Saving Nadia

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Nadia has made herself right at home now.

I woke up this morning with a little black nose pressed into my neck. Nadia, my new foster puppy, apparently decided it would be a great idea to sleep in the human bed last night. I hug the puppy to my chest and she sighs in contentment. With her sigh, the sweet, distinctive aroma of puppy breath fills the air around us and I breathe it in, cherishing the scent that will turn into dog breath all too quickly.

It was only about a month ago that this happy, cuddly pup was just a small, dark shadow standing lost in the middle of the road.  The moment my Jeep made the turn toward home, the shadow darted away to hide in the bordering brush and trees. I barely saw the movement, but I knew. I knew it was a dog.

I’ve seen it too many times—a dog or cat blindly bolting for cover because this unfamiliar situation into which it has been plunged seems to be filled with nothing but danger and fear. This road, the peaceful country road that takes me home, is apparently a favorite spot for people who want to abandon unwanted animals. It’s a quiet, somewhat hidden side road, but it has just enough homes along the way to pacify guilty minds…to allow the “I found him a home in the country” lie to have a hope of validity.

I kept my eyes focused on the point where I had seen the little ghost dog leave the road. I slowed as I reached the right spot and I scanned the brush for any sign of my new friend. The late afternoon sun slanted bright beams into the camouflage of brown grass, weeds, and trees and as I searched, I finally caught a glint on wide, terrified eyes.

She was crouched tensely against a tree trunk, beneath some fallen branches, her little face and body tight with stress and panic. Her eyes were round with fear and every muscle in her body was ready to bolt if I made one wrong move.

Her soft brindle hued coat allowed her to easily melt into the background shades of grasses still brown from winter and growing shadows. If she decided to move farther into the brush, I would quickly lose sight of her.  Though I wanted to rush in to whisk her away to safety, any sudden movement would have closed the door of opportunity.

There is an art to helping frightened stray animals. A panicked dog or puppy seems to revert to a primal state where raw survival instinct replaces any previously known domestic inclinations and responses. This is the moment when the human has to abandon the notion of how to respond to a pet animal. All of the baby talk and promises of cookies bounce off of terrified ears and a numb heart.

So I parked my Jeep on the opposite side of the road and walked a bit down the road from the puppy, keeping myself at an angle to her, but always keeping her in my peripheral vision. She, still crouched and tense, did not take her eyes off of me…the potential predator.

I reached a spot about five feet down-road from the pup. Her hiding place was about eight feet off the road, so I was far enough away that I wasn’t putting pressure on her. I sat down…in the weeds and gravel, because dog rescue never manages to take place in a comfortable location…and again kept my body at an angle to the puppy instead of straight toward her.

Well-meaning humans really tend to get it wrong when trying to approach a scared dog. We usually go straight at them, looking directly into their eyes. We immediately thrust a hand toward their face. We lean in and push our faces toward them, all the while babbling in a high pitched loud voice. Boy…put yourself in a position that is about a foot or so off the ground and see how that feels to you. Not pleasant.

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Reaching for her first bite of jerky!

Then, we tend to ignore all of their “please don’t pressure me” signals. They glance away. They lick their lips. Their ears will be tense and generally pressed back. The whites of their eyes show. These are all signals that say, please, please back away, but most humans don’t know how to read them. This is how dogs are lost, or worse, how humans end up with a nasty bite.

So there I sat. Glancing at the puppy. Talking in a low soft voice. Tossing bits of beef jerky near her hiding spot (well, sure…I always
keep something enticing in the car!). After about five minutes, the grass rustled and the young dog cautiously reached out to hungrily snap up a bite of jerky.

Ah! Progress.

Very, very slowly, I scooted a little bit closer to where the pup sat watching. Then I just held steady again. Talking softly, glancing casually back and forth. Keeping my body loose and relaxed.  Yawning and sighing loudly—dog language that says “I mean no harm.”

I tossed more jerky…this time not quite so close to where she hid. She would creep out to gobble a few bites and then watch me warily, very ready to bolt if I made one wrong move.

Cars passed behind me. Most ignored me completely, some slowed to see what I was up to. I just sat and prayed that they would not stop. That they would not ask. Any added pressure from the human world would send this puppy racing into the brush.

After about 20 minutes of slow progress toward the puppy with a non-stop shower of yummy jerky (can’t lie…I had a few bites myself), I decided to take the pressure completely off. Crab-walking on my hands and feet, I moved slowly away from her and then got up, still in slow-mo, and walked back toward my car.

