Background Switcher (Hidden)

Walk On Down a Country Road

Thursday, December 31, 2009


Careful kids are a blessing to a mom and dad. Our kids were never the type to stand up in a shopping cart seat; to climb out of their high chairs or topple out of their cribs. They've always been careful, smart about that kind of stuff. Liam's especially cautious. He waited to walk until he was 21 months old; plagued by ear infections and unsure of his balance for all that time, he walked for the first time the very afternoon he had tubes put in his ears. Wearing a triumphant grin, he also climbed aboard a rocking horse he had always refused to ride. On my birthday no less. From fainting dead away in the pre-op room as my baby went under in my arms to seeing that baby walk the same afternoon...what a day that was.

To this day, he's careful, remembering in some inner recess what it is to be out of balance.

Cousin Jake leads the way, hotfooting it across a fallen sycamore. He's careful too, in a self-assured kind of way. Liam's not liking his own odds.

He drops to his seat and scooches without a prompt. That's my boy.

No shame in coming out all in one piece, in hanging on for dear life. Well, life IS dear, and worth hanging on to. I wear my weeny crown with pride. I think it shows how much we value our strong limbs and unbroken bones, this immense gift of health and life. No bungee jumping, no whitewater for me, thanks. No thrill's so great as to be worth your life.

You just take your time.

Chet Baker really wants to trot across the sycamore, and whimpers to be lifted up, but Mether's heart can't take it. I know he'd be fine, but that cliff fall is a little too fresh in my memory.

Nice brindling, Bacon.
He's hangin' wit his homey, Cooper.

What a good looking pair they make. I'm glad Chet finally has a best friend.

Liam fetches up on a boulder, snowy hair backlit in the weak winter sun.

And eases his way down.

Hitting a Rhythm

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I like blogging. I've missed it, being away, even as I've reveled in the guilt-free ease of being out from under the daily deadline. Giving myself permission to relax and not have to do it on my usual frenetic schedule gives me clarity on a number of fronts. I'm figuring out what it means to me, what it does for me and, through your wonderfully expressed and deeply felt feedback, what it means to you and does for you. I'm trying to balance the time and work that goes into it and the entertainment value it offers to you with the hard reality that it gets in the way of my income-producing work--writing for my books and for National Public Radio, and painting a huge passel of illustrations for my bird memoir.

What's shaken out of all this reflection is that I need and want to keep posting here. I want to keep my connection to you all; I want to keep my readers happy and, I hope, growing steadily in numbers. I want to keep it up for all concerned, but posting five days a week....ehhh... ees too moishe.

As someone who reads blogs, I find that consistency is paramount in keeping me coming back. A blog needs to be reliable and consistently readable. It's a waste of your time to click every day hoping there will be an update, so I'd recommend scrolling down to the bottom of the page and clicking on the link that says "Subscribe." You can choose to get an email whenever there's a fresh post. It takes the pressure off us both while I figure out a more sustainable schedule and hit a livable rhythm that keeps us all happy.

Speaking of keeping us all happy...yesterday, we walked the length of Dean's Fork, but this time we took Bill of the Birds! We had the most wonderful time. I looked in my blogfolder and whoops! there were a whole bunch of photos from an earlier walk that were just begging to be posted. So here is a bucolic critterkidfest for you.

Walk on down, walk on down, walk on down, walk on down a country road...

Photographing kids as one would wild animals pays off in unobtrusive telephoto shots that tell a story of ease and contentment. No grinny front and center camera smiles here, thanks.

Snacktime. Baker decides he'd better anoint a fencepost so everyone knows he was here with his homies.

I get so hooked on scenes like these that I can barely hang on until the next sunny day when we can recreate them. And I don't have to talk the kids into coming along--they're all over it like the sticky on sweet. Being outside is its own reward, once you get kids over the hump of relaxing into it...

hitting a rhythm.

Chet Baker and his friend Cooper look for voles and shrews.
I know it was in here somewhere...

Baker promises to be a gemmun, but we know his promises can be hollow where other dogs are concerned.

Still, the two get along better each time they play, and each pays attention to what the other notices, like good friends do.
When we reach the bend in the road with the old log cabin, the kids always ask to linger. So I lose myself in the landscape and the barbed wire and old wood while they explore. I would love to have a little cabin down here on this forgotten road. But I'd have to have a MONSTER TRUCK to get to it. And I suspect that that's why Dean's Fork is so unspoiled, so beautiful, so all our own little secret. You can't get your Ford Fiesta through. You have to walk. It definitely cuts down on the traffic.
The kids re-enact some kind of scene of pioneer tragedy and triumph before the old log cabin. Really, all they need is water, rocks and sun to have fun. No outlets required.

