Saving Kittens

Saving Kittens

Now I have you.

Cute baby animals are a guaranteed attention grabber, especially if they’re in danger.

“Don’t play with me,” you say. “Are there really baby animals in danger?”

No. Not in this blog post. But yes. Just ask the Animal Cops.

I’m not allowed to pick TV shows in my household anymore. My privileges were removed due to poor choices. I was just watching Animal Cops and Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team. Every movie I selected was so bad, it was almost good, like Rhinestone Cowboy. No one was happy with my viewing selections, not even me. So, for the benefit of myself and mankind, I released the remote.

I couldn’t help it – Animal Cops had me hooked. I’d keep it playing in the background all day, every day. Will that dog be ok? How about the pig with the limp? The cat in the bottom of the well? And look how cute that stray dog is now! It’s the hardluck stories turned happy ending that kept me coming back for more. I love a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, my friend Emily Carter rescued a young cat on the Atlantic Beach bridge. Perhaps the cat wandered up there on its own. More likely, it was left on purpose. I went all Animal Cops on her and demanded to see an “after” picture of the happy cat. Now I want weekly updates on its condition, with a video of it smiling and enjoying its new life.

I have lived with pets my entire life up to this point – mostly dogs. Here are their names in chronological order; omitting any animals smaller than a rabbit (sorry, Dish the hamster):

Misty, Sprite, Max, Bracken, Mattie, Mutley, Trixie, Squirrely, Poo-Bunny, Sunni, Dixie, Triton, Sebastian, Honey.

But I haven’t had a pet in six years, unless you count some hermit crabs and tadpoles. And those didn’t end well. We want a dog, soon. Life is not complete without one.

Sean of the South wrote recently about how everyone talks to you when you have dog. He’s right.

I’ve been typing this at a coffee shop, where an elderly couple have been sitting beside me, enjoying caffeine, conversation, and overpriced pastries. I’ve barely noticed them. When I’m writing, the world around is only tiny specks flitting at the corners of my vision, like those floaters in my vitreous humor. Still, I thought I saw a teddy bear walk by.

As the couple left, there it was in full view – a shaggy Lhasa Apso, a toy breed made of more fur than dog. It had been silently sleeping on the floor the whole time.

I baby-talked the dog, and it’s owner lit up. “Isn’t she just the most well behaved thing? We got her as a rescue; she was used for breeding. She hadn’t been socialized at all, and now I take her everywhere with me – to the store, in the car, around people, and she’s so good!”

“Lucky lady,” I said, of the dog, and of its owner.

I also rescued a dog that had been used for breeding, a senior beagle of the smallest size, whose belly almost grazed the ground. She had second stage heartworms. I put her through the poison injections to kill them, knowing there was a chance it could kill her, too. She survived. I don’t know exactly what her life was like before that, but her later years were all couch cushions, beach walks, and snuggles.

Currently, I’m re-reading The Best of James Herriot. I first read his stories when I was in middle school. I can clearly remember sitting on the carpeted library floor, in front of low wooden bookshelves stained a light oak color, with a James Herriot book in hand, and deciding I would be a veterinarian. There’s a reason they’re classics – his writing is relatable, funny, and features cute animals.

In the story I just finished, Herriot comes across a dog kept chained in a shed without light or room to move for the entire first year of its life. It has sores and feces covering its frail body; its bones shown through. He considers euthanizing it.

But a lady is standing nearby, and she takes the dog home, nurturing it into a full grown, healthy golden retriever. She takes that dog everywhere, brushes its coat to sparkling, feeds it the choicest of morsels, and makes the remainder or its life atone for that first year.

A few months ago, I participated in Fantasy Week from ProWriting Aid. One presentation by Jessica Brody was on using the “Saves the Cat” method to revise your work. Saves the Cat is a tool for outlining and plotting a story; I am currently using it to revise my magical realism novelette, “Immortal Medusa.”

Saves the Cat is named for the plot point at the beginning of your story when your character should do something memorable and likeable – something heroic, like saving a cat, so the reader likes them.

It doesn’t hurt if you save a cat in real life, too, or a dog. Others may like you, but the pet will love you.

Sports Ball

Thank you, Dollar Tree, for validating my lifelong ambivalence towards sports. Who knows what team plays what, when they play it, the equipment they use, or most obscure of all, the rules of the game? Not I – they’re all “sports ball” to me, and I’m not afraid to admit it. What I am afraid of is the sports ball.

Everyone knows this about me. We had my mother and mother-in-law over for a cookout last weekend, and I overheard my mother saying to my kids:

“Your momma ain’t afraid of nothing, except balls flying at her face.”

