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Our Christmas miracle. December 26, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Every Christmas is special to me and our friend Ben. But this year, you might have thought we were really slacking off. I’d stocked up on balsam fir incense from Paine’s, a family tradition dating back to OFB’s childhood, and had ordered him his very own fruitcake from the monks of Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky in honor of his Kentucky-born Mama’s annual fruitcake-making ritual. (I’m happy to do it as long as OFB doesn’t try to make me eat any leaden, disgusting fruitcake, I HATE fruitcake, yuck.)

We’d bought a lovely fresh wreath from our local farmers’ market to hang on the outside of our cottage home, and I’d got a nostalgic bottlebrush-and-silver-ball wreath from the Vermont Country Store for the front door. But the rest of our decorating left a lot, for us, anyway, to be desired.

We put up the tree, with its endless tiny white lights. But for some reason, OFB simply wouldn’t bring down the 50 boxes of ornaments from the attic. I’m deathly afraid of heights, so climbing the attic stairs wasn’t an option. I did manage to eventually browbeat OFB into bringing down the wreath we hang over the mantel every Christmas. I put our red candles in all our candlesticks, on the mantel and on our kitchen table, and put out our red Christmas placemats and green cloth napkins. We bought red and white poinsettias and put them on our mantel and kitchen table, making a beautiful display with their gold, red, and green foil pot wrappers.

All this minimalist decorating, coupled with endless badgering by me, made OFB really look at our decorating, perhaps for the first time. He felt that he really loved this simple style, instead of the ornate, overladen tree, mantel, table and etc. that normally marks our Christmas season. I managed to persuade him to go to our local Big Lots for some simple red balls to add to the tree—no need for a trip to the attic!—and a red brocaded tablecloth to serve as a tree skirt, something we’d never had and that added the perfect finishing touch to our tree.

Our Christmas dinner was scaled way back as well. I made my famous endive boats as appetizers, so easy, so good, and so light on the stomach: Belgian endive leaves filled with crumbled blue or gorgonzola cheese, pecan pieces, a few dried cranberries, and fresh-cracked black pepper. Then I made my wonderful Christmas dressing, traditional corn pudding, roasted sweet potatoes, and green beans, and heated up some luscious, buttery dinner rolls. OFB had homemade cookies from our neighbors, famous handmade candies from me, and the Trappist fruitcake to choose from for dessert, but he was so full, he passed on all of them.

I won’t even go into all the dishes I didn’t make this Christmas, including the fabulous homemade eggnog (a family recipe for over 200 years) and the chocolate yummy-rummies that people have been known to fight over. Even without the additional decorations and dishes, you may be asking yourself what this could possibly have to do with a Christmas miracle.

Well, maybe we didn’t get to see all our beloved ornaments displayed this year, or eat all our favorite Christmas foods. Maybe we didn’t get every present we’d been hoping for. But what we did get was more than anything we could ever have hoped for in our wildest dreams.

You see, in August, OFB inadvertently held our back deck door open a little too wide, a little too long, while taking our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, outside for a bathroom break. And while the door was open, my favorite cat, Linus, shot out the door and escaped into the great outdoors.

This might not seem so awful to you, but you have to understand that we live in a part of the world where the gun-toting types that identify with “Duck Dynasty” are all around us. People shoot cats for fun or target practice. Cars race around the corner, hitting anything in their way. There are plenty of other types of viscious competing wildlife, from raccoons to coyotes and foxes. Every day, I looked for Linus and wept.

Four months later, Linus had miraculously survived and was making his presence felt. He was living under our studio and under our deck. He was eating the food we put out for him every day. He was following us around the yard when we took Shiloh out, coming to the deck door and even setting a paw or half of himself inside in the warmth and dryness, yelling his head off outside my office window if he wanted to see me, then rushing to the deck to continue the conversation in person. The one thing he wasn’t doing was coming back inside.

Then, this Christmas Eve, a miracle happened. Shiloh and our other cat, Linus’s half-sister Layla, were nowhere in sight. I heard Linus calling, so I went to the back deck door, cracked it open, turned on the deck light, and started talking to him. And there he was. He came part-way in, dashed back out, came back in, dashed back out, came back in—this time, far enough in for me to grab him and shut the door. Just in time for Christmas, Linus was back home!

