Art of Giving

red leaf

Tap, tap, tap.

It was still early in the morning when there was a soft knock on the glass patio door.

“Don’t answer, you know who it is,” Jan said without looking up from buttering her toast.

She stood at the kitchen counter in a long nightgown and slippers, while her husband sat at the table holding a steaming mug of coffee. He perused the headlines of the news, rattling the paper as he turned the pages.

Across the table, old newspapers were haphazardly spread and stacked with colorful advertisements and junk mail randomly shuffled into the mix. Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of birds were in the middle next to a plastic napkin holder with plain white paper napkins. Her husband, Dennis, reached over and gathered the papers into a messy pile to clear a space for his wife.

“Come sit down.”

He looked over the top of his glasses, unsurprised that the seat remained empty. Jan was still standing at the counter shaking cinnamon from a spice container with an aluminum head onto the buttered toast. She risked a peek out the door and then quickly looked away, reasoning that without eye contact there was nothing to stop their visitor from leaving.

Tap, tap, tap.

She felt a secret thrill, he wasn’t leaving. The hint of a smile played out on her face as she turned to her husband for another peek out the door over his shoulder.

She feigned surprise, “Oh Denny, it’s him again. What should we do?”

He laughed and the skin around his eyes crinkled like old leather, “We?” he asked.

“Don’t you mean what should you do?” he clarified with an emphasis on the word, you.

They had to play this game, their roles and the rules were both well-defined and rehearsed. He gave his wife a knowing look that was a mixture of amusement and annoyance and sipped his coffee.

“In that case, I better give him what he wants,” Jan said coyly.

She reached for the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet and pulled out another slice of bread from the breadbox. Humming to herself, she quickly slathered the bread with a thin layer and cut it into triangles, just the way she used to do.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Oh, hold on,” she said with in pretend irritation as she balanced the triangles flat on the palm of her smooth, white palm and made her way towards the door.

Sliding the door open with one hand, she knelt down with surprising flexibility for her age. She tucked her nightgown around her legs to hold it in place as she balanced on the balls of her slippered feet.

“Well, hello there,” she greeted a fat brown squirrel with shiny, black eyes.

The squirrel twitched its nose in recognition.  It chattered with excitement and held its claws out for breakfast. Jan extended her hand towards the creature. It sniffed her fingers and looked up at the woman; they locked eyes for a brief moment of connection before the squirrel grabbed a triangle and took off for the edge of the patio, still chattering as it disappeared up a tree.

Jan straightened out her legs and back as she stood, and noticed at her feet a unusual, bright red leaf carefully brought in from an ornamental tree of a far off yard.  It was left not as a payment, but as a present.  Jan left the rest of the triangles with a smile now fully fixed on her face and took the leaf, grateful for the gifts of the day.

Here today and gone tomorrow.

As Above, So Below

as above

The screen door slowly opened with a squeak.  The hinges were reddish-brown with rust and curls of white paint peeled away from the wooden door.  A pink noise poked out and sniffed at the air; the nose was followed by the black and white body of a small dog.  The animal slipped the rest of the way out of the house and the door slammed behind it with a bang.

Scents of all kinds bombarded the tiny but powerful nostrils of the dog.  It looked left and then right, orienting to its new surroundings.  A squirrel watched from the branch of an oak tree in the front yard, holding a nut in its claws and waited to see what the domesticated creature would do next.

The dog took off in a beeline towards the edge of the yard, running with muscular strides, quickly drawing away from the house.

“Beanie!” a boy yelled as he pushed through the screen door.  He wore jean shorts and striped tank top; dark hair fell over his forehead and hit the top of his ears, in a perfect bowl cut.

He yelled over his shoulder, “Beanie’s out, again!”

A girl followed the boy through the door, letting the door slam behind her.  Bangs obstructed her view and she pushed heavy locks away from her nearsighted eyes.  She wore a faded pair of jeans, rolled up at the bottoms with a thin t-shirt.

With bare feet, the pair raced after the dog, leaving mashed grass and flowers in their wake.

