Life finds a way


As possibly the only person on the planet who has grown grass on the floor of a Corvette, I shouldn’t be surprised when life emerges in improbable places.  Like a dry, dusty stall floor with no sunlight or water. corndogstick 022

These weeds will get water now (at least until they’re noticed and eaten by the creatures that share their space). I admire their spunk and defiance and am happy to help out with their resistance against circumstances that would wilt lesser plants.

The woods in New England are full of things that shouldn’t be alive, starting with every single tree.  Each spring, when the snow melts, I’m awed by the fragile pine seedlings that still stand resolutely, even after being buried by a couple of feet of snow for a month or more.  New England winters can break people, but trees are made of stronger stuff, it seems.

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When I walk the dog in the woods, I look for young trees that have been trapped at odd angles when other trees fell on them; often you can pull them free so they can grow tall and straight.

I get no appreciation for this; in fact, for every tree I “rescue,” there’s another one ready to point out that they can manage just fine on their own, thank you very much.

Even trees that get clobbered by other trees when a Nor’easter blows through find a way to endure and thrive without my help.  Like this one, flattened, but growing beautifully on its side; horizontal but still green: cubbook 033

And this one, my favorite: an impressive young pine that somehow managed to grow its trunk into a loop a roller coaster might envy. Nevertheless, it persisted, you might say.cubbook 042

I still straighten bent saplings when I can, but it’s only for the rush of endorphins the act gives me, the so-called “helper’s high” —  not that they need me to live. Although that grass in the stall is looking kind of thirsty.


It’s 3:00. Do you know where your donkey is?


         That’s what a local radio station is playing, followed by a bray, as the introduction to the song “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey.”

       The first time we heard it, my 9-year-old daughter and I howled with laughter, particularly in light of this:

                                                                                                                                                                                For the record,  I would like to point out an error.  Contrary to implication, said officers did not assist in the re-homing of the donkeys.  Never even saw ’em.   Aided by a neighbor with a bag of apples, we apprehended them ourselves.

     The last time Jo-Jo and Foggy had an excellent adventure,  we took blueberry pies to the neighbors whose lawns they desecrated.  I am beginning to think that people are letting them out while we’re not looking in hopes of getting a pie.

    Incidentally, I’d never heard that “Dominick the Donkey” song before we moved to New England.  Must be an Italian thing.  Or maybe it’s new, and I’ve just been out of the South too long.   Question for you Southerners:  Are your Christmas stations playing this song?    Here’s a YouTube version of it:

A tale of two Jens



      To the dismay of 1,405 women (and one man), I did not change my surname when the Massachusetts court system pronounced me divorced.

      It was something I never even considered.  I have been Jennifer Graham for nearly 20 years and never much liked my maiden name anyway. Besides, my four children are all Grahams, and our snowman-making kit says we’re the Graham family, as does the Christmas-tree skirt, and in matters of such import, I cede authority to the monogrammers at Land’s End.

      So, no, I expect to be Jennifer Graham forever, and I’m sorry about that, Jennifer Phillips Graham.

      This other Jennifer Graham is a writer with four kids, too –though I am thankful she is in Ohio, a safe distance away.  She came across my work via Google one day, and sent me a bright, funny email, which led to others, and so we’ve become friends.

      A few years older than me, JPG calls herself “the original” Jennifer Graham, a distinction that is technically correct, but morally wrong, so I just call her “Jen 1″ or JPG.

    For all I know, Jen 1 is  really an evil genius who befriended me only so I will bequeath her my dot-com domain name when I pass.  If so, the plan is working; it’s hers unless someone else offers me a million dollars and a year’s supply of second-cut hay.

      Anyway, last week, JPG wrote a column about names, in which she mentions me.  At the risk of losing my tens of readers to another Jennifer Graham, here it is:

    Funny stuff. Well, except for the website, which she blatantly stole from me.  But can Jennifer Graham plagarize Jennifer Graham? Without prior knowledge, could anyone even tell our work apart? I’m betting not, and plan to collect the links to her best bylines and add them to my website.  It’ll make her life that much easier when she takes over my domain name.  Which will come, by the way, with a couple of donkeys, and maybe a snowman-making kit.

Mice capades


“Occasionally, a few mice” is what the former owner wrote on the disclosure forms when we were buying this house.

He was right, except for the “occasional” part.

And the “few” part.

Sometimes, I’m not sure what is louder, the braying or the squeaking.

