Friday, January 29, 2010

The Story of Chewka Marie: A Squirrel's Tail

This is the story of a Special Little Squirrel, upon whom was bestowed an unusual destiny. Her life began simply enough: she was born in the top of a tall mulberry tree at The House Next Door in the land of Texas. She was just a baby, living in the nest with her brothers and sisters, when a life-changing event happened.

In one moment she was safe and sound in her tree, and then, in an instant she was falling! Down, down, down she went, until at last she landed with a thud. She wasn’t quite sure how it happened, for she never saw anything. At only four weeks of age, her eyes had not yet opened! All she knew was that her nose was bleeding and her head ached fiercely.

“Help! Help!” she squeaked. She felt a nudge. Had someone come to help? Another nudge. The nudge was slobbery and wet, and a foul, hot breath was blowing across her. Oh, no! She realized that it was not help at all, but instead, she had been found by The Slobbering Beast!

“Cookie! Stop that!” a loud, low voice said. The Man had heard her cries for help and had come to investigate. His hand was large, yet gentle, and he picked The Little Squirrel up and carried her into his house.

“What are you doing?” she heard a soft voice ask.

“A little squirrel fell out of a tree,” The Man told The Woman. “I’m trying to give it some water.”

“You’re going to drown it like that!” The Woman told The Man. “Let me call Russell Feed Store and find out what we should do.”

The Woman disappeared for awhile, and The Man continued to hold The Little Squirrel. It wasn’t long before The Little Squirrel could hear The Woman bustle in. “Let’s see if you like this,” The Woman said, and put something in The Little Squirrel’s mouth.

It didn’t taste like the milk that she was used to (did The Woman say that it was kitten formula?), but it was warm and good, and at least she wasn’t hungry anymore. She just wished that her head would quit pounding!

“She’s going to have quite a bump on that head,” she heard The Man say. “We’ll need to make her a bed.”

“I’ve got just the thing,” offered The Woman. “I’ll get a plastic cart drawer and some old T-shirts and towels.” And with that, The Little Squirrel was soon nestled in a nest that was even softer than the nest in the tree.

But The Little Squirrel was so cold! It took awhile for The Man and The Woman to discover that baby squirrels cannot regulate their body heat, but eventually they realized that she was cold and put a desk lamp over her nest. Soon, she was warm and cozy, and despite her headache, she soon fell asleep.

“Do you think she’ll be okay?” The Woman whispered.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” The Man cautioned. “She took quite a big fall.”

As destiny would have it, The Little Squirrel did make it through that first night. And the next. And the next! Her days were filled with snuggling in her nest and having The Woman pick her up and hold her a lot!

And, of course, there was meal time! It took a little getting used to, but before long The Little Squirrel was grabbing the syringe full of milk and drinking it all by herself. Most of the time it was The Woman who brought the milk, but sometimes it was The Boy and The Grandmother feeding her when The Woman went to work. She still could not see, but she knew each person by their voice, and she could even tell when The Slobbering Beast was near.

Then wonder of wonders! Just one week after falling from the tree, The Little Squirrel’s eyes opened. She could see! The Man was just as big as he sounded, almost as tall as her tree! The Woman was short and round, and she looked just as soft as her voice.

“We’ll have to build a cage now,” The Man suggested. There were the sounds of much hammering and banging coming from outside, and shortly thereafter The Man proudly carried in a large structure. It was wood and wire, with a large tree branch inside, and a platform which was just perfect for sleeping. The Little Squirrel liked her new nest.

The Little Squirrel slept in her new nest a lot of the time, but throughout the day The Woman would say, “It’s play time,” and The Little Squirrel would get to run around and explore the rest of the house. There were so many things to see, smell, and chew! Even though The Woman would squeal, “No!” whenever The Little Squirrel would take a bite out of a chair, The Little Squirrel couldn’t help herself.