“Beanie! Beanie! Come back!” they yelled in unison.

Suddenly the dog stopped and looked back, it waited for the kids to catch up.  Its sides heaved in and out and its tongue fell from its mouth as it rested for a second and then it took off again like a shot.

Chase me, shiny eyes begged as it risked a quick glance back at its pursuers.

The siblings laughed and resumed the chase after the dog.

An engine revved over the hill and a car appeared trailing a cloud of dust from the gravel road as it sped towards them. Screaming, the girl grabbed the boy with both arms, pulling him back from the road as the car flew past them.

The car intersected with the escaping dog.  They watched its body hit the front of the car and shoot off to the side of the road.  The girl’s heart pounded in her chest, she was still screaming.  The car sped on, never once hitting its brakes as the dog lay still on its side. Its life whiffed out in the same moment as the fleeting innocence of childhood.

Once gone, always gone.


Everything but…

Four missed calls turned into five, then six.  The joy of being on-call was overshadowed by the joy of being on-call with an absent supervisor.  However, I was a dutiful worker and answered the seventh missed call that came shortly after the sixth.  It was still early in the day; the sky was already filled with light and waiting for the sun to break through the morning clouds.

“Puney, we have a real emergency,” a man exclaimed.

Finally, I thought, a real emergency.  Not just that someone left their window open and a swarm of bees moved in or that smoke was filtering up through the floorboards from the boiler room.  It was a real live emergency, possibly something to make this on-call business worth-while.

“What’s going on?” I asked skeptical of his claim.

“We caught the big one last night,” the man rushed on excitedly.  “He been in there since about one this morning, he fought real hard at first.  We all heard him shaking the cage and hissing and slamming around trying to get out. Then it rained and now he’s just shivering.  You got to call the pest guy to pick him up, he’s really shaking.”

This did qualify as an emergency, Mr. Big was finally in captivity. We were to meet face to snout, at last.  I grabbed my bag, slipped into a pair of boots and headed out on a rescue/removal mission. 

Imagining the creature cold and wet all night, frantically trying to escape from his wire prison filled me with an irrational guilt.  We were at war, I shouldn’t have any feelings for the enemy.  Mr. Big knocked over the trash cans and dragged litter across the lawn almost every night, he taunted the neighbor’s cat and most recently had jumped out of a trashcan at a child.  Although provoked, Mr. Big scared the parents enough to get the neighborhood riled up and on the hunt for a raccoon of monstrous proportions and a luxurious coat.  He was at the wrong place at the wrong time but that didn’t matter, his fate was decided by the fear mongering crowd that day.  

Parking outside of the building, I ran around the back to the dumpster where half of a trap stuck out from underneath of a sheet of plywood.  A motionless, wet lump of dark fur was curled up in the back of the cage, like a pile of old grease rags.

“He’s dead,” I declared with no small amount of sadness and disappointment.  We had been at odds for so long, dealing with his mayhem was a part of the job.  For it to come to this cruel end, I felt responsible and regretted my part in hiring Gary, the self proclaimed answer to all pest problems. 

One shiny black eye was open but unblinking and there was no sign of breathing.  I pulled up my sleeves, pushed the fear of rabies out of mind, and prepared to start CPR.  You’re not going to die on my watch, Mr. Big.  Not after all this time.

Then the eye blinked, saving me from the life saving measures I was prepared to undergo to bring the creature back into the world.  The pile of fur began to inhale and exhale as it righted itself and shuffled to the end of the cage to greet its prison warden with a friendly wave.

To my shock, the animal was surprisingly small with thin fur, more of a miss than a mister, and almost certainly an imposter!

We caught the wrong one.  Mr. Big outsmarted the world that conspired against him, yet again.  I gave a little cheer under my breath, forever a fan of the underdog.  

In the words of Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story.”

mr big 

Mr. Big

Two grey trash cans lay uselessly on their sides, like a pair of beached whales. Their contents were strewn across the grass and the broken pavement of the parking lot.  Mr. Big and his crew had struck, again.