When I was married, my husband would set out old-fashioned snap traps and dispose of the brittle remains, something I cannot bring myself to do.

So later, a friend gave me a Tin Cat, a wonderfully humane device.  It’s a tin box with spring doors. The mice go in and dine on whatever snack you’ve left them and then have a nice nap until you arrive and relocate them.   This works great until January, when a softie like me can’t bear to put a mouse out in the snow.

Yeah, I know, it’s a character flaw.

I understand completely that anyone who picks up half-dead baby mice from the yard and feeds them with an eyedropper in a predictably futile attempt to keep them alive needs psychological help.

If you ever try this at home, you should know that baby mice need their bottoms stroked every couple of hours to stimulate a bowel movement.

Not that I’ve done this or anything.

Anyway.  Of course lunatics like me won’t put cute, warm, household mice outside in a raging blizzard. So in the winter, I take them out to the barn.

Which would be fine if we had barn cats, only ours are in the house, because I don’t want them to be cold either.

So now, in addition to running a donkey resort, we’re running a mouse restaurant.

This particular idiocy started the day I went out to the barn to find the mice had been eating the saddle soap.  I figured they must be starving to do that, and maybe if I threw a few sunflower seeds on the ground, they wouldn’t eat the electrical wiring and tack cleaner.

So now, after feeding the donkeys, we put down a little something for the mice, and for the chipmunk who nests in the sawdust . They have a fine and varied diet, and we’re learning a lot about the culinary habits of rodents.  They don’t care much for watermelon, but they’re wild about day-old grits.

One day, I know I will have to leave this home that I so love, and I’ll have to fill out a disclosure form for the buyer.

“Occasionally, a few mice,” I will write.  “They expect dinner a little before 9.”

The litmus test of parenting


     The high point of parenthood is hard to select.  Is it childbirth? Baptism? Graduation?  The riveting portrayal of a cow in the church Nativity play? 

    There is no such indecision about the low point. It always concerns vomit.

     Sorry to be indelicate, but there’s no way to sugarcoat the topic.  What comes out the bottom of a child is nothing compared to the horrors that can spew forth from a vomiting mouth.  In my 18 years as a mother, I have come to believe that there is, in fact, a divine litmus test for parenting.

      It is called the stomach flu.

    We had it here over the weekend.  A decomposing  pizza (how come no one ever gets the stomach flu when they’ve just eaten soup?) came up all over the bathroom floor, on the side of the tub, along the baseboard, on the scale, inside the unsuspecting radiant heater, and  in the child’s — and in my own — hair.   As I am comforting her, and mourning the floor, I think, there is nothing in any parenting book that prepares you for this.  There is no “What to Expect When Your Child Slips in Her Own Vomit.”    There can’t be, or no one would ever have kids.  But it’s just as much a part of parenthood as bedtime stories, and our response to it, equally important.

     This is why I came down so hard on Caitlin Flanagan a few years ago when I reviewed her book for The Wall Street Journal .  (

    I couldn’t wrap my mind around calling for the nanny, and then standing in the doorway, watching, while your child throws up. Mrs. Flanagan is a fine writer, and no doubt a wonderful human being, but I can’t get past that image.  I may, at times, have to temporarily outsource my mothering, but it’s never going to be while I’m in the room.

     Not that I don’t understand her revulsion.

    I’ve long believed that a woman’s nose is genetically engineered to forgive any horrific odor that emanates from her own brood.  It’s why we can smile and coo while changing our own baby, while the full diaper of a stranger’s child makes us gag.   Why I can shovel donkey manure for an hour with nary a grimace, but when I kept someone else’s horse for a few months, I hated cleaning his stall.

     But regurgitated food is a whole other level of olfactory assault: repulsive, no matter the source.  It is, I think, why women were so sympathetic to the character of Vivi Abbott Walker in “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” when Vivi walked out on her family the morning after her children woke her in the night, three of the four of them vomiting.  Who doesn’t think about a few days alone in Mexico after a night like that?

    But most mothers (and yeah, sorry, guys, but it’s usually the mothers who are smoothing sticky heads and crouching by the toilet with a vomiting child) ride through it, control their revulsion, and the next day, cheerfully boil water and apply bleach.   

       I have a friend who, when asked for a favor, always replies, “It’s a joy and a privilege.”  I’m trying to think of the stomach flu that way.   Got the “privilege” part down;  it’s easy to be grateful for one’s normally healthy kids.

      Still working on the “joy.”  Wondering if the dish detergent counts.