Tag Archive | Ruth Topper

Life with Fletcher

Fletcher is a BIG Ravens fan!

Fletcher is a BIG Ravens fan!

By Ruth Topper

This is Part II of our “Fletcher” story.  In Part I, I explain how it was a very difficult decision for my family to adopt a pet. 

After making the decision to adopt, it then took us several months to find the right dog for us – Fletcher!  Fletcher’s mother and litter of puppies were rescued from a high kill shelter in Georgia and ended up in Pennsylvania, where we adopted him.  After reading my fellow blogger Karen’s post “A Dog Named Blue” last week I realize how fortunate Fletcher’s family was to escape the shelter!

Fletcher arrived on our doorstep Easter Monday 2009.   We now joke that Fletcher was the best $185 we have every spent!  Fletcher had just turned 2 years old.  He was “chipped,” “fixed,” up to date on all his shots, crate trained & house trained!  What a bargain!  However as rookie new pet owners we had some things to learn about having a dog…  Here are some things that we experienced:

I love my dog!

Fletcher gets some love!

1.  Although Fletcher was crate trained he really hadn’t been in one for awhile.  We made the mistake of adopting on a Monday instead of a Friday or Saturday.  We were able to get Fletcher in his crate – but it was like having a new baby in the house again.  He whined and cried for several hours each night.  I finally had to call our “rescue” mom and get some advice so that our whole family could get some sleep.  We ended up putting a sheet over his crate and Gary & I had to play “bad cop” and use our very stern voices to help him understand that he needed to STOP!  Fortunately Fletcher was a quick study and by the third night he was making it through the night!

2.  As I mentioned in Part I of Fletcher’s Adoption, I wasn’t too crazy about adopting a dog.  However because he came to us on a Monday and everyone else in the family left to go to work/school on Tuesday – guess who became Fletcher’s “Alpha?”  Yes, yours truly!  I was the one feeding him, taking him on walks, often releasing him from his crate after being out for a few hours, etc.  I never fear that Fletcher will run away from me even without being on a leash.  He never strays out of eyesight from me!

3.  Because I was a rookie dog owner I did sign up for dog training immediately.  Fletcher passed with flying colors – however as I think back on those weeks of individual sessions Fletcher was just like a shy toddler.  He was right by my side, whimpering and whining.  It is a wonder he learned anything!

4.  Who knew that dogs pass gas?  Any dogs Gary or I had owned were outside dogs and this is something that you just don’t notice in the great outdoors.  However – get a gassy dog in a room and you can clear it quickly!

5.  We crated Fletcher when we left the house for the first few months.  We then gradually blocked him off in the kitchen and then gave him access to the first floor, keeping a toddler gate at the bottom of our staircase.  The good news is that Fletcher never attempted to get on any of our furniture.  We would have known if he did because there would have evidence – you can see him shedding as he walks across a room!  He did get into a little mischief – eating a stick of butter one day and a loaf of bread another!  We also found out that he liked pencils/crayons left on the floor, dark colored baseball caps and tissues left in the “open” trash cans in our living room/family rooms.

6.  I never realized how important grass is for a dog to do his “business.”  The first winter we had Fletcher is the one where we had over 20 inches of snow on December 19, 2009.  (I remember this because it was my daughter’s 12th birthday!)  I walked that dog up & down our street for hours the day it started snowing trying to get him to “go.”  It failed.  Of course he waited until the next day when we were finally able to get out for an hour or two – to break through the gate at the bottom of the steps & do his business on our hallway carpet!  That February we had two big storms back to back.  In these storms Gary snow-blowed part of our front yard along with the driveway – for Fletcher!

Gary & Fletcher

Gary & Fletcher

The most important thing we have experienced over the past four years… is the joy of Fletcher!  He greets me at the bottom of the steps every morning to roll on his side for a belly rub!  If he feels I’m not paying enough attention to him and I am here at the computer he will come over and put his nose underneath my arm to get my attention.  Gary, who wasn’t any more excited than me to get a dog, gets down on the floor with Fletcher every few days to play!  The kids love being with him.  They take him outside when shooting hoops or jumping on the trampoline.  My oldest who will soon be off for college tells us all the time that he will come home to see Fletcher – not the rest of us!  (Shows where we rate!)

