blankets. Justin was mute. He just stared into space and then lay down in bed, unresponsive. Carol came out to tell the Katz’s thank you. They were both standing in the threadbare living room, feeling a bit awkward. They wanted to ask what had happened, but weren’t sure if they should. Johnathan said, “He might have a touch of hypothermia. Keep him warm and keep an eye on him. Is there anything else we can do to help?”

Carol, shook her head “Thank you. You have already helped so much already. I was afraid he might have done something drastic. I’m so glad you found him.” There was an awkward silence.

Karen said, “OK, well if we can’t help, we’ll go now. Call me if you want to talk.”

Carol said, “I’ll come over soon and explain. I just can’t right now.” The look of pain on her face was enough for Karen. She gave Carol a hug and they both left.

The rain had stopped and the two of them walked together down the lane. “I wonder what got those two so upset.”

“I don’t know”, said Karen, “but I expect we’ll find out soon. It’s lucky you found him. His lips were blue and he wasn’t shivering. He hardly seemed the same kid.” Karen took his hand in hers and they went home in silence.

The kids, of course, wanted to know what had happened. They just said that Justin had gotten lost and that they had found him. Ellie thought that was very odd, because Justin knew the woods in this area like his own house. She couldn’t understand how he could possibly have gotten lost. Karen just told her that there was more to the story, but it was not for her to share. They would know more in time.

They all wondered about it, but Ellie and Jack in particular spent the evening tossing around possibilities in their minds. They wondered what had happened to their friend. Would he come over again soon and tell them of his adventure? Only, the days went by and they didn’t see him. Karen and Johnathan worried as well, so three days later Karen walked over to check on them. Carol answered the door and welcomed her in in a subdued way. She explained that Justin had gotten a cold from his exposure that night and had been at home sick the past few days. She said it was just as well, as she had lost her job and they had some other things to deal with. Karen asked if she wanted to talk, and Carol seemed like she really needed to. Sometimes just telling someone else about your problems helps.

Carol said that the farm was being repossessed by the bank, and that Justin’s father had moved out and filed for divorce. The stress of the past few years had taken a large toll on their family. There had been a second pregnancy that ended in miscarriage and she hadn’t been able to have any more children after that. On top of that, they kept losing money on this farm that Matt had inherited. The shame of losing the family farm, the farm he himself had grown up on, was just too painful. At first it was the odd jobs that took him farther and farther away, and somehow the distance had become his way of dealing with things. Justin, poor Justin, was caught in the middle.

Fortunately, Carol and Justin had finally talked heart to heart. They both had a lot of pain and feelings to deal with, but they agreed to work through it together and to be there for each other. They would get through it. Karen and she cried together and Karen felt that here was a strong woman. Carol said she would probably go back to Tennessee and move in with her parents for a bit, just until she could get her feet underneath her again. Karen was sad to hear they would be leaving, but agreed that was probably the best thing to do.

It was a couple of hours later when Karen walked slowly home. Her heart went out to Carol. What do you do when life just doesn’t cut you any breaks? How could you predict that a marriage would fall apart or that you would become destitute through no fault of your own? She felt she had been blessed in life. Somehow, though it had always been hard, everything had always worked out for her. She was overly blessed with people in her life whom she loved and who loved her. How could she complain? Fingers crossed, she thought about how everyone remained healthy and moderately happy. Somehow, they continued to stay afloat financially. Still, she knew that even if things did get worse in that regard, they would be ok because they would always have each other. Lucky… lucky indeed.

At home, she was able to share the major points with Johnathan and the three oldest kids. The upshot being that Justin would be moving away soon. They all felt so bad for him that the three eldest got together to make some get well cards for him. They spent most of the afternoon working on their cards and then packaging them up in a box they decorated in cheery colors. They were careful to just refer to his being sick. After that they went over and rang the doorbell. Carol came out and thanked them profusely but didn’t invite them in. They just said they hoped he felt better soon and left. Later that day Justin opened the box and was touched. It felt good to think he really did have some true friends who cared what happened to him. It didn’t change the heavy weight in his chest, but it lightened it a little bit.

About a week later, Justin came over to say goodbye. It was a really tense visit. Goodbyes are always hard. They asked him about his grandparent’s house. He said it was ok. It was kinda small, but his mom and he would probably share a room. It would be a new school, but he put a brave face on it and said with a small smile that it would be a new start. Ellie said she had saved something for him. She gave him a dead beetle in tiny clear plastic box. It was large and shiny green. She said that beetles like that were good luck and that’s why she wanted to give it to him. He took it and said thanks. He gave them his address. They had some awkward hugs, and he jogged off up the lane.

“I hope he’ll be ok” Ellie said to Sarah.

Sarah said, “Just imagine, this is the kid who wrote those little nasty grahams to us. Now we’re seeing him off and we’re sad about it.”