Mr. Big was a clever bandit with a luxurious coat that was thick and shiny from his rich cuisine of leftovers, stale cereal, cold French fries, wilted salad, moldy bread, and whatever else he could procure from his nightly raid of the local trash cans.

He lived at the top of a dilapidated brick building. The maintenence man was so busy trying to keep the walls together that he didn’t bother about the extra resident in the attic.

There was an unspoken agreement between man and beast that if given words would have been something like, don’t bite me and I won’t bite you. It was an understanding that lasted long enough for Mr. Big to grow from a ball of fluff into a healthy dog sized creature of 25 pounds or more.

On most nights, Mr. Big organized a gathering party with neighboring bandits to go out foraging, targeting different trash cans on the same city block. He found the greatest success on Sunday when the cans were at max capacity with plastic and paper bags, vegetable peelings, plastic cups and to-go boxes.  When the cans were filled to the brim they took more pushing to knock over, but the effort was rewarded without fail.  Mr. Big usually took Monday off to digest the massive amount of trash-can-food eaten during the previous night.

For years, Mr. Big was the perfect criminal, growing in confidence and size until one day, two Thursdays again, he made a serious error. Mr. Big lunged out after a snot-nosed kid who had the nerve to throw away a pop can into the very trash receptacle where he was rummaging through a discarded bag of half eaten Rally’s burgers.

I cringed when I heard the story from the kid’s parents without a hint of surprise.

You see, the maintenance man wasn’t the only one aware of the Mr. Big and his movements. I knew. I laughed off the stories about his escapades around the apartments. I listened to the ever exaggerated description of his size and strength.  I righted the trash cans and gathered up the trash or asked a loitering resident to do so.  Mr. Big was just another familiar face in the area trying to get a decent meal.

But when he messed with the kid, I drew the line and began to gear up for battle.

By Monday, a wire cage was dropped off and baited with an ear of corn to lure the greedy Mr. Big inside and then off to the great raccoon farm in the sky or at least the nearest state park.

Tune in over the next few days to find out what happened.


Wasting Time 

Listening to a training on a new computer system that breaks people down into statistical data

Reading an email asking for stories proving otherwise to make the company a tastier treat for a bigger, hungrier fish

Considering what to do with my life in a world driven by motivations that aren’t mine

Wondering how to get a job feeding orphan sloths in Costa Rica?

Sloth Fact Sheet:

Click to access sloth.pdf

Wild Encounter

The doctor looked at the woman and back to his laptop, unsure of his patient.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t just an American thing, he thought and adjusted his glasses. She wore a large fur hat that covered her neck and the sides of her face. Little round ears stuck out from either side of the hat. Dark eyes peered out from within the fur and as she watched the man.

She looked remarkably like a smallish brown bear, sitting with her legs crossed at the ankles. When she pulled her hands from the pocket in the front of her sweatshirt, he silently noticed the brown, furry mittens.

The smallish bear patient giggled when the nurse walked in and stated in a flat voice, “Well that’s cute.”

“Thank you,” she said, flattered. Large, square teeth were exposed as the woman smiled in a contrast of white against brown.

The nurse continued, “Here something else that’s cute,” she paused for dramatic effect and continued in the same monotone voice.

“Your blood sugar levels. I just checked your meter, and they’ve been out of control. Are you taking your insulin?”

The woman pulled the hat off with one hand and held it in her lap; it looked like the decapitated head of wild animal, lifeless and out of place anywhere but her head.

She had no answer as this was not her world.

The Bird’s Oatmeal

“Strange, isn’t it?” the woman asked and stared out the window.  

She dried a wineglass as she did so, carefully wiping the crystal dry.  There were only four glasses left from the original set, she thought with sadness.  Clumsiness would be her downfall as it had been for much of her wedding china.

“What?” her husband asked, blissfully unaware of the broken glasses and dishes.   Each broken piece was treated as evidence of what his wife called “the dropsies” to be disposed of as quickly as possible.    