What I hoped would happen, did.

Trailing about four feet behind me, a young, thin, frightened puppy followed. She still wasn’t sure about me, but I was the best thing she had found in this big scary world and while she wasn’t ready to run into my arms, she sure wasn’t ready to let me go either.

As long as I stayed steady and didn’t move too quickly, I was about to see a puppy make a very difficult choice. The choice to trust this human.

I looked sideways at my little shadow and asked if she might like to come home with me. Her reply was to crawl underneath my Jeep and plop down. Great. First I got to scoot around in gravel and itchy weeds, now I would know the joy of lying on my belly on the asphalt and gravel under my car. No matter. She was well worth it.

So I stretched out on the road and scootched my way under the Jeep. I would like to say a public thank-you to Jim at this moment for putting a little lift kit on the Jeep. Made the scootching much easier. Scootch, by the way, is a technical term that anyone who rescues animals in the field knows all too well.

Now I’m lying on my belly, under my Jeep on a thankfully not busy stretch of road. I extend my fingertips to offer another little bit of jerky. She gently takes it from me and swallows it without even chewing. This was one hungry puppy.

Then I reached out to lightly tickle the side of her neck with my fingers. At this point I would like to issue another public thank-you for the combination of my mom and dad that gave me freakishly long arms. They come in darn handy.

Finally I saw it. Her eyes softened. Her ears lowered and relaxed. She exhaled with a distinct little sigh. This puppy was making a choice to trust me.

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Safely in the Jeep. Our first photo together.

I will tell you that when I catch a frightened little dog like this, I do initially take hold of them by the scruff of their necks. I have one chance to get it right and I can’t risk a struggle or a bite. Most dogs, especially young puppies, will go very still when you take hold of the loose skin on the backs of their neck. Their own mothers know this. It is not painful and I don’t use this little handle for long, but it is effective for safely scooping up a scared dog.

I rubbed the puppy’s neck and then I took hold of her scruff. Together, we scootched out from the space under the Jeep and I quickly hugged her close, promising her softly that everything was going to be ok now. As with most dogs I have rescued in this manner, she quickly decided I was her port in the storm. She pressed into me without a struggle, surrendering her fate fully into my hands.

The once scared, starving, lost puppy quickly became a happy, secure, friendly, healthy puppy. She has friends that play with her. She has soft beds for snuggling. She has many arms that love to hug her. She has all of the food and treats she could ever hope for—though she still inhales every meal as if it might be her last. She has a foster name, Nadia, earned because she is very agile and loves to tumble.

Most importantly, she has a future.

Nadia is learning skills every day that will insure that she can be successfully placed with a loving family. She is a dear, gentle, smart little girl. Someone will be lucky to love her. I can’t wait to see that match happen.

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Worried expression no longer! Soft eyes, relaxed, attentive ears, relaxed face. Life is good.

In the meantime, I will continue to teach her where she should potty and where she shouldn’t. We’ll talk about Jim’s house shoes and why they really aren’t a chew toy. We’ll go for car rides and walks. We’ll approach new things and new situations together as she learns to be confident. We’ll have great fun together.

I will enjoy our snuggle-time and her sweet puppy breath. And when she places in a new home? Well, I have whispered in her ear every single day since she arrived that even after she finds her perfect family, I will always, always be right here if she ever needs me.

And I will.

Author’s note: I am always told how wonderful it is that Jim and I foster so many dogs. Everyone seems to think we are so selfless, so giving. I have to tell you that taking care of these dogs may well be one of my most selfish obsessions. I love having these little souls come and go from our world. There is no greater high than seeing a dog that was once lost and broken turn into someone’s dog of a lifetime. Trust me, I get more from these animals than I could ever possibly give. It is our honor to be here when they need us.

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You Are NOT Alone.

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One of my favorite gorgeous weather activities here on Tails You Win Farm is heading out with my camera for a nature walk back in the still-wild-and-woolly section of our 70-some-odd acres (72.25 for those who prefer to be specific). I generally start my hike by walking through the barn to get to the north pasture and then I head back to the east pasture (yeah, I may appear to have mad directional skills, but not really. I get lost on my own property on a regular basis.).

