Blood Sisters Part 3 — Is Amanda’s Guardian Mean, Crazy or Just Stupid?

Falling into the category of, “Making a Hard Loss Harder Than It Has To Be”:

#griefsucks #familysucksmore #guardianshipsucks #downsyndromedoesnotequalstupid

  1. Mean

Sees Amanda just lost her favorite brother, Jon. (Yep, sorry Ted, he is way ahead of you. I am sure she still loves and forgives you though. God knows why.) Despite this traumatic loss, denies her the right to grieve with her blood sister (that would be me), and Jon’s wife.

Knows he is abusing her in deep and indelible ways, and perhaps creating irreparable damage to her psyche. Doesn’t care.

2. Crazy:

Got religion. Thinks there is only one way to look at the world. Thinks there is only one religion that matters. Thinks he is now all knowing and all powerful. Thinks God will help him through this mess and God has given him the power of the guardianship so he can do whatever he wants with Amanda, including mentally tormenting her and treating her like a prisoner.

Thinks he will find all the answers in the Bible.

Jesus, who knows what he thinks?

3. Stupid:

  • See number 2.
  • Has no perception of the damage he is doing. Does not understand that people with Down syndrome form deep attachments and when these are ripped apart, they can be catapulted into a state of dementia.
  • Thinks Amanda does not need me and that he and Ruthie can fill my role.
  • Thinks Amanda will get over missing me because now she has them.
  • Thinks Amanda can be subdued and will forget about me if they give her enough pills.
  • Thinks she will “get used to” life without me.
  • Thinks Amanda is too dumb to understand or remember what they are doing to her.
  • Thinks Amanda does not harbor anger or resentment, and so it’s okay for him to do whatever, because she is a pussycat.
  • Thinks he knows better than anyone else what is best for Amanda.
  • Thinks Amanda has to learn a lesson that she can’t always have what she wants. Thinks this will be good for her.
  • Thinks he can teach me some kind of lesson by keeping us apart.
  • Thinks forcing her to stay away from me at gatherings, preventing her from having quality time with me, and attempting to destroy our history together by censoring language and memories does not constitute abuse.
  • Only mental professional involved (if there is one) is either a) his own evil sister Robin or b) some cult member of the same church.
  • Thinks only his own feelings matter.
  • Thinks Amanda looks good in ugly clothes.


None of these reasons are any excuse for abusing Amanda…. My blood sister.

And it doesn’t matter whether you like me or not. She does, and I am still her sister. #leaveusalone

Stop Guardianship Abuse



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A Little Respect – Blood Sisters, Part 2

Aretha’s death is puncturing the airwaves just as her voice did. The RESPECT song is a hallmark of the #Metoo movement, and we need it now more than ever. It is the handle of a hammer for women. We will include women with disabilities, some of whom are still silenced and smothered in a Handmaid’s Tale-esque fashion hidden from the public eye.


Aretha, pastel by Nancy

Have you ever attended a memorial service for a beloved sibling, and meanwhile a second treasured family member was also taken from you?

This is what just happened to my sister, Amanda.

She lost two people.

Amanda has Down syndrome.

She made the sad trip with her guardian Ted Bailey, all the way from Arizona to Washington state, to mourn the untimely passing of our oldest brother, Jon.

Cancer took him suddenly. He was diagnosed with a malignant tumor, his first chemo treatment scheduled for Thursday August 2, and on Sunday August 5, he was gone.

After conferring with Jon’s wife Judy, we decided to prepare Amanda with a phone call, and explain to her that Jon was in ICU. I told Amanda it didn’t look good, but we were giving him every chance.

She was horrified, but she took it bravely. She asked me to call her with updates. I promised that I would. I called her the next day with the bad news that we were deciding to remove the tube and let him go.

She immediately started crying, naturally. She began asking me questions about who was present in the room. I was naming names. His wife Judy. His son, Erik.

Just then, I heard her say, “No! Ted! Please! Let me have my moment!”

But because Amanda has no rights, her guardian snatched the phone away from her. “You are upsetting Amanda.”

I’m upsetting Amanda?! I think the situation is upsetting Amanda. In fact, the situation had both of us, and many other people, damned upset. Can you say, “shoot the messenger”?

“Put her back on the phone,” I said. “We are not done talking.”

“Amanda needs to calm down.”

“She doesn’t need to calm down! She can cry if she wants to! And we are talking! She asked you to give her a moment! Our brother is dying and she needs to talk about this!”

Every protest of his was greeted by escalated screaming from me. He finally hung up on me.

This is the type of person Amanda has to put up with, now. He did not raise her. He may be our brother but he did not grow up with her. During all her early years, he was not there.

