Tag Archives: Pacific Northwest

For the Greater Good

“In Service to Others” was the featured article in the Seattle Times Pacific Northwest’s Sunday Magazine on December 15th.  I often read inspiring articles to my son, who is blind.  He doesn’t subscribe to a service for news in a version he could “read” with his finger tips. He wouldn’t be able to grasp the full impact of the article in Braille anyway, as the pictures add a dimension he’d miss without my verbal description.

The article profiles many Seattle area residents and details their countless hours of service to their communities. Here is one statistic that stood out. The national average for volunteerism is at 27 percent – about 83 million people helped their neighbors, churches, schools and charities in 2011 according to survey by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In Washington state the figure was higher:  Nearly 35 percent of residents spent an average of 40 hours a year in voluntary pursuits, according to the survey!  I could see the wheels turning in Nick’s mind. We stopped and calculated his hours for the last year. He averages 2-3 hours every Friday at our local Senior Center playing the grand piano in the dining room during the lunch hour. In addition this year he has added the first Monday of each month to his hours at this site.  By our calculations he logs about 192 hours a year doing his volunteer work at this one location alone.  He added some volunteer sets at a few local area assisted living homes over the years too. He is beloved by all the folks who hear his voice and piano tunes. I often attend and let him know how wonderful I feel when I see the smiling faces that are a result of his sharing of his talent!

My son, Nicholas Baker, has been blind from birth. In his early twenties he received an  additional diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, a high functioning  form of autism. Nick is an amazing young man. From birth, he has had a wonderful ear for music.  He was reaching for the piano keys as an infant and playing full keyboard songs as soon as his small hands could form the chords.

Nick is an accomplished performer and composer. He wrote songs for, performed and recorded his first CD, “Think Positive”, while attending the Washington State School for the Blind in 2002. He has always enjoyed singing and playing piano for others. He was involved in music programs all through his school years and college.

His volunteerism began one summer when his Grandmother came to visit our family. She is a very social lady and quickly discovered the senior center located close enough for her to walk down there for the daily lunch. It was her way of entertaining herself and getting out having lunch with friends her own age. She lamented about that “lovely grand piano… just sitting there in the dining room!” Not one to see things go to waste, she inquired of the staff as to whether they’d appreciate her grandson coming and playing for whomever was eating lunch of an afternoon. The staff was delighted, but stated they had no money in their budget to pay for entertainment on a weekly basis. Nick was so happy to have a regular audience he stated that he didn’t want to be paid, just was happy to be there playing for everyone!

The center director was overwhelmed! She offered Nick a free lunch and said he could bring his CD to sell and even put out a tip jar, if he wanted. A bargain was struck and Nick became a regular feature on Fridays.  They even occasionally hire Nick for special events when funds are allocated for entertainment!

Nick rides the DART bus every week back and forth to the center. This allows him to be independent to do his volunteer work and usually collects a few dollars in tips so his fare is funded both ways. The driver and passengers are often treated to Nick’s impromptu concerts as they drive along to their destinations. Nick has been riding DART Para-transit buses now for many years to visit friends and travel to some of his work sites, instead of relying on Mom to be his chauffeur.

Nick’s work as a volunteer entertainer eventually led to paying performances. He is now gainfully employed by many of the Assisted Living facilities in our area to provide music and song for the resident’s monthly celebrations of birthdays, special holidays and even the afternoon “happy hour” music.

Since the release of his first CD, he has added several more and most recently released one called “This One’s For You”. It is dedicated to me, his mom! He was playing at a facility one afternoon when I was serving in the driver mode. He knows I love his arrangement of Misty. Before he began to play he leaned over the piano and said in a stage whisper “Hey Mom, This one’s for you!” I was inspired to suggest that this become the title for his latest CD.  “This One’s For You” is  a collection of his jazz arrangements of my era’s popular songs like “Misty”.

If ever anyone asks “do you get tired of driving Nick to his gigs or helping him with his growing music and entertainment business?”  I just laugh! Where else could I get a job that required me to sit back, relax and listen to my son’s beautiful piano playing and singing for an hour or two? It is definitely one of the perks of having this amazing person in my family!

Just sign me “Nick’s Mom and Number One Fan.”