So on Easter Sunday, a beautiful day was unfolding so I headed out, camera in hand and ready to capture the magic of a new spring. I dove straight in to the woods and brush and quickly realized that I would have made a terrible Indian scout. Light on my feet is apparently also not one of my mad skills. My dreams of photographing wild creatures enjoying the rebirth of the land were quickly dashed by my clumsy feet snapping every twig and crunching through the remaining dry grass.

I flushed three groups of quail. I spooked two groups of deer. All were far swifter than my fledgling could-you-hold-still-for-just-a-moment camera ability. I also tried to creep up to get a closer shot of numerous birds, but the birds just found me flat creepy, and played a fine and elusive game of ring around the brier patch with me. This little exercise in the tall grass resulted in many, many, MANY chigger bites in many, many, MANY delicate places on my body. Hooray spring.

So I kept wandering, thinking that if I found a good spot I should just stop, plant myself and try…really TRY…to stay quiet to see what might stumble upon me instead.

So I did just that. I planted myself. I waited.

Soon enough, I did hear the distinct sound of something approaching. Something on the large side. We’re not talking bunny here.

I got ready. I put my eye to the viewfinder. I held my breath. I was finally going to get that shot of a deer or something equally fabulous.

But wait.

Um. We also have a huge population of coyotes here. Oh…and didn’t I write about wild boars on our land in the not so distant past? Then the reports of cougars cruising around in the area popped into my head. Cougar stories aside, I had personally seen a beautiful bobcat nearby and I’m pretty sure babbling “nice kitty, gooooooood kitty,” would not sooth a startled wild cat.

As the sound of “something” approaching grew louder, I grew a tad bit nervous about just what kind of critter was about to discover me hiding in the brush.

And then…

And then…

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Yes, I captured a photo of the rare, wild Iniature-ma Onkey-da (that’s the technical pig Latin term for…well…you get it.) Yes, my mini donkey, Stormin’ Norman proved that he is a far better tracker that I am. Upon finding me, he sounded the loud, yodeling bray that can only mean “tag, you’re it,” and I was soon surrounded by the rest of the players–four more miniature donkeys and our new standard donkey, Delta Dawnkey.

Wildlife photo session quickly morphed into donkey and horse photo session. Eh, sometimes you just have to go with it. They are willing models and WAY less scary than a wild boar.

OK kids, strike a pose!

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The mighty Fergus

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My 2014 Easter parade

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Patty…I’m pretty sure she’s mocking me.

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Small, but mighty.

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Gorgeous GoGo

 NOTE: I am a very amateur photographer just figuring out my new, fancy (meaning not a cell phone) camera. These photos are raw, have not passed through Photoshop (because I still don’t get it), and are just a result of my shoot-to-learn theory. Tips from true shutterbugs always welcome. 

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Remembering Me. Someday. In the VERY Distant Future.

 

Daisies (3)It’s Easter Sunday morning and I am reflecting on my dogs…the ones who have died.

Now WAIT! Don’t run away. I promise you this is not a depressing, tear-jerker of a blog post. It’s not. There is a perfectly logical and uplifting reason why I am reflecting on my dearly departed dogs. So stick with me. Come on. Suck it up.

Ok. So I started thinking about my dead dogs because they have all been cremated, as I would like to be someday in the incredibly distant future, and I happened to look at their urns today and realized how dusty they were. So I started cleaning them and in doing so I read all of the inscriptions on their urns—you know, their doggy epitaphs.

The tricky part of the epitaph is to come up with one line to summarize an entire life.  Just one little line to recap a lifetime of meaning and experience? Whew. Heavy responsibility.

We should all be allowed to hire the guy who came up with all of the Burma-Shave billboards to be our end-of-life copy writer. He’d come up with something memorable. (Ok, I wasn’t around in the 50s either, but anyone who studied advertising in college was introduced to the genius of the Burma Shave Cream billboards. Here…I’ll help you whippersnappers or those who majored in engineering or accounting: http://www.fiftiesweb.com/burma.htm)

Back to my dogs. Here are a few of their epitaphs.

Carter – “Me, Myself and I are all in love with you”

And I was in love with this dog. The words are lyrics from the Billie Holliday song from which Carter’s registered name was born. You see, his dad’s registered name was BISS AM/CAN CH Roadpartner Billie Holiday (all of those letters in front of his name mean he was a champion show dog in the US and Canada). Yes, his dad was named after a female jazz singer. I don’t quite get it either, but his owners were Canadian, so maybe that clears things up a bit. (Oh come on now…I love the Canadians! Our family to the north! I joke. I jest. But seriously, a boy Dalmatian named Billie Holiday?) Anyhow, Me Myself and I was a Billie Holiday song and I used it as Carter’s registered name.