He immediately jumped up on the counter where we have the cat-food and water bowls (out of Shiloh’s reach), then headed under our bed for a long winter’s rest. For the first night in four months, I actually slept through the night, with no nightmares of my beloved cat killed in the road or shot by some monster. At one point during the night, I woke to find the familiar furry body pressed tight against mine, purring his heart out.

I tell you, there has never been a better Christmas.

‘Til next time,


Layla: You’ve got us on our knees. October 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was quite disturbed to return home last night to find a distraught Silence Dogood screaming and shrieking about the state of her computer. As Luddites, we’re not exactly adept at computer maintenance. We turn it on, we turn it off, the end. So I’d already been perturbed when Silence had accused me of wrecking her computer by checking some sports statistics on ESPN over the weekend rather than turning on my own laptop.

Now, however, it appeared that I’d been exonerated. It wasn’t ESPN but our hefty cat Layla who was apparently responsible for wreaking havoc on Silence’s computer. Silence had twice discovered Layla sleeping peacefully on the computer keyboard, while all hell broke loose as a response on the computer itself. Poor Silence had spent hours trying to regain access to her files, and her nerves were in shreds. According to Silence, Layla was on very thin ice indeed.

But Layla isn’t just any cat. She and her brother Linus were born outside our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, as a result of yet another pregnant cat being dropped off here because we live in the country. There were two other kittens in this litter as well, and, as we always must when some swine drops off a pregnant cat here, our friend Ben and Silence had to steel ourselves to take the kittens to a shelter when they were old enough to be weaned and eating well on their own but still young enough to be adoptable.

It soon became apparent to Silence, however, that Linus was the most gorgeous cat ever to walk the face of the earth. He wasn’t exactly the smartest cat—in fact, his IQ probably rivals that of an orange—but he was definitely affectionate. Silence managed to persuade me to bring Linus indoors.

But on the day we let Linus inside the house, something unexpected happened: His sister Layla rushed inside along with him. Linus had no clue what was happening, but Layla, the smartest cat we’ve ever seen, was determined that she was coming inside and living with us, and she made no bones about it. We watched this performance, looked at each other, and shrugged. If she really wanted to live inside with us that much, we supposed we could survive three indoor cats (we already had our senior red Maine coon, Athena). And it was very clear that she was coming in to be with us, not to keep her brother company: Even Athena eventually warmed up to Linus, but he might as well be the Invisible Man as far as Layla’s concerned.

We’d named her Layla because it was obvious from the start that she had all the brains and her brother got all the looks. (Not that Layla is homely by any means: With her long, plush grey-and-white coat, big plume of a tail, and striking green-yellow eyes, she’s a big hit with everyone who visits us. It’s just that Linus is the, well, John F. Kennedy Jr. to Layla’s Caroline.) We suspected that Layla would, in the words of Eric Clapton, get us on our knees:

Layla, you’ve got me on my knees.

Layla, I’m begging, darling please.

Layla, darling won’t you ease my worried mind.  

Sure enough, Layla has proved to be a handful. Recognizing that we humans appear to communicate through vocalizations, she talks to us nonstop. While the other cats are happy to get occasional attention, when Layla wants to be petted, she will not take no for an answer. And she torments our puppy Shiloh to the point that we’re ready to pack it in and move to a deserted island, leaving Layla in charge of our house and grounds.

Layla’s involvement with the computer is a new development and quite another matter, however. As mentioned, our computer skills are primitive, as in Cro-Magnon-like. But we use our computers as our connection to the outside world and our source of income. So when a cat arbitrarily screws up our whole setup by lying down on the laptop keyboard, we go on red alert. Severe fussing seemingly had no effect, since Silence found Layla on the keyboard again when she returned from lunch. And worst of all, our home office door doesn’t really close, so even if we kept it shut, Layla could push it open whenever she felt like strolling in. 

Layla, you’ve got us on our knees. Layla, we’re begging, darling, please. Layla, darling won’t you ease our worried minds. And keep off the bleeping computer keyboard?!!! Thanks.

