Word of the Day: Alpacas

My new girls and their breeders, Maureen and Larry Macedo, back in April. The one they’re holding is Chloe, and behind her are Champagne and Mocha in the background.

I could hardly believe it when I looked at my blog page on janecarlilebaker.com and realized I haven’t said a word since February. Part of the reason is that I’ve revamped the page to add my editing business, which took a while. Click on over and look. There’s an opportunity to get a monthly email from me containing fun adventure, animal, and other stories. Please sign up. I won’t sell your email address, just share my writer life with you.

So what’s that got to do with alpacas? I’ll tell you. I have a giant backyard even though I live in town. If there are no animals, somebody has to mow. I can’t mow and write at the same time. So my alpacas’ first identity is lawn mowers. However, this is not a short story. I was drawn to alpacas at first because when their fleece is grown out, they look like teddy bears on four legs with these gorgeous eyes. Then I found out they don’t tear grass out like sheep do. But that’s not all, dear friends. They also eat elderberry trees like mine which is trying to take over the world.

And that’s not all, either. Alpaca fleece is some of the softest there is. People compare it to cashmere, and yet it’s strong and warm, and even wicks water away from your skin. It’s hypoallergenic and dust mites (which I’m allergic to) hate it. So far, I have a sweater and a pair of socks made of alpaca fiber, and they are lightweight, too. You can make so many things out of alpaca fiber–dryer balls, hats, shawls, blankets, rugs–I could go on. In about a week, I’ll have a bed pillow made from Champagne’s fleece. Ask me if I’m excited. Yes, yes I am.

But that’s still not all. Alpacas poop all in the same place because they want their owners to have easy clean up. No, really, they do. And not only that, their poop isn’t hot. That means you can put it right on your garden, or if you’re a purist, you can compost it first. Some people make alpaca poop tea, but I prefer to just water it. You don’t even have to rake it in, for cryin’ out loud. Some folks call alpaca poop magic beans. No surprise there.

Now for the best part. Each alpaca has their own personality. In our herd, and by the way, if I’ve talked you into getting your own, you have to have at least three. In our herd, Chloe is the leader. She is aloof and her ears go up first when there’s a noise. Nevertheless, she’ll eat alfalfa pellets right out of my hand. She’s also the oldest. Champagne is next, and she’s a foodie. I have to put rocks in her frizbee feeder to keep her from eating too fast, or she’ll choke. Just the other day she gave me a nose kiss. The youngest and littlest is Mocha (the dark one, naturally) and she’s had a little trouble with comfort in the transition from the farm to our backyard. She hums the most. That’s the sound alpacas make, humming, peaceful humming.

And that’s not all. Next time I’ll tell you about spitting.

Stuff

Be careful about buying stuff or accepting stuff. I suggest this because I am becoming gray haired, and there’s no place else to put all these things I’ve acquired over the years. Don’t buy me any stuff, please. Alot of the stuff I have, I bought. A lot I didn’t. Either way, it takes up space and because what I haven’t already thrown away has memories attached, I keep it.

I have old stuff. Like the little pink ceramic cradle my dad gave my mom when I was born, in the last century. I have congratulatory stuff, like the courtesy trophy I won for being nice to bus drivers and cafeteria ladies in high school. I have pictures of relatives who were born in the century before the one I was born in. I have boxes full of stuff I wrote here and there. I have the black velvet dress with the oriental writing that Bake brought me when he served in the Navy in Vietnam. I have phony flowers and a phony otter statue that commemorates my first novel. I have more jewelry than one woman could wear in a lifetime. I have hurricane lanterns just in case the lights go out, which they haven’t in a real long time. I have trinkets kids gave me when I was a teacher. I have pillows I saved for company, left from the ones I gave away to immigrants. I have an inukshuk we brought home from our trip to Alaska, and you probably don’t even know or care what that is. My hutch is overflowing with china, crystal glasses, blown glass and tea cups. I even have the ashes of a dog I loved in a box with her picture on it.