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Elkhound’s Mom: 1… Squirrels: 0

I feel a bit crazy to admit this, but I used a Water Cannon on some squirrels today! I was awesome! I almost knocked the furry little fiend off his perch in the tree.
I must explain. I am not an over the top, aggressive person. I love all animals and would normally not harm a fly. I cried buckets when Bambi’s mother got killed. I was even more traumatized when Old Yeller died from rabies after he saved the boy from the wolves! I only eat meat that has been raised by thoughtful, loving farmers who respect their animal’s welfare and all…but I digress.
Squirrels! My father in law used to call them “rats with fuzzy tails”. Yes their antics can be quite cute and entertaining. I admit to purchasing and installing on a tree near my house, an item called Cobs-A-Twirl. This was a squirrel feeder that had promised to provide fun for both humans watching and for the squirrels by creating wacky squirrel antics and most importantly… keep squirrels away from the bird feeders. It did not keep squirrels from draining the sunflower seeds from my bird feeder, but I have to admit laughing hysterically at the promised “antics”.
I have a neighbor who loves these furry rodents so much she leaves peanuts out for them. Mind you there is a plethora of food provided by Mother Nature for these pests, but she feels compelled. Maybe she was a squirrel in a former life and starved to death. Neighbor Lady also feeds the Raccoon in our area too, but back to the squirrel problem.
I have two ten month old Norwegian Elk Hound puppies. They are, as many or most dogs are, tormented by squirrels. Think about the dog in the movie “Up”. Shouting “squirrel” stopped all action, every single time.
In our neighborhood they are so well fed, they fake bury their extra peanuts, courtesy of the aforementioned neighbor, all over our property. They especially love my vegetable garden. They appreciate the ease of digging and burying peanuts there in my well tilled soil. The fact that they often uproot tender your plants is a constant source of irritation to me. The little varmints also ruined a few lovely Hydrangeas and Narcissus, eating the tender bulbs. I guess neighbor lady must have neglected their peanut supply when she went on vacation this spring.
I think this establishes the fact that I have no great love for the neighborhood squirrels. But this is not what drove me to the garage to look for the water gun. I was tired of having literally every phone conversation completely drowned out by the enraged yips and whining of my two puppies.
There was a squirrel literally shaking its bootie, right in front of the large windows of our Master Craft home. It is a testament to the strength of the window glass used in our home, that we have not had dogs launching themselves through shattered panes and out onto the lawn. The same squirrel or possibly a family member also teases our pups from a perch in an Alder tree right outside the French doors of our master bedroom. The Alder tree has a section at the top that is hollow and decayed, even thought the bottom of the tree remains healthy. The tree is the equivalent of Squirrel Project housing, providing perfect place for the squirrel family to raise its young. We have unlimited entertainment as this tree attracts lots of additional wild life. Yellow Shafted Flickers and Pileated Wood Peckers find tasty treats in the decaying wood and are sort of slowly demolishing the squirrel slum.
My pups have worn a path in the carpet between the front window and the master bedroom door. They are frantic on some days trying to decide which place to go to bark and truly wear themselves out with the task of patrolling these fuzzy tailed rats!
Today I was at my limit. Decibel limit that is. I tried in vain to carry on conversation with several callers today. Frustration fueled by being completely unable to converse, even behind my closed office door was my call to action. Drowned out by high pitched yips, moans and squeals, I decided to give the squirrel some retaliatory fire.
I have some fairly hefty squirt bottles around the house that produce a fairly decent long, straight shot of water. These are strategically placed around the house to be handy when pups need a little wet blast to the nose, to remind them of behavior issues they might be violating. Worked for the most part like a charm on the pups so why not try them out on the squirrels.
Alerted by the incessant and irritating barks of the Elkhound Pups, I dashed out onto the deck, just outside the master bedroom door. I fired off a few rounds at a squirrel lingering on the branch of his tree house home. My water stream was not quite long enough, especially with the breeze blowing across my trajectory, the blast of water fell just short and rustled the leaves under my quarry.
If the squirrel’s actions could be interpreted as a sneer and his chatter as snide remarks. This one clearly gave me the furry finger! I was incensed and suddenly shared the emotions of my young puppies. But instead of whining and yowling I went to my garage looking for a better weapon to wreak havoc on this pest.
There, is a corner of our garage was my youngest son’s vintage Water Gun Super Aqua Blaster Soaker 2000, the perfect weapon to use in breaching the gap between the deck and the squirrel. I loaded up the water tank and was ready for action. The squirrel was still out there. I had half expected the squirrel to have been laughing so hard he’d have fallen off the tree branch. His text to his furry friends would definitely have read “LMFAO- she missed me”.
But there he was, possibly a bit distracted as he was still taunting the puppies who’d run outside to their dog run to continue their protests. I quietly opened the French door, took aim and let him have it full in the face. He did jump off his perch and scramble inside the hollow of the tree. I felt such a rush. Probably made up for those lettuce sets and flower bulbs, not to mention assuaging my puppies frustration.
I swear my boy pup looked up and me and smiled, as if to say “score one for mommy”.

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The Great Elk Hound Escape

“The dogs are out!” I am a bit breathless as I share this with Hubby. I’ve roused him from sleep fairly early in the morning and he is still groggy. “What do you mean?”

