A Random Blended Family Dog Tale

I’d dreamed of  having my own Cavalier King Charles Spaniel ever since art history classes when their adorable little faces peeked out from behind skirts of royals in masterpieces. Huckle had me bewitched at once. He was spoiled and not impressed with boys and men. He wanted to be man of the house.

In the tumult of a divorce which soon followed Huckle matured into a sex-crazed teenager. My second husband was not impressed. He had him immediately fixed but his Napoleonic temperament remained (which endeared him to me even more). There’s something impressive about an eleven pound dog who makes people heel. Our boys were afraid of him because he growled at them over throw blankets on the couch.

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The Cavalier Escapes!

One Sunday as we were getting ready for church, our son (who back then in the blended family was my husband’s son) let the dog out by mistake — and stood there gaping. My daughter and son had a special attachment to Huckle because it was their dog from before. They started berating my husband’s son and then pushed  past him along with my husband to chase the tiny king down the three acre field that led to a frothing spring river.

For most of this time I was blissfully unaware in the shower.  By the time I entered the kitchen I could see through the glass doors far in the distance the family slowly returning up the go-cart path. Yes, we had a go-cart. It was embarrassing to my city slicker kids for about ten minutes until they had their go on it.

Turns out Huckle had jumped into the river. My husband had too. The girls waded in but my husband yelled to get back ashore. By the time they made it to the house they were all muddy and sweaty except or Huckle who had been carried in triumph by his servants.

I wondered if it was a Cavalier trait to kick and stomp with his back legs when he wanted something. My husband and Huckle found common ground that day. Timothy kicked and stomped in his mud-stained yellow shirt as we called one of the few family meetings we’ve ever attempted to have.

100_2464Family Meeting and a Solution to the Cavalier Problem

My kids rolled their eyes at the family sitcom notion of civilized meetings. Timothy’s kids were frightened by the looks my kids were sending them when they thought I wasn’t looking. Timothy stormed on. “Huckle is part of this family and there’s no excuse for letting down Huckle. He doesn’t know any better, but you kids do know better.”

My daughter grumbled. “It was your kid who let the dog loose.”

My son signaled for her to shut up.

Timothy took an impatient breath but  let the comment go.  “So, because Huckle is an important part of the family we will have to adjust our budget to buy Huckle a shock collar.” He waited for the looks of horror around the table to subside. “It’s either that or Huckle’s gonna die.”

Another gasp.

“It wasn’t that long ago that Huckle ran unto the highway and you all followed …” he reminded us.

I was one of those crazed lunatics, by the way.

Huckle escaped death on many occasions even with the collar. He got Lyme and a lung infection but charmed even the most hardcore anti-purebred vet who ran out on several occasions to bribe Huckle to eat by offering McDonalds.

As the vet never failed to remind me, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are susceptible to heart problems. He died a few years back but had lived a full and pampered life until the very last day. I was home alone and was glad about it. He was my special sweetheart.

What’s your favorite dog breed? This is a no judgment zone as far as dogs go. We have rescues and purebred critters. A true blended situation. Have you noticed certain endearing things about a favorite breed? Has your dog ever caused conflict (or resolved conflict)? Let me know in the comments!

 

5 Great Books About Military Wives in 19th Century America

Since you all know I love history and historical fiction, I thought I’d share some lists of my favorite books by topic that I used when writing THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES. I hope research geeks will use these posts as a good place to start on the subjects I will feature and that readers of my fiction who have had their appetites whetted for the time period will enjoy the lists as well.Yes, I will put my own books on the lists — 😉

Happy reading and make sure to add your favorites on the subject in the comments below!

BOOTS AND SADDLES

THE COLONEL’S LADY ON THE WESTERN FRONTIER

VANISHED ARIZONA

LIFE AND MANNERS IN THE FRONTIER ARMY

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD

 

5 Great Books About Civil War Soldiers

Since you all know I love history and historical fiction, I thought I’d share some lists of my favorite books by topic that I used when writing THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES. I hope research geeks will use these posts as a good place to start on the subjects I will feature and that readers of my fiction who have had their appetites whetted for the time period will enjoy the lists as well.Yes, I will put my own books on the lists — 😉

Happy reading and make sure to add your favorites on the subject in the comments below!

THE STORY THE SOLDIERS WOULDN’T TELL

CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS

THE LIFE OF BILLY YANK

HARDTACK & COFFEE

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD (and series)

Sunday at Middlemay Farm

 

There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse. ~John Lubbock, “Recreation,” The Use of Life, 1894

Look what my husband got me for Valentine’s Day! When my husband showed the picture of the mini horse to a friend at work he said, “I thought your wife wanted a quarter-horse not one quarter of a horse.” (I actually have my eye on an aged standard-bred but no matter).

Anyway in order to adopt a horse most organizations tell you that you need to have at least one other equine on the property as a companion. My husband sort of liked the idea of getting a donkey, but as I scrolled through Craigslist this little guy caught my attention and so I sent the picture to my husband — just to point out how cute he was.