The Woman had been calling The Little Squirrel by the name of “Nutsey”, but after she took a couple of bites out of some more furniture, The Woman decided to name her “Chewka” instead.

She was getting to chew real food, too. Chewka was getting too big to just drink milk, so The Woman brought her grapes to eat. This was even better than milk! It wasn’t long before Chewka was also eating lettuce, apples, raisins, carrots, "monkey biscuits", and of course, pecans (out of the shell to start with). The best part of living with The Man and The Woman was that Chewka never went hungry, and she grew bigger with each passing day.

Chewka grew and grew, and as she grew larger and wiser, she began to practice her squirrelly skills. One of her favorite activities was when The Woman gave her a whole pecan or an acorn. It might take 10 minutes or so before Chewka found just the right hiding spot, but she always did, and when she was sure of her hiding place, she would give the hidden treasure a little pat and hop away. Sometimes she hid pecans in the sofa cushions, and sometimes she hid a nut in The Woman’s shirt pocket (while The Woman was still wearing the shirt!). But her favorite place to hide a pecan was in The Man’s shoes; however, she was pretty sure it was not his favorite place, as she often heard him yelling.

Chewka also practiced making herself disappear, just in case there might be a hawk nearby. She would stretch herself out, long and low, sure that she blended in with the wicker chair or the arm of the couch. “You can try to hide,” The Woman would say, “But I think you are a little plump for it to do much good.” Chewka did not pay The Woman any mind, and sure enough, the hawks never found her.

Chewka also liked stretching out on top of her nest. It was fun to be so high and look down on everything!

Chewka was just a few months old when The Coyote came to live with them. The Coyote was the son of The Slobbering Beast, and although he had gone elsewhere to seek his fortune, this prodigal son had returned within a few short months. Chewka was terrified of The Coyote, for she knew that he stalked the squirrels who lived outside unmercifully, and made quite the game of chasing them. However, The Woman decreed that any beast caught messing with her beloved squirrel faced the penalty of the dungeon or banishment, so both The Coyote and The Slobbering Beast, although curious, did not bother Chewka.

Chewka loved it when The Daughter came to visit. The Daughter was pretty and full of life, and she always had interesting stories to tell. When Chewka was little, The Daughter would pet Chewka, and even let Chewka sit on her shoulder.

But, alas, as Chewka got older, The Daughter would squeal, “She’s going to jump on me!” and didn’t pet Chewka anymore. Chewka began to suspect that The Daughter was a wee bit jealous.

“You love that squirrel more than you love us,” The Daughter would say.

“I don’t love her more than you guys,” The Woman would answer. “But she is the one creature on Earth who truly needs me.”

“Hmmph!” The Daughter would sniff, not the least bit amused.

But Chewka was amused, and she would give her tail a couple of good shakes in The Daughter’s direction, just for good measure. It secretly pleased Chewka to know that she held such a special place in The Woman’s heart.

There were times, however, that Chewka could tell that The Woman was not happy. The Woman did not like the chunks and bite marks in her furniture, so The Man made a large tray to sit on top of the table, to protect it.

Sometimes The Woman was tired, or sick, and didn’t want to play, but The Woman knew that Chewka needed to come out of her nest and run around or eat. Most of all, there were times that Chewka really needed to potty on her special potty blanket that The Woman kept out for her instead of at the bottom of her nest.

“It sure would be nice to not have to take care of someone the second I get up,” Chewka sometimes heard The Woman say sadly. Thankfully, The Woman did not say this often, and Chewka always got to come out and play, even when The Woman said this.

The Woman seemed obsessed with kissing Chewka. Each morning, as The Woman lifted Chewka out of her nest, The Woman would kiss Chewka first on her head, then on her neck, and sometimes even on her soft, fuzzy belly. It tickled, but Chewka let The Woman kiss her, for The Woman was determined to do so, and sometimes Chewka even kissed her back. Chewka would grab The Woman’s finger and ever-so-gently nibble it with her teeth; sometimes she would gently nibble The Woman’s cheek. This seemed to bring The Woman great joy.

