The Compassionate Gardener

Those who know me (and if you are one of the five people reading this, I'm sure you do) know that I want to be a farmer when I grow up. Okay, maybe not a farmer, but I have spent the last 18 months daydreaming about selling our East Memphis home and moving to the country... not the boondocks, but a good chunk of land within a 15-20 minute drive from downtown. Limiting, I know.

The only thing more limiting than my parameters is the snail's pace at which I am prepping our current home for the market. I was off to a steady start, but as momentum faded my farmer dreams got a little more realistic. So, I'm an urban farmer... some might say gardener, but whatever.

This year, I took my growing goals to a new level (and if I ever get around to chronicling the process, I will post it here). I was so proud of my winter seedlings and early spring transplants. The list of planted garden veggies kept growing and eventually I added flowers in the mix. Two raised beds expanded to containers and then more raised beds. Before this year, I'd only grown a handful of things and had relatively easy success. Now, I was managing a veritable farmer's market in my backyard (and front porch) and everything started off so well!

...until the bugs invaded.

I tried a few natural remedies to rid my beautiful plants before a concluded that the only thing that works better than a homemade neem oil spray is hand-picking the little stupid jerks and feeding them to my chickens! Problem solved!

...until the chipmunks invaded.

I tried every natural chipmunk deterrent the internet has to offer. I filled in their holes and spread red pepper flakes, but that didn't work. Then, I sprinkled a mixture of cornstarch and cayenne in their favorite spots and they burrowed right through it. So, I resorted to placing bricks and large rocks on holes and around delicate plants to protect their roots. It worked, but come on! It's called a cabbage patch, not a rock garden! I'm growing vegetables and flowers here... or at least I was before the cutest little assholes pests in the animal kingdom took over!

I really didn't want to harm them, but the tension was mounting. So, I reached for the trusty Havahart live trap before resorting to more drastic measures. Thank goodness for Havahart! Actually, those little buggers should be thanking their lucky stars that I have a heart and for Havahart! 

I trapped a chipmunk on the second day of trying. Yassssss! Annnnd because I'm such a compassionate person, I set him up in temporary quarters, in hopes of catching his family before relocating one lonely little asshole chipmunk. I decided to place the enclosure next to the live trap to see if I could draw in more of his posse. And ya know what? It worked. I trapped a total of THREE before I could even complete this post! While I might not be moving out to the country any time soon, I know another family of three that is going there straight away!


Life After Death, an Elusive Amphibian, and Raccoon Roadkill

So, I might as well follow my last bereaved post with more drama from what I've been affectionately calling "our little menagerie." Unfortunately, our little menagerie has been getting smaller and smaller. A horrific chicken massacre was perpetrated by an unknown varmint. Sadly, half of the City Girls are no longer with us. *Update: The traps went un-tripped for days, but a roadkill raccoon was spotted nearby and I have fingered it as the perp.

We took solace in the fact that at least we had developing eggs in our homemade incubator, only to find out on hatch day that our first clutch of eggs were all quitters (embryos that stopped developing). And yes, we did open up the eggs to investigate the contents. The #incubatorproject was all in the name of learning anyway. Though I borrowed this pic from google, this is what we found.

So, our eggs were quitters, all except one.
Little Pip (or Pippi, as will be her mighty girl title if she's a she)
was a welcome distraction from all the gloom.

The joy of incubation success was soon overshadowed by yet another creature conundrum. The tree frog vanished! Yes, that's right. Georgie was nowhere to be found. Did he escape?! We left no stone in the terrarium unturned (literally). Every corner and every joint was checked. Did he burrow down deep into one of the plants in some misguided, off-season attempt at hibernation? Surely, not! Our little frog was nothing if not consistent. He always turned up after dark and often sat watching for someone to deliver his evening meal. Alas, it was affirmative. Georgie was MIA.

As we puzzled over Georgie, our next hatch day came and went with no pipping... no hatching. Feeling defeated by all of our animal mishaps, it was time to to put an end to the melancholy madness. It was time to place a hatchery order for baby chicks for my birthday. And that's just what I did... after Jorma agreed, of course.  Poor, lonely, little Pip couldn't wait any longer for hatchery chicks to arrive. She had had enough of solitary life.  