It’s true.

It’s not that no one tried to teach me. I wasn’t raised in a sportsless environment – I wasn’t made to wear dresses, practice my curtsy, and darn socks in my free time. I just had no interest.

In rookie soccer, I sat in front of the goal and picked grass (I ate it, too), hoping the ball wouldn’t come my way. I remember once making the mistake of running around the field, trying to kick the ball, when somehow it flew up and hit me in the cheek. That’s it. Sports are for fools.

In gym class, I finessed my way to the end of the line, then melted ever-backwards, never quite making it to the front. When that failed, I did a bad job as quickly as possible, so I could hide at the back again and slowly slink away.

Given the least chance, I’d tiptoe off to a corner with a book and avoid the whole scene. My clearest memories of gym class are of the back field, with the three-leafed clover, and the top left corner of the bleachers.

Perhaps the gym teachers didn’t notice I’d disappeared. Or, maybe it was an act of mercy. I was all thick round glasses and baggy t-shirts, greasy hair and social awkwardness. My nose clearly called out for a book.

They left me alone, all except for one.

It happened after school one day in fourth grade, while I waited in the gym for piano lessons. There was a small room off to the side, little more than a closet, where a teacher taught piano basics. Another kid went before me, and while I waited, I read.

A PE teacher came into the gym. “Hey. Would you like to shoot basketball while you wait?”

“No, thank you.”

“Oh, come on. It’s something to do. I don’t mind. Here, I’ll pass you one.”

He thew it at me; I covered my head and ducked.

“No. I’m afraid of the ball.”

I don’t know why I admitted it, except that we were alone, and it wasn’t gym class or sports ball practice. This was a dark, anonymous, empty space.

“Oh. Well, that’s ok.” The athletic went right out of him like a deflated balloon, and something softer took its place.

“I have a bouncy ball back here. Let me go get it.”

He brought out a lightweight ball and showed me how to throw it with one hand instead of two. He smiled. He acted like my uncoordinated, fearful handling of that ball was totally normal. He left me to shoot hoops, and I did.

When it was my turn to play the piano, I was still afraid of the ball. But something had changed.

Still, sports for the rest of my life were limited to swimming and beach soccer. I didn’t go to the ball games in high school. I didn’t go to any in college. I didn’t watch them on TV. I don’t have a favorite team. I don’t know what sport your favorite team plays.

And now – boys and sports.

“Mom, wanna play basketball with me?”


“Mom, can you throw the ball so I can practice hitting?”

“Sure, no problem.”

I try not to duck and hide; I try to keep the terror from my face, so they don’t see it, so they think I’m having fun. Because it’s sports ball, and there’s no crying in sports ball.

However, I did learn yoga, and I absolutely love it. It’s not a sport, but it is sports-like. It counts, right? I’m currently creating a yoga teacher training for senior populations, and one book I’m using is Relax into Yoga for Seniors (Carol Krucoff). It’s primarily for those over sixty who have never done yoga before, may have preexisting health conditions, and are wary of exercise.

I can identify with these folks. I want to pass them the bouncy ball. I’ll throw it gently, I promise, and not at their faces.

Tobacco Barns

Tobacco Barns

I was born in 1982, or as my seven-year-old calls it, the “nineteen hundred and eighties.” No, you may not call it that. It wasn’t that long ago. It was just the other day. It was “the eighties” – we can all agree to that, can’t we?

The eighties were the last decade of tobacco’s long and glorious reign. I just made that up; it’s not written in stone. But then again, nothing is, because it didn’t happen that long ago. We had paper in the 1980s. My dad even worked on computers, though they were about the size of a car and used floppy disks that resembled square records. You know, records? With music? That you put on a record player? This was just the other day, I’m telling you.

And in that golden age of tobacco, North Carolina shined brightest amongst the brightleaf cultivators. We grew so much of the stuff, it became the tar coating our heels. Cigarette smoke clung to our mountains in fine white wisps. Tobacco stained our soil a rich, sepia brown. (As an aside, did you know that sepia is the Latin word for cuttlefish, since it’s the color of their ink? Now you know.)

Tobacco barns still dot North Carolina roadsides, picturesque in their obsolescence. The photo at the beginning of this post hangs in my five-year-old’s bedroom. I don’t display any other smoking-related memorabilia in his room, but old tobacco barns are art, and they won’t last forever. These gently leaning wooden relics hold snippets of songs, the babble of babies on blankets, and the goodwill of neighbors helping neighbors, in one hundred degree harvest season heat. They hold histories – like this one recorded by David Cecelski, or this one, in Our State Magazine. But once the tobacco curing process became mechanized, the barns were left to slowly decay.