“Yeah, life is weird.” Jack said and they filed back inside.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 13

Chapter 13: Flying Friends

In March, the weather started to turn and signs of Spring were everywhere. Daffodils and crocuses were coming up, and also the garlic and onions i the garden. Little green buds appeared on the trees, and flocks of robins suddenly descended on the yard from who knows where. Rose had given the Katz’ a bird feeder for a holiday gift that winter, and Johnathan had hung it just off of the front porch. He didn’t want to encourage pests like the raccoons to come visit the hens again, and he hoped the spatial separation between the front and back of the house would prevent that. You could see the feeder out of the front window, and Ellie had begun to watch it to see what would land there.

Sitting there with a pair of binoculars and a field guide, she had taught herself most of the common species. There were cardinals and mockingbirds. There were juncos and wrens. She also saw blue jays and chickadees, tufted titmice and woodpeckers. Ellie particularly liked the woodpeckers. There were the little Downy ones, the Hairy woodpeckers, the flickers, and one day she even saw a Pileated, though he didn’t come down to the feeder.  The Pileated woodpecker was so much bigger and louder than all the other birds that even Joe was impressed. Yeller frequently joined her, sitting on the window sill, tail whipping back and forth. You could tell she would just love to get her claws into one of those juicy morsels. Ellie was glad she was an indoor cat even if Yeller didn’t agree.

In March, just about the time the robins showed up, the small grey juncos started to disappear, going back to their summer home in the mountains. There were also many little brown birds that Ellie had a hard time trying to identify. She did some sketching while she watched. Most of the bugs had disappeared for the winter, so she had started to draw birds instead. Sarah also sometimes joined her and they sketched and learned about the birds together. It was fortunate that the window was rather large.

One day Ellie noticed a woodpecker on a tree nearby that she had never seen before. A serious study of the field guide led her to believe this was called a red-cockaded woodpecker. She asked her dad about it and he said that that was a rare bird indeed. One of the best things about being in the sand-hill pine forests near a preserve was getting to see the red-cockaded woodpeckers. At first, they don’t look like much. They are smallish black and white striped woodpeckers with very little red on their heads. The neat thing about them is how they live, he said. Unlike most other birds in the United States, these guys live in cooperative family units. The grown up babies, usually the males, will hang around and help raise the next batch of babies.

They need mature pine forests because they make their homes and nests in holes pecked into big long leaf pine trees that have a little bit of heart rot. They make the hole really high up and the tree leaks sap all around the hole. The height and the sap are deterrents to predators such as snakes that are capable of climbing trees to eat the babies. They are bug eaters, and so dead snags are also important. Because there are so few mature long leaf pine forests left (we have logged them all), the red-cockaded woodpecker is endangered and so seeing one was especially lucky.

The family listened intently while Johanathan explained all of this to them. He also said that if he found a family nesting cavity on a tree, he might set a trap nearby because there was sure to be a snake around who was attracted to all of the fuss those birds and babies made.  Johanthan was getting geared up to start his work again. It was a bit early yet to set traps, but he was scouting out potential sites and working with his students to collect the necessary gear and living arrangements. He had been up to Raleigh at least once a week to help with all of these preparations and to take care of all of the paperwork involved.

One day two weeks later, when Johanathan had been out in the research jeep, he found a red-cockaded nest hole. He came home and the next day took the four eldest back out with him so they could see it. They had to walk in off the road into the pines for a bit, and it was slow going, what with all of the blackberry vines and other bushes. He had made sure they all wore long pants and sturdy shoes. When they got near the nest hole he told them to stand very still and make no noise. This was hard to do, especially for Joey, but they managed it well enough that soon they saw a woodpecker flit from another tree and land in front of the pine-sap covered hole. The bird went in and flew out again. It made a loud nasally squeaky chirp and flew away. Soon they saw several of the birds and they were all squeaking to each other.

One came and pecked at the outside of the hole. One went in and kicked some detritus out. Johnathan explained in low tones that they family group was preparing to nest. There were likely eggs in the cavity or would be soon and soon they would hatch and the whole family would have to work to feed them. The dad sits on the eggs, not the mom. This was an expectant family.

It was a lovely morning. It was sunny and the air was still cool but not cold. There was something magical about the open woodland. It was unlike anything else they had seen in North Carolina. Birds flitted in the underbrush and the lower branches of the trees. Ants crawled industriously over the ground and there were no mosquitoes yet. Ellie thought she could probably find some neat bugs in here.

When they got back to the truck, Johnathan instructed them to check themselves over for ticks. If the ticks weren’t out yet, they would be very soon. It was another reason for those long pants and covered shoes. Joe had been carried most of the way, so he didn’t have anything on him, thank goodness. Jack found a large tick crawling up his leg, and Ellie did too. She shivered. That was one bug she did NOT like. Just as they were about to leave, Jack pointed off the road in the distance and they all saw a heard of deer moving off away from them. “Good eyes, Jack” whispered Sarah. The deer were really well camouflaged and it took an observant person to see one, even if it was standing ten feet away.