When our mother was ill, he was not there. The day she died, Ted was not there.

When our father was ill, he was not there. The day he died, Ted was not there.

I was there.

Jon was not Ted’s favorite brother. But he was our favorite.

I promptly told Ted he could take his control issues and shove them in a place that rarely sees daylight. I did not put it quite that politely.

Amanda had one big thing to look forward to, upon arriving in Seattle at this terrible time in her life.

She could do a Girl’s Day Out with us, Judy and me, as we used to do when Jon lived in Michigan. We were the Three Musketeers.


We would laugh and cry together, reminiscing about those times. We would come away no less sad, but knowing that we had shared in our sadness. We still have each other.

Amanda is 48 years old. She has spent years and years doing Girl’s Days Out with me.

But Amanda was prevented from having this experience, this chance to mourn with her “Blood Sister and Blood Sister In Law”.

Why? Because the guardian was having a tantrum, presumably because I cussed him out over the phone.

He took his crybaby mentality, and he made Amanda pay for it.

People with Down syndrome develop deep attachments. When they are ripped away from loved ones, they are more susceptible to dementia. As it is, about one in four people with Ds end up with Alzheimer’s or some similar illness.

In other words, Ted’s actions are more than upsetting. They are jeopardizing Amanda’s health.

Oh, and as an aside, TED BAILEY should probably do his research on just how far he can overstep his boundaries as (not a human being) guardian. Because the one human right the court will grant Amanda is the right to worship as she chooses. She could be an atheist if she wants to. She can be a Buddhist. She can be pagan. And she can call me, “Blood Sister” until the cows come home. So you not only have no moral right to censor that, you also have no legal right to do so.

As I explained in my prior post, these siblings managed to turn Jon’s memorial into a drama-filled circus show. They yammered on for so long at the podium that they prevented other friends and community members from saying anything. They drove people out of the service. At the end, they made a scene in the parking lot when one sister RAECHEL KOLB assaulted me physically. But the worst part was, despite being asked nicely by both Judy and me, Ted denied Amanda the one thing — THE ONE THING — that would help her the most on this terrible day.

Instead of treating her with dignity and RESPECT, he turned Jon’s memorial into a self-serving effort to further his freak-show, control-riddled, right-wing evangelical agenda.

This is who Amanda gets to answer to, now.

It gets worse.

On Tuesday, our brother DAN BAILEY called Judy at home. He requested a visit with her. Since I am staying at Jon’s house with Judy, he asked that I not be present for the meeting.

I am fine with that. I prefer not to be anywhere near DAN BAILEY, a financial planner who lives in Cadillac. He is angry with me about a dispute over a section of Dad’s Drummond Island property, wherein he is attempting to commandeer a lot that Dad had designated to Amanda and me. The space isn’t fancy, but rife with memories as it includes Clifford’s horse corral, and the trailer Amanda and I have stayed in together, over so many years.

Dan Bailey has a lot of issues. He initiated problems between Ted and me when he took a trip to Arizona to pick up Amanda in 2016. Ted’s wife RUTHIE BAILEY told me I couldn’t keep Amanda at my house unless I paid for the flight to go get her.

It all boils down to money, doesn’t it? The law does not protect Amanda. The way to protect Amanda is to hire an aggressive lawyer.

That summer, I saw Amanda once, for two hours. That was our last visit until Jon’s memorial.

On Tuesday, when I left Jon’s to go sightseeing by myself, Dan sneaked Amanda in to see Judy.

Apparently he lied to Amanda and told her I had already flown back to Michigan.

Dudes, we are not stupid. You are attempting to hurt me. But you are really hurting Amanda. You are committing emotional abuse. And you are an affront to all women.

You should listen to that song as Aretha sang it. I am sure you will be hearing it now. RESPECT….

Because when she got to Jon’s house, Amanda checked for herself. She marched into that spare bedroom and saw my luggage and some of my clothes laid out on the bed.

She came right back out and told Dan, “Nancy’s suitcase is still here.”

You can fool some of the people some of the time, DAN BAILEY. TED BAILEY. But you can’t outwit a smart woman, even if she has Down syndrome.

Amanda knows she is getting screwed.

We see you.

And now the world will see you, too.


BTW, if you want to read the story Amanda and I wrote together, click this link. We split the royalties 50/50. If we sell enough books, maybe we can afford that lawyer after all.


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They’re Back At It — And We’re Still Blood Sisters

If this seems like something that doesn’t concern you, as my sister Amanda would say, “Think again.”

Amanda has Down syndrome.

How does this relate to you? Let me explain it.