I'll see you in a few days.

A Slow Surrender to Winter

Friday, December 25, 2009

Here's Liam's first published photo. Not bad for a ten-year-old, freezin' in his dinosaur jammies while he takes a picture of his mama.

photo by Liam Thompson. I'm about to toss them all on the compost pile. Cold front coming.

I don't know who listens to All Things Considered on Christmas Day. I don't. I'm too busy laying around and eating altogether too much and the wrong things and then playing Wii Fit and finding out I should be 14 pounds lighter and faster on my feet, or Japanese, whichever comes first. I'm betting on turning Japanese.

One of my new commentaries aired today. It's about hauling dying plants and praying mantises inside when I really shouldn't. You can listen to it on NPR's web site.

If the player doesn't work, hit "Download" and it'll give you an MP3 that does. That worked for me.
Or you can just read the transcript below.

But I kind of like the idea to talking to you over your 'puterbox. I miss you. I know, I'm taking a break. But I do.

A Slow Surrender to Winter

The sky couldn’t be heavier, lower, grayer, weepier. It’s 38, going for low in the 20’s. It’s winter, winter, winter. And I still have blooming flowers in baskets and containers on the front porch. Geraniums, lobelias, blue marguerite; plectranthus that when you brush its leaves, smells like a lime margarita.

Sure, they’re a bit brown, nipped around the edges, but the geraniums are blooming, shocking pink, red, magenta, like there’s no tomorrow. And for them, there isn’t. Unless…

I keep bringing them inside. I pile them up in the foyer and they weep leaves and dirt and petals that track all over the house. They block the closet doors. I can’t keep them inside, but I can’t leave them out to freeze. So I shuttle them in at night and out during the day, groaning with the effort. I’ve brought them this far. How can I sentence them to death?

blue margeurite on the compost pile, sighhh

But there’s a string of nights in the 20’s coming up, teens, even, and sooner or later I’ll have to say good-bye to summer for good. There’s something about looking out the kitchen window on blooming baskets of flowers that feels increasingly wrong. These bright jolts of color are somehow unseemly, when everything else is dead. And it's not just the plants that are dying.

Three times in my life, I’ve found a big praying mantis staggering weakly around my garden after the first light frost, and I’ve taken her—it’s invariably a female—inside. I set her up on a big potted plant where she sits regally all day, a weird alien pet, watching snowflakes drift down on the roses outside the window, where she once lived. I do this, knowing it’s wrong, but unable to leave her dying outside. I feed her crickets and mealworms, spray the leaves down with water, watch as she grabs and stabs, delicately dines; bends to drink droplets from the leaves, grooms her forearms and feet like a little otherworldly cat.

She turns her head to watch me when I walk into the room, holds out her spiked forelimbs to ask if she might ride on my arm to another plant, to sit in a spot of winter sun. This goes on until late January, February. I get entirely too attached. And then, like Goldie Hawn in “Death Becomes Her,” she begins to decay. First it’s an antenna, then a foot, then a lower leg, simply falling off. And then she loses her balance and falls, and busts off a forearm. And I see why mantids are meant to die with the first hard frost, and it’s brought home to me why I should never have brought her inside.

So it goes with the geraniums. I have to let them die. Tomorrow. Or maybe this weekend, with a light snowfall for their funeral shroud. Oh, the intractable human heart. It does this every year.

Hope you had a peaceful Christmas. We did.

Thank You.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Thanks, everyone, for your input. I so appreciate the yeahyeahyeahs, and I also appreciate the nahnahnah’s. Much as a Leo loves approval, it’s actually kind of nice to know not EVERYONE’S here for the dog! How’s that for positive spin?

Whoops, Leona the lion is getting out of her little cage. Hello, Leona. Do you have something to say to everyone?

I want to reassure you that any book I write is going to have some tasty meat in the sandwich. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about a bunch of photos with cute captions here. I mean, people. You read the blog, right?

All right, Leona. Back! Back!