They piled back into the jeep and headed home for lunch. Johnathan hummed to himself. Other than loving to share the places and work he loved with his family, he also thought that this had been a great learning experience. It’s one thing to read about things in books and quite another to see them for yourself.

Sarah couldn’t stop thinking about the ticks. Yuck! It was pretty out here, but she would stay inside all summer if that was what it took to keep them off of her! Jack and Ellie had been entranced by the birds and the woodlands. It had been a great morning. Joey seemed somewhat interested but he was ready for lunch!

When they got back home, Johnathan had them all take off their clothes at the door and put them right in the laundry. Sarah started the washer up set to hot water. Hopefully that would kill any other nasties that had come for a ride! They then needed to check themselves over again before getting dressed for lunch.

Karen asked him how it had gone. She would have liked to have gone, herself, except that Emma would have been too noisy and she couldn’t very well have stayed home alone. It was often very trying to be the wife of a biologist. The money was always tight, the work hours were erratic and often very long, but she couldn’t deny the benefit to her kids. They didn’t need a biology course, they got the real deal almost every day. Johnathan said it had been great. The birds were there and busy getting ready for some babies. Unfortunately, the ticks were already out. “Ugg” she groaned. There was the other bad thing about having a biologist for a husband. The daily tick-check. They would probably be on the dog and goats as well.

With Spring having been sprung, the chickens were also in fine fiddle and were starting to lay prodigious amounts of eggs. There were only about ten chickens, but nine of them were laying one every other day. It was a bit more than they needed, so every time Justin or Beth-Ann came over they would send them home with a dozen eggs. The eggs were good too. The chickens got their feed, but they also spent a good bit of time rooting around for bugs. Because of this, the egg yolks were a lovely rich orangey color and tasted really good. There really was no comparison between these eggs and the ones in the store. If you ate one of these eggs you would realize how bland and tasteless store-bought eggs are by comparison. Jack was especially proud. He knew he had a good product, and had visions of making some money. He just didn’t know how he could sell them. Maybe he could set up a stand by the lane, or talk his mom into driving him to the farmers market to sell them some time.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Books and more books: a chapter breather and more collateral payoff from NaNoWriMo

This last chapter of the Katz' saga was particularly apt for me to re-read and edit because we currently have a house full of relatives for the holidays. It's not a small house, but we currently have 14 persons (including those that live here) and 3 dogs in residence. It's lovely and stressful all at the same time and every year I hate it and ask for everyone to come again.

This book I wrote last year was a product of the people I know and personal experiences of my own, as well as a frustration at the lack of accurate stories out there concerning homeschoolers. Why is it that the stories involving homeschooling so often involve parents who are hippies, artistically crazy, or religiously constrictive? I don't feel this accurately reflects the truth of homeschooling today and the multiple kinds of people that do it and the multiple reasons they do so.
                                                                                         (From The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant)

I do hope that a few people are out there enjoying this. I may follow my daughter's example and try to self publish soon (after some more edits). All the more reason I would love some constructive comments.

On that note, I should mention that my 12 year old daughter has just published her first book and I am very proud of her. Her grandmother, who edits papers for a living, was happy to edit it for her, and her dad spent a couple of days formatting it for the printers instead of doing his paying job. I'm also thankful to National Novel Writing Month for getting her to decide that her goal for this year was to actually finish a story, which she did, and to her literature teacher (a fellow wonderful homeschool mom) who introduced us to NaNoWriMo in the first place.

It's a fantasy story. Here is the introduction:

Skye is just like every other girl, except for one fact. Most girls don't have large feathery wings sprouting out of their backs. Skye was what the Government liked to call a Special Case. Her wings were an Oddity, and she was Imprisoned. Where you might ask. Where was she Imprisoned? In a special Government facility for Special Cases, where those who were less then normal were kept, so that the rest of the world would be safe. The idea was that the Human Race wasn't ready for any Oddities, and so Skye and everyone like her were Imprisoned. The truth was darker though. The Government was afraid of the power that came with each and every Oddity. Skye must break out or stay in the Facility forever. But once she gets out, where will she go? Her father had disappeared years ago, and her mother was killed by the Facility when they were trying to take her away. Skye's only got one option. Find her father.

You can actually buy her book on Amazon! Here is the link:

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 12

Chapter 12: Surprises

Sometime after the New Year, the Katz’s were treated to a couple of surprise visits. The first came when a ring of the doorbell revealed Mr. Batcherly on the porch. He was well wrapped in a heavy coat and scarf and hat, and was standing there with his cane and a package under his arm. Ellie yelled to her mom, “Mom! Mr. Batcherly’s here!”

“Come in sir, it’s freezing out there!”

He came in and took off his hat. Karen and Johnathan came into the front room and greeted him warmly. “I’ve got something for you folks. Is there anywhere I can set this down?” he said.