At some point, God willing, you will grow old. You will lose some of your faculties. You will know what it is like to be dependent upon someone else, such as someone who has Power of Attorney over you.

Or, a Guardian.

With the way the law stands right now, the guardian could decide not to let your wife, children or siblings visit you. Even if you ask for them. Even if you beg for them. The guardian chooses.

If the guardian has a grudge against one of your family members, who has called him out for being an asshole, guess who pays?

Not him.

You do.

He will also have complete and free access to all your finances and possessions. If he decides to empty your bank account and take himself for a joy ride to Seattle, he is free to legally do that.

You can do nothing about it.

If he decides to give you drugs to “keep you calm” and shut you up, guess what? You have no recourse.

My brother Jon, who died August 5th, gave my narcissistic siblings an opportunity to play a little game with Amanda and me.

And oh boy, did they play it well.

They knew full well that Amanda and I had waited over 3 years for a chance to do a Girl’s Day Out… A movie and pizza.

We both hoped this was our chance.

We also both loved Jon, whom as it turns out, was the only decent person in the remaining immediate family.

This was our chance to cry together, have our memories together, and help each other through the horrific loss.

The key word is, “Together.”

At Jon’s memorial, I first spot Amanda, and she gets up and hobbles across the room. She is having a lot of problems with her knee, which apparently are not being addressed. She is using a cane. She grabs me and hugs me so tight, and we both weep, whispering that we miss each other and love each other.

(The other thing not being addressed, which I have noticed before, is her clothing. She is dressed like a sister wife. It’s horrible. Purple and black paisley from Polyester Town, and a bad wig. Really she deserves better. But I digress.)

Meanwhile her guardian TED BAILEY is hovering about six feet away, watching every move, not even allowing us this one private, healing moment.


The North Side of Down —  Winner of the 2015 BRAG Medallion. We Tell It Like It Is! “If people wanted to be remembered warmly, they should have behaved better.”

We are having the conversation when the second oldest sister RAECHEL BAILEY KOLB who is for some reason compelled to stick her face in every situation, comes up and with a high, verging-on-hysterical-I-am-actually-trying-to-pull-you-away-from-her-under-the-guise-of-getting-you-to-participate voice, asks me to come and help her move some chairs.

I had sent RAECHEL an email specifically asking her to stay away from me at this event.

“I am talking to Amanda.” I do not look at her.

Then, the guardian’s wife, RUTHIE BAILEY comes charging over and barks at me. “She needs to get off her leg!”

Amanda covers with her typical graciousness. She turns to me. “Would you like to sit with me?”

She holds out her hand. I take it and we find a chair. We talk some more about travel. I tell her about my fiasco getting to Seattle, and staying in the motel with my 50-lb chest of drawers on wheels that I had to lunk down two flights of stairs. We laugh. Our conversation is monitored by RAECHEL’s HUSBAND, ED. I don’t care. Whatever.

It comes time for Amanda to find a seat. I help her get to the front row. RAECHEL informs me that Amanda is to sit on the end, and I can sit there too if I so desire. Great! Cool! I sit Amanda down and prepared to sit next to her.

The Guardian TED BAILEY marches up. “Nancy I am sitting beside Amanda.”

“Of course,” I say graciously. But I forget to genuflect.

Not wishing to sit near any other siblings, I walk to the back of the room.

I do not stay in the service. The first person to get up and start talking is ROBIN. The oldest. Jon could not stand ROBIN. I get up and walk out of the building. I decide to just hang out, outside, until the speaking part is over and maybe when the food comes out I can talk to Amanda a little more.

The speaking goes on and ON and on. I greet stragglers outside, introducing myself. Many of them are elderly and I help them through the door and guide them to the guest book. I then step back out.

Finally, the thing ends and people start getting food. Naturally, Amanda is surrounded by siblings and in-laws whom I have no wish to interact with. That’s okay. Everyone should be allowed equal time.  Now and then she turns her head and gazes at me wistfully from across the room. I wave, give her thumbs up, and go on mingling. There is a great photo show featuring Jon in various stages of his life, that his son has made, so many memories flashing across the big screen.

One time, Amanda hobbles to the bathroom leaning on RAECHEL BAILEY, looking like a prisoner being marched out of the courtroom. As she passes, she mouths, “I love you,” at me. I laugh and smile.

At the end of the event, even though I do not want to talk with her, I politely ask RUTHIE BAILEY what day they are leaving for Michigan.

“I think Thursday.”

It was Sunday. Cool. “That gives us plenty of time for a Girl’s Day Out!”

RUTHIE BAILEY throws her hands up. “Don’t mention that!”

“What? Why? We want to do the movies and pizza. With Judy. The Three Musketeers. Like the old days.”