My husband texted me back: You want him for Valentine’s Day?

He also told me later that to himself he said: we have to have him.

So Saturday morning the wonderful couple who had saved him from the kill pen delivered him to our house!

It is estimated that over 100,000 horses are shipped for slaughter every year to Mexico and Canada.

Some people think rescuing from kill pens does nothing to solve the problem of over-breeding and seeing horses as just a commodity, but, for the individual horses rescued, it makes a difference.

As so often happens when dealing with people from Upstate New York, I came away inspired. For no material gain this couple takes in animals and finds them new homes. Not only that but in this case they had an entire care package of grooming supplies, special feed and even a beautiful winter coat for the little guy my husband renamed Hobbit or Hobbes for short.

The generosity of some people just astounds me.

I spent all day yesterday with my first horse, just reading Tom Jones and allowing him to get used to me since he’s a little timid. At one point I could tell he was already pretty comfortable with his surroundings. There he stood, basking in the winter sun while the sheep sleepily chewed their cud. His eyelids kept drooping until he finally napped with the rest of the barnyard animals.

Save 150,000 Horses From Slaughter Each Year By Ending Auction And Export

The Indian Wars: 5 Great Books About General George Crook

Since you all know I love history and writing historical fiction, I thought I’d share some lists of my favorite books by topic that I used when writing THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES. I hope research geeks will use these posts as a good place to start on the subjects I will feature and that readers of my fiction who have had their appetites whetted for the time period will enjoy the lists as well. Yes, I will put my own books on the lists — 😉

Happy reading and make sure to add your favorites on the subject in the comments below!

GENERAL GEORGE CROOK AUTOBIOGRAPHY

GENERAL CROOK AND THE WESTERN FRONTIER

ON THE BORDER WITH CROOK

WOLVES FOR BLUE SOLDIERS

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD

Sunday at Middlemay Farm

IMG_4252A few weeks ago I visited with a lady who rescued a cream-colored dairy goat from a farmer who had bred the goat multiple times. No problem there, but when the goat waddled out of her cozy, straw-filled stall into the main section of the sweet-smelling barn I saw right away why this woman had felt the creature needed to live with her.

The goat had deformed front hooves that caused her to walk on her knees. She also had a huge under-bite which made her look funny. My first thought was that most people would have put this animal down at birth. Instead the farmers bred her multiple times (maybe a financial necessity) before agreeing to give the goat away.

At this point when the lady was telling me the story  the goat had come up beside me, giving me soulful look. It leaned in like a Golden Retriever would waiting to be petted. The lady told me that many adults and children have found peace and some healing from emotional wounds just by sitting with this little beam of sunshine. Who is to say that her life doesn’t matter?

For you have formed my inward parts: you have covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.

My frame was not hid from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Your eyes did see my substance, being yet unformed; and in your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

How precious also are your thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!

Psalm 139:13-17

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Pray for New York

 

 

Walt Whitman in the Civil War

I worry that a book like THE BETTER ANGEL by Roy Morris Jr.  in 2000 would not get written today because Walt Whitman, despite nursing thousands of young, suffering soldiers in overfilled hospitals who fought a war that freed slaves, expressed what we consider today to be offensive (and ignorant) opinions about slaves.  

Racism as a word needs to go. Its meaning does not allow for any complexity of feeling or thought. It shuts down avenues of reconciliation and fails to deal with the deeper issues which are basic: human hatred and ignorance. Cain murdered his brother as one of the first acts in the Bible. Anyone with maturity and experience lies to themselves if they think they are above nursing hatreds. Tell me at least one time when this hatred based on jealousy, past wrongs or misunderstanding ever brought peace to anyone, yet still we run to our little groups and cast hateful looks and words at others.

To take the argument away from American race relations for a minute I’d like to use the example of the long animosity between England and Ireland. Depending on who you talk to, people will bring up various battles and laws and wrongs reaching back a thousand years. Some people carry the bitterness of a lost battle between men generations ago into their daily lives today with no positive results.

How as honest humans can we not admit that we all have ingrained hierarchies of human importance? Some cheer for new late-term abortion laws while others like myself are sickened at the callousness and laughter on the faces of those signing infanticide into practice. Others decry borders and the mistreatment of foreigners. The hypocrisy of humanity is sickening. Yet I must remind myself that I am part of humanity.

I can be incredibly callous to suffering. I can make harsh and ignorant judgments based on race, class, religion and even the motives my husband has for doing something I don’t understand or like.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
 Matthew 7:3

I briefly entered the fray of blaming my insecurities and deficiencies on gender, genealogy and religion. Guess where it got me — nowhere.

People don’t like to hear it (I didn’t want to hear it until my sins could be hidden no longer) but seeking revenge or pity or money won’t cure bitterness. Only forgiveness does. People don’t like being humbled. It goes against the self-esteem religion. It goes against the I’m a star and you need to respect and idolize me religion.

What Jesus said is still as counter cultural and revolutionary today as it was two thousand years ago:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Be careful not to skim over these words. They are the keys to a life worth living.

