Settled yet not


First off, I’d like to say something that anyone who has owned geese already knows. I have found that owning geese is like being surrounded by a bunch of middle schoolers. Geese will find whatever they perceive as a physical imperfection about your body and then literally pick at it repeatedly until you go crazy. That being said, I’m really loving being a goose owner. Living and learning.

Living and learning

I have not seen my father for two weeks. It was not a conscious decision. I never decided not to visit my dad. There has been no concerted effort not to be there. I have never said to myself, “I’m not going to go today.” I have struggled with the guilt of whatever break this is that I’m doing. I can’t explain it. I have thought about why. It is hard to imagine that one could be so selfish after so much time spent day in-day out, monitoring his care. It is impossible to believe that someone could just not be there, especially when he is so close yet so alone. I can’t explain it, but I have tried to figure it out. The easy answer is that I am selfish. (The easiest answer is “Just GO.”)

Ultimately, my heart is completely broken over my dad’s situation. I am buoyed slightly because the neuro consult advised that my dad be placed on Parkinson’s medication, which may actually help my dad’s swallowing and muscle tone. If he responds to the medication, he could potentially be able to swallow successfully, thus be able to finally be able to drink and eat via mouth for the first time since January 12th of this year. This recommendation came after I got back from my trip, and I was able to accompany my dad to the appointment. The doctor said that it would take 1-2 months to take effect. I was disappointed that I didn’t see more of an improvement in my dad after being out of the country. His voice was a little stronger. That was something.

Maybe I am hoping that with some distance, my dad can rely more on himself. He truly relies on me, to the point where he will ask me to do things that I’ve been told by his friends and nursing staff that he does regularly on his own. This is a bad time for tough love, probably. I don’t know. It is hard when you arrive on Fathers’ Day and he asks, “Where have you been?” Or answering his same questions about why he can’t have a hamburger. Or come to our house. I don’t blame him for that, but it is hard. That is the tough, real answer to all of this. I have not been because it is fucking hard. It’s not an excuse. I need to tough it out. It is just really, really hard. It was easier to go back to work. I have completely enjoyed reconnecting with my work friends and all of the animals. The outpouring of welcomes and support has been overwhelming to the point of tears. It is nice to feel almost normal again, and see that I can again be a contributing member of my zoo unit.

I need to get back to see my dad. The strength that I had earlier in the year is in there somewhere.


Hey 2016, we need to talk

After a roller coaster 2015, I was hoping to sort of coast into 2016 with a great outlook for the year.  We had a quiet Christmas Day, followed by a fun weekend with my dad, aunt, uncle, and cousins Kate and Rachael. Tame New Years Eve and day due to me working. Things were going to be “the same” for awhile — anticipatory, hopeful, calm.

Things will never be the same

A week ago, my dad had a terrible fall down the steep stairs leading up to his apartment. He suffered severe brain trauma which landed him in shock trauma ICU. His symptoms present like a victim of stroke. His left side is extremely weak and not very moveable due to bleeding in his brain. He is suffering from a great deal of memory loss and aphasia. His aphasia manifests itself in not being able to find the word he wants to say. There is a lot of confusion and anxiety going on. 

I’ve been trying to mitigate his anxiety through playing him music, encouraging singalongs, and cracking jokes. Shock trauma nurses are pretty no-nonsense with limited conversation other than “Do you know your name?” “Do you know where you are?” I understand that they are here not to humor or get to know the patient other than not allowing the patient to get worse. They are trying to stabilize and move the patient to the next step in recovery, which for Dad is hopefully a rehabilitation facility. They have missed some high notes in his days, along with some lows. 

Some of the nurses are better than others, and it can make a huge difference in Dad’s day-to-day. Some enjoy hearing that Dad tried to sing along with Dean Martin, or that he still practices law at almost 75, or that he was on the cover of the Catonsville Times a few years ago while pumping iron at the YMCA.

