Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, February 22, 2021

Why I Love the Heartland Series on Netflix

An Artful Animal Alphabet ©MaryMontagueSikes

Several months ago, we discovered the Heartland series on Netflix. We've been hooked ever since. There are 13 seasons with 18 episodes for each. Not long ago, I started wondering why I so very much enjoyed the program with all the horses, shows, and challenges.

When I was a child growing up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, my uncle owned a horse farm and Oak Hill Stables on the outskirts of the city. I sometimes had the chance to accompany my cousin to the stables. We got to watch the horses being groomed and saw riders practicing on the jumps. It was an amazing experience for a five-year-old.

My cousin had a pony and a pony cart. One day we decided to take a ride in the cart, and we had a great time bumping over the hard-packed clay trail behind the little pony. Everything was fine until a bee stung the small animal, and he took off running with the cart bounding in all directions. I don't remember how we were rescued, but, after that day, we didn't go on any more rides in the pony cart. 

My uncle loved horses and participated in all the horse shows in the area. I remember Zero Hour, a tall brown stallion that was his special horse. He won many ribbons riding that horse. He also had a serious accident during a competition. We were at the show that day and saw it all happen.

Visiting the stables was one thing I especially missed when we moved away from Fredericksburg near the end of elementary school. However, when I went off to college at Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, it was ironic that we had four girls crammed into our dormitory room and all three of the other girls were riders. My father didn’t want me going to college to ride, so I never got to join them at the stables. For an entire year, my roommates came back from classes, dressed in jodhpurs and riding boots and smelling like horses. They were always chatting away about the horses, and each one had a favorite. The college horseback riders trained at Oak Hill Stables. My roommate for the rest of my college years was also a rider.

Although I never rode myself, I recall the excitement and the drama of taking riding lessons, mucking out horse stalls, and participating in shows. I feel right at home, watching Heartland and enjoying the days on the Canadian horse ranch.

When we finish with all the Heartland episodes, I’ll be sad and hope that baseball season has already started.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Yellow Barn

"The Yellow Barn" ©Mary Montague Sikes

 Several weeks ago, I saw an unfamiliar animal sitting near the little yellow barn that houses our riding mower and other lawn equipment. We consider the large expanse of woods we own between our house and the creek to be an animal preserve. Most of the year, a herd of deer lives there. We have a fox, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, possum, and the annoying red-headed woodpecker, that destroyed our redwood deck, all residing at various locations in our yard.

When I saw the unknown animal, I pulled out my binoculars to study it more closely. Although I never got a completely clear view, I could see a white chest and gray markings.

Could this be a coyote? I wondered. Coyotes had been spotted in other areas not far away. The pictures of coyotes I found on the Internet had a remarkable resemblance to this animal. At least, from what I could see with binoculars.

I was intrigued.

However, this animal behaved strangely for a wild animal. And it stayed close to the yellow barn. 

It was cold, and the heat from the sun was warming the metal barn, I reasoned. As the coyote returned day after day, I decided the animal was using heat reflected by the metal to stay warm. But even on cloudy days, the animal stayed near the barn. 

This went on for more than a week. I thought that the coyote would eventually go on its way. But, it didn't.

Then one day, I looked out the window and noticed the animal making its way up the hillside toward our house. That's when I realized it was not a coyote after all. 

It was a dog, a very thirsty dog, that started lapping water from a container we keep outside. I knew it must be very hungry, so I opened the door to call to it. The animal didn't notice me at first and didn't respond to my calls. When it finally did see me, it darted away through the woods toward the yellow barn where it disappeared.

It was late afternoon. I didn't know where the dog was, so I didn't call animal control. But all night long, I worried that the dog was cold and hungry. The next day, I went down to the yellow barn to see if I could find the dog. I stood near the barn and called out, hoping it would come to me. Nothing happened.

In the afternoon, I looked out and was happy to see the dog once again leaning against the side of the yellow barn. My husband called animal control. An officer came right away, but she could not catch the dog and made plans to bring a trap the next day. After she left, I took food out and the dog pressed tight against the yellow barn but didn't run away. I put the food container down a few feet from the animal and backed away. It approached the food, grabbed a piece and rushed back to the barn wall.

On my way back up the hill, I encountered the dog's owner and her little girl. The animal control officer had found her. She was thrilled.

"There's a little yellow barn in the back of our yard," she told me in passing. The dog is deaf, I also learned.

Later, as she headed for her car holding Gracie tightly in her arms, she shouted out in happiness and delight.

"Gracie" ©Mary Montague Sikes


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Three Strikes You're Out

©Mary Montague Sikes

Years ago, we researched the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Each year, we sought out new destinations because we enjoyed winter trips to the islands. It was wonderful to get away from the cold and sometimes snowy weather of the Virginia tidewater area.

Since both of us love to play tennis, for our first week there, we chose a resort with several tennis courts. For our second week, we selected a quiet, scenic spot with the possibility of good photography opportunities for my Tropical Fantasies painting series and for my travel writing articles. Even before we started to unpack, my husband was invited to make a fourth in a tennis doubles match. He grabbed his racquet and headed off, happy for the quick opportunity to play.

Not long afterwards, I heard a commotion and discovered that Olen had injured his knee with a quick stop after chasing down a forehand drive. Although the other players urged him to just “walk it off”, he was medical-savvy enough to realize the severity of his injury. A visit to the nurse’s station yielded two aspirin and a pair of crutches.