“Sure, Sure.” said Johnathan.

They cleared a spot on the dining room table (There was hardly ever a clear flat surface in the house. The table currently held the beginnings of an electrical experiment and a geography puzzle.) Mr. Batcherly put his box down. “Whew,” he said, “That was heavy. I don’t mind telling you that since the accident this fall, I haven’t quite been the same. It’s good to walk though. Anyway, I have here some things I think you might like to have.” He pulled a couple of vials out of the box, well wrapped and insulated. “These are to replace the two I used the day the snake got me. I can’t think how horrible it would be if one of you scientist types had an accident this year and didn’t have something to help because of me.”

“Oh, my! Thank you Jim.” Said Johnathan, “I was wondering how I was going to explain the use of these particular items on my expense report. I know they were not easy to get, and I don’t know how you managed it, but thank you all the same.”

“Well,” said Jim, “I must tell you, it’s a relief to have handed them over. It was very stressful carrying them over here. I kept thinking I might fall down and – poof - there goes all that money and trouble. Anyway, I also have something else for you. I spoke with your landlord…I grew up with him you know… anyway, your rent has been taken care of until your lease is up in July. Here is the documentation for your records.” He handed over an envelope to Johnathan.

Karen and Johnathan were speechless. “Uh… Jim… my gosh… I never expected… what…”

Mr. Batcherly said, “Never mind, it’s the least I can do. I’ll be going now.” He got up and moved quickly to the door and was gone before they could regain their wits and say anything else.

Johnathan ran to the door and yelled at Jim down the street, “Thank you Jim!!” and Jim just waved back without even turning around. He was hobbling quickly down the road. It was amazing how fast he could still move.

Karen and Johnathan sat down at the table, both still too stunned to speak. Johnathan opened up the envelope and read the receipt. “Rent paid in full through July 2012. He wasn’t kidding. I wonder if he paid that amount or if he got our landlord to waive some or all of the rent. “

Karen said, “I guess we’ll never know.” After a pause she said, “People never cease to amaze me. I’ll never believe that things are as bad as the news reports make them out to be. My experience says that wonderful things happen all the time. It’s just that nobody ever reports them… This is like a little miracle.”

Just then the cat came tearing into the dining room and a loud wail echoed from the kitchen. Karen smiled and said, “Guess I better go see what’s going on”. She got up and went to investigate. It sounded like Emma might have done something she shouldn’t have to the cat.

Johnathan just sat there for a few more minutes. The conversation they had just had with Jim seemed unreal. Did that man just show up on their doorstep and hand them a free ticket for the first half of the year? It seemed like he must have dreamt it, and yet he was sitting there holding the proof. When he had caught his breath, a huge smile grew across his face. He felt he must be charmed. How could his life be so good? He had a job doing what he loved, he had the best wife, and the greatest family he could have ever hoped for, and here was further proof that people were good. Life was good.

In February they had another surprise visit, and this one was a mixed bag. Right around Valentines Day, the house was humming with productive energy. It was a good day. Some days one or more individuals in the house would be out of sorts and this could throw everyone off. Some days, one person would be at the table crying in frustration that they just couldn’t DO the assignment, two other kids would need help with their work RIGHT NOW, and the two littlest would be seeming to try to add as much distraction as possible by demanding Karen’s attention in a sort of contest to see who could take up the most of her time. Those days were hellish and sometimes Karen just had to go for a walk so she didn’t scream at anyone.

This day was the opposite. It was one of those miraculous days where everyone was happy and quietly working in various corners of the house on their schoolwork or projects. Karen was in the kitchen cleaning up the morning’s dishes and Johnathan was upstairs typing up some analysis on his work from the fall. Suddenly, they heard a car come up the driveway. Karen looked up, puzzled. Who could possibly be visiting them? She went to the front and looked out of the window. Who the heck is that, she wondered. She knew that van. Where did she know that van from? Then it dawned on her. Only one person she knew had a VW Van like that. It must be her brother!

Karen ran outside just as he was getting out of the car. ”Eli! What are you doing here!?” Karen said.

“Is that all the welcome I get, sis? I wanted to surprise you!” Eli was a lanky man of middle height with a beard and reddish blonde hair tied back in a pony-tail. Behind him the van door opened and four more people piled out. His wife, Susan, was a small woman with short brown hair. Their kids were Shawn, age 10, who was just as rangy and red as his dad. Next came Evan, age 8, also red but not as lean, and finally Hannah, age 5. Hannah had her mom’s dark brown hair, but much longer. Also with them, was their little Jack Russell named, predictably, Russell.

Eli said, “I just felt like it had been too long since we’d seen you, so we just hopped in the van and came down. I thought you might like the surprise!” He smiled a huge grin. It was a grin he used often to defuse people. It was impossible to deny.