Some stuff I’ve thrown away. Like my wedding dress, yellowed with age. I think I threw away about forty tons of old clothes and shoes. I threw away my tennis racquet since I can’t run on phony knees, and the shoe skates I bought with my first babysitting money, for the same reason. I’ve thrown away great loads of writing I thought was so good at the time. I’ve donated a whole library full of books. And that’s only counting my stuff. If I get started on Bake’s, this will be a tome instead of a blog. (Boxes and boxes of cds, just sayin’)

Now you may wonder why I even bring this up. Well, there’s the dusting and washing. But that’s not the lion’s part. One of these days I’m headed for heaven. After that, I can envision our Laura, holding up my Helen Keller/Annie Sullvian hands figure to the tune of “What in the …. is this?” I can see our John toss my little angel from Chewy into the dumpster without a thought. I can watch Maryann hoard fishing poles and delve into the myriad of journals in my study looking for the gold that I’m not sure is there.

Gosh, maybe stuff’s not that bad. Maybe that exercise will be good for my progeny, or at least a lesson in not procuring stuff.

Politics and Religion

I grew up listening to people argue politics and religion while they said it’s okay to talk about anything except politics and religion. Neither one is worth arguing about, and here’s why I think so.

Just to lighten up the conversation.

Religion always turns out to be man’s twisted interpretation of what God thinks. Whether you’re talking Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Muslims or whatever. Politics also has the drawback of being dependent upon the interpretations of men. So getting your undies in a twist about either is useless.

A much better plan is to find out about God and apply what you find only to your own life. That should make such a drastic change that people will notice. When they ask what changed, tell them what you found out and how you apply it. Sounds simple, but it’s life-changing and takes a lifetime. And for me, it’s a wild ride. (You’re welcome for one of the world’s shortest blogs.)

If Your Dad’s Still Here …

This Father’s Day ends, and I’m remembering my Papa. He wasn’t famous or incredible in many ways, or anything. He drank too much and chainsmoked, and loved me and my sister, Becky,  with his whole heart. I only got eleven Father’s Days with him face-to-face before the divorce.

He stayed in our lives, supporting us financially and emotionally and seeing us a couple of weeks each summer. The ends of which I dreaded.My child’s heart waited  and waited for him to drive back up our drive.

Papa with becky and Greg on their wedding day.

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And then in 1995, he called me to come and get him. He was dying of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure. We drove from Oklahoma to California with him doing travelogue most of the way. He’d driven that route as a heavy equipment salesman for years. But just outside Kingman, his eyes began to roll back in his head, and when he was lucid, he told me to find a hospital.

The morning of Father’s Day that year I didn’t even realize what day it was. He’d said the night before that if he were still alive in the morning mysister and I should get him out of the hospital. We checked him out AMA,  lifted him into the back of Becky’s dust buster, and tore off for home. He said if he died before we hit the California border to pretend he was asleep because otherwise we’d have all sorts of trouble with the authorities. That’s how he was, always looking to others’ needs.

Sometime between a car full of angels who folowed us across the desert, only leaving us at Bakersfield, and an 18 wheeler tire flying over Becky inthe dust buster and under me in Papa’s car, I realized it was Father’s Day. I’d always senthim presents and cards and called him to wish him Happy Father’s Day, and I hadn’t said anything, to him or to Bake. Just drove. It was our 12th Father’s Day face-to-face.

When we made it into our cul de sac, my children’s father came from the house and carried my father in to lay him on the sofa. He lived another six months, endearing himself to my children and my friends. He’d already become my husband’s role model long before.