Seth is coming home to visit Fletcher - his best friend in our house!

Seth is coming home to visit Fletcher – his best friend in our house!

What are some joys, blessings and/or funny incidents you have experienced with your pet? 

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Six more weeks of winter?

By Ruth Topper

Tomorrow, February 2, is Groundhog Day. It is not necessarily a day of family gatherings, gift giving or big celebrations but it is a holiday that is worthy of being pre-printed on many calendars. In Pennsylvania everyone waits & watches patiently to see if Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow (or not)! Legend has it that if “Phil” sees his shadow there are six more weeks of winter. If Phil doesn’t see his shadow, spring will be here soon.

Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney Phil

I have lived in Pennsylvania my entire life and have listened to the radio or caught the news every year to see what prediction Phil has for when spring will arrive. I have to confess, though, that I really don’t know much about the tradition and history of Groundhog Day. So, to support my blog and to further educate myself I googled “Groundhog Day” and found the official website of Punxsutawney Phil – www.groundhog.org. Here you will find “The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” Groundhog Day website. Please feel free to visit the website yourself to get all the details. Here are a few fun facts that caught my eye:

1. Groundhog Day has been celebrated in Punxsutawney since 1886.

2. Groundhog Day, always on February 2, is a popular tradition in the United States. The tradition is based on a legend that animals awaken from their hibernation on a specific date. In the past nature greatly influenced our lives so on February 2 the groundhog came out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow. If he sees it, it is regarded as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather & will go back into his hole. On the other hand, if it is a cloudy day and he doesn’t see his shadow, he takes it as a sign of spring & stays above ground.

3. Another tradition is that Groundhog Day is based on is Candlemas Day. This was a custom with the early Christians in Europe that the clergy would bless candles and distribute them to the people. This day marked a milestone in winter and the weather that day was very important.

4. The Romans spread the tradition of Candlemas Day to the Germans. The Germans added to the tradition that if an animal, the hedgehog, saw his shadow on Candlemas Day then there would be six more weeks of bad weather (or a second “winter”). Many of Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers were Germans. They determined that the groundhog was a suitable substitute for the hedgehog and February 2 was selected as the day to celebrate!

The Germans recited:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.

This passage may be the one most closely represented by the first Punxsutawney Groundhog Day observances because there were references to the length of shadows in early Groundhog Day predictions.

5. On February 2, Phil comes out of his burrow on Gobbler’s Knob – in front of thousands of followers from all over the world – to predict the weather for the rest of winter.

Did Phil see his shadow?  Oh no - does this mean 6 more weeks of winter?

Did Phil see his shadow? Oh no – does this mean 6 more weeks of winter?

6. Punxsutawney Phil is named after King Phillip.

7. The average groundhog is 20 inches long and normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long. A groundhog eats lots of greens, fruits, vegetables and very little water. A groundhog can whistle when alarmed and whistles in the spring when they begin courting. Groundhogs are very clean animals. They are one of the few animals that really hibernate. They actually go into a deep coma where the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, blood hardly flows and breathing nearly stops. A groundhog’s life span is about 6 to 8 years. Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the Annual Groundhog Picnic. This gives him seven more years of life.

8. Phil has enjoyed growing fame over the years. Some highlights include:

  • In 1981 he wore a yellow ribbon to support the American hostages in Iran.
  • Phil traveled to Washington DC to meet President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
  • In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the move, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.
Bill Murray starred in Groundhog Day.

The movie Groundhog Day was released in 1993.

  • Crowds as large as 30,000 visited Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day after the release of the movie.
  • In 1995, Phil was on the Oprah Winfrey show.
  • In 2001, Phil’s prediction was shown live on the JumboTron in Times Square, New York City. Also – Pennsylvania’s Governor, Ed Rendell, attended the ceremonies in Punxsutawney. He was the first Governor in office to do so.