“Yes!” Amanda agrees.

“You will have to ask Ted. He’s the guardian.”

There are few people in the world I want to talk to LESS than TED BAILEY. These include all three of the R’s.

But it was for Amanda, so I suck it up. “Ted! I am instructed to ask you if we can have a day for Girl’s Day Out. Judy, Amanda and me. Pizza and a movie.”

“I’m sorry.” he snips.

He turns to walk away.

“So that’s it?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Wait a minute.”

I run outside after him. Judy hollers at me to stop. I am on a mission. I am not about to just lie down for this. I have not seen my sister in 3 years and that was for only two hours.  Since then, we have been through guardianship Hell when we were forced to stop communicating for 9 months, until I filed a petition in court.

Amanda has suffered a lot. She has come a long way. I am not about to let her down.

“I don’t trust you,” he snips.

“That’s my blood sister!”

“I don’t approve of that terminology.”

“WHAT?!!! We’ve been calling each other Blood Sisters since she was eight or nine years old!”

grizzly adams blood brothers.png

Grizzly Adams, “Blood Brothers”

“Look up the meaning.”

(The meaning for ‘blood sister’ is, ‘sisters related by blood.’ Which, we are. However, it probably has some weird superstitious implication these days, smothered under the hyper-religious, like other good things such as chocolate and R rated movies. TED AND RUTHIE belong to an evangelical church that apparently has fallen over the edge into the Cult abyss.)

By the way, he does not have the right to impose his religious beliefs on Amanda. Her freedom to worship as she chooses is protected by law. Therefore, she can call me “Blood Sister” until the cows come home. He can’t stop her. At least, not legally.

Just then, who approaches me for the third time, now after being specifically asked not to, but RAECHEL BAILEY. I am standing with my arm around Amanda. I am so shocked by the confrontation, I have left the building so suddenly, that I am still holding a glass of lemonade in my left hand. I am talking about how I raised Amanda and taught her to tie her shoes and walked her to school and taught her to read. Amanda is standing silently with her shoulder snugged in under my arm.

RAECHEL digs her talons into my wrist and starts trying to pry my hand off of Amanda’s shoulder.

“Don’t touch me!” I snap.

“Let her go!”

“You let ME go!”

“You’re not the guardian!”

“Get off of me right now,” I warn for the third time.

“Let her go,” she is still clawing and tugging.

I fling the lemonade. The contents of the entire cup splash on her face and head and dribble down. Some of it gets on Amanda’s shoulder, but because she is wearing ugly polyester, it is easy for me to brush off.

“You are horrible people,” I say to TED AND RUTHIE.

“YOU are a horrible person,” RUTHIE snaps back.

“To hell with all of you.”

I storm away. I walk up the street, leaving the lot of poisoned siblings behind, as well as my poor Blood Sister, who has been cast with the great misfortune of being assigned to people like TED and RUTHIE… People who only care for their own agenda, their own feelings, their own warped sense of propriety. People who abuse her in deep and emotional ways, who won’t let her see a movie with her sister when their brother dies. People who try to erase her past by forbidding phrases that mean so much to her, like “Girl’s Day Out” and, “Blood Sister.” People who won’t let her sit with the person she most wants to see in the world. People who have no qualms about doling out traumatic events like this, shoveling pain on her, and blaming everyone else but themselves, when in truth THEY are the ones who could so easily fix it.

Amanda and I wrote an award-winning book together, “The North Side of Down.” We share the meager royalties, 50/50. I expected the R’s to be angry about the book but Ted fully supported it at the time. I never thought he would betray me by jumping on board with them. Things became complicated when he got religion.

People change.

If you are not careful, when you are old, you could end up with a guardian like this. Be very careful where you sign your name.

And for the love of God, if you have a child with a disability, make provisions for them in case anything happens to you.


P.S.  RAECHEL, who physically assaulted me in the parking lot by grabbing and jerking my hand, actually called the police and asked them to arrest me about the lemonade. I explained to the officer that maybe he should arrest her. He opted to just take the report.

You see, these people think the same rules don’t apply to them.

Be careful about giving away your power.

— Signed,

Amanda’s Blood Sister

…To be continued.



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It Ain’t Dyin’ I’m Talking About, It’s Livin’

It’s ironic that I have to follow up my last post, “When the Curtain Grows Thin”, which was about messages we receive from loved ones who have left their earthly shell and gone to what Jon would call the Happy Hunting Grounds.


Jon is my brother, the oldest and undoubtedly the wisest, wisdom gained through the cracks and chisels of a rough-and-tumble life that at times left crumbles of personal devastation in its wake.