“The light, it’s just so eerie.  Everything looks fresh and alien at the same time.   The grass doesn’t seem real, it’s like each blade was just shaved from a block of green.”

She’s such an unusual little dreamer, the man thought as he flipped through a pile of letters.   

He got up and peeked out the window, the sky was dark.  Yet, the trees and grass were illuminated from just a few cracks in the heavy clouds.  He pushed the window up and warm air rushed in bringing the smell of rain and dirt.

The outside world was dry and still.  Leaves hung motionless from branches and then began to shiver as a gentle wind blew in and began to swell.  The gentle wind turned into a bullying gust and roared around the trees, shaking the limbs and branches.  Flowers and leaves flew up into the air and swirled with bits of dirt and dust. 

The window slammed shut on its own with a loud bang.  The man jumped back wine and knocked a wineglass from the rack.  It crashed to the ground and the set was reduced once again.

The next morning, the man left before the sun was up for work.

An alarm went off and the woman lay in bed, fighting the desire to fall back to sleep.

Throwing off the covers, she knew that she had to get up and go to work if she wanted to keep her job.  She shook her head, no, that wasn’t right.   She couldn’t care any less about the job, but her husband minded.   He cared a good deal that she was employed and they were able to pay the bills. 

She looked out the window and gasped.  The yard was covered with broken limbs, branches, leaves and random pieces of trash caught up in the storm.  Water still dripped from the edges of the window.  The woman wrapped herself in an old coat, slipped into a pair of rubber garden shoes and stepped outside.

The sky was overcast and the air felt damp and cool.  It must have stormed all night, she thought, trying to remember if she heard thunder or lightning.  Still wondering, she started to pick up the debris and soon had an armful that she dropped next to the house.  She planned to bag the pile up after work and shuddered at the thought of how she had to spend the next eight hours of her life.

A rustling in the grass near the pile she just dropped caught her attention.   It didn’t slither or weave back and forth, which provided some comfort as she leaned closer to investigate.

“A baby bird!” she exclaimed. 

She crouched next to the bald little creature as it flapped its wings and hopped up and down.  It begged for help with each chirp.  Food, shelter, a sweater, anything will do at this time, it seemed to say.

The woman looked around, no nest, no mommy bird, no worms.  This is bad for you, baby bird.

The bird locked eyes with the woman and starting hopping towards her, uninhibited by the fear that should have sent it in the opposite direction.  Desperation leads creatures and humans alike to make peculiar choices, not easily explained or repeated, but driven out of the need to survive.                

Unable to watch a creature suffer, the woman held her hands out and scooped up the chirruping bird, against all warnings she ever heard.

She brought it inside and made a cozy home out of a Kleenex box for the bird and called off work for the day.  

The bird grew fat and healthy on oatmeal and crushed worms.  It moved out of the Kleenex box and into an old wire cage that the woman found filled with colorful scarves at a thrift store.   She had a standing order for a box of night-crawlers each week at nearby bait shop.  Glossy, blue feathers covered the bird’s body.  They trailed behind the bird, a royal train of color.  Each morning, it woke the couple up with trills and tra-la-la’s as it flew into their room, hungry for crushed worm and oatmeal.   It took to riding on the man’s shoulder and cuddling on the woman’s neck in the evenings.  During the day, the bird flew about the house without restraint.

They grew old together, the couple and the bird. 

The woman shook her head, no, that isn’t right. What bird eats oatmeal? That’s just what you like for breakfast. 

The bird locked eyes with the woman and hopped toward her.  

“What kind of life could we really give you?”

It kept hopping, closer and closer, demanding a decision. 




“You again?” the woman asked in delighted surprise.

The small brown cat reappeared at the window.  She had been missing for a week; her dish untouched and her box left empty.

The cat raised a solitary paw to the glass and opened her mouth, silently mewing a plea for food. 

“Hold on,” the woman said.

She held out her hand like a crossing guard to stop the cat from running off for another week, “Steady, steady, don’t go anywhere now.”        