Walt Whitman just before the Civil War was a man without a cause. He rode the city streets by day and spent the nights drinking and carousing. He was depressed.

His brother enlisted in the army at the start of the war. Walt left in search of him when he was hospitalized months later. He had planned to stay only briefly until he encountered the sick and dying young boys — thousands of them — in places we would never send our dogs to get well today.

Cynics might say Walt stayed because he had always had affectionate feelings toward younger men and maybe there is some truth to that, but anyone who thinks they are 100% altruistic is again living under serious delusion.

Forgotten Veterans

The many forgotten soldiers with no family to advocate for them adored Walt’s visits and the man himself. Evidenced by the letters he received late in life from grateful veterans, they believed without his small kindnesses they would not have survived the disease-ridden and terrifying hospitals.

As some of you may remember, I’m researching my young relatives who fought and died for the Union. Two died of disease early on but one was injured at Second Bull Run and spent months in hospital before being discharged only to enlist again and die a few days before Appomattox. Every wrecked young man  Walt showed special kindness to could have been someone very much like my cousin Waldo who enlisted when he was only fifteen.

The Civil War Dead

We so often think in terms of big numbers and so little do we ponder and appreciate the individuals whose tiny lives flickered so briefly. Their hopes, their mannerisms, the things that made them laugh and cry — Walt saw to those things and loved the boys “like father, like mother, like lover and friend.” He saw these suffering boys made in the image of God — fearfully and wonderfully made — and mourned for them and with them. He brought ice cream on hot days when no one wanted to be in the stinking tents of human waste and rotting flesh.

Walt wrote once about Private John A. Holmes,  a man I assume most of us have never heard of. Like 54 percent of the Union soldiers and 99 percent of the Confederates, Holmes was stricken with diarrhea — “a disease that would claim the lives of nearly one hundred thousand men.”

After weeks in camp Holmes was sent by steamer to Washington. On the boat he was too weak to open his bag to pull out a blanket. When a crew member refused to help him, Holmes was forced to sleep exposed to the elements with chills and fever. At the Washington hospital he was stripped naked and scrubbed under a cold shower until he fainted in the nurses’ arms.

For days he suffered in anonymity and hopelessness until Whitman noticed the poor boy’s look of despair when he stopped to make some encouraging remark.

“‘I saw as I looked that it was a case of administering to the affection first, and other nourishment and medicines afterward … I sat down with him without any fuss … wrote a letter to his folks … and gave him some small gifts and told him I would come again soon.’

“Holmes said he would like to buy a glass of milk from the woman who peddled it in the wards and Whitman gave him a little change. The young man immediately burst into tears.”

John Holmes credited Walt’s first visit that day with saving his life. I like to think that my cousin Waldo had someone beside him during the 24 hour period between receiving his mortal gunshot wound to the thigh and the time he spent suffering in the hospital before he died. On reenlisting he had not gone back to the regiment from Cortland, NY (his home) so I have no idea if he had any close friends near by in the end. He was only 18 or 19 when he died. He was buried on a plantation far from home as his parents celebrated Lee’s surrender.

Walt Whitman considered his Civil War days to be the most important of his life.

His collection of poems from that time are his best. Long after the country moved on and long after the thousands of young men  were buried and forgotten by all but genealogists,  Whitman’s poems live on as a testimony to the uncomplaining bravery and suffering of a generation of young men and their families.

THE BETTER ANGEL Walt Whitman in the Civil War is a book to inspire the most calloused heart. How many of us give so freely of ourselves as Whitman did? He’s always been my favorite poet, but now he is one of my favorite men.

A Twilight Song by Walt Whitman

As I sit in twilight late alone by the flickering oak-flame,
Musing on long-pass’d war-scenes—of the countless buried unknown
soldiers,
Of the vacant names, as unindented air’s and sea’s—the unreturn’d,
The brief truce after battle, with grim burial-squads, and the
deep-fill’d trenches
Of gather’d from dead all America, North, South, East, West, whence
they came up,
From wooded Maine, New-England’s farms, from fertile Pennsylvania,
Illinois, Ohio,
From the measureless West, Virginia, the South, the Carolinas, Texas,
(Even here in my room-shadows and half-lights in the noiseless
flickering flames,
Again I see the stalwart ranks on-filing, rising—I hear the
rhythmic tramp of the armies;)
You million unwrit names all, all—you dark bequest from all the war,
A special verse for you—a flash of duty long neglected—your mystic
roll strangely gather’d here,
Each name recall’d by me from out the darkness and death’s ashes,
Henceforth to be, deep, deep within my heart recording, for many
future year,
Your mystic roll entire of unknown names, or North or South,
Embalm’d with love in this twilight song.

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DRUM TAPS by Walt Whitman

Sunday at Middlemay Farm

Enlarge Within Us a Sense of Fellowship
By St. Basil (300? – 375 A.D.)

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

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Oh, God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things; with our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail.

May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves, and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee in their place better than we in others.

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”