Karen said, “Eli, when have you ever known me to like surprises?” She sighed inwardly. There goes all the learning momentum they had going. Gathering up all her energy, she buried her irritation and said, “Well, it’s great to see you all!” and gave him a big hug. Everyone from inside came out and there was the general hubbub you get whenever big families say hello or goodbye. There were hugs and talking and the dogs running around very excited and getting to know each other all over again. Eventually, the van was unpacked, and everyone went back inside.

Whereas minutes ago all was peaceful and orderly, now it was total chaos. Yeller ran like lightning and hid in the master bedroom. He stayed there the rest of the day and didn’t come out until dinner that night. The two dogs were in a perpetual game of tag, running back and forth and generally creating noise and confusion.

The adults went into the kitchen to talk. Eli and his family lived in the countryside outside the Washington D.C. area. After he had seen his older sister have such a good time homeschooling, he and his wife had decided to do the same when they had kids. It was a good thing, because their eldest son was too smart for any classroom, and their middle son had some issues with ADHD and would never have been able to sit still. Hannah was a little princess and walked around in a tutu wherever she went.

As a unit, the whole family was a little bit on the wild side. They tended to flow with however they were feeling, and this spontaneity of her brothers had always driven Karen batty. He was an artist and it often seemed that the common sense part of his personality had never developed. Susan was sweet, but she seemed to thrive on that spontaneous atmosphere, and as a result they were lucky to get anywhere on time. Their homeschooling was more or less unschooling by default. They went with whatever the kids were interested in at the moment.

Karen had no idea where she was going to put them all. In the end, the boys ended up in one room and the girls in another, with the babies again in with Karen and Johnathan. Eli and Susan had to sleep on the couch downstairs. There just wasn’t anywhere else to put them. Every spare blanket and sheet was put into service, and the entire floor of each bedroom was covered in bedding. There were two bathrooms in the entire house, and they were in almost constant use. Somehow, they managed to scrounge up enough food to feed everyone dinner that night. It was going to be rough.

The next day, while Karen went off to town with Sarah to get some food, Shawn and Evan asked to go see the chickens. Jack led them out to the coop and yard area and let them help him to feed them. Shawn took a look and got bored and wandered off. They had seen chickens before, but Evan kept chasing them and trying to scare them and Jack asked him repeatedly to stop and he wouldn’t. He had to yell for someone to come and help. Susan came out and asked what was wrong. Jack was very upset. His chickens were his pride and joy and he didn’t want them harassed, but Evan wouldn’t listen. He explained that Evan wouldn’t stop. Susan said, “I bet those hens could use the exercise! Anyway, Evan, cut it out. Go find something else to do.” And she left.

Evan stuck his tongue out at Jack then. He was mad he had gotten into trouble. Jack and he did not get along very well. Jack felt it was really hard to have his cousins in his room, especially when they were so… crazy. The way Evan bounced all over the place and kept knocking things over drove Jack crazy. Shawn was nice enough, and they were the same age, but they didn’t seem to have anything in common. Shawn always just wanted to read or hang out with the grownups. It was even worse for Jack because he had no idea when everyone was going to leave. He liked to know what the plans were ahead of time. Like his mother, he didn’t like surprises very much. As a general rule, when their cousins came to visit, each night they all went to bed really late and then somebody woke everyone else up in the morning.

It was a pattern that was repeated this time as well. By the third day, everyone was grumpy and they seemed to be fighting most of the time. It wasn’t only the boys. Sarah and Ellie got along fine with little Hannah, but Hannah was starting to show the effects of lack of sleep and she frequently had temper tantrums. Also, the older girls wanted some time to do their own projects, but they pretty much had to entertain Hannah all day. Hannah wanted to play princess all day. Sometimes Hannah would play with Joe and it would all work out, but sometimes Joe and Hannah wanted the same thing, or somebody wouldn’t share, and they would both end up crying and yelling and someone would have to step in to break it up. Also, the mess was getting out of hand. The cousins never seemed to have learned how to put anything away.

Karen would have liked to have spent some more time catching up with Eli, but the pressure of putting out all of the little fires around the house, finding things for people and feeding everyone left her little time to talk. Susan helped a bit, but she didn’t know where anything was, so really couldn’t do much. She did do some dishes and offer to do some laundry.

One day Russell discovered Yeller and decided that it would be great sport to bark at, harass, and chase her out of her hiding place. They were of a similar size, so it was much harder for Yeller to get away from him than from Snitch. He chased her across the living room coffee table, knocking over a glass of water, and up the drapes and down again. Yeller finally stopped running and turned around with a hiss and gave him a good whack on the nose with her claws. He yelped and went cowering to Susan with a pretty deep scratch on his nose. Susan picked him up and cooed to him in baby talk about how her poor baby had gotten hurt by the mean cat. Karen gave Susan a cloth to clean up his nose, but she wanted to throw all of them out of her house at that point. She was at the boiling point. Many unkind thoughts were running around in her head, including some stuff about how the dog deserved it and had had it coming to him, and how Susan should have trained her dog a little better. The little creep had been putting his muddy paws all over their furniture all week. Having cousins to play with was nice sometimes, but in this tiny house and unannounced… it was just too much. Something was going to have to give soon.