Yet, North Carolina is still #1 in tobacco, producing 250 million pounds in 2022. You can still drive by fields of wide wavy leaves, and you can still buy NC-made cigarettes at the gas station.

Also, you can still drive by hospital staff in scrubs, puffing their cancer sticks by the second busiest road in town. I can only assume they’re not allowed to smoke on hospital grounds, and I’m awed by their commitment to the cigarette break, no matter the cost. Was there ever a job that needed it more and allowed it less?

They’re not the only ones still smoking. It’s the lady driving the car beside me, a fella outside the grocery store, one of your relatives. The other day, I went into the women’s bathroom at the park where my kids play baseball, and it smelled of cigarette smoke. It smelled of the past.

Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on tobacco’s harmful effects, most of us have moved on – to vaping or abstinence, quitting or never starting. I hope my kids never smoke, of course, though I myself breathed the dragon’s breath in my youth. Mine were clove cigarettes – both worse for you and more alluring. I once ordered a variety case straight from India, a mixed box of spiced tobacco chocolates. I think about those cigarettes and feel nostalgic – they look better from a distance. We look back at the age of tobacco through sepia-colored glasses.

Lately, I’ve been noticing when music mentions smoking in the past – here are snippets of two great songs, with cigarettes:

Jason Isbell, “Something to Love”

“I was born in a tiny southern town
I grew up with all my family around
We made music on the porch on Sunday nights
Old men with old guitars smoking Winston Lights”

Lori McKeena “People Get Old”

“Someone said, ‘Youth is wasted on the young’
I spilled every last drop of time that summer in the sun
My daddy had a Timex watch
Cigarette in his hand and a mouthful of scotch
Spinnin’ me around like a tilt-a-whirl on his arm”

Now doesn’t that just take you back in time to the nineteen hundred and eighties? Me, too.

Super Power Cultivator

Super Power Cultivator

Our neighbor gave my son a “Super Power Cultivator” for his fifth birthday. Here it is, in its Power-Concentrating Box:

“How do I use it?” he asked.

“Use your imagination,” she said.

So, he speaks into it and tell it what superpowers he wants to gain.

“I want to go faster,” he says, and the echo of his own voice inside the shell works magic. His feet feel a little funny – that’s the superpower working. Then, he zips off down the hallway, twice as fast as before.

Is it really that simple? And if it is, what superpower would you choose?

Would you choose to fly, move at the speed of light, climb tall walls, change from a tree to a person (I’m looking at you, Groot), or have superhuman strength?

“Superpowers aren’t real,” you say. “Those are just stories.”

Well, then, let me tell you a real story.

About fifteen years ago, I was on a road trip with a friend, driving home through the farm fields and flat-lands of North Carolina. On one side of the road, tobacco. On the other, cotton. The sky was endless.

My dog was with us, and it was time for her stretch and pee break. I chose an open field without a single structure in sight except for an old tobacco barn. Long leaf pines rose to the heavens on one side, preserved as a windbreak between the fields. Those pines looked like they’d never been cut, the kind of pine celebrated in the official North Carolina toast.

I let the dog run.

Scattered along the edges of the field were rocks, some about palm-sized. They’d likely been tossed there during plowing and harvesting in years past.

My friend and I were in our mid-twenties. Her build was slim and short – shorter than me, and I’ve never topped 5’5, no matter how hard I’ve tried.

She picked up a rock, weighed it in her palm, ratcheted back her arm, and threw that rock over the top of the long leaf pines.

I’m not saying she came close to their tops, a hundred feet in the air. I’m saying that rock soared over their tops, with room to spare. It did not disturb a single extra-long needle.

“Did you just throw that rock over those trees?” I asked, my mind refusing to believe my eyes.


And she did it again. And again and again and again.

It was a superpower, as sure as I live and breathe.

I recently finished Aimee Nezhukumatahil’s World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments. In each chapter, Aimee honors a different plant or animal and connects its life to her own in mesmerizing, meaningful ways. I enjoyed every single essay in this book. As I was reading, I kept thinking how poetic her writing was. Turns out, she’s a poet with multiple poetry books published, so now those are on my to-read list, too.

Late in the book, after you already trust Aimee with your life, she confesses to a dark secret:

She can talk to birds.

And I don’t mean whistle or make chirpity gibberish – I mean she talks to the birds and they talk back to her. They hang out. They have conversations. They reach a mutual understanding. She becomes part bird.