Crazy cat, the woman thought to herself, where has she been this whole time?  The woman pulled herself up from a wooden rocking chair, tossed the old blanket from her lap to the side, and walked towards the kitchen.

The woman looked back and the cat was watching her, and hopping from side to side in excitement about the possibility of an easy dinner.

With a bowl of kibble in one hand, the woman stepped into a pair of rubber Crocs and slid open the glass door.  A blast of cold air rushed in around her, it smelled clean and hard.  Snow covered the ground beyond the patio and the piled on top of the wooden railing.  It dusted the bright red hummingbird feeder still hanging from a hook, abandoned from the summer.

She set the dish down with the cat wrapping around her ankles in a non-stop figure eight. 

“So you missed me,” she chuckled and rubbed the little cat’s head.

Before she could go back inside, she noticed the outside closet door was ajar.  She slammed it shut and made a mental note to find the key to lock it for the future.

Wait, she stopped herself.  Why was that door open? 

The stray crunched greedy mouthfuls of food behind the woman, eying her with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion, as the woman stayed outside longer than usual.

Unable to shake the feeling that something was amiss, the woman reopened the closet door with a gasp.

Only a small dead mouse curled on its side remained where a tangle of two bikes, a grill, lawn chairs, flippers and snorkels, and old tennis rackets should have been crammed.

“Well Brownie,” the woman said, taking a step back.  “This is bad. This is officially not good.”

The cat continued to watch without comment.


A key turned in the lock and the door opened. 

“Hello, I’m home,” a man announced, tall and handsome in scrubs.  He dropped a bag from his shoulder onto the ground and kicked off his shoes.

“What in the….” He trailed off as he took in the scene in front of him.

His wife sat on the floor, grinning at him.  The brown cat was now on the wrong side of the sliding glass door.  She was purring on his wife’s lap, lazily stretched out while their sweet house-cat was monitoring the situation from beneath the rocking chair.  

“Some things have happened while you were gone.  We were robbed and your bike is gone. Brownie came back and she wanted to come in. Now she lives with us, ok?”  

Brownie Gets a Suitor

Brownie cat now has a suitor. 

I peeked out the window this morning to say good-bye to Brownie before I left for work.  She already had her breakfast and few pets on the head.  Usually by this time, she’s sitting pretty as you please, with her tail wrapped around her paws and peering into the window.  On a warmer day, she waits for a snack or to press up against the window purring.  On colder days, she hunkers down in her box, with an eye towards the window, ready to slink out if she deems it worth the effort.

However, on this particularly crisp and freezing morning, I was met with a punch-in-the-gut type of surprise.

“Oh my God!” I screamed and panicked as I tried to open the sliding glass door.

A big, fat tom cat was outside, swishing his tail and harassing the little cat inside of the box.  There was Brownie, cowered down, in the temporary safety of her cardboard box; while the tom cat lapped up her water and took a mouthful of her leftover kibble from breakfast.  He was taunting her, walking back and forth, while she continued to hold her position inside of the box.

I could only see her face and green eyes, wide with fear and terror at this awful cat, strutting about and claiming the patio for his pleasure.  He was about to do the same with Brownie, if he could break into her box or catch her dilly-dallying about in the snow.

As for me, I was filled with rage that this intruder and bully would terrify my little cat, eat her food and drink her water. 

We don’t want no scrubs around here, in the borrowed words of TLC, and that goes for this big damned bully of a cat.  Finally, I got the door open and unleashed my fury on that he-ball of fur.  I won’t describe that scene, other than, it got ugly.  

As he ran off, I shook my fist and screamed after him, “Don’t come back, you scrub, or else!”  

The cat stopped at the road, turned his thick neck, and looked at me with an evil swish of his tail, as if to say, Or else what?     

By then, I was running late and upset about what would happen to my poor little Brownie cat as soon as I left.  She was alone and mostly defenseless with just a set of claws, and a cardboard box to her name.   I wondered at where I should draw the line and how to best protect her.  Then the lingering thought began to plague me that my husband had warned of: one stray leads to two strays and behold, a colony is born.