So – tomorrow is Groundhog Day. I hope you now have a better appreciation for this traditional, yet quirky, holiday. Take a few minutes to take note of Phil’s prediction for this winter. What do you think of his prediction?

P.S. On a very unrelated topic – but important one this weekend – GO RAVENS!!!!

(Photo Credits: www.groundhog.org)

The Reason for the Season

By Ruth Topper 

If you are like me, it gets to be the second week in December and holiday panic starts to hit you.  Christmas is just two weeks away and the list of things to do to “get ready” keeps growing.   There is shopping to do, gifts to wrap, a Christmas letter and cards to get in the mail, cookies to bake, and concerts/parties to attend.  With all these things to do it is very easy to lose track of the true meaning of Christmas.

My son Josh (a few years ago) was apparently tickled to be a cow!

My son Josh (a few years ago) was quite the happy cow!

But there is one event that helps me keep the true meaning of Christmas in mind:  Helping to coordinate the annual Christmas Pageant at my church.  About 10 years ago for some now unknown reason I said “yes” when asked if I would like to help coordinate our first pageant.  (Perhaps it was that my home church never had a pageant while I was growing up and I had an inner desire to be part of one!)  My decision may also have been made a little easier knowing that there was a script, music director in place and that two other friends, Julie and Kathleen, were also willing to help.  Thus began my pageant coordinating career.

It never fails to amaze Julie and I how well the pageant “production” turns out!  We leave our Saturday morning practice the day before the big event and just shake our heads, wondering how this is ever going to pull together.  Although the kids have been practicing the music with our wonderful and talented music director, Pete, for more than a month, you just never know exactly what is going to happen when you have 2 year old lambs and 4th graders playing the roles of Elizabeth, Zachariah, Mary, Joseph, the Innkeeper,  the angel Gabriel, etc.

Our original script included children from age 2 through 8th grade.  Volunteers sewed costumes for our shepherds and cast, made sheep, donkey and cow “heads” (so our pre-schoolers would look authentic as our friendly beasts), cut angel wings out of posterboard and decorated Burger King crowns for our Wise Men!  Ten years later we still make use of all of those wonderful costuming props.

Some of my favorite pageant moments over the years have been:

  • Never knowing exactly what those 2 and 3 year old lambs are going to do…
  • Sean, now graduated from high school, playing the bagpipes, several years in a row, for the processional for our 3 kings
  • Our band of 6th to 8th graders playing several of our pageant songs
  • Hearing “Mary” and “Elizabeth” sing the “Cherry Tree Magnificat” based on Luke 1:47-55

    Fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round blogger Karen's daughter Kelly as the angel Gabriel

    Fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round blogger Karen’s daughter Kelly as the angel Gabriel

  • When Pete, our director, asked where the Innkeeper’s Wife was at practice one year and Matt (the Innkeeper) calmly replied that he was single!
  • Learning and loving songs that I had never heard until I got involved with the pageant – “Get Ready”, “Mary Had a Baby” and “Little Lamb”

Every year as the pageant season begins again I question myself as to why I continue to help with it.  My kids are “aging” out of the pageant and I certainly don’t need something else to add to my “to do” list.  However I just think about my favorite pageant moments over the past few years and it draws me back again.   So–if given the opportunity–I would encourage you to attend the Children’s Christmas Pageant at your church or school.  It will certainly bring a smile to your face and help remind you of “the reason for the season.”

How do you keep the true meaning of Christmas alive?  Have you helped organize a similar Christmas pageant, play or musical event?  Feel free to share your experiences below.

The cast is assembled!

The cast is assembled!

My daughter Rachel and a friend sing Elizabeth and Mary's song

My daughter Rachel and a friend sing Elizabeth and Mary’s song

The Spirit of Giving

Donations of children’s toys make the holidays bright for many families.