Johnathan visited with everyone some of the time, but most of the time he seemed to have pressing business to work on and was upstairs in his office space or outside mending fences or doing other odd jobs. He had suddenly become very industrious.

It seemed that maybe Susan had finally picked up on some of this tension because the next day they announced they would be going home the following morning. To be fair, some good times had been had. The kids had actually occasionally enjoyed playing together, and games like tag had suddenly become much more interesting. Karen and Eli and Susan had had some nice discussions and had done some catching up on things.  Karen had gotten an update on her parents from Eli. He had gone to visit them before coming down to the house. Her mom was becoming somewhat frail and didn’t travel much, so it was nice to have another perspective on how she was doing. Karen made a mental note to go visit soon if she could.

It was with a collective sigh of relief, however, when the VW bus finally pulled out of the driveway the next day. Their cousins had been there a week. It was almost eerily quiet that day. It was like the aftermath of a bomb strike. The bomb had hit with a tremendous crash and then there was nothing but the destruction left behind. Baby Emma asked where everyone was. Joe said, “Good. I get my bed!” and ran upstairs to move his toys back into his room.

The beds were put back where they belonged and the proper occupants reinstated, and an enormous pile of sheets and towels sat next to the laundry room waiting to be washed. The family was so exhausted that nobody did much else that day. It took a couple of nights of sleep to get somewhat back to normal. Even Snitch slept really well that night. It had been stressful for the dog to keep track of all of those pups, and the other dog had made him nervous.

The reverberations of that visit continued for some time. Jack found that Evan had broken apart all of his Lego’s creations. This made him furious, but since the offending party was no longer present, he just beat up his pillow for a while and then went outside to sit with the goats. It had become his place to go to get away from everything. Somehow, just sitting out there in the pen calmed him down a bit.

All of Ellie’s Calico Critters had been taken out and strewn about by Hannah. No harm was done, but she never did find the little baby dog again. That made her sad, because it was one of her favorites. Sarah found that Shawn had gone through all of her books. She hadn’t minded him sitting there reading her books. At least he was occupied and not being a pest while he was reading, but he didn’t put a single one back, and she spent a week re-shelving them all in order.

It was a week or so before any of them wanted to see another living soul. Justin had come over a couple of times during all of this, and they had played some fun games, but when the weather had turned too cold, and everyone had had to go inside, the noise had proved too much for him and he had left. For the first time ever, he had been glad he was NOT part of a big family. The noise and chaos were defining. How could they live like that?

There was a silver lining to the visit though. Unbeknownst to anyone, Eli had gone out one day and painted the side of the barn. On the wall in bright primary colors was a huge chicken over a multi-colored background. It added some needed color to the drab February landscape and brightened up the yard. Eli had also done caricatures of each of them and left them tucked in a corner of the living room. This whimsical little surprise had them all in stitches that day. It was so funny to see themselves with each feature exaggerated. These they eventually had framed and put together on the wall in the hallway.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane : Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Yeller

Weathering the rest of December, as always, was a bit tricky for the Katz'. Everyone else in town was focused on Christmas, which was a holiday that the Katz’s did not celebrate. It usually didn’t cross anyone’s mind in this part of North Carolina that there was anyone in the world that didn’t also celebrate Christmas, and so people would often ask about what they wanted or did for Christmas, or what their favorite Christmas carol was, and they would have to answer that they didn’t do that. This, of course, just served to remind people that this family was a bit strange.

Oddly, they found out around this time that David and Rose were also Jewish. Karen thought to herself that she should have known. With those names, and having come originally from New Jersey, it should have been obvious. She felt bad about not having invited the Greenbergs over for Hanukkah. It did seem, however, that they were the only people of that heritage in the entire county. The Katz’s weren’t perverse about it. They could have been. If everyone around you constantly assumed that you were taking part in say, Diwali, and ignored the fact that you weren’t Hindu, but Christian, and acted like there was no such thing as Christmas, you might get grumpy about it after a while. The Katz’s were used to this though, so they took part in the annual cookie exchange and did their part to be sociable without getting too involved.

December was relatively cold, but not extremely so. The animals that stayed outside were just fine and really didn’t need any extra measures. The Katz’s made sure that the shed and chicken coop were snug and secure, and that was all that was needed. One early December day, however, Jack went into the chicken coop to find more than chickens and a few eggs. In one of the bottom-most hay-filled bins was a little yellow lump. On further inspection, it seemed to be a kitten. It was scrawny and its fur was all matted and muddy and the poor thing was tucked into a ball and shivering. The hens were crowded into the opposite side of the coop, not really sure what to make of this intruder. Jack couldn’t figure out how the kitten had gotten in there. It had been pretty cold last night and he had made sure the coop was locked up tight.