Teddy—“The sweetest dog in the world”

This one needs no explanation, especially if you knew Teddy. Nicknamed Bear, he was a big, huggable Dalmatian guy. I always joked that you could leave Ted alone in a roomful of toddlers for an hour and when you came back, they’d all be cleaner and peacefully napping.

Rascal—“Our Loyal Protector”

And he was. Or so he thought…and I’m sure not going to claim otherwise. More often than not, we were being uproariously protected from, perhaps, a falling leaf or a bird flying by, but in Rascal’s mind he was protecting our fort. In the end, I believe he gave his life protecting the rest of the dogs, so it’s fitting that he be remembered for it. Ok, that’s the only tiny sad moment in the post. I promise.

Clyde—“Happy, Happy, Happy”

It just sums Clyde up. That dog was always happy. Despite a lot of physical issues that probably caused him discomfort, he never failed to greet you with a soft face and a wagging tail. I stole the line from Duck Dynasty…Uncle Si, I believe? It helps set the tone if you repeat it with a good hick accent. Clyde would have wanted it that way.

So anyhow, I’m dusting the dogs’ urns (we have shared our world with a lot of dogs…A LOT. We foster many senior dogs so we have a lot of dearly departed friends here) and I it gives me time to ponder what I hope my last impressions will be someday. Someday in the seriously distant future.

This question pops up on Facebook from time to time and everyone gives pithy answers—more often than not things that I believe family members would NEVER inscribe on the old headstone. This made me curious about some epitaphs that DID make it into granite. Here are a few examples and I know they are real because I found them on the internut (sic) and we all know that everything on the internut is true.

“I told you I was sick!”
In a Georgia cemetery

“Here lies the body
of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake.”
Memory of an accident in a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery

“That’s all, folks!”
Mel Blanc

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
Winston Churchill (good one, Winston)

So this weekend we are paying homage to one of the most famous deaths in history that turned out to not be a death at all. Well, it was a death, but then it wasn’t. Obviously it’s Easter, so I’m talking about Jesus.

Can you imagine the pressure of trying to come up with a fitting epitaph for God’s son…the man who would be the savior of mankind? Heavy responsibility. I think if Jesus could have directed his own memorial, he would have asked that his stone say something like…

“Stay tuned…I’m just getting started”

Or

“Be right back…Really, I will”

Or

“The best is yet to come…I promise”

Or

“Don’t worry. I’ve got this”

Perhaps it’s clear that I would not have been the appropriate one to memorialize the Chosen One, but truly, my heart is in the right place. I don’t even think the Burma-Shave guy would have been clever enough to sum the gift of Jesus up in one line. Whether you are a Christian or not, you have to admit that Jesus made quite a lasting impression.

So this brings me straight to how I would want to be remembered someday…in the REALLY distant future. And maybe, if I decide what that one-line legacy might be, I can make sure I’m living it now.

The one that always comes to mind is, “That was so much fun! What’s next?”

This one hits home for me. My life is fun and I don’t believe it just ends. I believe there is another crazy adventure after this one. Heaven is paradise, right? So does that mean that God will occasionally let the angels dress up as zombies to chase me around and scare me a bit? I think maybe yes. My God gets me. He really does.

Another that speaks to me is, “One heck of a ride. I’m getting back in line.”

This covers the possibility that I will return in another life form. Just don’t let it be a snail or a slug or something equally slimy.

If we are going to wax poetic, it might be, “All Creatures Great and Small, She Really Did Love Them All.”

And I do. Even the snails and slugs. I was never the kid who poured salt on slugs or fried ants with a magnifying glass on a sunny day. Nope. I take care of God’s creatures to the best of my ability. Unless it’s a really big scary spider and then I call for Jim and I just don’t want to know what happens. (Ok, yes, I might be a bit wimpy when it comes to really big spiders.)

If I’m going to just be brief and let people draw from my epitaph what they will, I think I would like, “She was quick to smile.”

I think that one is a great way to be remembered and I’m going to work to make it so. A smile is a gift…you can lift your own spirits with one, and you give smiles freely to others. (Please note…practice your smile. You don’t want to do the “creepy person standing in a crowded elevator” smile.)

