Cow Whisperer

Four years ago in November I rescued a young calf. She belonged to a herd from a nearby farm that occasionally strays on to the field in front of our house. Her mother had possibly given birth to her in the same field, as weeks before I remember hearing some unusual and painful ‘moos’ that could have been cow labour pains.

The calf turned up near our house, peering into the neighbour’s trash. Her face and shoulders were black and she had a white birthmark on her forehead, and a body in black and white. She was young, walking unsteadily and slipping and almost falling on the cement of the road. As I approached her she edged away. I looked around for her mother but she was definitely alone. I put the dogs, who were not sure what to make of this oversized visitor, inside the house and came back with a container of water. She came closer to our gate and I offered her a drink. She tried to suck my hand and she was able to lap somewhat clumsily, but gratefully. She was obviously very much a nursing calf.

It was going to be dark soon and I felt my motherly instinct kicking in. Not expecting her to follow, I opened the front gate and walked up slowly towards the house. She did not follow, but she did not wander off either. I went inside for one of the dog leads. I thought that if I could get her inside the dog pen then she would be safe until I could contact the neighbouring farm. The dog pen in question had been made using about a quarter of our two-car garage with a door to restrain our dogs from wandering when we were not home.

The calf allowed me to put the dog lead around her neck and I led her up the driveway to the dog pen. The last few steps were tricky, as she began to be a little nervous but she eventually clopped through the low door and was secured. I wondered if it would be okay to give her regular cows milk. By now my husband had returned home and quickly assumed his fatherly duties. He fetched some milk from the fridge and put it inside a plastic container. He went inside the pen with her and held the container out to her. She lapped very quickly and untidily, but she soon finished the entire contents. I was outside the pen and I put my hand through the fencing to pat her and she began sucking on my finger. She may not have realised that my finger was not an udder.

We were able to reach the nearby farm and yes, they were missing a young calf. About half an hour later, an elderly man turned up driving a car. He may have had one too many drinks. Grateful to have located her, he proceeded to put the calf in the back seat of his car! We stood by, stunned, but soon they were off, back home to the farm, and to mother.

We received a thank you phone call later and an offer of some milk from the farm. I looked out for my calf, but I did not see her again, until she was an adult.

The herd take wandering journeys across from their farm to greener pastures from time to time, and that brings them nearer to the field in front of our home. I look for my calf, now a grown cow. There are 2 black and white cows in the herd and I believe she has to be one of them.

Just today on my dog walk, I came upon them again, this time they were very close to the pathway where I was headed. The bull of the herd stepped forward and positioned himself to block me from going any farther. I stood my ground and eventually he moved off, seeing that I was not a threat to the herd. I wonder if he sensed that I was a calf whisperer …

The Calf in our dog pen

Where am I

The last time I sat here at this outdoor cafe it was a cold and rainy day and I was being observed by a wood dove.  Now, the occasional sparrow hops by my table, otherwise I am left alone.  I need to be.  I have a lot of writing to do.

I have asked for prayer for my writing life to be ignited, many times, in group settings and in my own prayer time.  I have self-help or coaching books, writing groups, a very crowded subscription inbox containing countless writing and publishing advice, yet I am not writing.  I have searched myself for the reasons why, other than procrastination, laziness and fear.  Am I looking for the easy way rather than the right way?

It is easier to do the chores, the every day things, the leading of prayer groups and playing the harp, than to pursue a passion that I have had for so long that it feels tired and worn.

Swimming has filled a void.  It will be 2 years this summer that I have been working with a coach and it has been great for technique, fitness and especially my enjoyment.  Even a bit of open water competition thrown in once or twice a year adds to the diversity.

The wood dove has just returned.  It is the same one from all those months ago, I feel sure. It’s left foot is damaged as it was before, but it looks healed.   I sense comfort, peace.

 

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DAD

I had thought more frequently about what it would be like without my dad, but when it actually occurred seven weeks ago I was totally unprepared.  Now all I want to do is talk or write about him and keep his memory alive. 