This is revealed in her essay “Potoo.” Now if you don’t know, a potoo (po-TOO) is a gremlin-like bird that lives in Central and South America. I didn’t know that, but I’d heard the potoo before. Not only had I heard of the potoo, I’d heard it sing.

And you’re going to thank me for this: I’d heard the potoo on Bird Song Hero.

Bird Song Hero is a game on the Cornell Bird Academy website where you match short recordings of bird songs to their spectograms. Spectograms look like earthquake graphs or heart monitors – the lines go up and down with the bird’s pitch. You listen to the birdsong and find its graph. Yeah, I know – super fun. Did I mentioned that I was a science teacher? I also like timelines and pie charts.

The potoo is on Bird Song Hero, and it’s call is memorable (also easily identifiable, like the human whistler). And now here it comes again into my life, like “po-TOO! Here I am!”

Aimee describes spending quiet time outdoors as a small child and learning to “call cardinals and have whole conversations with them when I was six.”

At this point, I’m thinking she was whistling to the birds or talking to them about her dreams the night before, where she’ll live when she grows up, and singing her favorite songs to them, like my kids will to anyone who stands still long enough to listen.

But she elaborates. She received a cardinal whistle from her father and learned its sound so well, she began to mimic it on her own, expanding to whole cardinal conversations in their native tongue.

I still wasn’t convinced, until she told of the time her husband caught her in the backyard “having a lengthy discussion” with a couple of cardinals. When the birds become upset she “answered them back a little glibly,” then they flitted off, and she was left to explain to her husband of ten years that she could talk to birds.

But I suppose that’s the way it is with superpowers – if you have them, you hide them. I’d ask you if you have a superpower, but would you tell me? Probably not.

My son says that my husband turns into Ironman whenever he taps three times on the edge of his glasses, and who am I to say it isn’t true?

You’ve been warned: superheroes fly amongst us.

Chick & Biscuit & Sean of the South

Chick & Biscuit & Sean of the South

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A firefighter? A ballerina? President of the United States?

Or maybe a rock star? A singer on the radio, in front of a crowd, belting out lyrics with everyone swooning – doesn’t that sound great?!

Me, too.

And I still do; some dreams never die. I love to sing. I’ve memorized so many songs, I can sing for six hours at a time without running out of material. Only one problem:

My voice.

That’s ok; I’ll just be a groupie.

I’ve followed bands before, a little too closely – touching their guitars, wide-eyeing them and inching ever closer at the after-party, screaming like a howler monkey when my favorite song begins. It’s not pretty; I’m not proud. But that won’t stop me from doing it again.

My most recent opportunity to live vicariously through other musicians came in the form of a husband-wife duo, Chick & Biscuit.

“Chick” is Emily Carter, whose blog “A Chick’s View,” continues to strike my southern-loving heart in all the right ways and make me think as much as it makes me feel. Her April essay, “Homecoming,” is a favorite; I am right there with her in that uncomfortable pew and scratchy dress, itching for that heavily laden potluck table.

“Biscuit” is John Carter, whom Emily calls “Smoking Hot Love Biscuit.” He doesn’t mind; what man would? John plays guitar and sings in a band called Old Age & Treachery with another fella, Dave Livesay.

Together, Emily and John have been writing songs. One of their songs, “Made to be Played,” won 4th place in the Nov/Dec 2022 American Songwriter Lyric Contest. I have been blessed enough to hear them play it a few times now. I cried both times.

“Made to be Played” describes an old guitar and its desire to be strummed, not shut away and forgotten, like our own desires to live out our passions, not keep them locked in a closet – our own childhood dreams, yearning to see daylight.

“Made to be Played,” is so Townes, so Prine, so folk-country, so Sean of the South.

I’m new to all things Sean of the South, and I’m late to the party. Sean Dietrich is a writer, singer, guitar player, and really nice guy. He’s a newspaper columnist and author of a handful of books. He has a novel coming out; I don’t know when, but I’ll be reading it. He’s prolific – I’ve joined his email list and am getting essays daily. They are all 10/10 on the heart-string scale; they are all great writing. I don’t know how he does it. I’d give you one of my favorites, but I CAN”T CHOOSE. There are too many good ones.

I’ve been reading all of his newspaper columns, which stretch back to 2014. In “The Streets of Decatur,” from February 2020, Sean describes his old (1919) guitar, which he found broken. A carpenter friend pieced it back together, and Sean got to play it on stage. I hear he’s even been on the Grand Ole Opry.

It reminds me of Chick & Biscuit’s song, and it reminds Sean of another carpenter, who put the pieces of his broken life back together again. What do I want to be when I grow up? Sean of the South.