All that to say, if your father is here, don’t take him for granted. One day he won’t be. It will be too late to accept him as he is, to appreciate your existence because of him, to spend time he so longs for. Now, I know there are some abusive dads out there, and if you’ve got one, ask God how to handle him, and follow His guidance. But most dads are just guys who took on the gargantuan task of raising and loving children, making mistakes and keeping on going. They deserve your time, your appreciation.We still love you, Papa. Happy Father’s Day.20171126_070616

 

Mr. Hill, This One’s For You

We do see the color of our skin. People who say they’re color blind aren’t being tansparent, no matter what color they are. That being said, skin color isn’t an evaluatory tool. I won’t mention all the other human variations that aren’t evaluatory tools, because what we’re talking about since George Floyd was killed, since Dr. Martin Luther King marched, since Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, is racism in the United States.

Now for a stab at transparency. When I was in college, I asked a black girl what black people thought about something that was going on at the time. She asked me why I thought she was representative of all black people. Made sense. I’m sure not representative of all white people.

fb_img_1584673841152Charles Hill, Tammy Whose Last Name Has Changed, Dr. and Mrs. Bohn, and Dr. Serna

Later, when I taught third grade, one morning before the beginning of the schoolyear I walked into the office, and a huge black man sat at the principal’s desk. See how I said that? His size and color frightened me at first glance, and I guessed he might  be a new custodian fixing a drawer or something, at least I hoped so.  That’s because I didn’t know him, yet. And he wasn’t the custodian. He was the best principal I ever had.

His name is Charles Hill. When he’s your principal, he knows the names of even the good kids. He plays football and basketball with them at recess. He makes it a point to value all the cultures of all the kids. He includes teachers, parents, kids and the community in the life of the school. He takes up for the downtrodden no matter what color they are. He’s one of the good, no, best guys.

So here’s me, initially afraid of this giant. One day, we’re in staff meeting, and he’s trying to help the teachers talk about racism. No one is saying anything because they’re worried about pissing each other, or him, off. I’m sitting there thinking about how much I appreciate Mr. Hill’s efforts. See, I come from a prejudiced parentage with KKK members in our distant relatives. And about the time I tought this, Mr. Hill said, “Mrs. Baker, what do you think?”

Honestly, I considered lying. Not a good character quality. So I said, “I was thinking that I have a KKK member in my family tree back a ways, and I hope we’ve come a long way since then, but I suspect that a lot of prejudice has simply gone underground.” Truth.

Time goes by. One day Mr. Hill asks me to go with him and some other adminstrators to a workshop on diversity in the Bay Area. Why me? He says it’s because of my comment about my KKK relative. He thinks it was transparent, and that I might learn a lot. The workshop leader has us complete a survey, then we line up according to our score. Questions like, “Would you expect the maitre’d in a restaurant to be the same race as you?” Mr. Hill was clear on the other side of the room from me, and not because he is more educated, played professional football, or can motivate kids to do better than they dreamed they could. I wanted to cry.

On the way home, he told me stories about name calling, being pulled over for no reason, his daughters in danger. None of which happens to me, ever. He and another black administrator in our district were in the front seat. That man was on a diet. He pulled out this powder he was using for the diet, and Mr. Hill yelled, “Put that stuff away! You want the cops to think not only do two black dudes have a white lady in the back, but we got white powder in the front?” Funny, but then, maybe not so much.

About that time, my friend and brother, Charlie Crane, asked me to help him write a book about his dad. It turned out to be the story of the Civil Rights movement from his point of view. From the moment he told me about the shoe store owner telling him to put his foot on the outside of the shoe he wanted to buy because if he put it inside, no white person would buy it, I desperately wanted to write that book for him. It was the least I could do. Charlie came to speak at an assembly at my school, and while he was there, he counseled a boy in my class who needed to hear a strong black man speak truth. Charlie told the kids I am his sister that day. They were looking back and forth, and back and forth, but it was true. I am his sister.

Not long after that, Mr. Hill moved back to the Bay Area. There had just been too many incidents. I was heartbroken. But I remember him, and when I see the opportunity to help a black person win, I take it, because he showed me what it means to be black in America.