You really never know how a random, sincere smile might make a difference to someone. So if you see me, I’m going to give you a smile. I hope it brightens your day.

Of course none of these lines are going to end up on a gravestone memorializing me because, as I stated earlier, I’m going to be cremated someday in the VERY distant future and I plan for my ashes to be mixed in with the soil at the roots of a very healthy tree. Yes, I shall become one with a tree and I will see the seasons, the sunrises, and the sunsets with birds and squirrels dancing in my branches, bunnies nibbling grass beneath me, horses likely scratching their butts on my trunk, and dogs…well…hiking their legs on me. It’s all good. I’ll also make sure to have one strong arm extending out just right for the best tire swing ever.

That should inspire some smiles right?2014-04-20 11.34.33 (2)

But today is Easter and Easter Sunday is about life renewed. So I’m going to get out there to honor this day, honor the life that made it all possible, and yes, I’m going to eat a chocolate bunny.

Thanks for that, Jim. You made me smile.

 

A Hill of Beans

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This is a piece I wrote and entered in an online short story contest. I had never really pursued fiction…but I decided to give it a try. I found the hardest part about writing a short story was the “short” part. We were given a 2500 word limit. Apparently I tend to have too many words. I did manage to whittle my little tale down to the right size and submitted it. To my delight, the judges awarded my story second place.So now I have a little taste of the fun that comes with writing fiction and I think I will try my hand at a few more make believe tales. Here is “A Hill of Beans.” I hope you enjoy it.

That’s it, thought Robby as she placed the box of old books in the back of her dusty Jeep. She brushed her hands on her faded jeans as she cleared the stairs leading back up to front porch in two long-legged strides.

There, Robby leaned against one of the sturdy stone columns to watch one more coral and gold streaked sunrise. The cabin was perfectly situated on a hill so that every sunrise and every sunset became a work of art. It was the magic that had inspired her father to buy this cabin in the first place.

A tall, lithe young woman with angular features and smooth, pale skin, Robby had light blue eyes framed by dark lashes, and curly mahogany hair that sparked with copper highlights in the morning light. Everything about the striking 28-year-old was a study in contrast; light and dark in a unique, captivating combination.

The sound of toenails clicking on wooden floors echoed from the house and soon a large blonde head nudged the screen door open just enough to peer out. “I know Harry. It’s hard to leave, but it’s time to go big guy.” With that, the golden retriever pushed the rest of the way through, as Robby stepped forward to lock the door.

“Alright, you big hairy inheritance, let’s head home.” Robby and Harry hopped into the Jeep. As she made the 30 minute drive to Tulsa, the numbing events of the past few weeks replayed in her mind. She had been the one to find her father when she had gone to the cabin for their traditional “breakfast for dinner” Sunday feast.

Her dad had been sitting serenely by the big picture window. As always, Harry was right beside her dad’s reclining rocker. Robby remembered the dog’s soft whine and seeing his worried expression as his eyes tilted back and forth from Robby’s face up to her father’s face without ever lifting his head.

Her father’s reading glasses had slipped down his nose; his book was lying across his chest. He could have been asleep, except he was not. He was gone.

“A sudden aneurysm,” the doctor had explained. “He never felt a thing.” While she was grateful that her dad had passed peacefully, there was no comfort for the sudden, jolting pain she felt at the loss. Daniel Taylor had been the most important person in her life—her father, her best friend, her only family.

Robby’s mother—the woman who had captured his father’s heart—had left just two years after she was born. It was that simple, really; she was there one day, and gone the next. She just disappeared.

“You just can’t keep a wild bird in a cage, Robby girl,” her father had always told her. “Your mother wasn’t meant to stay in one place. She touched my life and gave me the sweetest gift I could ever hope for.” With that, he would always flick a finger on the end of her nose and embrace her in one of his special bear hugs.

Now he was gone too and she and Harry were all alone in the world.

The long weekend had been therapeutic for Robby as she relived memories while also readying the cabin to be sold. The only things, beyond a few photo albums and necessary legal documents, that really mattered to Robby were her were her father’s books. She had inherited a love of reading from him and could still see her younger self sitting in his lap as he breathed life into the words on the pages.

The books would now fill shelves in the Hill, Robby’s cozy little coffee shop in an eclectic area known as the Cherry Street district. The formal name of shop was Hill of Beans, a name fittingly inspired by her father.