Memory flashes

Dad has moments when he seems to think he is back in the early 1960s. He kept saying, Wipeout, wipeout. I played Wipeout on my phone and he really got into it, pumping his right fist. I told him I take requests, trying to see if he can articulate what he is thinking. Aphasia doesn’t work like that. Yes or no questions are best, I’ve learned. 

Last night, as I was adjusting his respirator mask, I told him that it made him look like a fighter pilot. Top Gun is one of his favorite movies. I told him he was Maverick and I’ll be Goose — I asked him for a high five, and said his favorite line: “I feel the need, the need for speed!” He giggled and said, I feel the need for speed! several times in a row and held up his hand to high five. 

Driving back and forth from home to the hospital, I get a lot of time to think. Regular music bothers me, news forecasts annoy me, NPR’s affinity lately for millennial-problem stories drives me insane. I’ve found that classical music stations are the most tolerable. I’m not necessarily a fan, so it is unfamiliar yet beautiful and without words. It’s described best maybe by a line from an old Chris Cornell song: “because it doesn’t remind me of anything.”

I have enough memories to draw on of times with my father. It’s been just he and I for a very long time since my mother passed. I’m drawing on those times to give me hope as we add these current times to our collective memory bank. 


Minor highs and a major goodbye

I am at full throttle, high tensile, red zone. My husband’s 40th party is this Saturday at our place, so the culmination of months of planning has boiled down to five days of freak-out mode. A few days later, we are hosting Thanksgiving for a crowd. It comes in waves, the holy s&$@ this is happening combines with, it’s a house party, it’ll be fine. Just gave Matt his first gift: life-sized beer pong, aka Bear Pong. America super sizes some horrible things, but sometimes she gets it right.
  Another minor win is the wreath I’ve been working on, as documented in my last post. It’s done, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Other than the wire form, purchased last year, all items were collected (read:free- other than the fake flowers for $1.99) from our farm or nearby.  

Best compliment was from Matt, who said, you could sell these! Glad he noticed it at all, and thought to comment. If a dude notices a wreath, that’s good stuff. Next project is another wreath, using pine cones collected from two of our cat yards at the zoo.

Speaking of the zoo… Today was my last full day with Chisulo, one of our three juvenile male lions. Wednesday, he is flying out in the morning to Fresno Chaffee Zoo. We watched him being born, and have loved watching him grow into a 350 lb teenaged lion. His mane is a work in progress, but he has matured well so far. He has two females waiting for him in a brand new exhibit. It is a difficult thing, sending him off. We have done it many times, so in practical way, it is rote and procedural. That part I can handle. The emotional side is, however, hard to wrap one’s brain around. For me, it is felt most the day after. When you’re counting lions in order to safely enter the lion yard, or when preparing food for “all of the lions,” and somehow you try to prepare one more. 

We have done our best to get him comfortable with being away from his two brothers. We tell ourselves that we will visit him soon. The reality is, on a zookeeper’s salary, such trips are often either not financially feasible or for family reasons, not possible. We have sent seven cubs from previous litters to other zoos. I’m embarrassed to admit that while I can see them thriving through the the photos of those much more talented than I, I have yet to make a trip to see any of them. Someday, someday, I tell myself. 

So I have to be content for the time I have. Today, I spent all morning with Chisulo doing our last training session, a painting, and preparing him again for going into his transfer crate. He doesn’t want to hang out with me, necessarily. He is happy to take meat as a reward during training and painting. I am content with the fact that we did everything we could to raise a healthy, happy lion. He will be able to lead his own pride and be loved by a completely new fan base. He will help inspire a new generation to want to protect his wild counterparts, which is one of the reasons zookeepers do what they do for a living.

It just sucks for me to see him go. As a young cub, he got very ill and fortunately, we were able to save his life. He is one of the few cubs we as keepers were allowed to name. We close “Chisulo”, which translates to “strength of steel.” He survived his illness and thrived enough to become the largest of the litter. His nickname is “Chui”.