This has brought to light a deep fear, perhaps he is right and a cat colony is on the brink of formation on our back patio.  It could be an unstoppable situation as I still can’t catch Brownie to take her to the vet to get spayed.  I can’t stop feeding her because it’s the middle of winter and unless a little martyr-minded bird takes mercy on Brownie and sacrifices itself, she’ll starve.  Not even trash is edible after an hour at negative five degrees.  What if she tells her cat friends and more come, or worse, she had relations with that cat, and soon we will have kittens?       

Right now, I know just where to draw the line.  It is with Brownie, my outside cat, my pet and my furry little work in progress.   If only I could convince her to come inside, away from the cold and the suitors, before it’s too late and we have 7-12 little Brownies.  

The Brownie Report: On (not) taming a stray


Brownie appeared one week ago, mewing and begging outside of the sliding glass door. 

She was spotted a few times sleeping in the seat of an old chair on the patio during the summer and fall, when the weather was nice and delightful.  Back when it was a fine time to be an outside cat or even a homeless person.  The little cat might consider that period of time as the ‘good ol’ days’ or her personal Golden Era, as the earth met all of her needs;  little birds and trash for snacking, lawn/patio furniture for sleeping, trees for scratching posts, and the entire outdoors for scooting her behind.  

Likely, she congratulated herself everyday on escaping from someone’s apartment thinking something like, Oh you clever cat.  Good for you.  No one to tell you where you can’t sleep or scoot your butt. 

She was absolutely certain the universe would continue to provide, never anticipating the cruel and cold Indiana winter that was to come.  Then the seasons changed, as they always do, cooling the days and chilling the nights.  Frost on single blades of grass led to snow over everything, and there was Brownie, the silly and impulsive cat, homeless and without a friend.

After the first night that she appeared hungry and pathetic, I’ve set out a dish of food and warm water each day, much to my husband’s dismay.  He groaned when he found me out and said, “Great, another cat.”  It was as though I had already collected hundreds of cats, and they were sleeping on the shelves, hiding under beds, stretched out in the hallways, and sleeping on his pillow.  (Don’t worry, we only have one little housecat who has lived with us since before we were married.)

With my best efforts, Miss New Kitty still remains shy and skittish, almost feral, but not quite.  She mews and rubs her head against the glass door, and then runs to hide in the corner when I slide the door open for her.

We’ve had a few breakthroughs in our relationship.  Several days ago; she let me pet her furry head without running away.  Granted, it was when she was gobbling down her kitty-kibble and she barely noticed me petting her or my great pleasure from her allowing it.  Yesterday, she let my husband pet her while she was shoveling big mouthfuls of kibble, but when she looked up and realized it was a new hand, she batted his arm away.  Whap, whap, whap!

She hit him, one strike after the other and ran off into the shadows, scared of the big man down on his knees laughing.

“She doesn’t have any claws,” he declared in disbelief.

It’s hard to believe that a cat could survive more than a month as a stray without any claws.  I had to double my efforts to tame the feline and save her from a gruesome death, if she was to be saved.

We nearly had another breakthrough today.  I lured her inside to eat her dinner in the warmth of the apartment.  I felt giddy with joy at our progress and shut the door to keep out the cold air, which sent the creature into a mad frenzy to escape.  She raced around the living room, hitting the wall, tearing up the carpet and making demon noises that my sweet little housecat has never emitted.  In my effort to re-open the door, I discovered that she really does have claws.  She was just giving love swats to the Mister the night before and kept her daggers sheathed. On this particular occasion, the daggers came out.  Oh yes, they all came out.  

So now, she’s back outside.  I can see her anxiously peering in and perhaps re-thinking her decision to be an outside cat.  As I write this, I am nursing a wounded hand, a case of cat-scratch fever and remorse that she wasn’t declawed in her past life.  

Signing off for the Brownie Report and hoping for a less violent tomorrow.