“You’ve got to work hard in school if you want to amount to more than a hill of beans, Robby girl.”
“Eat your vegetables, Robby—you have to be healthy if you want to amount to more than a hill of beans.” And so the advice went on and on.

Two years ago, when Robby had grown restless with her fledgling career, it had been her dad who had quietly suggested that she try something new. “You have to have a job, but it should be a job you also love.”

That simple bit of advice inspired Robby to completely upend her life, putting her bachelor’s degree to use operating her own business instead of working for someone else. Her father had cheered her on every step of the way.

He was there when she bought the old building. He worked by her side to renovate the space, creating a charming, inviting shop. He was there to see her vision turn into a popular gathering place for people of all ages and walks of life.

“Leave it to my Robby girl to show me that amounting to a hill of beans is actually a pretty good thing,” he had joked as they stood admiring her logo in the big window that allowed soft light to filter into the storefront.

Robby turned onto her tree-lined street and pulled into the driveway of her small bungalow style home. She and Harry crossed the wide porch, gathered the mail that had collected during her weekend away, and stepped inside. Almost immediately, Harry bolted for the dog door that led out into the backyard.

“Harry!” she hissed out the back door, “It’s too early!”

Ignoring her, the big dog raced through an open gate that joined Robby’s yard to the yard next door, straight to the back door of the house, barking and dancing with excitement. The door quickly opened and a lovely soft face crinkled into a delighted grin. “Harry! I’ve missed you.”

“Ava, I’m so sorry he’s bothering you at this hour,” exclaimed Robby from her side of the fence.
“Oh no, dear, I’m an early bird. It’s perfectly fine,” the dainty elderly woman said in delight, and Robby knew she meant it. Harry had been the thread that inspired a new-found friendship between Robby and her neighbor, Ava Sawyer.

Ava was a lovely woman who Robby guessed to be in her mid-eighties. She had moved into the house the previous spring. Robby had introduced herself to Ava, but the two rarely spoke until Harry had moved in.

Frustrated when Robby headed off to work each day, Harry had quickly discovered the gate in the fence between the properties. With a flick of his nose, he had opened the gate and proceeded to make himself at home with Ava during the day.

Robby would always remember walking home from the Hill to find a note attached to her front door. The artful handwriting simply said, Harry and I are having some tea. Won’t you join us? -Ava

Concerned that her dog was being a pest, Robby ran immediately to Ava’s door, which was open to the mild fall air. Through the screen, she could see inside the tidy living room where Ava sat knitting with Harry lying on a small rug next to her chair.

Ava looked up and smiled at Robby. “Come in! I hope you don’t think I have kidnapped your dog, but we have just had the most wonderful day together.” And with that, all concern vanished and a new tradition was born.

Harry would head over to Ava’s after seeing Robby off to work each day with a wag of his feathered tail. At the end of the day, Robby would stop by Ava’s to collect the dog, but more often than not, to also enjoy a bite of dinner.

Sometimes Robby would stop at one of the cafes along Cherry Street for some steamy soup to share; sometimes Ava would fix a home cooked meal for Robby. The neighbors quickly settled into a comfortable routine and friendship, joined by the dog who gratefully accepted any scraps passed his way.

During their time together, Ava would share stories about her family. Like Robby, most of her family was gone now, but she had one grandson who, by all accounts, was the light of her life.

“J.B. Sawyer,” Ava would say, “Remember that name. He’s going to be famous.” The son of her only child, J.B. was apparently a gifted musician who was currently traveling in Europe with a band. “He’ll be coming home soon and I can’t wait for you to meet him,” Ava would say with a gleam in her eye. Robby always side-stepped the obvious attempts Ava was making at matchmaking. After recovering from a recent breakup, a new romance with this mysterious grandson was the last thing on Robby’s mind.

Ava had raised J.B. from the time he was four years old. Tragically, Ava’s son and J.B.’s mother had been killed in a car accident on a rainy night. From that moment forward, Ava’s life had revolved around her grandson. They were family, just as Robby and her father had been.

Robby, Ava, and Harry’s routine bloomed into a comfortable friendship. They talked about J.B. They laughed at Harry’s antics. They talked about Robby’s father. They talked about Hill of Beans.

“You know, a cozy coffee shop like the Hill should have live music—someone playing acoustic guitar,” advised Ava. “J.B. will be perfect for that when he comes home,” she said with a sense of certainty. Somehow she always managed to bring the conversation back to her grandson.