So, we went to the feed store and got her a friend. The day after bringing Harriet home from the feed store, it was time to say goodbye to Lulu. It was also 2 days past hatch day and time to think about calling it quits with the incubator. After all, chicks were on the way. I couldn't do it though. I left the eggs in there, knowing I'd regret it later. When we came home from the vet without Lulu, I peeked into the incubator and was shocked to find that one of our two remaining eggs had pipped! I couldn't believe it. It was exactly what I needed on such a sad day.

I stayed up all night so we wouldn't miss the hatch. And at 6:23AM, I woke up Janie Kathryn and we watched until  Lu (or Luther as the case may be) finally came into the world an hour later. It was then that we noticed the 2nd egg had pipped, too!  If you're keeping track, that makes 3 hatched chicks, 1 from the feed store, and more on the way from the hatchery. Eek!

Our third hatchling took a little too much time and I had to help out. Viability was questionable. So, I tried very hard not to get too excited, but a new life HATCHED IN MY HAND. It was so awesome! Things were looking up and you won't believe what happened next...

*Update: After a lot of TLC, Pokey is progressing and making friends with the hatchery hatchlings, now.
Jorma found Georgie! Yep, that's right. As Jorma looked out the back door, a phantom need to let the dog out, there was movement among the shadows of houseplants. And there in the darkness of the kitchen was the frog! Not a bad way to complete the first week of March, seeing that it had such a gruesome start! I guess the menagerie continues to grow after all.

For the sake of storytelling, I should end on a happy note. So, I won't go on about how Janie Kathryn got the flu the next day or that it has been raining cats and dogs, err chicks and frogs... or should I say it's been raining gallons- at least 128 of them, since that's what I've vacuumed from the basement bathroom since our happy little ending.


The Second Best Dog

Dear Lulu,
You entered my life at a very challenging time, as I had just lost my sweet Sadie. I was twenty-three and Sadie was more than just my dog. She was the one constant I had in those first two years of my Memphis life. When she ran away it was as if I was experiencing a death in the family or the worst break-up of my life. I was so angry and sad and I promised myself I would never love another dog the way I loved Sadie. However, it was clear to me that the only way to fill the void in my heart was to find another dog... even if that dog was only going to be second best.
I couldn't bring myself to go back to Memphis Animal Shelter, where I had rescued Sadie only a two years earlier. In my grievous state, I couldn't bear the thought of choosing one dog among many that faced euthanasia. So, I decided to give PetFinder a try and there you were at St. Francis Animal Rescue & Refuge (SFARR) in Oakland, TN.

You showed up in the shrubs of SFARR, skinny and almost completely hairless, ready to deliver ten puppies. When I found your story online, all your puppies had been adopted and you were the only one left waiting for a forever family. As I stared at your photo- a pit bull mix whose pink skin shined through a little peach fuzz- I don't know why you were the one. Maybe it was my good experiences with mother dogs or maybe it was that pitiful expression that jumped out at me, but I had to have you. And on New Year's Day 2003 I had Jorma drive me to Oakland, where I adopted you and brought you to your new home in Midtown.

As I said, it was a challenging time for you to come into my life. Not only had I just lost Sadie, but Jorma and I had only just begun living together and he had never had a dog before. I don't think Jorma liked you very much those first few weeks and it didn't help that you clearly had a problem with men. Truthfully, you sounded like a rabid beast at the sound of any knock at the door, but you were especially skeptical of men. While Jorma struggled with the ferocious barking and keeping you off the furniture (his rule, not mine), I worried that the three of us just weren't going to work out. I hated the thought of breaking up over a dog, but let's face it- dog people need to be with dog people. Luckily he came around and it wasn't long before I was planning a wedding and you were tagging along on road trips. And yes, it's true, I did come to embrace the couch rules.

Within the first year, you were no longer just my second best dog. You were "our first dog." Within two years, we were a little family with a cat and another rescue dog... and soon, a baby on the way.  Now,  I'm not sure I know what life is like without a dog. I've spent very little of my 37 years without one. Hell, after only 10 years of being a parent, I can't remember what life is like without a child! 
But I do know you were there. 