By Ruth Topper

It’s that time of the year when the bell will be ringing as you enter Wal-Mart or other retail establishments.  Yes, it is the Salvation Army’s annual Kettle Campaign.  Does the sound of that bell fill your heart with the “spirit of giving” and make you reach into your purse (or pockets) for some loose change or does it make you feel a little uncomfortable because of all the charities that will be seeking donations of your time, talents and/or money this year?  You may have various organizations (all with wonderful missions) contacting you or soliciting donations.  It always seems more prevalent during the holiday season.  Helping those in need doesn’t need to be painful, breaking your wallet or time-consuming.  It can actually be very uplifting.

Most of us can’t afford to write large checks or don’t have the time to help every organization we come in contact with.  However, there are a few things to consider as you evaluate which charities you would like to help.  I would suggest that you do a little research on the organization:

  • What is their mission?
  • What programs will the donations be used for?
  • Will the contribution help the local community or will it be sent somewhere else?
  • What percentage of the donation will actually be used for the mission/cause versus administrative overhead?
  • Is the donation tax-deductible?

As an individual or family unit you will want to consider what you are able to give.   Remember it doesn’t always have to be money.  It could also be your time, which is also very precious.  Whether it’s the gift of time or money, or a combination of the two, do you want this contribution to go to one organization or do you want to divide it between various charities?  Donations can also be a form of gift-giving for “those who have everything.”

Where I live (Adams County, PA) there is a unique way for individuals to learn about local non-profit organizations.  The second annual Holiday Shopping Spree offers highlights of local non-profit organizations and outlines exactly where and how donations assist those organization’s clients.  Twenty-six agencies are planning to participate in this year’s Shopping Spree which will be held on Thursday, November 29 from 4-8 p.m. at the Gettysburg Hotel.  Each organization will have a display table and individuals will have the opportunity to talk with agency officials about their mission and their needs.  I can’t think of any better way to learn about the needs of our local non-profit organizations.

My son Seth, lends a hand during Holiday Family Outreach 2011. Toy Day offers a chance for volunteers of all ages to participate. What a wonderful family project!

One organization that is close to my heart is Holiday Family Outreach (HFO)an all-volunteer non-profit organization that has, since 1953, provided Christmas toys and food certificates to low-income families in Adams County.  I became involved with HFO about 5 years ago when I volunteered to help on “toy distribution day.” I truly felt like Mrs. Claus that day in December when hundreds of parents came through our church dining room to select toys for their children.  After two years of being a helper on “toy day” I was asked to be on the Board of Directors.   This organization depends on the generosity of many individuals, organizations, businesses and foundations to provide the funds to purchase the toys and food certificates for the families.  Being part of HFO is very rewarding personally and allows me to feel that “spirit of giving.”

The holiday season almost upon us.  I would encourage you to consider sharing your blessings with others in whatever way you are able.

Do you have an organization or charity that is close to your heart?  Please tell us about it and spread their mission.

Also, in case you missed it, see our previous post “Change Your Perspective.”  It may help you recognize the many blessings surrounding you.  And if you are able, please consider donating to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, who are still struggling.  In times of disaster, money is often the best form of giving.  Our article includes a link to the Red Cross.

Blessings to you!

Many thanks to the group ABATE of PA (Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education) for their generous donations to HFO through the years. This photo is from 2010, when they donated $20,000!

Picture-Perfect Gift Ideas

By Ruth Topper

Think for a moment about the best gift that you ever received. Most likely, it was something personal; a gift given from the heart.   One of the best gifts I ever received was a baby gift for my daughter (who is almost 15 now).   My best friend from high school, Gloria, sent me a baby album where she had personally pre-designed all the pages.  The album didn’t have any photos in it—just places designated for them.  The album had been put together so thoughtfully.  At first I was afraid to do anything with it—it was just too beautiful!  I finally “got brave” and started filling the pages with photos and writing stories.  As the pages came together, it sparked excitement—over my pictures and my baby girl.

One of the pages from my daughter’s baby album… a project that ignited my career with Creative Memories.