At 6 foot one and I don’t know how many pounds, he seemed immortal. He was a wall. A big, sometimes scary wall, ham-handed but with an intelligence that ran deep and cut through the stereotype of a backwoodsman. He grew up in Northern Michigan, where the loons wailed and freighters chugged through the St Mary’s in our backyard. He joined the Navy and served on the USS Ticonderoga, sailing to Singapore and parts unknown, and his ship even picked up one of the Apollos when it splashed down. (No, not THAT Apollo.)

He moved on to Whidbey Island and was stationed there and made a career as a Naval air control officer. After retirement, he went to work on the irrigation systems in the high desert east of the Cascades.

He was 11 years older than me, and even though he left home when I was young, he was still an indelible presence. He was loud, funny, with an inherent kindness. He gave me my first very own dog, a black Lab named Lucia, when I was twelve. What twelve year old girl wouldn’t adore a brother like that?

He adopted the Pacific Northwest, melting into the mountain lifestyle as naturally as one born there. Over years, and decades, he hiked miles up through high country and killed elk every fall. He would pack the meat out and cook it, making elk stew and steak and ground up patties. From the antlers, he made me a whip and a kitchen knife, the handles carefully crafted and smooth as silk. Later he adopted a couple of horses, and used them to trail the elk herds up into the rocky heights. He said if he had realized how easy it was, he would never have spent all those years climbing on foot! He had a natural way with animals and always owned Labradors. We argued over what was better; the Lab or the “stupid G.S.Ds”.

I could go on and on about him. The times we went horseback riding. The day he got on my sturdy little Morgan, Clifford, and admitted with surprise as he strode right out, “Hey! This is a great little horse!” The time, for my birthday, he drove me all the way from Washington up into the Idaho panhandle because I had always wanted to see it. Our shared love for the Larry McMurtry miniseries, “Lonesome Dove.” (We often recited the lines back and forth to each other. I can’t watch it without thinking of him.) The many times he stood up for me against crazy, mean-spirited siblings. The times he listened carefully when I had a problem, and gave me advice in words that cut with truth. The time, during one of my book signing events, he got up to the podium and talked about me. He told how I had always been a writer, and how I was trying to write, making marks and dashes on the paper, before I had even learned the alphabet.

He told me things about myself I never knew.

“Life is a roller coaster, Nancy. Some days you go up, and some days you go down. On your way down, remember that you are just about to go up again.”

His greatest gift to me, besides his sons, the handsome and charming, eerily smart Blaine and the tall and silent, eerily insightful Erik, and Lucia the dog, was his wife Judy. His choice surprised me. She was short, natural, quiet; more pleasant-faced sidekick than sex symbol. But she complimented his big, flashy self perfectly. She loves wolves and animals, and he told her shortly after they met that of all his siblings, she would get along best with his sister, Nancy.

jon judy and me

Jon, Judy and me, April 2013

He was completely unpretentious in his wisdom. As he said, he was, “Part Grizzly Bear, Part Wildcat.”

Of all my siblings, he had the deepest understanding and respect for my sister Amanda, the best knack for teasing her and the best insight to explain her motives to someone else.

“He’s a rootin’ tootin’ boy.” Amanda summed him up perfectly.

I am not sure what life is going to be like now. I am pretty sure I don’t really want to think about it yet. I am dumbfounded. I don’t know he is gone. I am not sure how I will react when I figure it out. And this is all stream of consciousness; there is so much more to say about someone who took up so much space.

He stormed through life, stomping into a room, filling it with his presence. And yet he managed to leave no trace. How did he do that? I only know that he lived… Voraciously, fiercely, and with vigor. Of all the brothers I could have had, even though he left too soon, I am so glad I was awarded this one.

…Been quite a party, ain’t it, Woodrow?






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When the Curtain Grows Thin

On July 4th, Mr. Thomas Gibbons was walking on the road down by the campground where he was staying with family members, just north of the old H&H store. It was around 2 am and there were likely fireworks popping all through the night, and flashes of color as the celebration started early. People often remain active into the wee hours during summer on the Island, as the setting sun gleams on the horizon long past bedtime.

Drummond always does the 4th in style. Mr. Gibbons was visiting from Rapid River and like many others, planning on a fun holiday in the small, homey community.

But Mr. Gibbons’ life ended that night. Police are still in the process of finding the driver who hit him. When the news began circulating in the early morning, it put a shadow on the Island festivities. It was a stark reminder about how fragile our existence is; and how just as each moment passes, we can be gone in a flash, in the blink of an eye, never to return.

We don’t know where those people go. Even those dearest to us will vanish with no trace, leaving behind an empty shell, devoid of spirit. The essence of being is no longer there.