One day, Chewka noticed that the front door was open; only the glass door was shut. She waddled down the hall and looked out. The Coyote and The Slobbering Beast were in the front yard with The Man, and they seemed to be having the most tremendous time. Chewka wondered what it would be like to have such fun. “Oh, honey! Please don’t look so sad!” Chewka heard The Woman say.

"I’m going to take Chewka outside tomorrow,” The Woman told The Man that night.

“You’re crazy!” he replied. “She’ll run away.”

“I don’t think she will,” The Woman said. “I know her, and I trust her. And even if she did, it’s a sad thing to think that a little squirrel might never know what it’s like to feel the grass under her feet.”

The next day, The Woman came and gently lifted Chewka out of her nest. “It’s a special day!” The Woman told her.

They went out the back door of the house, and there it was: The Outside. It was bigger than Chewka had ever imagined. And so noisy! Chewka was used to the sound of the washing machine, the dishwasher, and even the sound of car chases on television; this was different! All those birds screeching and squawking! And that loud sound that they made with their wings when they all decided to fly off at the same time! This wasn’t fun at all! Chewka was terrified.

“It’s okay,” The Woman reassured her. “We’ll go in for now and try again tomorrow.”

And sure enough, the next day The Woman took Chewka back outside. They sat on the back porch together and The Woman fed Chewka sunflower seeds while they watched the birds and other squirrels eat. Each day they stayed outside a little longer each time until one day Chewka summoned enough courage to leave The Woman’s lap. At first she simply explored the back porch, but eventually she found herself nibbling on grass and exploring the yard. The Man’s tomatoes, although not much to look at by the end of the summer, were quite fascinating (and tasty, too!). Chewka came to love their time outside, and although there were rare occasions in which she didn’t want to go inside, for the most part, she learned to come back when The Woman called, thus assuring that The Woman would be willing to bring her back outside the next day.

And thus were the days of Chewka Marie, The Special Little Squirrel. Instead of facing death at four weeks of age, she came to live inside, as part of a human family. She never knew what it was to be hungry, or thirsty, or cold, or lonely. In return she brought laughter and fun into The House. And above all, she inspired wonder and awe in The Woman, whose heart was ever grateful that she was able to share her life with this small, yet noble, creature whom God had created.

And they lived happily ever after!

"All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all! "
--Cecil Frances Alexander--

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Getting Crafty! Feeble First Steps in Quilting (by Lori)

I have to confess that when it comes to doing arts and crafts, I tend to go in cycles. There was a period in my life when I was heavily into counted cross stitch and spent many hours stitching away, making pictures and what-not for all of my friends and relatives. Then life caught up with me, and with having a full-time job outside the home, plus trying to be a wife and mother inside the home, there just always seemed to be things that were more pressing than making some cute wall hanging that would ultimately collect dust. For many years now there has always been a little voice in my ear that would whisper, "You know, if you have time to spend on that, then you really should spend that time cleaning your dirty know...the one that looks like it's in some God-forsaken gas station in the middle of nowhere..."

Needless to say, arts and crafts have been on the back burner for a long time. Well, except for scrapbooking, which I don't consider to be a craft. Trust me, there is nothing "crafty" about the simple pages that I turn out (graphics artists everywhere are safe from me stealing their jobs!). The way that I scrapbook is really more "family history with pictures". However, even such a noble endeavor has been relegated to a once-a-year scrapbooking retreat that I attend with Mandy and my friends, Maria and Julia. During that three and one-half days in September I do most of my scrapbooks for the whole year. It's hard to be tempted to clean the bathroom when you're away from home!

Maybe it's because I'm finally home full-time now; maybe it's because I'm officially a white-haired middle-aged lady now; or maybe my whole composting, get-back-to-nature, become-an earth-mother metamorphosis is to blame -- regardless, I'm not only wanting to return to my older hobbies, I'm also wanting to learn some new things.