Chui, a little bluish from a frenetic painting session, and his abstract artwork. Best of luck to you, big guy. I’m sure your new keepers will fall in love with you like I did.

Tourist in my own town

I was fortunate to have a few days off of work. What a needed breather. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and I took myself on a local field trip. This time, with a dog in tow and no roller skates.

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I was euphoric. The warm weather, beaming sun, freedom from the work commute, and the growing enroachment (and my dread) of colder, shorter days made me approach random views along my travels with awe.

After a mini road trip around town, I made my way to Calvert Cliffs State Park with one of our hounds — I chose Buster, since the trails wind down to the Bay and he has the most proclivity towards the beach.

The beauty that one can find in absence always makes a tremendous impression on me. It’s the monolithic in-your-face-ness of seeing Mt. Rainier for the first time, the mind-boggling gape of the Grand Canyon, or simply having a fall-themed trail to yourself.

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What really caught my breath was the expanse of the marsh, nestled below the brilliant trees and sky. A wasteland, yet not.

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The beach was quiet. Buster went for a quick dip after our hike — any time you take a hound for a walk, plan for it to take about 8 times as long to get to your destination with all of the sniffing.


Contemplative Buster, pondering the expanse of Chesapeake Bay
Contemplative Buster, pondering the expanse of Chesapeake Bay

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The cliffs themselves are generally off limits, as they are in varying stages of crumbling into the water below
The cliffs are generally off limits, as they are in varying stages of crumbling into the water below
Into the sun? Really?
Into the sun? Really? Need to work on our selfies…  and maybe with less drool, Buster?

A lot of us get “nesty” at this time of year. I’m definitely heading into that mode. Last Christmas, I really enjoyed gathering bits and bobs from around our farm and using them to make wreaths. My mom used to do this when I was a kid, and I “helped” her gather pinecones and boughs. She passed away in 1992 but I always channel her most around the holidays. My wreaths are sort of an organized chaos — rustic would be the nicer term to use, I guess.

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This year, I’m getting the bug a little early and decided to go foraging for some fall-themed stuff. Most I found on our farm, but some were gathered while on roller skates during some recent workouts around town.


Milkweed pods, sweetgum bombs, echinachea heads,
Milkweed pods, sweetgum bombs, echinachea heads, “floofy sticks,” assorted grasses, etc.
The white flowers are fake, to add some color to the dried wreath, currently in early stages of development

One last word on the Skate for Kate — Tony Russo, of, wrote a beautiful piece on the skate. Check it out!

My dad emailed Mr. Russo to thank him for writing such a great article, and signed off with his name and the title “Former bellhop at the Seascape Motel in Ocean City.” Mr. Russo emailed back and wants to interview my dad for some old-time bellhop stories! Nice!

Skate for Kate is a Success!

Last Saturday was my Skate for Kate — and what an absolutely perfect day. The weather couldn’t have been better, Kate was feeling well enough to participate in the cheering section, and family was there to cheer me on my 30-mile roller skate from the Ocean City inlet in Maryland to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It felt good to dust off the ol’ roller derby helmet.

The awesome cheering section with a personalized message for their Baltimore native
The awesome cheering section with a personalized message for their Baltimore native

Through the incredible generosity of so many, Skate for Kate raised over $6,500 for Kate’s favorite breast cancer support charity, Unite for HER. This event became so much more than I ever thought it could become, thanks to so many kind and wonderful people.

Our cousins came all the way from Indiana for the event!
Our cousins came all the way from Indiana for the event!

Other than the constant scatter of gravel on the side of Ocean Highway, I was able to maintain a speed of between 10-12 mph for the entire skate. My training over the past two months really paid off. Kate’s sister, Rachael, made an incredible cape for the skate, which I wore for the entire Ocean City leg of the journey. Rachael and my uncle rode with me the entire way on bikes, and Rach sported the cape for the rest of the way.