You were part of our lives when we got married. You were with us when we brought Janie Kathryn home from the hospital and when we bought our first house. You've been there for graduations.
You've been there for career highs and lows. You've been there for all the birthday parties and all the visits from Santa... We've never, ever spent a Christmas Eve waiting for Santa without you. 
We've played in the snow. We've driven across the country. We've hiked mountains. We've floated down rivers and boated around lakes. The adventures we've taken are seemingly countless.

Now it's time to say goodbye and my heart is breaking all over again- a broken heart that wasn't supposed to happen because you were always supposed to be second best. I'm going to miss you terribly, Lulu. I know that there will eventually be other dogs, but they will only be second best to you- Our first dog.
We said goodbye to Lulu this morning. She was our devoted companion for over 13 years. While she was never one for affection, no matter how many times I tried to snuggle or kiss her, she never minded posing for the camera. She was positively photogenic, my Lulu. 

Old age was getting the best of her and her health had been in decline for years. As if she knew it was the hardest decision for Jorma and I to make, she allowed me to snuggle her and shower her with love until the end. Our adventurer, licker of spoons, catcher of popcorn, solemn and sweet- May she rest in peace... though I suspect she's more likely frolicking with friends in celebration of her life spent as a rescue dog



Joining the Inn Crowd

As we wrap up our second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Month of Service Learning, I am realizing that I haven't shared a single word or photo of our experiences this year. January has been quite a whirlwind and I have been a little short on time for such things, but also I struggled with what to share. It seemed like there wasn't anything new or insightful to say. However, as the service learners tucked the last sheet at Room in the Inn and we had our last little post-service talk I realized that maybe we did touch on something new this year.

During one of our sessions, I had to explain to my young friends that a warm bed was not guaranteed to the first person to arrive at Room in the Inn's Carpenter House just because they arrived first. "But that's just unfair! The first person deserves a spot!" - a familiar sentiment and one that I have admittedly shared before I really stopped to think about what that means. Inspired by a facebook post from Manna House, I explained that sometimes fairness isn't a reward for arriving first, but sometimes it's an acknowledgement that those who need something the most, might not be able to get there first. Wouldn't it be even more unfair to offer beds to the strongest of those in need, while the most vulnerable are turned away?

At another session, when we were sharing possible causes of homelessness, the conversation shifted to how do you know if someone IS homeless... IS really in need.

"He has a job. He must be bad at spending his money."
...Or maybe any number of financial burdens, personal tragedies, or natural disasters has caused him to beg for bus fare to get to a shelter for the night.

"She drove to the soup kitchen in a car, she can buy her own food!"
... But what if that car is her home? What if it is the only means for her to get to a job that doesn't pay well enough for her to feed her family as well as herself?  

"His shoes are shiny and new. If he can afford to buy new shoes, why does he need our help?"
... How do we know that he wasn't walking around barefoot and someone took the shoes off their own feet to help him out?

Examples were flying around the room- notions I've heard before and likely thought myself. As I tried to offer alternative scenarios for every cynical statement and noted that such judgements were very unfair, something happened. One friend turned to another and said, "I just don't know if any of those things would happen. Like, giving away your shoes. I don't know anyone who would do that." A second friend replied, "I know someone who would give away their own shoes." A third friend replied, "I would totally do it. I have more shoes." Then a fourth friend replied to the first friend, "See, you do know people who would do that after all!"
Welcome to the "Inn Crowd!" 
 Who wouldn't want to be part of this group?!

If you're not familiar with Room in the Inn you can follow the link,
find Friends of RITI on facebook to learn more, or check out previous posts about RITI service projects.

Birthday Party + Sock Drive

From Christmas to a double-digit birthday, our celebratory season has come to an end. And our finale celebration was the biggest birthday party we've ever had. I think the socks were rocked off all our guests!

As we begin a new year with immeasurable gratitude for so many wonderful gifts, we are most grateful for our friends and family who are always there to help. Thank you for warming not only our hearts, but also the toes of our community's most vulnerable members.

We collected over 325 pairs of socks and had a blast playing Just Dance and Rock Band, cornhole and hopscotch, and posing for pictures in the photo booth and selfie station. I think the pictures below tell the story better than I ever could!