“I mean the dogs have jumped the fence and are in the wetlands!” I am now exasperated and throwing on suitable clothing to go out onto the street in our neighborhood and round up our furry escapees.

“They could not have jumped that fence” he cries in disbelief. He is now struggling into a pair of jeans and heading down the stairs to the recreation room where a doggie door opens to let our pups into their fenced area in the back yard of our home.

I say fenced, but this fence is a “work in progress” and has been since we brought home our new puppies.

Our property is about one half acre and most of the “back yard” is in fact part of a two acre wetlands preserve. Lots of old growth trees and a floor of ferns, sisal and blackberry brambles while unfriendly to us humans, provide wonderful wild life habitat for birds, squirrels, raccoon and the occasional coyote. We own the lot and pay taxes, but there are many restrictions as to what we can do with the property beyond the rear fence that extends out 12 feet from the edge of the house. There is a steep incline to this part of the lot and so once over the fenced dog area it is a pretty steep drop down to the bottom of the lot. There is a creek running through this and the adjacent lots which adds to the boggy marsh like terrain. Not a place we often go hiking through, but rather admire the flora and fauna from the deck on the rear of the house.

Our older dog was pretty arthritic during his last few years while lived with us at this home. He certainly was never spry enough to jump over the fence and explore the wet lands below. Not so with the two young pups! We had several weeks time before they came home to live with our family, to get ready. My suggestions to Hubby about beefing up the fence structure and adding height fell on deaf ears. The process of keeping one jump ahead of their capacity to leap has become a running gag in the family.

Back to the morning I mention above. I had by now run out the front door and managed to round up both of the adventurous Elk Hounds. They were still young enough to fall for the rattling of their favorite treat bag. They scrambled up the side hill of a neighbor’s yard that was not fenced and willingly came back into our house through the front door. Hubby was still down stairs out in the dog run. Shaking his head in a state of disbelief that the pups could have jumped this fence, he had not closed the door to the run.

Both puppies barreled down the stairs and out their door and demonstrated that they could indeed clear that fence. They leaped like deer right over the fence in front of a very shocked Hubby! Just in case he didn’t believe they could do it. The second time the wily pups were much harder to convince to come back. Dog treats didn’t lure them as easily this time around. Hubby finally had to trek into the brambles a bit before they’d get close enough to be grabbed.

A shopping trip to the local Home Depot ensued immediately after we’d secured the pups in crates at home. By the end of the morning the fence had an additional foot of chicken wire added to the top.

Hubby stood back admiring his handy work. He stated smugly “This should hold them”. I just chuckled and muttered under my breath “Yeah, for a month or so until they grow a bit more”.

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Puppy Paw Print Arts Project

I truly believe my dogs are in cahoots with one of more of the following: The guys who cleans our carpets, the folks who sell us the “très cher” (too expensive) bags for our equally “spendy”  Miele™ vacuum cleaner or maybe it is my trainer at the health club, who always wants me to do extra workouts in my spare time at home.

All I know is that I go to the club for an hour of working so hard I am dripping in sweat and arrive home to see a “puppy project” that is going to make me delay taking the much needed shower. The latest involved a very deep hole dug in the back yard. So deep that all I could see was the white butt and curly tail of Gordon,  my male Elk hound puppy a midst the flying dirt. But he only supplied the medium. The “art” was charcoal black paw prints well distributed on the 3000 square feet of our light beige carpet, by both he and his sister, Elki.

Elki barks at me with outrage as I vacuum up all her paw print art work. She must feel righteous indignation similar to the chalk artists whose work is hosed away by the street cleaners. In her eyes a thing of beauty and hard work but her inky black paw prints on the light beige carpet incite me to drag out the vacuum. The result is additional expenditure of energy and muscles already exhausted by the prior hour get additional workout as I push through the task.

Pacific Northwest folks are unique in how and what we view as troublesome. Take Blackberries for example.  A delight to eat, they grow wild up here in the Northwest, on very strong spinney canes that rip through the picker’s skin and clothing.  When we first moved to Seattle many years ago we delighted at seeing a host of signs along the road with bold large letters saying FREE and BLACKBERRY but puzzled by the smaller print that up close read “ FREE removal of BLACKBERRY from your property, guaranteed to eradicate these plants forever!”  A cottage industry has sprung up involving owners of goat herds who camp out on one’s blackberry infested property. Goats will eat just about anything and the brambles do not seem to bother them at all.

I’ve been thinking that I should rent out my dirt digging dogs! They are fast and very efficient. They work for dog treats.  Not sure how to entice them to dig on command, but once that detail is solved, we could be in business!

kathy gail@2013

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