As a true creative hermit, I’m continually surprised at the extent to which my readers’ and friends’ thoughts are able to influence mine. I floated this book idea to my wise friend W., and his first reaction was that it needed paintings and sketches as well as photographs. Oh. Duh. Hadn’t thought of that. Well, all right. I’ll think about that. And here you are, saying the same thing. So now it looks like I’ll have to get out the pencils and watercolors. A good thing. Always a good thing.

To tell you the truth, thinking about the Chetbook is a little refuge for me when I’m deep into painting illustrations for my current book. As I laboriously create the paintings, I like to muse about how easy it would be, by comparison, to send my editor a compact disc full of photographs to illustrate a future book. So that’s partly where this idea is coming from. And now I see I shouldn’t rule out drawings and paintings. I SHOULD be drawing this dog. I should be drawing my kids, too. There’s another big Duh. You can’t do everything. Sometimes doing anything is a stretch.

Marcia, I am most grateful for your marketing ideas. The time I spend on the Internet has been given largely to blogging or researching, not surfing, and I don’t frequent Boston terrier sites or chatrooms of any kind. I had no idea there is a magazine devoted to the breed, though I shouldn’t be surprised. Smart marketing is key to getting a book into the right hands. I really appreciate your input, which was all new to me. When time comes, I will reach out again to the Boston terrier people and figure out how best to target the True BT Believers.

Anonymous (Leslieyosh), you get it. Thank you. More on your comment later. :-)

MojoMan, I hear you loud and clear about Chet’s story not being finished. God forbid the day it is. This book isn’t something that would come out next year. It would very much be a work in progress. Maybe a several-volume thing.

Chet Baker: The Early Years.

Chet Baker: Prime of Life.

Chet Baker: Dotage.

That was a joke.

As I found when he dropped off the rock cliff, Chet is far from done living his life and giving me thrills, inspiration, comfort, and hilarity in equal measures. I don’t know what happens to Chet in the end. Most of me hopes that nothing ever really happens to him. For every big event, there are a thousand little stories in this dog, and I’m grateful I started telling them when he was just a flop-eared pup. I want to keep telling them while he is here and warm by my side. You forget, day to day, all the little things. And it’s the little things that add up to something larger. All hail electronic archiving.

There will come a time to bring them all together, to sum it all up, and I’ll know when that time comes. I expect him to continue to teach and amaze me, to help me understand how one good dog can take someone from “No! I don’t need one more thing to care for!”

to “I don’t know what I would do without him.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Looks like we've pre-sold a hundred copies.

But onward and forward with the bird memoir. First things first. Thanks for your patience and your understanding. I wish you all a peaceful Christmas.

Well I'm learning

It's peaceful

With a good dog and some trees...

-Joni Mitchell, "Electricity"

Four Years Ago Today

Friday, December 18, 2009


On December 18, 2005, I made my first real post on my own blog. It was, unsurprisingly, about Chet Baker, and it was called Chet Likes Ice. It featured a photo of a svelte, shiny one-year-old Boston terrier, poised on the brink of modest Internet stardom (but not an awful fall...)

Photo by Bill Thompson III.

Before he was a stah, when his ears still flopped over. Wish I'd been bloggin' then.

One Thousand One Hundred Forty-Three posts later, I am still rhapsodizing about Chet Baker. He is lying under the small tent made by my legs as I sit in bed, and he is chewing a Nylabone. He's a little gray around the eyebrows, and so am I. We've both done a lot of growing up.

After a certain point, it seems silly to mark a blogaversary. I'm in a reflective mood, but not enough to go on and on about what blogging means to me. I'm just glad you've been there to read and give me your feedback, to help me think about things that bug or amuse or outrage me. I'm glad I could give you a break from your day or a virtual escape to the woods and fields. I've tried to keep the quality and information content high, and if I wasn't up to that, to keep it light and happy and fun. I know there are five million other things you could be doing, and I don't want to waste your time.

I'm also glad that I started this blog when Chet was a mere year old. I have archives of stuff on him, the most bodacious dogjournal you could imagine, and the photos to back it up, all backed up. Hmmm.

Imagine...sometimes I do.

So I have a question for you, a little test-market thingie, kind of a fourth blogaversary present you can give me. 1,143 posts. And all I want is a lil' comment out of you.