A happy ending. March 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. After a two-day absence that seemed to go on forever, our big, lovable, but chronically clueless cat Linus is home and safe. Thanks to all of you who sent kind thoughts and prayers our way.

Linus had bolted out the deck door on Saturday night when I opened it to let our golden retriever, Molly, out for a pre-bedtime bathroom break. It wasn’t the first time he’d escaped, but this was definitely the longest. By tonight, I’d about reached the end of my nine lives. Things had gotten so bad that I had poor OFB riding the roads with a body bag this morning.

Then tonight, just as I was serving supper, I saw that flash of white bib out on the deck. Rushing out into the frigid night air in my tee-shirt, I coaxed and called until, after what he apparently considered a sufficient amount of begging and grovelling, Linus allowed himself to be caught and carted back inside.

What’s he doing now? Lying peacefully washing his paws. What am I doing? Drinking chamomile tea and trying to get my heartbeat back to normal. Sometimes I wish we didn’t love them quite so much!

           ‘Til next time,


An unfortunate series of events. March 22, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night was not what you’d call a good night. In fact, short of murder and mayhem, it was a really bad night. And it’s all our friend Ben’s fault.

Good soul that he actually is, he’d gone off to visit relatives for the weekend and left me up here to get some pressing work done. But that old “when the cat’s away” thing happened, and little did I know how literally it was going to happen. OFB is generally good about eating his vegetables, but he hates Brussels sprouts. I love Brussels sprouts, and when I was at the grocery yesterday afternoon I saw they had big bags of plump, perfect sprouts on sale. I figured I’d cook some for supper and watch a silly movie while I was eating it. Nice break, and Ben had already seen the movie and thought it was stupid, so I’d get to do two things he wouldn’t have enjoyed, right?

Wrong. There are lots of ways to cook Brussels sprouts, including steaming and sauteeing them. But I wanted to caramelize them to bring out their rich flavor, so I decided to make a one-dish meal and roast them. Not wanting to make a big production out of this since I was eating alone, I cut up a big baking potato, a couple of carrots, a sweet onion, and some Brussels sprouts and layered them in a baking pan with olive oil, butter, and Trocamare (a spicy herb-salt blend). Then I covered the dish with aluminum foil so the veggies could get tender, put it in the oven at 350, and got back to work.

If you’re still with me, you may be wondering what’s wrong with that? Well, nothing. The veggies cooked up tender and flavorful, the Brussels sprouts were sweet rather than bitter (the reason most sprout-haters hate them), I put “Get Smart” in the DVD player and sat down on the sofa to eat and enjoy.

Urk! That “sat down on the sofa” part proved to be my undoing. There’s a reason people tell you to always eat at the table, and mess that I am, I should know it better than most. But I have never, ever, made such a mess as I managed to make last night when I tipped that olive oil-and-butter-laden plate into my lap. My skirt, my slip, and the Indian sofa cover beneath me were totally saturated with grease, and my favorite top was seriously grease-splattered, too. AAAAAAHHHHH!!!! (I’m pretreating them all now with undiluted liquid detergent prior to washing them this afternoon; if anybody has a more effective idea, please let me know.)

To say that I was discombobulated by this disaster is an understatement, since I love to have everything neat and tidy, because then I don’t have to give it a second thought and can focus on things that really matter. But I didn’t realize just how discombobulated I was until I let our golden retriever Molly out for a final bathroom break before bed. Mind you, it had been sad enough to see Molly going on hunger strike and lying, snout to the door, waiting for our friend Ben to get home. But to open the deck door for her to go outside and then see our cat Linus flying out in a great escape almost did me in.

Faithful readers will know that Linus, aka Linoose, is not the brightest bulb on the string. Far from it. But he is big, beautiful, and totally lovable and affectionate, and he holds my heart between his huge, clueless paws. To see him race off into the night and not know whether I’d ever see him alive again was such a crushing blow that I gave up all attempts at remaining awake and just crawled into bed.

In fact, I’d have assumed the whole Linus escape venture had simply been a nightmare had his much smarter sister, Layla, not reminded me that something was amiss with her distress cries. I have been out calling and calling this morning to no avail. So, please, keep Linus in your thoughts today and pray for his safe return. I can’t bear to lose him.

            ‘Til next time,