It’s a rare person who could look at that pitiful sight and not do something about it. Jack tentatively touched its forehead and looked closely to make sure it was breathing. A small mewing sound came from the matted thing. He picked it up and, cradling it, took it back to the house. It weighed almost nothing, and fit into the palm of his hand easily. He brought it into the light outside and this didn’t improve the look of the creature. If anything, it looked even more ragged, all skin and bones under dirty yellow striped fur. He ran to the house and yelled for his mom. Karen came out of the living room, where she had been folding laundry. “What is it Jack?”

“Mom, look! I found this kitten in the chicken coop!”

Karen said, “Jack, you can’t be serious?!” but she saw the bundle in his hands and realized that he was serious. “Oh, my!” she said. “The poor thing!” She came over and had a look and said, “I wonder how it got there? Well, lets see what we can do for him. Lets give him a warm bath and a good rub down. Hopefully that will warm him up. He doesn’t look to be more than four weeks old!” She dug out an old plastic bin and filled it with warm soapy water. She coaxed Jack to relinquish the kitten into the water to warm it up and get all of the mud off.

Unfortunately, she realized at this point that there were a great many fleas on the creature as well. She gave it a very complete lather and picked off every flea she could find. She also discovered that this was a female. She said to Jack, “Go see if you can get me the flea comb we have for Snitch. This little gal has quite a few! I don’t want them in the house.” After a good lather and combing, she placed the little cat in a warm towel and rubbed it dry. When they were done, they had a little yellow tabby with white paws and a white chin and nose. It kept trying to open its eyes but couldn’t seem to keep them open. Jack had been breathless through all of this, and the rest of the family had gathered as well. Even Johnathan had come down from his office to see what was going on.

Karen said, “Well, what should we feed it? Do you have any ideas John?”

Joe said, “Milk!”

Ellie said, “Peanut Butter!”

Johnathan thought for a minute and said, “I think I am going to need to make a trip to the vet and also the pet store, but for now, lets see if it will take some of that baby goat formula the other people left for us.” He went off to find it.

He came back a few minutes later with a can and a medicine dropper. They opened the can and warmed some of it up and placed the little dropper in the tiny mouth. The kitten took a little bit of the formula and then went to sleep, all the while being cradled in the towel in Jack’s hands.

“Stay there Jack. Let me call the vet and see if we can bring her in today. I suspect she is gonna need more than what we have here.”

Karen looked at Johnathan. They really couldn’t afford another pet, but they could tell in that way that married couples just know, that there was no denying this one. Johnathan nodded. It looked like, if this cat pulled though, they might have another member of the family. They’d pay the vet bills somehow. A quick call revealed that the vet could see them that day, so they all piled into the van. Nobody wanted to be left behind. Everyone could sense that this was big family news and they all wanted to be part of it.

At the vet’s, the kitten was examined closely and pronounced to be flea free... at the moment anyway. The vet said that the kitten likely had worms, but it would be best to wait for it to recover somewhat before de-worming it. She also confirmed that the kitten was probably around four weeks old, thus ideally she should be in the middle of the weaning stage. The vet gave her a syringe full of kitten formula with a feeding tube and explained that he hoped she would be strong enough to eat on her own soon. Using a tube to feed was risky if the person didn’t know what they were doing, but the vet hoped this meal would kick-start her to feed on her own. He advised that they either leave the kitten with him to recover and get her de-wormer and shots before going back to their place, or take her home for a day or two before bringing her back. They needed to be very careful about the worms and possibly other diseases spreading if they did take her home. Upon discussion, they all decided to bring the kitten home and keep her in the laundry room with a heating pad, so the vet gave the Katz’s a kitten formula and some cat-food as well as a mild flea bath to make sure the fleas were completely gone. They would bring her back in a couple of days.

On the way home, the Katz’s discussed a name. Joe wanted to name her “Yellow” and Emma wanted to name her “Kit Kit”. Karen said that Jack had found her, so he should be the one to name her. He thought about it most of the way home. So far the kitten had been in a bit of a stupor, but with some food in her belly, she was beginning to revive in a sleepy kind of way. Suddenly, she let out a really loud “MEW!”

Startled, Jack said, “How about 'Yeller'? She’s yellow and she yells, so I think she should be 'Yeller'. “

“Yeller it is!” said Johnathan. Now the little thing had a name.

For the next two days they kept her in the laundry room in a cardboard box to keep her away from the dog and to contain any more parasites she might have. Karen gave her another flea bath and she seemed to be free of the little pests after that. She ate really well. It was a mixture of water, kitten formula and small bits of solid cat food. She wasn’t really putting on too much weight yet, but she was more alert. She even started to potty train herself, mostly going on the newspaper and not in her box.