Beyond the traditional views of Heaven and Hell, the wisps of reincarnation and ghosts, some of us sense a continuation in the existence of others, especially those closest to us. We see them in dreams. They appear in other forms; eagles or butterflies. They send us signs. These visions may be our subconscious, our intricate brain sending just the right hormones to soothe the stress of loss, to ease our way through grief.

Or, maybe we have that connection, and the soul reaches out to us from wherever. They are okay. We will be okay. There are bonds within us that run deeper than our physical selves. The love lives on. We know this, with as deep a knowing as our own beating heart. This may be the closest we ever come to the glimpse of what lies beyond that glowing curtain. We go on. They go on. Until we meet again.

A couple of years following her death, my mother appeared to me in a dream. My dad, although he said he would appear, did not show up. But on the shore one day, shortly after his passing, an erratic-moving yellow butterfly flashed out of the woods and flickered low along the sand. It went directly to my Chihuahua and zigged in figure eights just above her head. She jumped for it, clumsily leaping and snapping, doing backflips as it zipped around in a taunting frenzy. I was doubled over in laughter. That was Dad! He loved that dog. And he knew I would be at the beach at that hour of the day.

Then the butterfly, as quickly as it had appeared, sped away again, disappearing into the trees. When it left, it was like a gut punch. I howled in anguish. It was not the message from him I was hoping for. I wanted him to show up and speak English, and explain everything, and give me some instructions. What the heck was up with this – a butterfly? Really?

And yet I had no doubt that it was him. It was obvious. That spirit, the essence of him had left his body. It was no longer there. But it was still somewhere. And he was the same person with the same teasing sense of humor.

Those of us who love, and have loved, know this deeply, and with certainty.

It is this knowing that makes our journey bearable; and even joyful. We are here for only a while. In these moments we see our real selves. The superficial layers fall away and leave us at our most genuine. We understand, before we forget again, that the most important thing is to love one another. The rapture of these moments, these weightless and insightful fragments of time, before gravity pulls us back, tell us all about the next phase. This is a glimpse into the lightness that survives, and where we are all headed.


*With deepest sympathy to the family of Mr. Gibbons — may he rest in peace.

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Clifford the Painting Horse

So yesterday, Clifford the Painting Horse went viral. His video was suddenly popping up everywhere. He even actually appeared in a newspaper in Guam.

Kids Club Live Clifford Outdoor Art

The Painting Horse video was originally made by the Lansing State Journal, who came out to the house to do an article about him. Then someone took that video and edited it with cute music, complete with captions. Whomever did the video has a pretty good handle on our shtick.


After reading some of the comments, I realized I had better clear a few things up.

  1. The paints we use are nontoxic, all water based, primarily kids’ tempera.
  2. Clifford paints with a scrubby-backed sponge, which gives him a rougher texture to grasp, and also prevents a lot of the paint (absorbed on the bottom of the sponge) from touching his lips.
  3. The paints are nontoxic.
  4. Clifford ingests very small amounts of paint, if any.
  5. Clifford does not give pony rides. However, I have ridden him for 25 years and he is a great trail horse.
  6. We do not have a petting zoo. We do have a nonprofit, the Foundation for Animals in Therapy and Education. We take paypal donations through
  7. There is a book about Clifford, called Clifford of Drummond Island and he is the only horse in the world who signs his own biography.
  8. Clifford is house trained and visits schools and libraries, painting pictures, promoting literacy and empathy.
  9. Clifford likes to paint. I never force him. You know that old saying, “You can lead a horse to watercolor, but you can’t make him paint.”
  10. Clifford has his own Facebook page.
  11. Clifford is 27 years old.
  12. The paints are nontoxic.

Thank you to everyone for the nice compliments about Clifford!


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Clifford and the Thousand Kids

When my friend Nancy Phares invited Clifford to appear at Kids Club Live, I didn’t know what to expect. An annual event in Royal Oak hosted by Detroit Public Television, this live gathering of the TV show “Kids Club” includes notables like Barney the purple dinosaur.

Kids Club Live Clifford Outdoor Art

Clifford’s appearance was sponsored by the Michigan State Fair and there were a couple of tents set up for us with tables and banners promoting the fair. Expecting a large crowd, we fashioned a small “photo booth” next to an upright banner, under the shade of the tent, to discourage kids from wandering around and getting under his feet or going behind him.

kids club live 10

As the show opened around 9 am, the crowd went into the auditorium to see the Barney show. As it ended, they began to wander outside. Ignoring most of the other displays, which included temptations like bugs and dinosaur bones, the kids took one look at Clifford and made a beeline for us.