After a conversation with Gloria, who lived in Minnesota while I was in Pennsylvania, I learned that she was a Creative Memories Consultant and this was called “scrapbooking” (not a household term at that time!).  As a consultant she sold products and helped people celebrate their photos and families by teaching them how to make albums.  This struck a chord with me and within a matter of a few months I became a Creative Memories Consultant too!  I had no idea where this path would lead me at the time since I recently had gotten “Off the Merry Go Round” with the birth of my second child and wasn’t really looking for a job or home-based business.  Would I be able to do this?  Well, if longevity has anything to do with it—then yes, I can.  I recently celebrated my 14th anniversary as a consultant.  After all these years I still enjoy helping people “love their photos” and celebrate them in meaningful ways.  Although there have been financial benefits over the years I always tell customers that they are the biggest blessing I have received.  I have gotten to know people in a very personal way as they share their family photos and stories with me.

As we approach the holidays (and other gift-giving occasions) we often are looking for thoughtful gift ideas.  I would put albums on the top of the list.  Albums have a “wow” factor about them.  In fact, grown men have been known to shed tears!  This idea may scare you a little bit because you envision hours of hard work to create this “masterpiece.”  I’m here to reassure you that it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think.  Albums are a gift of “heart” not “art.”  Pair your photos with your words or the words of a pre-designed album and you will deliver a gift with impact.

Here are a few album ideas:

The Simply Said Book from Creative Memories

1. Simply Said Book from Creative Memories (hey it’s something I know after 14 years as a consultant) – This is an amazing little gift for under $20.  It’s quicker than an album but more than a card.  There are a variety of themes to choose from: Hope, Joy, Dream Big, Teacher, Love and Grandparent.  Each book has 24 pages that are pre-designed with word prompts.  You just fill in the blanks and add 6-10 photos to complete.  You should be able to complete this magical gift in one to two hours.

2.  Album Kits – Album kits are available in a variety of themes such as baby, wedding, vacation, Christmas, etc. at many retail and all craft stores.  You should only need to provide photos, adhesive & pens to finish your album.  One of my current favorite ideas for a theme-oriented album is a recipe album.  You can either photo copy or write recipes onto cards, add some photos of the cook, recipe provider or the final yummy product and insert into an album.  This is sure to be a treasured gift for graduates, newlyweds or family members.

3.  Digital Albums – Digital albums have become very popular in recent years.  To create a digital album you just need a computer, digital images and album making software available through various photo websites and retailers.  Most of these sites have pre-designed pages available to make creating pages simple and fast.   One of the greatest advantages of digital albums is making multiple copies is a snap.  A few years ago at Christmas I decided to make a digital album of childhood photos for my two sisters.   I had to scan almost all the photos for this project.  I used pre-designed pages that allowed me to “drag and drop” my photos onto pages, added some stories and “sister” quotes.  The final product was a priceless memory of our bond as sisters.

Celebrating sisters!

4.  Traditional Scrapbooking Albums – For those who may want to express creativity in their own way there always is the traditional scrapbook album that comes with blank pages so that you can truly transform the pages into your very own.  Although this option may take more time it certainly is always well worth it.   The year my mother celebrated her 80th birthday I spent several months working on an album of her life.   It included pictures of her and her siblings growing up, the story of meeting my dad and getting married, the addition of her three “girls,” her worldly travels, births of her grandchildren and letters/photos that I solicited from her family and friends.  It truly was a masterpiece—if I must say so myself!  She revisited it a few years after I gave it to her and it took her more than three hours to read cover to cover!

People want to know they are loved.  Albums featuring photos and stories are proof of that love.  Give a gift of love to someone—your grandmother, dad, children, friend, etc…  We would love to hear your stories so please tell us about an album that you gave or received that was thoughtful and special to you.

Nothing Like Growing up on a Farm… (The Original “Animal House”)

On the farm at age 9: An Angora rabbit in my arms and “Whitie” at my feet

By Ruth Topper

I am a farmer’s daughter – the youngest of three girls in my family.  As a child, I didn’t realize all the unique experiences that growing up on a farm provided.  My playground was 105 acres of farmland in North Central Pennsylvania.  My dad was born and raised on the farm.  By the time my sisters and I came along he worked a “day job” and farmed on the side.  One of the exciting things about growing up on a farm was the animals.  Over the years we had cows, pigs, chickens, geese, rabbits, etc.  These animals provided plenty of childhood memories along with instilling a work ethic very early in life.