Later, when he hobbled onto the beach, a tall blond man noticed him and came to look at his injury. He told my husband he had a bucket tear and not to straighten his knee until an orthopedic surgeon back home saw him. We learned later that the man was head of orthopedic surgery at Yale University—a fortunate encounter. For two weeks, he limped along as we explored the island.

That was Strike One.

Several years later, we decided to give Guadeloupe another try. Things seemed to be going well, as we investigated both wings of the lush green French island. We attended a Carnival event. We rented a cab and took a far-reaching tour of the more remote villages.

All seemed to be going well. We loved the beautiful modest timeshare resort we traded into. Our unit overlooked a scenic little yacht basin that gave us a lovely view at sunset. A faulty electric dryer was the worst glitch we experienced the first few days we were there.

Then, something unexpected happened. At 3 a.m., I was suddenly awakened. A man was in our room.

“Why are you here now, Marcus,” I called out, thinking fuzzily this was the promised dryer repairman.

The tall dark man grabbed my belly pack and a watch left lying on the dresser. Because there was no safe in our room, our passports, husband’s money, traveler’s checks, and my money were all stored inside.

I screamed for my husband to wake up, and he jumped out of bed, chasing the fleeing thief who dropped the watch but clung to the belly pack. I was screaming for help, but people later told me, they thought we were a couple having a fight.

Olen raced after the escaping robber and followed him to the resort entrance where he halted the chase. Because he was running nude and didn’t want to encounter the Guadeloupe police in that situation, Olen stopped and returned to the unit. We both dressed and hurried outside, looking for someone on duty at our resort. To our surprise and disappointment, we found nothing was open and no one, not even one guard, was there. We rushed on to the resort across the road with an open lobby where we had trouble communicating in French. We did make our situation known but did not get any sympathy. In fact, the officials did not appear surprised.

This was a time before we had cell phone service available in the islands, so with no money we could not even make a call out for help. We had done all we could by reporting the loss. However, we decided to check out the roadway where the bandit vanished.

We walked along, investigating the grounds on either side of us. As light began to appear in the sky, we saw a man walking a dog. When we explained our situation, he showed us a red pocketbook. It was my little ID carrier. All the money and credit cards were gone, but my driver’s license was there. I was thankful to have it. Still no passports. What would we do?  

We kept walking and looking until we decided to go back to our resort and wait for the office to open. When it did, we went inside. No sympathy once again and no help. We had no idea what to do next.

Then, all of a sudden, the entrance door opened and a French businessman from Paris entered. He was looking for us. He found our passports in his yard and discovered that someone from our resort had reported the robbery. He was considerate enough to find us and to give us a ride to look some more. Along the way, we found an empty belly pack. When we returned home, I created a pastel painting for the kind Frenchman and mailed it to Paris.

I will always believe the Guadeloupe cab driver set us up for the robbery and that the resort workers and the police knew what had happened. We were fortunate to have the kindness of other strangers on our side.

That trip was Strike Two.

We don’t plan to visit Guadeloupe again. Who knows how devastating Strike Three might be?


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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Poetry for the New Year

Awakening ©Mary Montague Sikes

Beneath a vast universe of stars, a new year is dawning. 
Above fragile mother earth, angel wings hover. 
As flowers lie silent in dark frozen fields, 
Hope lifts lonely tree limbs into the murky sky. 
‘Tis always darkest before the dawn, someone murmured.
 An old year fades away into the morning light. 
Atop frigid ground, small birds sing out. 
Angel wings glimmer like diamonds in celestial beams.
Fly high, sweet angels, into the flame of a bright new year. 
Let fresh dreams sparkle in a blaze of glory. 
Orange and red streaks invite destiny. 
The gleam of bright angels casts wonder above. 
I watch my angels fling hues of green across the sky 
As their magic embraces the lingering sparkle of stars. 
Daylight has broken and the majesty of new hope appears,
Awakening all to the promise of miracles.
                                                      © Mary Montague Sikes
(These words and the painting came to me intuitively when I reflected on the new year 2021.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Year That Wasn’t

When 2020 began, I had high hopes for a wonderful, exciting new year. I’m sure most of us welcomed the new year with great anticipation. Little did we know what lay ahead.

As an educator, I found closing the schools earlier in the year a big concern. It’s good we have virtual learning, but that is not the same as in-class instruction with teachers there to motivate and inspire, especially for the youngest children.

I missed attending art openings and getting to mingle with other artists and with patrons. The last event that I attended early this year was an opening at Gloucester Arts on Main called “Winter Blues”. That was back in January. Other open house art events have taken place more recently with attendance limited, but we are being quite cautious. On my computer, I’ve enjoyed watching virtual tours of Crossroads Art Center open house activities.

Virtual Zoom meetings as well as virtual critique groups have been helpful. I got to see the juror, Paul di Pasquale, for the Metropolitan Richmond Artists annual juried show up close and heard his remarks clearly by way of Facebook. I was pleased that my painting, “Desert on Xanadu” received an honorable mention in the show. This photo was taken of my computer screen as the juror discussed my painting in the show. Technology is amazing!

Paul di Pasquale, juror for the MRAA show