There was such a crowd that Deb stuck around and began to organize them into a line. That line stretched all the way across the parking lot to the door, and stayed that way until the first shift ended around noon.

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Both days had three shifts like this, which entailed a couple of hours of meeting one person after another while Clifford posed for photos with adults and children, babies and grandmothers. He posed with groups and single individuals.

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He posed with people of all colors, shapes and sizes. He wore his glasses for kids who wore glasses. He stayed in place when I walked away and waited, watching me until I gave the signal that the photo was done. He put his ears forward when I asked.

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One of the highlights was when Clifford got to meet Clifford, the Big Red Dog.

Between photo opps, I offered him water and asked him to do tricks, play fetch or paint pictures just to break up the repetition. I kept a constant barrage of various treats so he never knew what he was getting.

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Clifford really enjoyed the event. But by the time we reached the third shift on the second day, we were all getting tired. I whipped out my secret weapon: Pieces of fresh apples. This seemed to placate him and he hung in there with me through the last of it. Despite the exhausting schedule and repetition, he never became irritable and showed no signs of burnout or temper. There was not one tail swish, nor did he ever even pin his ears. As the day wore on his head would sag, and he fell asleep through some of the photos. But he was patient through all of it.

Through it all, Detroit Public TV’s Deb Nicholaou helped and supported us. She took photos for people, organized crowd control, gave Clifford lots of kisses and kept me company.

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Afterward, I asked her how many people we had met that day.

“Thousands,” she said.

Clifford was happy to get home and spent the whole next day hanging out with his sister.

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Thinking back, I realize that a lot of those people had never seen or been close to a horse. I hope we managed to leave them with a nice memory, and a small inkling of the tremendous generosity of the equine heart.

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The Ol’ Homestead (Or, Olmstead)


Those of us who grew up in and around DeTour Village all knew Ardis and Dolores Olmstead. But it’s funny how once someone becomes enshrined in memory, you appreciate them more. The long-married couple lived just around the corner from us, where Ardis’s barber shop pole provided a bright spot of color on the street. Dad would go over there purportedly for a haircut. But I suspect it was more a social visit than anything. Both men were born in 1925. I always wished Ardis would refrain from cutting the “lynx tips” – orange hairs – off the tops of Dad’s ears. But he always did.

Dolores was Mom’s friend. She was notorious for just letting herself in the back door. I never thought twice about it. Our back door kind of scraped across the floor; you had to force it. Dolores would burst through with a shout. “Knock knock! Anybody home? Hi Elaine! How you doing? I’ve been to the store and I got you these petunias.”

One time Mom and I were sitting on the front porch of the old Bailey house, facing main street, and Dolores drove past. She hung her head out the car window and started yelling questions. “Hi Elaine what you up to? I’m headed over to…” et cetera.

I was a teenager then. I turned to my mom and said, “That’s the only person I have ever known who can carry on a conversation while driving past you on the street.”

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Ardis and Dolores were as big-hearted as they were gregarious. They had one child, Lester, and they adopted three Native American kids and raised them as their own. It took me a long time to figure out that those raven-haired children were adopted. They were just part of the family and it didn’t occur to me to even think about it.

The lone girl in the bunch was Katrina. She was attracted to our house because there were girls, and she could hear us laughing and yelling all the way across the street and around the corner. Trina grew into a tall, leggy beauty with golden brown skin and her hair was long, straight and jet black. We called her Twiggy.


I last saw Katrina in 1974 right after she joined the service. As happens so often, we lost track of each other, but then reconnected on Facebook several years ago. The more I talked with her online, the more those old memories came flooding back. I found out that she has a career working with kids with disabilities, inspired by my sister Amanda.

Trina is an animal lover and wanted to meet Clifford so we made a date for her to come to the house on her next trip to Michigan. On June 21, it happened. I was not surprised to find her still tall and graceful, all these years later, with that same inherent kindness. Her voice is just how I remembered, with its hills and valleys and bright notes, “like a harmonica.”

I wish I could say Clifford behaved better. He had just finished two exhausting days posing for photos with a thousand kids in Royal Oak, for a Detroit Public TV event. When I say a thousand, I do mean literally a thousand. He worked from 9 to 6 pm both days, with a couple of breaks each day.

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So when Trina showed up with her bag of peppermints and Twizzlers, he was not his normal enthusiastic self. He did agree to pose for photos. But performing tricks was another matter. I threw his cone and he went and picked it up. Instead of bringing it back, he trotted right past me, then broke into a gallop heading for the back yard. He threw the cone down on the way, jumped over it and kept on going.

We laughed and laughed.

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It occurred to me that one of the gifts of a small town is having people who still feel like family, even after 40 years apart.