Although a Parkinson’s sufferer for at least 15 years, I did not expect him to go so soon.  At 80 years old his skin was hardly wrinkled.  He moved extremely slowly and tired quickly.  He spoke hesitatingly.  He wanted to say more but the effort was great, and his stammer had returned after a lapse of about 50 years.  Everything slows, as this disease goes, and yet he was strong and he had a healthy appetite.  His daily routine included a healthy breakfast which he had always enjoyed from his early days.  He then would listen to his radio and read his local paper or a little of a current book on the couch.  Occasionally if there was something interesting going on in the news the television would be on.  He dozed off a few times before his lunch snack.  When he woke after his afternoon rest he would use the walker or wheelchair with the nurse on duty to go outside in the lobby and sometimes he would go into the garden to sit.  This was his favourite time of day.  He spent at least an hour and a half to two hours in this way every afternoon.  He thoroughly enjoyed seeing people come and go, waving, nodding or smiling at them, as he always got a wave or smile in return.  He loved to interact with people in this way.  Many repeat guests were delighted to see him and stopped to chat, always knowing his name, although he may not have remembered theirs.  The local people who passed each afternoon through the Reception area to buy a takeaway from the restaurant were always friendly and smiled and said hello.  I could tell that he took everyone and everything in, even though his verbal communication skills had become so hard to navigate. He watched closely as guests arrived in taxi vans, or departed, and I could see that he was imagining where they were coming from or going to.

Dad’s face lit up when he had a visitor.  It was usually one of his four daughters.  When I visited, I would sit close by him and wait for him to speak. He spoke almost in a whisper but not quite, and I was glad to be sitting so close to him.  I did not mind waiting.  Small talk was not necessary with him.  Contented silences dominated our visits.  I knew he always loved to hear about the grandchildren and if I had heard a new bit of news which had a picture attached to it, I would share that.  He became used to looking at iPhone photos, although the screen often went blank as he stared so long at the pictures. His favourite question was “What’s the news of Dan”.  In the last year, his eldest grandson, had sailed from Costa Rica to Tahiti, French Polynesia, and New Zealand.   I liked to think that Dad was living through sailor Dan, he was so interested in all of his adventures.  

Some of the memories that have resurfaced in recent weeks have been random as I am discovering how grief can work in unexpected ways, but I would like to share a few.

Dad always came to kill centipedes in our house.  Just a scream was enough and he came running with one of his black hard bottomed work shoes.  In a house of 5 women, he was left to do the dirty deeds.  Occasionally he had to chase it around the room, while we continued screaming and running in different directions, depending on the direction of the villain.  He always got it and he was our hero.  

I remembered the dances, weddings, and places where we were invited with our parents.  It was always guaranteed that I would have at least one dance partner, no matter how shy I was.  That was my dad, immaculately turned out, and always making a point of  asking each of his beautiful daughters to dance.  Sometimes a slow dance, sometimes a fast dance; usually I wanted to dance more, but as the gentleman he was, he first had to make sure each of my sisters got a turn with him.  

Swimming was his best active pastime and I knew he would have liked to do more of it.  His work always came first.  But, during the weekends, Dad would take my sisters and I to the beach as youngsters and early teens.  As we got there, he would wade into the sea and swim far out until we could hardly make out his figure.  I always wished I could join him, but I would never have kept up.  I missed him but he would soon be back and his slim body would look revived and content.  He would then relax on his towel on the sand where the rest of us were.  I remember he would throw us into the air when we were littler and play games in the sea with us.  When it was time to leave we had to make sure as much sand as possible was off our feet, so that we wouldn’t bring it inside his car.

I remember making cheese and tomato toasted sandwiches every Sunday night for my mum and dad and eating in front the TV.  Dad (and I) always liked the skin off the tomatoes.  We would watch a popular sitcom at the time or perhaps a rented video cassette.  He liked a good thriller, a good comedy and anything historical. 

As memories of my dad are triggered in many different ways I hang on to them as best I can, sometimes shedding a tear or more,  a smile, or  a laugh, and write them down, fearful that my fading memory may do me a great injustice.  This humble, loving man that I call Dad is resting in joyous peace, this I know.

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Dad with my son Daniel, 25 years ago

 

Faulty Vision

I was convinced I saw a mongoose lying on the side of the neighbour’s garden but when I approached it turned out to be a shriveled coconut shell.  There are many other ways that eyesight plays tricks.  I’m not scientific so I won’t go into boring details of how the messages to the brain become slower as aging occurs.  What I will say is that there are many times when this writer does not see at all, or sees when there is nothing to see.

Let me try to explain through a brain that is full of fog, or should I say Sahara dust (as we don’t get fog where I live in the Tropics).