My kids discovered a small taste of this work ethic when we added our dog, Fletcher, to our family a few years ago.  Pets do need some caretaking!  When I hear complaining that no one wants to take Fletcher out for a walk, get his food or fill up his water bowl I remind them that they were the ones who really wanted a dog and they agreed to help take care of him.   I get the “rolling of the eyes” if I even try to take them back to what it was like growing up on a farm and taking care of numerous animals and pets!  Perhaps you will get more enjoyment out of my farm animal stories!

The Cows:  Daisy Mae, Sally and “Store Milk” vs. “Our Milk”

By the age of 10 it wasn’t unusual to be out helping “round up” the cows who had broken through the electric fencing.  We only raised one steer per year.  We didn’t get too close to them because, unfortunately, they would then become dinner!  After my dad retired (when I was in early elementary school) he did get a “milk” cow for a few years.  Daisy Mae and Sally were the two “milk” cows that I remember.  By this time I was old enough to know that we had purchased “store milk” for many years but now had our own milk.  I vividly remember pouring milk from a pitcher onto my cereal in the morning and a big clump of cream landing in my bowl first… yuck!  On the other hand, we had several years of making the best homemade ice cream on summer Sunday afternoons!

My sister with “Frances” the peep

Which Came First:  The Chicken or the Egg?

One spring there was only one chick that hatched from all the eggs that the mother hen was sitting on.  So my dad decided to bring that chick to the house for us to take care of.  We named the chick Frances because we weren’t sure if we had a hen or rooster!  But Frances turned out to be a girl!  She was a “Banty” hen and laid eggs with light green shells.  FYI – “Banties” are a smaller breed of chicken and some breeds do lay light green or blue eggs.  We had several different kinds of chickens so the variety of egg sizes and colors made for a great 6th grade science fair project.   Also–did you know that sometimes a chicken will lay an egg that doesn’t have a shell?  It feels a little odd when you pick that up out of the nest!

Silly Goose

At one time we had a few geese running loose around the farm.  I remember my mom backing out of our carport and running over one of them.  Needless to say, guess what we had for dinner that night?!

My Dad rubs Liz’s belly

The Pigs:  Liz and her Namesake

They loved to lie on their sides and have you rub their bellies–just like dogs!  I remember at least one litter of piglets being born on the farm.  They were so cute!  Maybe the funniest “pig story” revolves around my Aunt Elizabeth, who lived in the big city of Germantown, MD. She would come to visit us for most major holidays.  And she was truly honored, thrilled even, when we named a pig “Liz” after her.

 “Lucky” the Lamb

One of our neighbors raised sheep, so when a mama sheep died after giving birth to her lamb, he brought the lamb to our house for us to take care of.  I named the lamb “Lucky” and enjoyed coming home from school to bottle feed her.  Unfortunately Lucky caught a cold (or some “bug”) and only lived about a week after we got her – not so “lucky” after all.  That was the reality of life on a farm sometimes.

Rabbits, Cats and a Collie to Herd them All

A neighbor once gave us an Angora rabbit mother with her babies.  They were so soft to hold!  Speaking of animals with fur, we always had plenty of cats on the farm.  It wasn’t unusual to have 10 or 20 cats lounging on the porch, in the yard or barn–but they were never allowed in the house!  But we all had a soft spot for one animal in particular, our wonderful dog.  Whitie was a border collie mix that was given to us by a neighboring farmer.  She wins the award by far for being our favorite farm animal.  As wonderful as it was to be surrounded by so many creatures, there was nothing like the love of “man’s best friend.”

Speaking of dogs, I think my kids “have it easy,” just taking care of one dog, compared to my childhood responsibilities!

Do you have similar memories of growing up on a farm?  Or does your family live on a farm today?  Feel free to share your experiences below.