If I wrote a book about Chet Baker, and it had a bunch of photos of him like you see here, and funny or moving or gripping stories like you get here, but it also had some really fleshed out thoughts about the human-dog connection, and what dogs mean to people, and the kind of comfort that dogs offer to us, would you buy it? If so, how many copies would you buy? :D

Please tell the cute doggeh. He wants to know. Is there a book in Chet Baker and Mether?

Because on down the road I'm going to have to sell this idea to people who may not exactly get that Chet Baker is the livin' end, the best doggeh in the universe, that you'd drop everything and rush out to buy a book about him so you could keep him and his cuteness on your bookshelf or at your bedside forever. I'll need your testimonials, your encouragement, to print out and throw at my skeptics in what I hope will be a fluttering blizzard of yeahyeahyeah!!!

In other news, I am using this fourth anniversary to give myself a break from blogging, to tend to health, hearth and home. The online life is fun, and I've loved it, but I need to regroup, get my nose off the screen, do some painting, drawing, walking, writing, thinking; to live with my family in real time.

If four years of Greyfriar's Bobby-like faithfulness to this odd unpaid job is any indication--showing up five days a week, rain or shine, storing posts madly even when I'm leaving on a huge trip--I'll probably come back sooner rather than later, bursting with new stories and images, so hang in there.

Thanks for everything. If you start jonesing, there are always those 1,143 posts in the archives to work through. Start in December 2005, work your way on through (remembering to start at the bottom of the page and scroll up) and enjoy!

Baker kisses,

Julie and Chet Baker, my Dogstar

This Little Miracle

Thursday, December 17, 2009


This little miracle,
this pile of green leaves
that hasn't done much of anything for two years
but grow and put a shoot out now and then

all of a fine sudden sends up a stalk
with a knobby end to it
A head, hooded

It's a bud, of course, and you weren't expecting it,
hadn't dared to hope for it
Figured you didn't deserve it
Must've done something wrong

to wait so long

but oh, here it comes! and it reaches
higher each day and changes each hour
so you keep checking it morning, noon and night

and it winds up taking days to open
Each stage more delicious than the last
The bud giving hints of the flower within

But you could never imagine
along about midnight on a Tuesday
when it finally springs open and says

that there would be a Muppet inside
who sounds like Grover, gravelly, but very polite.
Hello, and how are you this fine morning?

Fine! I'm so happy to see you!

And I am happy to see you
Ha ha ha ha ha!

although I have had quite a bit of
Trouble with my hat.

Paphiopedalum spicerianum "Boss" x P. spicerianum "St. Elsewhere"
Purchased in bloom 5/07, Franklin Park Conservatory, Columbus, Ohio
Rebloomed 10/09, in my bedroom. This flower was twice as big as its first.
The Paphiopedalums are represented in North America by the lady's slipper orchids.
P. spicerianum is native to limestone cliffs in Bhutan, at the foothills of the Himalayas.
That I can grow it in a bedroom at the foothills of the Appalachians is, to me, a little miracle.
Read more about its culture requirements here.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009


One of the things I love about Phoebe is that she's tuned in to natural phenomena. If the phone rings around 7, I know it's her, calling from the bus, which she rides for over an hour each morning. I know it's a Sunrise Alert. "Mama! Go look at the sunrise!"

And we did. The only thing to do for a sunrise like this one is to run to the tower room. Still on the phone with Phoebe, we compared notes on the colors and the fabulous gill-like clouds. Just one of the many reasons I'm happy Bill sprang for a cell phone for our girl. My predictions were all wrong. She hasn't lost it, ever, and she doesn't waste much time talking on it. It's more like a mobile texting umbilical cord for both of us.

Watching it change. There's not much you can say about a heavenly phenomenon like this, other than to look and marvel at your luck at being able to see it.

Of course, we cannot go up to the tower room without bringing Chet Baker. And if Mether and Daddeh are looking at something, well, Chet Baker needs a peek, too.
I refuse to believe that dogs see only in black and white. I think they see a lot more color than people believe. Chet Baker sure seems to.

I am also looking for morning bunnehs.

Liam, Bill, Chet and I walked out the driveway, awash in morning glow.
Molten puddles, ever my favorite. I live to photograph them, little pieces of perfect sky under our feet.

Look out, Liam! Don't step in the lava!

And the sun burnt it all gold, our huge sentinel pin oak revealed. I never look at that tree without hoping it outlives us all.

I have to think that being brought up and bathed each day in beauty helps make our kids who they are. They notice and appreciate, and are grateful.

[Back to Top]