I tend to be an inward judge often.  I go over in my mind the why’s, what’s and how come’s, and then come up with superior ‘should be’s’ or ‘shouldn’t be’s’, almost giving a verdict before all the facts are known.  If I could just get a little closer, see what is really there, instead of what seems to be there, and don’t assume.   Things are not what they seem.  Be more understanding and reach out … It costs nothing.

What I explained above is how I can be inwardly towards other people.  Please don’t take it personally – my brain often does not work the way I want it to.  Yet my heart … that, I seem to have more control over.  Has my heart hardened over the years or am I just being true to myself?  Is that cliche?

I get angry with me, but even that I squash.   When I was little I would pound my chest when I had hiccups that would not go away, knowing it would just make them worse but frustratingly needing to do something.  Is it time to start that again, or maybe just scream at the top of my lungs when no one is around?

I had set myself a goal to write a blog post every week but after three I have already skipped a week.  I should not feel disappointed in myself, yet I do.  That niggle of a voice inside shrieks ‘failure’, ‘to be expected’, ‘just give up now’, ‘you’re not proving anything’, but the writer’s heart says ‘Press On’, and I do.

Faulty vision?  You be the judge.

 

 

 

 

Not seeing the wood for the trees?

The elderly man that sleeps in a clearing among the trees a couple of stones throw away from our home must have an interesting life.  His name is Keith, he is tall and slim, balding, walks barefoot most of the time, yet walks with a strong upright stride, never feeling the sharp stones or prickles that may be trodden on along the way.

He has chosen to live away from relatives. out in the open instead, away from the crowds, and embrace freedom his way.  It is not a life the world would understand.  He wears ragged clothes, selects from the spoils of garbage, may not talk for days, he is his own best friend.  He gets barked at by neigbourhood dogs, talked about for leaving garbage around and ridiculed by those who do not understand his way of life.  He does a lot of walking.

He has been in the same spot for over 25 years.  Sometimes he disappears for weeks, then reappears, maybe shaven, fed and with fresh clothes.  Usually in the rainy season, but I can’t be sure.  He may hibernate then.  Or he may be sick and nobody knows.

Keith has benefited from gifts from the passing food van lady, or from residents bringing him food, and he gets water from one of the ridge top garden taps during the night.  I should not begrudge him that.  He is seen wearing many varying shirts of different colours and sizes, some newish, but many old.  Trousers in the cooler 20 degree C “winters” and shorts in the summer.

I am often convicted when I walk my dogs past his humble abode, and glance through the trees towards the clearing.  I wonder, should I be doing more?  He has only ever asked for Vicks and cokes.  Vicks is for the right eye that he does not have, but I never give him that, instead I may clean the area gently with a cotton ball and water, and put a patch over it.  I have not done that for a long time though.

Is my own vision faulty?  Do I myself act like I have just a single eye? Explaining away to myself why the Vicks would not be good for his eye and yet not inviting him in for a shower and a warm drink of Milo, or better yet, an ice cold coke?

This morning while I walked and the dogs made noise up ahead, I knew it was the ‘Keith bark’;  I found him sitting on the grass outside the entrance to his home putting on a new pair of sneakers.  They were a perfect fit, and as I studied him, I may have detected a quiet understanding between us, a whispering that he is okay, don’t worry.  Did I imagine it?  Praying not.

Walk on, with or without your shoes.

Not seeing the wood for the trees

Swimming away from fear

After viewing my spiked blog traffic last week I felt empowered, encouraged (THANK YOU ALL!), excited, edified, eccentric … Excellent! Until a few days later when the doubts began to creep in – will I be able to keep this up or will I give up, yet again?  Now that ‘all eyes’ are on TheTearstealer, will she be able to perform?  Will she get to the end of the week and freeze up, or wait till the last minute and do a botched job?

The morning in question, I rose and began baking, a stress reliever, and managed to do a banana bread loaf and 114 chocolate chip cookies by 9.30.  The baker felt better, but she was receiving little messages that, like the sugary, floury dough, she was on a timer, soon to be scorched and hopefully not burnt.

I did know what I was going to write about this week but would it come together?  Would it be ‘liked’?  I had great intentions of writing fluidly during the day, even getting a head start on the following week’s blog …  yet my writing often gets relegated.  Life gets in the way – another classic excuse to add to last week’s

My first memory of swimming lessons was a scared little red-haired girl clinging to the edge of the pool and being ignored by the swimming teacher.  I was about 5, and I made the edge of the pool my friend, easing along hand over hand without attempting to venture even a few inches away into the unknown deep.