Rachael's amazing cape, and me with the amazing Kate! (My eyes are so puffy from the night before -- so many emotions, ended up crying my eyes out!)
Rachael’s amazing cape, and me with the amazing Kate! (My eyes are so puffy from the night before — I was overcome with emotion while packing up gear for the beach!)

I learned a lot about myself leading up to the skate, and enjoyed every moment. I’ve never really gone with the traditional route to anything, and intend to keep doing what I’m doing. I will continue to set a high bar for myself, and I hope to never stop challenging myself in everything I do. I also learned that you can kick major a$$ at age 43!
My motto for the year: “Use your crazy for good!”

Next year, I hope to do the skate again as a celebration of Kate’s recovery.



Well deserved, post-skate bloody Mary!
Well deserved, post-skate bloody Mary!

Falling upwards 


Petunia gives a kiss from her tower
There’s a lot going on right now at Beatty Farm as we enter the fall season. This SoMD weather is amazing. We’ve got a goat playground built, and goats and dogs are coexisting somewhat peacefully. I really love being a goat owner! We had a couple of hiccups in finishing the fence work to allow the goats to roam and browse, so they are currently getting their browse delivered by yours truly. They’re pretty spoiled.


fresh mulberry delivery
We just got our goat milking stanchion delivered today – I know they’re easy to build, but with so many other farm building projects and growing goat hooves, we decided to buy one. North Star is the brand we went with, purchased through Valley Vet. 


Timmy, pre-trim
So we’re goat-owning rookies. It took both of us to get a firm grip on his hind leg. With more practice and slightly shorter shears, it should get easier. 

As my pollinator garden’s blooms are gone, I’ve seen some wayward bees sort of hanging around, aimlessly. I put out a small plate of honey to try to help them out. Three days, no visitors. Today was nice and mild – they hit it like a buffet. The fail: innocently locating it just outside of the main entry of the house! It’s now been relocated away from the house and nestled between some sedums that still have blooms… 

Buster monitors the bees
Slurped up all of the honey!
In other news, I’m preparing for a 30-mile roller skate from Ocean City, MD to Rehoboth Beach, DE this Saturday. I’m raising money in honor of my cousin, Kate, who was diagnosed with early onset breast cancer. She has already undergone chemo and radiation in her first battle, and unfortunately the cancer has returned elsewhere and she is currently undergoing treatment yet again.  My best friend, Amanda, designed a gorgeous logo that incorporates Kate’s favorite flower, hydrangea. I’ve been able to raise $5,600 through the incredible generosity of so many people. All proceeds go to Kate’s preferred charity, Unite for HER. 

I also saw that Mary Lee, a 16-foot great white shark with a tracking device, has been pinging off of Rehoboth. She has her own Twitter feed, so I tweeted her and asked her to stick around and cheer for me. “She” favorited my tweet 😉 thx Mary Lee, and safe travels!

After the skate, it’s prepping for the husband’s 40th farm extravaganza and hosting hordes at Thanksgiving!


Reality bites

Quick tidbit: I’m off of work tomorrow and was running through what I needed to do tomorrow. It sounded in my head, for a brief moment, like a Martha Stewart calendar day list: feed goats, fill hummingbird feeders, head out to buy goat grain, deadhead perennials and weed butterfly garden, think about plan for replacing annual impatiens at top of driveway. Actual list: pick up dog poop from yard, ask husband to show you how to replace blown-out fuse in tractor, clean out mystery items from refrigerator, wash cheap Old Navy work khakis, wash the old bag of work socks in the laundry room, possibly shower. No photo supplied for this one – maybe I’ll take a selfie wearing garden gloves while pruning. 

Goats are here!

Goats arrived at our farm! After so much work getting the property ready, our new goats arrived in style from Bedford, PA. We are friends with the folks who raised them, so we really got some sweet, well cared for animals. We got four total, two are offspring of the other two.