Trina headed north to the old hometown to visit her dad. Ardis, bless his heart, is still living in DeTour at 93 years old. It’s very possible that I will still be able to remind him about those lynx tips.


Posted in Clifford, Drummond, drummond island, empathy | 2 Comments

Puppy Boot Camp Day 8 – Loki Learning “Speak” To Change A Bad Habit

When I first got Loki nine days ago, his human parents warned me that he liked to bite.

While I didn’t experience a lot of biting, I noticed that he does like to snap the air. He seems to like the sound of his teeth clicking together and he was using his mouth a lot.

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When I praise him, pet him or hug him, if I get too effusive he goes berserk-o. He can’t handle a lot of affection; it just overstimulates him. He wants to jump up and hug me and bite me. He may think they are love bites — but it’s too much mouth.

Therefore, while training, I have used exercises that keep him off my person. We don’t have a lot of physical contact, although I do pat him now and then and tell him, “Good boy.”

This seems like a shame; after all, who doesn’t want to hug their dog? But I think it will pass. As he learns new habits, and calming behaviors, he will not feel the need to explode with joy anytime someone gives him a little attention.

With the teeth gnashing, I started encouraging it by doing a quick imitation “play bow” while he was in the down position. He loved this! He would immediately stretch his legs and snap, snap the air.

I started clicking him for that, and then put it on cue with the words, “Tell me!” (This could be changed to the traditional “Speak” if his owners want to, later.)

Today, for the first time, he actually barked out loud, instead of just snapping the air. And, the snapping behavior is already beginning to decrease at other times.

Most folks think that tricks are just for fun, but many times, they do begin with a purpose.

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 7 – Loki’s First Week

Doberman mix puppy Loki has had a massive bombardment of new information over the past seven days. Being up in his brain more has naturally caused some of the “bounce” to smooth out of him — of course it probably had a lot to do with many hours of outdoor play time.

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He had at least two training sessions per day; sometimes more, with intermittent lessons learned throughout.

We have made good strides on all of our goals, which were as follows:

Learn to walk on loose leash without pulling.

Loki very quickly learned that his job when walking on leash is to keep up with the handler. He had the sudden realization that the handler changes direction without warning, sometimes doubles back, and will step on his toes if he gets in front of her. But he also learned that there is plenty of praise and treats for walking nicely on the left side, and life is just generally so much easier there.

We did walks out in the back field, about 20 minutes per day, and then yesterday took him for an hour on the trails at Grand Ledge. He is a lot more conscious of the leash now and more interested in what his handler is doing.

Stop jumping up.

This has been a challenge and has been handled through extinction rather than correction. He doesn’t get any attention when he is climbing up or jumping on people. He is rewarded for “4 on the Floor.” He still wants to hop up when he gets excited, but it’s getting less important to him. He gets a lot more attention and treats for sitting and lying down.

Stop biting.

I haven’t experienced his biting except for once when he nipped my ankle and I screamed like a hysterical puppy. That was the last time he bit me. But I don’t rough house with him and he is not loose in the house during idle time. When we are outside, together, we are working on jumps or playing chase with the other dogs, or taking a leash walk or something else fun.

Come when called.

He is doing exceptionally well with this. I don’t say his name a whole lot. When I talk to him I might say, “Puppy Puppy” or “Dobie Doo.” I use all the dogs’ names when I line them up for cookies, and each gets his turn. Loki has quickly tagged his name with the giving of this cookie. He also identifies the other dogs — he knows when I am calling someone else. He has to wait at the door for others to enter or exit. He does not pass through a door until his name is spoken.

This significant method of name recognition training makes the recall much more powerful. It is also important to remember not to saturate the dog with his name during these weeks/months before the recall is solid.

Stop chewing/destroying household items.

Loki has not had the opportunity to chew or tear things up. He is in a crate, or in training, or being hugged/petted. The danger comes when one ignores a pup and leaves him to his own devices.

A puppy outgrows this destructive adolescent stage, but introduction to the household space must be gradual and heavily supervised.

A dog his age has a strong need to chew, but he gets plenty of opportunity with stuffed Kongs in his crate, and other chewy goodies like his bull trachea and bull horn.

Stop chasing cats.

Like the jumping up, the introduction to the cats has been treated as an incidental, although they do share in the morning training session. As long as the cats are not a focal point, and there is more interesting stuff going on, he should eventually lose interest in chasing them.

He did “lock on” to my kitten one day, getting into a staring match with her, which got her hair up. But I quickly broke that up and moved him on to something else.

You had a great first week, Loki. Good boy.

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For more info, check out my books:

25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Dog

15 Rules for Clicker Training Your Cat

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