I watch swimming lessons  with a similar age group now before my adult class begins and it is a different scene from my own early memories.  There are two teachers and two parent volunteers, mostly all in the water with the kids and no child is clinging to the edge, rather they are confident and doing their thing.

My dad was a great swimmer.  He would take my sisters and I to the beach on a Sunday and soon after we got there he would venture into the sea and use his strong steady strokes to swim far away from the shore, my young eyes searching, blinking away the sun, trying not to lose sight of him.  I often did.  Then, just like that, he would be back.  The life-giving water streaming off his face and his smile telling it all.

It was not until my fifty third year that I decided that instead of admiring other people’s swimming finesse, I would do something about mine.  I had no idea what was involved in learning swimming technique.  A dear friend told me about her recent experience starting the said lessons, and I was quick to follow her lead with great anticipation.

So, my lessons started in August last year, twice a week, half hour or 45 minutes each session.  I wish my coach had videoed me the first time I set off to show her what I could do.  My proud display consisted of head up, arms flailing to the side, legs far apart and much more.  Those first months were tough, I could not master the body rotation for anything.  My naturally stiff shoulders, head, arms and bits in between were not conducive to the way a swimmer needed to swim effectively.  The pull buoy (that thing you put between your legs to stop you from kicking)  was a nightmare.  When Coach said, ‘Alright get the Pull buoy’, I would inwardly cringe but my face would tell the story of hatred for that thing.   My body rejected it in more ways than one, and fought the rotation over and over, with legs going every which way, trying their best to be part of the swimming journey even though they were only needed to do nothing.

When I learnt one new concept, then something previously perfected would go awry, and thus began a frustrating journey of normalcy in learning to swim with perfect technique.  Why couldn’t my brain just ‘get it’.  Swimming is not for the impatient.  The no-longer little, red-haired girl was gradually getting muscle memory which would serve her well in the future, but it occasionally felt like misery memory.  Giving up was not an option, and while I did my drills looking down at the brown line of the pool that I was supposed to be directly above, my mind would often be cast far back to the days when I was that little determined Debbie, learning to play tennis, learning to ride my bike, learning to sew, learning to do shorthand at 130 words per minute  …  This swim thing seemed harder than all of the above.

Then, one day I returned to the pool after a long break for eye surgery, and something was different.  A new resolve.  I had really missed my swimming, watching many freestyle videos during that break, and I was longing to see how I would be when I returned.  Would this be IT, at last?  It was.

My coach was very pleasantly shocked to see me doing the catch, the breathing, the rotation, the reach, the finish, etc, all coming together.  It was my technique breakthrough and  I have not looked back.  Yes, I still struggle with endurance and sometimes my technique goes off, but I know I have not lost it, and, like riding a bike, I will not forget.  This courageous muscle memory freestyle swimming journey has been a blast.  Butterfly next?  I can’t wait to swim on, flying high!

Deb with swimming attire

List the excuses

I’ve never really liked making lists, preferring to let the ideas or things to do just swirl around in my head, drifting like a petal in a slow flowing stream, occasionally taken where it needs to go but often floating away, not to be seen or thought of again.

Yet this time I am going to make one, because I am good at making lists of excuses for not doing or being or saying …

This blog of mine has almost died a natural death from lack of content and shame of sharing, but I want to give it a final attempt.

Here is my list of excuses for not writing on my blog since last October :

  • Not being read so what’s the point (in my feeling sorry for myself mode)
  • Laziness
  • Got out of my routine
  • Family commitments
  • Started swimming lessons
  • Started harp lessons
  • Got into too many Netflix series
  • Joined a writing group and got bogged down by their content and ignored mine
  • Comparison leading to giving up
  • Eating priorities,  including my nails
  • Lots of group meetings for prayer
  • Lingering over social media
  • Occasional godson school runs
  • Resting too much
  • Thinking, over-thinking, thinking again
  • There are others but the petals have floated away.

 

Please give it another go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood Dove watching

I recently felt a little like the wood dove perched on the corner of the railing in the outdoor cafe, mere yards from where I was sitting.  He looked cold, wet and out of sorts.