As she started to gain some strength, she started to move about and play and really wanted out of the room. The constant really loud “meowing” was hard to ignore, and it was next to impossible for the kids to get their work done. How can you ignore such loud and strident demands to be let out? They all just really wanted to go in there and play with her, and Karen could do without any more distractions. She was finding it hard enough as it was to get anyone to focus on their studies with the baby and Joe constantly interrupting, so it was with some relief that Karen and the kids finally took the kitten in to the vet for de-worming a couple of days later. The vet insisted that he needed to keep the kitten overnight. The initial de-worming could be a little messy and a tad risky on such a little kitten, but it needed to be done, so they sadly left her there. She would also get her vaccinations while she was there. Meanwhile, they prepared a nice little bed for her and a litter box for when she got home, and waited.

Snitch had been a little confused by all of this. He could smell the cat but he couldn’t understand why the smell and the sounds were coming out of the laundry room. He had sat by the laundry room the past two days perplexed and alert. There was definitely something in there alive and it was making the oddest sounds!

When Yeller came home from the vets, Snitch greeted his people and the cat with a whine. Something was odd here. Why were they holding that creature? They barely even said hello to him! They put the little creature down on the kitchen floor and Snitch came over to sniff it. There was a creature in his house, and it smelled like the thing that had been behind the door! He was supposed to protect his people from creatures in the house! He barked at it and the thing puffed out like it had suddenly grown two sizes and hissed at him. Really excited now, Snitch started barking and the thing ran like lightening into the other room. He’d get it now! He ran after it, barking all the way. He was being a good dog! But his people yelled “No Snitch!” and chased after him and picked up the creature and said he was a bad dog. How could this be? He whined. He was confused.

The biggest pup, Sarah, picked up the little yellow animal and hugged it. She said, “Snitch, this is your new friend. Be nice to her.” She held the thing on her lap and then allowed him to come up and sniff it. Yep, this was the smell from the laundry room. He looked at Sarah and back at the little furry thing. It hissed at him. He stuck his nose near it to sniff it again and the thing scratched his nose! Ouch! He didn’t like it! He whined and moved away. Alpha female said, “Snitch, you leave it.” Snitch knew these sounds. It meant he had to not play or eat whatever it was. Well, he was happy to “leave it” now. He went and lay down on his bed with a dejected air. He didn’t like this at all.

In the following weeks the kitten wreaked havock on the house. She peed and pooed in the wrong places, she scratched up the living room furniture, she jumped on the kitchen countertops, and she provided endless distraction for the kids. The baby, Emma, wanted to play with her and crawled around chasing her yelling “ditty!” Joe was even faster, but he didn’t know how to treat her gently. They are all on their toes constantly to prevent a calamity. Over time, though, they all learned how to deal with her gently and she learned her manners as well.

It was fortunate that the family was home most of the time. They were able to scoot her off the counter the moment she jumped up there, and tell her “no” and move her to the litter box whenever she eliminated in the wrong place. She acquired a shimmery red collar and started to grow, now that she was worm-free. She filled in and her fur became glossy and soft. She never did get very big, though, and they all wondered what had happened to her mother. They never did see any cats around the house before or after Yeller’s arrival.

It was agreed that she would have to remain an indoor cat. Nobody wanted to see what would happen when she met the chickens again, and Karen and Johnathan knew that one cat could decimate the local bird and reptile population, and they didn’t want to be a party to that. This, however, also took some getting used to. Yeller frequently tried to sneak out, and so everyone had to be a lot more careful going in and out of the house. She did get out once or twice, but fortunately, she never went very far, and it was easy to entice her with a bit of string or catnip.

Yeller met Justin and Beth-Ann. She also met Rose and David. They all just loved her. She provided endless entertainment with her antics. She would scoot a small toy across the hard floor with bats of her paws and then tackle it, simultaneously flipping over and landing on the floor to get it. A second later she would dash off and try to climb the drapes. You had be careful playing with her because her little kitten claws and teeth were razor sharp and she had yet to learn how to not bite or scratch so hard.

When Yeller was ten weeks old, she had to go back to the veterinarian’s office to get spayed. She stayed the night and came back with a shaved spot on her belly, several stitches, and a cone on her head. The poor cat. The cone was both amusing and sad to look at. It was meant to keep her from pulling her stitches out, but it also kept her from washing herself, running very fast, or eating without difficulty. She had this look of utter embarrassment on her face much of the time, which more than the cone, put everyone in stitches. Hearing people laugh at her was highly offensive of course and she would stalk off to sulk.

Strangely, Snitch at this point suddenly became friendly to the cat. He stopped trying to chase or ignore her, and actually came up and offered her some companionship. She couldn’t turn around and scratch him, so that might have been part of it. The cone eventually came off, but they were best buddies after that. They often slept together and groomed each other. They even learned how to play together, though Yeller often ended it just when Snitch was just getting interested. Yeller was of a very sweet disposition and she grew up very happy and comfortable around people and dogs. In the meantime, however, several pieces of furniture and a few pillows were ruined and many a lesson was interrupted by a flying yellow torpedo attack to the ankles.