My sister has been quilting for some time now, and although I admired her beautiful quilts, I could not imagine spending so much time on a "blanket" when I could go buy one. I'm going to blame my new fascination with quilting on all of those "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and on my desire to move into a log cabin in the mountains or some misty-meadowed farm. I can just picture my little cabin, complete with a loft lined with three little beds all covered with quilts made by ME! There's just one little catch: Until I started this journey in quilting, I didn't even know how to sew! But, there's no time like the present, so I have started two baby quilts (I'm dreaming about LOTS of things -- grand-babies being part of it. After all, someone has to sleep in those loft beds!) Besides, baby quilts are small, and I can practice my skills on a small scale before moving on to something that might be too overwhelming.

The first material that I found is most certainly for a little boy. Ever since my "earth mother" transformation I have been crazy about all things John Deere. I loved the fact that the blocks were already printed on the material for me, so I must confess that I am not piecing this first quilt. But I did get to fire up my long-neglected sewing machine in order to sew on the borders (just learning how to thread the machine and pull up the bobbin thread was an adventure for this domestically challenged girl!), and I learned how to stretch it across the quilting frames and secure the three layers with pins. Since I don't really have a place to leave a sewing machine out (thanks to Chewka, the dogs, and other factors), I am actually going to try hand quilting this quilt. This is more portable for me, and I can work on it here a little and there a little. I wish you could feel the back; it is the softest thing I've ever felt (next to Chewka). I think the little tractors are so cute!

I also found some material for a little girl. Neither one of my kids are very traditional, so bunnies and butterflies would not do for my future granddaughter. I thought the print on this material was cute, and it was also great that the blocks were already printed on this material, too! Mandy has always loved paisley, so I love that the backing is paisley. This was the second quilt that I "cut", and it was much easier than the John Deere quilt. I made all of my mistakes on the John Deere quilt and realized that you really do use that math that you learned in school. I also learned that if you cut the back piece too small, you end up having to put borders on it, whether you wanted to or not. I am so glad that the prep work on the girlie quilt was easier than the first; I learned from my mistakes.

My Mom has jumped on the band-wagon, too. My niece, Kristina, is having a baby soon, and when we attended her baby shower this past weekend, Mom was so excited to present Kristina with a baby afghan that she had crocheted. Mom has severe rheumatoid arthritis and had not done any needle work for years. However, she also felt the desire to create a family heirloom, and even though it was quite an endeavor, she worked at the afghan a little each day, for as long as her hands would hold out. This was a new pattern for her, and initially there was a little cussing as she had to unravel rows, and even start all over again, but she finally got it down. She is now going to crochet three more baby afghans for her remaining grandchildren so that they can put them aside for the time that they are ready to have kids. Mandy has chosen green for her afghan, and Mom is going to do the other two afghans in white (that will be beautiful!). I think it is so great that every great-grandchild will have a little piece of "Dee Dee" wrapping them in love.

I guess that's the draw. Yes, I could buy some blankets. But the hand-made quilt is about giving someone you love a one-of-a-kind item, as unique as they are. It's also about giving a little piece of yourself. It's about telling that little grandchild that they are more important than the dirty bathroom. It's about creating, not just consuming.

After those first quilts are made, I want to continue. There is a wonderful organization called Project Linus that distributes hand-made blankets to children who need them. How fun would that be? I also saw an article that talked about the Knit One, Save One program. The article that I read talked about how they collected hand-knit caps for children in third-world countries. Now they are collecting hand-knit squares that they can sew together to make afghans for children in those countries.

"How fun would that be?" I thought, getting more excited by the minute. Just one problem: I don't know how to knit or crochet. I guess there will be a future blog entitled, "Getting Crafty! Feeble First Steps in Knitting".