It was a cold and very wet day and I had got the time wrong for meeting some dear friends – I had an hour to kill.  I had been getting a lot of things wrong lately, and I was not even sure if we were meeting to eat or just have coffee.  After sitting restlessly for a quarter of an hour I decide to order a quick bite that I could finish before they arrive. Lately I had been doing a lot of eating for the sake of it and not out of hunger.  Another bad decision as the sandwich was not too edible, but the wood dove benefited from my abundance of leftovers.  I consoled myself with a few squares of chocolate from my handbag which I was not about to share.

Yes, I was cold and rather empty of what I felt I should have and feel.  I was annoyed and out of sorts.  Yet I was not alone.  The dove was there by me, trying to stay warm, like me.  He did not move from the railing where he was perched, a few feet away.  He was not threatened by me when I shifted uncomfortably in my seat at least a dozen times while I waited for my friends.    In that time frame, he was my companion, indulging me, my indifference and out of sorts-‘ness’.  He understood what I could not even put into words.  A silent understanding.  And it was enough.

When my friends arrived they got me to laugh and I got them to pray for me.  And all was well.

When I looked for the dove as I was leaving the cafe, he was gone.

 

wood dove 2

 

 

Back Progress, Fair

I’m being asked regularly how I am, ‘How are you, really?’  And I answer truthfully, ‘It’s coming’, because it is.  My back is coming on well.  Movement is returning gradually, and the more I keep myself moving the better it gets.  It seems to object when I decide to lie down and rest during the day, but at night it recognises the need for rest, and lets me be.

My breathing technique is improving and when my body reacts with the odd spasm or pain when moving a certain way I remember to breathe, and respond positively, rather than clamping up and thinking, ‘Here it goes again!’ Each little step forward is a triumph, and even though it doesn’t look like much to observers, it is huge for me.

I have been thoroughly enjoying my swimming pool.  It is the most relaxing place to be, especially at sunset.  I wonder if I would really be using it this much if I did not have a muscular issue.  It does help that the weather has been so hot that the pool is warm and inviting.  I am hopeful I will still have this enthusiasm for swimming when it comes to the ‘winter’ months and the water temperature decreases dramatically!

I took my little godson to the school fair last Saturday.  I resolved before I went that I would let him do whatever he wanted and not control his afternoon.  He chose to go on no rides or jumping tents, but got lots of lucky dips, bought some old grubby toys, and played the few games over and over again – tic, tac, toe, throwing the ball through the holes, fishing for bottle caps … And he did well.

Bless all the volunteers and teachers who worked so hard in the intense heat to make it a huge success.   When nothing more could fit inside my 5 year old charge’s  backpack, and the weight was starting to tire him, he said, ‘Let’s go, Aunty Debbie, it is hot and my backpack is full’.  Perfect wisdom from a precious 5 year old!

Remember to Breathe

I have learned to breathe! Breathing that works for me and gets me through the pain. Yay!!

Yes!  There has been improvement in my back pain.  I was told by my beloved Pilates instructor to ‘practice breathing so that it becomes second nature’.   But why do I need to be so aware of my breathing when it is meant to be the most natural thing in the world?

When we are busy, stressed, in pain, concentrating on a particular important thing other than breathing, we tend to tense up and subconsciously choose many different ways of breathing that are not always good for us.  For me, when I am in pain, or trying to avoid pain, which has been the case this last month or so, the last thing I am thinking about is to breathe, and breathe ‘properly’.  It just happens, right? At least it’s something you don’t have to focus on, worry about, with everything else going on! Except it is …

For me, when I tense up I stop breathing, even hold my breath, and that is when things go haywire internally, when the work starts, to get by in the next moments, protecting that painful sensation and doing my utmost to make it stop.  What I was doing, before I was enlightened, was the opposite of what I should have been doing.  To breathe.  Every day activities can cause a tensing up, for no particular reason, like speaking on the phone, and breathing through them is helpful.

I now am aware, so much more, about my breathing, and I have discovered that I do have to practice at it.  Breathing in deeply for a few seconds and out for a few seconds, so that the air reaches more parts of my body that count, and I am not just breathing to survive.

I remember an exercise in relaxation when I was about 10, lying down in the school hall, and the teacher coming round and lifting our arms  and we were supposed to let them drop naturally.  I was one of the ones who rigidly dropped my arm, concentrating, over-thinking, rather than just abandoning it to gravity.  And I remember watching as many of the others let their arms go and how their joints did their own thing, folding easily one way or the other as they fell without any fear with a flop to the floor.  And I thought, maybe I can be like that one day.  One day is now.