Life continued in this manner through winter, and then into the early blush of spring. On one perfect Tuesday afternoon, with everything blooming in the soft colors of new life, Robby rounded the corner toward home carrying a small bouquet of bright flowers for Ava. Glancing up the street, she stopped short, her breath catching in her throat. Just ahead she saw two police cars and an ambulance—all in front of Ava’s house.

Robby sprinted to the front door, flowers still clutched in her fist. A police officer caught her just before she crossed the threshold. Apparently, that morning, when Harry had gone over to Ava’s back door, she had not answered the dog’s barks to be let in. Harry had apparently barked hysterically until a neighbor who lived a few houses away decided to investigate.

Concerned when she got no response at the door, the neighbor called 911. The first-responders had forced the door open only to find that it was too late. Ava Sawyer had died in her sleep.

This was the news that the burly police officer gently delivered to Robby as Harry somehow found his way to her on the porch and pushed his big head into her lap. Robby hugged the dog as she struggled to face another loss; one just as painful as if it had been her own grandmother.

In the ensuing days, Robby did her best to stay busy. She put in long hours at the Hill, bringing Harry with her into the small office in the back of the shop. Robby worked from open until close each day, just so she wouldn’t have to pass Ava’s empty house to go sit with Harry in hers.

After several days of self-imposed overtime, Robby finally gave in to her concerned employees and headed home to rest. She left the Hill at midday, barely noticing the perfect spring day that greeted her. As she started up the sidewalk that led to her porch, a voice called out from next door.

“Hello? Excuse me…”

Robby turned to see a tall, lanky man with pleasantly tousled dark hair and an open, easy smile. He wore dark sunglasses, a simple t-shirt, and well-worn jeans with running shoes. He crossed the yard carrying a large folder in his hand. Harry raced to greet him in obvious delight.

“Some watch dog you have here,” the man laughed as he ruffled the fur along Harry’s back. “I’m sorry to intrude, but you’re Robin? And this must be Harry?”

“Yes, I’m Robin…Robby. And you are?” She questioned.

“I’m J.B., Ava’s grandson,” He quickly explained. “Listen, I know you’re just getting home, but I’m here going through my grandmother’s personal effects, and there is this one folder that I’m supposed to open with you present,” said J.B.

“Oh…J.B. I’m so sorry. Please, come on over,” Robby replied.

The pair settled into chairs on Robby’s porch as Harry sat adoringly by the newcomer. J.B. pulled a white envelope out of the folder. It was addressed to both of them. Inside was a short note in Ava’s familiar script.

Dear J.B and Robby, Forgive the cliché, but If you are reading this, I must be gone. I am so sorry I can’t explain this to you in person. To cut straight to the point, the two of you need to be together. Now Robby, I know you think I’ve been trying to fix you up with J.B., but that’s not exactly the case.

J.B. stopped reading and looked at Robby in amusement. “Please, just keep reading,” she said laughing, as a blush crawled up her face.

Inside this envelope you will find the proof supporting what I’m about to tell you. I have spent years putting this together. I am now giving you the best gift I can possibly imagine. I am giving you family. Jay Blue Sawyer, meet your sister, Robin Taylor. Birds of a feather really should flock together. Love always, Grandma

Without a word, J.B. lowered the letter, removed his sunglasses, and looked directly at Robby in wonder. Robby stared back into eyes exactly like her own, light blue with thick dark lashes. For several heartbeats the two just sat studying each other. Then J.B. spoke quietly, “It would appear that you and I have more in common than a love for my grandmother.”

In that instant, tears filled Robby’s eyes. “I have a brother,” she whispered. “And I have a sister,” J.B. replied.

Quickly they looked through the folder where they found more details about Katelyn Roberts—the free-spirited woman whom they had both known to be their mother.

Now brother and sister sat in stunned silence, just trying to digest the information carefully outlined by Ava. “Guess this explains why she moved here,” J.B. said, glancing next door. “Yeah,” said Robby, “she was scoping me out. Ava was undercover!” They laughed together at the thought of the crafty little grandmother.

“You know Jay, I could really use a good cup of coffee right now,”

“You know Robin, I’ve heard there’s a great little coffee shop right around the corner, although according to Grandma, they could really use some live music in the place.”

“Really? Well, I think we’re about to have an open audition,” laughed Robby

With that, J.B. retrieved his guitar and the tall duo with dark curly hair and striking light blue eyes walked toward the Hill together with a golden retriever trotting happily between them.