In an old minivan with lots of straw and no back seats, our new goats arrived in style
In an old minivan with lots of straw and no back seats, our new goats arrived in style

I’ve cared for goats as a zookeeper, but having them at home is a different animal, so to speak. I have a lot of confidence in our fencing (the most important part of housing goats…) I was worried about introducing our three hound mixes to the goats (through the fence). The dogs have varying degrees of prey drive, ranging from “what is everyone excited about?” to “gotta get it, gotta get it”.

hard to get everyone looking at the camera at the same time...
hard to get everyone looking at the camera at the same time…

I have been involved in many, many animal introductions as a zookeeper. From very small songbirds to lions and tigers, each one is planned out and executed with great care. I tried not to overthink the goat-dog intros. All in all, almost two weeks later, the dogs are still very curious about the goats. I think time and oversaturation of exposure to each other will eventually get us all living in (relative) harmony.

First day jitters...
First day jitters…
What ARE those?!
What ARE those?!

Someone is testing me!

I’ve been a zookeeper for very close to 10 years, starting with birds and then moving to Great Cats & Bears, where I’ve been for 8 1/2 years. Many zookeepers would tell you that they prefer animals to people. I’m not in the most hardcore sector of this view, but man, some days test the limits of my tolerance for people. This weekend was one of those tests.

On Friday, a visitor — a grown man — climbed the safety fence around the lion yard into a planter that put him over a water moat that was part of the lion exhibit. Fortunately (?) he did this in front of me so I could scream bloody murder at him! He sheepishly said that he was retrieving his cell phone. I quickly ascertained that he was not crazy — just remarkably, inconceivably stupid. I told him that if he were to fall in, there is nothing I could do for him, and the zoo police would kill my lions in order to try to save him. After my tirade (which I kept professional — professional meaning no f-bombs in this case), I thought he would just leave the area. Nope. He followed me to my next exhibit and proceeded to engage me and apologize and worry aloud about being arrested. He hung around for the next 20 minutes at least. (A normal person would probably be so mortified at being yelled at that they would leave the area, right? Not this guy.) I ended up calling the zoo cops to check him out. Dealing with idiots occasionally is above my pay grade. A grown man at a zoo by himself is a little odd anyway…

Trail of hay coming from Staff Only area
The barn, post-hay looting

Saturday, I was working the late shift at the Kids’ Farm. Around 5:30 pm, I saw at least 20 people of all shapes and sizes grabbing fistfuls of hay from a staff only area and throwing them in with the farm animals. There was a trail of hay from the staff only patio through the barn, and all over the cement walkway in the barn. I lost it. It was like CVS was being looted, a total melee involving random combinations of people. I kicked everyone out of the barn after yelling, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! Who do you think cleans this up?! ME. I have to! How inconsiderate!!” I was so angry I closed up the barn and swept as angrily as one could. We really get the lowest common denominator at our zoo sometimes. It really makes me sound like a misanthrope, but I’ve seen the worst behavior in my life at zoos. Adults and children — but I don’t blame the kids. The parents are the worst!

Sunday, I was afraid to go to work — bad things happen in threes, right? Fortunately, somewhere in the skies some stars aligned to get me through the day incident free. And fortunately, I have tomorrow off to stay out of harm’s way!

(Photo credit for featured image: Clyde Nishimura)

Compost Win

imageimageI have a pretty big compost pile, comprised of loads of leaves, brush whackings, kitchen scraps, really old horse manure from the previous owner’s horses, the usual. I haven’t upgraded to a barrel storage system yet, so turning it is pretty heavy stuff. I tossed a couple of gnarled, unconventional gourds and pumpkins in there long after Halloween. I just chucked them over the fence, just adding to the pile of undecomposed yard refuse. I now have a glorious, immense vine patch that is flowering and has a new young’un. Hoping it has a chance to develop before the deer figure out it’s there. Hopefully all of the fresh corn ears around here will keep them busy. Sometimes nice things happen with complete lack of effort. Guess I’ve got good garden gold in there somewhere.

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